The Little Foxes Strikes a Chord

by Bryn Booth

The rich don’t have to be subtle in Winding Road Theater’s splendid production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. The rich seek to consume the wealth of others while they hoard their own, and during this very polarizing time in America, this story seems more relevant than ever. 

The Little Foxes is set in a small town in Alabama in the early 1900s and circles around the very wealthy Hubbard family. While customs were changing, the vast majority of men in the early 20th century acknowledged only their sons as potential heirs; women such as Regina Hubbard Giddens, played by Cynthia Jeffery, had to seek their fortunes through less straightforward means. Regina desires wealth and power beyond what her husband Horace can give her.  With her two avaricious brothers, she seeks to undermine her husband’s authority and gain his wealth through any means possible. At times the energy seemed to dissipate in this production and the story moved along slowly, but it quickly picked up speed as we dig further into the scandals of the Hubbard family.

Director Glen Coffman clearly wants to immerse us into the world of the aristocratic south, and therefore the ambiance is especially significant. This was accomplished by a minimal yet impressive set with a large, painted staircase and a brightly shining chandelier. The furniture, green velvet adorned with yellow fringe, is cleverly reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s infamous gown made of drapes. The effect is instant. Everything is beautiful and delicate, but insidious deeds brew underneath the façade.

Cynthia Jeffery as Regina Hubbard Giddens. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Cynthia Jeffery as Regina Hubbard Giddens. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Coffman also assembled a talented cast who brought this world to life. Upon Regina Giddens’s first appearance in a lavish purple gown, it is immediately evident that she rules the household.  Purple is traditionally the color of royalty, so I tip my hat to the costumer, Marie Caprile, for making this distinction. Jeffery’s powerful presence as Regina demands the stage as well as respect from her conspiratorial brothers Oscar and Benjamin, played perfectly and mischievously by Dave Davidson and David Alexander Johnston. The two brothers, after failing to convince Regina’s husband Horace, played by a formidable Eric Rau, to invest in the construction of a cotton mill, then offer the idea of an arranged marriage between Oscar’s simple and spoiled son Leo, played by Damian Garcia, and Regina’s bright-eyed daughter Alexandra played by Morgan H. Smith. Garcia’s portrayal of Leo had an amusing “hyuck hyuck” quality and provided the show with much needed comedic relief. Smith gave a moving performance as Alexandra, transforming from naïve young girl to a dignified, intelligent woman. The household servant, Addie, portrayed by Gianbari “Debora” Deebom, proves to be more of a mother figure to Alexandra than Regina ever could be. Deebom’s performance was essential to the production as she maintained the moral authority in the Hubbard household.

I applaud Coffman’s direction because this production struck a chord with me. In the news lately, it seems we learn of more and more financial scandals and how the super-rich have used the lower class to prop themselves up while also hoarding their wealth. Regina, Oscar, and Benjamin were obvious representations of the callous attitudes held by the wealthy. When Horace is hit with a heart attack, Regina simply watches him suffer. It seemed rather poignant for a wealthy person to watch others suffer in order to serve their own agenda. Alexandra, on the other hand, represents a new generation who feels outraged and helpless in the face of such corruption. Her Uncle Benjamin defends this corruption with a sinister line “some people call that patriotism.”

Gianbari “Debora” Deebom as Addie. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Gianbari “Debora” Deebom as Addie. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

It is encouraging to see a company celebrate the work of a female playwright, especially one as fierce as Lillian Hellman, who was known for her activist views. She seems to be calling audiences to action through this play. “[T]here are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it,” Addie, the black servant, states, “…Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.” Hellman is commenting on the complacency of the masses towards the corruption and the power of the wealthy. They get to be corrupt, they get to be criminals, and we are made to feel powerless. Hellman is trying to reignite the fire of anger and indignation in the hearts of the common people. I highly recommend this powerful production and I am excited to see what else Winding Road will create this year.

The Little Foxes is playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday through September 15th at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at The Historic Y (738 N. 5th Avenue, Tucson, AZ, 85705). Tickets are available at windingroadtheater.org. You can also contact the box office by emailing windingroadte@gmail.com or by calling (520) 401-3626. There are discounted tickets available for students, military, and senior citizens.

