Lies and Laughs Abound in Show People

by Betsy Labiner

Show People, by Paul Weitz, is a love letter to theatre. Or possibly hate mail. Live Theatre Workshop’s production dives whole-heartedly into the play’s metatheatrical examination of the performing arts, acting, and the theatre industry. Under Chris Moseley’s direction, Show People adeptly shifts gears between celebratory and elegiac as it delves into the highs and lows of the lives and careers of actors. Plot twists abound. It’s a fun, if occasionally dark, play, and audiences ought to be aware in advance of its self-consciousness and self-referential theatricality. These traits reach a maniacal pitch near the end of the play, so make sure that if you go, you’re willing to be in on the jokes. 

Lesley Abrams as Marnie and Steve McKee as Jerry. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Lesley Abrams as Marnie and Steve McKee as Jerry. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

 

The play is a tight, fast romp – ninety minutes with no intermission – following two late-career actors, Marnie and Jerry, respectively played by Lesley Abrams and Steve McKee, as they meet a young man, Tom, who has hired them to play his parents in order to introduce them to his girlfriend, Natalie. While Marnie and Jerry work self-consciously to inhabit their parental characters and flesh out their roles on the fly, they’re thrown curve after curve by Tom, played by Taylor Rascher, and Natalie, played by Emily Gates. 

All four actors are delightful in their roles: lively, deeply layered, and with excellent chemistry amongst themselves. Abrams was hilarious perfection as Marnie, giving everything from strident cynicism to loving warmth with impeccable comedic timing. I found myself watching her even when other characters were speaking; her physical reactions and facial expressions were a highlight in a uniformly strong cast. As Natalie, Gates provides a more naively optimistic counterpoint, bubbling with undimmed enthusiasm even as Abrams lobs backhanded remarks. McKee skillfully melds Jerry’s self-indulgence with bewilderment and, in a few especially evocative moments, even aching sadness. Rascher shines most in the moments that make the audience uncomfortable, as he – and we – struggle with the lines between reality and fiction. 

Show People delivers a palimpsest of performances. Even as the fictions layer one another, intrusive realities can’t quite be banished. Some lies contain grains of truth, and some acts seem to be entirely too honest. Even the characters themselves can’t quite identify the boundaries of reality as the lines blur between self and character, fiction and fact. In one exchange that exemplifies the play as a whole, someone asks, “What if it’s real?” The response: “It’s not.” “But what if it is?” 

Steve McKee as Jerry, Taylor Rascher as Tom, and Lesley Abrams as Marnie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Steve McKee as Jerry, Taylor Rascher as Tom, and Lesley Abrams as Marnie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The comedic meditation on acting and theatre is layered, calling attention not only to the professional craft, but also the more mundane performances people put on every day, particularly in situations when they want to impress or endear themselves to others. These moments range from painfully relatable awkwardness to laugh-out-loud absurdity. While likely all audiences can relate to some of these elements, such as the act of telling someone you like their baking when you don’t, those whole live and work in the performing arts will find that this play speaks directly to them, for better or worse, from start to finish. The play ruminates on the joy of acting, the drive to perform, the need to be in the spotlight, and, more bleakly, on the harsh reality that chasing that spotlight can be a heartbreaking endeavor. 

Despite the unflinching discussions of poverty and hardship, an idealized vision of the theatre is present as well. The play reiterates that creation and performance are labors of love. “The stage is a place that demands empathy,” the audience is told, and so it does. While the stage demands empathy, the play indicates, it also creates it. Theatre forges bonds between actors, audiences, and all the individuals bringing a work to life. The play points out these multilateral relationships, asking audiences to investigate their own role in show business. 

Show People clearly loves actors and artistic creation, but has no illusions about their world. In one anecdote about playing a horse and doing so topless at the director’s insistence, the audience is briefly confronted with the harsh reality of the exploitation of women in the theatre industry and the power dynamics between directors and aspiring and/or under-employed actors. The story is brief, but searing. It encapsulates both shame and desperation, condemning the situation even as it elicits sympathy and understanding for the individual having made the choice to go ahead in such a role. The anecdote is a minor moment in the play, but it continues to resonate long after. It is a jarring reminder of the coercion that can and does occur. This reminder should not go unheeded – we as participants in and consumers of theatre must demand ethical practices in which all participants are treated with dignity and respect.  

