The Nina Variations: A Chekhov lovers dream

By Gabriella de Brequet (She/They)

Jake Montgomery as Treplev and Emily Gates as Nina photo credit to Ryan Fagan.

The Nina Variations is vibrant, witty, quick in its pacing and an overall great concept for a play. It never leaves you in a moment of boredom and much of that is credit to Director Moseley and performers Emily Gates (as Nina) and Jake Montgomery (as Treplev).”

The Nina Variations at Live Theatre Workshop, directed by Chris Moseley, takes two of Chekhov’s characters, actress Nina and writer Treplev from the famous play The Seagull, and places them in one room with 43 alternate variations on the final scene from the play; we are presented with 43 variations of how their love story could have played out. The Nina Variations is vibrant, witty, quick in its pacing and an overall great concept for a play. It never leaves you in a moment of boredom and much of that is credit to Director Moseley and performers Emily Gates (as Nina) and Jake Montgomery (as Treplev). 

I have to preface this review with the simple truth that is very difficult to perform in a two-person play. Starring in a two-person play is an achievement that any performer should be proud of. I would argue that it’s even more difficult than performing in a one-person play because you must rely on your co-star and not just yourself. A two-person play demands that both performers be present and think on the line, the set must be detailed, and the costumes should be pleasing to look at for the duration of the play. There is nowhere to hide in a two-person play. There is no room for visual error, especially in a play that takes place all in one room. 

Both Gates and Montgomery are incredible performers. I enjoyed watching their character choices and observing them play on stage, but I couldn’t help but think that they were the wrong pair. They just didn’t match. I recognize that these characters are opposites in many ways but there has to be a spark and unnatural attraction for the audience to really believe that their love could be possible. Jake Montgomery shines in the role of Treplev. Their performance is subtle and nuanced, charming and smart. Montgomery is an incredible scene partner and is a profoundly giving performer. Montgomery’s portrayal of Treplev felt like an elevated version of themself and not a character they were putting on. I was taught in many acting classes that a character should always have a little bit of the actor’s personality showing through and Jake nailed this. Emily Gates is a powerful performer. She commands the stage vocally and visually and her gaze could pierce right through you. Her Nina was playful and demanding. Gates nails the over-the-top, vain actress archetype; however, at times I felt that she was playing too big for the small space and I wished there were more levels to her Nina. Her Nina lacked a secret sadness that I think is necessary for the audience to have any empathy for her need for recognition and constant reassurance. This very well could be a directional choice. Either way, it’s clear that Gates knew her character backwards and forwards.  I would recommend that audiences leap at the chance to watch Gates or Montgomery perform in anything. Unfortunately Gates and Montgomery’s chemistry just didn’t pass the test for me which ultimately is a casting problem and not a performer’s burden to bear. 

The set was fitting and the projections and lighting were clever and added to the comedic timing of many of the scenes. The biggest technical pitfall for me were the costumes. Montgomery’s costumes were timeless and fitting to the character, but Gates really had the short end of the stick. Her dress was shiny and made of polyester with a drastically uneven hem, while Jake’s paints and button up were made of natural high quality fibers and were well tailored. The two costumes just didn’t make sense being side by side on stage. The costumes looked like they were from completely different time periods. It was disappointing  and I felt as though director Mosely could have paid more attention to detail regarding the costume selection.

Overall, I enjoyed many elements of the play and the actors’ individual performances. I just wish the director would have made clearer choices that would have supported the needs of the play and performers better. I urge audiences to see The Nina Variations and judge it for themselves. It was an enjoyable night of theatre for many reasons and I’ll be thinking about the play for some time to come. 

The Nina Variations plays through July 9th at Live Theatre Workshop in the mainstage theatre. Masks are required. For more information visit their website at http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org

One Out of a Million

By Amanda Lopez-Castillo

‘How to Make an American Son’ photo credit to Tim Fuller

“Mercedes (Cristela Alonzo) stole the show with her passionate, bone-chilling monologue. The audience couldn’t help but clap mid-scene after her raw delivery showcasing a woman who had kept quiet for too long.”

Running on PC time, I eagerly took my seat in a house packed with people waiting to see the world premier of How to Make An American Son. Written by Christopher Oscar Pena, How To Make An American Son is a comedic coming-of-age story that follows spoiled sixteen-year-old, first-generation American Orlando (Francisco Javier Gonzalez) as he comes face-to-face with with the harsh reality that all actions have consequences, and that there are systemic rules that even his wealthy father’s money can’t bend or break. Throughout the story, we watch as Orlando gains a more realistic perspective on money,  establishes a strong work ethic through his time at his dad’s company, navigates queer multicultural relationships, and has some teenage fun along the way.

