Quick, witty, and eloquent. ‘Ada and the Engine” finally graces the Tucson theatre scene.

By Elena Quach

Claire De La Vergne as Ada Bryon Lovelace photo credit to Tim Fuller

“Tucson had to wait a long time to see the story of Ada and her engine (it was supposed to open in March 2020, then fall of 2020, before being delayed to its present run), but in a lot of ways, I am glad we as an audience had to survive a pandemic first.”

Friendship, genius, and romance are pervasive themes in Scoundrel and Scamp’s newest production Ada and the Engine, penned by one of my favorite playwrights: Lauren Gunderson. The quick, witty, and eloquent language of the play expertly showcases not only Guderson’s excellent writing craft but highlights each character and their journeys throughout the two-hour show. The play focuses on the life and passions of Ada Byron Lovelace, an unsung female heroine of history. Ada is strong-willed, charming, and wickedly clever — particularly in her genius talent for mathematics. The play follows Ada as she helps program the first computer and faces the trials of being a woman in the 19th century. We see Ada change and grow along with the relationships surrounding her, including a complicated mother and daughter relationship, friendships, and even unrequited love.  

That seems like a lot to pack into a two-hour show. But with the expert direction by Bryan Rafael Falcón and the ensemble of actors working as one unit just like a computer program itself, the audience never felt overwhelmed or lost in the otherwise complex language of Gunderson’s work. Were there moments where the pacing could have been slower or faster? Or where the actors lost their accents in heated moments in the show? Yes. But it was nothing that would hinder a nearly perfect performance by the ensemble. I think my only personal note would be I would have loved to see more moments for self-reflection with Ada, especially in Act Two. Otherwise, I was impressed by this team of actors and what they have accomplished. 

One of the most impressive aspects of this show was the beautiful scenic, lighting/projection, and sound design created by a team of local artists. The design team consisted of Raulie Martinez’s delicate and masterful lighting and projection design, Tiffer Hill’s heart wrenching sound design, and Andie Pratt’s beautiful yet traditional set design. The melding of old and new was perfectly done and became a character itself during the duration of our journey with Ada. The design of this show was easily my favorite from the many shows I have seen at Scoundrel and Scamp. I hope we continue to see this style of design in future productions. Bravo! 

Tucson had to wait a long time to see the story of Ada and her engine (it was supposed to open in March 2020, then fall of 2020, before being delayed to its present run), but in a lot of ways, I am glad we as an audience had to survive a pandemic first. I believe more people would relate to Ada and her story more now than they would have back in 2020. You never know what life has in store for you. You never know when the time with those you love will be cut short. This show had me thinking about what matters the most to me and what I would do for my passions if put in Ada’s shoes. I hope when others see this thoughtful production they will think the same. 

You can catch Scoundrel and Scamp’s production of Ada and the Engine through February 27th, 2022. Patrons are required to either show proof of full vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in the past 72 hours. Patrons are required to wear N95 or K95 masks at all times inside the theatre.

Disclosure: The author, Elena Quach would like to disclose that she is related to the sound designer Tiffer Hill.

Women in Jeopardy will make your belly ache with laughter

by Gabriella de Brequet (She/They)

Gail Rastorfer as Liz, Julia Brothers as Jo, and Aysan Celik as Mary photo credit to Tim Fuller

“This play is the definition of camp and director Sean Daniels took that and ran with it.”

Sometimes you just need a good laugh. I should say laughs, because Women in Jeopardy will hardly give you a moment to breathe; you’ll be laughing 90% of the show. I certainly was, and that’s saying a lot because I’m not usually a vocal audience member. I’m a director’s worst nightmare. I’m usually the last person you want to place by a critic to encourage laughter because I don’t give away laughs for free — they have to be earned. This ensemble earned every laugh that came their way. Three friends Mary (Aysan Celik), Jo (Julia Brothers), and Liz (Gail Rastorfer) go way back, so when Liz introduces her new boyfriend Jackson (Joel Van Liew), a dentist whose female dental hygienist just went missing, the red flags start flying high. Mary and Jo devise a scheme to stop this possible serial killer from taking Liz’s nineteen-year-old daughter Amanda (Ashley Shamoon) camping with him. Mary also recruits a little “help” from Amanda’s out of touch ex-boyfriend Trenner (Damian Garcia).

