A Hidden Gift Amongst Holiday Show Standards; a Sonoran Desert Delight

by Mara Capati

Felíz Torralba, Xochitl Martinez, Molly Lyons, Helene Krzyzanowski, and Andy Gonzalez photo cred to Tim Fuller

“It was truly a joy to watch all of these beloved characters weave in and out of multiple contrasting roles with such seamless transition and believable delivery.”

A Sonoran Desert Carol is truly anything but just a “play.” It is a celebration of the culture and the essence of our home in the southwest. This heart-warming story is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, developed and workshopped by the production’s creative team. This reimagination transports local audiences to a place that feels just as nostalgic as the tale itself. You don’t quite know what to expect with this adaptation and that alone creates half of the mystery and magic behind the journey. The play follows the life of Mr. Eli Rumpet, a wildly successful businessman whose greed and selfish decisions lead to an intervention of the heart by otherworldly beings. The hardships and pleas by the people who make up the few relationships in Mr. Rumpet’s life challenge him to reexamine the consequences of his choices, but most importantly, show him that the potential losses of his investments — both literal and metaphorical — go far beyond the material realm and are quite grave, indeed. I hesitate to reveal anything more specific on the delicate unfolding of this story and will leave it to the “time beings” and talented cast to share what is not only theirs but “our story,” with people like you and me.

Director Rick Wamer orchestrates several elements of storytelling that encapsulate the heart of theatre. From traditional stage acting, to box puppetry, to shadow work, to song, and interpretive movement, there is no shortage of creativity in the delivery methods here. The audience is pulled in from the start, with active participation, immersion, and engagement. Wamer takes every opportunity to fully integrate the ensemble, and yes, this is a full ensemble production. Wamer makes it clear that every role, character, voice, and opinion is absolutely necessary to give justice to the message of this production. I cannot speak highly enough of the fluidity of the integration of lighting and sound design to create the effect of immersive transportation of the audience. The technical and human elements in the production truly move as one body from start to finish.

The first individuals I believe that are absolutely necessary to highlight in this production are the youth actors or “scamps.” Though it was mentioned prior to the show that a few young students would be featured, I forgot countless times during the production that these were “novice” students,” because let me tell you, the level of energy, clear acting choices, and unity was consistent and brought to the stage over and over again. If these scamps are any reflection of the quality of education and experience being provided at The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre to youth, then every family needs to look into getting their children enrolled in a workshop or two. The youth were an essential part of the success of this performance, no question there.

Gretchen Wirges played a fabulous and believable Eli Rumpet. Careful attention and diligence was given to all of this character’s mannerisms that paint a “Scrooge-like” force that would rival that of even Ebenezer himself. The evolving character development and resolution that Wirges delivers throughout this production is truly moving and memorable.

I can’t praise enough the clever utilization of the ensemble as characters, props, voices, moving set pieces, and so on — and I won’t get anymore specific than that for fear of spoiling the magic. It was truly a joy to watch all of these beloved characters weave in and out of multiple contrasting roles with such seamless transition and believable delivery. I recall several scenes on stage where the entire cast was moving as one heart-beat and it was absolutely stunning visually. There is a highly effective play on balance and asymmetry all throughout this play kinetically speaking. The “otherworldly” and the “human world” do a delicate dance back and forth but create clear veils between the two as well as bridge a common ground due to the successful delivery and distinctions made by the actors. I can only imagine the repetition, teamwork, and countless hours of focus it takes to capture this type of harmony live on stage.

I am a lover of the holiday season and cheer like many others but there is something unique about this production that truly moves my heart into a space of holiday warmth and gratitude. Maybe it was hearing traditional songs that my family has sung since I was a child around the holiday times, or remembering the scent of fresh tamales and sweet endearments from my mother as a youth in our native language, just like in this rendition of the traditional Christmas Carol story. The diversity and cultural inclusion shared in this production is something that brings me great gratitude for my own roots and upbringing. Gratitude from experiencing blessings and togetherness is a feeling that we all understand regardless of our various walks of life, but it was something else altogether to feel as though I could see my only family or that of my friends and loved ones on stage; their story brought to life for all to see. That is a feeling I’ve only experienced a handful of times as I have watched countless productions in the past with predominantly white, cisgendered, straight, traditional families. I feel grateful for getting to partake in what to me has always been a classic; a story I can relate to, and a story that is my own in many ways.

I highly recommend individuals and families of all ages come and support this fantastic cast and crew! See A Sonoran Desert Carol at the Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre. 

The show is running this upcoming weekend at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at The Historic Y (738 N 5th Avenue #131, Tucson, AZ, 85705): 

Thursday, December 16, 2021 @ 7:30pm (6:45pm Pre-show event), 

Friday, December 17 and Saturday, December 18, 2021 @ 7:30pm, 

and Sunday, December 19, 2021 @ 2pm. 

