Hope Starts in the Dark

By Richard Chomps Thompson

Hope starts in the dark. Sometimes as a dream. Sometimes as wish. Sometimes as a prayer. Hope is born in that struggle to claim the love that is the self and to truly acknowledge who we are without shame. It’s hope that allows us to cross that chasm of the soul. E. Reid Gilbert moves us through shamble and triumph in this journey of hope in his latest production Ellen Craft: Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom currently playing at The Community Playhouse.

PictureExpanding from anecdotal in his story-telling, Gilbert continues his ability to introduce his audience to history, race-relations, regional colloquialism, and oral tradition. At once examining the heartache caused by two people trying to find freedom in self-proclamation, we are thrust into a discourse of how we truly communicate ourselves to one another – and as such witness who we really are.

Begun in a low hymn in the dark, we are invited to listen to the story of the Narrator (Regina Wills), who joyously explains how she learned of her , and how she learned more about herself because she was able to know more about her history. Wills brings a deftness and candor in each of the monologues, readings, and hymns performed.

The Narrator reads from her great-great grandmother’s journal that is interpreted into scenes before us. This method of storytelling provides historical content, anecdotal musings, and even reiterates scenes just staged to provide additional context to the tale of Ellen Craft (Robin Carson) and William Craft (Dante Crossroad) through their arduous, taxing journey through Georgia in desperation to achieve freedom.

The story of Ellen Craft is told in a way that spans more than distance; it requires a telling that spans through time and director Edward Young was able to provide a solid pacing of the storied events when long periods of time would span in-between, while other moments were much more condensed. The ability to tie such integral, yet vastly disparate points together is a testament to the writer and director’s ability to weave a multi-generational story together while using multiple storytelling methods and avoiding traps of novelty.

It’s on the white painted porch of the Smith plantation that we first learn of how much love Ellen would meet from her kinfolk. Or perhaps that word is too close for comfort as we learn during a contentious – and one assumes routine – argument between James and Ethel Smith (Scott Berg and Bobbi Whitson) on what to do with the dirty little secret with which James Smith has propagated the house. Whitson provides a performance that is delightful in her horrid cruelty. She makes a scythe from a small Victorian fan that both cools her face and slices the air around her.

Born from James Smith and an unknown slave, Ellen would be the topic of concern for the entire Smith plantation from her inception. A child who was both good enough to keep around and bad enough to keep around, while simultaneously being the bad one that was never around for the good of it. If up to Ethel, her delegitimatized step daughter would have gone the way of other secrets if not for the decision of the patriarch. Just one example of how status and communication bore a direct connection to identity and its importance throughout all aspects of southern living. Women obeyed men. Ethel had a venom in her word, spitting out poison from a realization that her place was behind her husband while at the same time understanding her place in front of her property.

Stand-out performances include Shannon Oliver playing Mary Smith, who in one short scene illustrates a generation of malicious virtue signaling Ellen’s half-sister (by whom Ellen herself was owned). Oliver sweetly pronounces statements of naive dehumanization that is even more terrifying because this disregard for Ellen’s humanity didn’t stem from hate. It stemmed from something far worse; indifference. It was with the cruelest of smiles and the lightest of hearts when Oliver reminded Ellen how happy she should be to be owned by her sister! She had no hate in those words, and that one line resonates today.

The characters include a diverse cascade of bureaucratic and oppositional characters, from apathetic customs officers who care more about personal inconveniences than the wellbeing of another. One notable is the character Government Agent (Stephen Dunham) brought to a bureaucratically cold effect in which the fugitive duo encounter. He is the cold professionalism that marks a terrifying pretense that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. In this corner office, the clear message is that while a sword will always be known to take a life, this pen will rob one of their identity.

Robin Carson, playing Ellen Craft, was tasked with the responsibility of playing a character whose ethnicity may not have come from the same heritage, but does note negate the understanding of how self-worth and freedom of identity is a human struggle, and not gifted to only one man or woman. Carson portrayed a humanistic quality that didn’t delve into the over-dramatic while also resonating emotionally through small sighs and wistful glances.

