Send in the Clowns

by Jess Herrera

quirkuscircusThey say the circus arrives without warning, but what happens when the circus blows its top? That’s exactly what happens in Quirkus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster, a new addition to the family series at Live Theatre Workshop.

The show attempts the impossible, seeking to create a storyline that can be enjoyed by the youngest members of the audience while also entertaining adults. And while it has moments of perfectly walking this tightrope, it also comes dangerously close to toppling in others.

In the story, written by local playwright Tyler West and featuring original music by Michael Martinez, we follow the Quirkus Circus troupe as they discover their ringmaster has packed up and headed to join Cirque du Soleil – taking all the animals with him.

A lovable, silent clown named Eddie, played by Stephen Frankenfield, first sets the stage and invites audience participation. He quickly becomes the highlight of the show. Without spoken dialogue, he launches through the rows of audience members to get kids jumping out of their seats just moments after the lights go up. And his impeccable physical comedy quickly wins over even the oldest and most skeptical audience members.

Eddie is joined by the acrobat Margaret, played by Taylor Thomas. Her performance is delightfully earnest without being saccharine. And with a swirl of her sparkling dress, she elicits squeals of excitement from the audience (particularly from my five-year-old daughter, who joined me for the show).

The last members of Quirkus Circus are Natasha and Boris, played by Ericka Quintero Heras and Jon Heras. Unsurprising to anyone who remembers Rocky and Bullwinkle, they’re a married duo whose act is a mix of magic tricks, death defying feats, and a healthy dose of bickering.

Finally, after the revelation that the ringleader is missing, a replacement named Paul is quickly pulled from the audience. Paul is played by William Seidel. He is believably timid and hesitant to join the performance.

Through Margaret’s coaching and Eddie’s encouragement, we follow Paul as he finds his voice as a ringleader and gains confidence to help lead the circus. In the process, we learn an important lesson: You should be willing try things that might be scary because it’s the things that give you butterflies may have the biggest payoff.

The cast of Quikus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The cast of Quikus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Under the direction of Kristian Kissel, the players seamlessly mix their interactions with one another and the audience. The choreography and sets are simple but add just enough flourish to take the audience to the big top.

Unfortunately the musical numbers were a bit unbalanced. The songs were catchy, but the harmonies were occasionally off. The stronger vocals of some cast members overpowered others.

And a few moments that felt as if they were written for the benefit of the adults fell flat. Boris and Natasha, with their borrowed names, needed a stronger storyline. And the depiction of a stereotype was borderline offensive. Their ambiguous accents wavered from a loose Russian to French and even a familiar Sonoran dialect. Their tango number made things even more confusing.

Accents can be very difficult to master, and it’s even harder to emulate characters the audience may be familiar with. I think Boris and Natasha could benefit greatly from a rebranding and a shift away from their ambiguously Russian caricatures.

Despite these few pitfalls, Quirkus Circus is an excellent way to introduce young children to theater. Running at just 45 minutes, it’s participatory, light, and overall highly enjoyable.

Quirkus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays at 12:30pm through June 9. You can buy tickets on their website, http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org/, or by calling the box office at (520) 327-4242.

Costumes, Set, and Technical Design Breathe New Life into a Familiar Coming of Age Tale

by Marguerite Saxton

The 1800’s brought many influential things to Germany: Adolf Hitler, Nietzsche, The Brothers Grimm and the infinite creep factor of “Der Struwwelpeter” (Google it!). This is the backdrop for Arizona Repertory Theatre’s season finale, Spring Awakening.

Michael Schulz as Melchior and Rachel Franke as Wendla. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Spring Awakening is based on the late 19th century play The Awakening Spring, A Children’s Tragedy by German playwright Frank Wedekind. This modernized version is an austere depiction of oppression, rebellion, and sexuality, featuring maturing kids finding their bodies amongst shifting roles – girls drool over guys who don’t care about anything but are good at everything, while the guys suffer explicit fantasies about their piano teachers. Typical.

Spring is “a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). In this lusty season of rebirth we find ourselves sowing metaphorical seeds for the future. Spring Awakening’s director Hank Stratton has expressed that it’s necessary to have death in order to have new life. And what is a more fitting way to celebrate Eostre, the Germanic goddess of spring, than with awkward teenage S.E.X.?

This multiple-Tony winning musical features Steven Sater’s cringy, angsty songs about new ways to touch oneself. But Stratton, according to his recent interview in the Arizona Daily Star, is okay with that. He “expects some audience members to be uncomfortable.” And well, it is.

Yet, this is a show of contrasts. While hopelessness pervades, a spirit of dissent runs almost as wild as the hormones. Though conscientiously directed, the obvious opposites within the script create scenes that are confusing but, in a way, accurate to that time when seemingly everyone was mystified by human sexuality.

The motifs in the story are predictable: adults vs. kids, sex vs. chastity, pleasure vs. pain. A bit cliché. How many times have we seen this story? Girl has sex, gets pregnant, and has a terrible life while the boy basically gets to be the bad ass. Though the narrative starts out strong and funny, it unfortunately flickers out.

While the script leaves something to be desired, there are key performances that pack a punch: much of the movement is purposeful and well timed – a particularly satisfying scene features caustic schoolmasters, headbanging, and air-guitars. And there were stand out vocals by actors Jared Machado (Georg/Dieter) and Rachel Franke (Wendla).
Another gem in the script is the queer love story. Its nuanced vulnerability adds dimension to a predominantly straight tale. This was an astute detail to add to an otherwise familiar story.

