I’m tempted to write something horribly trite in my sadness—say, “the curtain falls on the life of Las Vegas’ premier theater critic.” My friend, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Anthony Del Valle, would dismiss that as sentimental tripe. I could do better, he’d tell me.
Let’s say this: With Del Valle’s death after a two-month illness on May 21, this city lost a vibrant journalistic voice and our local theater community lost its best friend, even when it thought he was its worst enemy.
Also a playwright/actor/director—his direction of Cockroach Theatre’s production of Israel Horovitz’s Line was superb—he was, above all, a damn fine critic. We met as rival reviewers in the early 2000s—me at Las Vegas Weekly, he at Las Vegas CityLife, where he gained a reputation as one tough, critical mutha. Our initial conversation before a UNLV show: Tony questioning my fanciful lead paragraph in a review, challenging me to defend the tone of my writing.
Tony wasn’t being snarky, just curious to know my thinking, eventually conceding the merit of my approach. Tony preferred genuine debate to fake flattery. Not that he couldn’t sting, as when asking my opinion of a production over coffee at Denny’s. I offered it. He countered with: “Now let me tell you why you’re wrong.” But with a hearty guffaw and a mischievous twinkle.
In his copious R-J reviews and “Theater Chat” columns, Tony was a bluntly honest, no-bullshit critic equally unstinting in criticism and praise. Some took his slams as personal attacks. Untrue: They were unsparing critiques designed to raise the standards—and the profile—of local theater.
Tony’s passing is a blow to his friends, and the theater community. His passionate commitment to the art form he loved deserves a standing O.