Dante Crossroad (an amazing name by the way!) playing Ellen’s husband and in-disguise manservant, William (‘Eurassa’), is able to look out from the stage and emote so swiftly and magnetically he easily expresses the meaningful richness behind his character, honoring the theatricality required to express such emotional cadence that straddles the wall of character and caricature. Crossroad is a formidable new actor on the scene.

This disturbing paradox of human inhumanity could only have been told through dialogue. Gilbert’s ability to emphasize the linguistic roots that bear fruit to this line of institutionalized hatred is masterful because of his skills in connecting these same themes as they affect us today. Without a doubt, this element of dialogue is a character unto itself.

The words spoken to the protagonists along with other African-Americans that delegitimize, marginalize or dissociate have only shifted into new letter combinations. These lines are spoken today; they haven’t left. And those that would see them fester in the dark until they can grow unwieldy, or those who would like to pretend that by locking them away, we won’t have to confront them again; we do nothing but safely suffocate our virtues in a pitch-black room.

The use of language and terminology was proficient. It is hurtful to hear but necessary to experience. Gilbert has no qualm using harsh language and using it in a way that disturbs the watcher. As it should. Be prepared to hear some very disturbing language and sound effects that flesh out the world of 1835 Georgia.

The Community Playhouse is known for impressive stage design and this show is no different. Created by Berg and Whitson, they handcrafted 180 degrees of stage to show Ellen’s cabin, the vastness of the Smith plantation she was owed to, and a little nook in a modern apartment where we read the journal. As the story continues into the second act, the white and green of the plantation is transformed into a transit line that becomes the center of travel and concern for the remainder the story.

The elaborate set changes are interwoven with an interesting and effective use of sound effects that provide even more effect to specific scenes; a wedding mired with the sound of a man being whipped; a woman praying as dogs bark searching for a runaway; the heavy molasses of Regina Wills vocalizations.

Some concepts are introduced that are hard to articulate in the small time given. Moments of backstory that indicate cowardice found in even in those who want to believe themselves as redeemed men; such as the slave owner who, when he died, had intended to free all his slaves. This brave white slave owner will wait to die before dealing with the social ramifications of doing what’s right because of the judgment from evil men and women that would befall him for doing what is truly humane. The judgement was not worth a single slave’s life while he himself breathed. This is the fallacy of those who extol moral superiority, while perpetuating through action (or inaction) the same system that they are trying to expose.

The story itself is one that deserves more attention. It expresses the duality that black men face in how they live every day and that even when acting right; they are acting wrong.

A point that I am having a hard time dismissing is the number of white roles versus the number of roles for blacks in this piece. It could be argued that the use of many Caucasian characters helped portray the isolation that Ellen and William felt, but I am unsure that was an intentional theme being presented. In a socially aware theatrical production regarding the lives of two black people fighting for visibility of their own being this seems like a situation of good intentions perpetuating harmful practices. There are 22+ white roles versus 4-5 roles for blacks regarding a story where blacks are undervalued, mistreated, and maligned. The irony that this ensemble piece had a cast where less than 25% were black is indicative of social reformations that are still necessary despite sympathetic minds to the cause.

But maybe that’s the idea; Paradox of identity and truth. Like when William speaks differently depending on who he is talking to, perhaps this is the real meaning behind Ellen and her husband; how to be themselves where people’s constant inability to accept another will always be apparent; a cruel goose hunt where there will never be a way to be right, because there is only one way to be white. And in one way, it’s through Gilbert’s words that this exploration can illustrate the inherent dynamic of how easy it is for people to denigrate and familiarize. Take apart and make of. But that the truth of the self is still found in ever-enduring love and the struggle of freedom for the self is not a story of A dark hope. A hope in the dark.

 

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.

Audience Enjoys Solving Mystery Alongside Sherlock Holmes

by Chelsey Wade

Black Box Theater, at Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts, presents Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by Ken Ludwig. 

