There are No Lumps in the Rogue’s Darkly Funny Beauty Queen of Leenane

by Bianca Regalado

The Beauty Queen of Leenane takes the audience on a tense exploration of a toxic relationship between a mother and daughter. Under the direction of Christopher Johnson and with the opulent acting of the entire ensemble, this dark comedy written by playwright Martin McDonagh is a heavy play with tragic resolutions. 

Holly Griffith as Maureen and Cynthia Meier as Mag. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith as Maureen and Cynthia Meier as Mag. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

This is an indelible story about the toxic relationship between a mother, Mag (Cynthia Meier) and her daughter, Maureen (Holly Griffith). The play is set in Leenane, a village in Western Ireland. We begin our journey with Maureen who at age 40 still lives with her sick and elderly mother Mag. Maureen’s life has been stuck in a repetitive cycle for the last 20 years. Everyday she has the same routine of: caring for her mother in the morning and making sure she has her porridge, her tea, and complan (a powder nutrient/electrolyte you can mix with water or milk).  Maureen hasn’t achieved anything that she has felt was worthwhile in her life, career, education, or most importantly, in love. She is resentful towards her mother for all of the chances she feels caring for her has cost her, and Mag in turn, is resentful towards her daughter for how both of their lives have stagnated.

Griffith as Maureen was stunning. Maureen goes through quite a dark and emotional journey throughout the play and forces herself to make life altering decisions, decisions that will not only affect her but her mother as well. Griffith was vulnerable and real, you could feel her emotional shifts. In the first act of the play you witness this happen when Maureen notices that her mother hadn’t listened to a word that she said when she exclaimed in the middle of Maureen’s monologue that, “there’s no sugar in this!” referring to the tea. And just as quickly as her mother interrupted, Griffith’s expression within a second turned from teasing and light laughter to a sudden death silence and sharp glare at her mother that made you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Meier as Mag really got under your skin and she was brilliant. Meier knows how to navigate the confusion and deep depression Mag has, and for the most part caused herself. 

The entirety of the play has the audience holding their breath. Griffith and Meier work together wonderfully in creating a space that feels and shows how tense and uncomfortable they are together, and it’s all the time. You become exhausted from the hatred and toxicity this relationship has. The only breaks we get are from Ray (Hunter Hnat), neighbor to Maureen and Mag, who visits the ladies regularly. He is  in his late 20s to early 30s, is a jokester, and brings humor and light back to the play. Just when things become too unbearable, Ray comes in and gives the audience and characters a break with his sarcastic and mood lifting comments. The jokes are quick and hilarious, Hnat executes his lines in a very natural and clean way. 

There are times of hope in the play and that is when Pato (Ryan Parker Knox), older brother of Ray and Maureen’s potential love interest, enters the stage. Knox really makes you want to root for Pato. You really feel that his feelings for Maureen are real and that he is a simple man who wants to find love. Knox was heartwarming and heartbreaking. 

Music played a large part in the play. The live band (Music director, composer/arranger Russel Ronnebaum, Aiden Kram [violin], Robert Marshall [cello], Janine Piek [violin]) played within scenes and transitions. The cello was most prominent during monologues and beginning of the scenes and the violin would screech during times of revelation and pivotal moments. The music was a great and a haunting character within the play. 

The scenic work was different but reflected the naked and chilly feeling of the play. Designed by Amy Novelli, walls were not used on the set. Instead doorways and a window were hung from wiring, a kitchen sink, cabinet, fridge and stove placed upstage center, an old wooden kitchen table and three chairs center stage, an old fireplace stage right and Mags rocking chair and lamp stage left create a small kitchen. 

If you are a sucker for suspense and dark humor then see this play. If you have a less than great relationship with your mother, watch with caution. 

Editor’s Note: Due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, the Rogue’s production of Beauty Queen of Leenane was canceled before we could publish this review. We apologize for our delay and deeply appreciate the work of the cast and crew.

A Comedic Crash Course in Shakespeare

by Betsy Labiner

I should probably begin with something of a disclaimer: I’m a massive William Shakespeare fan. Check my credentials: I’ve made multiple pilgrimages to both Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe Theatre. I own five different copies of Shakespeare’s complete works (not to mention individual versions of almost all the plays), a number of film adaptations, manga versions, a map of the locations of the plays, and a small golden bust of the man himself. I’m writing my dissertation on Shakespeare and the theatre of his time. My love affair with Shakespeare has been burning strong for over two decades now (my nerdiness manifested at a young age), and shows no signs of ever dimming. 