Zach Zupke as Moritz and Gabriela Giusti as Ilse. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Where this play really shines is with the set design, technical, and costuming teams. The design of the theater is such that some audience members sit only feet from a technician, but wouldn’t know it due to the team’s utmost professionalism. They execute their jobs efficiently and in perfect unison. And the design team finds new ways to tell an old story. The set explores space in funky ways thanks to Scenic Designer, Joe C. Klug. Chairs hang from ceilings and the floors become a place to take notes. Tori Mays, Lighting Designer, rounds out a visually creative production with unlikely textural choices, employing geometric gobos and infusing many scenes with disconcerting chartreuse. Costume Designer, Ryan B. Moore, goes for symbolic touches by stitching tiny crosses of Peter onto the boys’ uniforms. This cross is a common symbol in counter-culture scenes, serving as a sneaky reference to the defiant nature of the students.

Another great component of this production was the live musical accompaniment – a classy touch that fosters a multisensory opportunity to connect with the play’s ethos. In many other productions they’d be hidden in a pit, but in this production they are instead proudly displayed for the audience as an essential organ, pumping their feet in tune, plucking their fingers in a rhythmic heartbeat that circulates vital energy throughout.
The script is predictable, but the execution of the production is done with gusto and skill. It’s clear those working on Spring Awakening are truly invested in this piece. This season’s final show at Arizona Repertory Theatre may not have awakened all of the senses, but it energizes one into the next phase, however screwy that may be.

Spring Awakening is directed by Hank Stratton and shows at Arizona Repertory Theatre from 4/7 through 4/28. Tickets can be purchased at https://theatre.arizona.edu/shows/spring-awakening/.

 

Editor’s Note: We mistakenly credited Richard Tuckett as the costume designer in a previous version of this article. In fact, Ryan B. Moore, a second year MFA student, was the costume designer for this production of Spring Awakening.

My Kingdom for Cohesive Direction!

by Gabriella De Brequet

Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most famous history plays written about the insidious king and his corrupt quest for blood, power, and the throne of England. It’s truly horrifying how relevant Richard III is for today’s audience considering our current political climate. However, the direction by Brent Gibbs, in this Arizona Repertory Theatre production, left me unsatisfied and confused.

‘The blocking of this production was awkward and unmotivated. The performers seemed to be crossing from once side of the stage to the other with no greater reason other than the fact that they were told to.  This was especially the case in large crowd scenes.

Richard III is a play heavy with death. But this production seemed to have little to no stakes from characters who were being sent to their executions. There was no sense of danger associated with many of the character’s deaths, and ultimately it didn’t support the content of the play. The world just wasn’t believable and this made the two-hour production difficult to sit through, even for a Shakespeare-lover such as myself. To top it off, director Gibbs chose to create an out of left-field alternate horror movie ending which completely strays from the original text. This left me wondering, will there be a sequel? If so, count me out.

Through all of the awkward staging, lack of relationships, and bold directorial choices there were some notable performances. Liam Thibeault’s Duke of Buckingham was witty and sharp, Kelly Hajek’s Queen Elizabeth was strong and striking, Jenna Meadow’s as the Murder was hilarious, Marina DeVaux and Sophia Goodin as Edward and Duke of York were unified and clear. Overall I felt that the female ensemble members carried the show. They were dynamic and interesting to watch on stage. As for Connor Mckinley Griffin’s portrayal of the title character, I felt that his lack of charm presented the character as one dimensional. Griffin delivered plenty of horrifying menace, but I wish that his Richard had a little more depth in his villainy.

In spite of all the production’s directional bumps, visually this play was stunning with a multi-leveled set by Jason Jamerson adorned with spikes, skeletons, and abstract metal work. The lighting by Tori Mays was striking and helped set the scene. The costumes by Elizabeth Eaton were gorgeously grungy. This production was a technically and visually jaw dropping, and the production is worth witnessing for the design elements alone. However, the production design team could not save the show from its misguided direction.

Richard III is playing at the Marroney Theater through Sunday, March 31st. Tickets can be purchased via the Arizona Repertory Theatre website: theatre.arizona.edu or by calling the box office at 520-621-1162.

American Mariachi is Must-See and Must-Hear

by Leigh Moyer

I took my seat at Arizona Theatre Company’s production of American Mariachi by José Cruz González cautiously optimistic. The cast and crew are predominantly women and/or people of color. The playwright is Mexican American. And, in the bathroom before the performance, there were were people speaking Spanish;  while that isn’t uncommon in Tucson, I haven’t heard much in our theaters– possibly because they don’t always choose plays that have broad appeal or that feature representation on stage. The teaser looked promising: young women mariachis fighting to be allowed to play alongside their male counterparts. It was so, so much more than that.

The show centers on the Morales family: Federico, Amalia, and their daughter, Lucha, struggling to cope with Amalia’s sudden onset dementia. When Lucha and her cousin Boli discover that music brings with it Amalia’s memories, they decide to form a mariachi band to recreate her favorite song. It’s a crazy plan: women can’t play mariachi. Lucha has other responsibilities, namely caring for her mother, her father had forbidden it, and, as it is pointed out in the show, they just can’t be mariachis. As the cousins struggle to build a band anyway (they don’t even own instruments), they learn about themselves, their dreams, and how to honor tradition while fighting for change in la revolución.

Diana Burbano as Amalia, Danny Bolero as Federico, and Christen Celaya as Lucha. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Diana Burbano as Amalia, Danny Bolero as Federico, and Christen Celaya as Lucha. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

What really struck me about this play was how well it explained feminism, without ever sitting down and spelling it out. The women didn’t want to be better than the men. They didn’t want to take the place of man. They didn’t even really want to forgo their other traditionally expected responsibilities at work or in the home. They just wanted equality via the opportunity to be mariachis. There was never a moment of needing to best the men — the women took their space alongside the men, both in music and in interpersonal issues when cultural expectations often led to uneven power dynamics. While, like in most relationships, there was arguing, the fight for women’s rights took a different approach of forgoing who is more or less right and instead challenging each other to listen and share their burdens.

