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

by Marguerite Saxton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My Kingdom for Cohesive Direction!

by Gabriella De Brequet

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

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

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

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

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

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

ART’s Top Girls Showcases Top Female Talent

by Holly Griffith

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is a big play. Big personalities, big themes, big scenes. David Morden directs Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production deftly, and while the production has weak moments, this cast does an impressive job juggling a complex web of characters, navigating difficult dialogue rhythms, and bringing the evening to a harrowing climax.

The play opens with a challenging scene, where the central character Marlene, played by Rebecca Galcik, hosts a dreamlike dinner party for six women from history. Some are real historical figures, some are characters from folklore, but all arrive with stories to tell. Churchill writes the scene to be fast-paced, with many lines overlapping, as the women discuss their relationships with men and children, their adventures around the world, and their thoughts on religion and philosophy. It is a feast for anyone who has yearned for the advice and wit of those who have gone before us. Given the pacing, the larger than life personalities, the odd theatrical conceit, the difficult subject material, and the four different dialects used onstage, this is an extremely difficult scene to pull off, and a few moments were lost in the shuffle. As someone unfamiliar with the play, the scene was somewhat hard to follow, and I wished Morden had encouraged a slower pace and more demonstrative blocking where possible, especially near the beginning of the scene.

The remaining scenes of the play, however, are worth the wait. The play shifts time, place, and theatrical style, and we get a glimpse into Marlene’s life as a successful businesswoman, and the challenges that come with being a woman at the top. Six of the seven actors play entirely new characters, some of them multiple new characters, and Morden’s casting is masterful. Each actor slips into the skin of someone new, while retaining thematic vestiges of the dinner party scene. Elana Richardson’s Pope Joan character transforms into Joyce, the working class sister of Marlene. Richardson remains stoic, like her papal counterpart from scene one, but adds a downtrodden jadedness more appropriate for Joyce’s socio-economic situation. Eavan Clare Brunswick portrays the Scottish explorer Isabella Bird in the first scene with a proud earthiness, and later becomes Mrs. Kidd, a woman who tries to protect her husband’s job by desperately attempting to unseat Marlene from her high-powered position. While the earthiness of Isabella vanishes, the boldness and sense of pride remains. It was a joy to watch these shape-shifting women command the stage with ever more nuanced performances.

Perhaps the most exciting transformation is in the hands of Maggie McNeil. She arrives at the dinner party as the folkloric Dull Gret, a nearly-mute spud of a woman dressed in battle armor, who seems primarily concerned with getting more to eat. McNeil, with few lines, becomes a highlight of the scene, radiating with childlike curiosity and coarse table manners. The scene ends with an engrossing description of Gret’s brutish invasion of hell. In the following scenes, McNeil plays the devilish teenager Angie, who resents Joyce’s tough love approach to parenting. She captures the feverish energy of teen life without too much wackiness. McNeil’s Angie is magnetic, radiant, and frightening. McNeil plays two characters whose humanity is interrupted by violence, and she strikes that balance beautifully.

The final scene of the play between Marlene and Joyce is also stunning. Galcik and Richardson know this scene inside and out. The two sisters argue over the central problem of the play—Angie is really Marlene’s child, but was raised by Joyce. The two navigate the would-have, could-haves of their past, unearthing resentments and illustrating the nearly impossible situation that Womanhood has put them in. Their dialogue flows like a river, hitting high points and low points, splashing against barriers and overflowing with rising tension. The two perform the scene with an excellent handle on the rhythms of the language and the vulnerability of their characters.

A word on the technical elements of this piece. Allison Morones has a huge job costuming 7 actors as 16 characters, all of whom change clothes, and most of whom change hairstyle. With few missteps, the costumes fit seamlessly into their world. Even the myriad wigs, which can be distracting if not used well, are consistent in their strangeness. They function similarly to masks in this production, giving a tongue-in-cheek nod to the double-casting in the play. Additionally, director David Morden achieves an almost impossible feat of coaching at least four dialects, ranging from Scottish to Japanese. While some actors handled dialect more naturally than others (Eavan Clare Brunswick has executed 3 different dialects this season, all masterfully), I was impressed with the consistency and range of dialects onstage.

I want to take a moment to praise ART for producing not one but two plays this season with all-female casts. The technical and design team for Top Girls is also a majority of women. It is empowering to watch women hold space onstage for an entire evening, and it gives female artists a chance to work together in ways that are rare in the performing arts. At the same time, I wish the University had more female directors. While I applaud Morden’s work on Top Girls, it also occurred to me that white men will direct almost all the main stage productions at ART this season. I hope that the University will consider diversifying their staff, especially when it comes to faculty with directing qualifications.