Tickets are $30 for General Admission, $28 for Seniors, $15 for Students and Teachers, and $15 for Theatre Artists. They can be purchased online at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/a-sonoran-desert-carol or by contacting the Box Office at (520) 448-3300. Masks and proof of vaccination are required to attend.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly is heartwarming and humorous

By Ashley Brown

Elena Lucia Quach as Lydia Wickham and Seth Tucker as Arthur de Bourgh photo credit to Tim Fuller

“By curtain close, you will really feel like you see a bit of yourself in each character from this play.”

During the height of the pandemic lock down, there were moments where I couldn’t imagine a world where live theatre would ever again be an option for us. The idea of sitting in a room FULL of fellow patrons that weren’t completely decked out in hazmat suits seemed truly unattainable to me. So when I sat down with a close friend to watch Miss Bennet: A Christmas at Pemberley this past week, a few tears welled up in pure gratitude as I preemptively unwrapped 6 Starburst candies in my lap before the lights dimmed, and a part of my soul seemed to heal a little. 

This heartwarming and humorous show centers around family dynamics, societal expectations, and personal emotional growth: themes that are relatable to us all, no matter the time period you are living in. The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon as an imagined sequel to the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, follows the four Bennet sisters after they decide to spend the Christmas holiday together at Pemberley estate. Mary Bennet, the middle child of the family, is a clever woman, but the last to marry and often cast aside as a future old maid and the assumed Bennet family caretaker. She is unique, witty, and constantly feeding her inquisitive nature by filling her mind with knowledge of the world beyond. Miss Bennet never questions her role or loner status in the Bennet family. Never, that is, until Mr. Darcy decides to host a special guest for Christmas who will help her realize what chosen destiny might look like.   

The moment the curtains went up, I was pleasantly surprised by scenic designer Apollo Mark Weaver’s interpretation of an early 19th-century English living space.  As an artist, I focus on the set of any show. The audience was greeted with a nicely decorated drawing room complete with side library and piano. A beautiful winter landscape backdrop and Christmas tree proudly displayed indoors created an instant feeling of the holidays… and suddenly I needed a peppermint mocha, like, immediately. Weaver’s design separated indoor and outdoor space with tall, free-standing windowpane framing.  

One thing that really stuck out to me about this production with the presence of connection between the cast. Even on preview night, I could easily tell that everyone on stage was comfortable. We all know that if the actors aren’t enjoying themselves, the audience has a hard time really sinking into the story. Under the direction of Sean Daniels, each actor on stage owned their role while also allowing space for nuance and killer comedic timing with their counterparts.  All the actors’ physical comedy and choreographed movement held a consistent pace for the entire evening.  My friend and I laughed out loud many times throughout the show, which was exactly what I wanted to get into the holiday spirit. By curtain close, you will really feel like you see a bit of yourself in each character from this play.

It was lovely to welcome new faces acting at the Arizona Theatre Company.  It was especially encouraging to see a bit more diversity in the cast for this production.  Representation in this world matters a great deal.  If we continue to work towards a community of TRUE inclusivity, I believe the world of arts/theatre will flourish alongside it. I look forward to seeing Arizona Theatre Company continue this evolution. 

Bottom Line – Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley gave me everything I wanted in a holiday production.  This show is complete with humor, wit, and the DRAMA. I left this play feeling warmth, connection, and the memory of what it first felt like to fall in love.  Go see this show before tickets sell out!  Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs at ATC through December 4, 2021. For tickets, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/show/miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley/ or call 520-622-2823. ATC is requiring face masks for all patrons, as well as either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test. For their full health and safety policies, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/health-safety/.

Birds of North America will move hearts all over the world!

by Mara Katrina Capati

Tony Caprile as John and Erin Amsler as Caitlin. Photo credit to Alex Alegria.

“Truly, no indoor theatre setting could quite capture the beauty of the still trees, the quiet twittering of birds, the steady breeze and cloudy skies, casted over two actors who couldn’t look more “in their element”

A cloudy afternoon sky and the peaceful whispers of the surrounding wildlife at the Valley of the Moon, paints a stunning, immersive backdrop for Winding Road’s production of “Bird’s of North America.” Playwright, Anna Ouyang Moench orchestrates a dance of intention and expression between a father and daughter who struggle finding common ground over the course of 10 years, in anything except their shared appreciation for bird watching. Pardon, “birding,” as a steady husband and father, John would correct me. The tension is palpable as Caitlyn is faced with the ever evolving challenges of young womanhood including navigating new relationships, struggling to complete passion projects, finding meaningful work in the job market, and fertility health disappointments. 