Logistical Challenges, Creative Surprises, and the Human Condition

Editor’s Note: This is the third 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.

Exploring the human condition with Winding Road Theater Ensemble’s co-artistic director Maria Caprile.

by Leigh Moyer
Winding Road Logo

Winding Road Theater Ensemble aims to produce plays that are entertaining but outside of the box, and always speak to the human condition. The way co-artistic director of Winding Road Maria Caprile says “the human condition”, it sounds like an illness. Not one we need to get over, but one that we all share, and one that we can manage better by experiencing it together. This season at Winding Road explores life’s harder decisions, funny moments, challenges, morals, coping with loss, family dinners, and simply surviving.

This season is comprised of three mainstage productions plus the return of Eight 10s in Tucson, Winding Road’s short play festival, and three Winding Reads staged readings.

Caprile, along with co-artistic director Glen Coffman, doesn’t have a list of possible plays they want to produce in a particular season, but they do have stacks (and stacks) of plays waiting for the right time or the right cast. Sometimes everything falls perfectly into place, like with The Little Foxes. The first show of the season, opening Labor Day weekend in the Scoundrel & Scamp theater, it was too exciting an opportunity to pass up. Getting the rights to a Tony award-winning play, the chance for Coffman to direct a play he’s wanted to direct for a long time, and having the space to fully stage the production was more than reason enough to add it as the season opener. In addition to artistic direction, directing, and acting, Caprile is an extremely talented costume designer. “I’m doing the period costuming, which is always a fun challenge,” she added with excitement.

Like The Little Foxes, often they choose shows they’ve wanted to do for a while, but just as often, they’ll see something new and want to do it immediately, or think a play needs a revival in Tucson. Some of these plays get into this season, some next, some never. In her second season as co-artistic director, Caprile has gotten to know Winding Road, and, as a result, which scripts are in the spirit of Winding Road and which plays, even good plays, don’t fit the theater’s personality.

The Fantasticks

Kelly Coates, Tony Caprile, Elena Lucia Quach, Jerry James and Damian Garcia in The Fantasticks. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

“I like those plays where the audience can look over your shoulder and into the play,” Caprile explained. “I like to blur those lines between play and audience.”
They also choose plays that not only are suitable for their ensemble cast, but that help them grow or give them opportunities they might not easily find elsewhere. Caprile explained that they have an obligation to the ensemble, as well as to talented people with whom Winding Road wants to work, so they look at a script and ask, “Do we have something for this actor or a directing opportunity for someone interested in getting into that?”. They are a community working together to bring interesting and thought-provoking theatre to Tucson and to encourage and teach newer talent skills that will help them succeed down their own winding road.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Eight 10s in Tucson. Modeled off Santa Cruz Actors’ Theater’s 8 Tens festival, Eight 10s in Tucson gives playwrights and aspiring playwrights the chance to have their story cast, directed, and brought to life on stage. It is also the chance for actors to try new roles and untested directors to wet their feet. After a huge response last year, this year, Winding Road is only accepting scripts during the month of August 2019, and only until they reach 300 total. From there, a team of volunteer readers and the artistic team at Winding Road pare down the applicants to the best and most Winding-Road-esque scripts until they’ve chosen the eight best short pieces of never-before-seen theatre to present to Tucson audiences.

Eight 10s

Morgan Smith and Maggie Geertsen in Eight 10s in Tucson. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

And if producing eighty minutes of brand-new theatre in ten minute snapshots isn’t logistically challenging enough, this season Winding Road is all over the map. Not so much in theme — Caprile described this season as well-rounded, perhaps with an emphasis on family if you were looking for a particular connective thread — but literally. They don’t have a home stage, giving them the opportunity to put on shows not just downtown, but all over Tucson, and not just on traditional stages. “Angels Fall is a play about disparate people who all end up in a little chapel so we’re doing it in a little chapel,” Caprile explained, sounding equal parts thrilled and daunted by the challenge. “We have the chapel, but a chapel is not a theatre, so we’ll just have to figure out how to do it. It’s exciting. Those creative surprises are part of the joy of theatre. And you make it work.”