Director Kimberly Senior has truly crafted a tight-knit family amongst the ensemble of talented actors. The range of actor Francisco Javier Gonzalez, who plays Orlando, created a character who was hard to love at times, but who also made you cheer him on. Gabriel Marin captures an excellent portrayal of Mando, while avoiding any tropes of a stereotypical Latine father: Mando is patient, kind, loving, and accepting of who his son is. Rafael (Alexander Flores) used a believable accent and did an excellent job at contrasting the high energy of Orlando. Mercedes (Cristela Alonzo) stole the show with her passionate, bone-chilling monologue. The audience couldn’t help but clap mid-scene after her raw delivery showcasing a woman who had kept quiet for too long. 

From a technical perspective, the show does everything it can to invoke nostalgia for the 1990s. Sound designer Cricket S. Myers incorporates late ’90s and early 2000s pop songs into the scene transitions. Scenic designer Andrea Lauer adds ’90s band posters and a ’90s Macbook into Orlando’s room, and in the narrative, the characters even venture off to a Rage Against the Machine concert (being born in ’99, I initially didn’t realize that this was a real band until I went home and looked it up).

From a lighting perspective, Reza Behjat (Lighting Designer) avoids the traditional blackout between scenes, and instead uses a spotlight focused on Orlando as he changes from one costume to the next while the set is altered in the darkness behind him. Andrea Lauer (Scenic Designer) worked to create several minimalist yet distinct sets with so many references to the ’90s that it felt almost like I was watching a ’90s sitcom. Words like “Debt.”, “Time.”, and “Bills.”  were splattered onto a giant TV screen above the stage at the start  of every scene, making it even more apparent we were watching episodes of Orlando’s life. This was definitely a more refined element of the production.

From a diversity perspective, this play felt like a snapshot of one of the millions of stories that belong to the Latine diaspora. As a first-gen American, from a child of Mexican-Immigrants, Orlando’s experience of wealth and taking the life his parents have provided for him for granted was very unrelatable. I do think it would be interesting to see this same story from Rafael’s point of view. However, it is important for the American theater to have diverse and intersectional stories that showcase that we all have different experiences, feelings, and stories to tell. The narrative, however, presented topics that I felt personally connected to as a Mexican-American woman. The play calls out some of the issues I’ve seen amongst my people, Orlando delivers a long rant toward his undocumented co-worker which blatantly displays Orlando’s internalized racism. It made it clear that at times, even our own gente can be our worst enemy and not just the “white man”.

While the casting was within race, the casting did feel a bit safe with main characters that are as white passing as it gets. I think we need more actors who look like Cristela Alonzo and Alexander Flores to lead the stage in the future. 

Overall, I enjoyed this play because it showed the differences in generations. At first, I left the show feeling unsure of how I felt. Was it a play about queerness? A Latine play? A coming-of age play? In the end, I discovered that it is all these things, as well as a play about the American experience of a young teen coming to terms with himself, his identity, and his place in a world where the rules weren’t made for people like him. It’s one story out of a million stories showcasing what it feels like to be an American. 

I must be honest, however,  and say that it is still exhausting to walk into an artistic space where you are one of the few people who look like you do. Tucson is diverse and I challenge ATC to invite and make it more accessible for people from ALL backgrounds to attend great theater. 
How to Make an American Son is playing at Arizona Theatre Company through June 25. Tickets can be purchased at https://atc.org/show/how-to-make-an-american-son/ or by calling the box office at 1-833-ATC-SEAT (1-833-282-7328).

Citizen: An American Lyric is fearless in its confrontation of racism in America

By Mara Capati

China Young, Gianbari Deebom, Myron Crowe, Myani Watson, and Zachary Austin photo cred to Tim Fuller

“This piece reminds audiences that there is always an opportunity to humble oneself and accept that the pain of another person is not always something that we can personally identify with. However, we can validate, listen, and believe that person’s truth…”

Based on the award-winning book Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, this play is poetry adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre presents this play in partnership with The University of Arizona Poetry Center. The play boldly portrays the internal anguish of black people and black communities through a “poetry in motion” display of personal experiences with both microaggressions and overt racism. This piece provides necessary insight into the pain and trauma imposed on the individual when careless biases and prejudice exerts control over the conversation and social expectation of how black individuals should or should not respond to their own oppression. It not only forces the dominant culture to confront their own biases and/or unintentional contributions to racism in America, but also validates the truth of black individuals and people of color everywhere whose personal understanding of their place in the world has been forever affected or questioned because of the oppressive treatment of minority populations by the dominant culture in American society.