John has his fair share of his own troubles. His wife is a doctor and the family unit’s primary financial provider. Over the years, John and Caitlyn’s individual stances become more apparent. The journey of individuality, growth, and companionship between John and Caitlyn is certain to invoke a tear or two. This story is not of our own, yet emits such a strong sense of nostalgia that you can’t quite place, but is seeded somewhere deep inside, recalling a time when we too, felt so moved to reactionary extremes because of the words or actions of a loved one, who at times we couldn’t be more infuriated with, but all the more, loved with equal ferocity. 

Director, Maria Caprile brings to life isolated moments of authentic intimacy and conflict between our main characters, outdoors, in the beautiful Valley of the Moon. Technical elements and actor delivery had no barriers in this outdoor venue; you could hear every sound and line, clear as day. Truly, no indoor theatre setting could quite capture the beauty of the still trees, the quiet twittering of birds, the steady breeze and cloudy skies, casted over two actors who couldn’t look more “in their element” within the confines of each scene. Main characters, John and Caitlyn, always attempt to meet each other on mutual ground. The ease and serenity of the delivery of these actors in this location is irrefutably “something else.” Caprile isolates these scenes in a way that truly pulls you into the urgency of each conversation in the “now.” As each scene passes and time progresses in their relationship, the audience is left asking, “What is going on in either John or Caitlyn’s life now?” And the actors take their time. Oh, do they take their time, setting up the “tone of the year” at the beginning of each scene. You know to be patient, as it won’t be too long before one of them finally caves in and initiates the dance, once again. Timing is of the essence in delivery here and it is incredibly believable and effective. Caprile visually transports the audience into what almost feels like an otherworldly place, isolated and safe from the rest of reality. When John and Caitlyn come together for “birding”, it quite literally feels like time stops. Every word hangs in the air and every unanswered question from John or Caitlyn, lingers with an essence of immortality; whispered out into the vast mountains that they are constantly looking to for solace and answers. The characters leave and reenter this space, over and over again, almost as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. The only exception, the birds. John and Caitlyn are staged to mirror and counterbalance each other seamlessly, as we see them weave naturally from the roles of conversationalist, to observer, to muse, to offense, to defense, but always back to the birdwatcher. Caprile takes, what for some, are the most uncomfortable conversations we will ever have, and makes the unpalatable something that audiences can digest in earnest. Set in an open and peaceful space.

Tony Caprile’s performance as John was steady and consistent, relying on the subtlest of choices to indicate the true turmoil going on underneath the strong face he puts on for his daughter and wife. He’s portrayed as a lovable, quirky, but hard-headed father who manages to maintain his charm from start to finish. Erin Amsler ‘s interpretation of Caitlyn is one that takes on the challenging task of setting the foundation for who Caitlyn is and developing her character over time by what is unfortunately driven primarily by negative life changing events, dissatisfaction, and complacency in her current circumstances. Her tone and view slowly evolves from a headstrong woman not yet, too scorn, to a woman, old for her years, who understands to well the strong disconnect from the life we dream of and have always wanted, to the hand that we’re dealt with and needing to make the most out of it in order to survive. Erin delivers a strong performance and counterpart to Tony’s, John, that immerses the audience in the heartfelt dance between this father and daughter. You truly feel the love, frustration, anger, and hope between these too dedicated characters from start to finish.

As a young woman myself, I can fondly recall the many conversations I’ve had with my father as a child, a teen, a twenty something, and soon to be thirty something. After seeing this production, I couldn’t help but feel the need to hug my father and mother just a little bit tighter the next time I see them.. At the core of who we are and the validation we want as human beings, we really aren’t as different as we’d like to think. This production will move it’s audiences to truly consider where people can have empathy for each other and find mutual ground, regardless of where they are in life and what they believe. Sometimes blood and love is all that you have in common with a person and maybe a mutual love of birds. This play asks if that is that enough. 
I highly recommend patrons who have not yet attended this thought-provoking production, see it this upcoming weekend November 20th and November 21st at 2pm at the Valley of the Moon. Tickets are $25 a person and can be purchased online at http://www.windingroadtheater.org or contact the Box Office at (520) 401-3626. Masks are required for viewing.

Intimacy, love, and marriage in challenging times

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Photo credit to Tim Fuller; pictured are Maggie Josephine McNeil as Mary and Stephen Dunham as Charlie.

“Susan Arnold, the director, masterfully directs the actors to flawlessly change from one scene to the next.”

It doesn’t seem to matter what else is going on in the world; people meet and fall in love. Mary’s Wedding, by Canadian author Stephen Massicotte, is set against the backdrop of World War I. Although another pandemic raged during that time, it is not referenced during the play. However, the war itself is ever-present in the script. The opening scene shows Mary on the eve of her wedding. The play then progresses backward to a range of scenes depicting her relationship with Charlie, the young farm boy with whom she falls in love. The tenderness, joy, and even awkwardness of first love is skillfully played out with a series of vignettes. The scenes are nonlinear, but quickly the audience can see their relationship blossom and grow against the backdrop of the Canadian West as well as the battlegrounds of Europe during The Great War.

