Tomorrow belongs to Pima Theatre in their perfectly marvelous rendition of Cabaret!

By Mara Capati

The company of Cabaret

“The entirety of this cast deserves many praises in their dedication to their characters, from historically and culturally appropriate depictions, to their German and English accents – you name it. This cast clearly put in a lot of work into their delivery and consistency.”

Cabaret is an American musical theatre classic that takes place between 1929-1930 in Berlin, Germany, during a post-World War I economic depression, at the beginnings of Hitler’s totalitarian regime and the rise of the Nazi Party. Struggling American author Cliff Bradshaw comes to Berlin to write a new novel. On his first night, he wanders into the Kit Kat Klub, managed by the enigmatic “Emcee,” and is introduced to a talented Cabaret performer and lost soul, Sally Bowles. As their romance blossoms, they are met with the harsh reality of an escalating antisemetic political state. At odds with whether they should leave or stay amidst rising tensions, Ernst, Cliff’s German friend, reveals himself to be a supporting member of the Nazi Party, and Herr Schultz, a fellow boarder at Fraulein Schneider’s guest house where Cliff and Sally reside, falls victim to a hate crime. This musical boldly explores themes of sexual liberation, discrimination, and poverty within the backdrop of looming political tragedy.

Director Mickey Nugent provides the audience a full immersion into the world and essence of true “cabaret theatre.” The success of this experience is in part due to the seamless cohesion of all the little details. From the simple and intimate staging to the historical world building, the audience is captivated by the beguiling plot that unfolds. Nugent elegantly transports audiences to a historic time that seems all too familiar and cruelly nostalgic for some, in its similarity to rising political and human rights concerns in the world today. 

On the technical end, Pima’s sound system and balancing has significantly improved from the last production I had attended there this year. Actors were crystal clear, and wow – the balancing and vocal power of that ensemble! Transitions were smooth, with minimalistic, only-necessary set pieces, and interchangeable projection-panel images – the perfect simple setting for some not-so-simple narratives and storytelling.  

The entirety of this cast deserves many praises in their dedication to their characters, from historically and culturally appropriate depictions, to their German and English accents – you name it. This cast clearly put in a lot of work into their delivery and consistency. You could distinguish any single role on stage, ensemble members included, and see the complex growth of the individual and the group, reacting to and processing the impacts of the trauma of a rising regime inciting fear, violence, discrimination, and murder against their loved ones, within their home country. While there were many honorable mentions of performers, I would like to start by highlighting the display of massive talent across the board. I’m not sure that I’ve seen this quality of talent as a whole at Pima Theatre in a few years. The choreography delivery of the Cabaret dancers, the unabashed movement and sensuality – all invaluable contributions to the world-building and undertone of this production. Nickole Custodio, who portrays the vivacious Sally Bowles, has a bright and long career ahead of her in the world of professional theater. She was an absolute delight to watch on stage, captivating the audience with her voice and range in character. My personal favorite vocal performance of the evening, though, hands-down goes to Julia Water’s vocal solo in “Married” as Fraulein Kost with the palettable yearning she depicts through skillful vocal control.

I was happily surprised to see an incredibly diverse cast for this production both in racial representation, genderbending presentation and sexual orientation. The actors portraying the ensemble’s male-presenting characters, Emcee and Cliff, were pinnacle to the successful depiction of sexual liberation in this production. I cannot sing enough praises for the incorporation of LGBT+ musical literature and characters into the Pima Theatre slate this year. It is important to understand the repressed nature of sexuality during those times, especially for those individuals who didn’t believe or practice heteronormativity. Those added stressors have great impacts on people within the LGBTQ+ community, in addition to the added stressors of your country being on the brink of war and persecuting innocent people. It genuinely brought tears to my eyes to see these characters on a Tucson stage, as we do not often see this type of representation in musical theatre productions in town. 

I highly recommend that those who have not yet seen this production, come support the Pima Theatre program and its students. Pima Theatre’s take on Cabaret is evidence that the program is rising in ranks towards competing with the quality of a BFA level production and local professional musical theatre companies. I hope to see this production team keep raising the bar and keep up the great work. Today, Cabaret. Tomorrow.. La Cage Aux Folles? I say that in jest, however Pima Theatre’s line up also seems very promising, with Sunday in the Park with George, a Sondheim classic, coming up in March 2023. 
Get your tickets for Cabaret and future shows at Pima Community College | Ticketing – Ticket Office Home (universitytickets.com). The show runs until November 20th, Th-Sat at 7 p.m., Sun at 2 p.m at the Proscenium Theatre on 2202 W Anklam Rd, Tucson, AZ 85709. General tickets are $15 and $10 for Students/Seniors/Military/Pima Employees/Groups.