Image result for baskerville sherlock tucson pima community college

This story follows Sherlock Holmes, played by Etienne Wegryzniak, and Dr. Watson, played by Ciel McNulty, as they solve the mysterious case of Baskerville. Set in London, the mystery-solving duo set out to find out who murdered Sir Charles, uncle of the Baskerville heir. Initially, they have little to go on except a bitten cane that seems to have been dragged through the mud. Could this be the work of the fabled Baskerville hounds? Or is there more going on in the dark, hidden woods near the city of Baskerville? 

The director, Chris Will, did a fine job of staging the actors to utilize the full theater space. Throughout the play, action alternates with scenes taking place in various parts of the theater. It made for a visually interesting aspect of the performance to follow the movement between the main floor, the sides, and top of the arena. While the action felt a little slow at the beginning of certain scenes, overall, the pace picked up and was fairly steady throughout the two and a half hour play. There were some confusing moments, particularly when actors would break character or play multiple characters in the same scene. Still, it was ultimately effective in coming across as humorous. Some actors would physically change their hats and this, as well as pacing, had a lot to do with effectiveness.

Will selected a diverse cast for this play. Several of the male characters are played by females, including the role of Watson, Cartwright, and “Man in Black Beard.” Brandon Saxon in the role of Mrs. Hudson created an extra touch of comedy through the high-pitched tones of Holmes’ landlady. Strong, believable chemistry flowed among the actors consistently and pleasantly through their quick dialogue. The equality in this play, in terms of casting, was excellent. It broke out of the form one might expect in only seeing a man playing a male character on stage, and vice versa. Specifically, casting a female lead for Watson’s character gives a different lens in viewing well-known characters. This kind of brave choice in casting also allows more gender equality on the stage, addressing female and male artists in a way that reflects back on the actor’s talents.

The actors often break from the traditional framework of the story to add humor in other parts of the play. Unexpected bits of comedy throughout serve to remind the audience that we are watching the world of a play, one that can adhere to the traditions of a script and also veer off from it in the name of comedy (and relevance, in one instance of commentary about Mr. Trump). Even though this play is being performed in the closing months of 2019, it reminded me of the timelessness of the Holmes’ stories. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the late 1800s; the stories continue to be adapted and told to stay relevant. That in itself speaks to the power of creating strong, dynamic characters in literature. 

The costumes, designed by Kaylee Johnson, and the actor’s British accents, immersed the audience in 20th century London. The clock tower set up behind Sherlock’s desk also added to the plausibility of environment.  One of the most intense moments early on was the unveiling of Baskerville Hall. The striking music and shadowy lighting added to the drama of reaching a place that held such significance to the case. 

Ultimately, this play was fun to watch, with some dark moments of the mystery, but stayed light-hearted by the humor scattered throughout each scene. Anyone who shares Sherlock’s admiration for the opera as a means to escape the routine of day-to-day life in order to be moved by performance art can also appreciate this piece of student orchestrated theater. 

Were there some strange elements to this play? Sure. But then again, this is a Sherlock Holmes story. I would expect a few surprises from the mystery solvers from Baker Street. Half the point of watching a mystery play and the drama unfolding is to watch the characters solve the mystery. But finding out the answer isn’t the whole point at all. It’s a delightful paradox to take part in. 

Tickets are available online through Pima’s website, with a link to their 3rd party
“Vendini” ticket- purchasing website. Tickets are $10 for PCC students and $17 for general admission. The play runs until November 17th.

The “Spirit of Ribaldry” is Successfully Summoned

by Betsy Labiner

The Rogue Theatre’s production of Blithe Spirit is, in the words of the play itself, “a jolly time with Elvira.” Noël Coward’s play, directed here by Joseph McGrath, is at turns cheeky and biting, even occasionally caustic, but always a great deal of fun. 

prod1502_02_tf0237c

Holly Griffith as Elvira Condomine, Cynthia Meier as Madame Arcati, andRyan Parker Knox  as Charles Condomine. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre

The play follows a couple, Charles and Ruth Condomine (played by Ryan Parker Knox and Bryn Booth, respectively), who host a seance as research for a novel Charles is writing. They, and their friends the Bradmans (played by Matt Walley and Carley Elizabeth Preston), expect to be entertained by a charlatan. Madame Arcati (played by Cynthia Meier), despite the couples’ skepticism and cheerful mockery, turns out to be all too successful — and thus the spirit of Charles’s late first wife Elvira (played by Holly Griffith) is summoned back to the world of the living. The resultant comedy of confusion and miscommunication is laugh-out-loud funny, running the gamut from frothy lightheartedness to moments of dark humor in which startled laughter is the only possible reaction.