Take on the role of audience member! Show People runs July 25th through August 24th at Live Theatre Workshop (5317 E. Speedway Blvd.). Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 pm, as well as Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online at LiveTheatreWorkshop.org or by phone at 520-327-4242.

A Bump in the Night and a Monster Dilemma

by Jess Herrera

Tabitha Turnpike has a big imagination. But, for her parents, Tabitha’s imagination is nothing more than a big problem.

In the Live Theatre Workshop’s original play, Tabitha Turnpike has a MONSTERous Problem, written by Richard Gremel and featuring original music by David Ragland, the titular character uses her bravery and creativity to solve a larger-than-life problem.

Under the direction and choreography of Samantha Cormier, this current production in the theater’s family series is an enjoyable story for young audience members with a meaningful lesson aimed at adults. There are plenty of jokes that land with parents, and it features a plot that’s easy to relate to at any age.

The costumes, designed by Stephanie Frankenfield, help pull viewers right into the story, and ensure the actors who split roles easily transitioned between characters. This was especially true of the monsters, who were the perfect mix of fluff and fright to be believable without scaring young attendees. And the simple sets were just enough to allow everyone’s imagination to run wild.

In the opening scene Tabitha, played by Taylor Thomas, saves her doll from an evil henchman with time to enjoy tea before bed. She beautifully blends two big childhood dreams as a superhero who can fly and who is also a princess. She draws you into her rescue mission with just a few props and doesn’t fall into a tired stereotype.

Mike Saxon as Mr. Turnpike, Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike and Danielle Dodge as Mrs. Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Mike Saxon as Mr. Turnpike, Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike and Danielle Dodge as Mrs. Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Unfortunately her superhero cape, fashioned out of an heirloom tablecloth, is the last straw for her mom and dad, played by Danielle Dodge and Mike Saxon respectively. Tabitha is grounded and sent to bed with no story.

But her troubles have just begun. As soon as her dad turns out the lights, she begins to hear growling from under her bed. Tabitha, who has just been told to grow up, can’t tell her parents about the monster in her room.

Out from under her bed appears Squirble, played by William Seidel. After some shrieks from Tabitha and Squirble — as well as the audience — it’s revealed that Squirble needs Tabitha’s help. He’s a monster trying desperately to join the Super Scary Society, but he’s just not very scary.

They team up to convince the leaders of the society, Fangs and Spike, characters also played by Dodge and Saxon, that Squirble should be accepted despite his differences.

William Seidel as Squirble and Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

William Seidel as Squirble and Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

My five-year-old, who joined me for the performance, immediately fell in love with Squirble. Seidel’s sweet performance, coupled with his very cuddly costume, made him a favorite. My daughter ran to give him a big hug at the end of the performance — a clear sign of approval.

And although Fangs and Spike were late additions to the ensemble, they were definitely stand-out characters. With their hilarious musical number (and a few fart jokes), they were just the right mix of menacing and lovable for everyone to enjoy.

On the flip side of Dodge and Saxon’s monstrous performances as Fangs and Spike were their roles as Tabitha’s parents. While they delivered some funny and familiar lines, their reactions felt a bit overblown. Perhaps this was because Tabitha’s intended age was hard to pin down.

Many of the musical numbers felt lacking. While Spike and Fang’s song was catchy and funny, others were far less memorable.

Despite these limitations, Tabitha Turnpike has a Monsterous Problem is creative, funny and heartfelt. Running at just under an hour, it’s a great early theater experience for preschool-aged children, and it has a story that kids in early elementary can also enjoy.

 Tabitha Turnpike has a MONSTERous Problem is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. through August 11. You can buy tickets on their website, http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org/, or by calling the box office at (520) 327-4242.