As you can imagine, when I heard that Arizona Rose Theatre was staging The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, I had feelings. Mostly positive feelings, but still – I was both excited and trepidatious, worried about whether my love of Shakespeare was going to color my reaction to this take on his oeuvre. Attempting to even mention all his plays in roughly an hour and a half is a tall order, so I couldn’t imagine what Complete Works was going to look like or how it would manage the task that the play itself calls “a feat that we believe to be unprecedented in the history of civilization. That is, to capture, in a single theatrical experience, the magic, the genius, the towering grandeur of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.”

complete works

The complete cast of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. Photo courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

They do more than manage it. Under the direction of Mark Klugheit, actors Steve McKee, Stephanie Howell, and Daniel Hagberg attack the challenge with gusto, jumping from role to role with alacrity. The presentation of the abridged complete works operates within a frame narrative in which the actors set out to introduce an allegedly “intellectually flaccid” audience to Shakespeare. There is no such thing as the fourth wall or suspension of disbelief in this production; the actors address each other out of character, speak directly to the audience, and even solicit audience participation. It’s a lot of fun, and – if I may be my graduate student self for a moment – actually a wonderful encapsulation of the theatrical experience of Shakespeare’s own time. Shakespeare is held up today as a paragon of artistic intelligence and sophistication, and while his work certainly is those things, it is also unrepentantly crass, bawdy, violent, pun-filled, and subversive. His gorgeous verse tricks people into thinking he couldn’t possibly make a “your mom” joke, but he does (see act IV, scene II of Titus Andronicus). This is all to say that Complete Works is rowdy, salacious, and absolutely in keeping with the spirit of Shakespeare. 

The play begins and ends with two of Shakespeare’s most famous works – Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, respectively – and crams the other 35 plays, plus a nod to the sonnets, in between. If there was any element that disappointed me, it was simply that we didn’t get more. Some of the plays are essentially just name-dropped before we skip on to the next joke. The brevity is the point, of course, but I would have been happy to stretch the irreverent fun for as long as possible. One of my favorite moments was the play’s take on Titus Andronicus, which was presented in the form of a hilariously off-kilter cooking show. It was unapologetically dark humor, and I loved it. 

The actors don’t indulge in overacting so much as revel in it, leaning on it for comedic effect in moments that might otherwise derail the lightheartedness of the play. The over-the-top death scenes and self-aware soliloquizing are all part of the fun. All three actors deserve praise for their ability to slip in and out of Shakespearean verse, weaving the frame narrative as well as modern pop culture references into the various Sparknotes-esque scenes. They also did a great job responding to and working with the audience, even in clearly unscripted moments in which feisty audience members seized the opportunity to ham it up. I applaud the comedic use of lighting and music, particularly a scene in which McKee is forced to literally chase the spotlight. Hat tip to Ruben Rosthenhausler, Paul Mayfield, and Brandon Howell on those elements! 

I also want to praise the casting. Complete Works is typically performed by three men, but as demonstrated by this production, there’s absolutely no reason that need be the case. Gender-blind casting affects neither the humor nor the story, and simply opens up new possibilities in interpretation. 

Whether you’re a Shakespeare afficionado or a more casual consumer of his work, this play is for you. It’s a blast through and through, as long as you’re willing to not take yourself, or Shakespeare, too seriously. The play contains adult humor and profanity, so this probably isn’t something you should attend with young children. 

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged is playing at The Arizona Rose Theatre through March 15. The only bad news? Much of the run is already sold out! They’ve added one additional performance already, but tickets are going quickly. You can check availability online at http://www.arizonarosetheatre.com/, or call (520) 888-0509. And as McKee says, “May the Bard be with you.”

Singin’ in the Rain: A Monsoon of Promising Talent at Pima Community College Center of the Arts

by Regina Ford 

When taking a nostalgic look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, few entertainers take the spotlight like Gene Kelly in his starring motion picture role in Singin’ in the Rain. Kelly’s iconic dance routine in the pouring rain featuring a lamppost as his stationary partner is tattooed in the memory of those who were blown away with the scene on the silver screen.

It must have been challenging to duplicate that magic for stage some 40 years later when the 1952 Metro-Golden-Mayer film was adapted as a stage musical with story by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Arthur Freed, and music by Nacio Herb Brown

Director Todd Poelstra met the challenge head-on at Pima’s Proscenium Theatre (located on the west campus) and deserves immense credit for taking this complex musical and bringing it to life with choreographer Mickey Nugent and music director Martha Reed.

Singin' in the Rain

Photo courtesy of Pima Community College.

Set in Hollywood in the disappearing days of the silent screen era, the musical focuses on romantic lead Don Lockwood (Tristan Acevedo), his sidekick Cosmo Brown (Alden Lester), aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Kyndall Viapiano), and Lockwood’s leading lady Lina Lamont (Veronica Conran). At Monumental Studios, the money-hungry boss, R. F. Simpson (Adrian Ford) decides that his next silent movie, The Dueling Cavalier should be transformed into a talkie entitled The Dancing Cavalier featuring his studio’s two biggest names, Lockwood and Lamont. As it happens, Lamont’s painfully shrill vocal tones make her an unlikely pick for stardom in talking pictures. Behind the scenes, they recruit the talented newcomer Kathy Selden to do Lamont’s voice overs until things go astray.

From the opening scene, the costumes (designed by Kathy Hurst, assisted by McKay Keith and Mary Adkisson) are stunning as the favorite movie stars from yesteryear arrive at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the premiere of The Royal Rascal, starring Lockwood and Lamont. The number of costume changes alone for a large cast of 22 is impressive. Plenty of feathers and sequins can be tricky and messy but no visible costume malfunctions could be seen.