This play by Wendy Maclead is a modern farce filled with campy moments and predictable yet enjoyable punchlines. The ensemble doesn’t fall short. This play requires momentum for the punchlines to hit. Every cast member has to keep up with the others — and they do! Mary (Aysan Celik) really leads the play; she also resembles Amy Sedaris in type so much that I couldn’t get it out of my head the entire play. She’s an absolute hoot and you can’t help but fall in love with her quirkiness. Jo (Julia Brothers) is grounded and quick witted; her knowing grin was infectious. Liz (Gail Rastorfer) nails the “wine Mom” type who never wants to grow up and she commands your attention. Jackson (Joel Van Liew) served Christopher Llyod vibes. Did I mention he is also double-cast as the loveable goofy cop Sgt. Kirk Sponsüllar who the other characters remark “Looks so much like Jackson”? Trenner (Damian Garcia) and Amanda (Ashley Shamoon) bring a similar level of obliviousness to their characters that’s hilarious to watch. It takes a smart actor to play dumb! This play is the definition of camp and director Sean Daniels took that and ran with it. I will admit some moments were almost too much, particularly the scene transitions. I’m sure these moments served a purpose for set and prop changes, but sometimes they just felt like a fun time and didn’t always support the story, with the exception of the nod to the Say Anything boombox scene, which I deeply appreciated and did connect to the story. 

The set by Michael B. Raiford is strikingly beautiful and detailed. I especially loved the campground scene. My one critique is that Mary’s house didn’t seem like the type of house that Mary would live in. Amanda and Trenner both remark that they wished Mary was their mother as children because of how kind and nurturing she is, but her house is ultra-modern and although its construction is gorgeous I imagined Mary’s house would feel more relaxed and homey. The lighting by Brian J. Lilienthan is almost an additional character and has quite the sense of humor. The costumes by Connie Furr are spot on and illustrate just how different these characters are from one another. There was great prop and costume comedy layered throughout the play and it enhanced the physical comedy. 

If you want a fun night out — or in my case a fun afternoon new-mom outing — you aren’t going to want to miss this play. Bring a date or your best friend and laugh till your belly aches. Women in Jeopardy is just what we need in a pandemic: a hilarious escape. 

Women in Jeopardy runs at ATC through February 5, 2022. For tickets, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/show/women-in-jeopardy/ or call 520-622-2823. ATC is requiring face masks for all patrons, as well as either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test. For their full health and safety policies, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/health-safety/.

Disclosure: The Author Gabriella de Brequet would like to disclose that they went to college with Damian Garcia and has performed on stage with him in several productions. 

Intimacy, Intention, and Intensity can all be found in ‘Venus and Fur’

By Felíz Torralba

Samantha Cormier as Vanda and David Greenwood as Thomas photo credit to JJ Snyder Photography

“This production strikes each moment like a lightning bolt – it’s precise and never misses a beat.”

From the photo on the front of the program I observed when taking my seat in the cozy ART space, I expected this play to be a misogynistic, objectifying play about a woman trying to persuade her director to get a part. Although at times, this play shocked me to my core, it is that and more. It not only plays with the theme of objectification, but it bends it until it breaks. This play pushes the boundaries and is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. Thomas (David Greenwood), a troubled playwright and director, is desperate to find an actress to play Vanda (Samantha Cormier), the female lead in his adaptation of the classic, sadomasochistic tale Venus in Fur. Into his empty audition space walks a volatile, vulgar and equally desperate actress—oddly enough, named Vanda. She exhibits a strong & strange command of the material, intoxicating Thomas with her seductive talents and secretive manner. As the two work through the script, lines become to blur between play and reality, entering into an increasingly serious game of submission and domination that only one of them can win. A mysterious, funny, erotic drama that represents yet another ‘nail-biting’ piece for the multifaceted author David Ives.

Not every director could master the intensity of this intimate play but director Mark Klugheit rose to the challenge with a boldness that bleeds through every facet from the moment you enter the space. This production strikes each moment like a lightning bolt – it’s precise and never misses a beat. Every element perfectly intertwined from casting and costumes, to the small cracks in the windows on set. Every element is thoughtful and intentional. This is necessary for the complexity of the play. Intention is the word that keeps popping up in my head – especially in regards to the acting. This pair of artists compliment each other SO well. Greenwood sets the tone with a steady pitter patter of the classic, picky, east coast director looking for the “perfect actress” to fit his vision. Greenwood plays with a steadiness and flow that remains uninterrupted until the reckoning force that is Samantha Cormier enters as Vanda. Cormier lights up the stage with an electric, striking nature that gives the audience no choice but to keep up with her. Together, they dance on the line between reality and storytelling that has us all questioning how far these characters will go to get what they want. Clearly, these two are both incredibly experienced artists who understand the rhythm and temperature of the entire piece. They never miss a beat. This play has countless twists and turns. As soon as you start to feel an understanding of what this story is, it completely shocks you again and again. It is intense but still digestible. The play is broken up with painfully hilarious moments. I had no trouble staying present in the story and I attribute that to the combination of complete and utter commitment and intention of the creative team and cast. This story is the epitome of metatheatre because it draws attention to its theatrical & dramatic nature and the circumstances of the performance within a performance. There were a few fleeting moments where my attention was lost but they were minimal, because of the shock factors and the character’s back and forth dialog it was very easy to pick back up!

