Audience Enjoys Solving Mystery Alongside Sherlock Holmes

by Chelsey Wade

Black Box Theater, at Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts, presents Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by Ken Ludwig. 

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This story follows Sherlock Holmes, played by Etienne Wegryzniak, and Dr. Watson, played by Ciel McNulty, as they solve the mysterious case of Baskerville. Set in London, the mystery-solving duo set out to find out who murdered Sir Charles, uncle of the Baskerville heir. Initially, they have little to go on except a bitten cane that seems to have been dragged through the mud. Could this be the work of the fabled Baskerville hounds? Or is there more going on in the dark, hidden woods near the city of Baskerville? 

The director, Chris Will, did a fine job of staging the actors to utilize the full theater space. Throughout the play, action alternates with scenes taking place in various parts of the theater. It made for a visually interesting aspect of the performance to follow the movement between the main floor, the sides, and top of the arena. While the action felt a little slow at the beginning of certain scenes, overall, the pace picked up and was fairly steady throughout the two and a half hour play. There were some confusing moments, particularly when actors would break character or play multiple characters in the same scene. Still, it was ultimately effective in coming across as humorous. Some actors would physically change their hats and this, as well as pacing, had a lot to do with effectiveness.

Will selected a diverse cast for this play. Several of the male characters are played by females, including the role of Watson, Cartwright, and “Man in Black Beard.” Brandon Saxon in the role of Mrs. Hudson created an extra touch of comedy through the high-pitched tones of Holmes’ landlady. Strong, believable chemistry flowed among the actors consistently and pleasantly through their quick dialogue. The equality in this play, in terms of casting, was excellent. It broke out of the form one might expect in only seeing a man playing a male character on stage, and vice versa. Specifically, casting a female lead for Watson’s character gives a different lens in viewing well-known characters. This kind of brave choice in casting also allows more gender equality on the stage, addressing female and male artists in a way that reflects back on the actor’s talents.

The actors often break from the traditional framework of the story to add humor in other parts of the play. Unexpected bits of comedy throughout serve to remind the audience that we are watching the world of a play, one that can adhere to the traditions of a script and also veer off from it in the name of comedy (and relevance, in one instance of commentary about Mr. Trump). Even though this play is being performed in the closing months of 2019, it reminded me of the timelessness of the Holmes’ stories. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the late 1800s; the stories continue to be adapted and told to stay relevant. That in itself speaks to the power of creating strong, dynamic characters in literature. 

The costumes, designed by Kaylee Johnson, and the actor’s British accents, immersed the audience in 20th century London. The clock tower set up behind Sherlock’s desk also added to the plausibility of environment.  One of the most intense moments early on was the unveiling of Baskerville Hall. The striking music and shadowy lighting added to the drama of reaching a place that held such significance to the case. 

Ultimately, this play was fun to watch, with some dark moments of the mystery, but stayed light-hearted by the humor scattered throughout each scene. Anyone who shares Sherlock’s admiration for the opera as a means to escape the routine of day-to-day life in order to be moved by performance art can also appreciate this piece of student orchestrated theater. 

Were there some strange elements to this play? Sure. But then again, this is a Sherlock Holmes story. I would expect a few surprises from the mystery solvers from Baker Street. Half the point of watching a mystery play and the drama unfolding is to watch the characters solve the mystery. But finding out the answer isn’t the whole point at all. It’s a delightful paradox to take part in. 

Tickets are available online through Pima’s website, with a link to their 3rd party
“Vendini” ticket- purchasing website. Tickets are $10 for PCC students and $17 for general admission. The play runs until November 17th.

The “Spirit of Ribaldry” is Successfully Summoned

by Betsy Labiner

The Rogue Theatre’s production of Blithe Spirit is, in the words of the play itself, “a jolly time with Elvira.” Noël Coward’s play, directed here by Joseph McGrath, is at turns cheeky and biting, even occasionally caustic, but always a great deal of fun. 

