Accomplice Accomplishes Mystery… with a Twist

by Gretchen Wirges

Nothing delights me more than to see a play with a wonderfully surprising plot twist. Two plot twists and I’m clutching my pearls. More than that, as was the case with Accomplice playing now at Live Theater Workshop, and I’m leaning forward on the edge of my seat, greedily along for the glorious ride. 

Accomplice, written by Rupert Holmes, is a whodunnit shell game that switches intended victims and motivated murderers at every turn.  Just when you think you know who is doing what to whom, the tables turn and a new scenario and context are introduced. The story begins in a cabin in the moors of England at the cabin of the affluent Derek and Janet Taylor. With the scent of adultery and murder seeping through the witty dialogue,  we will soon learn that all is never as it seems in this unexpected cat and mouse play of misdirection and underhandedness. Who is the predator and who is the prey…and who is the REAL title character of Accomplice

Keith Wick in ACCOMPLICE at Live Theatre Workshop

The cast handles the switches in context, character, and intention with deftness and incredible timing. While there are moments of darkness, the humor shines through in both delivery and physicality in each of the actors of this four-person mystery. 

It’s difficult to write this review, because many of the things I want to say about the incredible cast would give away so many of the twists and turns the play takes. I could go on and on about each of the actors ability to use their faces, voices and bodies to take us from drawing room farce to…well…I can’t tell you. But when you get there, you won’t be disappointed. 

But, what I CAN say is that Emily Gates (Melinda) is effervescent and a joy to watch, Stephen Frankenfield’s (Derek) quick-talking and physical comedy is on point, Jodi Ajanovic (Janet) is breathtaking in her ability to tell a story with a simple facial expression, and Keith Wick is so perfectly exactly who he needs to be at every turn of the plot. 

The set is beautiful, the lights (designed by Richard Gremel),  sound (designed by Brian McElroy) and the direction, by Rhonda Hallquist, is spot on. Because the story is constantly shifting, Hallquist had quite a challenge in finding a way to keep the audience interested and engaged as they fell deeper and deeper into the pit of this story. The physical choices made by the actors spoke to an experienced hand at the wheel. Essentially handed 4 incredibly mixed-up Rubik’s Cubes in story form, Hallquist presents the solved puzzles perfectly on a silver platter by the end of the play. 

Though it starts farcical, as the lights black out on act one, we have no idea that we will end with a twist that is so spot-on with what’s happening today. Without giving anything away, even the more cliched parts of the journey are punctuated with fantastic indictments of the male-dominated business world, and misogynistic views of women’s roles in and out of the bedroom. 

Go see this play. Take a friend. Go out for coffee afterwards, and unravel everything you loved about the experience of this play. Because you absolutely will love it. And then please, for love of all things theater and goodness, call me so I can join you and say all of the things I’ve been dying to tell you! 

Accomplice is playing at Live Theater Workshop through November 16th. You can purchase tickets via their website at livetheaterworkshop.org, or make a reservation by calling 520-327-4242. 

Grins, Giggles, and Guffaws for All

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Pinocchio is a fairy tale that children and adults are all very familiar with, so what could be new? Tyler West’s adaptation at Live Theatre Workshop is not only novel, but highly entertaining for all ages. From the very beginning when we are asked, albeit non verbally, to silence our phones, and mind the exits, the audience is drawn into the world of make believe. Under the direction of Angela Horchem, who is also the mask and puppet designer, we are enchanted for an hour that goes by all too quickly.

Hannah Turner as Pinocchio and Lorie Heald as Geppetto. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Hannah Turner as Pinocchio and Lorie Heald as Geppetto. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The masks and puppetry are the highlights of the show. Each one is individually crafted to highlight the person or animal that it embodies.   The puppeteers were visible throughout the production, but this did not distract from their efficacy. The cricket was especially convincing due to the many ways it was able to move, and the apt handling by Lorie Heald, Naima Boushaki, and Kyleigh Sacco. Each handler was able to convey the cricket’s persona in both a lively and entertaining manner. The sounds the cricket made while sleeping had the audience in stitches.

The physical acting used throughout the show comes in as a close second favorite part of this show. Lorie Heald’s background in mime was evident as she portrayed Geppetto, as well as several other characters. Boushaki, Sacco, and Turner all used their bodies skillfully as well, to reveal not only the actions but feelings behind whoever they were embodying. Each character had very specific movements to solidify their individual personalities. The charisma that the actors used was endearing to the entire audience. Director Horchem was successful in relaying the central theme of Pinocchio, “everyone is unique”.

This show uses an entirely female cast to portray all the characters. The director is female as well. Although Geppetto is referred to as male, and Pinocchio as a boy, the use of the clever masks and gender-neutral costumes really don’t make this an issue. It is refreshing to see that gender does not need to be used when casting is done in a play. What matters is the efficacy of the actors breathing life into the roles.

