The Little Prince is Pure Magic

by Chloe Loos

The Little Prince is my favorite book. When I was a little girl, my mother introduced me to the world of the enigmatic prince and all the characters he meets throughout his travels of the universe. I didn’t, as most children don’t, quite grasp the eternal life lessons this book has granted me. As I’ve grown, I find myself drawn to quotes from the book that give me clarity. Many of us likely have a similar bond with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novel. Entering the star-strung set, all of my nostalgia came to light.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Scoundrel & Scamp’s adaptation of the novel, translated by Claire Marie Mannle, and adapted and directed by Holly Griffith, delivers everything I so love about this book. I can’t remember the last time that I was so enthralled with a piece of theatre. It’s magical, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s poignantly sad, and every line is filled with deep truths and wisdom. It is in this space that we hear big truths from the little voices of both the prince both on stage and the one within us.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The ensemble cast, led by Kathleen Cannon as The Aviator, glided through this piece of work with grace. Attention was directed and kept so well; I would be so caught up in a performance that I wouldn’t notice the utter magic happening on stage until they reminded me to look for it. While every single performer had moments where they either made me laugh or sometimes brought me to tears – sometimes at the same time – special shout out to Gabriella de Brequet’s performance of the Rose, Cole Potwardowski as The Lamplighter, Ryuto Adamson as The Fox, and each one of Gretchen Wirges’ many characters. The ensemble was so strong and so striking in the physical, vocal, and character work that I sometimes forgot this wasn’t a cast of 30.

The performers navigated the tonal shifts and transitions with beauty and were strongly supported by music director Feliz Torralba. Torralba’s playing underscored multiple moments to the point that she and the music felt like another member of the ensemble. Her strong use of musical motifs helped us journey through the plot and tethered us to characters and emotions felt by the characters on stage and the audience.

In addition, the stagecraft was truly out of this world. The set featured a revolving platform and twinkles of starlight, supported by the incredible lighting (Raulie Martinez) which took us from day to night through sunrises, sunsets, dusk, and twilight. The props were childlike and simple but imbued with a sense of playful awe. No wonder we adults still go to the theatre. Kids go, too. I stayed for the talk back and a little boy, no more than 8, asked a question about what The Prince did after the end of the story, to which Griffith noted was the same sort of question the aviator would ask. This shows that the work we choose to do, as theatre makers, matters. By allowing a space to wonder, to hope, to welcome, the art done impacts hearts and minds of all ages.

Finally, I can’t remember seeing a production this diverse in a long time. Out of nine on-stage bodies, there were six women, half of whom were women of color, and three men, none of whom were white. The creative team was primarily made up of women as well. The variety of performers in this production reminds us that there is so much space for love, acceptance, and voices, if we only let them on stage. Through The Little Prince, those of us in the audience, especially those tired or excluded by lack of representation are reminded, simply, that this story is for all of us.

The Little Prince runs through Sunday, November 3rd at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by calling the box office at (520) 448-3300, or in-person an hour prior to the show.

Accomplice Accomplishes Mystery… with a Twist

by Gretchen Wirges

Nothing delights me more than to see a play with a wonderfully surprising plot twist. Two plot twists and I’m clutching my pearls. More than that, as was the case with Accomplice playing now at Live Theater Workshop, and I’m leaning forward on the edge of my seat, greedily along for the glorious ride. 

Accomplice, written by Rupert Holmes, is a whodunnit shell game that switches intended victims and motivated murderers at every turn.  Just when you think you know who is doing what to whom, the tables turn and a new scenario and context are introduced. The story begins in a cabin in the moors of England at the cabin of the affluent Derek and Janet Taylor. With the scent of adultery and murder seeping through the witty dialogue,  we will soon learn that all is never as it seems in this unexpected cat and mouse play of misdirection and underhandedness. Who is the predator and who is the prey…and who is the REAL title character of Accomplice

Keith Wick in ACCOMPLICE at Live Theatre Workshop

The cast handles the switches in context, character, and intention with deftness and incredible timing. While there are moments of darkness, the humor shines through in both delivery and physicality in each of the actors of this four-person mystery. 