The stage design and art exhibit embody the creative techniques and stories of black artists and experiences. Simple but powerful silhouettes frame the stage area, while the lobby and walkway leading into the mainstage, tell the story of black lives and their journey through historical struggles and injustices, thus creating a fully immersive experience for the audience. The music direction by Kevin Hamilton also aids this storytelling with a beautiful selection of black voices and songs.

Director Dawn McMillan successfully delivers a piece that is as visually, linguistically, and conceptually challenging as it is timelessly relevant and provocative in the current climate of calls for social justice in America. One might ask or wonder if this is a political piece. But in truth it is an autobiography; the factual experience of many; an old spiritual sung by the broken hearts of a thousand souls, and their ancestors before them. All of the actors take on the role of “citizens” in this play and each character gracefully and soulfully embodies the mind and internal dialogue of the oppressed individual or a member of “white society” or the dominant culture. Actors weave effortlessly through these very intense interactions and at times even uncomfortable confrontations that call out or bring attention to the microaggressions and racism occurring in everyday society.  There is a rawness and vulnerability required of these actors to truly bare the genuine anguish of the oppressed individual and I applaud this cast for being able to do this so effectively. 

This piece reminds audiences that there is always an opportunity to humble oneself and accept that the pain of another person is not always something that we can personally identify with. However, we can validate, listen, and believe that person’s truth and their adverse experiences. Further, we can begin a discussion on how we can improve ourselves in our judgments, actions, and efforts to provide safe and equal spaces for oppressed individuals. Understanding one’s role in society from a power and control perspective and cultural perspective is incredibly important to foster positive awareness. Even as a person of color, I am reminded by this piece that there are intersectional aspects of my being, that have both given me privilege and that have oppressed me. When someone has not experienced racism or oppression due to their cultural or racial identity, it is difficult to truly understand or resonate with the adverse experiences of these individuals. I think that this production can especially impact those individuals because this type of heartbreak is a niche horror that they will only witness secondhand, and witness it in Citizen: An American Lyric, they will.
The show’s final weekend runs May 26th-May 29th, Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, 738 N. 5th Avenue, Suite 131.  Tickets are $15 – $30 with student, teacher, senior, and theater artist discounts available. Tickets can be purchased at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/citizen-an-american-lyric. The box office can be reached at 520-448-3300, or by email at boxoffice@scoundrelandscamp.org. S&S is requiring all patrons to wear masks inside and to show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test at the time of entry.

Justice celebrates–and criticizes–the towering women of the U.S. Supreme Court

By Betsy Labiner

Joan Ryan as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nancy Opel as Sandra Day O’Connor, and Chanel Bragg as Vera photo credit to Tim Fuller

“I cheered at various points, felt rage so intense I clenched my jaw, and, during one song near the musical’s end, actually put my face in my hands to muffle how loudly I was sobbing.”

Lauren Gunderson’s new musical Justice at Arizona Theatre Company was — for me at least — an engaging experience of emotional extremes. I cheered at various points, felt rage so intense I clenched my jaw, and, during one song near the musical’s end, actually put my face in my hands to muffle how loudly I was sobbing. (On that last point, I probably needn’t have worried; my friend to the left of me was also audibly crying, as was a man in front of me and someone else several seats to my right.) The intensity of feeling is tied not only to the plot, but to the songs as well, which feature music written by Bree Lowdermilk and lyrics by Kait Kerrigan. 

Justice explores the relationship between Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (played by Nancy Opel) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Joan Ryan), moving mostly chronologically through their time on the Supreme Court and the major cases on which they made rulings. Their story is presented through a frame narrative of a modern appointee’s Senate confirmation hearings. The appointee, Vera (played by Chanel Bragg), faces adversarial and even antagonistic questioning, which she knows she must face with absolute calm and professionalism. We see her navigating fraught political territory and recognize that the questions — unheard by the audience, but made clear by the context — that she is answering frequently have nothing to do with her credentials, but are instead seeking to undermine her on the basis of her gender, sexuality, and race. 

