Last summer, David McKee, a prominent Las Vegas theater critic, abandoned the column he’d penned for three years. He bowed out and, literally, entered stage right as spying busybody Polonius in Hamlet at Onyx Theatre.
“There’s no substitute for getting in there and doing it yourself,” McKee, 51, says hours before taking the Las Vegas Little Theatre stage in the role of Dr. Ira Taub in Charles Busch’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife. “I had said everything I needed to say [as a critic] and thought it was time for new perspectives.”
Not long after getting his feet wet onstage, McKee, now managing editor of LasVegasAdvisor.com, decided it was time to apply ideas he’d harbored as a critic for Las Vegas CityLife. He sought to address a dearth of locally produced plays for characters over age 30 and to enhance onstage diversity. He also wanted to introduce gravitas.
“There was such an advancing wave of deliberate triviality and irresponsible piffle that I had to get off the theater beat before I found myself reviewing AIDS: The Musical or Auschwitz! The Musical,” McKee says. “If what I’m doing now is a case of criticism morphing into concrete action, I suppose it’s a case of me staging the kind of play I wanted to see but which few companies were doing.”
The kind of play he wanted to see is British playwright Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, about a love triangle involving characters who reach a shared crisis in their 30s. McKee had starred or crewed in Pinter plays as a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was impressed by Pinter’s precise writing and economical stage direction. So late last year McKee began shopping Betrayal to local theater companies. Selling point: It would be the first Pinter mounted in Vegas since 2008.
Las Vegas Little Theatre accepted—on one condition: McKee must direct. He leapt into action, casting the older leads as well as nascent actors from the Hispanic community.
“The process becomes a communal voyage of discovery,” McKee says. “I have a concept and very strong ideas about how I want this play interpreted. But I’m also open to what the actors bring to the table.”
Staging Betrayal lets McKee demonstrate another quality many productions lack—the primacy of subtext over spoken text. In Betrayal, Pinter’s characters take refuge in conversational commonplaces while the actual and avoided subject of their conversation roils under the surface.
Despite his once-authoritative voice as a critic, McKee revels in, well, losing the script. He tells his cast—Joe Hynes, Sarah Spraker, Shane Cullum—during rehearsal one night: “I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I’d be bloody bored.”
Spoken like a true footlights-soldier.