In an era where the word feminist feels like a battle cry, it was a delight to see the battle of the sexes, at least for a few bars, come to an end.

I cannot say enough about the talent of this cast. It is one thing to tell a story on stage, another to sing and play an instrument while you do it, and something even more impressive to do so going back and forth between English and Spanish and playing mariachi. Excluding the two main characters, every actor doubled up roles and played an instrument to accompany the band. Because yes, there was a mariachi band. And they were stunning. Esteban Dagnino on trumpet, Francisco Javier Molina on violin, Ali Pizarro on vihuela, and Antonio A. Pró on guitarrón were incredibly talented. Additionally, Stephanie Swift Molina on violin was amazing not just at playing and singing, but at bringing heartbreak and joy to the music with the quality of her voice.

This show is cast with talented women (and men). Christen Celaya (Lucha) and Satya Jnani Chavez (Boli) were both instantly likable. They portrayed their parallel but drastically different lives beautifully: best friends and cousins who laugh with, fight, and support each other, sometimes one right after another. Their performances makes the rest of the story believable: Yes, what Lucha and Boli are trying to do is crazy, maybe impossible, but they acknowledge that in a way that admits that they are facing a challenge without forcing us to go along with the world of the story because we have signed up to watch a play. Instead it felt like hearing a story, told by aunties, maybe exaggerated, but based in real life.

Satya Jnani Chavez as Boli and Christen Celaya as Lucha. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Satya Jnani Chavez as Boli and Christen Celaya as Lucha. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

The five women (Christen Celaya, Satya Jnani Chavez, Alicia Coca, Marlene Montes, and Osiris Cuen) who make up the band, all misfits as much as mariachis, are lovable. Their problems are a million miles away from my own and yet completely relatable. Though I have never tried to form a mariachi band or had to care for an ailing parent or even lived in the 1970s, the way they reacted to their individual challenges was familiar. The reactions and solutions to their problems were so human I could put myself in their position. At times, the characters were a little over the top but each actor was so committed to the role it made their antics feel slightly amplified rather than performative.

Danny Bolero (Federico Morales) had a hard role to play. As the patriarch of a traditional Mexican-American family, he was often rigid and controlling. Bolero masterfully balanced machismo with humanity that left room not only for growth as a character but that made him relatable. I felt deeply for Federico, even when he was arguably being the antagonist holding his daughter back from her dreams and, in a small way, holding women back in traditional roles. His pain, shown only in private moments, was palpable. This is a man fighting to maintain a sense of control in a world he has lost and lost again.  It is another poignant moment where feminism is explained. The toxic masculinity that stems from a misogynist culture, particularly where men are expected to be the breadwinner, the man of the house, macho, robs them of the space to be sensitive, hurting, and to heal.

Coming into the theater, I was a little worried that certain stereotypes would be played upon. And while there were definitely characters too familiar to not be inspired by trope, none felt forced. Accents weren’t jokes. Culture wasn’t a punchline. Being Mexican-American was a part of the story the characters had to tell, not simply a device to move the plot forward.

Staged on a set that moves with the actors to tell the story from living room to hair salon to long-lost memory, the action flows, carried by the music. The story is told through beautiful dialogue. The characters switch between English and Spanish frequently enough to immerse the audience in place but not so much that the story line is lost for viewers who aren’t bilingual. Complementing the dialogue is the music. Each scene is punctuated with the bright, loud, emotion-filled ballads of mariachi music. We follow stories from past to present to past with the strum of the guitar, feel the celebrations and losses in the gritos, and our hearts beat in tempo with the guitarrón. Don’t worry, if you aren’t familiar with the instruments, there is a lesson to keep us, and the heroines, following along. The music is so good it is no surprise that the music director, Cynthia Reifler Flores, is a mariachi violinist herself. (Progress!)

Francisco Javier Molina on violin, Esteban Dagnino on trumpet, Antonio A. Pró on guitarrón, and Ali Pizarro on viheula. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Francisco Javier Molina on violin, Esteban Dagnino on trumpet, Antonio A. Pró on guitarrón, and Ali Pizarro on viheula. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

The costumes, by Kish Finnegan, are stunning. Character distinction and personality are not lost under the monolith of The 1970s, when the show is set. Instead, we get to know each character a little better through their trousers and protest shirt or prim blouse and skirt or hotpants. But what really blew me away was Tía Carmen. Her dress and hat was a mixture between the mariachi uniform and La Catrina, the archetype of the calaveras that return on to the land of the living on Día de los Muertos. It was beautiful and perfectly augmented with lighting (Carolina Ortiz Herrera) to make her both real as Amalia sees her and as her family might imagine her ghostly presence.

American Mariachi is a story of family, of love, and of tradition. And about how complicated they all are. As a woman trying to find her place in a world that seems to be taking steps backwards instead of forwards, the message hit home for me. And as a Tucsonan, this play was especially meaningful, the music, the set, the Spanglish, all brought back memories of my own, perhaps misplaced, dreams of being a folklorico dancer.

It was refreshing to see a performance with a younger and more diverse audience than I am used to seeing in theaters. Despite some murmurs during the show about not following the Spanish portions, the standing ovation and loud gushing about how wonderful the story and music were from those around me, young and old, white and not, restored some faith that at least in the Tucson theatre community, diversity is appreciated.