Director Melissa Crespo kept the pacing tight, which worked well with the often snappy dialogue. The set (designed by Tanya Orellana) features a desk for each woman, at which she is seated for the majority of the play. The backdrop, however, is where much of the visual interest lies; projections provide exposition, explanation, visual cues, and photographs for historical and individual context to key moments. The projections (designed by Lisa Renkel) were a brilliant way to indicate shifts in socio-political sentiment, as well as help prod audience members’ memories of particular moments so that the dialogue never had to veer into didactic or overly-expository territory. 

This musical is, as I said, emotionally gripping and varied. I felt helpless frustration, even fury, at court cases from over twenty years ago as well as at more recent decisions, but also hope and elation at the play’s reminders of the progress made. Justice does an excellent job of examining the women as real, flawed people, not just figures to hero-worship. It frankly discusses the mistakes and failures in the careers of O’Connor and Ginsburg, which paves the way for audiences to consider how we need to continually strive to do better even as we celebrate the good these women did in their lives and work. 

All three actors gave compelling performances, but I particularly laud Bragg, whose rendition of “Dissent is Not Enough” moved me to tears (shortly before the next song, “The Mind Goes,” absolutely demolished me emotionally). She also did a beautiful job of shifting between Vera’s appearance of serenity and the reality of her underlying panic and doubt that the audience sees in moments of internal monologue. Vera is visually centered for the duration of the play, and Bragg held that space with ease. The banter and liveliness of Opel and Ryan was a delight to watch too, and I was impressed as well by the deftness with which they handled the more subdued, bleak moments for the Justices they portrayed. 

I felt wrung out by the end of the play, but simultaneously energized. The closing moments of the play elicited a standing ovation from myself and fellow audience members even before the play had quite concluded. I am left in deep reflection on the workings of the court system and politics in the United States, particularly when it comes to the delivery and upholding of justice. I appreciate the prompting, particularly when it’s delivered with as much thoughtfulness as this play demonstrates. Go see Justice — it’s for all. 


Justice is playing at ATC through April 30th. Tickets are available for purchase online at arizonatheatre.org or by calling the box office at 1-833-ATC-SEAT (1-833-282-7328). Masks are recommended but no longer required at ATC.

Fremont Jr. High is NOT doing Oklahoma is totes not yikes on bikes.

By Elena Quach

Jake Montgomery, Gianbari Deebom, Eddie Diaz, Trystan Garcia, Amaya Ravenell, and Tristan Kissel photo credit to Ryan Fagan. (Not in the order of appearance)

“Don’t feel obliged to go see this show, go see it out of desire.”

Live Theatre Workshop’s current production of Paul Michael Thomson’s play “Fremont Junior high is NOT doing Oklahoma” was the light-hearted breath of fresh air I needed. I must admit I stayed up past my bedtime for this show, but it was worth it! I left the theater with a big cheesy grin and the urge to re-watch Mean Girls. Who doesn’t want to feel that way after watching a show that follows the drama of a teenage drama club president named Chrysanthemum? Maybe you should stick to watching the musical Oklahoma if you don’t. 

The play follows our know-it-all nerdy musical theater drama club president and his classmates including his BFF, drama club vice president Phylicia, a coloratura soprano. Conflicts arise when they discover that the spring play is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. The play is filled with fun, witty, independent, and somewhat tragic characters that are relatable to every 8th grader inside of us. 

Ally Tanzillo’s top-notch directing brought out the best in every character played by a wonderfully funny ensemble. I can’t pick out any standout performances because each one was unique and entertaining in their own way. The ensemble includes. Jake Montgomery as Chrysanthemum, Gianbari Deebom as Alexy, Eddie Diaz as Zak, Trystan Garcia as Jack, Amaya Ravenell as Phylicia, and Tristan Kissel as Travis. The ensemble performs as one fine-tuned unit, with wonderful comedic timing throughout the entire performance. It was a joy to watch and left me chuckling to myself for the rest of the evening.

The play contains conversations that I know some adults in the theater industry would fight over right now and I am happy to see this play being produced in Tucson. I was overjoyed to see characters that remind me of the middle schoolers I teach today. I was relieved that the LGBTQ+ community was represented within a middle school setting. I thought this play would give me early 2000s middle school tv flashbacks but gave me a fresh approach to what we see in present-day middle schools all around our nation. Don’t feel obliged to go see this show, go see it out of desire. 

