Familial Dysfunction and Poetry Abound in Long Day

by Chloe Loos

You have three options when reality is too painful to face: you can lose yourself in the past, you can worry about the future, or you can live in the present, on your own terms. The family of four presented in The Rogue Theatre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s 1956 magnum opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night do all three. Sometimes different ones, and almost always at separate times. Where the text truly shines is in those moments of misbegotten allegiance when two people are finally in the same space. Of course, this doesn’t happen often, and we instead watch people pass like ships in the night, unable to see each other clearly.

Joseph McGrath as James, Theresa McElwee, Ryan Parker Knox as Jamie and Hunter Hnat as Edmund. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Joseph McGrath as James, Theresa McElwee as Mary, Ryan Parker Knox as Jamie, and Hunter Hnat as Edmund. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

The play, directed by Cynthia Meier, takes place over the course of a single dark day in the summer home of the Tyrone family. Secrets are kept, secrets are shared, and the truth is not as simple as it might seem. Mary (Theresa McElwee) is still recovering from treatment for morphine addiction, of which husband James (Joseph McGrath) supports her wholeheartedly. Things are complicated by Edmund’s (played by Hunter Hnat) sickness and his bullheaded brother, Jamie (Ryan Parker Knox).

With a runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes, the play is certainly long. Still, despite the fact that the text was cut down to shorten it, I felt that the performers were constantly battling the clock in order to tell the story. As a play about an incredibly dysfunctional family (of which they are aware, thanks to some lovely breaks of humour), there are rapid tonal shifts throughout that I felt often never quite reached their full intensity. When you need to get through that much material, even the pauses are filled with movement. But there wasn’t enough time to breathe; to sit in the weight of the poetry and sadness; to really hear what these people were trying to tell each other. Those times where we were allowed to sit in moments were absolutely breathtaking.

Hunter Hnat as Edmund and Theresa McElwee as Mary. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Hunter Hnat as Edmund and Theresa McElwee as Mary. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Each performer had moments of strength – particularly when their characters were being honest with themselves, but I was particularly impressed by Hnat’s laser-like intensity throughout the piece. Performing illness and strength is not easy, but Hnat executed it so well. A stand-in for O’Neill himself, we can see him react to and internalize all these moments in such a way that he felt the most solidly real out of all the performers. I believed this play was Edmund’s story, and as O’Neill recreated moments from his own life, it’s easy to see how he became the person he did. 

Staged in the round, the sitting room set featured ramshackle furniture underneath a hanging chandelier, off of which light glinted beautifully. A large set of stairs wound up into the black curtains. Across from it, a blue door. The message was clear. You can stay or you can go. The tension between those dominating pieces worked well, especially when characters ascended and disappeared into the blackness. As the play progressed and we got closer to night, the lighting and sound design helped us to feel like we just as trapped in that house as Mary was. Special shout out to the piano music by Russell Ronnebaum, who underscored the sense of longing implicit in the script.

That said, in a play about how the past, present, and future can all come back to haunt us, there were some indications this play is definitely of a time since gone. Some of the slang was hard to track, and there were some fatphobic jokes that weren’t entirely necessary. Surprisingly, it does pass the Bechdel test. There is a conversation between Mary and maid Cathleen (played by a subversive Holly Griffith) that was a nice break in the male-centric tragedy. I also appreciated the realistic handling of generational addiction, which is a conversation as important to have when the play was written as it is now. The play is what it is: an autobiographical piece about people being awful to each other while trying to make up for it and thus has value as a historic piece of American theatre. 

Yes, it’s long. But it’s so worthwhile if you’ve ever felt out of touch or out of reach of your community, humanity, or even reality.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is playing Thursday through Sunday at The Rogue Theatre (300 E. University Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85705) through September 29th. Tickets are available by calling 520-551-2053, at the box office one hour before the performance, or on the web at theroguetheatre.org.

