Some Bright Moments but No Payoff in Ballyhoo

by Gretchen Wirges

The Last Night of Ballyhoo, by Alfred Uhry, takes place in the Atlanta home of an assimilated 1939 Atlanta Jewish family whose social-climbing matriarch, Boo (Eavan Clare Brunswick) directly rejects their heritage. Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of Ballyhoo, while witty and sometimes charming, lays victim to a script filled with sappy sentimentality and conflict with no payoff. 

Lala (Carly Natania Grossman), is Gone with the Wind obsessed and dying for the right boy to ask her to the dance on the last night of Ballyhoo, the southern Jewish festival. Her uncle brings home a colleague for dinner, Joe Farkas (Jaime Plá), a Jew from Brooklyn. We quickly discover, as anti-semitic epithets are used, that there is a status delineation between German Jews and those “East of the Elbe river.” The Elbe river runs between Germany and Czechoslovakia, as Aunt Reba (Elana Rose Richardson) explains. 

Carly Natania Grossman Lala and Eavan Clare Brunswick as Boo. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Carly Natania Grossman Lala and Eavan Clare Brunswick as Boo. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Some comedic moments are offered up by the affable Uncle Adolf (Liam Thibeault), though his character too accepts the discrimination within the Jewish community of those Jews deemed lesser and who are excluded from joining the more prominent country clubs or attending the fashionable events. This pattern plays out similarly with Peachy Weil (Michael Schulz). His jokes and playful nature are quickly overshadowed by his negative and offensive characterization of “the other Jews.” 

Many of the performances were a little underplayed under the direction of Hank Stratton. Brunswick’s portrayal of Boo was a little one-note. We lost the complexities of the character, a balance of her expectations of her daughter, the cultural struggles she faces, and her own overall happiness to a delivery that often just came off as mean and snobbish. Richardson, as Aunt Reba, was sweet but also lacking dimension. 

The real standouts in this production were Grossman as Lala and Thibeault as Adolf. Grossman is electric, and allows us a glimpse into Lala’s myriad of emotions and dreams. She plays the familial conflict of culture with finesse. Grossman brought every scene she was in to life. The poignant scene between Lala and Sunny (Gabriela Giutsi) was as funny as it was gutting.  Quite the opposite end of the energy spectrum but equally talented, was Thibeault in the role of Adolf. He was grounded and believable, patient and observant. 

Many of the costumes (Alexia Avey, costume designer)  were beautifully period and well-crafted. Hello, purple pleated piece of gorgeousness in Act 2! But, I found it oddly distracting that a few of the costumes’ color matched the pieces of decor in the set. A brown dress the same color as the drapes, and so many pastel blues that blended in with the furniture and couch pillows. Another distracting costuming element was that all of the female roles wore wigs. Each wig had that synthetic shine that even an amateur can pick out as an imposter. The obvious heavy-handed costuming in this case further distracted from an otherwise stunning visual presentation. (Set design, Joe Klug).  

While I enjoyed the performances, I was left feeling let down by the story. Sunny  takes up romantically with Joe (considered one of the “other Jews”) and he discovers her family’s long-standing perception of those like him. The dramatic scene that I had been waiting for never happened. Joe confronts Sunny. Joe and Sunny make up. And in the last moments of the play, we see the entire family celebrating an important Jewish tradition together. Even though the play was two hours long, I felt as though I had accidentally skipped a scene where Boo is confronted on her prejudice, Adolf is taken to task on towing the line of accepted ignorance, and Peachy gets the boot instead of Lala’s hand in marriage. 

The Last Night of Ballyhoo is a play that allows us to catch a glimpse of real issues and cultural conflicts but never really produces. It’s a conversation starter. It feels like the type of play a theater company chooses when they want to seem edgy without really delving into the conversation of conflict. There are better, more contemporary plays to choose if we want to really address issues of discrimination and oppression. I left the theater desperately wanting to know more about the history of Jews in the American South. The little I did find out in Ballyhoo,  was glossed over by party dresses, plates of late night chicken, and Scarlett O’Hara.  