 

Theatre is a Community Service

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Sabian Trout, artistic director at Live Theatre Workshop, on the importance of live theatre to the health of the community.

by Leigh Moyer

Live Theatre Workshop“Do plays in the service of the community. Doing a play for yourself is going to kill your theatre and the worst thing you can do as an artistic director is to kill a theatre. There are so few left.” Sabian Trout, artistic director of Live Theatre Workshop’s Mainstage series, is not messing around when it comes to her community. Theatre is critical to a healthy community and she works to make sure that Tucson has live theatre year round. 

At the time of writing, LTW’s 2019-2020 season has already kicked off with Things Being What They Are and will continue through the summer into the more typical theatre season, and wrapping up as it warms up again. Then the next “season” starts the cycle all over, ensuring quality theatre all year. Trout is straightforward about working to bring the best shows to Tucson audiences: “I’m just applying for the best plays for our community.” Of course, selecting nine shows isn’t simple. Trout explained, “It’s a big puzzle every year based on feedback from the audience, what the space can accommodate, the talent available, if we can get the rights to produce the play, and a dozen or more factors. There are thousands and thousands of plays to choose from. It’s such a complicated thing, it is like its own living animal.”

Audiences can expect a little of everything this season, and should expect LTW’s offerings to expand their experience of life and lives that are different, but not so different, than their own. The season starts with a production exploring the bond between an unlikely duo and wraps with a play navigating the political and social ramifications of same sex marrage in a conservative southern home. In between, season ticket holders can expect mystery, love, heartbreak and revenge, humor, complicated relationships, tricks, first-time homebuyers and even a look at being an out-of-work actor. The plays are all tied together by experience, things we’ve all felt or fought in some way.

Shanna Brock and Stephen Frankenfeld in Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Shanna Brock as She and Stephen Frankenfeld as He in the 2018-2019 season production of Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

“When I took over 13 years ago, it was clean, just stuff that wasn’t topical and didn’t represent our greater community,” Trout said.My favorite socially relevant plays are comedies. There are so many topical or socially relevant plays that are draining. That isn’t necessary to have an illuminating experience. A humorous take on challenging topics often changes your heart and mind more than angst-ridden plays.” 

According to Trout, Radiant Vermin and The Cake are probably the most socially relevant productions for LTW this season. Radiant Vermin is a comedy about the housing crisis, how difficult it is to buy a home, and what individuals are willing to do to get their dream place. The Cake follows a baker, thrilled to bake a wedding cake for her niece until she learns the niece has a bride rather than a groom. Humanizing the headlines, The Cake explores political and emotional viewpoints, cultural expectations, and how complex baking a cake can be.

Trout is excited about Heisenberg as both the artistic director, and this particular play’s director. “I don’t usually keep darlings to myself. I try to match plays to the directing talent, but this season, I chose a play that I’m elated about,” Trout admitted. “It’s a special play, newer, quirky, theatrical, I’m madly in love with this play, and I had to keep it for myself. It’s a love story about an extremely unlikely relationship.”

Heisenberg

Image courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Still, she maintained that Tucson audiences should catch every show this season. The greatest compliment Trout can get is when an audience member tells her after a show that they weren’t sure about a show, based on the title or even the description, but after seeing it, are thrilled they gave it a shot because they loved it. Descriptions of each play are online and reproduced below. But maybe trust that Trout tamed the animal that is putting together a season and become a season ticket holder and catch them all. You might see something you never would have guessed you’d love.