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Holly Griffith as Elvira Condomine, Cynthia Meier as Madame Arcati, andRyan Parker Knox  as Charles Condomine. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre

The play follows a couple, Charles and Ruth Condomine (played by Ryan Parker Knox and Bryn Booth, respectively), who host a seance as research for a novel Charles is writing. They, and their friends the Bradmans (played by Matt Walley and Carley Elizabeth Preston), expect to be entertained by a charlatan. Madame Arcati (played by Cynthia Meier), despite the couples’ skepticism and cheerful mockery, turns out to be all too successful — and thus the spirit of Charles’s late first wife Elvira (played by Holly Griffith) is summoned back to the world of the living. The resultant comedy of confusion and miscommunication is laugh-out-loud funny, running the gamut from frothy lightheartedness to moments of dark humor in which startled laughter is the only possible reaction.

The entire play takes place in the living room of the Condomines’ house; the lighting in the room cleverly shifts from warm, buttery light in the evening, to brighter white during the day, and the light through the window similarly shifts in tone to indicate the passage of time. Russell Ronnebaum’s music also works to set the mood and — crucially — to advance the plot. I also want to give a sweeping tip of the hat to Meier’s costume design, and the execution thereof by Meier, Nanalee Raphael, and Barb Tanzillo, as well as to wig stylist Kate Mammana. Their work on the entire cast is excellent, but Griffith’s ghostly hair and makeup is downright superb. Griffith is the epitome of old Hollywood glamour, and her bombshell look is played up by the way she sashays around the room and insouciantly lounges on the couch, flirting and insulting with equal coquettishness. Elvira’s white hair and silver gown contrast wonderfully with Ruth’s vivid costumes of red and pink, particularly in scenes when the women interact. 

Griffith, Booth, and Knox play off each other well in their otherworldly love triangle; Knox is delightfully hapless in Charles’s inability to manage conversations with both wives at once, and Booth’s frazzled shifts between anger, fear, and vicious determination make Ruth equally as engaging as the spectral Elvira. Meier throws herself fully into Madame Arcati’s ridiculousness, garnering lots of laughs, and her earnestness serves as a pointed juxtaposition to the other characters’ cynicism. Though Walley and Preston have comparatively little stage time, they imbue a massive amount of subtext to the Bradmans’ interactions — it was easy to feel like we knew far more about the couple than the play actually communicates. Erin Buckley, as the Condomines’ perpetually overwrought maid Edith, managed to be both clownish and sympathetic. 

The comedic timing of the cast is spot-on, as is their physical interplay. It’s an absolute blast to be in on the joke, as the audience gets to see and hear Elvira when many of the characters do not.  There were a few stumbles in the dialogue, but the missteps were minor and the actors recovered well when they occurred. These hiccups are understandable; Coward’s dialogue is whip-fast, often grammatically odd, and full of verbiage that trips up the tongue. The actors do well with it overall, and the banter is as sharp as it is rapid. 

The play runs two and a half hours, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. While the pacing lags ever so slightly in the initial scene as the play works to introduce the characters, their backstories, and the set-up for the seance, it picks up speed as soon as Elvira arrives. It seemed to me that this is a function of the play itself rather than a fault of the production; Coward wants his audience to have a strong sense of the characters so we can more fully appreciate it when they go to pieces as the action unfolds. And, as previously said, the vast majority of the play races along at a merry clip that carries the audience along in a happy reverie. 

Blithe Spirit, while a far cry from the heaviness of some of The Rogue’s other offerings, is hardly fluff. Even as the audience laughs, we’re confronted with the “morally untidy” world in which nobody is quite what we’d like them to be, and love is often tangled with power struggles, betrayal, and spite. Charles, Elvira, and Ruth each compel and repel us, earning our empathy only to lose our goodwill moments later. Lines like, “It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” knock the wind out of us, but then we find ourselves forgetting the incisive condemnation with the next joke. Coward’s comedy walks a knife’s edge, often threatening to tip into tragedy and bleakness, but this production successfully maintains the balancing act. 