This isn’t the only production staged to challenge the director. Caprile is directing The Big Meal. Without giving too much away, this is the story of how a couple meet, simply enough, at a restaurant. It is told, however, by an ensemble of actors playing the five generations of one family it takes to tell their story. Caprile is keeping all the actors on stage. In the round. There might be a bit of madness in artistic genius.

If she had to choose one show that audiences not miss, it isn’t the trip to the chapel or the family dinner the actors aren’t excused from (not to say those aren’t well worth seeing, obviously); rather, the one she felt we all need to see is a staged reading of The Women of Lockerbie as part of the Winding Read series. Shown in the style of a Greek tragedy, this play revisits the explosion of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. “That was so long ago and so much has happened, is this going to resonate?” Caprile said, wondering if it would be a good fit for modern audiences. “But it isn’t about the incident. It is about grief. And how this keeps happening. And how we deal with it. You can’t just ignore it. It isn’t about PanAm 103, it’s about public grief.”

In this day and age, and maybe in every age, grief is one part of the human condition that we need each other more than any other to understand, process, and, with time, overcome.

Tickets are available at WindingRoadTheater.org, $28.00 for mainstage productions (discounts may apply) and $15.00 for Winding Reads. Or you can purchase one of four season combination packages ranging from $35.00 to $125.00. Winding Road’s Box Office can be reached via email at windingroadte@gmail.com or by calling (520) 401-3626. The whole season is listed online and below.

Winding Road Theater’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
August 29 – September 15, 2019
An American classic first staged at the National Theatre in New York. Directed by the Ensemble’s Co-Artistic Director Glen Coffman, this morality drama about corruption and greed within a wealthy, early 20th century Southern family has been revived more than half a dozen times on Broadway since its premiere in 1939.

The Big Meal by Dan LeFranc
December 5 – December 22, 2019
A hilarious, expansive tale that traverses five generations of an ordinary modern family in 90 minutes. Written by Dan LeFranc, The Big Meal won the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award and received a 2012 Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Play. This production is directed by Co-Artistic Director Maria Caprile.

Angels Fall by Lanford Wilson
February 13 – March 1, 2020
Set in a remote part of New Mexico, six people find themselves in a small mission church, brought together by the closing of a highway due to a possible accident at a nearby nuclear facility. Brightly humorous and deeply affecting, Angels Fall becomes a parable of vocation and survival which, in exploring the lives of its characters, illuminates the human condition. This production is directed by Molly Lyons.

Eight 10s in Tucson
April 16 – April 26, 2020
Winding Road presents the second annual Eight 10s in Tucson 10-minute play festival. Eight scripts, submitted by playwrights from around the country, selected and combined to make for a unique evening of entertainment – full of comedy, drama and everything in between. “…it’s a reminder of the prodigious playwriting talent out there, the accomplished actors and directors we have here, and it exposes Tucsonans to new and exciting works.” (Kathy Allen, Arizona Daily Star)

Winding Reads:

The Wrong People Have Money by Reed McColm
Popular York University professor Martin Delancey is challenged by a wealthy consortium of investors to conduct a serious study into the feasibility of an “impossible” endeavor. The funniest play ever written about moving Greenland South.

Christmas Break by Monica Bauer
When daughter Lilly comes home from college with newfound passion, the McNally family has a big decision to make: invest in Lilly’s scheme to end world hunger or pay for life saving treatment for the family pet. Add a teenaged son and a retired monk and you’ve got all the ingredients needed for a Christmas to remember.

The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort
A grieving mother from New Jersey roams the hills of Lockerbie, Scotland, looking for her son, lost in the crash of Pan Am 103. Loosely inspired by a true story and written in the structure of a Greek tragedy, it is a poetic drama about the triumph of love over hate.