The Last Night of Ballyhoo runs through November 24th at ART’s Tornabene Theater. Tickets are available via their website at theatre.arizona.edu or by calling the box office at 621-1162.

U of A’s Pippin Still Has Some Magic To Do

by Lena Quach

Pippin is a mysterious musical filled with memorable music, magic and simple joys. The story follows the young prince Pippin and his quest for fulfillment in life. Pippin originally opened in 1972 with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson. The original production was directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. Arizona Repertory Theater, directed and choreographed by Christie Kerr, had some rather large shoes to fill and unfortunately did not succeed. 

I was excited when I first came in and saw the rather impressive set. I have seen Pippin in a couple different forms and this looked promising. I was quickly let down by the ending of the song “Magic To Do”. The ensemble of players were all beautiful and sounded amazing but lacked the mystery and pizzazz that you usually see in the first number of the show. 

Tony Moreno as and Paige Mills as The Leading Player. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Tony Moreno as Pippin and Paige Mills as The Leading Player. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

I did see some small homages to the original choreographer in the show but felt that maybe the choreography was too advanced for the cast. Yes, Fosse is an extremely hard dance style to perfect but there was a very large disconnect between the actors and the movement. It was especially noticeable in the isolations of the hips that looked more like twerking and the movements of the arms that looked more like a bird flapping then a directed movement coming from the back. These movements are essential that highlight and add levels to the catchy score. This was the productions biggest let down. 

I was also quite disappointed by Paige Mills in the role of The Lead Player. This role is so essential to the show and how the story is told. Mills has an agile and clear voice and I can see why she was cast in the role for that alone. The Lead Player should be more mysterious and should have more of an inner battle between herself and her sympathy for Pippin, in certain parts of the show. This rendition of the character seemed to plateau quickly and never see any depth until the end of the show. Mills put in a solid effort with choreography and blocking given to her but lacked grace and the showstopping quality that any Lead Player should posses. 

There were some highlights in the show including some very magical characters. Tony Moreno played the title role of Pippin. Moreno has a beautiful voice and gave the audience the perfect balance of his character that can sometimes come off as awkward and somewhat rude to completely charming and heroic. Moreno is definitely going places. I was also very impressed by Tristan Caldwell who added just the right amount of sass and comedy to the character Charlemagne. I was completely charmed by Marina Devaux as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe. Devaux gave me a Broadway-worthy performance and had me singing along during her number. Catherine, played by Sofia Gonzalez, was sweet, beautiful and organic just like any Catherine should be. 

In the end, Arizona Repertory Theater’s production of Pippin still has some “Magic To Do”. The ensemble gave an honest performance filled with magic tricks, great vocals, and some Broadway-worthy highlights but lacked the mystery, grittiness, and dancing with purpose. 

You can catch Arizona Repertory’s production of Pippin now through November 3rd at the University of Arizona’s Marroney Theatre. Tickets can be purchased via their website at theatre.arizona.edu or by calling the box office at (520) 621-1162. 

 

To Connect or Disconnect, That Is the Question

by China Young

The Last Train to Nibroc, by Arlene Hutton, invites us into a story of two people, a man and a woman, who meet on a train in the middle of the US as World War II evolves. They proceed to maintain a relationship throughout the next few years, though whether the relationship is romantic or not remains unclear until the end – I won’t give it away, but I bet you can guess. It’s a story we’ve seen many times, leaving me wondering, among so many other things, why we need to see it again.

Damien Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

Damien Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

In the program Hutton, the playwright, states that the idea for the play came when she learned that the post-mortem bodies of authors Nathaniel West and F. Scott Fitzgerald traveled on the same train at the same time. She further explains that she chose to introduce her two characters, who were loosely based on her parents, on that same train, and from there she generates “a patchwork quilt of family lore and love stories I heard as a child, all stitched together to tell the fictional tale of May and Raleigh.” Layering a partly fictional love story over a slightly morbid bit of trivia from the past is a bit of a disjointed foundation and is perhaps the root reason I felt multiple layers of disconnect as I tried to absorb this production. 

