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.

 

What to Expect Going Down the Rabbit Hole

by China Young

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire is a wonderfully scripted story that explores five individuals processing the loss of a child. This production, directed by Vince Flynn  running at Community Players, is sad, funny, poignant, and viscerally relatable. Before I get into any more details, I want to strongly encourage you to go see Rabbit Hole. The night I attended did not have the audience these performers or this story deserve.

The cast of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Paul Brunelle, courtesy of The Community Players.

The cast of Rabbit Hole. Photo by Paul Brunelle, courtesy of The Community Players.

Now, the story. Becca Corbet (Meagan Jones), is a stay-at-home mom to Danny, who is killed in a tragic accident at four years old. Jones’s performance is honest and impactful. I could feel the depth of her pain, and how, at times, she resisted dealing with it. Eric Rau brings truth and vulnerability to Becca’s husband Howie as he attempts to heal his wife’s grief by recapturing the passion they once had even though he is simultaneously holding onto his own grief by privately watching old home movies of his late son. Becca and Howie struggle to find common ground following the loss of their son. They seem to choose different, and often conflicting, methods of grieving as they strive to learn how to live with the pain. Jones, Rau, and Flynn never abandon this subtext. Whether it is present in the spatial relationships between the couple or in the inability to reconnect to one another emotionally, this struggle is present throughout.

Izzy (Michele Holland), Becca’s younger sister, serves as a sort of beacon for second chances. We learn early in the first scene that she is pregnant, something that isn’t easily shared considering the family’s recent loss. As is often the case with being the youngest sibling, she has had the privilege of few responsibilities and the freedom to “f— up” and she believes having a baby will help her get her act together. Holland gives Izzy an appropriate amount of “last born” attitude and naivete, though she isn’t without her moments of mature profundity.

Nat (Sydney Flynn), Becca and Izzy’s mother, has also lost a child, her adult son. Though the circumstances surrounding his death and that of Danny’s are significantly different, she can’t help but compare the two in her attempts to console and relate to her daughter’s loss. Flynn is delightfully natural in her portrayal of Nat, fully embodying the wisdom of someone who has experienced deep levels of grief more than once in her life.

Finally, there is Jason Willette (Stephen Dunham), a teenager who writes a story for the grieving family as a sort of apology for having a role in the loss of their child. Dunham brings a natural innocence and kindness to Jason that supports and motivates Becca’s willingness to bring him into her home.

The technical elements of the show were hit and miss for me, although they did their part to support the world that was created by the director and actors. Sound design was disappointing. In addition to several cues misfiring, I yearned for transitional music, of which it completely lacked. Perhaps it was intentionally excluded from this production, but I believe this is a show that opens its audience up to their own levels of vulnerability in such a way that they need some musical interludes to help ride the arcs of the characters and process their own experience.

The set, designed and crafted by Scott Berg, Bobbi Whitson, and Eric Everts, is skillfully crafted and I was impressed at how every inch of available space was used to craft the Corbets’ home. My only critique is that it is very busy. There are a lot of patterns and conflicting decorative styles that distracted me from the action at times.

The costumes were simple and modern, and there seemed to be intentional color palettes that were used specifically between Becca and Nat. There is not a costume designer listed in their program leaving me to assume that it was a choice of the actors or a happy accident borne from the actors time and work together. Either way, it amplified the bond between the mother and daughter that now shared the experiencing of losing of a son.

Part of our mission of Taming of the Review is to ask “why tell this story and why tell it now?” For me that answer comes as the entire family is discussing the Kennedy family and, unironically, the variety of tragic deaths that the family has endured. Nat flippantly categorizes the private plane crashes and assassinations by crazed gunmen as “rich issues.” Despite the humor in it, I found myself suddenly considering all the lives that have been lost to families across this country and across the world to “crazed gunmen.” Death, no matter how rich or poor, big or small, old or young, is not a “rich issue.” That loss is universal.

The characters in Rabbit Hole are all dealing with loss in their own way.The conflict among them is driven by their lack of acceptance and understanding that every single one of them is grieving differently. This show is a gentle acknowledgement that it is difficult to make space for others grief, especially if it manifests differently from our own. It also perhaps nudges us to be more accepting of those differences, even while experiencing our own grief. I think it is safe to say our society could use more than a gentle reminder of this as we struggle to understand and overcome our growing divisions on a daily basis.  