Elevator Goes Nowhere

by Gretchen Wirges

ElevatorSeptember 11, 2001. It was a day that changed me. It was a day that changed the lives of many people I know. It was a day that changed our country irrevocably. On the anniversary, I often find myself shying away from social media and general news content to avoid the sensationalism and morbid reflection. Instead, I lean more toward artistic solace in the form of music and theater. This year, I attended Elevator, written and directed by local playwright Patrick Carson, currently being staged by The Tucson Community Theater Company.

The story is a fictional account of a group of individuals who were in one of the elevators of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the events occurred. Stuck together in the elevator for the duration of this play, we learn more about the occupants  (played by actors David Updegraff, Elizabeth von Isser, Charlize Diaz de León, Tony Eckstat, Jade Ashton and Peter Bryfogle.) 

As an actor and a director myself, I always appreciate the work that goes into forming a full-scale production. The set looked like an expanded version of a real elevator that you’d find in any high-rise. It’s accuracy was impressive. Because the entire play takes place in that elevator, the size was exaggerated, and the walls cheated out to provide enough room, while giving the visual cues of the context of the play. 

However, the facility used for staging the production -a big banquet hall- was less than ideal. Half of the audience were sat in chairs at folding tables covered with plastic table cloths. I mention this only because it set a tone of amateurish informality that made me already feel separated from the expression of the work. Because of the less than ideal setting, the sound quality and production was also lacking. Each of the actors wore a lapel microphone that popped, hissed, and/or squealed with feedback every time they physically interacted with each other or moved in their costumes. Toward the end of the play, the characters are often coughing from smoke inhalation, which exacerbated the sound issues. 

The script itself is unbearably cliched and problematic. The characters were archetypal caricatures: bigoted business man, powerful lesbian woman, pregnant Muslim woman, uneducated blue-collar man, affable Englishman, and naive, pretty secretary. Because of these broad strokes, there are rare moments of realness between the characters. Instead, the play often devolves into trite declarations, predictable platitudes, and borderline offensive depictions of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and classism. The Muslim woman literally says fewer than 10 words in the first 30 minutes of the play. I saw it as an attempt for the playwright to make a social commentary with this device, when in reality it plays off as empty altruism. 

In addition, there are issues with the story’s plausibility. For example, throughout the majority of the play, smoke is seeping in through the cracks of the elevator. It isn’t until the play is almost over that there is a real reaction to that environmental factor. This is just one example, among many, that constantly took me out of the story because the action did not support previous information related earlier in the play. 

The performances by the actors were hindered by a script that never allowed them to fully realize the humanity of their characters. Further, the direction glossed over believable reactions to the events at hand. There was never really a sense of fear or urgency or pain or panic or grief that would make sense in such a situation. This disparity in logical reaction, in combination with an incredibly thin script, had many of the performances just falling flat for me. 

Von Isser (Edie) and Diaz de León (Tina) managed to find some lovely moments for their individual characters that gave us a peek into their emotions and grounded their performances as the most believable and interesting to watch. I truly believe the other cast members, with stronger direction, could have come off as so much more than the stereotypes they were burdened to play. 

In the end, I was not able to find even a crumb the artistic solace I was looking for. 

Elevator will run through September 29th. Performances are Thursday through Saturday (with the exception of 9/21) at 7:00 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. All performances will be at the GLH Hotel Event Center at 1365 W Grant Road.

 

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Most people have choices in their lives that, upon reflection, have the potential to change its course; which college to attend, what career path to follow, who to spend their lives with. In the case of the play Now and Then by Sean Grennan, playing at Invisible Theatre, this theme plays out in showing us a couple who consider changing the direction of their relationship, but to what end. 

The play opens with Jamie, played by William Seidel, closing up the local Irish pub where he works. The door flies open with a flourish and fury, and a man, played by Michael F. Woodson, blows in. Although it is closing time, he requests a drink and won’t take no for an answer. The Man goes over to a video game and astounds Jamie by getting a high score. Abby, Jamie’s girlfriend played by Gabriella De Brequet, bounces in and so the stage is set for the reflective drama to begin. The Man offers them an increasingly large amount of money to keep the bar open and sit, chat and drink with him. 