Susan Claassen, the Managing Artistic Director ushering Invisible Theatre into an impressive 49th year, also directs performers Samantha Cormier (May) and Damien Garcia (Raleigh) in the second show of Invisible Theatre’s 19-20 Season. All of these artists have strong portfolios, offer major contributions to the Tucson theatre community in general, and I have the utmost respect for each of them as fellow theatre artists. Unfortunately, my experience of this production does not reflect the quality of work I know these artists are capable of. I found myself constantly questioning beat shifts, character choices, staging, and a number of other elements that continue to confuse me.

Before I go into more detail on what I found disjointed, let me discuss what worked. The set design by Tom Benson was beautiful and cleverly designed, working in tandem with the strategic staging by Claassen. Each scene, all set in different times and locations, all felt very different environmentally despite them all being on the same set.

The costume designs by Maryann Trombino were great, especially for May. Women often have the better fashions in period-pieces and this was no exception. I especially appreciated how the evolution of her costumes through the timeline of the show reflect the chronology of World War II, from fashionable to rationed simplicity.

The sound design by Rob Boone felt almost like another character as it introduces the audience to the world of the play with a voice over of President Roosevelt talking to the American people. This moment was actually one of the most engaging for me as an audience member. The words of Roosevelt from (circa) 1940 could so easily be addressing our nation today. They resonated with me in such a way that my interest was immediately piqued and I was excited for the show I was about to experience – eager to see what other commentaries it might offer to further parallel “then” and “now.” However, the show never developed the commentary I anticipated from the words of Roosevelt, thus enveloping my entire experience with a degree of disconnect I just couldn’t shake.

Returning to the script, the language seemed to have a spiral-like pattern of repetition, which I believe was a tool the playwright gave the cast and director that wasn’t wielded effectively. In retrospect, I think the audience needed those repetitive moments to anchor us as observers to the beat shifts and tactical changes of the characters as they navigate their own connectivity. Instead I found myself lost in the dialogue, trying to understand what these characters were saying, and why they were saying it the way they were. The intentions that the actors were playing felt out of sync with the rhythms provided in the dialogue, further disengaging me. The use of accents may have added another layer of disconnect to this, with the cadence of the accents often taking over the performance, causing the meaning of what is being said or felt by the character to be lost in translation. In addition, I experienced a lack of chemistry between Garcia and Cormier, further impacting my confusion around character intentions. As I mentioned earlier, this is a story that I knew how it was going to end before it began, which means I was an extra hard sell when it comes to how invested I am throughout that journey, and I may be a harder sell than your average audience member when it comes to love stories in general. 

Last Train 2

Damien Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

By the end, instead of feeling warm and fuzzy, as I imagine the playwright, cast, and director wanted me to feel, I just felt “meh.” I ask again, why did I need to hear this story – again? In my effort to gain more clarity around this question, I watched the Arizona Public Media “Spotlight on the Arts” feature on this production (https://youtu.be/kJna42HDAnE). In this interview, Cormier discusses the way the show repeatedly brings the characters to the edge of connecting, and yet they consistently miss true connection. It’s interesting to consider this since I did experience these “missed connections,” but not it in a way that made me root for them, which is how Cormier describes her relationship with their evolution. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the story and characters instead.

I admittedly may be in the minority when it comes to my experience of Last Train to Nibroc. When the show ended, I heard people say “that was so good,” as well as other exclamations of enjoyment and satisfaction. I encourage folks to see Last Train to Nibroc for themselves – I do believe that this production is exactly what some people are looking for when they want to enjoy a night of theatre. Just because I didn’t make a love connection with it doesn’t mean you won’t. 

Closing this week, you can see it Wednesday, October 30 through Saturday November 2 at 7:30pm, with 3:00pm matinees Saturday, November 2 and Sunday, November 3. Tickets are $35 by calling the Invisible Theatre Box Office at 520-882-9721 or purchasing online at invisibletheatre.com.