Open your heart for the holidays at The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley

By Felíz Torralba

The Company of ‘The Wickham’s’ photo credit to Tim Fuller

“When an ensemble comes together to bring a piece to life, everyone must be a dedicated team player. When this happens, it becomes less about the actors and how quality and skilled they are and more about the story being told in the most authentic way. This is exactly what is being done here.”

Elaborate schemes, grandeur, and romance both sparked and speared by pride have returned to Arizona Theatre Company! This holiday season, ATC is revisiting Regency romance with Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley — a companion piece to the duo’s delightful Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley — both modern continuations of Jane Austen’s popular novel Pride and Prejudice. As the events of Miss Bennet unfold upstairs at Pemberley, the servants downstairs find themselves in the midst of a different holiday scandal. An unwelcome visitor has stumbled into the hall in the middle of the night: Mr. Darcy’s nemesis and Lydia’s incorrigible husband, Mr. Wickham. The bustling housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds, the resilient new serving girl Cassie, and the helplessly romantic footman, Brian, must each balance their holiday preparations with keeping Mr. Wickham confined. Old grudges and new misunderstandings reach a boiling point, and as the festivities spiral into chaos, Pemberley’s residents struggle to keep peace without taking sides. Warm and sensational, Gunderson and Melcon’s second Austen adaptation delves into class, privilege, family and forgiveness — and what it means to truly open one’s heart in the season of giving.


We are welcomed to Pemberley and thrust into the world of these characters through skillful, delicate beams of light (Brian J. Lilienthal) accompanied by a perfect sound bath (Erdberg & Kwong-Brown) that is everything you could wish for while watching an Austen-esque text unfold before your eyes. As the curtain lifts, we are transported into life downstairs at Pemberley. The set (Apollo Mark Weaver) radiated such care and attention to detail, from the light under the teapot to the snow-frosted windows to the warm candle flame that invites the eyes to wander up the staircase. Not to mention the beauty and intricacy of the gowns and suits (Lauren T. Roark) that allow us to identify class in another way; my favorite costume pieces include Cassie’s dress and Mr. Wickham’s coat. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes (as you can probably tell)!


As this new perspective on the characters we know and love unfolds, the quality and direction (Veronika Duerr) of the players is subtly presented excellence. This is because it is done extremely well. When an ensemble comes together to bring a piece to life, everyone must be a dedicated team player. When this happens, it becomes less about the actors and how quality and skilled they are and more about the story being told in the most authentic way. This is exactly what is being done here – and that makes for some phenomenal theatre (and boy, it is refreshing). This story is delicately balanced with farcical holiday drama we all know well, yet rings with messages of classism and feminism and how it may have been relevant in another time period. One especially noteworthy performance is that of Amelia White (playing Mrs. Reynolds), who quite literally runs the show as the quick-witted head of servants who keeps things moving along. White is the engine in this machine of an ensemble, not to mention she brings a masterful Irish dialect to the character.


Seth Tucker (playing Brian) was like a trampoline for energy – bouncing back anything thrown his way. This was a perfect complement to the light of this play, Emily Mahoney (playing Cassie) who brought strength, beauty, and youthfulness. Maya Encila and Alex J. Gould, playing Lydia and George Wickham respectively, were a necessary contrast: where our beloved Lydia Wickham was hilarious and boisterous, Mr. George Wickham was snarky, squalid, and played a perfect villain. Andrea Syglowski (playing Mrs. Darcy) and Cecil Washington (playing Mr. Darcy) kept the nostalgic love alive and portrayed our favorite Austen characters oh-so-well.


My one critique is that the set felt lived-in, but the characters did not. This was particularly noticeable during elaborate scene transitions where I couldn’t help but notice a lack of engagement and physicality. I see this as a missed opportunity to tell us (the audience) more about these characters. I also acknowledge this could very well be due to the fact that it was opening night, and it is the only element I wish I could change about this experience. I look forward to bringing my own family back to see this play before closing. It truly got me in the holiday spirit and left me in a great mood!


If you love the holidays, laughing until your stomach hurts, and Jane Austen, you are bound to have a merry Christmas at Pemberley.


ATC is located in Downtown Tucson at 330 S Scott Avenue. The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley runs until December 2nd, 2022.
Tickets start at $25 and are available for purchase at https://atc.org/show/the-wickhams-christmas-at-pemberley/

Scooch on over to LTW for Killed a Man (Joking)

By Betsy Labiner

Gianbari Deebom as Amanda, Czarina Nafarrate as Megan, Zac Austin as Trevor, Andy Johnson as Liv, and Allison Akmajian as Katie photo credit to Ryan Fagan

“Gianbari Deebom positively shines as Amanda, the leader of the plot to protect Megan. Deebom carries the bulk of the emotional storytelling, and is utterly compelling in everything from ineffectual attempts at distraction, desperate determination, and righteous fury.”