Gabriella De Brequet as Abby, William Seidel as Jaime, Susan Cookie Baker as The Woman, and Michael F. Woodson The Man. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

Gabriella De Brequet as Abby, William Seidel as Jaime, Susan Cookie Baker as The Woman, and Michael F. Woodson The Man. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

Designer James Blair did a masterful job with the set. From the dart board, to the video game, and bottles behind the bar, we have no doubt that we are in a Chicago neighborhood pub circa 1981. I kept looking around to see each perfect detail that he captured. There was no doubt in my mind that I was there. Co-directors Susan Classen and Samantha Cormier have done a commendable job with the casting. The ensemble is delightful in its interactions on stage. With the actors perched on bar stools, and drinking shots, even using the real theatre bathroom, there was no question that a scene in a bar was transpiring. The couples really appear to be very much in love, and dialogue flows effortlessly. 

Susan Cookie Baker, who plays The Woman, at times, looks like an older version of Gabriella De Brequet and has her mannerisms and subtle gestures down pat. Is she Abby’s mom or aunt? We really aren’t sure what the connection is until the story unfolds. Baker artfully portrays two very different versions of her character. It is not solely the costumes and hairstyles, but the way she uses her posture, and physical presence on stage to achieve this.

De Brequet’s portrayal of Abby was totally enthralling as she daintily sipped her drink, and hungrily gobbled her rice crispy treats. She was able to reveal the character to us with her physicality as well as her emotional vulnerability. Abby is seen as a young woman deeply in love but conflicted as what the course of her life should be. 

Seidel plays Jamie’s clumsy and awkward and not quite sure of himself, as young men are. His youthful exuberance is evident from the moment he enters the stage whistling. Where will his life take him? Will he get to play and perform with Miles Davis? The Man, played by Woodson, appears to be the most reflective. Often Woodson’s posture reveals a man who somehow is not happy with how his life has evolved. Woodson’s portrayal of the character’s inner dialogue and conflict is revealed by the simultaneous strength and uncertainty of the character. 

It seems to be The Man’s story. If there is any fault with the play, it is in the story itself. Was it truly the couple’s decision to change the course of their lives, or was it primarily the man’s decision? It appears that his is the driving force. Of course the play is set in 1981 and is perhaps reflective of the dynamics in relationships that was prevalent at the time. It is also written by a man. That being said, this is an incredible feel- good play that will leave you smiling as you exit. Laughter, joy and,hope were evident as the audience was exiting the theatre. Love is the theme of IT’s 29th season. Even a confirmed skeptic about love in 2019 will leave with a renewed feeling that love does indeed trump all else.

Now and Then is playing at Invisible Theater through September 15. Shows are 9/11, 9/12, 9/13, 9/14, and 9/15 at 7:30 PM. Matinees at 3:00 PM are available 9/7, 9/8, 9/14, and 9/15. Ticket prices are $35, and group tickets are available. The box office is 882-9721. Tickets are also available on the website at invisibletheatre.com.

 

Love, Lies, and Layers of Vulnerability

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

So, it is September; often a time for the end of a summer romance for many. Live Theatre Workshop’s production of Heisenberg, by English playwright Simon Stephens, doesn’t address that theme, but another seasonal one of a May-December coupling. This phrase refers to a woman in the early part of her life, hence May, with a man at least 11 years older in the later part of his life, hence December. Although this is not a new topic, Sabian Trout’s direction, the playwright, and the actors all do a convincing job to present this in a novel way. A woman meets a stranger and gives him a kiss on the back of the neck, and the dance of courtship begins as the play opens.