The lighting by Brandon Howell is one mentionable aspect that invites us into the minds of the characters, telling us when they were ‘in scene’ and ‘in reality,’ and ultimately takes us on their journey of the character’s boundaries disappearing. The costume and props were striking! Vanda’s (Samantha Cormier) costume design by Cynthia Jeffery illustrates her character and storyline. The set by Clark Andreas Ray and The sound design were thoughtful and set the scene perfectly. The sound design helped bring an element of shock, magic, and timelessness to the play. Although the tech was minimal, the piece would have not been what it was without it.

This play made me feel uncomfortable and tested my mind in all the best ways. It’s been 48 hours and I’m still thinking about it! I’d recommend this play to anyone who loves adaptations, mythology, and thought provoking theatre! 

Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative covid test are with required Arizona Rose Theatre. ART is located in the Tucson Mall (4500 N Oracle Rd). ‘Venus in Fur’ runs January 21-30. Tickets start at  $22 and are available for purchase at https://arttickets.yapsody.com/event/index/699231/next-stage-theatre-southwest. Call the box office for more information at (520)888-0509.

A Hidden Gift Amongst Holiday Show Standards; a Sonoran Desert Delight

by Mara Capati

Felíz Torralba, Xochitl Martinez, Molly Lyons, Helene Krzyzanowski, and Andy Gonzalez photo cred to Tim Fuller

“It was truly a joy to watch all of these beloved characters weave in and out of multiple contrasting roles with such seamless transition and believable delivery.”

A Sonoran Desert Carol is truly anything but just a “play.” It is a celebration of the culture and the essence of our home in the southwest. This heart-warming story is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, developed and workshopped by the production’s creative team. This reimagination transports local audiences to a place that feels just as nostalgic as the tale itself. You don’t quite know what to expect with this adaptation and that alone creates half of the mystery and magic behind the journey. The play follows the life of Mr. Eli Rumpet, a wildly successful businessman whose greed and selfish decisions lead to an intervention of the heart by otherworldly beings. The hardships and pleas by the people who make up the few relationships in Mr. Rumpet’s life challenge him to reexamine the consequences of his choices, but most importantly, show him that the potential losses of his investments — both literal and metaphorical — go far beyond the material realm and are quite grave, indeed. I hesitate to reveal anything more specific on the delicate unfolding of this story and will leave it to the “time beings” and talented cast to share what is not only theirs but “our story,” with people like you and me.

Director Rick Wamer orchestrates several elements of storytelling that encapsulate the heart of theatre. From traditional stage acting, to box puppetry, to shadow work, to song, and interpretive movement, there is no shortage of creativity in the delivery methods here. The audience is pulled in from the start, with active participation, immersion, and engagement. Wamer takes every opportunity to fully integrate the ensemble, and yes, this is a full ensemble production. Wamer makes it clear that every role, character, voice, and opinion is absolutely necessary to give justice to the message of this production. I cannot speak highly enough of the fluidity of the integration of lighting and sound design to create the effect of immersive transportation of the audience. The technical and human elements in the production truly move as one body from start to finish.

The first individuals I believe that are absolutely necessary to highlight in this production are the youth actors or “scamps.” Though it was mentioned prior to the show that a few young students would be featured, I forgot countless times during the production that these were “novice” students,” because let me tell you, the level of energy, clear acting choices, and unity was consistent and brought to the stage over and over again. If these scamps are any reflection of the quality of education and experience being provided at The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre to youth, then every family needs to look into getting their children enrolled in a workshop or two. The youth were an essential part of the success of this performance, no question there.

Gretchen Wirges played a fabulous and believable Eli Rumpet. Careful attention and diligence was given to all of this character’s mannerisms that paint a “Scrooge-like” force that would rival that of even Ebenezer himself. The evolving character development and resolution that Wirges delivers throughout this production is truly moving and memorable.

I can’t praise enough the clever utilization of the ensemble as characters, props, voices, moving set pieces, and so on — and I won’t get anymore specific than that for fear of spoiling the magic. It was truly a joy to watch all of these beloved characters weave in and out of multiple contrasting roles with such seamless transition and believable delivery. I recall several scenes on stage where the entire cast was moving as one heart-beat and it was absolutely stunning visually. There is a highly effective play on balance and asymmetry all throughout this play kinetically speaking. The “otherworldly” and the “human world” do a delicate dance back and forth but create clear veils between the two as well as bridge a common ground due to the successful delivery and distinctions made by the actors. I can only imagine the repetition, teamwork, and countless hours of focus it takes to capture this type of harmony live on stage.

