When you think of Las Vegas, you think of garish lights, smoky casinos, and mid-priced whores. But Las Vegas is so much more than that. It is also unreasonable heat, big-haired trailer trash and over-hyped shows featuring fey, tiger-loving magicians, creepy French acrobats or men who are painted blue.
But it is ALSO so much more than THAT. My friend Pants (names have been changed) and his family live in Vegas, so to me, the place also means good friends and happy memories. I got to visit the Pants family recently, to see a community theater production of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” in which Pants and Mrs. Pants are starring. You go to Vegas for the glitz and glamour; I go for the crappy community theater and In-N-Out Burgers.
Now, for several years, I wrote reviews of the local theater productions for a newspaper in Utah Valley whose name escapes me now. Some of these shows were very good, but many were not, and many more were “good” only if you qualified it with “… for community theater,” which is just a polite way of saying they were bad. Some shows were merely mediocre; others were so bad that the theaters were plagued by the reanimated corpses of the playwrights, stomping through the lobbies and dressing rooms, demanding vengeance. I once saw the enraged specter of Stephen Sondheim haunting a production office, and he’s NOT EVEN DEAD.
My point is, since being relieved of the reviewing duty some time ago, I have not frequented community theater. I’ve seen the occasional show, but mostly my theater choices have been in the professional arena. I figure if I’m going to pay money to see something, it might as well be something good, and something that does not contain the word “Dreamcoat” in its title. Community theater is fine for some folks, but I saw too much of it — 400 shows in six years — to be able to appreciate a play anymore simply because everyone remembered their lines and none of the scenery fell over.
But with the Pantses headlining a show, and with our mutual friend Luscious Malone flying in to see it, too, how could I pass up a trip to the Skankiest City on Earth?! I thought maybe the production, being staged in Las Vegas (albeit rather far from the Strip), would feature dancing girls or magic tricks or one-time celebrities telling filthy jokes to audiences full of drunk gamblers.
Imagine my disappointment.
I had not seen “Ten Little Indians” before, but I had seen “The Mousetrap,” and they are the same play. Agatha Christie had a hit with “Indians” in the 1940s, so she apparently just changed the characters’ names and called it “The Mousetrap.” (Neil Simon has done the same thing numerous times, all based on his original show, “Jewish People Yelling.”) “Ten Little Indians” and “The Mousetrap” both feature strangers invited to a remote mansion on a dark and stormy night, whereupon they are murdered one at a time, and the killer is someone … IN THIS ROOM! “The Mousetrap” has always been called “The Mousetrap,” but “Ten Little Indians” was originally called “Ten Little N******,” “n*****” being what the British called people from India in those days. (How a nation of snaggle-toothed inbreds gets off slurring other races is beyond me.)
Anyway, the production of “Ten Little Indians” in which my friends are the stars is extremely funny, which is unfortunate, given that it is not a comedy. It is bad even by community theater standards, even by the standards of a person who is dumb and who loves terrible things. The Pantses acquit themselves well enough, being possessed of a modicum of common sense and talent, and a few of their castmates seem to be familiar with the basics of acting (e.g., they’ve read the script at least once, they don’t scream everything they say). But the bulk of the show is dull and overacted, often laughably so, and Luscious Malone and I did indeed laugh on several occasions, which might have bothered the people around us, except that they were too busy talking the whole time to notice.
I was somewhat comforted to discover that community theater is essentially the same wherever you go, or that it’s at least the same in Las Vegas as it is in Utah. The actors are committed but often clueless, the audience buys tickets and then gabs through the performance, and then both cast and viewer claim to have had a great time. The cast of “Ten Little Indians” appeared in the lobby afterward to greet audience members, which many theaters in Utah do and which is exactly the thing to do if you want to ensure that no one ever mistakes you for a professional theater company.
Of course, the goal of community theater isn’t to fool people into thinking they’re on Broadway. The goal is to give regular folks a chance to perform, and to provide comfortable, homey entertainment to the masses. At that level, most community theater succeeds, and far be it from me to say it should have loftier goals.
That said, would it have killed them to include just ONE Elvis impersonator? I think not.
The nice thing about Las Vegas is its consistency: It's always hot there, no matter when you go.
And with that, I have nothing else to say about this column.