Roberto Guajardo as Alex and Dallas Tomas as Georgie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Roberto Guajardo as Alex and Dallas Tomas as Georgie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Not often are we privy to those private moments between a couple as they navigate the waters of the early stages of a romance. Yes, we may see them at a party holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other, but we don’t see what happens between the two of them when they are alone. This is what is revealed in Heisenberg. As incongruous as this couple is with a 33-year age difference, Trout did an excellent job casting. Alex, played by Roberto Guajardo, is a 75-year-old Irish butcher who is a lifelong bachelor. Georgie, played by Dallas Tomas, is a gamine, 42-year-old, manic American receptionist. The scene is London today. The set is stark, and the scene changes are done by the actors themselves. Costuming is minimal and yet makes the characters so believable.
With the sparseness of the set, the costumes, and the lack of other characters, we are meant to focus on the couple. Alex appears closed and in no uncertain terms tells us he has no use whatsoever for feelings. He is adamant about that. Guajardo is a masterful actor as he reveals to us very slowly and subtly the many layers of Alex’s being. From the stereotypical curmudgeon we meet at the start of the play, he changes to a man who eventually is able to show his vulnerability to Georgie, and also to us. Georgie’s energy is so manic we want to get her to slow down. Gradually, she starts to relax and reveal her true self to us. I loved watching the physicality Tomas embraced as Georgie. It reinforced her childlike innocence as well as capitalizing on her sexuality. Make no mistake, Alex was taken by this, but he also responds to her the more she reveals her authentic self. Without distractions, we are able to focus on just two people discovering who the other is, and gradually, inconceivably, falling for each other. As unimaginable as they appear as a couple at the beginning of the show, as they grow and reveal themselves to each other, and to us, we can see why they are together.
This is where the title Heisenberg comes in. It is never referenced in the play. It alludes to German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who introduced his uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics in 1927. It states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. The Heisenberg reference is seen in the apparent disparity of the couple and their seemingly very different outlooks on the world. As we are introduced to the most unlikely pair and see who they are, we are not quite sure how this romance will turn out.
Yes, this is a story that has been told many times. However, it is still a story worth telling as it deals with a most primal need for all of us. That is the need for love and acceptance wherever we are fortunate enough to find it. As a 70-something woman and actor, I would love to see a show with the age differences reversed with the older character being a woman. Of course, I would love to play the lead character! Again, not a stereotypical boy toy or gold digger as the younger male, but with a genuine human connection between seemingly very different characters. All too often when there is an age difference between a couple, erroneous assumptions are made as to the ulterior motives of, usually, the younger member of the duo. The possibility of a genuine connection between this pairing is rarely seen, but this stereotype is not evident at all in Heisenberg. I loved the show and the reimagining of an oft-told tale. Although the author was male, with a strong female character in Georgie and a female director, I did not feel that this was a male-centric work. The theme that love is love is universal and is one that today still needs to be portrayed.
Heisenberg is playing at Live Theatre Workshop through September 28, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 3:00 PM. The phone number is 520 327-4242. Box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1:00 – 5:00 PM. The box office is open on Thursday through Saturday at 6:30 PM. and Sunday at 2:15 PM. Ticket prices are $18-$20 and are also available through the website livetheatreworkshop.org.

The Little Foxes Strikes a Chord

by Bryn Booth

The rich don’t have to be subtle in Winding Road Theater’s splendid production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. The rich seek to consume the wealth of others while they hoard their own, and during this very polarizing time in America, this story seems more relevant than ever. 

The Little Foxes is set in a small town in Alabama in the early 1900s and circles around the very wealthy Hubbard family. While customs were changing, the vast majority of men in the early 20th century acknowledged only their sons as potential heirs; women such as Regina Hubbard Giddens, played by Cynthia Jeffery, had to seek their fortunes through less straightforward means. Regina desires wealth and power beyond what her husband Horace can give her.  With her two avaricious brothers, she seeks to undermine her husband’s authority and gain his wealth through any means possible. At times the energy seemed to dissipate in this production and the story moved along slowly, but it quickly picked up speed as we dig further into the scandals of the Hubbard family.

Director Glen Coffman clearly wants to immerse us into the world of the aristocratic south, and therefore the ambiance is especially significant. This was accomplished by a minimal yet impressive set with a large, painted staircase and a brightly shining chandelier. The furniture, green velvet adorned with yellow fringe, is cleverly reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s infamous gown made of drapes. The effect is instant. Everything is beautiful and delicate, but insidious deeds brew underneath the façade.