Poelstra not only directed the show, but also designed the set, where “less was more” and just enough to create 14 different scene changes in the first act alone. Moving scenery made ample use of the various playing spaces in the theater.  Cast members moved set pieces on and off stage with relative ease. The pinnacle of set design in Act I is no doubt the famous “Singin’ in the Rain” number, danced by Acevedo in an actual rainstorm. The illusion of rainfall engineered by Polestra, assisted by Nate Saiffer along with the direction of technical director Anthony Richards, was an effective and show-stopping addition to the production. Luann Read’s lighting design provided the feel of a stormy night that no one who isn’t crazy in love would wish to venture out in. What is wonderfully remarkable is Acevedo’s stunning dance performance as he is pelted with rain.  Minimal props complemented with vintage furniture (much of it built with the help of master carpenter Brandon Saxon) was very clever. The office of R.F. Simpson deserves special mention for its subtle opulence, as well as the movable scenery complete with balcony in The Dancing Cavalier.

Video designer Kyle O’Dell worked magic with the addition of edited projections of the show’s silent black and with movie clips complete with subtitles.

Thanks to Nugent, the choreography captured the attention of the audience with remarkable dance numbers featuring the entire cast. The ensemble numbers were electric, and “Broadway Melody” was particularly vibrant. “Good Morning,” featuring Cosmo, Don, and Kathy was downright joyful to see.

Acevedo and Viapiano had the daunting task of stepping into the iconic roles of Don Lockwood (originally played by Gene Kelly) and Kathy Seldon (originally played by Debbie Reynolds), but these two actors did an incredible job.  Their vocals, especially during the ballads, were lovely.  Well-known tunes such as “You Were Meant for Me” and “Would You” were beautifully delivered by the duo. 

Acevedo embraced his role as the matinee idol as did his sidekick Lester and the pair stole the show with “Make ‘em Laugh.” These two actors worked so well together and captured the vaudeville era with gusto. Both are triple threats. Likewise, Conran put her own twist on her character, and did a nice job finding the humor, pathos, and wiliness of this actress who stands to lose so much with the advent of the talkies. Her song “What’s Wrong with Me” was an audience favorite. Another strong performer was Adrian Ford as the larger-than-life  R.F. Simpson. Ford’s powerful stage presence made him ideal for his role. Other notable performers are Gianberi Debora Deebom as Miss Dinsmore, the male diction teacher, and Stefan Baker-Horton as the production singer. 

Singin’ in the Rain doesn’t disappoint, but this college production had a few unfortunate glitches that were apparent, even though the student cast continued without hesitation. Audience members who care about the future of live theatre should forgive the minor sound issues with microphones and a near-miss scene change with a descending Grauman’s Chinese Theater that could have resulted in a lead character taking a fall. Credit goes to the actors who kept on going and didn’t miss a beat. Poelstra used a diversified cast and replaced many roles traditionally filled by male actors with women who played not only Hollywood dancers but movie studio stage hands and film crew as well.

Pima Theatre’s production of Singin’ in the Rain deserves an audience.  The amount of work that goes into a musical of this magnitude is hard to imagine unless you see it for yourself. The students deserve your applause. It is playing at Pima Community College Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm through March 1. Tickets can be purchased online at www.pima.edu/cfa  or by calling  520-206-6986

 

There’s No Place Like Home — Or Is There?

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

A universal desire is that for a comfortable home and hearth that provides a reprieve from the outside world. As you enter Live Theatre Workshop for Radiant Vermin, by Philip Ridley, you’ll notice that the stage is presented as an unfinished home. Even before the play starts, two of the actors are peeking out from backstage. Has the play already started? No, but the intrigue has.When the curtain rises, we are introduced to a young couple earnestly searching for a new nest for the baby on the way.  Jill, played by Samantha Cormier, and Ollie, played by Steve Wood, are an English couple who really want a home of their own. Worldwide, the dream of home ownership often remains just that: a dream. In this play, however, the couple magically receive a letter saying they have won a new home. 

radiant vermin

Steve Wood as Ollie, Samantha Cormier as Jill, and Leslie J. Miller as Miss Dee. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Of course they are skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? They drive to the area with unfinished homes and the project in disrepair. Miss Dee, played by Leslie J. Miller, meets them. Is she the magical fairy godmother? After convincing  them to sign, the house is theirs. Of course, it is unfinished, but Dee assures them that Ollie can do all of the physical repairs while Jill can decorate and lovingly make it a home. The first night in the home is like camping with no water, electricity, or heat, but they are excited by the possibilities!  They see a campfire outside, and realize that there is a homeless encampment in the project. Suddenly noises are heard downstairs and Wood goes to investigate. Of course it is one of the homeless, and what ensues makes us question to what lengths good people will go to realize their dreams. At the end of the evening, Jill’s catalog perfect vision of a kitchen magically appears. But how, and at what cost?

Director Maryann Green has done a masterful job with casting. Cormier, Wood, and Miller work together to weave this fanciful tale that makes us suspend our disbelief and think that magic really can happen. The characters are multidimensional and relatable. Cormier and Wood are brilliant as they use no props, but we have no problem seeing the baby, or going up and down the imaginary stairs with them. During one scene, they play three of the couples in their neighborhood with rapid fire delivery that is so convincing, it left my head spinning. I couldn’t believe how instantaneously they could change from one character to the next and back again. Miller plays not only Miss Dee, but also a homeless woman, Kay. Her portrayal of Kay is extremely touching and poignant. As she is the only homeless person that we actually get to meet, it gives a face and persona to those with whom we rarely connect — many of us even avert our eyes when we see them on the street.