This Year’s Eight 10s Festival Leaves Us Looking Forward to Next Year’s Eight 10s

Editor’s Note: Guest reviewers Natalia Storie and Catfish Baruni, aka Nickels and Dimes, attended Winding Road Theater’s Eight 10s opening performance. Because Eight 10s was a different format than the shows we usually cover, we’re presenting their conversation and takeaways from the festival, lightly edited, for our reader’s education and entertainment in place of a more traditional prose review. Please enjoy their cute nicknames and biting commentary. Yours shrewly, Leigh

Nickels: First of all, surprise! not eight plays. Although we did debate this before the night started because there is a play called, “Intermission” in the middle of the program. The name was misleading but also probably the point.

Dimes: Festival producer Chad Davies introduced the event as “a dream come true” and that this was the first festival of this type in Tucson, mirrored off Santa Cruz Actors’ Theater’s 8 Tens festival.

N: Out of three hundred plus scripts submitted, eight were selected for this festival. A piece written by Tucsonan Toni Press-Coffman was additionally included, making this a nine play festival.

D: I had a problem with including Press-Coffman’s “bonus” play in the festival. After all, she is a co-founder of Winding Road, and inclusion of her play teetered on making the rest of the festival “competition” null and void. On top of that problem, I don’t like that the “local” in “local theatre” only applies to the actors and directors, not the playwright. Which, as someone who used to take writing more seriously, is annoying and – dare I say? – bullshit.

N: Right. I enjoyed her play, but it did make me wish the rest of the festival was made up of other local playwrights. Perhaps if the contest had been only open to Arizona writers to submit, it wouldn’t have felt too unusual to have her play included. We’ve seen what Tucson writers can produce, and this play festival would’ve been a great opportunity to showcase some of that. I do like these festivals of 10 minute plays, and the idea is really great for theatregoers who enjoy a little mixing it up with their theater experience. So overall, it’s a great concept, but maybe a missed opportunity in what shows they decided to put on.

Overall positives, I thought the transitions from show to show were done really well: swift, not loud and jarring, and they moved right into the next performance. I thought the actors were all really solid and engaging throughout the festival, but in particular in Pretty Ruth, Press-Coffman’s piece. I really liked the women in it.

D: Did you realize that, aside from Press-Coffman, there was only one play written by a woman at the festival?

N: I hadn’t realized that; that’s unfortunate. But there were women involved in some leading capacity in eight of the nine shows, whether they directed or acted in them. And the one play that didn’t feature women had people of color and a gay story line. So, progress?

Moving on to aspects of the festival that we didn’t love… I will say, other 10 minute play festivals I’ve gone to typically had an overall theme linking the works so you had a vague idea of what each of the shows would be about. This one did not, so in almost every play, it took a bit for me to catch up and figure out what was happening.

D: Another surprise! Not all of the plays were 10 minutes! More than half of the plays ran over that ten minute limit— not always to the benefit of the play. And these plays covered heavy topics, often that couldn’t realistically be portrayed in such a short time frame.

N: Eh, true, but I don’t know how real you can get in a 10 minute play.

D: If you can’t get real in a 10 minute play, then what’s the point of doing a 10 minute play?

N: I don’t know! But I didn’t go in expecting groundbreaking stories; I assumed we’d be seeing cute, maybe comedic pieces that were light and fun?

D: You think my expectations were too high I mean, the rest of the audience really seemed to enjoy everything.

N: They may have been, and the audience did love every play. And I thought most of the acting was good, notably Morgan Smith, India Osborn, Steve McKee, and Mara Concordia.

D: So I’m a curmudgeon—

N: Obviously.

D: But on that note, we should review the actual shows now.

eight-tens-signature-small_2_orig

A Long Trip, written by Dan McGeehan (Chicago, IL) and directed by Denise Blum
Dimes: A Long Trip is about an elderly man trying to connect with his elderly wife before she succumbs to dementia. The basic story was predictable and brought nothing new to scenes of Alzheimer’s/dementia that have been seen before.

Nickels: But I thought Peg Peterson, the actor who played the older woman was sweet and believable. As an actor, I really pay attention to the acting first, and then the script.

The Parrots of Heaven, written by Even Guilford-Blake (Stone Mountain, GA) and directed by Eddie Diaz
Dimes: Parrots of Heaven was about a young Persian man who can’t pronounce “Iran” like a Persian.

