I have to share with you an email Rainbow Company designer Kris Van Riper sent out to patrons about their current production of "Tom Sawyer" (artslasvegas.org).
There's a scene in which our young title character (played by David Tovar) somehow manages to get his friends to give him gifts for the privilege of letting them paint his Aunt Polly's picket fence. One kid (hilariously played by Zachary Krause) pulls out a tooth and hands it over.
Van Riper writes:
"When director Brian Kral and I were discussing the story, one aspect that jumped out at us was the use of objects, mostly broken or useless, as a form of money among the characters in the play. Dead cats, old door handles, ticks, pig bladders, broken glass - they all carried some form of intrinsic value. A dead cat was much more valuable than an apple core. And a live tick was worth way more than used chewing gum. And that brings us to The Tooth.
"I had obtained a tooth (yes, a real tooth) to use in the show. I shall spare you the details of how it was obtained. It was cleaned and sterilized and placed backstage to be used by the cast. When our younger members laid eyes on it, they all had the same general reaction: 'Ewwwww! That is totally gross!' and refused to touch it. As I walked away, I was amazed how much kids had changed. Mark Twain knew kids like to mess with gross stuff. When I was a kid, my friends and I loved to mess with gross stuff. So when did this big change happen? Was this due to cellphones? Computers? Xbox syndrome? I was crestfallen.
"Then about a half an hour later, I found myself backstage listening to this same herd of boys arguing over who should use what prop. 'I want the tooth,' said one. 'No way, I get it. You take the doorknob!' remarked the next. 'Not happenin' - the tooth is way cooler than a crappy doorknob!' It was then I knew that no matter how much time marches on, some things stay the same. Kids will be kids, no matter if they are Tom Sawyer from the 1800s or Tom Sawyer from our production today. And for most boys, gross is still fun!" ...
One of the many things that make Shakespeare special to me is how he rarely creates black-and-white characters. His people are rich in unexpected complications.
"Romeo and Juliet" - which winds up a run Sunday at the Nevada Conservatory Theatre (895-2787) - features, of course, two young lovers who will do anything to be together.
It's fascinating how the Bard begins the play. Romeo is pining not for Juliet, but for a babe named Rosaline. Amazing, then, that when he lays eyes on Juliet for the first time, Rosaline is gone from his thoughts and he's equally consumed by another. I love this recognition that Romeo is still very much of an adolescent heart.
It makes you wonder: Had they lived, would they have been happy? And if so, is adolescent lust sometimes wiser than we realize?
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.