Susan Arnold, the director, masterfully directs the actors to flawlessly change from one scene to the next. She uses the entire stage to give some boundaries and context to where the action is in time and space. Quickly, the audience knows where we are: the farm in Alberta, or the trenches in Europe. Additionally, Maggie Josephine McNeil plays two characters, a male and a female. Often the change in characters is seen only by moving from one part of the stage to the other. As the play is about Mary’s dream, she remains in her nightgown throughout, so we really pause our disbelief as far as why she is portraying a man on the battlefield dressed this way. There is language in the play that clarifies this for us as Charlie imagines that he sees Mary everywhere and in everyone.

McNeil is artful in her portrayal of both Mary and the sergeant. When the play opened, I thought, “Who is this young British actress? Perhaps she is a recent graduate of The University of Arizona.” Yes, she is indeed a recent graduate, but not British. She and fellow castmate Stephen Dunham credit their accents to David Morden from U of A, who served as their dialect coach. Not only was her dialect perfect for both of the characters, but they were really developed with full ranges of emotion and believability.

Stephen Dunham, Charlie, reminded me of my first boyfriend from New Brunswick. Being Canadian, I must admit, I have a special softness still for all things Canadian. The gee, gosh, shucks simplicity and youthful enthusiasm were aptly portrayed by him. When he enlists, I was reminded of my mother, who served as a nurse during WW2. She felt she had to represent her family as her brothers weren’t able to serve. That sense of duty to country was totally embodied in Charlie. The sense of honor and privilege no matter what the outcome was truthfully shown. Dunham masterfully used his physicality in the scenes in the trenches as well as the sweet moments with McNeil.

McNeil and Dunham had never met until the first rehearsal. I was impressed by their tender scenes of physical intimacy. I was heartened to know that an Intimacy Director, Matt Denney, was used to help them have a safe space to create these scenes. I applaud Scoundrel & Scamp for being sensitive to the issues that intimate interactions can create for actors.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the sound and lighting. With a simple set basically of wooden pieces representing the barn, we were often transported to the battlefield, or to a lightning storm through the lighting and special sound effects. Tiffer Hill’s sound design made me feel like I was in the middle of a thunderstorm with all the fury that they can portray. Raulie Martinez’s lighting mirrored the action going on, from a charming afternoon in town to shelling on the battlefield. Robert Lopez-Hanshaw’s beautiful original score perfectly mirrored the mood of each moment of the play.

Every minute of this play was savored by me. I was uplifted, given hope, shown resilience, and most of all, regained that intimacy that only live theater can give an audience. It feels wonderful to be back to that which we love. All adult audiences will love this tender award- winning play. Please do yourself a favor and savor every moment as I did.

Mary’s Wedding runs at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre through November 7th. Tickets may be purchased online at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/ or by calling the S&S Box Office at (520) 448-3300. S&S is spacing seating, requiring patrons to wear masks while in the theatre, provide proof of vaccination OR proof of a negative COVID test at the time of check-in, and using enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols. For their full policies and safety parameters, please visit https://scoundrelandscamp.org/covid-safety-parameters.

Black. Lives. Matter.

In order to hold space for this movement, we are postponing the announcement of The Carmen Award winners until further notice.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Taming of the Review stands with those grieving and protesting in response to the senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the countless black lives lost to racist and/or police violence. The 400-year-old cycle of violence against Black Americans must stop.

Black. Lives. Matter.

We stand with all Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the fight for equity, liberty, and justice. We call out and denounce systemic racism, bigotry, hatred and intolerance.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Taming of the Review is committed to calling out white privilege, bias, and racism within ourselves and our community. And we are ready to do the crucial hard work ahead. Our ears, hearts, and minds are open and ready to learn.

Black. Lives. Matter.

These words mean nothing without action. Click this link to learn more about how you can support the movement.

Welcome to Taming of the Review

We are excited to share our take on the Tucson theatre scene with you as we challenge the standard, critique art, and demand more from casting and artistic directors. Because we don’t believe that theatre must be a male dominated craft. We have come a long way since men played the roles of women but, as members of the community, we are very aware of how much further we need to go.

Our reviews will include a brief synopsis of the play but will focus more on the direction, acting, stage design, sound and lighting design, and, most importantly, gender representation on stage.

To accomplish this, we will note the ratio of male to female characters in the play as well as the number of roles that don’t necessarily need to be gendered. Are the cast, artistic team, and crew mostly cis white male actors? Did the whole ensemble need to be a majority of men?

This isn’t a place to hate on men. We often enjoy working alongside our male colleagues. We simply are feminists and want to see equality both on and off the stage. These reviews are dedicated to making ourselves and our peers more aware of gender bias in the hope that we can help create change.