See American Mariachi. And when you do, don’t forget to listen. It is a story told in music, after all. American Mariachi runs through Saturday, March 30 at the Temple of Music and Art. Tickets can be purchased online at arizonatheatre.org or by phone (520) 622-2823.

Sweet Calendar Girls

by China Young

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth is a sweet story about love, friendship, and female empowerment. But when I say female empowerment, I don’t mean radical feminism, bra burning, or Women’s Marches. The production, currently performing at St. Francis in the Foothills, offers its audiences a sweeter, subtler version of girl power. Although, it does still involve the removal of bras.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo by Gretchen Wirges, courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The story, based on real life events, takes place in England. Annie (played by Gretchen Wirges), is married to John (played by Mike Manolakes), a delightful man that everyone in her women’s group (WI) adores. John quickly loses a battle with Leukemia, and the women all share the grief of his loss. However, this grief is quickly transformed into a fundraising project. Annie’s friend and fellow WI member, Chris (played by Colleen Zandbergen), strategizes a way to honor John by raising funds for a new settee in the local hospital waiting room in his memory. She hopes to accomplish this through the the sales of the annual WI calendar. In an effort to make the calendar more appealing than usual, Chris convinces the women to pose nude, using various objects to hide behind. The women debate over their fears and excitement about the idea, but their enthusiasm, comradery, and mutual love of John win over and they decide to do it. The calendar turns out to be a hit, giving the women tons of public exposure, in more ways than one. However, fame does what it does best and eventually leads Annie to question Chris’s true motives for helping John, and their friendship falters.

I decided to Google the true story behind Calendar Girls and discovered that there was in fact a schism of friendships that took its toll on the actual group of women. There remains a permanent split, with some more in the public eye than others. The fracture of trust between Chris and Annie mirrors this real-life split. Despite the real Calendar Girls being unable to make amends, this production leaves the audience with feelings of warmth and love.  

First, I’d like to note that out of the 20 people listed in the program, 14 of them were women with 9 on stage and 5 off stage, including a female director, Samantha Cormier, and female producer, Cecilia Monroe. Though the men were fewer in number, they were essential in helping the production bloom and are certainly not discounted. The only thing that would have elevated it would be more ethnically diverse representation. Director Samantha Cormier notes that the production is “another example of how women need to help each other out and be there for each other.” She is absolutely right, especially when it seems as though women have a tendency to see each other as threats instead of kindred spirits. This story is about the power of coming together for a cause that is important. In that way, it’s much like the Women’s Marches and can be used as a tool for change. For me, those protests promoted awareness of the intersectionality of women and minorities, and this show provides the perfect vehicle to share the same message through theatre.

Of course, sometimes a play is just a play, but as an artist, I always appreciate when a much larger message is presented profoundly within the simplicity of a beautiful show like this. Even so, this cast represents the essence of community and the power that love and kindness can have on all of us. Not to mention how vulnerable it must have felt being literally naked in front of an audience. Their encouragement of one another to fearlessly liberate themselves was truly powerful. This production reminded me of the strength and power that women can have to change the world through simply supporting one another.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo by the Pima Community College department of theatre, courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

Cormier and her cast create a fun and high energy environment that envelops the audience, literally. Many entrances were from the back of the house, inviting the audience to be a part of the action. To further enhance that quality, the stage was set up as a thrust with audience on three sides. While there were often enough people on the stage to provide nice stage pictures from all angles, I felt there were lost opportunities to take advantage of diagonal angles when fewer characters were on stage or when one character took focus. I also found the high energy of the women to sometimes be a bit chaotic and in need of a little more focus. All that said, the joy the performers had with this show and the heart that they brought to it overshadowed those few technicalities.

Gretchen Wirges as Annie was a pillar of this production. She grounded herself and her character beautifully. Even in the moments she wasn’t speaking or taking center stage, you could sense her internal life holding its own. She had moments of vulnerability that wrecked my heart, as well as moments of strength and fortitude that I could admire. The other “Calendar Girls” included Colleen Zandbergen, tragically convincing as she channeled Chris’s hubris, Ellie Vought, bringing a ton of fun and sass to her character Celia, Sue Bishop, giving Ruth a genuine innocence that turns rebellious, Pat Timm, delivering unapologetic bluntness as Jessie, and Nancy French with her skilled piano playing and hilarious punchlines.

The cast is rounded out by Jan Aalberts Waukon, Ina Shivack, Naima Boushaki, David Zinke, and David Gunther, all of whom did more than their share to create a production that is sure to lift your spirits. In lieu of revealing the most touching moment of the production, I encourage you to take the opportunity to experience the magic it summons, making every single person in the room feel loved and appreciated. I left humbled and inspired by the mark it left in my heart.

Calendar Girls runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3:00pm through March 24th. You can purchase tickets online at www.artmeetsheart.com or by phone at (520) 329-2910.

Don’t Keep This a Secret

by Marguerite Saxton

When asked about theatre, playwright and director Mary Zimmerman states that she “really like(s) to try to stage the impossible” (Chicago Tribune, 2014). Knowing this, one should be excited to see The Secret in the Wings. Under the direction of Cynthia Meier one is invited into a palette of beige, burnt sienna, and red: the bruised colors of fall.  Soft amber floor lamps, discarded sparkly clothes, and an old wood armoire add to the nostalgia and mystery that come with fairy tales. Remember when your mom’s fancy silk dress became dragon wings, stacked chairs became a castle, and that decaying set of records became magical volumes of spell books? This cozy basement set, designed by Joseph McGrath, frames the organized and tucked away minutiae of life.  

