by David Fuller · August 15, 2014
It’s the evening of Valentine’s Day, 1952, in Las Vegas. Back when the casinos were small, the dreams were big and Wonder Bread was on the table. The radio announcer reminds us that “More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Nine year old Lana Dee is making a sugar sandwich, though she’s supposed to go to bed. It’s gonna be a big night, for her Momma and Daddy are gonna take her for a drive and have a morning picnic out on the desert, Jackass Flats, where they are gonna watch the big show, the A-bomb test.
Yep, that’s right: the atomic bomb. Back then, during the height of the cold war arms race, America was experimenting with its nuclear capabilities just thirty miles from Sin City. Evidently it was quite the thing to drive out and watch the blast, like we might watch a bonfire or fireworks today.
Such is the setup of Jackass Flats, a heartwarming slice-of-life comedy. At first blush one might not think these are the makings for a comedy, but co-authors C.C. Loveheart and John Simon know their material well, bringing a sweet realism to it all while adding just the right touch of conflict and character to keep it interesting. You see, Lana Dee’s mom, Kay, is having a problem with her husband, and trying to get him on the phone to confront him. Meantime Kay’s brother’s wife, Ginny, comes in, tipsy. She’s got troubles of her own that she wants to share with Kay. No more plot will be revealed here, but suffice it to say Kay and Ginny go through some emotional yet somehow funny struggles before and during their trip through the desert, with Lana Dee an important part of the mix.
Sienna Mauve as Kay and Amanda Huxtable as Ginny play their roles wonderfully. Mauve gives Kay just the right amount of modern woman in a world still too chauvinistic. Her sass and brass have softness too, and she easily wins us over. Huxtable’s Ginny, the opposite side of Kay’s coin, is not just all curves and pout, but heart and, yes, some brains there too. Madison Lenihan also does well in the smaller role of Lana Dee and is fun to watch.
Kudos to director Brendan Burke for doing so well that the piece doesn’t seem to have been directed. It all flows easily and naturally. Designer Kevin Bartlett deserves special mention. His lights work well, and his set, stylized locales of Kay’s kitchen in the first part and her car in the last, are cleverly done so that converting kitchen to convertible got its own applause. C.C. Loveheart knows her clothing too – her costumes are perfect. Jeff Knapp’s sound design is also very effective.
Jackass Flats is funny, entertaining and thought provoking. Watching with the 20/20 accuracy of hindsight, there’s delicious irony in the way these women of the 50’s negotiate life in the new nuclear age. There’s also joyous wonder at watching the seeds of feminism germinate by the light of a kiloton bomb.