I am a lover of the holiday season and cheer like many others but there is something unique about this production that truly moves my heart into a space of holiday warmth and gratitude. Maybe it was hearing traditional songs that my family has sung since I was a child around the holiday times, or remembering the scent of fresh tamales and sweet endearments from my mother as a youth in our native language, just like in this rendition of the traditional Christmas Carol story. The diversity and cultural inclusion shared in this production is something that brings me great gratitude for my own roots and upbringing. Gratitude from experiencing blessings and togetherness is a feeling that we all understand regardless of our various walks of life, but it was something else altogether to feel as though I could see my only family or that of my friends and loved ones on stage; their story brought to life for all to see. That is a feeling I’ve only experienced a handful of times as I have watched countless productions in the past with predominantly white, cisgendered, straight, traditional families. I feel grateful for getting to partake in what to me has always been a classic; a story I can relate to, and a story that is my own in many ways.

I highly recommend individuals and families of all ages come and support this fantastic cast and crew! See A Sonoran Desert Carol at the Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre. 

The show is running this upcoming weekend at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at The Historic Y (738 N 5th Avenue #131, Tucson, AZ, 85705): 

Thursday, December 16, 2021 @ 7:30pm (6:45pm Pre-show event), 

Friday, December 17 and Saturday, December 18, 2021 @ 7:30pm, 

and Sunday, December 19, 2021 @ 2pm. 

Tickets are $30 for General Admission, $28 for Seniors, $15 for Students and Teachers, and $15 for Theatre Artists. They can be purchased online at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/a-sonoran-desert-carol or by contacting the Box Office at (520) 448-3300. Masks and proof of vaccination are required to attend.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly is heartwarming and humorous

By Ashley Brown

Elena Lucia Quach as Lydia Wickham and Seth Tucker as Arthur de Bourgh photo credit to Tim Fuller

“By curtain close, you will really feel like you see a bit of yourself in each character from this play.”

During the height of the pandemic lock down, there were moments where I couldn’t imagine a world where live theatre would ever again be an option for us. The idea of sitting in a room FULL of fellow patrons that weren’t completely decked out in hazmat suits seemed truly unattainable to me. So when I sat down with a close friend to watch Miss Bennet: A Christmas at Pemberley this past week, a few tears welled up in pure gratitude as I preemptively unwrapped 6 Starburst candies in my lap before the lights dimmed, and a part of my soul seemed to heal a little. 

This heartwarming and humorous show centers around family dynamics, societal expectations, and personal emotional growth: themes that are relatable to us all, no matter the time period you are living in. The play, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon as an imagined sequel to the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, follows the four Bennet sisters after they decide to spend the Christmas holiday together at Pemberley estate. Mary Bennet, the middle child of the family, is a clever woman, but the last to marry and often cast aside as a future old maid and the assumed Bennet family caretaker. She is unique, witty, and constantly feeding her inquisitive nature by filling her mind with knowledge of the world beyond. Miss Bennet never questions her role or loner status in the Bennet family. Never, that is, until Mr. Darcy decides to host a special guest for Christmas who will help her realize what chosen destiny might look like.   

The moment the curtains went up, I was pleasantly surprised by scenic designer Apollo Mark Weaver’s interpretation of an early 19th-century English living space.  As an artist, I focus on the set of any show. The audience was greeted with a nicely decorated drawing room complete with side library and piano. A beautiful winter landscape backdrop and Christmas tree proudly displayed indoors created an instant feeling of the holidays… and suddenly I needed a peppermint mocha, like, immediately. Weaver’s design separated indoor and outdoor space with tall, free-standing windowpane framing.  

One thing that really stuck out to me about this production with the presence of connection between the cast. Even on preview night, I could easily tell that everyone on stage was comfortable. We all know that if the actors aren’t enjoying themselves, the audience has a hard time really sinking into the story. Under the direction of Sean Daniels, each actor on stage owned their role while also allowing space for nuance and killer comedic timing with their counterparts.  All the actors’ physical comedy and choreographed movement held a consistent pace for the entire evening.  My friend and I laughed out loud many times throughout the show, which was exactly what I wanted to get into the holiday spirit. By curtain close, you will really feel like you see a bit of yourself in each character from this play.

It was lovely to welcome new faces acting at the Arizona Theatre Company.  It was especially encouraging to see a bit more diversity in the cast for this production.  Representation in this world matters a great deal.  If we continue to work towards a community of TRUE inclusivity, I believe the world of arts/theatre will flourish alongside it. I look forward to seeing Arizona Theatre Company continue this evolution. 