Typically, a theatre audience is given permission only to particular images: ones that purposefully illustrate a particular reality. Yet in “The Secret in the Wings” the secrets that usually live in the wings were not hidden, but instead acknowledged and displayed with refreshing candor on stage, fully lit, and unapologetic. Because the set and costume changes happened onstage, the edges of naturalism and surrealism are blurred and the audience receives a peek into what is typically reserved for the shadows. This carefully crafted set is a blank canvas that transforms with each of the differing fairy tales; one becomes transfixed by the ritualistic movement on stage.  It feels like a tape skipping, being rewound, finding the start again, and whipping back into a strange unison with time.

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Bryn Booth, Patty Gallagher, Joe McGrath, and Matt Walley in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

A tale within a tale within a tale, like a theatrical display of Matryoshka dolls (the set of small Russian dolls that stack within one another). The featured stories include one about a girl who never laughs, star-crossed lovers turned enemies, and an ever-present ogre. Decapitated heads, eyeballs in a jar, and magic leaves all added curious fodder to the patchworked storytelling.  Each tale stitches through another with a well-oiled choreography that relies on a rhythm like that of sand pendulums.

Patty Gallagher, Claire Elise, Bryn Booth, and Holly Griffith in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Patty Gallagher, Claire Elise, Bryn Booth, and Holly Griffith in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Most curious though, is the voice of the performance.  The stories are told with the authority of a 3rd grader – that way they are necessarily and subjectively honest, and still possessing an optimism untouched by life’s troubles.  The Secret in the Wings is what would happen if a child spun out of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, watched American Psycho one too many times, and then decided to recount their favorite fairy tales.  Absurd at times and absurdly funny at others, this play embodies a liminal space that is both harmonious and arresting. Throughout it you will find intentional blocks of silence that strangely syncopate with frenzied parades of choral chanting.  Thanks to the crisp ensemble work by Bryn Booth, Patty Gallagher, Holly Griffith, and Claire Hancock, what initially seems non-sequitur becomes an intimate portrayal of the way young girls bond. Another stand out performer is Hunter Hnat, the badly behaved son who becomes the wildly demonstrative prince who becomes the interpretive dancing suitor and so on until you’re not sure what began and how it ended, but really it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s just so damn interesting.

What really resonates is the exploration of our culture’s collective subconscious – something that’s been molded through fairy tales for thousands of years. In fact, some of the tales included in this production are upwards of 4000 years old.  With that said, this play does not sanitize the violence of the ancient tales. It gives you grit, double-takes, and lots of questions. It relishes in the strangeness of those stories’ ability to gingerly explain beheadings, incestuous relations, and murderous melancholy. And, like a fairy tale, this play perfumes the jarring morals in a saccharin haze, feigning fun.  But then, creeping in slowly, one begins to understand the allegory hidden beneath the playfulness.

Holly Griffith, Joe McGrath and the cast of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith, Joe McGrath and the cast of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

More than anything, the stories that Zimmerman has adapted and Meier has crafted are laden with morals; they pose pretty significant questions for our time:  How does ancient wisdom fit into our modern culture? How do old world morals find their way into our new world ways? I left the theatre asking myself these, among other, questions. And isn’t that the objective of theatre: to provoke? To prod us into understanding our roles in THE one big, revolving story? To see ourselves unmasked, brightly lit, exposed, and uncomfortable. As this play reminds us: “We all have a tale.”

You can catch The Secret in the Wings at The Rogue Theater (300 E. University Blvd) through March 17, 2019. Shows are Thursday-Sunday with matinee and evening performances. To get more information or purchase tickets, visit theroguetheatre.org.

 

 

 

Capture a Moment in Time

by China Young

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies is a glimpse into the lives of people whose careers are dedicated to sharing the violence in the Middle East with the rest of the world. Sarah (Carley Elizabeth Preston), a photojournalist, arrives home after being injured by a car bomb. She comes home to her partner, James (Christopher Younggren), a reporter who had already returned from the war zone, her editor Richard (Glen Coffman), and his new, young girlfriend, Mandy (Emily Gates).  

Glen Coffman as Richard, Emily Gates as Mandy, Carley Elizabeth Preston as Sarah, and Christopher Younggren as James. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Glen Coffman as Richard, Emily Gates as Mandy, Carley Elizabeth Preston as Sarah, and Christopher Younggren as James. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Director Eva Tessler sculpted Live Theatre Workshop’s production of this script with passion and honesty in such a way that I was left contemplating much of it in larger, more worldy perspectives. During a heated conversation about the horrors that surround the photos she captures, Sarah states, “cameras are for catching life on film, not changing it.” The strict clarity Preston delivers this line struck me with the consideration that plays are very similar in that capacity, offering a moment in time to viewers without any real capacity to “change life” in that moment. Yet both photographs and live performances, along with many other art forms, evoke change within the viewer, even if just for a moment. Sometimes that change leads to action, sometimes it’s just a moment of feeling.

There were a number of other moments and themes that had me in a contemplative spiral of micro vs. macro, the experiences the production explored in the moment vs. the same experiences occurring throughout the world, but with the weight of reality rather than the comfort and safety of “art.” In fact, each character had a unique relationship with the concept of comfort that were all very rich and left me with the additional consideration of how fortunate we are to be able to choose to experience war. In the United States we aren’t born into war zones, despite how social media makes it feel at times. In the theatre we are even more privileged, whether as an artist or audience member, to evoke and experience our compassion through art instead of first-hand.