If you want a deeply enjoyable night at the theatre, go see Blithe Spirit before this production gives up the ghost. 

Blithe Spirit runs at The Rogue Theatre November 7–24, Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Saturday & Sunday at 2:00 PM. Tickets may be purchased online at theroguetheatre.org, by phone at 520-551-2053, or at the box office beginning one hour prior to shows (walk-up purchasing is always pending availability). 

Transcendent Education and Entertainment Through Theatre

by China Young

Transgender. Transexual. Cis. AFAB. It is likely that you have come across these and other terms at some point. They are in the news more and more as our nation tries to legislate bathrooms and genitalia, even to the point that the Supreme Court is still deciding whether the prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In other words, they’re going to rule on whether employers can fire people because they are trans or gay. The conversation is heated and emotional on all sides. As someone who tries to follow the debate, I have observed a severe lack of listening and an even deeper void of understanding. Fortunately there are people willing to do the work to spread the knowledge, and Martie van der Voort (pronouns they/she) is one of those fearless individuals that has taken the helm of the conversation in their full-length, one-person show, TransFormations. Despite van der Voort only being one person, they/she provides this opportunity to meet and engage with multiple trans people in such a proficient way that I was fully engaged and invested throughout. The discussion of gender identity has become more public due to the attempts by conservative lawmakers to legislate identity, and due to the trans community’s bravery in not only fighting discriminatory legislation but demanding more visibility and awareness. If you have any questions about what being transgender means – whether you are looking for a textbook answer or an experiential perspective – you will be handed an impressive array of learning moments within the course of this roughly two-hour production.

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TransFormations is framed as a trans support group.  Whether they know it or not, the audience is full of new group members with varying levels of knowledge on this subject. The education begins instantly as van der Voort’s first character, Graciela (she/hers), gently invites us into the group, helping us assimilate to the conversation by giving us facts, definitions, and introducing us to some of the group members. Graciela is the leader of the support group, and though she is not trans herself, she is the parent of a transman. She tells her story first – how she learned that her AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) child identifies as a man, and therefore is a man. She even discusses the fact that, despite loving her son, she had to mourn the loss of her daughter. Van der Voort continues to introduce us to character after character, all of whom are unique and distinctly channeled through their/her skilled performance. Under the guidance of director Tom Slauson (he/him), van der Voort portrays transmen, transwomen, non-binary, non-transitioning, AND their wives and children – they/she runs the gamut.

We are quickly faced with the question of how one knows they are trans. The response can be simplified to “how do you know if you are right-handed or left-handed? You just know.” We are reminded that the modern world was designed for the right-handed. We are reminded that there was a time when being left-handed was considered “wrong,” and left-handed people were forced to use their right hands to write, eat, play sports, and so on. We are reminded that now, nobody questions the validity of being left-handed. So then, why do they question the validity of being trans? Is that clarity around one’s own identity different from recognizing that you are left-handed in a world where it’s “right to be right,” or at least easier? There are many other questions, just as complex, throughout the show; they are explored with humor, dramatic nuance, and honesty. As someone with trans friends and family, I truly felt like I knew many of these characters in real life. From beat poet and transman Mark, to the angry son of a transwoman, through the revelations made by newly-transitioning Phil (ftm – female to male) and his girlfriend Beth, you will leave knowing a lot more people in and connected to the trans community than you knew when you came in.

In juxtaposition to depth of the material, the technical elements are fairly modest. The set consists of some chairs in a semi-circle, most topped with some sort of clothing or accessory to denote a character’s seat. The lighting, by Emil Lamanda (he/him), is predominantly a simple wash of light, with a couple of strategically-placed instances of isolation. Before the show begins, there is a projector that is used to display images setting the tone of the production. This is valuable because the show is void of sound design, a tool often used to set the mood and help guide the audience through the journey. I did question the need for its use in the middle of the second act, though I appreciated the information it revealed and reinforced. I found the minimalist design to further allow space for van der Voort to fully embody everything about each character, making the show truly about them.