Nickels: I also noticed that. This script was also somewhat predictable: a pleasant, interracial relationship story. But it was awesome to see more diversity in casting.

Dimes: I don’t like that it feels like a trade-off. You get diverse casting, but in a predictable, trite story? Why can’t we have interesting stories AND diverse actors?

Benchmarks, written by Glenn Altermann (New York, NY) and directed by Linda Andersano
Nickels: I really enjoyed Benchmarks! Actor Maggie Geertsen was in this show and another later on, and I thought her energy was great. Many of these plays contain a lot of metaphors and this was one of them, but it was easy to understand. Again, at this length it was forced to be kind of surface level but I thought the actors played well off of each other and I didn’t feel like this was too long. There were some cheesy lines…

Dimes: Again, I felt like this play didn’t bring anything new to the stage: The wise old stranger who imparts life advice at the unlikeliest of locations? And the advice is that anybody can just leave their literal baggage, or “troubles,” behind? It was a little obvious.

Intermission, written by Joe Bardin (Scottsdale, AZ) and directed by Tyler Gastleum
Dimes: Intermission is about a couple talking about a play during intermission. I was not impressed. A couple in turmoil attends a mediocre play – but the play is a metaphor for their relationship! It’s a play about people talking about a play, but they’re not really talking about a play… That said, there were plenty of inside jokes and references to theatre in general which delighted the audience.

Schrödinger’s Gun, written by Greg Smith (Cleveland Heights, OH) and directed by Samantha Severson

Nickles: I liked this script and thought the actors were great, but the audience really confused me. There were two black police officers training a white officer, right? And they were somewhat putting him through this tough scenario which spoke to police brutality against black people, right? But the audience was laughing so much… I didn’t understand.

Dimes: I actually had problems with the script, and maybe that’s just because the mostly older, mostly white audience was laughing hysterically at what maybe shouldn’t be a laughing matter. I’m not saying that white playwrights can’t write about issues facing the black population in America, but I think that if they do attempt to do this, it has to be done extremely carefully. And also that they probably shouldn’t do it.

And the ending where the white trainee is fired for pulling the trigger of his – spoiler alert – unloaded gun on a black man? I’m not sure if the playwright hasn’t been paying attention, or if this is supposed to be an instance of magical realism (or just wishful thinking), but it’s not realistic, sadly.

Love at the Louvre, written by Diane Sposito (Bronx, NY) and directed by China Young
Dimes: I thought the acting in Love at the Louvre was great. I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about art, classical or otherwise, so all of the art references and allusions were totally lost on me but the audience ate it up. In fact, I didn’t realize the characters were supposed to be Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo until way too far into the scene. How embarrassing for me. The rules of the universe didn’t track completely but it was still enjoyable.

Nickels: This was probably my favorite play of the night. This was more of what I was expecting for the festival. You know right away what is happening, who these characters are (or most of us do), and it was light and funny with some good points. Again, Maggie Geertsen performance stood out the most for me. Also worth noting, this was the first play in the festival that passed the Bechdel test pretty easily. I think that’s also why I liked it. I’d go see this show by itself, it was fun.

Stain, written by Oded Gross (Montclair, NJ) and directed by Chad Davies
Dimes: Stain is a comedy about the KKK. This… was not good. It was like a bad SNL sketch that went on for too long. Oh no, the wife left a red sock in with the whites and now her husband’s Klan robe is pink! Gadzooks! Wackiness! Hijinks! In the universe of this play, white people only have a problem with the KKK when 23 and Me reveals that they have a small percentage of black or Jewish ancestry… Get it? They’re not really white. Hilarious.

Nickels: To be fair to this piece, the acting was appropriate and funny. I can see these actors being really great in other comedic pieces. Their timing was on but it was hard to find the funny for me because of the subject matter. I do think the audience was laughing uproariously at how ridiculous these characters are and not necessarily maybe at the racism humor? I hope? I don’t know. It’s a fine line.

Arguing with Toasters, written by Matthew Weaver (Spokane, WA) and directed by Chloe Loos
Nickels: Arguing with Toasters features an all women cast quite literally arguing with toasters, where the toaster is a metaphor for a man. I liked how the women bond in the end and also it was silly without being outrageous. However, not a Bechdel test passer. Also, made me want toast.