Live Theatre Workshop’s Mainstage Series 2019 – 2020 Season:

Things Being What They Are by Wendy MacLeod
June 20 – July 20, 2019
As up-and-coming Bill readies a new condo for himself and his soon-to-arrive wife, he gets an unexpected visit from Jack, who at first appears to be a nightmare neighbor. What follows is a sharp comedy about the lives we dream of having versus the lives we end up living.
“Despite (or maybe it’s because of) its origin in a female mind, this funny, charming, and rather moving play probes the vulnerabilities of middle-class maleness with…good humor, affection and incisive accuracy.” ~ Chicago Tribune

Show People by Paul Weitz
July 25 – August 24, 2019
Jerry and Marnie are Broadway actors who haven’t worked in years. At Jerry’s insistence, they take on a wildly unorthodox job for a rich, young New York banker in Show People, a crazy comedy about the darker aspects of the need to be theatrical.
“A smashing light comedy…delightful and witty.” ~ NY Observer
“A real laugh-out-loud comedy…guaranteed to make audiences laugh themselves silly.” ~ Journal News

Heisenberg by Simon Stephens
August 29 – September 28, 2019
Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train station, Georgie spots Alex, a much older man, and plants a kiss on the back of his neck. This electric encounter thrusts these two strangers into a fascinating and life-changing game. Heisenberg brings to blazing, theatrical life the uncertain and often comical sparring match that is human connection.
“On its surface, a satisfyingly life-affirming mating dance between two people who are so utterly dissimilar that of course they are made for each other. But if you choose to tune into the quieter frequencies… a probing work that considers the multiplicity of alternatives that could shape our lives at every moment.” ~ NY Times

Accomplice by Rupert Holmes
October 10 – November 16, 2019
Winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s coveted “Edgar” award (the “Oscar” of crime and suspense) The New York Times called Accomplice “a deliciously witty cocktail of a whodunit with a maniacally seamless plot where skullduggery emerges the winner!” This theatrical roller coaster will trigger screams of laughter even as audiences vow to keep its secrets hush-hush. “The best fooler since Sleuth and twice as clever!” said the L.A.Times, while L.A. Theatre & Entertainment Review proclaimed it “the comedy thriller of all comedy thrillers!”

Tilly the Trickster by Molly Shannon
November 29 – December 29, 2019
Molly Shannon has created numerous unforgettable characters on Saturday Night Live and in movies such as Superstar and Never Been Kissed and now introduces young readers to her latest hilarious creation, the musical Tilly the Trickster. Tilly is a mischievous girl who loves nothing more than causing a little trouble. From leaking cups to toothpaste-flavored cookies, Tilly has a trick for everyone: her mom, dad, brother, classmates, and even her teacher. But when the tables are turned and her family does some scheming of its own, will Tilly decide to change her trickster ways?

The Norwegians by C. Denby Swanson
January 9 – February 15, 2020
A “killer” dark comedy about two scorned women and the very nice gangsters they hire to whack their ex-boyfriends. Fast-paced funny dialogue combines the spirit of Fargo with Saturday Night Live in this unexpected, entertaining, quirky comedy.
“C. Denby Swanson’s extremely odd and delightful comedy, is something of a guilty pleasure.” – The New York Times

Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley
February 20 – March 28, 2020
When a young couple is offered an ideal house by a mysterious stranger, it prompts the question: How far would any of us go to get our dream home? A fast-paced, pitch-black comedy, Radiant Vermin is a provocative satire about consumerism, gentrification, and inequality.
“A blithely told fable for the age of unaffordable housing. Like a Brothers Grimm story, it is executed with its own consistent fantasy logic, deployed to remind us of the dangers of getting what we wish for…it makes for nasty and energetic fun…” – The New York Times

Ripcord by David Lindsay-Abaire
April 2 – May 9, 2020
David Lindsay-Abaire’s ripping Ripcord is a deeply satisfying and entertaining story of two women thrown together by a comic cosmic force possessed of a wicked sense of humor. A sunny room on an upper floor is prime real estate in the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, so when the cantankerous Abby is forced to share her quarters with new-arrival Marilyn, she has no choice but to get rid of the infuriatingly chipper woman by any means necessary.
“…sweet-and-sour Ripcord is great fun…larded with moments of surprise, both wacky and more substantial. When the play gets serious, it’s genuinely moving.” ~ Time Out NY
“A show to treasure.” ~ Deadline.com 