I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one with van der Voort after the performance. I learned that they/she has been working on this play for over a decade.There have been several other performances, but this was the first fully-produced run (and hopefully not the last). When I asked about the spectrum of characters and where they came from, they/she said “they just kept coming out of me,” although they/she acknowledged that many of them were inspired by friends or acquaintances. There is even someone that didn’t make it into this iteration of the show because van der Voort and director Slauson felt the character wasn’t ready for the stage.

TransFormations is a show that does everything I yearn for theatre to do: entertain and educate.

Presented by Something Something Theatre at St. Francis in the Foothills, the run continues through November 17th, with performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30pm, and Sunday afternoons at 3:00pm. Purchase tickets online at https://www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com/ or by calling 520-468-6111.

 

U of A’s Pippin Still Has Some Magic To Do

by Lena Quach

Pippin is a mysterious musical filled with memorable music, magic and simple joys. The story follows the young prince Pippin and his quest for fulfillment in life. Pippin originally opened in 1972 with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson. The original production was directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. Arizona Repertory Theater, directed and choreographed by Christie Kerr, had some rather large shoes to fill and unfortunately did not succeed. 

I was excited when I first came in and saw the rather impressive set. I have seen Pippin in a couple different forms and this looked promising. I was quickly let down by the ending of the song “Magic To Do”. The ensemble of players were all beautiful and sounded amazing but lacked the mystery and pizzazz that you usually see in the first number of the show. 

Tony Moreno as and Paige Mills as The Leading Player. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Tony Moreno as Pippin and Paige Mills as The Leading Player. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

I did see some small homages to the original choreographer in the show but felt that maybe the choreography was too advanced for the cast. Yes, Fosse is an extremely hard dance style to perfect but there was a very large disconnect between the actors and the movement. It was especially noticeable in the isolations of the hips that looked more like twerking and the movements of the arms that looked more like a bird flapping then a directed movement coming from the back. These movements are essential that highlight and add levels to the catchy score. This was the productions biggest let down. 

I was also quite disappointed by Paige Mills in the role of The Lead Player. This role is so essential to the show and how the story is told. Mills has an agile and clear voice and I can see why she was cast in the role for that alone. The Lead Player should be more mysterious and should have more of an inner battle between herself and her sympathy for Pippin, in certain parts of the show. This rendition of the character seemed to plateau quickly and never see any depth until the end of the show. Mills put in a solid effort with choreography and blocking given to her but lacked grace and the showstopping quality that any Lead Player should posses. 

There were some highlights in the show including some very magical characters. Tony Moreno played the title role of Pippin. Moreno has a beautiful voice and gave the audience the perfect balance of his character that can sometimes come off as awkward and somewhat rude to completely charming and heroic. Moreno is definitely going places. I was also very impressed by Tristan Caldwell who added just the right amount of sass and comedy to the character Charlemagne. I was completely charmed by Marina Devaux as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe. Devaux gave me a Broadway-worthy performance and had me singing along during her number. Catherine, played by Sofia Gonzalez, was sweet, beautiful and organic just like any Catherine should be. 

In the end, Arizona Repertory Theater’s production of Pippin still has some “Magic To Do”. The ensemble gave an honest performance filled with magic tricks, great vocals, and some Broadway-worthy highlights but lacked the mystery, grittiness, and dancing with purpose. 

You can catch Arizona Repertory’s production of Pippin now through November 3rd at the University of Arizona’s Marroney Theatre. Tickets can be purchased via their website at theatre.arizona.edu or by calling the box office at (520) 621-1162. 