The actors engage the audience from the beginning. The fourth wall, the invisible division between the actors and the audience, is broken repeatedly in the play. We are not innocent bystanders. Cormier even invites us to raise our hands at one point to see if we agree with her. When she is giving one monologue about her background as a Christian and her dealings with the homeless she addresses us, and makes eye contact with the audience. We are made to realize that it is not only the actors dealing with the homeless in the play, but our own engagement with them in our own world that we must thoughtfully consider.

The set, costumes, and lighting all are very understated but powerful. That being said, we are not distracted by them. It is the story and the acting that takes center stage. The entire production crew has to be commended for allowing the story to take center stage through the subtle way that they each supported this vision. Often less can be more, and it is definitely true in this production.

This delightful dark comedy is definitely a story for our time. The issues of home affordability are paramount to all young people. Homelessness and how we treat those who are not the same as us is a daily cause for debate and discussion. But tantamount in today’s world is the increasing disconnect between what we say our core values are, and how we either act in ways that support or undermine those values. Finally, we must ask whether the end justify the means, and how greed affects us both individually and collectively. Yes, this play is very timely and begs all of us to reflect, soul-search, and answer those questions for ourselves.

Radiant Vermin  runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3:00 PM through March 28. Ticket prices are $15. LTW’s box office is 520 327-4242, and the website is livetheatreworkshop.org.

Angels Fall Falls in its Old Age

by Chloe Loos

All I knew about Lanford Wilson’s Angels Fall was what I learned from a quick Google search: nuclear accident, New Mexico, mission. As a theatre-artist-turned-environmental-advocate, this sounded exactly like the kind of theatre I want to see. Offered by Winding Road Theater Ensemble, directed by recent Chicago transplant Molly Lyons, and held at the site-specific St. Francis Chapel on the grounds of St. Luke’s Home, I went in with high expectations. 

Angels Fall

The cast of Angels Fall, photo courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

The play opened with a gorgeous reveal of the interior chapel, accented with an altar and luminous stained glass window. The wind blows. Niles and Vita Harris (Glenn Coffman and Shawna Brock) – an art professor and his wife on their way to Phoenix – enter. Vita, with her long red hair, flowing clothing, and crystal necklace immediately told me that, oh yeah, we’re definitely in New Mexico. Another traveling couple (Susan Cookie Baker and Cole Potwardowski), the mission’s priest (David Alexander Johnson), and a Navajo medical student (Luke Salcido) join them. A nuclear accident at the nearby uranium mine forces them to stay indoors, and what else is there to do but talk?

Unfortunately, the show didn’t quite live up to the expressive opening. The characters did talk, and they talked a lot. Lyons’ director’s note expressed the desire for the audience to eavesdrop, and the venue and staging certainly lent itself to that. However, due to the intimate nature of the space, traditional theatre acting sometimes bordered on caricature. The play soared when characters were able to break through to each other and find moments of understanding, and also when the characters were vulnerable as they remembered what dire straits they were in. I especially appreciated the female camaraderie between Brock and Baker, but the women continued to define themselves in relationship with their men. Regrettably, the script itself often forgot why everyone was brought together, and it didn’t include its secondary couple very well. They could have been omitted without any plot changes, which would have been a shame as I enjoyed Baker’s understated yet refined performance and Potwardowski’s physical neuroticism. In addition, there were some mistakes made with lines, as expected in such a dense piece, but the small space drew attention to them. 

Ensemble pieces are difficult, but every actor had at least one moment that escalated them to the spotlight, often with other characters when they were able to work off each other’s energies. Truly, the stagecraft was the star of the show. I was thoroughly impressed with the sound design (by Jim Klingenfus), which took up space and built the outside world, the set of the chapel itself, nearly its own character, and the clear costuming (by Maria Caprile). I completely believed the world of these characters. And the world of these characters is so important today.

The play was published in 1981. Despite a brief mention of the Cold War in the program to indicate its age, I had no idea it was nearly 40 years old. As a result, I was not prepared for the racism embedded in the script, especially towards the Navajo. A major subplot involved the mission’s priest trying to convince the native character, Don, to stay on the reservation and help his people rather than going to research cancer, even though Don presented an impassioned speech as to the systemic exposure of native peoples to radiation. It reiterated the colonial history of white people infantilizing and ignoring the autonomy of indigenous peoples. But I don’t think the script knew it was doing that. This is further confirmed by some of the offensive jokes – such as a line about Don potentially scalping his coworkers – that the predominantly old, white audience laughed at. 

Although Salcido thankfully gave a considerate and crucial acknowledgement as to the plight of indigenous peoples in the program, a verbalized land acknowledgment and recognition of the outdated language in the script would have been welcomed. If we were able to recognize these archaic elements of the text, the audience would have been prepared to analyze the relationships among characters in a more reflexive and critical way. As denizens of the Southwest, it is important to know about the 60+ year history of uranium mining on indigenous lands, which is still happening. Regrettably, it was nothing more than a side plot in a play that thrived on the extreme privilege of the other members of the ensemble. 

Angels Fall plays at the St. Francis Chapel at St. Luke’s Home on the West side of First Avenue halfway between E Adams and Lee Street until March 1st. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:00pm. Seats are extremely limited, so book your tickets now at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4218427 or by calling 520-401-3626.

