An Energizing Triumph!

by Lety Gonzalez

Michelle (Camryn Elias), Deloris Van Cartier (Adia Bell) and Tina (Page Mills)

Camryn Elias as Michelle, Adia Bell as Deloris Van Cartier, and Page Mills as Tina. Photo by Ed Flores, photo courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Sister Act at the Arizona Repertory Theater is a feel-good show. Deloris Van Cartier takes refuge in a convent after witnessing her boyfriend Curtis murder one of his cronies. During her time there, she wins over the sisters with her boldness and confidence and they in turn show her love and friendship. Together they get down and boogie and sing to the man above.

All of the technical aspects of the show complemented each other and produced a great show. This was evident in the standing ovation that the audience offered to the actors at the end of the show. The lights did a brilliant job in setting the mood for each scene. Gobos that displayed a colorful stained glass pattern on the floor were used to indicate that the scene was taking place in a church. The transitions were timed well and the cast didn’t seem to run into any complications. The costume design was loud and glamourous. The beautiful sparkly gown that Deloris wore near the end is breathtaking. All of her costumes were fierce and sensual. I must note that it was entertaining to see the vestments of the nuns and the priest transform from their traditional black and white to glitter and bedazzled habits/cassocks. The orchestra was impeccable and the singers were confident.

When Deloris, portrayed by Adia Bell,  started to sing, I was taken aback. My mouth was gaping anytime anyone sang. I stared intently at each singer’s mouth. All of them were singing live, but they sounded so clear and pristine that there were times when I seriously thought that the music might be pre-recorded. That was not the case. Not only

Sister Mary Robert (Courtney Blanc) and Deloris Van Cartier (Adia Bell).

Courtney Blanc as Sister Mary Robert and Adia Bell as Deloris Van Cartier. Photo by Ed Flores, photo courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

were they singing, they were also dancing. The dance moves didn’t inhibit their singing ability. Sometimes the choreography can get in the way of the singer’s performance, but not in this show. Their groovy moves added to the live soulful music and their sound was full and balanced.

There were a couple of outstanding moments in the show. One of them was Eddie’s groovy solo. His deep crooning voice was like butter. Eddie’s quick and unexpected costume change during his silky number had some of the audience members behind me gasping. Another was the number in which Vince’s cronies are detailing how they would seduce the nuns. All of the songs sounded like they came right out of Motown. They were oozing with passion and desire. I’m surprised I was able to keep myself in my seat because I sure wanted to get up, find a partner, and dance to the music of love.

The lead character around whom the story revolves is portrayed by a young black woman.  Both the cast and crew are equally composed of women and men. The play was written by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner and directed by a woman, Christie Kerr. The rest of the season looks pretty solid. They are producing the play Top Girls which consists of an all- female cast. The other plays have a mix of gender-specific parts, but it appears there will be slightly more roles for the men than women. Overall it’s pretty even.

It’s always wonderful to witness a person of color in a lead role in any type of production. However, I left wishing I could have seen more people of color in the cast as a whole. Looking at the cast list, the members seem diverse, but looking out on stage, there weren’t many people of color. Looking at the cast list I found online I wonder if it was necessary for all of the nuns to be white presenting. There’s no indication in the story itself that all of the nuns should be white, other than following the precedent set by the film on which this musical is based, so that could have been an area with more diversity.

Musicals are difficult to execute. Transitions have got to be spot on, everyone needs to be on board and let me tell you, this whole cast was on board. The set transitions were

Pablo (Tony Moreno), Curtis (Zach Zupke) and Joey (Tristan Caldwell)

Tony Moreno as Pablo, Zach Zupke as Curtis, and Tristan Caldwell as Joey. Photo by Ed Flores, photo courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

quick and appeared effortless. The lighting design was brilliant and the dance numbers were simple, but effective. They moved together as one. The cast and crew were a finely tuned machine that cranked out the boogie and energized the audience.