Top Girls runs at Arizona Repertory Theatre through Sunday, February 24th. Tickets are available online through the ART box office: 520-621-1162 or theatre.arizona.edu.

 

Editor’s Note: While Holly is an adjunct instructor in the School of Theatre, Film, and Television, she has no relationship with any students involved in Top Girls, personally or professionally. Additionally, Holly has worked professionally with David Morden. While this does not impact how a performance is reviewed, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.

The Cripple of Inishmaan Showcases Biting Critique of Humanity with Dark Humor

by Holly Griffith

Dylan Cotter as Billy, Connor Griffin as Bartley and Rachel Franke as Helen. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Dylan Cotter as Billy, Connor Griffin as Bartley and Rachel Franke as Helen. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Arizona Repertory Theatre’s most recent production, Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, upholds a level of professionalism common at the University of Arizona. The production is seamless and consistent, true to the story, and well-acted. Directed by Hank Stratton, the play follows the orphaned Billy, who lives with his adoptive aunts on the island of Inishmaan off the West coast of Ireland. Walking with a “shuffle” and a disfigured arm, Billy yearns to escape the constant ridicule of his community and formulates a plan to leave the island. The play has all the signature elements of Irish drama–quick wit, mystery, dark humor, and colorful family dynamics.

The company is unshakably gelled. All the actors inhabit the same world, and there is a consistency of rhythm and intensity between scenes. Dylan Cotter’s performance as Billy is nuanced and heart-wrenching. We feel his pain, hope for his triumph, but see a darker side when he manipulates his friends and caretakers. Elana Richardson as Eileen, Billy’s aunt and caretaker, is also outstanding. She plays the role with a strong backbone and a sharp wit. Eileen is a pillar of the play, unshakable in her dedication to Billy but simmering over a flame of maternal worry. This is a difficult balance to strike, and Richardson does it masterfully. Other outstanding performances include Rachel Franke as the delightfully profane Helen and Connor McKinley Griffin as Bartley, her clownish brother. Franke has a particularly tough job. Helen is simultaneously confident in her sexuality and traumatized by it. We learn early that she has been groped and harassed frequently by older men. In typical Irish fashion, she copes with her experiences using humor, but with Franke’s performance, we sense an undercurrent of anger.

The whole cast frames up McDonagh’s sharp humor with surprising skill. The quick-witted sarcasm, the dark comedy, and the incessant needling are all there. I laughed aloud often. Still, I felt there was room in Stratton’s direction to dial up the almost inhuman absurdity of some of the personalities in McDonagh’s play. Part of the irony of The Cripple of Inishmaan is that most of the characters are uglier, more disabled, and more grotesque than Billy. They all have “crutches” of one kind or another, they all have internal disfigurements and moral injuries. The flaws of these characters are larger-than-life and should balance on the edge of difficult-to-watch. Pateen Mike’s jovial cruelty, Babby Bobby’s brutal temper, Doctor McSharry’s misogyny, Helen’s unabashed naughtiness, Aunt Kate and Aunt Eileen’s quaking nervousness should make Billy’s world unbearably claustrophobic. These characters are rough. They are cruel. They are damaged. I’d like to see this cast do the play with a blazing intensity. Each actor already gives their character the proper flavor, but I wish Stratton had encouraged the cast to turn up the volume. I think this approach would pull the connective tissues of the play even tighter, making the funny moments funnier and the dark moments darker.

Michael Schulz as BabbyBobby, Peter James Albert Martineau as JohnnyPateenMike and Dylan Cotter as Billy. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Michael Schulz as BabbyBobby, Peter James Albert Martineau as JohnnyPateenMike and Dylan Cotter as Billy. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Still, this cast does a solid job with a difficult play, and the production elements all communicate with each other to paint a believable picture of humble, mid-century life in rural Ireland. Kevin Black’s dialect coaching is excellent. Actors sound consistent yet still individual, and the cadence of the dialect is rough enough to give us the flavor of the remote Aran Islands without sacrificing our ability to understand every word. Joe C. Clug’s scenic design effectively shows the drab interior of the Aunties’ store, designed to be quite literally rough around the edges. Gaby Nava’s costumes were perfectly Irish with hearty fabrics and muted colors, plus a bright magenta dress that popped on the promiscuous Helen.

Fans of dark comedy, poetry, and Irish storytelling won’t want to miss it!

The Cripple of Inishmaan runs at Arizona Repertory Theatre through December 2nd. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30; Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1:30. You can buy tickets online at theatre.arizona.edu or by calling 621-1162.