It’s difficult to write this review, because many of the things I want to say about the incredible cast would give away so many of the twists and turns the play takes. I could go on and on about each of the actors ability to use their faces, voices and bodies to take us from drawing room farce to…well…I can’t tell you. But when you get there, you won’t be disappointed. 

But, what I CAN say is that Emily Gates (Melinda) is effervescent and a joy to watch, Stephen Frankenfield’s (Derek) quick-talking and physical comedy is on point, Jodi Ajanovic (Janet) is breathtaking in her ability to tell a story with a simple facial expression, and Keith Wick is so perfectly exactly who he needs to be at every turn of the plot. 

The set is beautiful, the lights (designed by Richard Gremel),  sound (designed by Brian McElroy) and the direction, by Rhonda Hallquist, is spot on. Because the story is constantly shifting, Hallquist had quite a challenge in finding a way to keep the audience interested and engaged as they fell deeper and deeper into the pit of this story. The physical choices made by the actors spoke to an experienced hand at the wheel. Essentially handed 4 incredibly mixed-up Rubik’s Cubes in story form, Hallquist presents the solved puzzles perfectly on a silver platter by the end of the play. 

Though it starts farcical, as the lights black out on act one, we have no idea that we will end with a twist that is so spot-on with what’s happening today. Without giving anything away, even the more cliched parts of the journey are punctuated with fantastic indictments of the male-dominated business world, and misogynistic views of women’s roles in and out of the bedroom. 

Go see this play. Take a friend. Go out for coffee afterwards, and unravel everything you loved about the experience of this play. Because you absolutely will love it. And then please, for love of all things theater and goodness, call me so I can join you and say all of the things I’ve been dying to tell you! 

Accomplice is playing at Live Theater Workshop through November 16th. You can purchase tickets via their website at livetheaterworkshop.org, or make a reservation by calling 520-327-4242. 

Grins, Giggles, and Guffaws for All

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Pinocchio is a fairy tale that children and adults are all very familiar with, so what could be new? Tyler West’s adaptation at Live Theatre Workshop is not only novel, but highly entertaining for all ages. From the very beginning when we are asked, albeit non verbally, to silence our phones, and mind the exits, the audience is drawn into the world of make believe. Under the direction of Angela Horchem, who is also the mask and puppet designer, we are enchanted for an hour that goes by all too quickly.

Hannah Turner as Pinocchio and Lorie Heald as Geppetto. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Hannah Turner as Pinocchio and Lorie Heald as Geppetto. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The masks and puppetry are the highlights of the show. Each one is individually crafted to highlight the person or animal that it embodies.   The puppeteers were visible throughout the production, but this did not distract from their efficacy. The cricket was especially convincing due to the many ways it was able to move, and the apt handling by Lorie Heald, Naima Boushaki, and Kyleigh Sacco. Each handler was able to convey the cricket’s persona in both a lively and entertaining manner. The sounds the cricket made while sleeping had the audience in stitches.

The physical acting used throughout the show comes in as a close second favorite part of this show. Lorie Heald’s background in mime was evident as she portrayed Geppetto, as well as several other characters. Boushaki, Sacco, and Turner all used their bodies skillfully as well, to reveal not only the actions but feelings behind whoever they were embodying. Each character had very specific movements to solidify their individual personalities. The charisma that the actors used was endearing to the entire audience. Director Horchem was successful in relaying the central theme of Pinocchio, “everyone is unique”.

This show uses an entirely female cast to portray all the characters. The director is female as well. Although Geppetto is referred to as male, and Pinocchio as a boy, the use of the clever masks and gender-neutral costumes really don’t make this an issue. It is refreshing to see that gender does not need to be used when casting is done in a play. What matters is the efficacy of the actors breathing life into the roles.

Michael Marinez composed the score, and the catchy tunes added to the light-hearted atmosphere of the show. The lyrics reinforced the themes of honesty, kindness, family, and friendship that this fairy tale uses to teach these universal values.