The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter
May 14 – June 13, 2020
When Della, a North Carolina baker, is asked to bake a wedding cake for her best friend’s daughter, she is overjoyed. But that joy is short-lived when she learns that the intended is another bride, and realizes she is faced with an agonizing choice between faith and family. Struggling to reconcile her deeply-held belief in “traditional marriage” and the love she has for the young woman she helped raise, Della finds herself in strange new territory.
“Brilliant… Powerful and meaningful… great writing… abundant wit and humor” ~ LA Post-Examiner

A Fun, if Somewhat Tired, Sitcom Feel in Things Being What They Are

by Lena Quach

Live Theater Workshop’s production of Things Being What They Are, written by Wendy MacLeod, gives you the feeling that you are drop dead in the middle of an early 2000’s sitcom. Bill (Steve Wood) is a marketing executive who is intelligent, tasteful, and a little sensitive who has just moved in down the hall from Jack (Stephen Frankenfield), a beer drinking and self-proclaimed jackass. Jack spews every type of emotional baggage on Bill’s doorstep including his ex-wife and her new relationship, cancer, and a dark secret. Bill has his own emotional baggage as well, namely his deteriorating relationship with his actress wife. Over time the unlikely duo bond over the fear of death, loneliness, and failure. 

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Steve Wood as Bill and Stephen Frankenfield as Jack. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The direction by Samantha Cormier and acting by Wood and Frankenfield were the highlight of this production. Wood was believable and charming as the “utterly lame” Bill. Wood’s portrayal of the anxiously loyal Bill created a true sense of denial. He really loves his two-timing wife and you know right off the bat that Bill really wants her to come back from her “acting job”. Frankenfield’s portrayal of the middle aged New Yorker Jack was insensitive but extremely human. Even though I despised what came out of his mouth for the majority of the show, I still felt for his character and genuinely wanted a positive outcome for Jack and his family. I was impressed and moved by both performances by the comic-like actors. 

The sound design by Brian McElroy left me feeling nostalgic from the moment I walked into the space and the scenic set design by Jason Jamerson and lighting design by Richard Gremel created the sense that we were actually a live studio audience and in a small way part of the action. I don’t know if this was the designers’ intent but added a wonderful layer to the dark comedy. 

This play is essentially a study of middle aged manliness and the emotions and feelings men try to hide behind a macho facade. The writing by Wendy MacLeod is fairly sophisticated, with wry observations and subtle literary references.The characters mention feeling like Didi and Gogo from Waiting For Godot at one point, which is actually quite witty considering the crass manner of the show. Unfortunately, MacLeod went a little too far to make her characters vulnerable and relatable at times which made the play lose dramatic impact towards the end of the second act. 

Despite the positive and entertaining aspects of the show, I was mostly disappointed or maybe confused by the way the women, who you never see in the show, are written. They are flat stereotypes; emotionally distracted women who are unable to make up their minds about anything. They are blamed as the main reason for Bill’s and Jack’s lives being ruined or wasted. They bond over their shared “misfortunes” when really they aren’t taking responsibility for their own actions and lives. This aspect alone made me feel a bit uncomfortable at times.  

I’d like to say that the writing was also a bit dated in the sense that it jokes are inappropriate, especially those about people who are overweight. The “humor” paints them to be an inferior human or simply an object of a bad joke. In 2019, I have to ask if this type of humor, especially when it isn’t called out or used as a more than bad comedy is still worth having on our stages. This leaves me questioning if a comedy about two white males in the early 2000’s was an appropriate choice for the present.

Live Theater Workshops production of Things Being What They Are will get you thinking about your own relationships, friendships, and maybe even your own mortality with some chuckles and laughs along the way. This funny sitcom-like production runs until July 20th with shows Friday-Sunday. Tickets available for purchase at http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org.   