Live Theatre Workshop requires proof of vaccination and masks required to enter the theater. Fremont Jr. High is NOT doing Oklahoma runs from April 8-23rd. For more information about tickets visit livetheatreworkshop.org

You and Me and the Space in Between: A poetic tale of discovery and the power of a child’s perspective

By Jackson Alvey (Guest Reviewer)

Oscar De La Rocha, Amanda Lopez-Castillo and Emily Fuchs in the Ensemble photo credit to Tim Fuller

In this creative tale written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, whose work is no stranger to the Scoundrel & Scamp stage, You and Me and the Space Between, directed by Susan Arnold, transports us into the isolated world of the Proud Island people. Actor Emily Fuchs brings Proud Island to us, as they describe the day to day life of a Proud Island native on the small floating country. Her fiery-haired character is the first to question the rigid traditions that everyone else on the island, specifically the loud and opinionated adults, follow blindly. Oscar De La Rocha, Amanda Lopez-Castillo, Gretchen Wirges, and Emily Gates deliver great character work, each playing multiple islanders. We are transported further into their world as Maddie Hill’s foley artistry creates sound effects and adds an extra level of believability to the actors’ presentation of their world. 

Right off the bat, when their beloved island that floats like an apple (not sinking like a pear would) springs a leak, all on the island are sent into a frenzied panic, not understanding what has happened and having no tools to help them fix it. Emily Fuchs’ character takes a deep breath and suggests what no one ever has before: maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the world than just their beloved floating home. Her idea is immediately protested by the island’s older citizens, but she is able to persuade them through the logic and support of her mother, played in that scene by Amanda Lopez-Castillo. Soon enough, they work together to turn the island into a giant boat, using their resources to create oars and row on to the unknown. Projection of real waves onto the set makes me believe I’m on the island-boat with them, as the sound of waves crashing from Maddie Hill heightens the sensory experience. 

As dawn rises on a new day using warm lighting design, the Proud Island people crash into another island inhabited by the Long Cliff people. They are met at first with love and support, and then with discrimination and violence from some of the disapproving Long Cliff islanders. The show dives into themes of teamwork and community, as well as discrimination and hardships faced by immigrants and refugees seeking a better life. We witness the beauty of shared language and culture as their two worlds are brought together and traditions are broken. We feel frustrated as they experience acts of hatred from the Long Cliff people, but happy as Proud Island adults decide to explore the new world, forging the way for others to feel comfortable doing the same. Credit is never given to Emily Fuch’s character though they deserve it, but being a shy individual, she is not upset to be in the  background – she merely wants to know that she’s made a difference. 

Overall, despite some plot holes (what happened to the leaks in the island?) the story is written well, and the actors really bring it to life beautifully. Direction from Susan Arnold makes the story believable and clean, costumes by Gretchen Wirges evoked a sense of unity and creative curiosity, with features reminiscent of the ocean and island itself. Aside from microphone issues and feeling like I was missing concrete or specific story resolution, I left feeling satisfied with the lessons of community-building and staying true to yourself that were present throughout. It was done really well, and my only complaint was that in a story inspired by Pacific Islanders that centered on themes of diversity and inclusion, the majority of the cast were not AAPI or BIPOC aside from Amanda Lopez-Castillo and Oscar De La Rocha. Though the lessons and themes were still delivered successfully, I felt a more diverse cast would have brought an extra level of authenticity and perspective to the piece that I felt was missing. 

Overall, if you’re looking for a lighthearted family show that teaches valuable lessons about family; diversity, equity, and inclusion; listening to your heart; and valuing your roots; this show is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and I left thinking about how I might be able to follow my own heart more often, be more inclusive, and take a risk in order to discover a whole new world outside of my own limited view. 

You and Me and the Space Between runs through April 17 at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. For showtimes and tickets, please visit https://scoundrelandscamp.org/you-and-me-and-the-space-between or call the box office at (520) 448-3300. S&S is requiring patrons to wear masks indoors and to show EITHER proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test at the time of check-in. For their full health policies, please visit https://scoundrelandscamp.org/health-and-safety

Time travel to 1936 by means of an empty space

By Annie Sadovsky Koepf

The Piano Lesson cast (the Charles Family) Jace, Will Smith III, Richard “Chomps” Thompson, Neaja Thomas, PJ Peavy

“Thompson commands the stage from the moment he enters … Peavy, as his sister, is a worthy opponent. The tension between the two of them is palpable every time they are together.”

A black box, an empty space, becomes whatever a director and production crew can imagine it to be. At Pima Community College, the black box theater becomes a home in 1936 Pittsburgh. Even before you enter the theater, you hear the haunting sounds of jazz that were integral to that time period. You are transported to that time and place. The Piano Lesson, which won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for best play, is getting ready to begin. It is the fourth play in The Pittsburg Cycle by August Wilson. He was once quoted as saying that this play is about “acquiring one’s self-worth by denying one’s past.”