If you need an energizing distraction from the current political atmosphere, check out Sister Act! The show runs from October 14th to November 4th. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 pm and Sunday shows start at 1:30 pm. On November 2nd there will be a post show discussion. General admission is $31.00, however they do have senior, military, UA Employee, and student discounts. If you wish to purchase tickets, please click on the link provided.

https://oss.ticketmaster.com/aps/uacfa/EN/buy/browse?i%5B0%5D=172

Raise your voice! VOTE.

“Love in every line” of ATC’s Erma Bombeck

by Betsy Labiner

Erma Bombeck Poster

Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. Image courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End at the Arizona Theatre Company is a celebration of women and women’s work at both the personal and national scale, from the unsung to the celebrated. Fittingly, the one-woman play comes to audiences thanks in large part to women. Erma Bombeck is written by Allison Engel and Margaret Engel, is directed by Casey Stangl, has scenic design by Jo Winiarski, costume design by Kish Finnegan, lighting design by Jaymi Lee Smith, and Rachel Berney Needleman as dramaturg. The play is a triumph of their work alongside that of Erma Bombeck.

Erma Bombeck was a humor columnist whose work focused on her life as a suburban housewife; her column was immensely popular and was eventually syndicated in 900 newspapers. In addition, she wrote 15 books, appeared on Good Morning America, and served on the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women.  

Jeanne Paulsen is absolutely brilliant as Bombeck. Her comedic timing is impeccable, as she delivers one-liner after one-liner with wry smiles and knowing nods. She formed an immediate rapport with the audience, leaning in to the moments of sustained laughter and creating an emotionally charged space in which the audience hung eagerly on her every word. Paulsen’s physical comedy brought laughs as well, as she engages with every aspect of the set’s – a nostalgia-charged 1960s home, complete with laundry on the bed and children’s art on the refrigerator – domestic space. Paulsen is alone onstage for the entirety of the play, but her interactions with invisible family members and disembodied voices create the feel of a happily crowded home. Paul James Prendergast’s sound design bolsters Paulsen’s work by creating effects such as children talking over one another and shouting down a hallway.

“You don’t mind if I do two things at once, do you?” Paulsen asks as she begins working on chores, one of many moments underscoring the duality of Bombeck’s work as a mother and as a writer. Bombeck’s writing is simultaneously in competition with and dependent on her role as a housewife; this is perhaps best embodied by the moment in which she moves laundry aside and sets up her typewriter on the ironing board.

The play is generally lighthearted, but also delves into bittersweet and sad musings. Paulsen navigates these emotional turns well, drawing the audience into shared contemplation on frustration and heartbreak before breaking the tension with a quip. “If you can laugh at it,” she assures the audience, “you can live with it.” Some of the themes – marriage, parenthood, loss – are timeless. Other themes – feminism, social change, and activism – feel altogether timely. Bombeck’s work to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, reminds us that change remains an uphill battle, and that the fight for equality is still not over. (Note: the ERA is still unratified; Arizona is among the states that has not ratified it.)

This play is equally for fans of Bombeck and those unfamiliar with her work. Bombeck’s humor delights whether this is one’s first experience with it or not, and the play offers insights into her background and life that amplify and nuance the comedy. The play also appeals to audiences across ages and genders, though I suspect that women with children will find themselves connecting with it particularly strongly.

Erma Bombeck is a night of comedy theatre that you won’t want to miss.  

Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End runs through November 10th at the Arizona Theatre Company. Tickets may be purchased at https://arizonatheatre.org/.

A Classic Battle of the Sexes with a Twist

by Lety Gonzalez

The Roadrunner Theatre’s production of The Real Machiavelli, written by Monica Bauer, is a show you can’t miss. The story revolves around one question: Who wrote The Prince? History dictates that the famous Niccoló Machiavelli is the author, but was he really? Or was the truth suppressed?

The Real Machiavelli

Cast of The Real Machiavelli. Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre Company.