Make Time to Laugh with Family Theatre

Editor’s Note: This is the forth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Talking the serious business of making time to be silly, plus bringing live theatre to Tucson’s children with Live Theatre Workshop Family Theatre artistic director Amanda Gremel.

by Leigh Moyer

Live Theatre WorkshopIn the theatre business, you hear a lot about doing it for the love of art or as a passion project. For Amanda Gremel, the Live Theatre Workshop Family Theatre  is certainly a passion project, but isn’t just a love for the craft; rather, it’s a calling and an obligation to future generations that she is only too happy to fulfill. Gremel’s life is steeped in Live Theatre Workshop. As a teen, she discovered her love of acting in their educational programs. As an adult, she pays it forward as a teacher in the same educational programs where she got her start, acts regularly, and is the artistic director for the Family Theatre.

While theatre for all ages is often shorter and lighter than productions rated for adults, it is no less important. “So many times, adults underestimate the power of kids to show us the way,” Gremel explained. “Sometimes we have to stop and take a moment and look at it through their eyes to be reminded that we can problem solve our way, can feel what we do, and it’s okay. Adults get wrapped up in our lives and forget that it’s okay to take that time to laugh.”

“I come to the family shows and I can’t tell you how funny they are.” Deborah Daun, the theatre’s marketing and public relations representative chimed in. “Not only are these shows really hilarious and the playwrights, mostly local playwrights, are really good, but there is incredible quality represented in these shows.”

Beyond being entertaining, the Family Theatre reminds children that they can face big problems, even monstrous ones like in the season opener Tabitha Turnpike Has a MONSTERous Problem, and with trust, determination, and, often, imagination, they can solve those problems. It might seem like a simple lesson, but it is one worth learning at every age, especially when you feel small in the face of problems that seem too large to tackle.

Overcoming life’s challenges with humor isn’t the only important work the Family Theatre productions do. Gremel works hard to expand not only what wonderful worlds children can imagine on stage, but who portrays the characters on stage.

Leda Robinson as RAPunzel and Evander Alan Gains as the Prince. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Leda Robinson as RAPunzel and Evander Alan Gains as the Prince. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

“One of my favorite shows, and audiences loved it, too, was RAPunzel. I loved the script, loved the songs, being able to tour it in schools was great, and the diversity we had was great. We had an African-American Rapunzel and we don’t get to see that very often, right? For young people, and particularly the students in the Title 1 schools we tour in, to be able to see someone that looks like them on stage, in the lead role and singing their hearts out — that is what we are doing this for,” Gremel said of a 2018-2019 hip-hop musical adaptation of the fairytale Rapunzel. “In our world right now, it is so important to showcase that it is okay to be you, regardless of what you look like or who you identify as. The more I can bend the outdated norms, the more I want to. I want these kids to be like, oh, I am going to be this because there shouldn’t be boundaries. It is our job to show that story.”

“Part of the Live Theatre Workshop mission, and we’re very community oriented, is to create the next generation of theatre people,” Daun added. “We have shows for youth, but also education programs both in and out of school. It is a very organic way that LTW cultivates young people. We’re working with teachers and working with young people to come and audition, to be the next generation of actors and audiences.”

To do that, Live Theatre Workshop provides a number of educational opportunities from summer camps to acting classes. One of the programs that Gremel enjoys most is taking two shows from the season, one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester, and touring them in schools. The tours bring shows to children who might not otherwise have access to live theatre.

It isn’t easy to make all this happen. Running two seasons concurrently (Live Theatre Workshop also hosts a full mainstage season as well) isn’t always a fairytale come true. Productions, not to mention classes and other programs, share the same space. That can add up to some logistical challenges. “We have to get very creative in our Family Theatre shows. We only have one stage. Our shows are running at the same time. Our pieces and back drops need to be able to be hung in front of and hide the mainstage show, and often overlap multiple mainstage shows. We have to adjust to accommodate them to make one show work on a new set– in the middle of the run. So we come in early to make it work,” Gremel said. “Tucson has such great talent and passion. There is such passion that the young kids of Tucson are getting the same quality as in the mainstage shows.”

With the new season starting this Sunday, June 30th, who should be getting tickets for Live Theatre Workshop Family shows? Performances are open to everyone. “Audiences range from kids as small as breastfeeding babies, as young as six months old to people in their eighties or nineties,” Gremel answered, “Mainstage season ticket holders enjoy our Family Theatre shows, with or without children, right alongside enchanted kids.” The whole season is online and outlined below. You can become a season ticket holder now and ensure that you and your kids (or your inner child) get five Sundays of theatre.