The set and costumes were minimal but very effective. Fur coats for the cat and fox were a delightful bit of fashion flair. The use of shadow to portray some of the scenes was convincing and added to the humor. A large trunk that was carried on to the set helped to set the stage for a time period in the past.

I don’t know who enjoyed the show more. The children in attendance were enthralled and often squealed with delight. Adults were equally entertained. This performance really is one for children of all ages. 

Pinocchio plays at Live Theater Workshop on Sundays at 12:30 PM through October 20th. Ticket prices are $7 for children and $10 for adults. Tickets are available on the website livetheatreworkshop.org and also by calling the box office at 327-4242. The box office is open Tuesday through Saturday 1:00 – 5:00 PM, and one hour before showtimes.

The Nexus Between Life and Death Will Always Be Found in Nature

by guest reviewer Richard Thompson

The nexus between life and death will always be found in nature. It’s only natural. It’s not just the sounds of innocent children’s laughter and birds chirping in the prelude or the cacophony of jungle beasts making feral noises when finding a seat in the auditorium of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Life abound is felt; nature is imbibed. Yet, these stages in life wouldn’t tell the complete story of nature without the aged glass cases that stood as sad celebrity sarcophaguses to dead beetles, moths, and scorpions. And in the end, the production Herman: The Naturalist takes us through every facet of life and death, only to be reborn. With a nice red radio to boot.

Grant Bashore in Herman: The Naturalist. Photo courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Grant Bashore in Herman: The Naturalist. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Inspired by stories learned of his family’s past, Grant Bashore takes on all aspects of nature and life inextricably tied to us through a series of narratives between individuals. The story begins far in the future, introducing us as an alien research team approaching a now mostly decimated earth where the hope and folly of humanity are explained through the lasting words of a mysterious school-bus-turned-museum owner who may or may not have made it out of Guatemala in the mid-1900s. I’ll let you take that in.

Bashore takes the performing lead and transforms into each of the five characters with such distinction that each character seemed to be performed by a different actor. T, the alien captain and leader to the audience, provides the setting, tells us why we are here, and where we are going. He uses a finely tuned mix of audience recognition, without audience engagement, that provides smooth transition between scenes and, when questions are asked of us they are both rhetorical and answerable.  

Grant Bashore as T. Photo courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Grant Bashore as T. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The family members of the now worshipped title character Herman retain a 20th-century Midwestern tint and are represented in reenacted interviews discussing how each member is facing the reality that a family member may be gone. “Dead” seems to be too hard a word to say. No one wants to acknowledge death, but even as the words try to slip out of Stewart, Herman’s older, stoic brother, even he couldn’t recognize the truth he knows inside.

As these various narratives are told, Bashore utilizes familiar forms of communication for both humor and introspection. From faded interviews, real reenactments, memories, and musical interludes integrated with contemporary movements highly influenced through Stanislavskyian form, his skills of blending mime and spoken word provide layers of emotion and meaning to even the subtlest of movements. It’s this physicality that elevates this theatrical art form.

Staged and choreographed with Rick Warner, Bashore dominates the stage with an undeniable physicality. Trained in active analysis his mastery of phsycophysicality through proprioception provides a performance that exemplifies a true understanding of decision and gesture that elevates methods of physicality and movement in the performing arts. At each moment, the audience can see the inception of a character’s motivation, extending into the decision each of these people make before they even decide to react. It’s a testament to his ability to transform into… anything on the stage. Fingertips turn to raindrops, palms and forearms turn to oceanic life, and even a low-rhythmic bounce of a worn-out bus as its fatigued drivers prepares to move on.

This storytelling could not be done without the deft management behind the production’s light and sound design. Lighting Designer, Lawrence Ware, along with Bashore, devised an integration of extreme opposites in light and dark that will both comfort and confuse the audience. While keeping with pure whites and blacks, Ware also infused many moments with deep reddish hues that feel like death is the only recourse, while breathing a sense of relief back into the scene with a variety of blues that fend off the plight brought from the ominous reds.