The entire play takes place in the living room of the Condomines’ house; the lighting in the room cleverly shifts from warm, buttery light in the evening, to brighter white during the day, and the light through the window similarly shifts in tone to indicate the passage of time. Russell Ronnebaum’s music also works to set the mood and — crucially — to advance the plot. I also want to give a sweeping tip of the hat to Meier’s costume design, and the execution thereof by Meier, Nanalee Raphael, and Barb Tanzillo, as well as to wig stylist Kate Mammana. Their work on the entire cast is excellent, but Griffith’s ghostly hair and makeup is downright superb. Griffith is the epitome of old Hollywood glamour, and her bombshell look is played up by the way she sashays around the room and insouciantly lounges on the couch, flirting and insulting with equal coquettishness. Elvira’s white hair and silver gown contrast wonderfully with Ruth’s vivid costumes of red and pink, particularly in scenes when the women interact. 

Griffith, Booth, and Knox play off each other well in their otherworldly love triangle; Knox is delightfully hapless in Charles’s inability to manage conversations with both wives at once, and Booth’s frazzled shifts between anger, fear, and vicious determination make Ruth equally as engaging as the spectral Elvira. Meier throws herself fully into Madame Arcati’s ridiculousness, garnering lots of laughs, and her earnestness serves as a pointed juxtaposition to the other characters’ cynicism. Though Walley and Preston have comparatively little stage time, they imbue a massive amount of subtext to the Bradmans’ interactions — it was easy to feel like we knew far more about the couple than the play actually communicates. Erin Buckley, as the Condomines’ perpetually overwrought maid Edith, managed to be both clownish and sympathetic. 

The comedic timing of the cast is spot-on, as is their physical interplay. It’s an absolute blast to be in on the joke, as the audience gets to see and hear Elvira when many of the characters do not.  There were a few stumbles in the dialogue, but the missteps were minor and the actors recovered well when they occurred. These hiccups are understandable; Coward’s dialogue is whip-fast, often grammatically odd, and full of verbiage that trips up the tongue. The actors do well with it overall, and the banter is as sharp as it is rapid. 

The play runs two and a half hours, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. While the pacing lags ever so slightly in the initial scene as the play works to introduce the characters, their backstories, and the set-up for the seance, it picks up speed as soon as Elvira arrives. It seemed to me that this is a function of the play itself rather than a fault of the production; Coward wants his audience to have a strong sense of the characters so we can more fully appreciate it when they go to pieces as the action unfolds. And, as previously said, the vast majority of the play races along at a merry clip that carries the audience along in a happy reverie. 

Blithe Spirit, while a far cry from the heaviness of some of The Rogue’s other offerings, is hardly fluff. Even as the audience laughs, we’re confronted with the “morally untidy” world in which nobody is quite what we’d like them to be, and love is often tangled with power struggles, betrayal, and spite. Charles, Elvira, and Ruth each compel and repel us, earning our empathy only to lose our goodwill moments later. Lines like, “It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” knock the wind out of us, but then we find ourselves forgetting the incisive condemnation with the next joke. Coward’s comedy walks a knife’s edge, often threatening to tip into tragedy and bleakness, but this production successfully maintains the balancing act. 

If you want a deeply enjoyable night at the theatre, go see Blithe Spirit before this production gives up the ghost. 

Blithe Spirit runs at The Rogue Theatre November 7–24, Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Saturday & Sunday at 2:00 PM. Tickets may be purchased online at theroguetheatre.org, by phone at 520-551-2053, or at the box office beginning one hour prior to shows (walk-up purchasing is always pending availability). 

