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Desert Companion

Ones 2 watch: actor Shane Cullum

Shane CullumBeneath the multiple masks of this actor: a taut, quiet intensity

With his tall, reedy physique and voice to match, there’s no actor in Las Vegas quite like Shane Cullum. His performances are notable for a quality that makes his characters neither heroes nor villains, but simply human. Cullum’s quietly focused intensity wears many masks. In the past year, he’s played a mentally challenged man who’s having a child by his sister, in Lanford Wilson’s “Home Free!” At Vegas Fringe 2012, he gave a chillingly matter-of-fact characterization of a father rationalizing infanticide in Neil LaBute’s monodrama “Iphigenia in Orem,” a performance that won “Best of Fringe.” In between, he was uproarious as a sharp-tongued, profane skirt-chaser in Ernest Hemmings’ “Bro.” He plays the lead in Woody Allen’s “God” at Onyx Theatre, Sept. 28-Oct. 7.

Gus Langley co-starred with Cullum in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “Hellcab” and “When Mom Died on Saturn,” and directed him in both “Iphigenia” and “Home Free!” He admires his colleague’s fearlessness, work ethic and modesty.

“Plus, he’s always down to grab a drink after rehearsal,” says Langley. “Shane has figured out something that takes actors a long time to discover: Put down the pencil. Just be yourself and live in the moment.”

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Yet acting — especially onstage — was an afterthought for the 33-year-old Long Beach native, who didn’t study the art until 11 years ago. “I always wanted to be a movie star as a kid,” Cullum recalls, but he had bad cases of both acne and shyness. “The idea of people looking (at me) scared the heck out of me,” says the man who has been the only person onstage in “Iphigenia” and LVLT Studio’s “Thom Pain” by Will Eno. “I’m definitely more of a drama guy. It pisses my girlfriends off because my whole DVD collection is really depressing war movies.”

By day, Cullum designs poker chips and felts for Gaming Partners International. Prior to his stage debut, he appeared in short films and as a re-enactor in PBS’ “Bataan Rescue,” part of its “American Experience” series. Having been advised to do stage work “to pad my résumé,” Cullum says he fell in love with theater.

Today he’s more selective, looking for roles that push him. Feeling he’d been typecast as innocents, he welcomed playing a lecher in “Bro.” “In ‘Iphigenia,’ I’m talking about killing my daughter and want the audience to understand I had reasons … to almost make them like me.”

That description would resonate with Langley, who describes the core of acting: “(It’s) listening and responding honestly, and that’s what Shane does. Not just onstage. Don’t ask Shane what he thinks about something unless you really want to know.”

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