Killed a Man (Joking) is a raucous rollercoaster of a play that’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re into dark comedy and can stomach themes of domestic violence, coercion, psychological abuse, and manipulation, I encourage you to treat yourself to the current Etcetera show at Live Theatre Workshop. 

This production of Beth Hyland’s Killed a Man (Joking) is directed by Gabriella de Brequet, who brings years of theatrical experience to her staging. De Brequet’s set, props, and costumes were all smartly simple, creating a shuttered restaurant and its panicky staff with no unnecessary ado. Everything onstage was incorporated into the action, and the use of the wings for additional unseen spaces worked well in the theatre of the mind. The story follows three coworkers who become entangled in a murder committed by a fourth coworker — but that murder might have been an accident or self-defense, so they’re going to have to get their story straight if they want to keep their friend out of prison. 

Gianbari Deebom positively shines as Amanda, the leader of the plot to protect Megan. Deebom carries the bulk of the emotional storytelling, and is utterly compelling in everything from ineffectual attempts at distraction, desperate determination, and righteous fury. Her comedic moments are more wry and deadpan than Katie’s (played by Allison Akmajian), but plenty of her lines, such as her grudging admission that she may have “scooched” the body — her word for having moved a corpse all the way from the dining area to the walk-in freezer — had myself and the rest of the audience positively cracking up. Akmajian’s comedic work was delightful as well; she is unafraid to lean into her character’s ridiculousness, but manages to do so without reducing her to a caricature. Liv (played by Andy Johnson) is comparatively less engaging than Amanda and Katie, but Johnson holds their own with the others. They bring a frazzled energy to the play, capturing the tension between wanting absolutely no part of the cover-up and feeling obligated to help. 

Czarina Nafarrate and Zac Austin (as the Megan, the murderer, and Trevor, the victim, respectively) have significantly less stage time than their castmates, but give searing performances in the last portion of the play. The audience knows all along that how Trevor ended up dead is hardly the simple story being concocted by the coworkers, but Nafarrate and Austin’s scene reveals all in its ugly, cruel, and complicated truth. Nafarrate navigates tough emotional spaces here, giving us a nuanced depiction of a terrified victim of abuse and blackmail. Austin’s Trevor is smarmy and self-assured, absolutely convinced of his own power and willing to stoop to any level to get his way. Austin’s lightning-fast shift from lolling and laughing to shouting and grabbing Nafarrate was genuinely frightening, and I heard more than one sharp gasp around me when he did so. 

There is a deeply odd juxtaposition of moods in the final moments, which for me felt like a jolting expulsion from the intensity Austin and Nafarrate had built, but it certainly left me pondering notions of guilt and justice. 

This play begins as dark workplace comedy and ends as an exploration of domestic abuse, and incorporates commentary on policing and racism, drug use, and more along the way. Parts of this play are difficult to watch, particularly if you have experienced abuse, manipulation, or gaslighting, but I recommend it, with the caveat of first assessing whether those themes will be triggering for you.

Killed a Man (Joking) runs for one more weekend at Live Theatre Workshop. Showtimes are November 18-19 at 10:00pm, and November 20 at 7:00pm. To make your reservation call 520-327-4242 or buy tickets online at livetheatreworkshop.org. 

Dia de Los Muertos: The Worlds of the Living and the Dead Collide

By Annie Sadovsky Koepf

The Cast of Dia de Los Muertos the Musical photo credit to Ryan Fagan

“If you have children, they will love it. If you don’t, you will love it.”

Having awkward and difficult conversations about many topics are understandably hard for parents and caretakers of small children.  After the last two years, many adults have had to navigate these discussions with young kids, especially regarding the loss of their loved ones. Dia de Los Muertos:The Musical by Michael Martinez now playing at Live Theatre Workshop in the Children’s Theater addresses this topic. ” I wanted to bring death up as a conversation for kids and families because I know how important it was for my family.” writes Martinez as he describes why he wrote the show. His goal is well achieved with a mixture of joy, laughter, excitement, and poignancy. 

Live Theatre Workshop opened the show this past weekend with a one-time fiesta which included face painting, sweets, art activities, and music before the show. It set the tone or the performance. The performers came out and sang one song before we entered the theatre and after the performance, the actors greeted the audience once again. I always love when theatres do this. I for one don’t think it breaks any of the mystery of the theater, but brings the audience into the world of the magic of storytelling.