Cynthia Jeffery as Regina Hubbard Giddens. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Cynthia Jeffery as Regina Hubbard Giddens. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Coffman also assembled a talented cast who brought this world to life. Upon Regina Giddens’s first appearance in a lavish purple gown, it is immediately evident that she rules the household.  Purple is traditionally the color of royalty, so I tip my hat to the costumer, Marie Caprile, for making this distinction. Jeffery’s powerful presence as Regina demands the stage as well as respect from her conspiratorial brothers Oscar and Benjamin, played perfectly and mischievously by Dave Davidson and David Alexander Johnston. The two brothers, after failing to convince Regina’s husband Horace, played by a formidable Eric Rau, to invest in the construction of a cotton mill, then offer the idea of an arranged marriage between Oscar’s simple and spoiled son Leo, played by Damian Garcia, and Regina’s bright-eyed daughter Alexandra played by Morgan H. Smith. Garcia’s portrayal of Leo had an amusing “hyuck hyuck” quality and provided the show with much needed comedic relief. Smith gave a moving performance as Alexandra, transforming from naïve young girl to a dignified, intelligent woman. The household servant, Addie, portrayed by Gianbari “Debora” Deebom, proves to be more of a mother figure to Alexandra than Regina ever could be. Deebom’s performance was essential to the production as she maintained the moral authority in the Hubbard household.

I applaud Coffman’s direction because this production struck a chord with me. In the news lately, it seems we learn of more and more financial scandals and how the super-rich have used the lower class to prop themselves up while also hoarding their wealth. Regina, Oscar, and Benjamin were obvious representations of the callous attitudes held by the wealthy. When Horace is hit with a heart attack, Regina simply watches him suffer. It seemed rather poignant for a wealthy person to watch others suffer in order to serve their own agenda. Alexandra, on the other hand, represents a new generation who feels outraged and helpless in the face of such corruption. Her Uncle Benjamin defends this corruption with a sinister line “some people call that patriotism.”

Gianbari “Debora” Deebom as Addie. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Gianbari “Debora” Deebom as Addie. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

It is encouraging to see a company celebrate the work of a female playwright, especially one as fierce as Lillian Hellman, who was known for her activist views. She seems to be calling audiences to action through this play. “[T]here are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it,” Addie, the black servant, states, “…Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.” Hellman is commenting on the complacency of the masses towards the corruption and the power of the wealthy. They get to be corrupt, they get to be criminals, and we are made to feel powerless. Hellman is trying to reignite the fire of anger and indignation in the hearts of the common people. I highly recommend this powerful production and I am excited to see what else Winding Road will create this year.

The Little Foxes is playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday through September 15th at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at The Historic Y (738 N. 5th Avenue, Tucson, AZ, 85705). Tickets are available at windingroadtheater.org. You can also contact the box office by emailing windingroadte@gmail.com or by calling (520) 401-3626. There are discounted tickets available for students, military, and senior citizens.

Meeting Students’ Needs While Entertaining Us – What’s Not to Love at ART?

Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Balancing education, entertainment, and moving audiences forward with Hank Stratton.

by Leigh Moyer

ART

Hank Stratton, artistic director of the Arizona Repertory Theatre (ART) and assistant professor in the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film, and Television, can’t overstate the importance of theatre: “The event of theatre happening in front of you is something that you can’t experience in other forms and we need to show that to younger audiences. Every time I introduce someone to theatre it changes their lives. If you can’t tell a story with a block and a white piece of cloth, you just aren’t doing the job. All the rest of it is gravy. If you don’t have the elements of storytelling, of humanity, of simple talking and listening, then you’ve already gone off the rails. That’s theatre to me.”

This isn’t just a parable; it’s a lesson, one he teaches every year at the University of Arizona. The gravy for audience members is a six-show season that transports and amazes. For Stratton, however, choosing a season isn’t only about what will most entertain the audience but what will best educate his students. He’s unapologetic about it: “You may not always love what we do, but we need to look at what the students need first.”

That said, this season at ART there is a lot to love. 