Transcendent Education and Entertainment Through Theatre

by China Young

Transgender. Transexual. Cis. AFAB. It is likely that you have come across these and other terms at some point. They are in the news more and more as our nation tries to legislate bathrooms and genitalia, even to the point that the Supreme Court is still deciding whether the prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In other words, they’re going to rule on whether employers can fire people because they are trans or gay. The conversation is heated and emotional on all sides. As someone who tries to follow the debate, I have observed a severe lack of listening and an even deeper void of understanding. Fortunately there are people willing to do the work to spread the knowledge, and Martie van der Voort (pronouns they/she) is one of those fearless individuals that has taken the helm of the conversation in their full-length, one-person show, TransFormations. Despite van der Voort only being one person, they/she provides this opportunity to meet and engage with multiple trans people in such a proficient way that I was fully engaged and invested throughout. The discussion of gender identity has become more public due to the attempts by conservative lawmakers to legislate identity, and due to the trans community’s bravery in not only fighting discriminatory legislation but demanding more visibility and awareness. If you have any questions about what being transgender means – whether you are looking for a textbook answer or an experiential perspective – you will be handed an impressive array of learning moments within the course of this roughly two-hour production.

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and text

TransFormations is framed as a trans support group.  Whether they know it or not, the audience is full of new group members with varying levels of knowledge on this subject. The education begins instantly as van der Voort’s first character, Graciela (she/hers), gently invites us into the group, helping us assimilate to the conversation by giving us facts, definitions, and introducing us to some of the group members. Graciela is the leader of the support group, and though she is not trans herself, she is the parent of a transman. She tells her story first – how she learned that her AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) child identifies as a man, and therefore is a man. She even discusses the fact that, despite loving her son, she had to mourn the loss of her daughter. Van der Voort continues to introduce us to character after character, all of whom are unique and distinctly channeled through their/her skilled performance. Under the guidance of director Tom Slauson (he/him), van der Voort portrays transmen, transwomen, non-binary, non-transitioning, AND their wives and children – they/she runs the gamut.

We are quickly faced with the question of how one knows they are trans. The response can be simplified to “how do you know if you are right-handed or left-handed? You just know.” We are reminded that the modern world was designed for the right-handed. We are reminded that there was a time when being left-handed was considered “wrong,” and left-handed people were forced to use their right hands to write, eat, play sports, and so on. We are reminded that now, nobody questions the validity of being left-handed. So then, why do they question the validity of being trans? Is that clarity around one’s own identity different from recognizing that you are left-handed in a world where it’s “right to be right,” or at least easier? There are many other questions, just as complex, throughout the show; they are explored with humor, dramatic nuance, and honesty. As someone with trans friends and family, I truly felt like I knew many of these characters in real life. From beat poet and transman Mark, to the angry son of a transwoman, through the revelations made by newly-transitioning Phil (ftm – female to male) and his girlfriend Beth, you will leave knowing a lot more people in and connected to the trans community than you knew when you came in.

In juxtaposition to depth of the material, the technical elements are fairly modest. The set consists of some chairs in a semi-circle, most topped with some sort of clothing or accessory to denote a character’s seat. The lighting, by Emil Lamanda (he/him), is predominantly a simple wash of light, with a couple of strategically-placed instances of isolation. Before the show begins, there is a projector that is used to display images setting the tone of the production. This is valuable because the show is void of sound design, a tool often used to set the mood and help guide the audience through the journey. I did question the need for its use in the middle of the second act, though I appreciated the information it revealed and reinforced. I found the minimalist design to further allow space for van der Voort to fully embody everything about each character, making the show truly about them.

I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one with van der Voort after the performance. I learned that they/she has been working on this play for over a decade.There have been several other performances, but this was the first fully-produced run (and hopefully not the last). When I asked about the spectrum of characters and where they came from, they/she said “they just kept coming out of me,” although they/she acknowledged that many of them were inspired by friends or acquaintances. There is even someone that didn’t make it into this iteration of the show because van der Voort and director Slauson felt the character wasn’t ready for the stage.