The opening scene introduces Boy Willie, played by Richard “Chomps” Thompson, as he comes from the south with a truckload of watermelons and a dream of selling them. Additionally, he wants to return south to purchase land that he would work as a landowner, as opposed to a sharecropper.  A key to this dream is selling a piano, a family heirloom, that his sister Bernice, played by PJ Peavy, is adamant about keeping in the family.  The play features the major theme of legacy and its importance to all of us.  In addition, Wilson adds a dose of the supernatural to influence the characters’ decisions. 

The director, Chanel Bragg, and assistant director, Gianbari Debora Deebom, have truly worked to create an ensemble that is entirely believable as life long friends as well as family.  The inside jokes and teasing and tension that occurs in such relationships is palpably evident. Also, the collaboration between Arizona Theatre Company and Pima to create workplace and college partnerships is a perfect example for how these types of organizational relationships can work for the mutual benefit for all involved. 

The highlights of the acting of this ensemble are Thompson and Peavy.  Thompson commands the stage from the moment he enters.  His verbal delivery of the lines, using dialect from the time period, is pitch-perfect. Additionally, he is very gifted in using his physicality to totally own every scene. Peavy, as his sister, is a worthy opponent. The tension between the two of them is palpable every time they are together. She easily and flawlessly evokes and transmits the range of emotions that her character feels around the complicated family dynamics. I must mention Maretha, played by Neaja Thomas. She went from being a computer wife in the recent Sponge Bob production to an 11-year-old in this show very believably.  The standing ovation at the end of the performance that I attended was well-deserved for them, as well as the entire cast and crew. Kudos to all involved.

The set, lighting, and costume design are also well worthy of such accolades. All of these added to being transported back in time to the post-depression era. I was especially taken by the special effects used to give credence to the element of the supernatural.  I know that ATC was instrumental in many pieces of the set. No detail was overlooked, even to the piano’s embellishments.

As a current student in Theatre Arts at Pima, I must commend the college for producing a show which gives students the opportunities to practice their craft in real time. As a former educator myself, I know the benefits that such opportunities provide. With that in mind, any issues with the performance are likely due to that fact that many of the actors are having an early – or even their first – opportunity at a performance. Acknowledging that, they all did extremely well given those circumstances.

Andrea Pratt Anderson, the production manager, shared that she would like to do an August Wilson play each year. I commend Pima for giving future students continued opportunities to see artists of color as vibrant members of the theater community.  August Wilson said he wanted to give the white community a look at the black community in America. I think given the times, seeing communities both like an unlike your own continues to be as important as ever.

If you can grab a ticket for the upcoming performance this weekend please do. I think this show would be most appropriate for high school students as well as adults. The show runs through April 3; Thursday – Saturday shows are at 7 p.m., and Sunday shows are at 1 p.m. Visit https://pima.edu/community/the-arts/theatre-arts/pima-presents.html for more information or to purchase tickets. 

*Taming of the Review would like it to be known that Richard “Chomps” Thompson is a memeber of our writing collective.

Just as She Hoped She Would, Nina Simone “Grabs you by the throat”

By Betsy Labiner

Candace Thomas as Nina photo credit to Tim Fuller

Nina Simone: Four Women is at times not an easy play to watch, but don’t skip it. It is an example of the way that strong theatre bridges experiences, creates connections, and encourages us to think more deeply and critically about our present and ourselves.”

The opening moments of Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Christina Ham’s Nina Simone: Four Women, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene, literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Nina Simone (played with charged intensity by Candace Thomas) sings to the audience, lit by a single focused spotlight. As she sings, screams and sounds of sirens begin to overlap with her voice, eventually overpowering it and culminating in the sounds of an explosion. The unsettling juxtaposition of song and screams sets the tone for the play, which is a taut exploration of the United States’ ugly systemic and institutional racism explored through Nina Simone and three women she meets in the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by white supremacist terrorists. 

When the stage lights come up after Nina’s opening solo, the audience is transported to the interior of the bombed church; the stage is littered with broken stained glass, charred bibles, rubble, and splintered furniture. Pews hang suspended in the air alongside chunks of masonry, giving the impression of an explosion still in progress. Arnel Sancianco’s set design encapsulates the sense of being in the midst of calamity, finding a stolen moment away from the Civil Rights protests and violent retribution by police. This environment is cemented by Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting design and Daniel Perelstein Jaquette’s sound design, which periodically create chaotic clashes, further explosions, and a general sense of the world spiraling out of control. “There’s a war going on outside this church,” says one of the characters, and the ambience onstage never lets the audience forget it. 

