“Don’t feel obliged to go see this show, go see it out of desire.”
Live Theatre Workshop’s current production of Paul Michael Thomson’s play “Fremont Junior high is NOT doing Oklahoma” was the light-hearted breath of fresh air I needed. I must admit I stayed up past my bedtime for this show, but it was worth it! I left the theater with a big cheesy grin and the urge to re-watch Mean Girls. Who doesn’t want to feel that way after watching a show that follows the drama of a teenage drama club president named Chrysanthemum? Maybe you should stick to watching the musical Oklahoma if you don’t.
The play follows our know-it-all nerdy musical theater drama club president and his classmates including his BFF, drama club vice president Phylicia, a coloratura soprano. Conflicts arise when they discover that the spring play is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. The play is filled with fun, witty, independent, and somewhat tragic characters that are relatable to every 8th grader inside of us.
Ally Tanzillo’s top-notch directing brought out the best in every character played by a wonderfully funny ensemble. I can’t pick out any standout performances because each one was unique and entertaining in their own way. The ensemble includes. Jake Montgomery as Chrysanthemum, Gianbari Deebom as Alexy, Eddie Diaz as Zak, Trystan Garcia as Jack, Amaya Ravenell as Phylicia, and Tristan Kissel as Travis. The ensemble performs as one fine-tuned unit, with wonderful comedic timing throughout the entire performance. It was a joy to watch and left me chuckling to myself for the rest of the evening.
The play contains conversations that I know some adults in the theater industry would fight over right now and I am happy to see this play being produced in Tucson. I was overjoyed to see characters that remind me of the middle schoolers I teach today. I was relieved that the LGBTQ+ community was represented within a middle school setting. I thought this play would give me early 2000s middle school tv flashbacks but gave me a fresh approach to what we see in present-day middle schools all around our nation. Don’t feel obliged to go see this show, go see it out of desire.
Live Theatre Workshop requires proof of vaccination and masks required to enter the theater. Fremont Jr. High is NOT doing Oklahoma runs from April 8-23rd. For more information about tickets visit livetheatreworkshop.org
In this creative tale written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, whose work is no stranger to the Scoundrel & Scamp stage, You and Me and the Space Between, directed by Susan Arnold, transports us into the isolated world of the Proud Island people. Actor Emily Fuchs brings Proud Island to us, as they describe the day to day life of a Proud Island native on the small floating country. Her fiery-haired character is the first to question the rigid traditions that everyone else on the island, specifically the loud and opinionated adults, follow blindly. Oscar De La Rocha, Amanda Lopez-Castillo, Gretchen Wirges, and Emily Gates deliver great character work, each playing multiple islanders. We are transported further into their world as Maddie Hill’s foley artistry creates sound effects and adds an extra level of believability to the actors’ presentation of their world.
Right off the bat, when their beloved island that floats like an apple (not sinking like a pear would) springs a leak, all on the island are sent into a frenzied panic, not understanding what has happened and having no tools to help them fix it. Emily Fuchs’ character takes a deep breath and suggests what no one ever has before: maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the world than just their beloved floating home. Her idea is immediately protested by the island’s older citizens, but she is able to persuade them through the logic and support of her mother, played in that scene by Amanda Lopez-Castillo. Soon enough, they work together to turn the island into a giant boat, using their resources to create oars and row on to the unknown. Projection of real waves onto the set makes me believe I’m on the island-boat with them, as the sound of waves crashing from Maddie Hill heightens the sensory experience.
As dawn rises on a new day using warm lighting design, the Proud Island people crash into another island inhabited by the Long Cliff people. They are met at first with love and support, and then with discrimination and violence from some of the disapproving Long Cliff islanders. The show dives into themes of teamwork and community, as well as discrimination and hardships faced by immigrants and refugees seeking a better life. We witness the beauty of shared language and culture as their two worlds are brought together and traditions are broken. We feel frustrated as they experience acts of hatred from the Long Cliff people, but happy as Proud Island adults decide to explore the new world, forging the way for others to feel comfortable doing the same. Credit is never given to Emily Fuch’s character though they deserve it, but being a shy individual, she is not upset to be in the background – she merely wants to know that she’s made a difference.