 

Something Something Theatre Hits the Motherlode

by Natalia Storie

By sheer coincidence, I am writing this review as I listen to my own six-month-old cry through her sleep training–a subject that is lightly touched, harshly criticized, and even yearned for at different points in the show. Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler is a heartfelt dramedy put on by Something Something Theater and directed by Whitney Morton Woodcock.

cry it outThe play follows the lives of three mothers who, through coffee dates, navigate the complicated time that is postpartum. Meagan Jones and Robin Carson portray Jessie and Lina– two neighbors who, aside from being new moms, have seemingly very little in common. They meet for daily coffee breaks while their babies nap and talk about everything a new mom struggles with. From worrying about peeing themselves to the hard decision or need to return to work, they quickly grow close. Jones does a lovely job throughout the play of portraying a new mom who is understanding, eager to be a good friend, always filled with advice but also struggling with her own insecurities and doubts about her life choices and motherhood. Carson played Lina with such appropriate sass and a faint Long Island accent that really enhanced her performance. Both actors managed to give heartbreaking and heartwarming performances of these two complex characters.

The audience doesn’t see the third mother, Adrienne, played by Gabriella De Brequet, until much later but she is introduced early through her husband, Mitchell, played by Eddie Diaz.  As a new mom myself, it was Diaz’s portrayal of this worried and bumbling father that really impacted me the most. You don’t often see a new mom through a new father’s eyes, and Diaz was so endearing and believable as a new dad who is worried about his wife. De Brequet gives a powerful performance as Adrienne, a character who may be struggling with postpartum depression. The character is so special and significant in our current climate, and with our need for feminism and female empowerment, De Brequet’s portrayal of this woman was spot on.  Every character was relatable in different ways and I found myself siding with them, disagreeing with them, and overall just sympathizing. It reminded me of the posts from the many mom groups on social media, where everybody knows how to do it the right way and everybody else is wrong, but you really just want to reach out and hug everyone because they’re all just doing the best they can. 

My only complaint was that the fake baby prop used in a few scenes was a little distracting. While the actors did a fine job being frazzled parents, the prop baby had me questioning how old the baby was supposed to be. At one point, Adrienne mentions her baby is only seven weeks, which leads us to believe the other women’s babies are older, however with the prop being so tiny, it made it a little hard to believe.It just got me caught up on timelines. 

Metzler’s script is thoughtful, funny, and real. There were several moments that made me laugh out loud and overall, I felt that it shed light on topics that are very common but not always discussed.  From breastfeeding in public,alcoholism, and to being ok with the mom that isn’t like you, this script nicely handles them in a real way. All in all, please go see this show! If you’re a new mom or dad, know a mom, or have a mom, you will enjoy this show!

“Cry it Out” is on stage from February 13 through March 1st at the Center of Collaborative Learning at 37 Pennington street downtown. Tickets can be purchased at www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com or at (520) 468-6111.

Life is a Team Sport

by China Young

As a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe is currently one of the hottest plays making the circuit right now. With a story that is modern and fiercely female, it is no surprise that Arizona Repertory Theatre at the University of Arizona added it to its 2019/20 Season, and produced it with a team made, predominantly, of women. 

The wolves

The cast of The Wolves. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

The Wolves follows a soccer team of nine teenage girls through six consecutive weeks of soccer pre-game warm-ups. Within these weekly snapshots the audience is not spoon-fed the plot, but instead must listen to the characters and watch them interact to follow the story being told. The young women often talk in multiple smaller conversations that overlap one another, sometimes briefly merging into a group conversation before branching off again. They talk about the stereotypical teenage girl things like college and sex, but they also discuss world events, politics, abortion, and many other topics that some might consider “too adult” for the generation being portrayed. I find this consideration especially important at a time when the youth of the world are screaming at the top of lungs for adults to take them seriously about their concerns for their future, and when women are fighting just as hard as ever to not be silenced or scoffed at. 

Breaking several identity molds, The Wolves is not a typical coming of age story, yet it is still incredibly identifiable. At its core, this story amplifies the importance of being on a team. Whether in sports, theatre, or any other aspect of life, being on a team teaches us how to navigate group dynamics, become more mindful of those around us, learn to lead, and learn to follow. Teamwork also helps us find our chosen tribes, with teammates often becoming the people we celebrate our joy with and who hold us together when we experience loss.

Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production, expertly directed by Claire Mannle, portrays the familial dynamic of this particular team, channeling the love these young women have for one another into the Tornabene Theatre. Mannle puts this cast through the wringer – every scene contains physical exercises that ensure the cast will be in good shape for months after this show. She “coaches” the cast’s execution of the rhythms in the script, especially in moments when we must shift from multi-faceted chaos to attention on one particular character, Mannle guides our attention seamlessly.

The rest of the creative team’s designs further enhance the rawness of the script. Ally Frieders’ scenic design is simple and smart – replicating a corner of an indoor soccer square with turf on the ground and a netted backdrop on two of the four sides, helping to keep the action tight, and the balls on stage. The lighting by Mack Woods and sound design by Hunter Sweetser are also simple but sophisticated and do their part to generate the world of the production.  Sierra Adamo’s costume design is perfect. The characters are dressed in the same soccer uniform throughout, however Adamo compliments each character’s personality through their accessories.I fully appreciated what each hairstyle, headband, jacket and backpack said about each individual. That level of attention to detail can only be the result of true collaborative teamwork with Mannle and the cast.

