UNION, NJ – “Las Cruces,” the new play by Vincent Delaney, is the winner of the 2016 Premiere Stages Play Festival award.
And for good reason. This riveting story is about a man who leaves his Connecticut home in search of peace and quiet (or perhaps escape) in the bold, barren stretches of New Mexico. He rents a trailer out in the desert for a year, but soon discovers that it’s been inhabited by Soledad, a teenage girl who has left school and is basically homeless.
They strike up a rapport, with smart, snappy dialogue. But all the while there’s an undercurrent as Sheridan (Brian Sutherland) recalls his son as a child and as other memories keep intruding.
Later his wife Jane arrives. We’re never sure if they’re separated or divorced, but the ugly secret they share is finally revealed. The performers are outstanding. Diomargy Nunez as Soledad has the spunk and spirit to challenge Sheridan while somehow protecting herself in the process. Sutherland perfectly conveys a man who is running away, but never far enough. Their banter while playing cards and teasing each other bring a light touch to a play with dark overtones.
Charlotte Cohn is Jane, the mother who wants to blame her husband for what happened to their son, Robbie. But she also has an edge as a career woman who starts to wonder where they went wrong.
Connor McKenna is Robbie, seen only in videos, projecting the intensity of a young man who is driven and, apparently, losing his way.
John Wooten has directed this taut, thrilling play with precise pacing. Sound design by Janie Bullard neatly imagines the Space Port that was built near Truth or Consequences, NM in 2011. The booming sounds shatter the stillness of the desert.
Patrick Rizzotti’s scenic design features an old trailer and New Mexico’s stark mountains in the background. A brilliant moon is often seen against all that sky. Lighting by Brant Thomas Murray captures the intensity of daylight and night time. Karen Lee Hart’s costumes reflect the sense of isolation and Soledad’s clothes, especially, show her defiance as an individual, grappling with loneliness and a coming-of-age intensity.
It wouldn’t be fair to give away the devastating elements in this plot, but the entire production manages to create a balance between sparkling dialogue and hidden grief.
For a production that simmers and pulses, “Las Cruces” is well worth a visit. The play continues at Premiere Stages on the Kean University campus in Union through Sept. 18. For tickets, call 908-737-7469 or visit kean.edu/premierestages.