A classic such as the fall production of Pippin, the fictionalized story of Charlemagne and his son’s quest to please him through war and feats on the battlefield, told through the lense of a troupe of performers, is countered by the spring opener The Wolves, a story that follows the very different kind of warfare of teenage girlhood. The Wolves takes place during the pregame warm up routine of the eponymous soccer team and the conversations they have, experiences they share, and losses they experience on and off the field.

The season also features Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, along with the two more modern pieces The Last Night of Ballyhoo and The Light in the Piazza, and one sure to test walking skills, not to mention acting: The Legend of Georgia McBride. The latter follows the story of an Elvis impersonator who becomes a drag queen. 

Georgia-McBride“Not many of our young students have experience with drag,” Stratton explained, “We’re preparing them in terms of movement, culture, and pathos of those characters. During auditions, we watched all these young men in huge, colorful heels and I had a student come to me and say, ‘You are the one in freshman year who told me that you can’t wear flip flops and get the movement of the characters right if you are in the wrong shoe.’ As a teacher, it’s a feeling of ‘holy shit, this is working!’”

But this production is about far more than seeing college students in flamboyant costumes: “One of the reasons for doing The Legend of Georgia McBride is because the drag community is one that is underrepresented. It takes subjects that confront bias with humor. It is very rare to find a play about counterculture or LGBTQ subjects that doesn’t deal with AIDS. And while that conversation needs to keep going, the great plays from the 90s and aughts were about loss. I hope this take is more relatable to audiences today. It is their differences instead of their commonalities that make them successful.”

Embracing variety is a crucial part of ART’s mission, because along with the entertainment value and teaching students how to improve their stage craft with a given production, Stratton and the ART team are teaching young people how to be human — and representing different people and different stories is key to that.

“It is our responsibility to serve as the theatre, but also as a university and community. Sometimes that means I have to explain why diversity is important. We want everyone to be heard and that means that sometimes we have to ask both the audience and our students to trust us and take chances. We need to move the dial in a lot of ways but I don’t want people to feel like they can’t speak up when and if they feel dissent. We can find common ground in the theatre. One of the things that I appreciate about this season is that we are trying to move conversations through comedy.”

The season is outlined in more detail below and online. You can purchase tickets at theatre.arizona.edu or by contacting the box office at (520) 621-1162. Season subscriptions and single tickets are on sale now. Subscription prices vary based on the series selected. Single ticket prices are $32 for plays and $35 for musicals. Discounts available for students, seniors, military and UA employee/alumni. Group discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more.

University of Arizona Repertory Theatre’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Legend of Georgia McBride, by Matthew Lopez
September 21 – October 6, 2019
Casey works as an Elvis impersonator at a local bar and life is good. He even has a new sequin jumpsuit for his act. But in one evening he loses his job, his landlord demands the rent and his wife announces that a baby is on the way. So when a drag show moves into his old place of employment “The King” transforms himself into a queen and with the help of his new friends, he finds a family he never expected. Filled with humor, love and more than a few production numbers, this comedy takes us on a delightful journey that will warm the heart.

Pippin, book by Roger O. Hirson, music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
October 19 – November 3, 2019
With an infectiously unforgettable score from four-time Grammy winner, three-time Oscar winner and musical theatre giant, Stephen Schwartz, Pippin tells the story of one young man’s journey to be extraordinary. Heir to the Frankish throne, the young prince Pippin is in search of the secret to true happiness and fulfillment. He seeks it in the glories of the battlefield, the temptations of the flesh and the intrigues of political power, but none of them supply him with the treasure he seeks. In the end, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavors, but rather in the simple, ordinary moments that happen every day.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo, by Alfred Uhry
November 9 – 24, 2019
The year is 1939. While Hitler is invading Poland, Atlanta’s close-knit Jewish community is preparing for the premiere of Gone with the Wind and Ballyhoo, the social event of the year. The Freitag family hopes that the party will be a chance for their daughters to meet their future husbands–but when their uncle brings home his new employee, a handsome Eastern European bachelor from Brooklyn, everyone must confront their own prejudices, desires and beliefs. By turns heartbreaking and uplifting, The Last Night of Ballyhoo won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Play.