 

To Connect or Disconnect, That Is the Question

by China Young

The Last Train to Nibroc, by Arlene Hutton, invites us into a story of two people, a man and a woman, who meet on a train in the middle of the US as World War II evolves. They proceed to maintain a relationship throughout the next few years, though whether the relationship is romantic or not remains unclear until the end – I won’t give it away, but I bet you can guess. It’s a story we’ve seen many times, leaving me wondering, among so many other things, why we need to see it again.

Damien Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

Damien Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

In the program Hutton, the playwright, states that the idea for the play came when she learned that the post-mortem bodies of authors Nathaniel West and F. Scott Fitzgerald traveled on the same train at the same time. She further explains that she chose to introduce her two characters, who were loosely based on her parents, on that same train, and from there she generates “a patchwork quilt of family lore and love stories I heard as a child, all stitched together to tell the fictional tale of May and Raleigh.” Layering a partly fictional love story over a slightly morbid bit of trivia from the past is a bit of a disjointed foundation and is perhaps the root reason I felt multiple layers of disconnect as I tried to absorb this production. 

Susan Claassen, the Managing Artistic Director ushering Invisible Theatre into an impressive 49th year, also directs performers Samantha Cormier (May) and Damien Garcia (Raleigh) in the second show of Invisible Theatre’s 19-20 Season. All of these artists have strong portfolios, offer major contributions to the Tucson theatre community in general, and I have the utmost respect for each of them as fellow theatre artists. Unfortunately, my experience of this production does not reflect the quality of work I know these artists are capable of. I found myself constantly questioning beat shifts, character choices, staging, and a number of other elements that continue to confuse me.

Before I go into more detail on what I found disjointed, let me discuss what worked. The set design by Tom Benson was beautiful and cleverly designed, working in tandem with the strategic staging by Claassen. Each scene, all set in different times and locations, all felt very different environmentally despite them all being on the same set.

The costume designs by Maryann Trombino were great, especially for May. Women often have the better fashions in period-pieces and this was no exception. I especially appreciated how the evolution of her costumes through the timeline of the show reflect the chronology of World War II, from fashionable to rationed simplicity.

The sound design by Rob Boone felt almost like another character as it introduces the audience to the world of the play with a voice over of President Roosevelt talking to the American people. This moment was actually one of the most engaging for me as an audience member. The words of Roosevelt from (circa) 1940 could so easily be addressing our nation today. They resonated with me in such a way that my interest was immediately piqued and I was excited for the show I was about to experience – eager to see what other commentaries it might offer to further parallel “then” and “now.” However, the show never developed the commentary I anticipated from the words of Roosevelt, thus enveloping my entire experience with a degree of disconnect I just couldn’t shake.

Returning to the script, the language seemed to have a spiral-like pattern of repetition, which I believe was a tool the playwright gave the cast and director that wasn’t wielded effectively. In retrospect, I think the audience needed those repetitive moments to anchor us as observers to the beat shifts and tactical changes of the characters as they navigate their own connectivity. Instead I found myself lost in the dialogue, trying to understand what these characters were saying, and why they were saying it the way they were. The intentions that the actors were playing felt out of sync with the rhythms provided in the dialogue, further disengaging me. The use of accents may have added another layer of disconnect to this, with the cadence of the accents often taking over the performance, causing the meaning of what is being said or felt by the character to be lost in translation. In addition, I experienced a lack of chemistry between Garcia and Cormier, further impacting my confusion around character intentions. As I mentioned earlier, this is a story that I knew how it was going to end before it began, which means I was an extra hard sell when it comes to how invested I am throughout that journey, and I may be a harder sell than your average audience member when it comes to love stories in general. 

