Appearances deceive, especially when it comes to the passengers in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s black box production of Will Kern’s 1992 play, Hellcab (3920 Schiff Drive, Dec. 3-19, $14-$15, 362-7996). At 70 minutes, it’s a fast-paced ride in a Chicago taxi during the Christmas season, with colorful characters hopping in and out during a series of vignettes (the longest is six minutes).

Gus Langley plays the deadpan cabbie whose tousled exterior belies his sensitivity. The other six members of the cast skillfully play multiple roles. Ginnie Barnson is a sultry lawyer, Shane Cullum exudes slick, self-satisfaction when playing Steve; and Ronn L. Williams Jr. offers grace to the harried driver when playing an architect. Missionaries, drug addicts, professionals and couples also occupy the back seat and leave memorable impressions.

“We try to flesh out as much of each character as we can within such a short amount of time, to take them beyond caricatures,” director Troy Heard says.

Heard and the cast succeed by portraying their characters with restraint and respect. A graffiti background by local artist Tom Machacyk, radio hits of the ’90s, and a white Dodge Intrepid as the ever-present taxi authenticate the atmosphere.

This isn’t a typical holiday drama: Santa (Cullum, again) is drunk, and the passengers can be foul-mouthed and menacing. The mood continually shifts, but ends on a note of unexpected softness, all of which makes Hellcab accessible without descending into pathos. A thoroughly enjoyable show. ★★★☆☆



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