Tessler and her cast of four seamlessly incorporated these themes into the performances, offering the audience a savory theatrical experience.  Sarah’s humanity, shrouded in stubbornness, is grounded by Carley Elizabeth Preston’s natural ability to shift between sarcasm and sincerity with ease. Her adjustment from the life-threatening environment of Iraq to the comfort of her home in the US is a struggle, at times quite subtle, and Preston handles it with sophistication. Mandy, portrayed with a genuine innocence by Emily Gates, is a pleasantly surprising character. An Event Planner, she is presented in a way that suggests she shouldn’t be taken too seriously, at least at first. Even her initial costume is an amusing hodgepodge of colors and styles. However, Gates gives Mandy strength in her naivete that supports her moments of pure profundity.

Carley Elizabeth Preston as Sarah in Time Stands Still. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Carley Elizabeth Preston as Sarah in Time Stands Still. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Mandy serves as both a foil and a mirror to Sarah, highlighting another thematic question I left pondering, gender roles. Mandy is the epitome of “female” and fully embraces her desire to take on that role. Sarah, on the other hand, with her need for independence and yearning for life-threatening adventure, exhibits traits that we often attribute to men. Interestingly, both men in the production, Younggren as James and Coffman as Richard, amplify what might be considered by many to be “classically feminine” qualities as both men are lead by their desires for love and family. There are several early references to Richard’s proclivities for brief relationships, allowing him the opportunity to find comfort in settling down with someone and truly committing to Mandy. James flips his previous adventure-seeking self around to fight for a chance to experience the normalcy of marriage and family. Both Younggren and Coffman embrace these characteristics with gentleness and grace. This shift in gender conformity made me realize that the male characters highlight the fortitude of the women, each on their respective paths. Thankfully, and effectively, every single performer allows us to experience their individual spectrums of conformity or nonconformity, and that doesn’t limit itself just to gender roles.  

Carley Elizabeth Preston as Sarah and Christopher Younggren as James. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Carley Elizabeth Preston as Sarah and Christopher Younggren as James. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The technical elements of the production were both simple and complex. There is only one set on the stage, an uncomplicated studio apartment with its distinct bedroom and kitchen/living areas designed by Jason Jamerson. The complexity is in the details, the style of the window that reminds us they live in NYC, the photos and small relics of the inhabitants’ travels. Interestingly, the evening I attended there were a few audience members that chose to take the stage and explore the photographs that decorate the bedroom, either prior to the start of the show or at intermission. After reading that the production consulted Michael Kambar, an actual photojournalist that had worked in Iraq, I wondered if those photos were authentic and wished I had been so bold to explore myself.

Another simple complexity is that, though there is only one set, the show has two settings: the present, and memory. The present is simple and straightforward, but the memories are scored with Middle Eastern music (sound design by Brian McElroy) that fades in as the lights (designed by Richard Gremel) shift to focus in on the speaker. Conceptually, this is a beautiful way to honor the text of the memory. Unfortunately, I found the execution of this transition to be a bit too abrupt, distracting me briefly from the artistry and message of the moment. I hope that the rhythm of those transitions find their finesse as the run continues because they are truly captivating moments and deserve the time it takes to ease the audience into them.  

Times Stands Still evokes the essence of its title, augmenting a story that simultaneously has happened, is still happening, and will continue to happen, deeming it all fixed and motionless in “the big picture.” You can catch it through March 30, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, (also 3 p.m. March 30)  at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $15 Thursdays, $20 all others. For details and reservations, 327-4242, or visit livetheatreworkshop.org.

You Can Dance, You Can Try, I Had The Time of my Life!

by Felíz Torralba

Set on an idyllic Greek island, 20 year old bride-to-be Sophie (Olivia Gainey) dreams of having her father give her away on her wedding day. Sophie invites three strangers discovered in her mother’s diary: Sam (Rafael Acuña), Harry (Evan Taylor) or Bill (Andrew Miller) who all might be her father. Sophie secretly invites the three men to her wedding with the hope that she will finally find out who her father is. When her mother, Donna (Thea Lancaster) sees the three men, she, with the help of her best friends and former singing partners Rosie (Gianbari Deebom) and Tanya (Shann Oliver), also tries to figure out what she will do with the sudden appearance of three former lovers. As complications ensue from the misunderstandings, Sophie and Sky’s (Eduardo Rodriguez) wedding and relationship may be jeopardized. While finding what is truly in their hearts, many may discover the course of true love. The best part: the story unfolds to the nostalgic and uplifting beats of ABBA!

The audience is primed for the story with a gorgeous musical overture (Mark Nelson, conductor). From this moment on, I knew that I would enjoy this performance solely based on the orchestra’s infectiously joyful sound. There was a whimsical, modern spin on the music that I enjoyed so much I could have listened to that and been satisfied. When the curtains lifted, I was immediately drawn to the simplistic architecture of this set (Todd Poelstra). There are two versatile pieces of what look like limestone structures with rusted iron rods and old, colorful wooden doors. This transported me straight to Greece and the island hotel where the story takes place. Scene changes were seamless and entertaining (this makes or breaks musicals in my opinion), and it was amazing that the versatility of the set allowed a dock, a chapel, a hotel, and different bedrooms to inhabit one stage.

The choreography (Mickey Nugent) is really one aspect of the show that blew me away the most. The show was choreographed as if the ensemble was one giant amoeba. Everybody hit every cue, each detail was articulated clearly, and each seemed like the moves came naturally to them. The movement supplemented the show so incredibly well and made me want to keep watching. I also think an element of the show that should not go unnoticed is the musical direction (Martha Reed). The cast knew how to HARMONIZE. This made their sound swelling; (literally) giving off good vibrations.