The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe
February 8 – 23, 2020
The Wolves offers an unflinching, intimate glimpse into the world of a high school women’s soccer team. Nine diverse teammates navigate questions of identity, community, and society all while warming up for the last few games of their season. Playwright Sarah DeLappe’s unique, overlapping dialogue moves from moments that are deadly serious to awkwardly hilarious, but always true to life. With an ensemble of distinct female characters, this fast moving play offers audiences a window into the intense world of female adolescence. The Wolves was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, by William Shakespeare
March 16 – 29, 2020
Best friends Valentine and Proteus embark on different paths in life only to run into each other again when they both fall in love with the same woman. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, his first comedy and also one of the most rarely performed plays in the canon. The play centers on a host of themes that Shakespeare would spend the rest of his career wrestling with, betrayal, disguise and love. Featuring one of his most beloved clowns, The Two Gentlemen of Verona provides an opportunity to see a master playwright just beginning to flex his genius.

The Light in the Piazza, book by Craig Lucas, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
April 11 – 26, 2020
This Tony Award winning musical whisks you away to Italy for a captivating tale of passion and romance. It’s the summer of 1953, and Margaret Johnson is travelling the Tuscan countryside with her daughter Clara. When a handsome young Florentine captures Clara’s heart, Margaret must decide if she will risk revealing the truth that could threaten her daughter’s happiness and force her to confront her own choices and dreams. The Light in the Piazza features an intensely romantic score and a heartwarming story of love.

Students of All Ages Are Invited to See Themselves in Any Role at PCC Arts

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

A theatre education for all audiences with Pima’s Todd Poelstra and Chris Will.

by Leigh Moyer

Pima ArtsIt should come as no surprise that Pima Community College Theatre Arts’ advance program coordinator Todd Poelstra and theatre faculty member Chris Will took the opportunity to teach me when I sat down with them a few weeks ago. They are, after all, professors. It struck me as very likely that they see almost every moment with an audience, from an interviewer to a classroom to a theater full of people, as an educational moment. Each season is structured to contain a children’s show in the fall, a musical in the spring, and either a contemporary piece or a classical piece rounding out each semester for a total of four productions per year. While chatting, though, they quickly moved past these nominal constraints to the boundlessness of what theatre offers.

“We could do Disney or something very popular but we don’t,” Will said, explaining why they are producing The Sun Serpent, the third installment of a bilingual (or in this case, trilingual) series by José Cruz González. “We’re doing Sun Serpent because it is culturally important, and because the kids who see this show, who come on field trips, probably wouldn’t come to theatre otherwise. Those kids need to see this work. Kids should have the very best theatre because they’re the future of theatre.”

“And it isn’t just the grade school students, it’s our students, they need that too,” Poelstra added, “We really want to change the dynamic; we want students of color to see themselves onstage and see stories that might be their story on stage and have opportunities to imagine themselves on stage.”

Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus, Veronica Hernandez as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus, Veronica Hernandez as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus in the 2018-2019 season production of Polaroid Stories. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

But if a mixed media story about the conquest of Cortez isn’t your thing (but really, it ought to be), don’t worry: the season is very eclectic. After Sun Serpent, audiences will be treated to Baskerville, a stage adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of Baskervilles. Then they change direction again, with the musical Singin’ in the Rain. The season wraps up with Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the origin of the oft-repeated line “All the world’s a stage.”

While many theatres have a theme tying the season together, Will pointed out that that can be hard or even inappropriate in an educational setting: “We need a balance, because we need to give these students a variety of pieces since we don’t know where they’re going to be heading. It’s our job to give them the experiences that will be good on a resume and get them roles in local theatres. We’re the training ground for them.”

There is one unifying trait among this season’s plays, although it might be more obvious to a director than to audiences. Each show is an ensemble piece, so while there will be a Sherlock and a Watson, for example, there will be a whole cast of characters that don’t have to fit a specific type. Casting is done based on who is excited, who is a promising young actor, and who gets what the directors are trying to create. 