And which show should you definitely see? Gremel laughed, “I hate to cop out but you are going to get and feel something different from each show. One might make you laugh and let you be silly with the actors on stage, one might let you feel something you forgot how to feel, especially as an adult. One might bring back memories. One might tell an old story in a completely new way, like this season’s adaptation of Pinocchio, done in the commedia dell’arte style using shadow puppets and mask work. They are all so different.”

2019-20 FAMILY SERIES Season

Live Theatre Workshop Family’s 2019-2020 Season:

Tabitha Turnpike Has a MONSTERous Problem
An original musical story by Richard Gremel and music by David Ragland
June 30 – August 11, 2019 (no show July 21), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
Tabitha Turnpike is a little girl with a big imagination. But when her imagination gets her in trouble with her mom and dad, they insist that she quit being creative and grow up. Only problem is, Tabitha discovers a monster living under her bed and she can’t tell her mom and dad about it, because they will think she’s using her imagination again. Her monster has problems of his own. So the two team up and travel to Underthebedland to use their creativity and prove that all of us, monsters and humans, are great despite of our differences.

Pinocchio: The Legend of the Wooden Boy
An original musical adaptation by Tyler West and music by Michael Martinez
September 8 – October 20, 2019 (no show September 29), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
This is a new adaptation based on the beloved characters from Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio: The Adventures of a Marionette.” Watch as three players set up their stage and tell the legend of the wooden puppet who came to life. With the help of masks, costumes, and shadow puppetry they will portray over a dozen of characters; like Geppetto, Pinocchio, The Cricket, The Fox, The Cat, The Blue Fairy, and many more!

Molly Shannon’s Tilly the Trickster
Adapted by Jeremy Dobrish, music and lyrics by Drew Fornarola, orchestrations by David Abbinanti
November 29 – December 28, 2019
Friday and Saturday nights at 7 PM, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3 PM
Tilly is a mischievous girl who loves nothing more than causing a little trouble. From leaking cups to toothpaste-flavored cookies, Tilly has a trick for everyone: her mom, dad, brother, classmates, and even her teacher. But when the tables are turned and her family does some scheming of its own, will Tilly decide to change her trickster ways? Molly Shannon has created numerous unforgettable characters on Saturday Night Live and in movies such as SUPERSTAR and NEVER BEEN KISSED and now introduces young readers to her latest hilarious creation, TILLY THE TRICKSTER, the musical! Fun for all ages, this is a show you and your family won’t want to miss. Starring Samantha Cormier as Tilly!

Mona Lisa on the Loose
An original musical story by Gretchen Wirges with music by David Ragland
January 26 – March 8, 2020 (no show February 16), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
The Mona Lisa has hung on the walls of an art museum for over 100 years. But what visitors don’t know is that when the lights go out, the paintings come to life! On this day, she overhears the museum officials saying she is no longer drawing people in, and make plans to move her somewhere else. Come join us for a secret view into the mysterious life of the Mona Lisa and other paintings after hours as she plots a way to save her spot on the walls of the Louvre!

The Old Ball Game
An original musical story by Kristian Kissel with music by Michael Martinez
April 19 – May 31, 2020 (no show May 10), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
Forrest Foster LOVES baseball. He comes by it honestly – his Dad played, his Grandfather played, his Great-Grandfather played, his… well, you get the idea. The only problem is that Forrest can’t seem to get into the game yet. But when his little league team’s star player gets injured, his coach just might have to look to the end of the bench and give Forrest his chance. He’s spent countless hours studying the game, its history, its players, and his own opponents. Now he’ll need to take everything he’s learned and put it to use to try to lift his team to victory – all for the love of the old ball game!