TransFormations is a show that does everything I yearn for theatre to do: entertain and educate.

Presented by Something Something Theatre at St. Francis in the Foothills, the run continues through November 17th, with performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30pm, and Sunday afternoons at 3:00pm. Purchase tickets online at https://www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com/ or by calling 520-468-6111.

 

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. 

Blood Wedding: An Invitation to Powerful Theater

by Gretchen Wirges

Flamenco music filled the spaces around me. The glow of soft red light cascaded down the curtain. Audience members of different ages and cultures wandered in. And then, a young girl  came and sat front row, center. She even sat between two seats, allowing herself to take up space. She was enraptured, as was I, for the duration of this incredible production.

Blood Wedding was written by Federico Garcia Lorca and, for this production, translated by Scoundrel & Scamp’s own Elizabeth Falcón. The play encompasses the story of one family joining to another with all of its politics, heartache, and love. The Bridegroom, played by Sean Cronin, is to be wed to the Bride, played by Claire De La Vergne, but the bride is still in love with her past amor, Leonardo, played by Jeffrey Baden. A tragic love story follows.

The set, designed by Jason Jamerson, is beautifully designed with open walls and doorways. The hilly platform upstage contains the constant presence of figures representing nature, death, the moon, and music. The figures move to form beautiful tableaus that serve as the perfect theatrical backdrop. The tableaus included live musicians, including a guitarist, who punctuates and underscores much of the action on the stage and two vocalists/percussionists who help fill the stage with authentic Spanish music and heart. The vocalizations of everyone in the tableau created flowing transitions from one scene into the next.

Image may contain: 5 people, beard

Nicole Delprete as the Wife of Leonardo, Emily Fuchs, Susan Arnold as the Mother of the Bridegroom, China Young, and Claire De La Vergne as the Bride. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The music, arranged by Melissa Alejandra Aguirre Fernandez, was one of my favorite parts of this show. It was powerful, meditative and cathartic. Its vitality — in all senses of the word — makes the music feel like a crucial member of the cast. One of my favorite scenes took place between Mother-in-Law of Leonardo, played by Julia Balestracci, and Wife of Leonardo, played by Nicole DelPrete. Their beautiful voices lilted as they sung about folklore heavy with foreboding and pain. The singing was accented perfectly by the Spanish guitar. Such a touching, heartbreakingly stunning scene. 

The costumes, designed by Maria Caprile,  were stunning. Most performers wore a variety of shades of brown, and off-white, while Mother of the Bridegroom, Bride, Bridegroom, and Leonardo wore blacks, whites, and greys. The sparse pops of red in the props and costuming were balanced and predicted the essence of death and danger.

The diversity of the cast in gender, age, and culture gave this show greater power in terms of authenticity and richness. This is the casting I want to see in every show, regardless of its cultural point of view. The world is diverse, our art should be as well. When we see ourselves, it enables us to connect to the deeper meanings and truths. It allows us to have a mirror to look more intimately into our own humanity, instead of just observing the humanity of others.  

The performances, directed by Bryan Falcón, were great as a whole. At times, some of the performers would use an accent, and others not. Sometimes a British overtone, sometimes a Spanish. Sometimes odd diction, sometimes not.  I found this a little off-putting, but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy the beautiful performances behind the words. The delivery was often overly dramatic, in a way that the poetic language demanded.

Image may contain: 2 people

Claire De La Vergne as the bride on her wedding day with Kat McIntosh as the maid. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

I have to call out the performances of three individuals: Adrian Encinas, as The Moon, Leora Sapon-Sevin as Death, and De La Vergne. Encinas and Sapon-Sevin were creepy and spectacular. They used their bodies to create shapes of darkness and light. I was enraptured every time they move or spoke. They used their voices expertly to create silence, anger, pain and delight. De La Vergne was a glorious revelation throughout. Her pain became my pain. Her strength, my strength. Her love, her loss — mine. De La Vergne’s final exchange with the Bridegroom’s mother, played elegantly by Susan Arnold, was inspired and powerful. As a director, I wanted to cast her; as an actor, I wanted to be her; as a human being, I wanted to hug her. I can’t wait to see much more from De La Vergne. 