Poelstra had a number of examples: “For all our shows this year, the idea of casting can, for the most part, go in any direction. We’re already making changes. The Sun Serpent is written as two brothers, now it is a sister and a brother. So as far as gender, and certainly any other category of identity, almost anything could happen in almost any of the shows. It is challenging with a dance-heavy musical; we have a student who is an amazing singer and in a wheelchair. I don’t know if she’ll be in the show before auditions, but I’m interested in the idea conceptually. And Watson could be anybody. Or, so could Sherlock. Anything could happen. It depends on who shows up and what they bring to auditions.”

It is exceptionally refreshing to see a company adopting this mindset. When Poelstra and Will choose plays, they are looking at the story and how it is best told. Casting is a secondary consideration, focusing on which actors bring the works most vividly to life, rather than seeking to fill the roles with a specific type of person. For me, Will summed it up best: “A lot of people become actors because they they think they want to play all these different characters, but in reality it’s the opposite, you find all those characters within yourself.”

Check out the whole season, whatever it might bring, at the West Campus (2202 W. Anklam Road). Contact the box office at (520) 206-6989 for tickets and information or shop online. The whole season is outlined below.

Pima Community College Center for the Arts’ 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Sun Serpent, by José Cruz González, directed by Milta Pinate
September 28 – October 6, 2019
When young Anahuac’s family meets the newly arrived Cortes, they believe he is the Sun Serpent come to usher in a new and better world. Anahuac’s brother eagerly joins Cortes’ grand march to the capital, Tenochtitlan. But while Cortes promised a world of peace and plenty, the soldiers he left behind soon engage in a ruthless search for gold. Orphaned during one of their raids, Anahuac sets off through the jungle to find and warn her  brother. Along the way, she meets the omnipotent Aztec ruler, Motecuhzoma and discovers that he is unable to protect his people against the Spanish. She comes to realize that neither leader is divine.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, by Ken Ludwig, directed by Chris Will
November 7 – 17, 2019
Comedic genius Ken Ludwig transforms Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic The Hound of the Baskervilles into a murderously funny adventure. Sherlock Holmes is on the case. The male heirs of the Baskerville line are being dispatched one by one. To find their ingenious killer, Holmes and Watson must brave the desolate moors before a family curse dooms its newest heir. Watch as our intrepid investigators try to escape a dizzying web of clues, silly accents, disguises, and deceit as five actors deftly portray more than 40 characters. Join the fun and see how far from elementary the truth can be.

Singin’ in the Rain, Screenplay by Better Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, directed by Todd Poelstra
February 20 – March 1, 2020
Adapted from the 1952 movie, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN captures the waning days of the silent screen era as they give way to new-fangled talkies. Set in Hollywood, the studios are forced to suddenly change all the movie-making rules at once to accommodate sound. The plot focuses on Monumental Studio’s romantic lead Don Lockwood, his sidekick Cosmo Brown and Lockwood’s leading lady Lina Lamont who can’t sing, and can’t even really talk. Lina’s voice sounds something like nails on a chalkboard. Enter Kathy Selden, whose dulcet tones are able to cover Lina Lamont’s—calling into question what it means to act, how credit is distributed, and what it means to get a fair shake in the movie  business. Singin’ in the Rain includes some of the best-loved comedy routines, dance numbers and love songs ever written, including Good Mornin’, Make ‘em Laugh, and the show-stopping dance number, Singin’ in the Rain.

As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, directed by Mickey Nugent
April 16 – 26, 2020
The story follows its heroine Rosalind, accompanied by her cousin Celia, as she flees  persecution in her uncle’s court to find safety and eventually love in the Forest of Arden. In the forest, they find Orlando, Rosalind’s love. Disguised as a boy shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her under the guise of “curing” him of his love for Rosalind. Along the way they encounter a variety of memorable characters, notably the melancholy traveler, Jaques, who speaks many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches—such as “All the world’s a stage,” “too much of a good thing” and “A fool! A fool! I met a fool in the forest”. Jaques provides a sharp contrast to the other characters in the play, always observing and disputing the hardships of life in the country.