Casually Dysfunctional

by Marguerite Saxton

In the recent Live Theater Workshop production of Appropriate, written by Branden Jacob-Jenkins, the audience is presented with a plethora of things to tackle. There is the colossal theme of racism accompanied by the more convoluted concepts of tradition and legacy, which all have much to do with learned behaviors. A family’s shared history weaves together to create patchwork narratives that often lean towards certain bias and while viewing Appropriate, we peek into a particular family’s prejudice. We witness the repeated cycles of pain, defensiveness, and rivalry.

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Rhonda Hallquist as Toni, Keith Wick as Bo, and Cliff Madison as Frank. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Originally premiering in 2013, this play is confrontational even for our explicit era. It highlights the way a family romanticizes the structure of someone once they’ve passed on; how we forget their obstinate qualities and block out idiosyncrasies; how we don’t view someone as racist if we’re cut from the same cloth. This is distinctly performed by the oldest sibling, Toni (Rhonda Hallquist), who vacillates between rage and resentment. Each of her cathartic episodes seem to embolden a further slide into dysfunction. And while it feels that Toni’s grief dominates the play there are two other essential points to note:

  1.      The entire play takes place in an old plantation house.
  2.      The playwright is African American.

Why important? Well, the word plantation is a trigger for many American citizens. As it should be. The historically white-owned, black slave-operated plantation has served as a poignant allegory in dissecting the complexities of race relations in this country. It is an appropriately loaded metaphor that warrants sensitive treatment. Thus, the significance of it as a setting and Jacob-Jenkins being African American cannot be overstated. If he weren’t, many scenes would feel intolerable. I felt particularly uneasy during some key moments, such as when the entirely white audience laughed at the all white cast when they were Googling how much photos of dead black people go for on the Internet. Didn’t seem right…and that’s the point, I think? Through this discomfort, Jacob-Jenkins successfully reminds us that there are certain concepts that need to be represented by certain people.

The playwright unfolds the forced reunion of the Lafayette family, whose shifting unification over what to do with their late father’s derelict property highlights the tense bonds keeping them tethered to one another. Frank (Cliff Madison), is the youngest sibling who serves as the crux for the entire family’s disappointment. After a 10 year absence, he and his fiancée, River (Emily Gates), arrive in the night, crawling through the living room window amongst the resonant chorus of cicadas. Their entrance disrupts everyone, setting the tone for the remaining two hours: someone will always be disrupted.

Emily Gates as River and Cliff Madison as Frank. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Emily Gates as River and Cliff Madison as Frank. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

As is often the case in Naturalism, the characters of Appropriate are victims of their own circumstance. Often, characters in this genre seem outlandishly honest, as is the case here. The family is portrayed in such exaggerated forms that they become caricatures. Toni seems to exude such violent martyrdom that one wonders if she has any other personality traits. Her anguish is intriguing, even funny at first, but becomes predictable. To this point, some monologues stretch on like therapy sessions in which the characters explain everything ad nauseam, giving the whole thing an absurd undertone. 

Conversely, well-placed curse words and overlapping speech create an oddly pleasing discordance. Two characters in particular are well developed: Bo (Keith Wick) and his daughter Cassidy (Ella James). Wick portrays Bo with sharp wit, an arrogant big city guy with layers unlike his kinfolk. James performs Cassidy as curious but bored of the world in a pre-teen way. She is probably the most dimensional character of the play.

The content is provocative and the diatribe entertaining, but something is amiss. It feels like the play never ends; drags where it could end with a punch (maybe even literally). The last scene finally translates some bizarre and spooky design elements that, had they been present earlier, would have cultivated the performance as a whole. Perhaps this ineffable discomfort is intentional though, as this play is an exploration in agitation. Whether alluding to lynchings, showcasing white-hooded children, or a WWE-style family feud, it essentially boils down to this: birth families can be crummy. While reconciling their realities in the wake of their father’s death this family inadvertently shows us how to be, or not to be, appropriate.

Appropriate runs until June 15th at Live Theater Workshop, located at 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets can be purchased by calling (520) 327-4742 or visiting lifetheatreworkshop.org.

 

Send in the Clowns

by Jess Herrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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