Cockroach Theatre president Will Adamson took the stage for Art Square Theatre’s grand opening Friday night to thunderous applause, and with a knowing smile said, “I’m not gonna lie, it feels good.” And who could argue with him? After 10 years of nomadic life, Cockroach celebrated the opening of its own Arts District space, and it might be just as important to theater here as the Smith Center.
A healthy theater ecosystem needs smaller companies, where artists are free to explore what theater can mean outside of hanging on silks or belting show tunes. A place that supports new work and the community that creates it. Over the past few years, theater in Las Vegas has taken halting steps toward supporting this type of work. With Cockroach’s debut in the Art Square Theatre, all that energy feels like it finally has an outlet.
An intimate black box theater, Art Square occupies one corner of Brett Westley’s artSQUARE complex. The flexible space was explicitly renovated to be a theater, and has the robust infrastructure necessary to stage a variety of productions and designs. And it was all put into good service for its premiere production, Nurture, written by Johnna Adams and directed by Jason Goldberg.
Winner of the 2012 Sin City New Play Contest, Nurture tells the story of the awkward romance between Cheryl (Francine Gordon) and Doug (Erik Amblad), and their tenuous relationship with their children. It starts in standard Everybody Loves Raymond territory, but has more real laughs per minute than your average sitcom. Then, one line at a time, the play takes you further and further into absurdist comedy worthy of Durang. It delves deep into the fears—even horrors—of parenthood, but ends in a hopeful, accepting place. It’s also incredibly not safe for children. It’s grown-up theater of the energy and caliber you won’t see anyplace else in Las Vegas.
There’s more to the human experience than can be explored by Cirque du Soleil. And there are vital emotions too quiet to fill the Smith Center. Cockroach wants the Art Square Theatre to be the crucible to hold those experiences. And if they can keep up the quality of this stunning debut, they’ll have it.