Silent Sky is a Fiery Force

by Marguerite Saxton

Playwright Lauren Gunderson writes about women. She tells stories of brave women who altered history through their acts. This is an interesting story-within-a-story given that Gunderson’s life is, in and of itself, a challenge to the status quo. She is considered the most produced living playwright in America. Her prolific pen did not falter in writing Silent Sky, currently on stage at Arizona Theatre Company. Silent Sky is the story of 19th-century female astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. 

Veronika Duerr as Henrietta Leavitt. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Veronika Duerr as Henrietta Leavitt. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Though she has many accomplishments, Leavitt is best known for discovering a way to measure distances to the stars. Born a fiery force in a world that prized domesticity, Leavitt blazed the path for giants such as Edwin Hubble. Her story is one to be told with dignity and pride, and ATC succeeds in delivering. 

Director Casey Stangl makes smart and sensitive choices, casting empowered women who deliver crisp, unapologetic ranges of humor, insight, and seriousness. Veronika Duerr, who portrays Henrietta Leavitt, offers up a nuanced and complicated woman, filled with passion for her work, disdain for normalcy, but appreciation for family. Duerr’s version of Leavitt showcases the many choices women who dare to shine brightly must make along the way, sometimes eschewing partnership or raising a family or other life affirming possibilities in order to pursue the big dream. What I appreciate about how Leavitt is characterized is more than this though. It’s how she didn’t always seem to know the answers either. She is a brilliant and confident woman who also doesn’t know how to navigate the grey areas of life. She is fatigable, and charmingly so.

Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming, two of Leavitt’s colleagues and strong women in their own right, bring a balance to the performance. In sync and flowing freely through their scenes, Inger Tudor, who plays Cannon, and Amelia White, who portrays Fleming, are constant bursts of light in the overarching theme of patriarchal oppression. They must challenge it with their basic existence but find comical ways to do so. Referencing Newton’s, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” one of Fleming’s lines goes: “There’s been a lot of stupid giants”.

A breathtaking infusion of stagecraft and lighting happens between the work of scenic designer Jo Winiarski and Lighting Designer Jaymi Lee Smith. The theme of luminescence pervades this production. We are witness to a pleasing spectrum of visual metaphor through a circular cyclorama. It provides a fresh and inventive take on visual storytelling and serves as a reminder of the grand, cyclical message of it all. An illuminated doorway floats in steady omniscience, seemingly knowing way more than the audience does. This is the portal from which people enter or exit Leavitt’s world with their tidbits of influence and challenge. 

The colors of Silent Sky were like the star-filled night. Dark blues, rich burgundies, royal purples, piercing light blue auras, all coming together to enrich the already well-designed space. 

Between nerdy science jokes and more austere matters such as, you know, breaking down the stigma of working woman and the never-ending glass ceiling we’ve faced throughout history, one will find tender moments of unanswerable paradoxes: a sister in need of support, an admirer who can only get so close, a journey not taken, a life refused to live. “During this time of immense scientific discoveries, women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). We see and feel this palpable struggle throughout the play. In it we experience the fight these women made to balance the daily expectations of their lives and their out-of-this-world desires.

What feels like a small victory for ATC is only slightly paled by the fact that the real Leavitt continued her work at the Harvard Observatory until her death, plucking stars from the sky and categorizing them with an open mind and unabashed curiosity. 

Lucky as we are, Tucsonans are treated to a free horizon show every night. Just look over at Gates Pass around sunset and see what folks from around the world come to capture pictures of. ATC has found a way to squeeze the magic of this beloved natural treasure into a theater, portraying one of its greatest stars with the dazzle she deserves. 

Silent Sky runs from through November 9th. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Arizona Theatre Company box office, calling (520) 622-2823, or online at arizonatheatre.org.

The Little Prince is Pure Magic

by Chloe Loos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grins, Giggles, and Guffaws for All

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by guest reviewer Richard Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the guest reviewer:
Richard Thompson

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