The Cast of Mamma Mia! Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

The Cast of Mamma Mia! Photo by Carol Carder, courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

One of my favorite performances of the night was the radiant Rafael Acuña, who portrayed Sam. Credit is very much due and deserved here. Acuña was romantic, paternal, showed impeccable vocal control and ability, and gave us a damn good Sam. This program is very lucky to have him and I would watch this performance again just to experience this young man of color perform. Thea Lancaster (Donna) acted as the glue that held this show together. Lancaster was balanced in all aspects of her performance and it was satisfying to watch. She was both playful and maternal, both harsh and sweet, youthful and womanly. I found her portrayal of Donna refreshing.

Unfortunately, I found Olivia Gainey’s Sophie to be insincere and sloppy    She was simply not mature enough to be Sophie, she did not look or sound like an island girl and was not the sexy, fun, curious character that you’d expect when reading the script. In fact, during the number between lovers Sophie and Sky “Lay All Your Love On Me,” I was a little uncomfortable because she looked like a very little girl in a questionable situation. It was evident that she relied too heavily on her direction and her vocal ability (which had its moments but was inconsistent in volume and quality).

Quite frankly, Lidia Zadareky who played Sophie’s friend Lisa read more “Sophie” than anyone else. Zadareky shone brightly and reflected (appropriate) youthfulness along with very capable vocal and physical ability. She looked very confident and gave a genuine performance filled with joy and playfulness. She stood out, you need that kind of power when casting a strong female lead. I feel that if Gainey and Zadareky would have been cast in each other’s place the show would have benefited from it.

I would also like to mention Gianbari Deebom and Shann Oliver – Rosie and Tanya respectively. They were quite the duo and I was impressed by their contrasting vocal timbre. They complimented each other incredibly well (them harmonies, though!). Rosie is a free, fearless woman and Tanya is an affluent, pampered, girly girl and the performances from these two young ladies were so true to the script. It was very refreshing to see young performers put their egos aside and work to tell the story and not make the performance about themselves. Bravo.

Although the casting for Sophie was not ideal, everyone else was cast very strategically. Every actor had strengths and each person’s talents brought something valuable to the storytelling. Each artist understood the story, knew where it was going, and took the audience with them. Most had clear intentions, high energy, and seemed settled into each of their characters. All of this is a sign of good direction (Todd Poelstra) and a healthy communication between the actors and the director.

The costumes were hit or miss (Julio Hernandez). Sophie was dressed very oddly throughout the play. There was not one outfit of Sophie’s that seemed to match the character, not even the wedding dress. Sophie is classically dressed in a white tank top and shorts. Throughout the play, she was wearing long skirts and loud shirts – totally opposite from the character’s free-spirited, curious nature. I was disappointed by Donna’s wedding outfit: a modern day halter dress with blue tye dye. It seemed as if the designer did not understand how to dress people for everyday life, especially women. To contrast, the designer did well with the “showy” outfits: Donna was wearing her classic overalls at the beginning of the play and for the song “Mamma Mia.” Donna and the Dynamos looked FABULOUS. They looked like a girl band, and that was the goal. The party dresses for the ensemble in “Voulez Vous,” were gorgeous.

Gianbari Deebom as Rosie, Thea Lancaster as Donna, and as Shann Oliver Tanya. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Gianbari Deebom as Rosie, Thea Lancaster as Donna, and as Shann Oliver Tanya. Photo by Carol Carder, courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

As always, when experiencing Pima Arts shows, I love seeing young POC’s getting opportunities to play historic musical theatre roles. Everyone seemed like they were enjoying themselves so I could not help but enjoy myself. With all that’s going in on the world today, it was just so nice to forget about everything and smile, laugh, listen to fun music, and be entertained by talented, enthusiastic performers. I can guarantee you’ll have a blast at Pima Arts’ production of Mamma Mia!

Ticket and box office info: Feb 28th at 7:30, March 1st at 2pm & 7:30 pm, March 2nd at 7:30pm and March 3rd at 2pm. Buy tickets to see Mamma Mia at www.pima.edu.cfa or call (520) 206-6986.

 

A Good Death and a Good Time in Hall of Final Ruin

by Betsy Labiner

Here’s what you’re in for with Something Something Theatre’s The Hall of Final Ruin: death. But a good death. A death that makes you laugh. A death that forces you to face your own mortality and confront the terror of the unknown. Death that is relentless and unyielding. Death that allows for hope and possibility. Death that acknowledges no limits on time or space, and certainly not the limits of the fourth wall.

Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana and Rosanne Couston as La Tules. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana and Rosanne Couston as La Tules. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

The Hall of Final Ruin, written by Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos and directed by Alida Holguín Gunn, initially presents the audience with death in the form of Doña Sebastiana, a “death car driver” played with delightful panache and boundless sass by an absolutely superb Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones. Doña Sebastiana doesn’t mince words when reminding the audience that every one of us is going to die, and demands self-reflection even while slinging profanity and cheeky barbs. Sebastiana segues into the main action of the play by inviting, “Let’s watch Doña Tules die, ¿bueno?”

And so we meet La Tules, played by Rosanne Couston, the matriarch who presides over her granddaughters, the gambling hall, and indeed, over all of Santa Fe. Couston imbues La Tules with sharp pragmatism as a woman in a position of power who is concerned with the legacy she’ll leave behind, but also interweaves moments of vulnerability and fear as she contemplates death and her eternal fate.

La Tules is particularly concerned with what will happen to her granddaughters, Carmelita and Rallitos, as well as her servant Pilar, played by Amália Clarice Mora, Nathalie Rodriguez, and Cisiany Olivar, respectively. The four women, though not biologically related, are a convincing little family, by turns supportive and squabbling, loving and lashing out. The arrival of Sister Jane, played by Angie Garcia, adds an interesting wrinkle to their dynamic as the girls fawn over the white woman even as the older women are suspicious of and even disgusted by her sanctimonious attitudes. Couston certainly has the most to work with, as this really is La Tules’s story, but the women all bring strengths to the play — particularly the physical comedy of Rodriguez and the quick banter between Rodriguez and Mora.