Bottom Line – Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley gave me everything I wanted in a holiday production.  This show is complete with humor, wit, and the DRAMA. I left this play feeling warmth, connection, and the memory of what it first felt like to fall in love.  Go see this show before tickets sell out!  Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs at ATC through December 4, 2021. For tickets, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/show/miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley/ or call 520-622-2823. ATC is requiring face masks for all patrons, as well as either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test. For their full health and safety policies, visit https://arizonatheatre.org/health-safety/.

Birds of North America will move hearts all over the world!

by Mara Katrina Capati

Tony Caprile as John and Erin Amsler as Caitlin. Photo credit to Alex Alegria.

“Truly, no indoor theatre setting could quite capture the beauty of the still trees, the quiet twittering of birds, the steady breeze and cloudy skies, casted over two actors who couldn’t look more “in their element”

A cloudy afternoon sky and the peaceful whispers of the surrounding wildlife at the Valley of the Moon, paints a stunning, immersive backdrop for Winding Road’s production of “Bird’s of North America.” Playwright, Anna Ouyang Moench orchestrates a dance of intention and expression between a father and daughter who struggle finding common ground over the course of 10 years, in anything except their shared appreciation for bird watching. Pardon, “birding,” as a steady husband and father, John would correct me. The tension is palpable as Caitlyn is faced with the ever evolving challenges of young womanhood including navigating new relationships, struggling to complete passion projects, finding meaningful work in the job market, and fertility health disappointments. 

John has his fair share of his own troubles. His wife is a doctor and the family unit’s primary financial provider. Over the years, John and Caitlyn’s individual stances become more apparent. The journey of individuality, growth, and companionship between John and Caitlyn is certain to invoke a tear or two. This story is not of our own, yet emits such a strong sense of nostalgia that you can’t quite place, but is seeded somewhere deep inside, recalling a time when we too, felt so moved to reactionary extremes because of the words or actions of a loved one, who at times we couldn’t be more infuriated with, but all the more, loved with equal ferocity. 

Director, Maria Caprile brings to life isolated moments of authentic intimacy and conflict between our main characters, outdoors, in the beautiful Valley of the Moon. Technical elements and actor delivery had no barriers in this outdoor venue; you could hear every sound and line, clear as day. Truly, no indoor theatre setting could quite capture the beauty of the still trees, the quiet twittering of birds, the steady breeze and cloudy skies, casted over two actors who couldn’t look more “in their element” within the confines of each scene. Main characters, John and Caitlyn, always attempt to meet each other on mutual ground. The ease and serenity of the delivery of these actors in this location is irrefutably “something else.” Caprile isolates these scenes in a way that truly pulls you into the urgency of each conversation in the “now.” As each scene passes and time progresses in their relationship, the audience is left asking, “What is going on in either John or Caitlyn’s life now?” And the actors take their time. Oh, do they take their time, setting up the “tone of the year” at the beginning of each scene. You know to be patient, as it won’t be too long before one of them finally caves in and initiates the dance, once again. Timing is of the essence in delivery here and it is incredibly believable and effective. Caprile visually transports the audience into what almost feels like an otherworldly place, isolated and safe from the rest of reality. When John and Caitlyn come together for “birding”, it quite literally feels like time stops. Every word hangs in the air and every unanswered question from John or Caitlyn, lingers with an essence of immortality; whispered out into the vast mountains that they are constantly looking to for solace and answers. The characters leave and reenter this space, over and over again, almost as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. The only exception, the birds. John and Caitlyn are staged to mirror and counterbalance each other seamlessly, as we see them weave naturally from the roles of conversationalist, to observer, to muse, to offense, to defense, but always back to the birdwatcher. Caprile takes, what for some, are the most uncomfortable conversations we will ever have, and makes the unpalatable something that audiences can digest in earnest. Set in an open and peaceful space.

Tony Caprile’s performance as John was steady and consistent, relying on the subtlest of choices to indicate the true turmoil going on underneath the strong face he puts on for his daughter and wife. He’s portrayed as a lovable, quirky, but hard-headed father who manages to maintain his charm from start to finish. Erin Amsler ‘s interpretation of Caitlyn is one that takes on the challenging task of setting the foundation for who Caitlyn is and developing her character over time by what is unfortunately driven primarily by negative life changing events, dissatisfaction, and complacency in her current circumstances. Her tone and view slowly evolves from a headstrong woman not yet, too scorn, to a woman, old for her years, who understands to well the strong disconnect from the life we dream of and have always wanted, to the hand that we’re dealt with and needing to make the most out of it in order to survive. Erin delivers a strong performance and counterpart to Tony’s, John, that immerses the audience in the heartfelt dance between this father and daughter. You truly feel the love, frustration, anger, and hope between these too dedicated characters from start to finish.

