Humor from the ashes

With Red Lights & Sirens, playwright Steve La-Sky shouts “Fire!” in the theater.
Photo: Mona Shield Payne

Former Clark County firefighter Steve La-Sky's 21-year career includes the horrors of 9/11, a demotion over a 2002 whistleblowing incident and post-traumatic stress. So it's only natural he would write a romantic comedy for the stage. Red Lights & Sirens, what La-Sky refers to as an "assuaging of my demons," debuts this month at UNLV, the culmination of a four-year process that started with therapy.

"My therapist recommended writing to deal with the stress," says La-Sky, 49, who has experienced plenty. He was among the first Las Vegas fire crews sent to New York after 9/11 and saw things that haunt him to this day. The following year, he suspected his department was trying to hide incriminating evidence of shoddy building inspection work from the media. "On the day I was going to talk to [then-County Manager] Thom Reilly about it, I got word that I'd been demoted from public-information officer [a position he'd served in for five years] back to firefighter." He retired in 2008.


Red Lights & Sirens
April 14-17, 8 p.m., April 18, 2 p.m.
Paul Harris Theatre at UNLV.
Tickets are $7.50. 895-2787.

He admits the first few drafts of his play were dark and ominous, "lots of death and destruction." He credits the play's current format to Jerry Crawford, the founder and head of UNLV's now-defunct MFA playwriting program, who came out of retirement for a few months in 2006. "I was his final protege," La-Sky says. Indeed, Crawford took La-Sky under his wing before he'd even read a word. Based on conversations the two men had, Crawford let him into the class. "He'd never written anything, but he had a great speedometer, which is to say, a lot of life experience."

Crawford, who continued to mentor La-Sky after his duties at UNLV ended, is impressed by his student's accomplishments. "I've never had a playwright develop faster than Steve. He's produced a stage-worthy script that is humorous and insightful. It's a damn good one."

Red Lights tells the story of a firefighter who falls in love with a prostitute through a series of miscommunications. "He mixes up the personal ads with the adult entertainment ads," La-Sky says. "By the time they discover the screwup, he's made a connection with her, and her hooker friends are saying the relationship is impossible, and his firefighter buddies are saying the same thing. It's very adult, very R-rated."

He got into the UNLV playwriting workshop and lab last spring and was able to develop and polish the play further. A staged reading produced a "strong" reaction from everyone in the program, but La-Sky figured that was about as good as it would get — he was not going to get a production because he was not an MFA playwriting student. But sometimes quality wins out over bureaucracy, and Crawford pushed for it to be staged. He was persuasive. "I went to bat for him," says Crawford, adding that because of budget cuts at UNLV and the scrapping of his program, "this is the last graduate original play for the foreseeable future."

So, is Red Lights based on personal experience? La-Sky, who has a wife and two kids, recounts his wedding in 2004: "My wife is very counterculture, so one side of the aisle you had all these Burning Man people, and on my side you had all these firefighters. That was really where the idea for the play started."

"Art is lies that tell the truth," he says. "There are a lot of true elements in the story, but I can't say how much of it is true."

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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