It’s worth noting that this play is woman-centric in all senses, both within the world of the play and from the metatheatrical perspective. Men are named and discussed in the dialogue, but never appear onstage. Instead, we see life and death without the direct presence of the overbearing male hegemony we might expect within the world of a play set in the 19th century.

In forcing us to face death, this play encourages us to face our own failings. Pride and greed are the sins on which the play focuses most heavily, but the blunt discussions of scoring rubrics for the soul and the impact of our actions will have audiences reflecting on the grade they might make – and whether they, like La Tules, need to work to improve it.

Cisiany Olivar as Pilar, Rosanne Couston as La Tules, Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana, Amàlia Mora as Carmelita, and Nathalie Rodriguez as Rallitos. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Cisiany Olivar as Pilar, Rosanne Couston as La Tules, Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana, Amàlia Mora as Carmelita, and Nathalie Rodriguez as Rallitos. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

While The Hall of Final Ruin is about deeply personal themes such as fear, redemption, love, and family dynamics (or dysfunction), it also takes on macro socio-political issues. The setting of mid-1800s Santa Fe allows for overt discussion of patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism, and even when these issues aren’t being actively talked about, they remain present in the way they shape ideologies and events. Power dynamics, particularly as manifested through control of land and money, are a major concern. Even as Doña Tules insists that the Norteamericanos — as she calls the white Euro-American settlers — will not wrest control from Spaniards who’ve held the land for three hundred years, Pilar reminds her that Native Americans held it for over a thousand years prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. The play invites the audience to consider the legacy not just of individuals, but of the mass movements and historical moments in which religions, cultures, and peoples supplanted one another. This, for me, was one of the strongest features of the play; death may be able to cure one individual of her greed, but when insatiable greed is part of the very foundation of a society or culture, it’s much harder to address.

Despite the heavy topics on which the play focuses, it is a comedy. The audience laughed throughout, particularly in Doña Sebastiana’s scenes. I’d recommend this play most to those who enjoy dark humor, and who have an appreciation for American Gothic and a willingness to critically assess both history and oneself.  

The Hall of Final Ruin runs February 22 through March 10 at the Temple of Music and Art’s Cabaret Theater at 330 S. Scott Avenue. Tickets can be purchased online at www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com or by phone at 520-468-6111.

A List of Epic Proportions

by Marguerite Saxton

For the month of February an evening at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre will treat you to an immersive experience: a 65-minute trip into the minds of playwright Duncan Macmillan and director Michelle Milne. In Every Brilliant Thing, the narrator Claire Marie Mannle leads an unsuspecting audience with gentle familiarity, a soft consensual nudge that enrolls ordinary folks in becoming co-narrators in this supposedly one-person show. Though we learn that “suicide is contagious,” we’re guided through farcical absurdity – poignant moments of total surreal accuracy, sobering, convoluted pockets of humor wound within the labyrinth of a life. If space permitted, I’d list a million brilliant reasons to see this play. But here are five:

  1. Theatre-in-the-Round (and round and round and round):

The concentric layout of Mannle’s movement keeps this piece in a groove which guides the audience’s eyes in a continual search around the theatre, peeking at one another’s expressions, wondering where the next scene will be, and guessing what delightful, odd treasures it will produce.

  1. Jazz Music on Vinyl:
Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

There really isn’t a parallel to the nostalgia that vinyl records conjure. The feel of plastic imperfections running under one’s fingertip, the romantic crackling of static perfuming the air, the ritual of buying and unwrapping. The somatic sitting still. Every Brilliant Thing reveals an undeniable reverence for jazz music, treating us to the moody tunes of Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Ometta Coleman, just to name a few. One even gets the feeling that the music is a scene partner, a dramaturg of sorts; giving history and credence to the already vulnerable unfolding of life.

  1. Levity in Depression:

Mannle performs a spoken dance in this play – a magnetic ebbing of transformation. Depression is serious and haunting, a generational ghost. Even so, our fearless narrator is graceful as she weaves between seven year old sheepishness and collegiate courage. She fluidly reveals years of time passing, mere minutes to us audience, but great leaps of life’s monuments in her story. We are taken along the non-linear way that most people think and feel in, possessing a secret notion that we’re privy to some private experience, the ones we keep close to our hearts and share only with beloveds.

  1. Audience Tomfoolery:

In this performance there are particular analog moments that defy expectation and tickle the edges of conformity. It blurs the boundaries of authorship and audience, projecting Mannle like a circus ringmaster who hypnotizes us through a mélange, a maze of memories. There are disappointments, assessments, and antics: sock puppets and improvised conversations with “Dad” – serious belly laughs injected into an ordinarily down-beaten topic of depression.

  1. Snacks

Didn’t know live theatre included snacks? Well, it does. This one does. Snacks!

This play is a craftfully produced arrangement of intimate and uncomfortable situations. It’s a good way to laugh at something difficult, which we could all use some allowance to do now and then. It encourages us to embrace the difficult and strive for better, while permitting many moments to laugh at the irony of it all.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Every Brilliant Thing runs from February 7th-24th at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, located in the Historic Y at 738 N. 5th Avenue. Evening and matinee shows are available. Tickets can be purchased from scoundrelandscamp.org or directly from the box office on premises. The box office opens for ticket sales one hour prior to the show.

 

Editor’s Note: Marguerite has worked with The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre on other productions and as a teacher with their youth theatre program, she had no involvement with this production. All our reviewers work to identify and avoid any potential biases.