The curtain came down on Friday for nearly half of the edgy skits put on by The Act nightclub, specifically ones highlighted by simulated sex acts, narcotic use, masturbation and strap-on genitalia.
While not rendering a judgment on their obscenity, Clark County District Judge Susan Scann ruled that the vignettes likely ran afoul of lease provisions governing the Grand Canal Shoppes, where The Act is located. These allow Las Vegas Sands Corp. to veto tenants that it feels detract from the “first-class” image it wants to project for its flagship Venetian resort, even though the retailing component is owned and managed by a different company.
Sands also worried that allowing the vignettes could cause problems with gaming regulators.
Scann gave The Act management credit for having “worked hard” to come up with scripts that met local entertainment regulations.
“But the (Clark) county code is the basic standard, not the standard for first-class operations,” the judge said, wrapping up a hearing that lasted three weeks and included a parade of witness describing The Act’s repertoire in detail.
Given the national attention the case has attracted, Las Vegas’ reputation as an anything-goes party town may have been watered down, as well.
Lawyers from both parties said the show would be quickly re-written, perhaps as soon as Friday night’s performances.
Sands handed The Act an eviction notice in April, almost immediately triggering the lawsuit by The Act to stop the move, but Sands sought only to restrict what goes on stage. A trial over the eviction, or whether The Act can recover damages for being improperly ousted after what it claims was a $15 million investment, would come at an unspecified future date.
The Act attorney Pat Lundvall declined to say which of the potential legal options she might pursue. But she gave a grim business prognosis for the near term.
“To suggest there is no sex theme or sex-based act takes out the bulk of what we do and the bulk of the audience that is attracted to The Act,” she said, even though 17 of the 30 vignettes currently in the show’s rotation remain untouched. “It has to completely rework who we are.”
The Act owners looked at the acts as a way to put themselves on a par or even pull ahead of other sensuous shows such as Cirque du Soliel’s “Zumanity” or “Peep Show.” The court-imposed restrictions, Lundvall added, reduced The Act to “a small, little nightclub on the third floor that nobody can find … and no differentiating factors from any of the other nightclubs on the property.”
Sands executives participated and approved the lease to The Act last year, to be a version of The Box in New York, though toned down to meet tighter local obscenity laws and the sensibilities of the huge Las Vegas tourist market. In New York, the sex acts are real and nudity permitted, for example, but not here.
In the months following the late October opening at what was then called the Shoppes at Palazzo, The Act did not run into any problems. In fact, the Sands put up signs, ran a special valet service and installed a kiosk promoting The Act due to its low-visibility location.
But that comity ended in March during the appearance by a transgender entertainer called Miss Rose Wood, whose act labeled “The Bottle” included sitting on the neck of a whiskey bottle and then drinking from it. It was disputed whether this was seen by a Sands executive or someone else, but word of it made its way to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and to the Sands security office. This led an in-house investigation by the company and the subsequent eviction notice.
Sands then clamped down on marketing the club, ended the valet service and took down the ad banners. Another hearing in a couple of weeks will focus on how much Sands needs to restore as part of what The Act has said is a $1 million advertising credit included in the lease.
“The conduct of Las Vegas Sands is designed to drive away customers, there’s no doubt about that,” Lundvall said.
In fact, Sands agreed to restore signs after The Act complies with the court order.
But the ongoing difference over how far The Act can push the limits may keep the dispute going. What Lundvall described as “risque and provocative” within carefully drawn limits was termed “what you and I and most decent people consider vulgar, depraved and perverted” by Sands attorney Charles McCrea Jr.
Some of the vignettes Sands abhorred featured ripping the head off a fake chicken and then re-attaching it; covering the bodies of performers with a white powder meant to resemble cocaine and then sniffing it off each other; and fake urination.
These practices, according to Sands, violated a clause in the lease that ruled out “adult entertainment.” Still, that didn’t stop the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce from hosting a social event at The Act last month, albeit with quiet stages.
One skit called “The Bed,” which features and aerial act over a bed involving a fictional prostitute taking money from a client was allowed by Scann, minus the scripted ending. Originally the number finished with simulated strangulation, but that was later changed to a woman brandishing a gun as the curtain closed. The judge quashed both versions.
McCrea said another routine that featured women dancing in towels fell within bounds, even though they were “scantily clad.” Likewise, he said, Zumanity and Peep Show would pass muster, despite their erotic themes.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at 702-387-5290 or at firstname.lastname@example.org