Broadway was nicknamed “The Great White Way” for the bright lights and big marquees that marked New York City’s biggest playhouses. You could apply that same phrase to Vegas’ theater scene as well — but for less flattering reasons.
Anyone paying attention to the casts of local stage productions will notice they are dominated by white actors. And even with Latinos making up more than a fourth of Las Vegas’ population, you’d be hard-pressed to find them gracing our off-Strip stages.
Which is why it’s noteworthy that Las Vegas Little Theatre’s upcoming adaptation of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal — an infidelity-based drama set mostly in London — cast two Latino actors. (Disclosure: The director is former CityLife stage writer David McKee.) For Maximiliano Miranda and José Anthony — the latter left the production just before press time — their interest in auditioning for Betrayal was rooted in their desire to participate in a reputable local theater company.
Anthony, a Mexican-American, had only starred in young-adult productions, such as Tom Sawyer, and sought to get his foot into the door of a company as mainstream as LVLT. Miranda, who arrived in Vegas 15 years ago, had only acted in stage productions in his native Argentina. But he took a chance with Betrayal, having taken some acting classes, and feeling empowered by his recent casting in various Vegas-based film and TV projects.
“I saw the [Betrayal] plot, they posted it on Facebook,” he says. “It said you needed an English accent. For me, I thought it would be impossible. I said, if there’s a bartender or a valet, I’ll have an ‘in’ there. And then when I came in, they asked me to do the waiter in Italian.” (He’s now also the bartender.)
The one-scene role was perfect for Miranda, exposed to Italian sensibilities in Buenos Aires, and made aware of the versatility — and apparent appeal — of his accent. In Betrayal, what he once saw as a setback became an asset, and not to support a stereotype — both a lure and a trap for ethnic actors.
Anthony steadfastly rejects the sort of one-dimensional criminal roles he saw fellow Latinos take in the church plays he grew up watching, where his father’s own forays onstage inspired him to act. “I have never even played a Mexican,” he says. “I’ve been versatile. I’ve played [American] Indian and French, and I try and play other [kinds of] roles.”
Both actors dismissed any notion of racism keeping Hispanic actors out of roles. Miranda says his slow-burning entrance into acting in Las Vegas stemmed from not being a native English speaker. “Language is the barrier,” he says. “For me, I wasn’t born here. I came here 15 years ago and it took me a while to have a conversation in English. When I first came, all I knew how to say is ‘My name is Max.’”
Anthony has a more philosophical read on what might hold budding Latino thespians back. “We come from a shy and bashful background,” he says. “We do get intimidated by the Anglos.” At the same time, he also acknowledges the prideful machismo culture that, when combined with prevailing stereotypes that male actors tend to be gay and/or eccentric, might give pause to any Hispanic man wanting to perform onstage. It’s why he started his stage career as a technician. “But I grew a thick skin and, pardon my French, you say, fuck it, and you do it.”
While Anthony says Mexicans generally don’t value the theatrical arts as much as other forms of cultural expression, Miranda found a thriving stage scene in Buenos Aires, which — especially on the Broadway-like Avenida Corrientes — is said to boast the highest concentration of theaters in the world. The city is also the most European of all the Latin American metropolises. “There are people from many backgrounds, and [because] of influence from Italians and French and Spain, there’s a lot of theater there,” he says. “Last time I was there, I saw Mamma Mia.”
But once in Las Vegas, Miranda had to learn the American traditions of theater, perfect his English and find time outside of his job as a construction projects manager — all difficult tasks. His efforts have paid off, and come March 15, he will introduce himself to local theatergoers — and provide some needed visibility for Latino actors.
“I am excited, y’know,” he says. “I’m getting my feet in the water for the first time.”
BETRAYAL Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., through March 31; LVLT Studio Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive, www.lvlt.org, $11-$12.