Much of the production relies on sounds, music, and auditory effects (created by Bashore and Assistant Sound Designer Christopher Hill). The amazing use of engine noise, sound skips, and instrumental pieces heighten the visuals on stage. The set design was minimalist with the exception of an old burgundy radio that was resting on its side, allowing for Bashore to provide the world we would be envisioning. This minimalism is stretched to most of the costuming, but it needs to be noted that Costume Seamstress Callie Hutchison was able to weave an impressive collection of outfits that touch science-fiction sensibilities while retaining its foundation in the world without taking us out of the story of a man named Herman.

This minimalism extends to a lack of women in the cast. While the FireFly Gang comprises of an up and coming actress already showing stage presence (Willow Falcón), the majority of women’s influence in the piece is relegated to off-stage roles. 

It can hardly be surprising that a one-man physical performance would have very few mentions of women, and even more difficulty in properly representing the opposite sex without it turning into an absurd – or thoughtless – characterization, as opposed to a relatable character. However, there are no words that properly illustrate the haunting transition of voice when Bashore is reading journal entry as Florence, only to transform into Herman himself as he is writing the excerpt she is reading. There are not enough tissues to prepare one for that. 

Herman: The Naturalist asks the audience to accept the entirety of nature. We can’t float through life like the children at the prelude (Marco Amoroso, Sebastian Falcón, Willow Falcón), run away from life and its expectations like Herman’s father, ignore and deflect our personal hurt like Florence, or just pretend it’s all okay, like Herman did. We have to hope. Hope for life. Hope for ourselves. Hope for others. Hope for something more than us. And maybe, even, hope for a run-down school bus turned into a museum by a man named Herman.

Herman: The Naturalist runs through Friday, October 11 at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by calling the box office at (520) 448-3300, or in-person an hour prior to the show.

 

About the guest reviewer:
Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson (Actor) was born in Kokomo, Indiana. He has no relevant education from any formal institution in theater or film. His writing career comprises of columnist work for The Arizona Daily Star, editor for Persona Magazine, content creator of Looking Back manuscript for P.C.C., Sandscript Magazine contributor, and editor and columnist for Gourmet News for which he received a James Beard nomination for his article, “Holy See-Food”. He is also a Hearst Poet and a published IEEE author (2018-2019), as well as a technical writer whose proposals, grants and speeches have totaled in over $250k in gained between 2016 to now. Since 2017, The Community Players produced his stage play, Last Call, followed by performances in No Admittance (Bill Bowen) and One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest (Chief), numerous Radio Theater shows, backstage crew for ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ (A Midsummer’s Night Dream) as well as multiple roles in musical shows. In 2018, he worked under Eugenia Wood in Hark, with Ron Athey, Cassils, and Arshia Fatima in Cyclic, and produced his original manuscript The GRANDest Pageant. Films include RiseThe Righteous Twelve, and The GRANDest Pageant. In 2019, he founded Graveyard Production Company (www.gyproco.com) and will perform Exist.

Sun Serpent Shines and Sings

by Rebekah Thimlar

Stories create spaces that sustain us, transform us, and remember us after we are gone. Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts production of Sun Serpent is a story of family and remembrance. Told by an inclusive cast, it uses magical storytelling that warms and soothes with a touching recognition of the individual. Written by José Cruz González, the beauty of Sun Serpent is that it tells the story of a time seldom seen, in voices seldom heard. This production, directed by Milta Ortiz, is an engaging all-ages show. 

unnamedSun Serpent opens on the shores of Tabasco, Mexico in 1519. Amoxtli, a young Totonac girl, spends her time fishing in the shallows with her older brother, Tlememe. She dreams of one day becoming Sky Dancer like Tlememe. The fish they catch is destined for the road that leads to the City of Dreams, where the emperor Moctezuma reigns.  Amoxtli and her brother, orphaned by Moctezuma’s army, live with their grandmother, Anci. She strengthens them with stories, song, art, and love. When Hernán Cortés arrives on their shores proclaiming peace and love for the Totonac people, some believe that Cortés is the Sun Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, coming to them in the form of a man. Tlememe, believing Cortés is a savior, joins him in the march to the City of Dreams, where Cortés and Moctezuma will meet. When the violence and avarice of the Spanish conquistadors are exposed to Amoxtli’s village, she sets out along the trail of destruction to the City of Dreams to save her brother, Tlememe. 