In the midst of this destruction, Nina Simone tries to write a song that will speak to the Black experience in America and the struggles of achieving equality. “I am at work to build a better world,” she declares. As she works, she is joined by Sarah (played by Deidra Grace), Sephronia (played by Katya Collazo), and Sweet Thing (Kia Dawn Fulton). The interactions and relationships between the four women — all of whom are brilliantly acted — bring to life huge issues of oppression, women’s rights, racism and colorism, and movements for social change as lived by the individual. I was unequivocally engaged by each of their stories, particularly as we learned a bit about who they are and why they do or don’t participate in the Civil Rights campaign through marches and protests. The play interrogates Blackness and womanhood, and the intersections of racial and gender politics. It unflinchingly highlights how both the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Lib movement simultaneously sidelined and failed Black women. It also questions methodologies of participation and change, especially during a scene in which Sephronia offers strategy after strategy of Kingian nonviolent protest, and Nina snaps, “Too slow!” after each suggestion. 

The acting and singing throughout is strong. Thomas is by turns cutting and wounded, manic and exhausted, as she strives to “create music that wakes folks up.” Her movements conveyed a restless impatience and barely-banked fury as Nina contemplates how to leverage her fame into making a tangible difference. Grace is also arresting, with her hardened pragmatism that eventually reveals insecurities and doubts as Sarah converses with Nina, Sephronia, and Sweet Thing. Grace has a beautiful voice, and I found myself frequently watching her in moments when all four women sang together. 

The play grapples with a lot of heavy, thorny issues — at times it verges on feeling like too much. It’s a necessary discomfort, though, as the United States has yet to reconcile its institutional oppression with the promise of equality. I left the theater mulling on my own experiences and the ways in which the play’s depiction of 1963 could easily have been a depiction of the present with only the smallest of changes in references to current events. This was particularly true in the moments when the characters named the four girls killed in the bombing — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair — in what felt to me like a nod to the current “Say Their Names” movement. Nina Simone: Four Women is at times not an easy play to watch, but don’t skip it. It is an example of the way that strong theatre bridges experiences, creates connections, and encourages us to think more deeply and critically about our present and ourselves. 
Nina Simone: Four Women is playing at ATC through March 19th. Tickets are available for purchase online at arizonatheatre.org or by calling the box office at 1-833-ATC-SEAT (1-833-282-7328). ATC is requiring proof of vaccination for entry to the theatre, and masks must be worn in the courtyard and theatre.

Pima Community College’s presents ‘The Spongebob Musical’

By Mara Capti

Samantha Beemer as SpongeBob, Lydia Chandler as Sandy, and Allie Devaney as Patrick

Based on the well-known and loved cartoon by Stephen Hillenburg, The SpongeBob Musical features original songs by a host of popular artists including Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sarah Bareiles, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., and many more! The play follows Spongebob, Patrick, Sandy and others as they team up on a mission to save Bikini Bottom from a volcanic eruption; meanwhile, their rival at the Chum Bucket, Plankton, is up to no good as he plans to take advantage of the ensuing chaos to benefit his own interests. Hilarity ensues and friendships are tested in this musical adventure!

There were many great things worth noting about the incredible talents and efforts of the Pima Community College Theatre students. However, there were, unfortunately, also production issues and directorial decisions that I feel heavily impacted the overall quality of the show.

The lighting and set design transports audiences to what we love and know as the underwater town of Bikini Bottom. The sound production unfortunately fell short as balancing volume in group numbers at times was highly distorted or imbalanced, making it difficult to hear the soloist as well. A few of the soloists were singing in the lower end of their vocal register and as a result the mics would at times not pick up their words or notes. That was not the only barrier, though, as on top of that, the sound system used did not fill the space as a whole or round out effectively for audience listening. I found it an interesting choice to not alter the keys of a few of the lead roles, considering that there were three lower vocal part roles (tenor/baritone/bass) played by three higher vocal singers (alto, Soprano). I would be remiss to not mention this incredible feat conquered by three incredibly talented performers: Samantha Beemer, Allie Devaney, and Kendall Hicks. Having heard all of these actors perform vocally in other settings, I know the disadvantage they were up against by not getting to sing in the most comfortable parts of their registers. That being said, they absolutely killed it. And it only got better when they had group features. My favorite example of this was the music number “BFF.” This is vocal talent and versatility at its finest and I am encouraged to see such skill in young, rising performers! 