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Damien Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

By the end, instead of feeling warm and fuzzy, as I imagine the playwright, cast, and director wanted me to feel, I just felt “meh.” I ask again, why did I need to hear this story – again? In my effort to gain more clarity around this question, I watched the Arizona Public Media “Spotlight on the Arts” feature on this production (https://youtu.be/kJna42HDAnE). In this interview, Cormier discusses the way the show repeatedly brings the characters to the edge of connecting, and yet they consistently miss true connection. It’s interesting to consider this since I did experience these “missed connections,” but not it in a way that made me root for them, which is how Cormier describes her relationship with their evolution. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the story and characters instead.

I admittedly may be in the minority when it comes to my experience of Last Train to Nibroc. When the show ended, I heard people say “that was so good,” as well as other exclamations of enjoyment and satisfaction. I encourage folks to see Last Train to Nibroc for themselves – I do believe that this production is exactly what some people are looking for when they want to enjoy a night of theatre. Just because I didn’t make a love connection with it doesn’t mean you won’t. 

Closing this week, you can see it Wednesday, October 30 through Saturday November 2 at 7:30pm, with 3:00pm matinees Saturday, November 2 and Sunday, November 3. Tickets are $35 by calling the Invisible Theatre Box Office at 520-882-9721 or purchasing online at invisibletheatre.com.

Silent Sky is a Fiery Force

by Marguerite Saxton

Playwright Lauren Gunderson writes about women. She tells stories of brave women who altered history through their acts. This is an interesting story-within-a-story given that Gunderson’s life is, in and of itself, a challenge to the status quo. She is considered the most produced living playwright in America. Her prolific pen did not falter in writing Silent Sky, currently on stage at Arizona Theatre Company. Silent Sky is the story of 19th-century female astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. 

Veronika Duerr as Henrietta Leavitt. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Veronika Duerr as Henrietta Leavitt. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Though she has many accomplishments, Leavitt is best known for discovering a way to measure distances to the stars. Born a fiery force in a world that prized domesticity, Leavitt blazed the path for giants such as Edwin Hubble. Her story is one to be told with dignity and pride, and ATC succeeds in delivering. 

Director Casey Stangl makes smart and sensitive choices, casting empowered women who deliver crisp, unapologetic ranges of humor, insight, and seriousness. Veronika Duerr, who portrays Henrietta Leavitt, offers up a nuanced and complicated woman, filled with passion for her work, disdain for normalcy, but appreciation for family. Duerr’s version of Leavitt showcases the many choices women who dare to shine brightly must make along the way, sometimes eschewing partnership or raising a family or other life affirming possibilities in order to pursue the big dream. What I appreciate about how Leavitt is characterized is more than this though. It’s how she didn’t always seem to know the answers either. She is a brilliant and confident woman who also doesn’t know how to navigate the grey areas of life. She is fatigable, and charmingly so.

Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming, two of Leavitt’s colleagues and strong women in their own right, bring a balance to the performance. In sync and flowing freely through their scenes, Inger Tudor, who plays Cannon, and Amelia White, who portrays Fleming, are constant bursts of light in the overarching theme of patriarchal oppression. They must challenge it with their basic existence but find comical ways to do so. Referencing Newton’s, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” one of Fleming’s lines goes: “There’s been a lot of stupid giants”.

A breathtaking infusion of stagecraft and lighting happens between the work of scenic designer Jo Winiarski and Lighting Designer Jaymi Lee Smith. The theme of luminescence pervades this production. We are witness to a pleasing spectrum of visual metaphor through a circular cyclorama. It provides a fresh and inventive take on visual storytelling and serves as a reminder of the grand, cyclical message of it all. An illuminated doorway floats in steady omniscience, seemingly knowing way more than the audience does. This is the portal from which people enter or exit Leavitt’s world with their tidbits of influence and challenge. 

The colors of Silent Sky were like the star-filled night. Dark blues, rich burgundies, royal purples, piercing light blue auras, all coming together to enrich the already well-designed space. 