Image courtesy of The Community Players.

Image courtesy of The Community Players.

Rabbit Hole continues at Community Players, 1881 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ 85705, on Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 2:00 through May 19th. You can buy tickets online CommunityPlayersTucson.org or by calling 887-6239.

Up close with Alyssa Ruiz, an ensemble member at Stories that Soar!

Alyssa Ruizinterviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

How did you get involved with Stories that Soar!?

I was apart of Stories that Soar!’s high school program at Desert View High School when I was 17 or 18, I ended up loving it and planned to audition for the ensemble, but I got a school scholarship, so I went away for two years. As soon as I came back this summer I auditioned and got in, and I don’t regret it at all. It’s so much fun!

What has working with Stories that Soar! taught you about your community?

That kids are very aware of everything that happens to them. They are a lot smarter than we think they are. Adults underestimate youth especially, so I’ve learned to accept everyone no matter their age. I don’t necessarily agree with the statement “The older, the wiser”, I think with age comes experience, but a child can be just as wise.

What do you think every performer can benefit from being part of an ensemble?

You learn how to collaborate and especially in Stories that Soar!’s case you play a variety of roles in the same show. As a performer you learn how to to use your body to create multiple characters. Are you everything and every one.

Photo courtesy of Stories that Soar!

Photo courtesy of Stories that Soar!

Do you have an all time favorite story that has been adapted for the stage?

Yes! A few shows back we did Lemonade. We performed it entirely in silhouette. This little girl wrote this story about this old man who would drink lemonade and eat toast with jam on the porch every day to remember his wife who had dementia that passed away. This little girl’s writing was incredible; her vocabulary was out of this world.

What are you looking forward to sharing with your audience on Saturday’s 2019 Best of Stories that Soar! show at the Fox Theatre?

All the work that the kids have put in! In total they wrote 15,000 stories this year. All the dedication they have put in to feed the Magic Box is incredible. They are invested in the Magic Box. It’s become something that’s essential to their school. Writing becomes less of a chore for these kids and that’s really powerful.

Magic Box at the Fox: Best of Stories that Soar! 2019 show will be Saturday May 11th from 3pm to 5pm at the Fox Theatre (17 W. Congress St.). For tickets visit foxtucsontheatre.ticketforce.com. For more information about Stories that Soar! visit literacyconnects.org.

 

The spotlight series is an on-going series where we spotlight local female and non-binary artists in the Tucson Community.

The Crucible Was Skillfully Chaotic

by Leticia Gonzalez

Now, I must admit that Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, directed by Christopher Johnson, is the first show I have seen at The Rogue Theatre. I sat down, eager to see what the play had in store. I didn’t know what to expect since I hadn’t watched the movie or read the book, but as this theater is well known in town, I had certain expectations – and they met all of them.

Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

We are in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692. The scene opens with Reverend Paris carrying a limp Betty Paris, portrayed by Christopher Younggren and Flories Rush respectively, who’s passed out after being discovered dancing in the middle of the forest.  The town whispers of witches. The slightest accusations spark into a rampant fire which inevitably leaves the town scrambling and gasping for common sense and sound evidence. This show is meant to portray how quickly things can get out of hand; it is easy to be carried away by feelings. Hope hangs in the air, out of reach of the innocent. Those in power are too concerned with the preservation of self and will do anything to maintain the integrity of their current social and political standing.

This is not a tech heavy show. The emphasis is on the dynamic relationships and high stake issues between the characters. As an ensemble, they all had great energy. They fed off each other’s energy and radiated it back to one another. All of them were committed. The technical elements did not detract from that. The lighting was subtle and simple. The music added depth and emotional respite which I appreciated because there were times when I was overwhelmed by the constant yelling and high energy. The underlying music offered a pleasant escape.  