The script is brilliant and delightful and really revamps the narrative. Yes, of course, Machiavelli wrote The Prince, but is it so outlandish to imagine that a woman could have written it as well? This story explores that perspective. The women in this play are fully rounded characters with their own desires. The dialogue is thoughtful and realistic. Machiavelli’s devoted wife, Signora Marietta Machiavelli’s desire is for her husband, a once great and powerful man, to have a job and be great and powerful once more. She enlists the help of his cunning mistress, Francesca de la Tours, whose dream is to help Niccoló restore his former confidence. At first their desires work in collusion, but Francesca discovers her desire to attain power is not as impossible to fulfill as she once thought.
Naïma Boushaki passionately portrayed Francesca and captured her strength, though I do wish she had highlighted more of Francesca’s cunning and calculating character.

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Cheryl King as Signora Marietta Machiavelli and David Updegraff as Dottore Alphonso Muti. Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre Company.

Clark Ray’s Machiavelli felt a bit forced at times, but I really believed him as a ladies man who lives to please (if you know what I mean). I loved the chemistry between Cheryl King, who portrayed Signora Marietta and David Updegraff, who portrayed Dottore Alphonso Muti, an advisor to the family, whose calculating nature assists the Signora in her plans. It was a treat to watch their relationship evolve. David Zinke and Lionel Swanson were very funny in their roles as Commedia 1 and 2, the zany court jester-like characters in the show. It is also very much worth noting Cheryl King’s other roles in the production here. Not only did she direct and act in it, but she was also responsible for the costumes, sound, and set design!
Overall, the cast gave a pretty solid performance, but there were some instances in which I wished the actors would have raised the stakes and made the magnitude of the situation they were facing feel more realistic. I also wanted the characters to be more intimate with one another. The theater space is cozy and I wanted that coziness reflected in the character’s intimate interactions. Instead of facing out towards the audience, it would have been better if the characters faced each other and connected with one another. However, there were some times in which it was appropriate for the movement to be big and directed towards the audience.

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Clark Andreas Ray as Niccoló Machiavelli and Naïma Boushaki as Francesca de la Tours. Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre Company.

I recommend this show for mature audiences as the script is generously peppered with sexual innuendos and the actors delight in their physicality. I didn’t anticipate the play to be so steamy, but it certainly warmed up the night. During certain scenes, the audience was almost giddy with anticipation and eager for the cup of passion to runneth over. Often times I find that sex and sexual acts are omitted or reduced to an insinuation, but not here. I found it refreshing to see two bodies indulge and communicate in the physical language we all know and crave.
Despite the fact that this play is set a little over 500 years ago, the topics covered are incredibly relevant to today’s political climate. The Prince is basically a handbook on how to maintain power through deceit and backstabbing, as well as a guide on how to control the people with fear. It isn’t hard to imagine that perhaps this is a commonly read book among some of the leaders in our country.
While I am pleased to say that the play was not only written by a woman, directed by a woman, and predominantly designed by a woman, looking at the entirety of the Roadrunner’s season, this will be the only female authored play they will produce. Furthermore, it seems as if the cast lists for the remaining plays will be mostly male. The cast and crew of this show consisted of five women and eight men. *
If you are looking for a fresh perspective, don’t miss out on this show! The witty banter, teasing physicality, and intellectual conversation will leave you wondering why we don’t have more theater like this in the community.
The Real Machiavelli runs from October 19th through November 11th at the Roadrunner Theater on 8892 E Tanque Verde Rd. Shows start at 7 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 pm on Sundays. General admission is $20 with discount prices available–there is even a starving actor discount! Click on the link if you wish to purchase tickets for this show. https://realmachiavelli.brownpapertickets.com/

*An earlier version of this article made the following statement ” I wonder if Commedia 1 and 2 and the Narrator could have been portrayed by female of queer identifying people.” Since the publication of the article, it has come to our attention that some of the cast members are queer identifying people. Thank you Roadrunner Theater for casting nonbinary people.