Paige Mills (#14), Lauren Vialva (#11), Sophia Goodin (#2), Vuane Suitt (#00), Eavan Clare Brunswick (#8), Elana Rose Richardson (#13). Scenic Design by Ally Frieders

Paige Mills (#14), Lauren Vialva (#11), Sophia Goodin (#2), Vuane Suitt (#00), Eavan Clare Brunswick (#8), Elana Rose Richardson (#13). Scenic Design by Ally Frieders. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

The actors are women from various backgrounds, though most of them are students in the UA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. The characters are listed by their jersey number, enhancing the show’s “Everyman” status. #25 (Lotus Rogers) is the team Captain and peacemaker. Rogers brought an air of leadership and responsibility that suited the character perfectly. #00 (Vaune Suite) played the mostly speechless goalie.  Though silent, Suite commanded our attention through her own focus. #46 (Maggie McNeil) is the new girl who just joined the team. She’s a bit odd and struggles to be accepted into the group, but after learning she is a world traveler the rest of the team starts to accept her awkwardness for worldliness. I found McNeil’s comedic timing and embodiment of her character to be truly inspired. #07 (Reagan Kennedy) and #14 (Paige Mills) are “BFFs FOREVER”. They have a bond unlike any of the other ladies on the team and the chemistry generated by Kennedy and Mills make it clear that they will always be the first to defend and protect the other when it comes to the rest of the group, even if they can’t protect themselves from each other. #02 (Sophia Goodin), is the most conservative character who we learn was raised very religiously and with no television. We’ve all known those kids, or have been those kids, and I am still finding humor in how fantastically Goodin portrayed the personality of someone who grew up under those circumstances. Not because it’s actually funny, but because it was just – so – perfect. #13 (Elana Rose Richardson) is a tomboy/Sporty Spice character with an older drug-dealing brother that has influenced some of her own habits, and Richardson brought many nuanced layers to the role. Both her personality and her physique reminded me of someone I went to high school with that played all the sports, making her another character I felt like I knew. #11 (Lauren Vialva) brought a nice balance of intensity and sincerity to a character that is a passionate activist, eager to tell everyone about all the injustices in the world and then out on their “isms.” #08 (Eaven Clare Brunswick) was the most childlike and stereotypically “girly” of all the characters. She was quick to be excitable or over-dramatic about the smallest issues. Though she was almost a caricature, Brunswick managed to find found the honesty in her ridiculousness. In the final scene we meet one other character that is not on the team, Soccer Mom (Callie Hutchinson). This character doesn’t stop talking once she appears, and is only present for about five to ten minutes, but Hutchinson does a fine job channeling the energy of the emotional chaos that the character is living in.

I could go on for days dissecting all the themes and issues that The Wolves explores, but suggest you just go see this contemporary, female-driven production instead. Don’t let your UA Theatre team down – those 90 minutes are worth it.

The Wolves is playing at the Tornabene Theatre on the UA campus from February 8-23, tickets available at theatre.arizona.edu or (520) 621-1162.

Mona Lisa Teaches us a Lesson on Art

by China Young

Art is alive. I believe this to be true because those of us that view art are alive. Whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a play, a song, or any other art form, no two people will have the exact same opinion.  Author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford put it best when she wrote, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty and value cannot be judged objectively because everyone experiences art through their own individual lens, and that lens is ever-changing. However, with opinions come critiques, and if you’re reading this then you’re likely aware that critiques can influence opinions. Mona Lisa on the Loose, written and directed by Gretchen Wirges with music by David Ragland, explores all these themes with humor, music, and joy. Despite these themes being a bit more complex than expected for a family show, the simplicity with which it is told leaves the entire audience with a beautiful message that is full of heART.

Mona Lisa on the Loose

Ally Tanzillo as Helen, Andrew Miller as Blue Boy, Christina Evans as Mona Lisa, and Kyleigh Sacco as Pierre and Robert. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The play begins by establishing the audience as visitors to the Louvre Museum. We are introduced to our tour-guide, Pierre (Kyleigh Sacco), who then proceeds to show us the art contained in the museum. However, Pierre is clearly bored from giving this same tour multiple times every day and presents the art in an over-critical manner, touting them all plain, boring, and nothing special. Even the Mona Lisa, considered one of the greatest works of all time, is criticized by this jaded tour guide. After the Louvre closes, the four pieces of art we’ve met (I’ll get to them all specifically in a minute) come to life, shake off their “forever” poses, and start to talk, sing, and even dance. They are discovered to be “alive” by the Louvre overnight janitor, Roberta, who eventually reveals to them that, because of Pierre’s criticisms, they are no longer considered  “great works” and there is a rumor that they will all be relocated to the storage room. Through the power of (theatre) magic, the artwork transforms Pierre’s attitude towards them from disdain to appreciation, ensuring they keep their place in the halls of the museum and in the hearts of all people that come to see them. 