Sun Serpent is told in a blend of English, Spanish, and Nahuatl. These languages weave between prophecy, dreams, myths, and reality. This play swerves along the line that separates human from animal, shadow from light. Transitions are eased by sound and visual effects. Triptych panels, looming large center stage, take the play from the highest mountains to the cool blue bubbling of the sea. The cast does a wonderful job navigating the transitory nature of this play. One moment, a troupe of howling monkeys dominates the stage, carrying terror and confusion for our heroine. The next, a long black jaguar, sure and strong gives her strength to Amoxtli. This back and forth between myth and reality kept me interested and engaged with the play. Master mask maker, Zarco Guerrero, created the beautiful masks that help push the edges of reality and myth. The production’s use of language, visuals, sound, and performance intertwine into a beautiful vision of an unknowable past.

Sun Serpent was originally written as a story of two Totonac brothers, Tlememe and Anahuac, intended to parallel the relationship between Moctezuma and Cortés, both men of power and influence. Not enough praise can be given to director Milta Ortiz who envisioned the play with a female lead and gave us Amoxtli, our heroine. Reworked with a lady lead, the intended parallels were not lost in this production. The playful brother-sister dynamic between Amoxtli and Tlememe is enjoyable to watch. This female-dominated cast, crew and production team deliver a play that is magical, humorous and engaging. 

As much as I enjoyed this production, there were a few moments where I was taken out of it. Some lines, particularly at the beginning of the play, were so rushed I could not quite make out what was said. Although momentarily distracting, this seemed to correct itself and the play was able to hit its stride. 

Of the things I enjoyed best about Sun Serpent, particularly at this Autumn hour, is that it creates a space to remember and honor those who went before us. At one point, Amoxtli plays music to accompany the dead on their journey to become stars in the heavens. Later in the play, the names of the dead are recited. I felt all of us, cast, crew, and audience, paused in silence for them. The responsibility of telling these stories is felt in this production. Dedication to the recognition of the individual is what makes this play feel so special, closing the distance of time between past and present, if just for a moment.

In the same way, Amoxtli’s music creates a path to the stars, Sun Serpent creates a path for our community to explore a history that changed Mexico forever. Led by a diverse cast with talented storytelling, Sun Serpent is a truly magical play that succeeds in honoring the stories of those who went before us. 

Sun Serpent is showing at Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts through Sunday, October 8th. Tickets can be purchased for $8 by calling 520/206/6986 or online at pima.edu/cfa.

The Legend of Georgia McBride Tackles Fearless Self-love and Campy Personal Freedom

by Regina Ford

Finding your inner drag takes courage. Sharing your inner drag with the world takes guts and honesty and it just may set you free. That’s the jaunty moral of Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, about a young, part-time Elvis impersonator who discovers that digging deep into a female persona makes him a better man.

Young lovers, Jo (Lauren Vialva) and Casey (Dylan Cotter) are starting their life together in the Florida panhandle and money is scarce. She’s waitressing. He’s entertaining in a dive bar where he grinds and gyrates as Elvis Presley in kitschy costumes, reflections of the King’s bloated, drug-filled years before his death. But with bar patrons disappearing, bar owner Eddie (Guy Norris) changes direction and brings in his cousin Bobby (Naphtali Curry), a performance artist booked as Miss Tracy Mills. With no room for an Elvis gig, Casey is out of a job, he can’t pay rent and he and Jo discover they are going to have a baby. Ms. Mills is joined by drag artist Rexy (Jax Wujek), a campy lush whose stage name is Miss Anorexia Nervosa, a name she snarls is “Italian.” (This one-line gag poking fun at a serious eating disorder is touchy for some, especially those of us who battled this condition at one point in time. Overcoming the shame of an eating disorder is a battle of deep reflection and learning to love thyself.  This painful memory may strike a sour chord with some audience members, even if Lopez may have innocently aimed for a cheap laugh.) 