 

Editor’s Note: Holly Griffith an adjunct instructor in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the U of A. While she had no input or involvement with the creative process for this production nor is a professor to any of the students involved in this production, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.

An Energizing Triumph!

by Lety Gonzalez

Michelle (Camryn Elias), Deloris Van Cartier (Adia Bell) and Tina (Page Mills)

Camryn Elias as Michelle, Adia Bell as Deloris Van Cartier, and Page Mills as Tina. Photo by Ed Flores, photo courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Sister Act at the Arizona Repertory Theater is a feel-good show. Deloris Van Cartier takes refuge in a convent after witnessing her boyfriend Curtis murder one of his cronies. During her time there, she wins over the sisters with her boldness and confidence and they in turn show her love and friendship. Together they get down and boogie and sing to the man above.

All of the technical aspects of the show complemented each other and produced a great show. This was evident in the standing ovation that the audience offered to the actors at the end of the show. The lights did a brilliant job in setting the mood for each scene. Gobos that displayed a colorful stained glass pattern on the floor were used to indicate that the scene was taking place in a church. The transitions were timed well and the cast didn’t seem to run into any complications. The costume design was loud and glamourous. The beautiful sparkly gown that Deloris wore near the end is breathtaking. All of her costumes were fierce and sensual. I must note that it was entertaining to see the vestments of the nuns and the priest transform from their traditional black and white to glitter and bedazzled habits/cassocks. The orchestra was impeccable and the singers were confident.

When Deloris, portrayed by Adia Bell,  started to sing, I was taken aback. My mouth was gaping anytime anyone sang. I stared intently at each singer’s mouth. All of them were singing live, but they sounded so clear and pristine that there were times when I seriously thought that the music might be pre-recorded. That was not the case. Not only

Sister Mary Robert (Courtney Blanc) and Deloris Van Cartier (Adia Bell).

Courtney Blanc as Sister Mary Robert and Adia Bell as Deloris Van Cartier. Photo by Ed Flores, photo courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

were they singing, they were also dancing. The dance moves didn’t inhibit their singing ability. Sometimes the choreography can get in the way of the singer’s performance, but not in this show. Their groovy moves added to the live soulful music and their sound was full and balanced.

There were a couple of outstanding moments in the show. One of them was Eddie’s groovy solo. His deep crooning voice was like butter. Eddie’s quick and unexpected costume change during his silky number had some of the audience members behind me gasping. Another was the number in which Vince’s cronies are detailing how they would seduce the nuns. All of the songs sounded like they came right out of Motown. They were oozing with passion and desire. I’m surprised I was able to keep myself in my seat because I sure wanted to get up, find a partner, and dance to the music of love.

The lead character around whom the story revolves is portrayed by a young black woman.  Both the cast and crew are equally composed of women and men. The play was written by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner and directed by a woman, Christie Kerr. The rest of the season looks pretty solid. They are producing the play Top Girls which consists of an all- female cast. The other plays have a mix of gender-specific parts, but it appears there will be slightly more roles for the men than women. Overall it’s pretty even.

It’s always wonderful to witness a person of color in a lead role in any type of production. However, I left wishing I could have seen more people of color in the cast as a whole. Looking at the cast list, the members seem diverse, but looking out on stage, there weren’t many people of color. Looking at the cast list I found online I wonder if it was necessary for all of the nuns to be white presenting. There’s no indication in the story itself that all of the nuns should be white, other than following the precedent set by the film on which this musical is based, so that could have been an area with more diversity.

Musicals are difficult to execute. Transitions have got to be spot on, everyone needs to be on board and let me tell you, this whole cast was on board. The set transitions were

Pablo (Tony Moreno), Curtis (Zach Zupke) and Joey (Tristan Caldwell)

Tony Moreno as Pablo, Zach Zupke as Curtis, and Tristan Caldwell as Joey. Photo by Ed Flores, photo courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

quick and appeared effortless. The lighting design was brilliant and the dance numbers were simple, but effective. They moved together as one. The cast and crew were a finely tuned machine that cranked out the boogie and energized the audience.

If you need an energizing distraction from the current political atmosphere, check out Sister Act! The show runs from October 14th to November 4th. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 pm and Sunday shows start at 1:30 pm. On November 2nd there will be a post show discussion. General admission is $31.00, however they do have senior, military, UA Employee, and student discounts. If you wish to purchase tickets, please click on the link provided.

https://oss.ticketmaster.com/aps/uacfa/EN/buy/browse?i%5B0%5D=172

Raise your voice! VOTE.