Matt Bowdren as John Proctor and Holly Griffith as Elizabeth Proctor. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Matt Bowdren as John Proctor and Holly Griffith as Elizabeth Proctor. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Matt Bowdren (John Proctor) is always a treat to watch on stage. I remember when I first saw him in Othello as Iago at the University of Arizona. I enjoyed watching the interaction between him and Holly Griffith (Elizabeth Proctor). They beautifully captured the delicate condition of their relationship. A woman who is hurt and uncertain of how to move past the pain and learn how to trust a man who is repentant but impatient for forgiveness. They were physically and emotionally distant, but you could feel that there was a yearning for things to be better by the way they looked at and spoke to one another.

Bryn Booth, who portrayed Abigail Williams, was a delight to watch as she masterfully manipulated the other characters around her. I found myself watching her even when she wasn’t speaking, curious to see how she’d respond as the tables shifted in and against her favor. And Leah Taylor’s Mary Warren is something to behold. Her ability to portray the internal flip-flopping struggle so vividly for us to see was amazing. I hated her character (in a good way), but I understood myself. There was a moment of well orchestrated possession that gave me goosebumps.The women’s shrill and terrifying screams coupled with their ruthless pursuit of Mary almost had me confessing as well. I even snuck several cautious peeks around the theater to make sure there was nothing around me or on the ceiling. You can never be too careful.

 I left wishing I had known more about what happened to Tituba, by hearing her side of the story. Brought to life by Carley Elizabeth Preston, her monologue was creepy good, but the content fell flat. What was her truth? Did Abigail coerce her? I feel that Arthur Miller could have further developed her character, but seeing that the story mostly revolves a certain demographic of people, there really isn’t room for another perspective. That’s too bad.

Crucible group

Kate Cannon as Mercy Lewis, Erin Buckley as Susanna Walcott, Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams, Matt Bowdren as John Proctor, Florie Rush as Betty Parris, and Leah Taylor as Mary Warren. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

One does not watch The Crucible to simply pass the time or for a gay evening at the theater. From the moment the play starts, the stakes are high and the actors are committed. The hysteria and chaos in the scenes are palpable. It’s no surprise that I could hear the audience gasp and feel them squirm in their seats. We were all aboard the Salem Witch Train racing down a slippery slope without any brakes.

The Crucible runs from April 25 through May 12, Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 pm, with 2:00 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday at The Rogue Theater at the Historic Y, 300 East University Boulevard. Contact the box office at 520-551-2053 or buy tickets online at TheRogueTheatre.org. Tickets are $38, though if you are a student wanting to catch this show you may be able to get a Student Rush Ticket. This ticket is $15 and only available if there are open seats 15 minutes before the curtain (Let the games begin!). There will be discussions with the cast and directors after each performance. Make sure to stay for that as well. I stayed for the discussion and enjoyed the stories some of the elders shared with everyone.

An Astonishing Production of Little Women

by Gabriella De Brequet

Little Women the musical, with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, is based on the 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. It is a coming of age story about sisters Jo (Erin Recuparo), Meg (Diana Ouradnik), Amy (Kelly Coates), Beth (Kate Scally Howell), and their Mother Marmee (Korby Myrick). While their Father is fighting in the war the girls find love, discover their callings, and evolve together as a family.

Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Kelly Coates as Amy, Erin Recuparo as Jo, Korby Myrick as Marmee, Diane Ouradnik as Meg. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Kelly Coates as Amy, Erin Recuparo as Jo, Korby Myrick as Marmee, and Diane Ouradnik as Meg. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

The musical is lead by Jo (Recuparo) the headstrong sister whose passion for writing drives the narrative. Themes of female empowerment and female camaraderie resonate throughout the play. Each Sister is uniquely different from one another and this allows the audience to find a little bit of themselves in each sister. It’s refreshing and timely to see dynamic female characters such as these headlining the narrative. This heart felt production will astonish you!

The vocal performances were impressive and well adjusted for the space. Recuparo’s Jo was passionate, dynamic, and strong. The audience had the great pleasure of watching her evolve from start to finish right before our eyes. Howell’s Beth was bright, kind, and humble. Her performance will break your heart. Ouradnik’s Meg was thoughtful and funny. Coates as Amy was hilarious and brash. Jeremy Vega’s Laurie was sincerely honest and youthful. Ruben Rosthenhausler’s Professor Bhaer was sweet, and comical. Perhaps the most poignant performance for me was Myrick’s Marmee. Myrick’s vocal performance brought me to tears more than once, and her characterization of Marmee was rich, and selfless. The entire ensemble really blew me away. There was not a single weak link in this strong chain of actors.