As a young woman myself, I can fondly recall the many conversations I’ve had with my father as a child, a teen, a twenty something, and soon to be thirty something. After seeing this production, I couldn’t help but feel the need to hug my father and mother just a little bit tighter the next time I see them.. At the core of who we are and the validation we want as human beings, we really aren’t as different as we’d like to think. This production will move it’s audiences to truly consider where people can have empathy for each other and find mutual ground, regardless of where they are in life and what they believe. Sometimes blood and love is all that you have in common with a person and maybe a mutual love of birds. This play asks if that is that enough. 
I highly recommend patrons who have not yet attended this thought-provoking production, see it this upcoming weekend November 20th and November 21st at 2pm at the Valley of the Moon. Tickets are $25 a person and can be purchased online at http://www.windingroadtheater.org or contact the Box Office at (520) 401-3626. Masks are required for viewing.

Intimacy, love, and marriage in challenging times

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Photo credit to Tim Fuller; pictured are Maggie Josephine McNeil as Mary and Stephen Dunham as Charlie.

“Susan Arnold, the director, masterfully directs the actors to flawlessly change from one scene to the next.”

It doesn’t seem to matter what else is going on in the world; people meet and fall in love. Mary’s Wedding, by Canadian author Stephen Massicotte, is set against the backdrop of World War I. Although another pandemic raged during that time, it is not referenced during the play. However, the war itself is ever-present in the script. The opening scene shows Mary on the eve of her wedding. The play then progresses backward to a range of scenes depicting her relationship with Charlie, the young farm boy with whom she falls in love. The tenderness, joy, and even awkwardness of first love is skillfully played out with a series of vignettes. The scenes are nonlinear, but quickly the audience can see their relationship blossom and grow against the backdrop of the Canadian West as well as the battlegrounds of Europe during The Great War.

Susan Arnold, the director, masterfully directs the actors to flawlessly change from one scene to the next. She uses the entire stage to give some boundaries and context to where the action is in time and space. Quickly, the audience knows where we are: the farm in Alberta, or the trenches in Europe. Additionally, Maggie Josephine McNeil plays two characters, a male and a female. Often the change in characters is seen only by moving from one part of the stage to the other. As the play is about Mary’s dream, she remains in her nightgown throughout, so we really pause our disbelief as far as why she is portraying a man on the battlefield dressed this way. There is language in the play that clarifies this for us as Charlie imagines that he sees Mary everywhere and in everyone.

McNeil is artful in her portrayal of both Mary and the sergeant. When the play opened, I thought, “Who is this young British actress? Perhaps she is a recent graduate of The University of Arizona.” Yes, she is indeed a recent graduate, but not British. She and fellow castmate Stephen Dunham credit their accents to David Morden from U of A, who served as their dialect coach. Not only was her dialect perfect for both of the characters, but they were really developed with full ranges of emotion and believability.

Stephen Dunham, Charlie, reminded me of my first boyfriend from New Brunswick. Being Canadian, I must admit, I have a special softness still for all things Canadian. The gee, gosh, shucks simplicity and youthful enthusiasm were aptly portrayed by him. When he enlists, I was reminded of my mother, who served as a nurse during WW2. She felt she had to represent her family as her brothers weren’t able to serve. That sense of duty to country was totally embodied in Charlie. The sense of honor and privilege no matter what the outcome was truthfully shown. Dunham masterfully used his physicality in the scenes in the trenches as well as the sweet moments with McNeil.

McNeil and Dunham had never met until the first rehearsal. I was impressed by their tender scenes of physical intimacy. I was heartened to know that an Intimacy Director, Matt Denney, was used to help them have a safe space to create these scenes. I applaud Scoundrel & Scamp for being sensitive to the issues that intimate interactions can create for actors.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the sound and lighting. With a simple set basically of wooden pieces representing the barn, we were often transported to the battlefield, or to a lightning storm through the lighting and special sound effects. Tiffer Hill’s sound design made me feel like I was in the middle of a thunderstorm with all the fury that they can portray. Raulie Martinez’s lighting mirrored the action going on, from a charming afternoon in town to shelling on the battlefield. Robert Lopez-Hanshaw’s beautiful original score perfectly mirrored the mood of each moment of the play.

Every minute of this play was savored by me. I was uplifted, given hope, shown resilience, and most of all, regained that intimacy that only live theater can give an audience. It feels wonderful to be back to that which we love. All adult audiences will love this tender award- winning play. Please do yourself a favor and savor every moment as I did.