Dimes: I actually thought this play was a disservice to the topic of toxic masculinity and the threat of violence from men that women have to face every day. What was the point of having toasters stand in for men in such serious situations? I didn’t get it. If you’re going to have actors arguing with toasters (or other kitchen appliances), a ridiculous premise, maybe the arguments should be absurd, too? A woman telling a toaster, who is really a man, not to hit her again just isn’t very funny. I think the playwright might think he’s more clever than he actually is.

Dimes: I’m may not be the average theatregoer. I did not love these plays, but the audience did and that means something. I thought the festival was hit or miss… with more of the latter than the former, but I applaud their effort and hope that next year’s festival will improve.

Nickels: Yes, I hope they keep doing this type of festival. I think Tucson audiences enjoy them, they’re great for actors because there’s so many acting and directing opportunities, and it’s a good way to get your fill of a bunch of different types of plays. I would love to see more local writers developing pieces for this festival, though. For all the stumbles, I would still tell people to check it out.

Eight 10s is playing at the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art (333 S. Scott Ave.) Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm through May 5th. You can get tickets by calling 401-3626 or online at www.WindingRoadTheater.org.

 

Nickels and DimesNickels and Dimes is a Tucson-based comedy duo comprised of Natalia Storie and Catfish Baruni, respectively. She studied theatre at the University of Arizona and participated in seminars at The Globe Theatre in London. She has participated in multiple Fringe Festivals and performed in works for TADA, Beowulf Alley Theatre Company, Winding Road Theatre Ensemble, and Sheworxx. He has also participated in a number of Fringe Festivals, is the creator of Slideshow Fairytales, and the cohost of the podcast Stop Hating Yourself. He owns two cats, Zappa and Ariel.

Don’t Miss This F#!*ing Play

by Gretchen Wirges

I walked into the Cabaret theater at the Temple of Music and Art, and quickly found my seat in the front row. Perusing the program, the other patrons, and the visible set, I notice that cast of Winding Road’s Stupid F#!*ing Bird have started to trickle onto the stage becoming part of the scenery, part of the fabric of the space. Another member of the cast walks on, takes center, and says “The play will begin when someone says: ‘Start the fucking play’.” So of course, I did, and the play began.

Stupid F#!*ing Bird, written by American playwright Aaron Posner, is an adapted version of Anton Chekov’s The Seagull. Russian drama is heavy, dark, and often very abstract. This adaptation is all of those things and more, in the best sense of each word. The play unfolds by introducing us to an ensemble of flawed characters looking for love and truth.

Richard Thompson as Trigorin, Samantha Severson as Conrad, Tony Caprile as Som, Tyler Gastelum as Dev. Jodi Ajanovich as Emma, and China Young as Mash. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Richard Thompson as Trigorin, Samantha Severson as Conrad, Tony Caprile as Som, Tyler Gastelum as Dev. Jodi Ajanovich as Emma, and China Young as Mash. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

The play, directed by Maria Caprile, centers around struggling playwright Conrad, played by Samantha Severson. He struggles not just with his work, but with his relationships. He seems to yearn for connection and honest love from his wide-eyed, ambitious romantic partner Nina, played by Liz Claire , as well as his selfish, successful mother, Emma played by Jodi Ajanovic. Emma struggles with her connection with her son, her brother Sorn, played by Tony Caprile, and her romantic partner Trigorin, played by Richard Thompson. Also part of dynamic struggle is Mash, played by China Young, who has unrequited love for Conrad, and yet is quietly pursued by Dev, played by Tyler Gastelum.

I see a lot of theatre, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve been so enraptured by a play. The ensemble’s honest portrayal of these flawed characters was heartbreaking, and exciting, and such a joy to watch unfold.

