Photograph by Elizabeth Buehring

Native Daughter

Playwright Ryan Reid brings her New York success home

It’s not the topic that would typically attract a vibrant young woman, freshly graduated from The New School. Nevertheless, Ryan Elisabeth Reid is interested in gerontology. The 24-year-old New York-based Las Vegas native takes accordion lessons from a 73-year-old man. She supervises a music therapy program in the dementia unit at Isabella Geriatric Center. And after founding Sprat Artistic Ensemble in 2012, she wrote, designed and directed a play called One Day in the Life of Henri Shnuffle in order to explore, “increase empathy for” and bring awareness to the lives of the elderly.

The play started—as many projects do these days—with a Kickstarter campaign. It raised more than its goal of $6,000, as well as earned a review in The New York Times in which Neil Genzlinger wrote, “The purpose here, though, isn’t so much to tell a story as to depict a way of life, solitary and disconnected from the world.”

After the success of her first work, Reid is now embarking on her second. This one will simply be titled Henri, and it will be “an intimate theater experience about the … complexity of Alzheimer’s and aging, featuring an intergenerational cast ages 8 to 80.” While One Day in the Life was startlingly immersive and interactive—the play was set in the protagonist’s apartment, and the 20-member audience was in the “apartment” with him—Henri will be intimate but also will allow viewers a little personal space. Henri still focuses on an aging protagonist, but this time, it will focus on different moments from the character’s life. As for the venue, it will move to the Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.

Reid is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health (just steps from The Smith Center), which conducts research to help combat the effects of brain diseases. The Ruvo Center provided access to its doctors and staff and was instrumental in bringing the play to Las Vegas. There will also be panels after each performance (except opening night), so that viewers can discuss the issue of aging and Alzheimer’s. The moderated talks will include doctors, caregivers, social workers, and cast and crew members.

If the name “Reid” sounds familiar, then the answer to your question is, yes, that Reid. Her father is former Southern Nevada politician Rory Reid and her father’s father is U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And while having a prestigious family has likely opened doors for this young talent, it’s actually Reid’s maternal grandfather who has influenced her creative pursuits. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the Lou Ruvo Center when Reid was in college. So yes, this is a case of art imitating life. It’s also a case of art aiding life and looking to improve it, delicately and empathetically.

October 17-26, tickets are $49, Troesh Studio Theater in The Smith Center for the Performing Arts;