Between nerdy science jokes and more austere matters such as, you know, breaking down the stigma of working woman and the never-ending glass ceiling we’ve faced throughout history, one will find tender moments of unanswerable paradoxes: a sister in need of support, an admirer who can only get so close, a journey not taken, a life refused to live. “During this time of immense scientific discoveries, women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). We see and feel this palpable struggle throughout the play. In it we experience the fight these women made to balance the daily expectations of their lives and their out-of-this-world desires.

What feels like a small victory for ATC is only slightly paled by the fact that the real Leavitt continued her work at the Harvard Observatory until her death, plucking stars from the sky and categorizing them with an open mind and unabashed curiosity. 

Lucky as we are, Tucsonans are treated to a free horizon show every night. Just look over at Gates Pass around sunset and see what folks from around the world come to capture pictures of. ATC has found a way to squeeze the magic of this beloved natural treasure into a theater, portraying one of its greatest stars with the dazzle she deserves. 

Silent Sky runs from through November 9th. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Arizona Theatre Company box office, calling (520) 622-2823, or online at arizonatheatre.org.

The Little Prince is Pure Magic

by Chloe Loos

The Little Prince is my favorite book. When I was a little girl, my mother introduced me to the world of the enigmatic prince and all the characters he meets throughout his travels of the universe. I didn’t, as most children don’t, quite grasp the eternal life lessons this book has granted me. As I’ve grown, I find myself drawn to quotes from the book that give me clarity. Many of us likely have a similar bond with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novel. Entering the star-strung set, all of my nostalgia came to light.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Scoundrel & Scamp’s adaptation of the novel, translated by Claire Marie Mannle, and adapted and directed by Holly Griffith, delivers everything I so love about this book. I can’t remember the last time that I was so enthralled with a piece of theatre. It’s magical, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s poignantly sad, and every line is filled with deep truths and wisdom. It is in this space that we hear big truths from the little voices of both the prince both on stage and the one within us.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The ensemble cast, led by Kathleen Cannon as The Aviator, glided through this piece of work with grace. Attention was directed and kept so well; I would be so caught up in a performance that I wouldn’t notice the utter magic happening on stage until they reminded me to look for it. While every single performer had moments where they either made me laugh or sometimes brought me to tears – sometimes at the same time – special shout out to Gabriella de Brequet’s performance of the Rose, Cole Potwardowski as The Lamplighter, Ryuto Adamson as The Fox, and each one of Gretchen Wirges’ many characters. The ensemble was so strong and so striking in the physical, vocal, and character work that I sometimes forgot this wasn’t a cast of 30.

The performers navigated the tonal shifts and transitions with beauty and were strongly supported by music director Feliz Torralba. Torralba’s playing underscored multiple moments to the point that she and the music felt like another member of the ensemble. Her strong use of musical motifs helped us journey through the plot and tethered us to characters and emotions felt by the characters on stage and the audience.

In addition, the stagecraft was truly out of this world. The set featured a revolving platform and twinkles of starlight, supported by the incredible lighting (Raulie Martinez) which took us from day to night through sunrises, sunsets, dusk, and twilight. The props were childlike and simple but imbued with a sense of playful awe. No wonder we adults still go to the theatre. Kids go, too. I stayed for the talk back and a little boy, no more than 8, asked a question about what The Prince did after the end of the story, to which Griffith noted was the same sort of question the aviator would ask. This shows that the work we choose to do, as theatre makers, matters. By allowing a space to wonder, to hope, to welcome, the art done impacts hearts and minds of all ages.

Finally, I can’t remember seeing a production this diverse in a long time. Out of nine on-stage bodies, there were six women, half of whom were women of color, and three men, none of whom were white. The creative team was primarily made up of women as well. The variety of performers in this production reminds us that there is so much space for love, acceptance, and voices, if we only let them on stage. Through The Little Prince, those of us in the audience, especially those tired or excluded by lack of representation are reminded, simply, that this story is for all of us.

The Little Prince runs through Sunday, November 3rd at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by calling the box office at (520) 448-3300, or in-person an hour prior to the show.