Las Vegas Theatre Roundup

A loony 1930s family; an angry, murderous Chicago ghetto dweller; a small town lesbian truckdriver, and a man on a Candide-like quest to find out when it's okay to eat a stolen steak make up the major characters of the local plays winding up Vegas runs this week.

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre's mounting of Moss Hart and George Kaufman's "You Can't Take It with You" is as funny and human a version as one would have a right to ask for. Equity actor Robin Gammell as income-tax hating Grandpa heads director Deanna Duplechain's expert cast. Gammell's quietly eccentric manner sets the tone for the production, which grounds its humor in a solid reality base.

Sherri Brewer is a genuine madcap as daughter-in-law Penny, a woefully inadequate playwright who discovered her profession when someone mistakenly delivered a typewriter to the residence eight years ago. Taylor Haines is the son who likes to blow things up in the basement. The charming Melanie Ash is the hopeful young ballerina granddaughter who still can't do basic steps after eight years of private lessons. Steven Fehr bellows expertly as her Russian dance teacher. Lisa Louise Wilson, as the "sane" granddaughter who works in a Wall Street office and is in love with her boss' son is grounded enough and yet flighty enough to convince us she belongs in the family and yet needs to break away. And John Slocum and Joan Mullaney as the boss and wife are beautifully elegant and distant, so that when they stumble onto the scene unexpectedly, we know trouble lies ahead.

Guest designer John Iacovelli (from the University of California Davis) gives us a living room set that looks to be the result of decades of imaginative living. You feel as if every corner of the room, every knickknack, has a story to tell.

Expertly paced and wonderfully thought-out, this NCT season closer should be on your must-see list.

("You Can't Take It With You" plays 8 p.m. May 5-6 and 2 p.m. May 7 at the Judy Bayley Theatre on the UNLV campus, 4505 S Maryland Parkway. Tickets: $20-$25. Info: 702-895-2787)

You often find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at Las Vegas Academy productions, trying to convince yourself that you're watching students at a magnet high school. The plays there rank among Vegas' finest community shows, and the current Paul Green/ Richard Wright "Native Sun" is no exception.

Director Robert Connor elicits some hard-hitting performances from his cast by having them concentrate on attitudes rather than age impersonations. Leland Smith (who alternates with CJ Smith) is the infamous Bigger Thomas, an angry, murderous black Chicago thug befriended, with disastrous results, by a rich, white, patronizing family. Smith's performance is richly complicated, part child, part man, a monster who doesn't understand why he reacts the way he does to the "kindness" being extended him. Also fascinating is Molly Bernard as the spoiled rich kid who means well but has a nasty habit of seeing the underclass as statistics instead of three-dimensional people, and Shayla Washington as Bigger's eternally-confused but always caring mother.

("Native Son" plays 7 p.m. May 5-6 and May 11-14 at the Las Vegas Academy Black Box Theatre, 10th Ave. and Lewis St. Tickets: $10. Info: 702-799-7874)

Utah playwright Julie Jensen (the former head of the University of Nevada Las Vegas playwriting program) has penned some interesting works, but "Wait!" isn't one of them.

The Asylum production, under the direction of Sarah O'Connell, is an overly narrated journey of self-discovery by a small-town young, overweight lesbian truckdriver (Brook McGinnis) who stumbles onto a local community theatre where the off-the-wall players teach her a lesson or two about life. There's a hard-boiled vulnerability to Jensen's writing that is always entertaining, but the characters here feel too familiar. McGinnis is talented, but she's all comic delivery and not enough human being.

("Wait!" plays 7:30 p.m. May 5-6 at the Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S.

McLeod. Tickets: $12.50. Info: 702-604-3417)

Seattle playwright Larry Coffin is 73-years-old but he writes with the angry energy of a young man. His "Croquet Is Okay: A Picaresque Tale of Villainy," currently on view at Test Market, is a Voltaire-like quest for a definition of justice. A man (Ernest Hemmings) travels the country to in an attempt to learn when it would be right to eat a stolen beefsteak he has hidden in his cooler. Accompanying him is a Harpo Marx lookalike (Eugene Kirk) and a middle-aged woman who, uh, has an unusually youthful libido (Susan Lowe). Needless to say, they meet up with a stage full of zany characters who offer sometimes puzzling advice.

The broad humor frequently fall flat, and the play's themes -- the Americans' stealing of Indian land-are simplistic. But the production goes in and out of moments of inspired lunacy.

("Croquet Is Okay" plays 8 p.m. May 5, and 8 and 10 p.m. May 6 at the Social, Experimentation and Absurd Theatre, 103 E. Charleston. Tickets: $10-$15. Info: 702-736-4313)