Overall, despite some plot holes (what happened to the leaks in the island?) the story is written well, and the actors really bring it to life beautifully. Direction from Susan Arnold makes the story believable and clean, costumes by Gretchen Wirges evoked a sense of unity and creative curiosity, with features reminiscent of the ocean and island itself. Aside from microphone issues and feeling like I was missing concrete or specific story resolution, I left feeling satisfied with the lessons of community-building and staying true to yourself that were present throughout. It was done really well, and my only complaint was that in a story inspired by Pacific Islanders that centered on themes of diversity and inclusion, the majority of the cast were not AAPI or BIPOC aside from Amanda Lopez-Castillo and Oscar De La Rocha. Though the lessons and themes were still delivered successfully, I felt a more diverse cast would have brought an extra level of authenticity and perspective to the piece that I felt was missing.
Overall, if you’re looking for a lighthearted family show that teaches valuable lessons about family; diversity, equity, and inclusion; listening to your heart; and valuing your roots; this show is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and I left thinking about how I might be able to follow my own heart more often, be more inclusive, and take a risk in order to discover a whole new world outside of my own limited view.
“Thompson commands the stage from the moment he enters … Peavy, as his sister, is a worthy opponent. The tension between the two of them is palpable every time they are together.”
A black box, an empty space, becomes whatever a director and production crew can imagine it to be. At Pima Community College, the black box theater becomes a home in 1936 Pittsburgh. Even before you enter the theater, you hear the haunting sounds of jazz that were integral to that time period. You are transported to that time and place. The Piano Lesson, which won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for best play, is getting ready to begin. It is the fourth play in The Pittsburg Cycle by August Wilson. He was once quoted as saying that this play is about “acquiring one’s self-worth by denying one’s past.”
The opening scene introduces Boy Willie, played by Richard “Chomps” Thompson, as he comes from the south with a truckload of watermelons and a dream of selling them. Additionally, he wants to return south to purchase land that he would work as a landowner, as opposed to a sharecropper. A key to this dream is selling a piano, a family heirloom, that his sister Bernice, played by PJ Peavy, is adamant about keeping in the family. The play features the major theme of legacy and its importance to all of us. In addition, Wilson adds a dose of the supernatural to influence the characters’ decisions.
The director, Chanel Bragg, and assistant director, Gianbari Debora Deebom, have truly worked to create an ensemble that is entirely believable as life long friends as well as family. The inside jokes and teasing and tension that occurs in such relationships is palpably evident. Also, the collaboration between Arizona Theatre Company and Pima to create workplace and college partnerships is a perfect example for how these types of organizational relationships can work for the mutual benefit for all involved.
The highlights of the acting of this ensemble are Thompson and Peavy. Thompson commands the stage from the moment he enters. His verbal delivery of the lines, using dialect from the time period, is pitch-perfect. Additionally, he is very gifted in using his physicality to totally own every scene. Peavy, as his sister, is a worthy opponent. The tension between the two of them is palpable every time they are together. She easily and flawlessly evokes and transmits the range of emotions that her character feels around the complicated family dynamics. I must mention Maretha, played by Neaja Thomas. She went from being a computer wife in the recent Sponge Bob production to an 11-year-old in this show very believably. The standing ovation at the end of the performance that I attended was well-deserved for them, as well as the entire cast and crew. Kudos to all involved.
The set, lighting, and costume design are also well worthy of such accolades. All of these added to being transported back in time to the post-depression era. I was especially taken by the special effects used to give credence to the element of the supernatural. I know that ATC was instrumental in many pieces of the set. No detail was overlooked, even to the piano’s embellishments.