Mary’s Wedding runs at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre through November 7th. Tickets may be purchased online at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/ or by calling the S&S Box Office at (520) 448-3300. S&S is spacing seating, requiring patrons to wear masks while in the theatre, provide proof of vaccination OR proof of a negative COVID test at the time of check-in, and using enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols. For their full policies and safety parameters, please visit https://scoundrelandscamp.org/covid-safety-parameters.

Black. Lives. Matter.

In order to hold space for this movement, we are postponing the announcement of The Carmen Award winners until further notice.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Taming of the Review stands with those grieving and protesting in response to the senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the countless black lives lost to racist and/or police violence. The 400-year-old cycle of violence against Black Americans must stop.

Black. Lives. Matter.

We stand with all Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the fight for equity, liberty, and justice. We call out and denounce systemic racism, bigotry, hatred and intolerance.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Taming of the Review is committed to calling out white privilege, bias, and racism within ourselves and our community. And we are ready to do the crucial hard work ahead. Our ears, hearts, and minds are open and ready to learn.

Black. Lives. Matter.

These words mean nothing without action. Click this link to learn more about how you can support the movement.

There are No Lumps in the Rogue’s Darkly Funny Beauty Queen of Leenane

by Bianca Regalado

The Beauty Queen of Leenane takes the audience on a tense exploration of a toxic relationship between a mother and daughter. Under the direction of Christopher Johnson and with the opulent acting of the entire ensemble, this dark comedy written by playwright Martin McDonagh is a heavy play with tragic resolutions. 

Holly Griffith as Maureen and Cynthia Meier as Mag. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith as Maureen and Cynthia Meier as Mag. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

This is an indelible story about the toxic relationship between a mother, Mag (Cynthia Meier) and her daughter, Maureen (Holly Griffith). The play is set in Leenane, a village in Western Ireland. We begin our journey with Maureen who at age 40 still lives with her sick and elderly mother Mag. Maureen’s life has been stuck in a repetitive cycle for the last 20 years. Everyday she has the same routine of: caring for her mother in the morning and making sure she has her porridge, her tea, and complan (a powder nutrient/electrolyte you can mix with water or milk).  Maureen hasn’t achieved anything that she has felt was worthwhile in her life, career, education, or most importantly, in love. She is resentful towards her mother for all of the chances she feels caring for her has cost her, and Mag in turn, is resentful towards her daughter for how both of their lives have stagnated.

Griffith as Maureen was stunning. Maureen goes through quite a dark and emotional journey throughout the play and forces herself to make life altering decisions, decisions that will not only affect her but her mother as well. Griffith was vulnerable and real, you could feel her emotional shifts. In the first act of the play you witness this happen when Maureen notices that her mother hadn’t listened to a word that she said when she exclaimed in the middle of Maureen’s monologue that, “there’s no sugar in this!” referring to the tea. And just as quickly as her mother interrupted, Griffith’s expression within a second turned from teasing and light laughter to a sudden death silence and sharp glare at her mother that made you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Meier as Mag really got under your skin and she was brilliant. Meier knows how to navigate the confusion and deep depression Mag has, and for the most part caused herself. 

The entirety of the play has the audience holding their breath. Griffith and Meier work together wonderfully in creating a space that feels and shows how tense and uncomfortable they are together, and it’s all the time. You become exhausted from the hatred and toxicity this relationship has. The only breaks we get are from Ray (Hunter Hnat), neighbor to Maureen and Mag, who visits the ladies regularly. He is  in his late 20s to early 30s, is a jokester, and brings humor and light back to the play. Just when things become too unbearable, Ray comes in and gives the audience and characters a break with his sarcastic and mood lifting comments. The jokes are quick and hilarious, Hnat executes his lines in a very natural and clean way. 

There are times of hope in the play and that is when Pato (Ryan Parker Knox), older brother of Ray and Maureen’s potential love interest, enters the stage. Knox really makes you want to root for Pato. You really feel that his feelings for Maureen are real and that he is a simple man who wants to find love. Knox was heartwarming and heartbreaking. 

Music played a large part in the play. The live band (Music director, composer/arranger Russel Ronnebaum, Aiden Kram [violin], Robert Marshall [cello], Janine Piek [violin]) played within scenes and transitions. The cello was most prominent during monologues and beginning of the scenes and the violin would screech during times of revelation and pivotal moments. The music was a great and a haunting character within the play. 

The scenic work was different but reflected the naked and chilly feeling of the play. Designed by Amy Novelli, walls were not used on the set. Instead doorways and a window were hung from wiring, a kitchen sink, cabinet, fridge and stove placed upstage center, an old wooden kitchen table and three chairs center stage, an old fireplace stage right and Mags rocking chair and lamp stage left create a small kitchen. 