Michael Marinez composed the score, and the catchy tunes added to the light-hearted atmosphere of the show. The lyrics reinforced the themes of honesty, kindness, family, and friendship that this fairy tale uses to teach these universal values.

The set and costumes were minimal but very effective. Fur coats for the cat and fox were a delightful bit of fashion flair. The use of shadow to portray some of the scenes was convincing and added to the humor. A large trunk that was carried on to the set helped to set the stage for a time period in the past.

I don’t know who enjoyed the show more. The children in attendance were enthralled and often squealed with delight. Adults were equally entertained. This performance really is one for children of all ages. 

Pinocchio plays at Live Theater Workshop on Sundays at 12:30 PM through October 20th. Ticket prices are $7 for children and $10 for adults. Tickets are available on the website livetheatreworkshop.org and also by calling the box office at 327-4242. The box office is open Tuesday through Saturday 1:00 – 5:00 PM, and one hour before showtimes.

Love, Lies, and Layers of Vulnerability

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

So, it is September; often a time for the end of a summer romance for many. Live Theatre Workshop’s production of Heisenberg, by English playwright Simon Stephens, doesn’t address that theme, but another seasonal one of a May-December coupling. This phrase refers to a woman in the early part of her life, hence May, with a man at least 11 years older in the later part of his life, hence December. Although this is not a new topic, Sabian Trout’s direction, the playwright, and the actors all do a convincing job to present this in a novel way. A woman meets a stranger and gives him a kiss on the back of the neck, and the dance of courtship begins as the play opens.

Roberto Guajardo as Alex and Dallas Tomas as Georgie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Roberto Guajardo as Alex and Dallas Tomas as Georgie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Not often are we privy to those private moments between a couple as they navigate the waters of the early stages of a romance. Yes, we may see them at a party holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other, but we don’t see what happens between the two of them when they are alone. This is what is revealed in Heisenberg. As incongruous as this couple is with a 33-year age difference, Trout did an excellent job casting. Alex, played by Roberto Guajardo, is a 75-year-old Irish butcher who is a lifelong bachelor. Georgie, played by Dallas Tomas, is a gamine, 42-year-old, manic American receptionist. The scene is London today. The set is stark, and the scene changes are done by the actors themselves. Costuming is minimal and yet makes the characters so believable.
With the sparseness of the set, the costumes, and the lack of other characters, we are meant to focus on the couple. Alex appears closed and in no uncertain terms tells us he has no use whatsoever for feelings. He is adamant about that. Guajardo is a masterful actor as he reveals to us very slowly and subtly the many layers of Alex’s being. From the stereotypical curmudgeon we meet at the start of the play, he changes to a man who eventually is able to show his vulnerability to Georgie, and also to us. Georgie’s energy is so manic we want to get her to slow down. Gradually, she starts to relax and reveal her true self to us. I loved watching the physicality Tomas embraced as Georgie. It reinforced her childlike innocence as well as capitalizing on her sexuality. Make no mistake, Alex was taken by this, but he also responds to her the more she reveals her authentic self. Without distractions, we are able to focus on just two people discovering who the other is, and gradually, inconceivably, falling for each other. As unimaginable as they appear as a couple at the beginning of the show, as they grow and reveal themselves to each other, and to us, we can see why they are together.
This is where the title Heisenberg comes in. It is never referenced in the play. It alludes to German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who introduced his uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics in 1927. It states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. The Heisenberg reference is seen in the apparent disparity of the couple and their seemingly very different outlooks on the world. As we are introduced to the most unlikely pair and see who they are, we are not quite sure how this romance will turn out.
Yes, this is a story that has been told many times. However, it is still a story worth telling as it deals with a most primal need for all of us. That is the need for love and acceptance wherever we are fortunate enough to find it. As a 70-something woman and actor, I would love to see a show with the age differences reversed with the older character being a woman. Of course, I would love to play the lead character! Again, not a stereotypical boy toy or gold digger as the younger male, but with a genuine human connection between seemingly very different characters. All too often when there is an age difference between a couple, erroneous assumptions are made as to the ulterior motives of, usually, the younger member of the duo. The possibility of a genuine connection between this pairing is rarely seen, but this stereotype is not evident at all in Heisenberg. I loved the show and the reimagining of an oft-told tale. Although the author was male, with a strong female character in Georgie and a female director, I did not feel that this was a male-centric work. The theme that love is love is universal and is one that today still needs to be portrayed.
Heisenberg is playing at Live Theatre Workshop through September 28, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 3:00 PM. The phone number is 520 327-4242. Box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1:00 – 5:00 PM. The box office is open on Thursday through Saturday at 6:30 PM. and Sunday at 2:15 PM. Ticket prices are $18-$20 and are also available through the website livetheatreworkshop.org.

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. 

things1a

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.