When Rexy is too drunk to do her Edith Piaf number, Casey reluctantly returns to the stage in falsies, padded hips and ass, and stilettos and attempts to embrace his Georgia McBride drag persona. The conflict explodes when Jo discovers Casey is lying about his new role onstage.

Dylan Cotter as Casey, Naphtali Curry as Tracy, and Lauren Vialva as Jo. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of the University of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Dylan Cotter as Casey, Naphtali Curry as Tracy, and Lauren Vialva as Jo. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of the University of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Casey is no doubt heterosexual in the play and the dilemma of telling Jo about his drag role seems plausible, but I struggled with how quickly the playwright allowed Casey’s character to accept doing drag so easily. The character studied drama and also dabbled in music, even writing a song for Jo, so “acting” the part of a drag queen was not unbelievable. I wanted to witness a more dramatic transition from the character’s role from Elvis to Georgia McBride. I think Lopez missed the opportunity to test the actor’s ability by not providing him with more dialogue and motivation surrounding his journey from Elvis to a drag performer. I felt cheated in the character’s development and I was left wondering how performing as a woman affected any part of Casey’s masculinity, an issue never addressed in the play.

Cotters’ Casey is dynamic though. I felt his internal empathy for his character, both as a soon-to-be father and again as Georgia McBride. His female persona was believable and sincere given how quickly he had to adapt.

Vialva took her role of Jo and turned her into a loving but frustrated partner to Casey. Her struggle to understand her partner’s decision to do drag as a profession was one of the most refreshing roles in the show. The acceptance or rejection of another’s inner spirit is addressed with empathy and in these polarizing times and Vialva made that happen.

Curry nailed the role of Tracy, and as Tina Turner he strutted in tortuous gold platforms with deadly spikes as he belted out “Proud Mary.” Lip-synching is an art in itself and the Arizona Repertory students were spot-on. 

Wujek was an unabashed Rexy with believable drunken-laced stage pratfalls. I never doubted his performance. His character is the epitome of a stereotypical drag queen. I do wish the playwright showed little sympathy for the character. Although catty and always bitchy, I believed Rexy to be toxic on the surface, but a lost soul inside. His alcohol-laced rants screams help me! with no help written into the script.

Scenic designer Clare Rowe made use of a revolving set allowing for quick scene changes from Casey’s apartment and back to the bar. The set had just enough decor to give the audience the illusion of the bar’s cramped backstage dressing room and a sparse apartment that Casey and Jo call home.

The music selection during scene changes, including Neil Diamond’s hit, “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon,” added just enough fluff to make the audience laugh. 

Dylan Cotter as Casey, Naphtali Curry as Tracy, and Jax Wujek as Rexy. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of the University of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Dylan Cotter as Casey, Naphtali Curry as Tracy, and Jax Wujek as Rexy. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of the University of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Co-director Patrick Holt, who also inspired the sequin, feather and fake fur-embellished costumes along with Shaelyn Ellershaw, should really know the ropes. After all, Holt was one of the stars of season seven on Ru Paul’s Drag Race and more recently named one of the most influential drag performers for New York magazine. Need I say more? 

I embrace the message of acceptance in The Legend of Georgia McBride. I want to applaud the men and women who have the courage to forge deep into themselves and feel the freedom to love who they really are. No one can expect everyone to be understanding and tolerant of things they don’t understand. Ignorance and fear are powerful deterrents. As critical as the message of tolerance should be, this play only tackles the surface of the issue. Although slightly candy-coated with quick one-liners and innuendos, it’s worth starting somewhere and The Legend of Georgia McBride is a good starting point.

The Legend of Georgia McBride plays at the Tornabene Theatre at the University of Arizona through October 6th. Performances are at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations or info, visit: theatre.arizona.edu or call 621-1162.

