Showgirls and Blackjack and Bodies, Oh, My!  In that aforementioned odd city that continuously reinvents itself, from 7,700-room hotels constantly getting larger in order for one-uping each other, to enormous atriums with fresh vegetation changed as often as The Amazing Johnathan’s underwear, to Liberace’s jewel-encrusted gowns standing heavy sentry in the middle of a desolate suburban strip mall, to Picasso masterpieces with holes poked in ‘em from a famous hotelier’s elbow, nothing ever stays status quo.  Still, maybe the strangest of all attractions right now, plopped down directly next to a display of artifacts from the Titanic, is Bodies… The Exhibition at the Tropicana.  Yes, Virginia, that Tropicana: home to the Folies Bergere.


Before heading off to visit Cirque du Soleil’s inimitable magicland called at the MGM Grand, I heartily suggest a detour over the connecting footbridge to the Tropicana, where — after strong positive public response since opening last June — Bodies has been extended indefinitely.  Bodies, of course, showcases 21 whole-body specimens and more than 260 organs and partial specimens — real human bodies meticulously dissected and preserved through an innovative process.

Specimens are first treated according to standard mortuary science, then dissected to show whatever handlers want to display. Once dissected, they’re immersed in acetone to eliminate all body water and placed in a large bath of silicone, or polymer, then sealed in a vacuum process.  Though presented with the utmost respect—and surprisingly without guardrails or omnipresent surveillance, so that visitors have the unique opportunity to view the beauty and complexity of their own organs and bodily systems unobstructed—the show is still a tad creepy.  Soon, however, initial discomfort melts into clinical fascination.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Bodies is the positions in which the freeze-dried cadavers have been permanently placed: playing tennis, throwing darts, sprinting (all muscles cut and springing in outward arches to show their placement), conducting an orchestra or, for one poor fellow who surely didn’t count on this when he donated his body to science, cut in half and high-fiving himself.  Then there’s the complete skin from head to toe displayed intact as though waiting to be drycleaned (the only three-dimensional aspect being his, er, package), the room showing fetus development and fetal sideshow-like anomalies, and a slotted glass container where smokers may toss their ciggies right next to an enshrined and blackened diseased lung.

Yes, Bodies… The Exhibition could be seen either as creepy, as incongruous in Sin City, as sufficiently life altering—or simply as a beguiling reminder of how intricate and tenuous is all life on earth.  As suitably grateful and awestruck as I was by this magnificent display, I just promise one thing: I won’t be eating roast beef again until about 2010.

The Tropicana Resort & Casino is located at 3801 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas; for tickets, call (702) 739-2411.


TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.