The first work of art the audience is introduced to is Pearl (Taylor Thomas), the oil painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665). Next, we meet Blue (Andrew Miller) from Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length oil painting The Blue Boy (c. 1770). Our only sculpture is Helen (Ally Tanzillo), a bust of a Greek goddess. The precise origin of this piece is unknown, but she is believed to be from approximately the 4th century BC. Finally, we meet Mona Lisa (Tina Evans), Leonardo DaVinci’s “archetypal masterpiece” from the Italian Renaissance. The Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery: Who is she? Is she smiling? Why is she smiling? Is she finished? It is even uncertain when DaVinci began to work on her. She is believed to have been painted sometime between 1503 and 1517 and was likely not worked on consistently. The Mona Lisa, or La Gioagonde in French, has lived at the Louvre since 1797 and is one of the most visited works of art in the world. If I remember correctly, most, if not all, of these facts are presented within the play, making it just as educational as it is entertaining.

Full disclosure, I’ve never been to a Live Theatre Workshop Family Series production because I’m not really a “family series” kind of person. The audience was predominantly kids ranging from “babies” to “who knows,” with a generous sprinkling of adults (because how else are kids going to get to the theatre). I usually avoid places where I anticipate large gatherings of young children, but I have to admit that they made the show that much better. Their reactions and interjections were priceless. It helped that there were tons of clever lines and jokes within the script that were obviously put there for the adults, whether the kids picked up on them or not. The song lyrics were also very clever, though the music itself occasionally slowed down the pace of the play. Sometimes it was the tempo of the song itself, other times it was due to lengthy opening interludes. This was a minor issue in an otherwise lovely production for all ages. 

The technical designs complimented the script in their educated simplicity. Stephanie Frankenfield’s costumes found a smart balance between the essence of the art each character represented while including flourishes of modern-day dress that made them instantly more contemporary. The set design (by Stephen Frankenfield and Amanda Gremel) and scenic painting (Karin Hupp) were equally successful in this regard, if not more so considering this production must share a stage with LTW’s Mainstage productions. Each “painting” had their own stationary frame to stand behind (or around), and the bust of Helen sat on a movable pedestal that hid her body and allowed the other actors to move her around and include her into the action. Gremel also designed the lighting, which included tricks to light the artworks similarly to how you might see them in an actual exhibit. The script and staging allowed these lights to become their own characters at times, exposing the audience to how integrated technical designs can be in a production. Again, smart and simple. 

I really appreciate introducing children (and adults) to other art forms through theatre. It is a fantastic tool to educate and inspire, especially when not everyone can visit the Louvre. The best part of this show was the message I was left with: art comes from the human heart, and that’s why it is so beautiful to witness. Love what you love, and share it with others. 

Mona Lisa on the Loose is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays, January 26 – March 8, 2020 (no show February 16), at 12:30pm. More information and tickets are available online at https://www.livetheatreworkshop.org.

Sex, Love, and Getting the Date Right are Key to Becoming Dr. Ruth

by Leigh Moyer

Invisible Theatre’s Becoming Dr. Ruth is about family, love, and dates. The show takes place on June 9, 1997. The specific date stood out in the program, but it was quickly clear that for Ruth Westheimer, dates are important. We’re brought along as Dr. Ruth remembers her life story for us, one specific date at a time. And what a life it is.

Dr. Ruth

Susan Claassen as Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Photo courtesy of Invisible Theatre.

This one-woman show is a marathon of story that never stops feeling like a sprint. Susan Claassen is perfect as the energetic and enthusiastic Dr. Ruth. She plays Dr. Ruth at age 69 relating stories from her past, but often she slips, seamlessly, from telling the story, to performing it. She goes from the matriarchal sex therapist Dr. Ruth to 10 year old Karola Siegel, first discovering, with embarrassed giggles, “wrestling naked” in a book her mother kept hidden. She performs memories of first boyfriends and third husbands before returning to her couch to tell a joke, show off a picture of a grandchild, or answer the telephone. And she nails Dr. Ruth’s quintessential accent.

As is often the case with Invisible Theatre shows, the set (James Blair and Susan Claassen) and props (Heidi Peden) were absolutely amazing. The stage was transformed into a living room, the cluttered curio cabinets, the walls crowded with photographs, and the stacks of books gave it a very lived-in feeling, the exact opposite of a theatrical set. With the rows of dolls competing for space with pictures of grandchildren, books stacked and toppled as often as set up, and over a dozen turtle figurines, the space becomes almost a second character that Claassen’s Dr. Ruth  interacts with as much as she inhabits.

With only Claassen on stage, directors Annette Hillman and Fred Rodriguez utilized many tricks to bring the story to life. First, the fourth wall is completely taken down. From the moment Claassen first enters, the audience is considered company and with knowing glances and well-timed nods, a line becomes a secret we’ve shared with Dr. Ruth, that she’s reminding us of. We are a part of the story.

One trick was to use a TV disguised as a painting,  to show the many photos of family and friends, disguised as a painting. This effect might have come off as cheesy or forced if not for the very clear nod to theatre magic when it is first used. It fits perfectly with Dr. Ruth’s personality and makes it so even the back row can clearly see everything Dr. Ruth wants to share. While the Invisible Theatre space is intimate, this trick made it feel like I was with Dr. Ruth in her living room as she shared photos and memories. 