The Royale is a Knockout Filled with Heart

by Lena Quach

The Royale, written by Marco Ramirez, is loosely based on the life of African American boxer, Jack Johnson, who was famous in the early 1900s for being the first black boxer who dared to step into the ring to challenge white boxer, James J. Jefferies. Jack Johnson wanted to prove he was the Heavyweight Champion of the World despite his color of skin. With no fear, he challenged a racist world and fought for change during the Jim Crow era where lynching and being killed were very real everyday fears for many African Americans. 

Erica Chamblee as Nina and Bechir Sylvain as Jay "The Sport" Jackson. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Erica Chamblee as Nina and Bechir Sylvain as Jay “The Sport” Jackson. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Marco Ramirez’s profoundly moving, beautifully written, and rhythmic play captured my attention and my heart by the end of the first action-packed scene. The direction, by Michael John Garcés, was very real, yet graceful, and many of the scenes reminded me of a carefully choreographed dance. It was hypnotizing to see the story unfold as the characters progressed and grew in front of my eyes. Of course, this play is more than just a play about boxing. This play is about the thirst for change and equality in a world of hate and racism. Being a Latina in 2019, I thirst for this change but that overwhelming sense of fear is all too real and relatable. I never thought I could relate to a play about boxing, but the drive and the need for diversity in an industry that is primarily white reminded me of my days as a professional ballerina where people of color are few and far between.

Jay “The Sport” Jackson, the tall, strong, and driven heavyweight champion played by Bechir Sylvain, was truly a master of acting. My eyes never left Sylvain as he embodied every side of Jay’s character from the cocky know-it-all in the ring to the pained and hurt brother who wants to make everything better for his beloved sister. I was truly moved and inspired by Sylvain’s performance. 

Roberto Antonio Martin played the young boxer, Fish. Martin’s physical acting and movement quality were thrilling to watch. Especially in the first scene when both Jay and Fish are in the ring but facing the audience. The way Martin responded physically was really a sight to see. The way Fish develops throughout the play was alluring. Fish is soft-hearted and willing to do whatever he can to protect those he cares about. Martin was a great presence and addition to the already insanely talented cast. 

Wynton was played by the seasoned actor Edwin Lee Gibson. Gibson’s performance of Wynton was stoic, deep, and sometimes filled with resentment. I was extremely moved by the completely silent scene where Wynton is going through a journey of deep, despondent, fear-filled emotions. Gibson’s eyes glistened and swelled up with tears as he looked out into the audience and then slowly moved across the stage. I felt for the characters as I followed his silent journey. It was utterly heartbreaking yet beautiful to watch. 

Erica Chamblee, who played Nina, was mesmerizing and haunting. Silent for the majority of the play, her face spoke a thousand words as she slowly moved around the stage and the other characters as a reminder of Jay’s thirst for equality. Chamblee’s performance had my heart jumping out of my chest and surprised me more than once. 

The role of Max was played by Peter Howard. Howard did a magnificent job of portraying Jay’s somewhat nervous and easily frustrated business partner and manager. Howard almost acts like a narrator at certain points an, at times, like a slew of reporters that question Jay throughout the play. He was a joy to watch. 

The cast of the Royale. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

The cast of the Royale. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Along with the amazingly talented cast came the beautiful scenic design by Misha Kachman. It was minimal but highlighted when needed. Especially when the stage itself transforms into a boxing ring at the end of the show. It was truly part of the show and used with grace. The lighting design by Allen Willner was absolutely gorgeous- the lighting created a perfect picture frame for the story being told. The sound design by Brian Jerome Peterson made the audience feel like they were really present and part of the scene. The use of a crowd cheering in the background to the sound of a picture being taken during the interview scenes were tastefully done. 

Overall, The Royale, even though based in the past, felt contemporary and called to mind current affairs in the United States. The struggle for change and equality and the rage and fear that is– all too real. The love and pride for someone you love. Grief, resentment, and the need to succeed are all emotions you discover and ponder on even after you leave the theater after seeing this truly stunning production. This play brought tears to my eyes and I found myself being the first of many to give this amazing production, and cast, the standing ovation they deserve. 

You can see this knockout performance now thru September 28th at the Temple of Music and Art ( 330 S Scott Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701) and you can buy tickets at www.arizonatheatre.org or (520) 628-9129.