If you are a sucker for suspense and dark humor then see this play. If you have a less than great relationship with your mother, watch with caution. 

Editor’s Note: Due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, the Rogue’s production of Beauty Queen of Leenane was canceled before we could publish this review. We apologize for our delay and deeply appreciate the work of the cast and crew.

A Comedic Crash Course in Shakespeare

by Betsy Labiner

I should probably begin with something of a disclaimer: I’m a massive William Shakespeare fan. Check my credentials: I’ve made multiple pilgrimages to both Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe Theatre. I own five different copies of Shakespeare’s complete works (not to mention individual versions of almost all the plays), a number of film adaptations, manga versions, a map of the locations of the plays, and a small golden bust of the man himself. I’m writing my dissertation on Shakespeare and the theatre of his time. My love affair with Shakespeare has been burning strong for over two decades now (my nerdiness manifested at a young age), and shows no signs of ever dimming. 

As you can imagine, when I heard that Arizona Rose Theatre was staging The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, I had feelings. Mostly positive feelings, but still – I was both excited and trepidatious, worried about whether my love of Shakespeare was going to color my reaction to this take on his oeuvre. Attempting to even mention all his plays in roughly an hour and a half is a tall order, so I couldn’t imagine what Complete Works was going to look like or how it would manage the task that the play itself calls “a feat that we believe to be unprecedented in the history of civilization. That is, to capture, in a single theatrical experience, the magic, the genius, the towering grandeur of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.”

complete works

The complete cast of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. Photo courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

They do more than manage it. Under the direction of Mark Klugheit, actors Steve McKee, Stephanie Howell, and Daniel Hagberg attack the challenge with gusto, jumping from role to role with alacrity. The presentation of the abridged complete works operates within a frame narrative in which the actors set out to introduce an allegedly “intellectually flaccid” audience to Shakespeare. There is no such thing as the fourth wall or suspension of disbelief in this production; the actors address each other out of character, speak directly to the audience, and even solicit audience participation. It’s a lot of fun, and – if I may be my graduate student self for a moment – actually a wonderful encapsulation of the theatrical experience of Shakespeare’s own time. Shakespeare is held up today as a paragon of artistic intelligence and sophistication, and while his work certainly is those things, it is also unrepentantly crass, bawdy, violent, pun-filled, and subversive. His gorgeous verse tricks people into thinking he couldn’t possibly make a “your mom” joke, but he does (see act IV, scene II of Titus Andronicus). This is all to say that Complete Works is rowdy, salacious, and absolutely in keeping with the spirit of Shakespeare. 

The play begins and ends with two of Shakespeare’s most famous works – Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, respectively – and crams the other 35 plays, plus a nod to the sonnets, in between. If there was any element that disappointed me, it was simply that we didn’t get more. Some of the plays are essentially just name-dropped before we skip on to the next joke. The brevity is the point, of course, but I would have been happy to stretch the irreverent fun for as long as possible. One of my favorite moments was the play’s take on Titus Andronicus, which was presented in the form of a hilariously off-kilter cooking show. It was unapologetically dark humor, and I loved it. 

The actors don’t indulge in overacting so much as revel in it, leaning on it for comedic effect in moments that might otherwise derail the lightheartedness of the play. The over-the-top death scenes and self-aware soliloquizing are all part of the fun. All three actors deserve praise for their ability to slip in and out of Shakespearean verse, weaving the frame narrative as well as modern pop culture references into the various Sparknotes-esque scenes. They also did a great job responding to and working with the audience, even in clearly unscripted moments in which feisty audience members seized the opportunity to ham it up. I applaud the comedic use of lighting and music, particularly a scene in which McKee is forced to literally chase the spotlight. Hat tip to Ruben Rosthenhausler, Paul Mayfield, and Brandon Howell on those elements! 

I also want to praise the casting. Complete Works is typically performed by three men, but as demonstrated by this production, there’s absolutely no reason that need be the case. Gender-blind casting affects neither the humor nor the story, and simply opens up new possibilities in interpretation. 

Whether you’re a Shakespeare afficionado or a more casual consumer of his work, this play is for you. It’s a blast through and through, as long as you’re willing to not take yourself, or Shakespeare, too seriously. The play contains adult humor and profanity, so this probably isn’t something you should attend with young children. 

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged is playing at The Arizona Rose Theatre through March 15. The only bad news? Much of the run is already sold out! They’ve added one additional performance already, but tickets are going quickly. You can check availability online at http://www.arizonarosetheatre.com/, or call (520) 888-0509. And as McKee says, “May the Bard be with you.”