The women in this play have unexpected agency. The Bride makes choices that lead her along a dark path. She is neither commanded by her father, nor carried away by her lover, nor controlled by her betrothed. Additionally, in the end, it is the women who hold the space for love and grief. It is the women who commune to overcome aggression with emotion. It is the women who call out in their anger and sadness. It is the women who bravely water the earth with their tears.

The girl in the front row didn’t flinch at the darkness or grief. She took it all in, as did I. I hope she grows up and wants to create art just like this. Please go see this show. Allow the visual feast of diversity in music and humanity to transport you to that place where poetry and inclusion and love mean everything.

Blood Wedding is playing at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, Thursdays-Sundays through April 14th. (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm). Call the box office at 520-448-3300 or visit scoundrelandscamp.org for tickets.

International Women’s Day: Up close with Tucson’s Claire Hancock, Artistic Director of Artifact Dance Company

Claire

interviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

Claire Hancock holds a Master of Arts degree in European Dance Theatre from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, England, and earned both a Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degree in dance from the University of Arizona. In 2009 she began collaborating with colleague Ashley Bowman, and upon sharing their masters’ theses concert together, Hancock and Bowman co-founded Artifact Dance Project. They have been creating main stage concerts, short dance films and collaborative projects together ever since. In addition to her featured performances with Artifact, Claire performs as an actress with the Rogue Theatre and Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. She has danced professionally with ODC/San Francisco and River North Dance Company in Chicago, and has been a guest teacher and choreographer for organizations including the Limón Institute, Broadway Theatre Project, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Arizona Theatre Company, Arizona Opera, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, True Concord: Voices and Orchestra, Arts Express, and Broadway in Tucson. Formative years of study include scholarships to the Houston Ballet Academy, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. She has served as rehearsal assistant for Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes and End of Time, as well as George Balanchine’s Serenade and The Four Temperaments, reporting to Leslie Peck and Elyse Borne, repetiteurs for the Balanchine Trust. Claire is a repetiteur for several of the late choreographer David Berkey’s works including his signature piece, Sentinel, which she has staged for Vassar College in New York, the New Mexico Dance Institute, and the University of Arizona and Artifact Dance Project. She is a Qualified Fletcher Pilates® teacher at Body Works Pilates™ in Tucson, AZ.

When did you discover that you needed to pursue a career in the arts?

As the daughter of professional dancers and dance educators, I have been immersed in the arts from a very young age. Moreover, I fell in love with many different genres of music and the visual arts early on, as my grandfather was both a jazz musician and print maker. As a result, I feel that the diversity of my early exposure to the performing arts has deeply developed my voice as a performer, teacher and choreographer and has heightened my curiosity for learning.

What qualities do you look for when choosing to take on a project?

I gravitate toward projects that present me with new challenges, continued growth, and discovery for all involved. I strive for versatility in my career and look for contrast and crossover between the projects I may already be working on.  

Do you have any dream roles or projects?

Any role or project that pushes me outside of my comfort zone and awakens parts of myself that might otherwise remain dormant.

Are there any projects that you have done in the past that you would like to do again in the future?

Recently I have given thought to revisiting some of the solo choreographic and film work I was doing during my graduate studies in London some ten years ago. I was exploring themes related to identity, duality, perception, polar opposites and the Tao Te Ching. It’s a broad line of inquiry that remains fascinating to me now.

Do you have any exciting up coming projects that you’re looking forward to sharing with the community of Tucson?

There are two productions that my colleague and creative partner, Ashley Bowman is choreographing and directing for our dance company, Artifact Dance Project that I’m looking forward to performing. Goliath runs March 21-24 in the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre and Monologue of a Muted Man runs May 9-12 in the Ina Gittings Studio 124.

 

The spotlight series will be a continued series where we spotlight local female and non-binary artists in the Tucson Community.