A quiet revolution concluded its first act Oct. 1 at the Plaza Hotel. It had nothing to do with gaming and was only tangentially related to the recent sprucing up of the property’s hotel rooms. Something bigger was going on during the three-week run of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the casino—to wit: Waiting for Godot was being performed at a casino. And it was being performed by a first-rate local troupe—the Insurgo Theater Movement.
As an actor and Las Vegas native who has spent much of the past two decades working in theater and television in Los Angeles and New York, I greeted the Plaza Godot as a beacon of hope for my hometown—a sign of what we can become, and what we already are in the process of becoming.
The show took my mind back a decade to one of my happiest theater discoveries. After 10 years in Manhattan doing Off Broadway and taking whatever job necessary to fund my life in theater, I’d decided to return West and was splitting my time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Vegas was home, but at first I was unable to find the kind of risk-taking creative outlets I’d hoped for, theater that dares to say something. Then one day, a friend said I should check out the Cockroach Theatre’s production of Israel Horowitz’s Line. Most of the cast members were graduates of UNLV’s theater program, and the play’s quality was as good as New York theater. Right here in Las Vegas, Off Broadway was alive and well—but tucked away, one of those secrets you feel proud to have found but wish that more people would discover.
The Cockroach endures, part of the same small-but-hearty local theater movement as Insurgo (there’s some healthy cross-pollination here: Ernie Curcio, who plays Vladimir in Godot, was one of the founders of Cockroach). And now, thanks to Insurgo’s new foothold at the Plaza, the kind of theater that inspired me that day at Line now has a window to the world. This is not just an arts event—it’s civic news, a small step on the way to the diversification Las Vegans talk so much about.
It might be wishful thinking, but for years I’ve thought the Strip had the infrastructure to become America’s West Coast “Great White Way”—and that downtown could be its sister Off Broadway hub. This city has always thrived on the passions of dreamers who pushed conventional boundaries. I often hear, “People don’t come to Vegas to see art or be provoked. They come to forget and escape.” But I also used to hear, “People don’t come to Vegas for fine dining. They come for cheap food and buffets.”
We all know how that turned out.