Dr. Ruth is best known for her straightforward, accepting approach to talking about sex. She sees it as so far from taboo that it peppers conversation without warning. Lines like: You need to love your penis. And your girlfriend needs to love her vagina. And can you bring more bubble wrap tomorrow? The script brings you along for one story and then throws you for a loop with an unexpected twist, usually with great comedic value. It also exposes the woman behind the media personality. She is much more than Dr. Ruth. She is an orphan, a refugee, a Holocaust survivor, a Zionist, a mother, a woman who goes after what she wants, and a woman who has lost as much as she has gained. She’s complicated. I learned a lot about her. Not all of it I liked. But instead of feeling like a hero had been unmasked, the comfortable, open conversation felt more like talking to an old friend I’d fallen out of touch with whom I was finally reconnecting.

Becoming Dr. Ruth was a riot. It was funny, poignant, and uplifting. What seems the most important, what I took away from this play, is that life is a compilation of smiles and sadness, that love and good sex are key, and that we beat Hitler.

Tickets are available online at invisibletheatre.com or directly through their ticket agent at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/32555. You can also call the box office at 520 – 882-9721 for tickets and more information. By popular demand, performance run has been extended through Sunday, February 29th.

The Light Princess is a High-Flying Adventure for the Whole Family

by Regina Ford

He may not be as well-known as the Brothers Grimm, but the 19th-century Scottish author George MacDonald wrote his share of whimsical fairy tales. One of his most popular yet particularly peculiar tales was adapted into a musical by Mike Pettry (music and lyrics) and Lila Rose Kaplan (book) and is now running at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre through February 23, the first full musical production at the theatre.

The Light Princess is not your typical happy-ever-after fairy tale. As director Michelle Milne says in her Director’s Notes, “It’s messy.”

Prior to curtain, actors interact with the audience, challenging children and adults alike to play with hula hoops and to participate in The Light Princess guessing game. We are all made to feel as though we are part of the cast.

Wise Ones Flying The Light Princess

Katie Burke and Nicole DelPrete as the Wise Ones, Grace Otto as The Light Princess. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Light Princess is a theatrical journey of twists and turns for the family. The King and Queen (David Gunther and Gretchen Wirges) are desperate to have a baby. A birth is impossible because of a curse placed on the royal couple by the queen’s wicked witch of a sister (Julia Balestracci). Finally bargaining with the witch for a baby, a royal princess is born but with a curse attached. The catch: the princess (Grace Otto) is born without any gravity. Not only will she remain weightless, the Light Princess is unable to cry or experience emotions like sadness, fear, and love. The storyline twists further. If after 16 years the young princess is unable to experience any emotions, she will remain floating for the rest of her life (and the wicked witch will get to marry the king). When the Light Princess meets a handsome failed lyricist and iffy guitar-playing prince (Aubrey King), her heart begins to suddenly flutter.

The show’s quick pace begins with a flurry of movement and activity (acrobatics captain Olivia Rivera) and the Light Princess’s magical world comes to life with the help of Wise One #1 (Katie Burke) and Wise One #2 (Nicole DelPrete) who fill in the scenes with witty, often cornball patter and antics, much to the delight of the kids in the front row — and their parents, too. Horn tooting and clever choreography go a long way with this sometimes playfully disruptive duo.

The princess herself is wild, energetic, curious, and fiercely independent; she only feels freedom when she swims in a nearby lake, the water keeping her buoyant yet grounded. The king and queen want nothing but happiness and a “normal” life for their daughter, that is, what they consider normal: being happily married to a prince. They also fear the consequences of breaking the curse.

Strong women’s roles prevail. It’s the queen who stands up to adversity and fights for her daughter’s freedom of choice as wealthy and mighty husband prospects such as the Man of Stone (Danny Fapp), Man of Silver (Carlos Omar Venegas), and the Man of  Black Diamond (Adrian Encinas) fail to impress the princess. 

The Light Princess is the unconventional tale of two people looking for happiness in their own personal ways. The prince is not interested in marrying a princess and the princess wishes to make her own life, avoiding the traditional princess-like role on her journey. The prince and princess learn from each other. It’s the princess, determined to make her own destiny, who takes control and leads the way, teaching the prince about remaining true to himself while still embracing happiness with one another.

The ingenious touch of wireless floating is created by actors dressed in black who lift the princess into the air and whisk her effortlessly across the stage, where she perches on a distressed turquoise wooden tower (set design by Bryan Rafael Falcón) and where she appears to float over the kingdom below. Otto gave the illusion of weightlessness, delicately moving her arms and legs like a ballet dancer floating in the sky. The actors carrying the princess seem to disappear before our eyes. But for their facial expressions, usually laughing and mimicking the princess’s facial expressions, these actors just magically blend into the background. 

To create the lake in which the prince and princess swim, black-garbed actors playing Elementals (Danny Quinones and Olivia Rivera) make waves with silk-like sheer blue fabric as the prince and princess appear to swim through the water. This clever effect, along with Raulie Martinez’s lighting and Wolfe Bowart’s property design, makes for an enchanting three-dimensional lake. The simplicity of the scenery and the clever use of eclectic props (like a flying bird and google-eyed binoculars) add to the magic. 

The Light Princess is 80 minutes of musical and magical mayhem with humorous dialogue and a witty score, all brought to life by the talented Lisa Otey on piano. A unique fairy tale that embraces individuality, as well as the challenge of rising above what others say you should do, awaits you at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, 738 North 5th Ave., Tucson now through February 23rd. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, over the phone at 448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before the show.