Magic is what was created by the costumes. I must commend Sophia Nagore for her work as the costume designer. Each character was beautifully complemented and enhanced by her creations. Since the set was simple, the costumes worked to convey the idea of the other worldliness of the setting.

The story takes place on the other side, as Marigold, a young girl, wants to meet her dearly departed turtle. She gets her wish, and with a lovely script, beautiful music, lyrics and dancing, the enchanting story is told. Martinez has developed a play that enraptured every theatre goer in the audience that night. The four-year old in the seat in front of me squealed in delight, and laughed in the most endearing way.

Each role was totally embodied by the actor’s portrayals. Zuleyl Castro as Mictecachuatl commands the stage with her presence at all times. Cecy Abarca is believable and charming as Juana, a young girl. Savanah Martinez as The Ancestors masterfully handled two puppets the entire time, and Eduardo Rodriguez as Grito was charming as a beloved character who was not entirely put together correctly in the after life. Franki Corey-Gelb was present as the non speaking Maigold, but conveyed much by her movement. Kudos to the entire cast.

If you have children, they will love it. If you don’t, you will love it.

Dia de Los Muertos the Musical plays at live Theatre Workshop until November 13th. For more information visit their website at http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org

Scoundrel and Scamp’s newest deal with the devil is a total catch.

By Elena Terry

Zachary Austin and Callie Hutchison photo credit to Tim Fuller

“I found myself relating with Johanna to an uncomfortable degree and this had me leaving the theater in deep thought about the opportunities that have recently closed in my face, or life events I wish I could change possibly by making a deal with that devilishly charming demon myself.”

Faustus: That Damned Woman, written by Chris Bush and passionately directed by Raulie Martinez, tackles the classic German story of Faust and turns it on its head. Martinez took this to heart in his MainStage debut as a director and even made it feel like a brand new story. Instead of a male protagonist, we meet Johanna Faustus, who — with her frustrated ambition due to doors constantly being closed in her face — makes a deal with the devil to change her life and open those doors that have remained closed most of her life. Was it the right decision to make a deal with the devil? I’ll leave that for you to discover, dear reader. 

Faustus was played by Callie Hutchinson; she was ambitious, strong, independent, and even at times slightly abrasive, and I could see Hutchinson really playing with the complex and emotional layers of such a uniquely flawed character. It is a feat for any actor to achieve that complexity. Zachary Austin as Mephistopheles was also detailed, witty and devilishly charming. Austin’s expressive acting constantly drew my eyes to whatever the character was reacting to and often got a chuckle or smile out of me… which is, I admit, hard to achieve! One performance that also caught my attention was Shannon Elias as Elizabeth Garrett / Marie Curie. Elias brought just the right amount of seriousness and light-hearted humor that the play needed. Her roles were expertly executed, and I imagine most audience members wouldn’t believe her if she said that this was her S&S MainStage debut. She had my date (my theater-obsessed daughter) in giggles all night. The rest of the cast consisted of equally talented actors with stand-out moments for each of them. My sincere congratulations to Michael Levin, Julia Balestracci, Allison Akmajian, Gianbari Deebom, and David Gunther on marvelous performances across the board. 

When it comes to the technical elements of the show, I found that the show as a whole was very technically over-ambitious (just like our dear Johanna Faustus) and some of the technical elements were not exactly needed to enhance the story and were somewhat distracting. For example: a projected clock and other various small lighting elements. I wouldn’t say that for all the elements though. This occult obsessed reviewer enjoyed some of the extra-spooky lighting used in the play’s most important scenes. The transitions were another weakness in the play, because they seemed stiff and often distracted me away from what was happening in the scene. I would have loved to see more finesse and choreography for some of those transitions, or maybe even possibly make them separate from the scene they were in. However, some other technical elements like intimacy direction, costume design, and the musical elements were of a notably high caliber and were beautifully detailed elements of the show. 

At its epicenter, this play is just as complex as the characters, actors, and audience members that were present. Every person has their flaws, everyone has desires, and every person could be faced to make a deal with a devil. I found myself relating with Johanna to an uncomfortable degree and this had me leaving the theater in deep thought about the opportunities that have recently closed in my face, or life events I wish I could change possibly by making a deal with that devilishly charming demon myself. I hope that if you are looking for something to do during this wonderfully spooky season you would strongly consider attending a performance and possibly waltz with the devil! You can catch performances through the end of the month, and there is a special pre-show talk on the history of Faust and famous stage adaptations of the story at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 23. 

Scoundrel & Scamp recommends this show for ages 15+. 

