November was a big month for local theater. UNLV put on the 2014 Pulitzer winner for drama. Vegas Theatre Company had the West Coast debut of an inventive play about Sherlock Holmes.
And then there were two productions that not only carry socio-cultural relevance but also take place in the American west.
"The Royale" dramatically retells what was billed as “the fight of the century,” which happened in Reno in 1910.
Sabrina Cofield played 'Nina' in the production. She's the sister of Jack Johnson, the legendary fighter who won the fight but sparked a racially motivated backlash that caused riots around the country.
Cofield said when the cast and crew began to prepare the production they found interesting connections to current events.
“It took place over 100 years ago but there is so much of the themes and the issues of the play that are so applicable to what’s happening now," she said, "It’s a play about the real human cost of making history and making a sacrifice and the cost that it not only had on him as a human but it had on his family, it had on his community and what was the human cost that he would have to pay to make history.”
Cofield said many people knew about Johnson and the fight but didn't realize it took place in Nevada. The state and city were chosen because there was too much racial tension in other sites.
The LAB LV produced the play. Cofield said the company's creative director saw the play three years ago in New York and fell in love with the story.
Cofield believes there is a reason why it took so long to get the play to the stage in Southern Nevada and there is a reason it is resonating with audiences.
“Stories like these are more important now than ever," she said, "Audiences have come to us in tears after the show and have thanked us for bringing such an important story to the stage.”
Cofield said bringing stories of marginalized people to the stage is the main mission of The LAB LV.
“We’ve made that our goal is to bring those stories to the stage,” she said.
She said the company wants people who haven't seen themselves on stage to see that and to know that their stories and their voices matter.
The company is now working with the Neon Museum for a production of the Greek tragedy "The Bacchae." They are also working on "God of Carnage" and "Dance Nation."
Another theater company took on another historic event but from recent history.
The Majestic Repertory Theater's production of "The Mansion Family: An Opera," is the first time the play has been produced outside of New York City.
It is playing through this weekend. The show is an over-the-top take on the famous Hollywood murders that took place 50 years ago.
Troy Heard is the director of "The Manson Family" and the artistic director of Majestic Repertory Theater. He said the playwright reached out to the company to do the play for the anniversary.
“He saw that we were becoming one of the primary producers of immersive and interactive theater on the West Coast. He always wanted to see the show produced that way,” Heard said.
Although it is titled: "An Opera," it is actually not an opera in the traditional sense, Heard explained. Instead, 'opera' refers to the emotions portrayed in the production.
Heard said the Majestic Repertory Theater has been transformed for the production with six different areas that create an "aural and visual landscape" for the audience, taking them from victim Sharon Tate's home to the courthouse where the Manson Family went to trial.
The play debuted in New York in 1990. It didn't create much of stir, according to Heard.
“They thought ‘The Manson Family – An Opera’ was glorifying Charles Manson when it wasn’t. It was actually an exploration of the mediazation surrounding Manson and the followers,” he said.
That was before the O.J. Simpson trial and the 24-hour news cycle. Now, there is much more interest in true crime stories, Heard said.
“We’re living in a culture now where ‘stay sexy, don’t get murdered’ is a keyword amongst millennial spurring from the podcast “My Favorite Murder.” Manson has become a cult hero for some people but back then it really resonated because these were children. These were teenagers who left home and followed the hippie movement and all of a sudden two families wound up destroyed,” he said.
Troy Heard, director, The Manson Family: An Opera; Sabrina Cofield, actress, The Royale