Staging choices overall for the production were good, but there was some difficulty at times for the actors speaking to be seen by the audience members on the orchestra floor. On the positive side, though, there were also staging choices that really physically pulled the audience in and made you feel part of the camaraderie and mission to save Bikini Bottom! An example of this is the dance numbers that come out into the house walkways, wonderfully choreographed by Lena Quach. It’s always a treat to see more modern and hip-hop dance styles featured in theatre.

There are nostalgic and reminiscent character choices as well as new character interpretations that these students have worked incredibly hard on to bring to life. With those expectations in mind, I recommend that local theatre and SpongeBob fans come out and support the Pima Theatre program. As a member of the community who works in social services with youth and children’s theatre, I would advise for the families interested in seeing the production with young children to be aware that the show contains some adult situations and content. That being said, patrons should storm the box offices for a chance to see independent and sultry Plankton steal the dance floor. 

The show runs Feb. 24 – March 6, Thursday – Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m., ASL Night: March 3 at the Pima West Campus, Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W, Anklam Rd. 85709.  Tickets are $18 – $24, with student discounts available. Tickets can be purchased at pima.edu/arts. The box office is open Tuesday – Friday 12-5 and one hour prior to each performance. 520-206-6986, centerforthearts@pima.edu.

Quick, witty, and eloquent. ‘Ada and the Engine” finally graces the Tucson theatre scene.

By Elena Quach

Claire De La Vergne as Ada Bryon Lovelace photo credit to Tim Fuller

“Tucson had to wait a long time to see the story of Ada and her engine (it was supposed to open in March 2020, then fall of 2020, before being delayed to its present run), but in a lot of ways, I am glad we as an audience had to survive a pandemic first.”

Friendship, genius, and romance are pervasive themes in Scoundrel and Scamp’s newest production Ada and the Engine, penned by one of my favorite playwrights: Lauren Gunderson. The quick, witty, and eloquent language of the play expertly showcases not only Guderson’s excellent writing craft but highlights each character and their journeys throughout the two-hour show. The play focuses on the life and passions of Ada Byron Lovelace, an unsung female heroine of history. Ada is strong-willed, charming, and wickedly clever — particularly in her genius talent for mathematics. The play follows Ada as she helps program the first computer and faces the trials of being a woman in the 19th century. We see Ada change and grow along with the relationships surrounding her, including a complicated mother and daughter relationship, friendships, and even unrequited love.  

That seems like a lot to pack into a two-hour show. But with the expert direction by Bryan Rafael Falcón and the ensemble of actors working as one unit just like a computer program itself, the audience never felt overwhelmed or lost in the otherwise complex language of Gunderson’s work. Were there moments where the pacing could have been slower or faster? Or where the actors lost their accents in heated moments in the show? Yes. But it was nothing that would hinder a nearly perfect performance by the ensemble. I think my only personal note would be I would have loved to see more moments for self-reflection with Ada, especially in Act Two. Otherwise, I was impressed by this team of actors and what they have accomplished. 

One of the most impressive aspects of this show was the beautiful scenic, lighting/projection, and sound design created by a team of local artists. The design team consisted of Raulie Martinez’s delicate and masterful lighting and projection design, Tiffer Hill’s heart wrenching sound design, and Andie Pratt’s beautiful yet traditional set design. The melding of old and new was perfectly done and became a character itself during the duration of our journey with Ada. The design of this show was easily my favorite from the many shows I have seen at Scoundrel and Scamp. I hope we continue to see this style of design in future productions. Bravo! 

Tucson had to wait a long time to see the story of Ada and her engine (it was supposed to open in March 2020, then fall of 2020, before being delayed to its present run), but in a lot of ways, I am glad we as an audience had to survive a pandemic first. I believe more people would relate to Ada and her story more now than they would have back in 2020. You never know what life has in store for you. You never know when the time with those you love will be cut short. This show had me thinking about what matters the most to me and what I would do for my passions if put in Ada’s shoes. I hope when others see this thoughtful production they will think the same. 

You can catch Scoundrel and Scamp’s production of Ada and the Engine through February 27th, 2022. Patrons are required to either show proof of full vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in the past 72 hours. Patrons are required to wear N95 or K95 masks at all times inside the theatre.

Disclosure: The author, Elena Quach would like to disclose that she is related to the sound designer Tiffer Hill.