Faustus: That Damned Woman runs through October 30 at Scoundrel & Scamp Theater. For more information, show dates and times, and to purchase tickets, please visit https://scoundrelandscamp.org/faustus

The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre requires patrons to wear masks.

Fun Home: A queer coming of age story for everyone

By Florie Rush (Guest Reviewer)

Erin Anderson, Lila Poore, and Matthew Holter photo credit to Blake Adam.

When everyone had taken their seats for Fun Home, one of the directors of the Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company (SAPAC), Dennis Tamblyn, came onstage to introduce the musical. He described it as “a non-linear show,” which I find is a perfect way to explain the flow of the story. Our main character, Allison Bechdel, played by Erin Anderson, is a comic book author who is writing her life story. This older version of Allison stays on stage the whole time, offering narration when necessary but mostly just watching her memories play out before her. These memories don’t unfold chronologically, but each offers another piece to the puzzle that makes up her life. We see Allison growing up, with her father running a family funeral home (and dealing with struggles of his own), all while trying to figure out who she is and understand her sexuality. She also tries to manage her relationship with her parents and come to terms with the fact that they might not be the “perfect” parents she thought.

Three different actors represent Allison, each at a different time in her life. We have the youngest (Lila Poore), Allison in her freshman year of college (Samantha Beemer), and the aforementioned adult Allison and narrator (Erin Anderson). These three were all wonderful actors and did a beautiful job portraying the same character. It was clear that while it was three different actors, they were playing one person, and that’s no easy task. While each performance was great, I thought that Samantha Beemer stood out above the rest. She was so genuine and had a captivating stage presence. Beemer perfectly encapsulated the struggle and awkwardness of figuring out who you are and coming into your sexuality, but also the giddiness and relief when you finally do start to understand yourself. When she was on stage, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.

The siblings, played by Sadie Aubry and Sylas Smith, were lots of fun and had solos that got the audience laughing and clapping along. There was a great dynamic between the actors who played Bruce Bechdel (Matthew Holter) and Helen Bechdel (Liz Cracchiolo), Allison’s parents. They played off each other really well and were talented scene partners. However, Bruce Bechdel (Matthew Holter) fell a little flat to me. I wasn’t sure if he was intentionally aiming for subtle and ambivalent, but I was left confused about exactly what he was trying to convey. Perhaps this was a conscious acting and directional decision, leaving the character up for the audience’s interpretation, but I personally would have liked to see more specific, overt choices in the delivery of his character.

The lighting and set was simple, but really supported and elevated the story. The lighting designer (Christoper Mason) and the set designer (Mike Muirhead) worked together to create a hazy atmosphere with orange lights and a fog machine to represent that this is all Allison’s memories, and the haziness that comes along with memory. There was also a screen in the back that would show projected images of Allison’s comics as she talked about them. It was a nice visual touch. There were also four musicians sitting onstage, playing live for all the song numbers.

SAPAC is a newer theatre to Tucson, only in their fourth season, and they make it clear that one of their goals is to get younger people involved in theatre both as part of productions and as audience members. Based on my experience at Fun Home, they are achieving this very successfully. The cast had several kids and young adults in this show, and the majority of the audience was young adults. In my experience, that’s very rare to see; young people often don’t attend theatre, but this audience had a variety of ages represented, and everyone was engaged and clearly enjoying the show. We all were laughing and cheering, even in the middle of scenes, and left choked up and teary eyed at parts.

Fun Home takes place mostly in the 1970s, but it’s a timeless tale of coming of age and discovering who you are, even if that goes against what you were taught to believe. It’s about questioning what’s “right” and “wrong,” and if you’re being true to yourself and not hurting anyone, how can that be wrong? This show portrays a lot of powerful messages that people of all ages can relate to, and they certainly did show up to listen. Director Tyler Wright did a wonderful job tackling this play especially since it’s his directorial debut! It’s important representation for the LGBTQ+ community, and I’m very happy to see shows like this being put on in Tucson, and to see that the types of people attending theatre are expanding.

I really enjoyed seeing Fun Home, and as a young member of the LGBTQ+ community, it was wonderful to see that representation on stage, and to relate to parts of Allison’s journey. However, I feel that people of any age and people who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community will enjoy this show, and find aspects of it relatable. I would strongly recommend going to see it if you get the chance.

Fun Home runs through August 14. For tickets, please visit https://www.sapactucson.org/tickets. Please contact SAPAC at boxoffice.sapac@gmail.com or 401-594-4895 with questions or for more information.

The Nina Variations: A Chekhov lovers dream

By Gabriella de Brequet (She/They)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Out of a Million

By Amanda Lopez-Castillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mara Capati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Betsy Labiner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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