Young’s beautiful portrayal of Mash is dark and tender and also humorous, allowing us to identify with her emotional rawness and sense of yearning. Gastelum’s Dev is sweet and grounded and kind and such a subtle standout in this incredibly talented cast. I rooted for him, and hurt for him when rebuffed. Thompson’s Trigorin is smarmy, sexy and yet wonderfully indicative of creative genius (of both the character and the actor). Emma, in the hands of Ajanovic was beautifully reminiscent of theatre greats like Carol Burnett who lace their character’s pain with humor and self-effacing energy. Near the end of the play, she delivers a monologue to Trigorin that took my breath away. Claire’s portrayal of Nina is sweet and tragic. She deftly handles the arc of this character from lightness to dark. Caprile’s Sorn is subtle, and hovers around the periphery of the play with great intention.

And then there’s Severson. Let me take a deep breath for a moment before I go on because she is Just. That. Good. Severson’s portrayal of Conrad’s descent into depression and desperation is nothing short of magical. At the beginning of the play, I noticed that some of the speeches were a little in the pocket, a little rehearsed, a little thin. But Severson unfolds into this play with a beautiful sense of intention and understanding of the demands of such a heavy role. I hurt when she hurt, I angered when she angered, I leaned in when she fell silent.

Samantha Severson as Conrad (center), with Tony Caprile as Som and Tyler Gastelum as Dev. Photos courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

Samantha Severson as Conrad (center), with Tony Caprile as Som and Tyler Gastelum as Dev. Photos courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

This was only the second performance of the run of “Stupid Fucking Bird”. As an actor and a director myself, I know what gifts come from the duration of the totality of a play. One performance is only a small sliver of the gifts of the whole. Each performance brings new understanding of the characters, the intent, and the impact of the content. Sometimes, a revelation comes late in the run that you wish you’d had at the beginning. And I remember thinking while watching this cast, that I want to get tickets for the final performance of this show. Because I want to see what they discover in this journey.

There is a monologue that Severson delivers as Conrad about the intent of art and the needs for new forms of theater. And the play quickly becomes self-referential by directly addressing the audience and calling out the play within a play within a play. There were times I felt uncomfortable, but I think that’s what great art, and this production in particular, does superbly.

One of my only criticisms of the play was in regards to the set. While attractive and well thought-out, one of the central visual pieces was incredibly distracting. There is a large wooden platform that morphs from dock/stage to the flooring of the home on stage. The wood of the platform would creak so loudly every time someone stepped onto it, that it would sometimes take me out of the moment. Hopefully it’s a simple fix because the rest of the setting is perfectly adorned in its warmth and detail.

My only other criticism was in regards to the gendering of the character of Conrad. We are in an exciting time of gender and cultural play in casting. With women embodying exciting roles typically inhabited by men, I wonder if we do a disservice to this effort by having the character remain male.  Why couldn’t Conrad/Con/Connie be female? It wouldn’t change the story. The pain of loss and love and family and disappointment and depression isn’t restricted to gender-specific experience. When I saw that Severson was cast as Conrad, I yearned for the experience of a gender-swapped role. I wonder what more nuance she could bring to her already powerful portrayal. The more we can see characters as bodies of experience and not only as a pigeon-holed color, gender, or age, the more we can explore the core human experience of these characters and find new connections and meaning.

Bottom line, I implore you to go see this play. Challenge yourself to break out of the norm and into new forms of art and theatre like Winding Road’s production of “Stupid Fucking Bird”. The script is challenging and the cast accepts that grand challenge by knocking it clean out of the proverbial park. As soon as you stop reading this review, click on this link and buy your tickets to see it. Today.

Stupid F#!*ing Bird is playing Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm through February 17th. Call Winding Road Theater at 520-401-3626 or visit windingroadtheater.org for more information about this show and the rest of their season.

Good People is Great Theatre

by China Young

Winding Road Theatre Ensemble’s production of Good People by David Lindsay Abaire is a beautifully crafted snapshot of the modern American class struggle with its focus on those living on the “economic knife-edge,” as described by director Glen Coffman. That makes it sound like a heavy drama, but Abaire and Winding Road apply plenty of humor and heart to this production.