Erin Recuparo as Jo, Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Diane Ouradnik as Meg, and Kelly Coates as Amy. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

Erin Recuparo as Jo, Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Diane Ouradnik as Meg, and Kelly Coates as Amy. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

The set design was impressive considering the size of the small venue. The stage has a circular center which rotated. The rotating element helped illustrate the passage of time, growth, and change. The lighting design was vivid. At times I felt that it was too vivid for the space but it remained consistent throughout the play and it wasn’t too distracting. The costumes by Daniela Ayala were thoughtful and fitting. I was thoroughly impressed with Arizona Rose Theatre company’s production of Little Women. I encourage all musical theatre lovers to witness this local gem of a production.

Tickets are available at www.arizonarosetheatre.com or by calling the box office at (520)888-0509. Special tickets prices for students, children, seniors and military apply. Little Women runs from April 27th- May 5th

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.

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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.

Make Room for Things I Know To Be True

by Rebekah Thimlar

The company of Things I Know To Be True. Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

The company of Things I Know To Be True. Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

It can be a difficult thing, to introduce your true self to the people who should know you best. In this heartbreakingly funny play by Andrew Bovell, we watch as members of the Price family struggle make room for their true selves within their predetermined family roles.

Things I Know to be True begins with a monologue from the youngest Price daughter, Rosie (Aubyn Heglie). She is away on an extended vacation. Feeling low, she begins to pine for her family. In this scene, Rosie introduces the audience to the Price family, her mother and father, Fran (Jordan Baker) and Bob (Bill Geisslinger), her siblings, Pip (Kelley Faulkner) Ben (Zach Fifer), and Mia (Kevin Kantor). Upon Rosie’s return home, the family welcomes her warmly and we feel a genuine sense of love between them.

The story progresses over the course of a year. During which time, we see the characters struggle between the urge to live their lives with absolute honesty and living up to the expectations of their family. This fine line is walked along such matters as love, identity, double standards, regret, and the indelible aching of possibilities unpursued. In this production, the specifics become the social, making this play highly relatable.

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Bill Geisslinger as Bob and Jordan Baker as Fran.Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

This production is well cast, the actors do an incredible job of immersing the audience in the emotional highs and lows of the Price family. Notable performances were given by Baker and Geisslinger as the parents of the Price children. Where Geisslinger emanated calm, straight lines as the understanding father, Baker’s performance embodies the chaotic layers of Fran Price wonderfully. This pair does a fine job of portraying a couple that has been together so long, their traits begin to polarize as a mode of self-preservation. Through the parent’s interactions with each of their children, we see the wrenching disbelief of expectations unfulfilled and watch as they contemplate the true price of happiness.   

The play is largely set in the Price family’s backyard. As Pip mentions, “This backyard is everything.” Watching the family muse backward and forward in time, you start to believe her. The story of the Price family is told not only in memories but in their hopes for the future. These memories and hopes appear to be anchored to the large, beautifully crafted, oak tree which dominates the stage. This oak tree is the symbolic support of the family. The lighting and changing foliage move us through the seasons and the collaboration of the set components reinforce the sense of contemporary familiarity.

Though it is set in a midwestern backyard, this intimate family play faces a spectrum of themes relevant to modern society. Things I Know to be True wants the audience to see their own families on the stage and this production pulls that off. At times, the action is a bit crowded and distracting, particularly during the monologues. There are moments when the musical selections feel a bit out of place. These were minor distractions in this otherwise outstanding production.

This play is extremely funny and enjoyable, but what makes it worth seeing is that it’s not afraid to be honest. You will undoubtedly laugh a lot and more than likely cry a little as you relive your own memories through the stories of the Price family. The writing is so funny, so authentic, and so universal, you will feel as though parts were ripped from your own thoughts. On the list of things I know to be true, you will not regret making room for this play.

Things I Know to be True is playing through Saturday May 11 at the Temple of Music and Art. Tickets can be purchased online at arizonatheatre.org or by phone (520) 622-2823.