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Tony Caprile as Mike, Maria Caprile as Margie, and Carley Preston as Kate. Photo by Jeffrey Snyder, courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

Good People is the story of Margie, played by Maria Caprile, a working-class woman from the projects of Boston. Margie, like many single mothers, can barely support herself and her daughter, who is grown but suffers from disabilities brought on by being born premature. After getting fired from her low-paying job by her generations-younger manager Stevie (Joshua Parra), Margie is desperate to find something that is sustainable before she gets evicted by her landlady, Dottie (Peg Peterson). Encouraged by her good friend Jean (Toni Press-Coffman), Margie decides to reconnect with an old flame, Mike (Tony Caprile), who has found his way out of the “uncomfortable” slum life into that of “comfortable” stability, complete with an equally successful wife, Kate (Carley Elizabeth Preston).
Margie’s hope is that Mike can find her a job, or at least introduce her to someone else that can, and help her escape the pattern of underpaid labor she knows far too well. While there is much more to the story, I don’t know that I can adequately summarize any more without giving away moments of discovery by both the characters and the audience that truly make this experience worth having, and there are more than a few.
While Abaire has written his female characters well, I am almost convinced that it is Winding Road’s powerful female performers that put those characters in the driver’s seat without letting off the gas. Maria Caprile expertly commands Margie’s “good” but borderline manipulative qualities, filling every beat with truth and vulnerability.
If you aren’t completely drawn in by the first scene between her and Joshua Parra, hold on because Peg Peterson and Toni Press-Coffman join forces with Caprile in the next scene to finish the job. Both of their characters are commanding, believable, and drive the plot forward with such force it is impossible to not be swept away in the action. I couldn’t help but admire the strength and resilience of the blue-collar women that they represented. Not to mention the ease with which Press-Coffman can turn a phrase, and Peterson’s brutal hilarity that punches you, and Margie, in the gut. The truly impressive part is that they do all that from their seats.

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Peg Peterson as Dottie and Maria Caprile as Margie. Photo by Jeffrey Snyder, courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

Even though we do not meet her until the second act, Carley Elizabeth Preston’s portrayal of Mike’s wife, Kate, is honest, compassionate, and fierce, making the character vital and worth the wait. Though Kate comes from money and education, she states that she is passionately protective of her and Mike’s daughter, drawing a parallel between her and Margie that fuels any nuance of tension that may exist considering Margie and Mike’s past.
All of that said, the men certainly hold their own. Joshua Parra portrays Stevie as someone who has gained success through hard-work and genuine kindness, but still doesn’t back down from a battle. Tony Caprile’s Mike is likeable, smarmy, fun, and incredibly naïve about his privilege, despite having grown up as working class and in the projects like the other characters. Mike and Margie have some of the most palpable exchanges in the whole show, with scenes that swell with subtle texture by both performers. In fact, the evening I was present, one scene in particular seemed to affect the audience tremendously (again, you’ve got to see it to experience it).
Not only does every performer do their job in creating the world of the play, but the production’s use of every inch available to them in The Scoundrel & Scamp’s small black box theatre space is equally impressive. The lighting, however, had a few issues. Most noticeably, there was one dark spot that actors found themselves in over and over. And though I appreciate how lighting can affect the mood of the scene, some transitions were just a little too obvious and left me momentarily distracted.
The only other troublesome aspect of this performance was the accent work. At the beginning of the play there were some incredibly thick Boston accents and it was clear that some performers had a stronger command of it than others. As the show progressed, the accents dissipated and settled into simpler subtleties that I found much more palatable and less distracting. Perhaps it was a choice to go strong at first so that the audience knows exactly where and who our characters are, but it felt as though the show was initially more about the accent than the characters. Fortunately, the characters ultimately took over and I didn’t care whether they had an accent or not.
Good People was a truly rewarding theatrical experience. I often forgot I was watching a play, allowing myself to be swept away by the characters and action, which can be a hard thing to do when you’ve been submerged in theatre since you were six like I was. I was genuinely thrilled to have experienced this production, and I think you will be too.
Good People runs through November 18 with evening performances at 7:30 on November 8th – 10th, 15th – 17th, and 18th (yes, that’s a Sunday evening), and matinee performances at 2:00 on November 11th and 17th (that’s a Sunday and a Saturday, respectively) at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at the Historic Y. Tickets are available online at windingroadtheater.org or by calling 401-3626.