As a current student in Theatre Arts at Pima, I must commend the college for producing a show which gives students the opportunities to practice their craft in real time. As a former educator myself, I know the benefits that such opportunities provide. With that in mind, any issues with the performance are likely due to that fact that many of the actors are having an early – or even their first – opportunity at a performance. Acknowledging that, they all did extremely well given those circumstances.
Andrea Pratt Anderson, the production manager, shared that she would like to do an August Wilson play each year. I commend Pima for giving future students continued opportunities to see artists of color as vibrant members of the theater community. August Wilson said he wanted to give the white community a look at the black community in America. I think given the times, seeing communities both like an unlike your own continues to be as important as ever.
If you can grab a ticket for the upcoming performance this weekend please do. I think this show would be most appropriate for high school students as well as adults. The show runs through April 3; Thursday – Saturday shows are at 7 p.m., and Sunday shows are at 1 p.m. Visit https://pima.edu/community/the-arts/theatre-arts/pima-presents.html for more information or to purchase tickets.
*Taming of the Review would like it to be known that Richard “Chomps” Thompson is a memeber of our writing collective.
“Nina Simone: Four Women is at times not an easy play to watch, but don’t skip it. It is an example of the way that strong theatre bridges experiences, creates connections, and encourages us to think more deeply and critically about our present and ourselves.”
The opening moments of Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Christina Ham’s Nina Simone: Four Women, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene, literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Nina Simone (played with charged intensity by Candace Thomas) sings to the audience, lit by a single focused spotlight. As she sings, screams and sounds of sirens begin to overlap with her voice, eventually overpowering it and culminating in the sounds of an explosion. The unsettling juxtaposition of song and screams sets the tone for the play, which is a taut exploration of the United States’ ugly systemic and institutional racism explored through Nina Simone and three women she meets in the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by white supremacist terrorists.
When the stage lights come up after Nina’s opening solo, the audience is transported to the interior of the bombed church; the stage is littered with broken stained glass, charred bibles, rubble, and splintered furniture. Pews hang suspended in the air alongside chunks of masonry, giving the impression of an explosion still in progress. Arnel Sancianco’s set design encapsulates the sense of being in the midst of calamity, finding a stolen moment away from the Civil Rights protests and violent retribution by police. This environment is cemented by Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting design and Daniel Perelstein Jaquette’s sound design, which periodically create chaotic clashes, further explosions, and a general sense of the world spiraling out of control. “There’s a war going on outside this church,” says one of the characters, and the ambience onstage never lets the audience forget it.
In the midst of this destruction, Nina Simone tries to write a song that will speak to the Black experience in America and the struggles of achieving equality. “I am at work to build a better world,” she declares. As she works, she is joined by Sarah (played by Deidra Grace), Sephronia (played by Katya Collazo), and Sweet Thing (Kia Dawn Fulton). The interactions and relationships between the four women — all of whom are brilliantly acted — bring to life huge issues of oppression, women’s rights, racism and colorism, and movements for social change as lived by the individual. I was unequivocally engaged by each of their stories, particularly as we learned a bit about who they are and why they do or don’t participate in the Civil Rights campaign through marches and protests. The play interrogates Blackness and womanhood, and the intersections of racial and gender politics. It unflinchingly highlights how both the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Lib movement simultaneously sidelined and failed Black women. It also questions methodologies of participation and change, especially during a scene in which Sephronia offers strategy after strategy of Kingian nonviolent protest, and Nina snaps, “Too slow!” after each suggestion.
The acting and singing throughout is strong. Thomas is by turns cutting and wounded, manic and exhausted, as she strives to “create music that wakes folks up.” Her movements conveyed a restless impatience and barely-banked fury as Nina contemplates how to leverage her fame into making a tangible difference. Grace is also arresting, with her hardened pragmatism that eventually reveals insecurities and doubts as Sarah converses with Nina, Sephronia, and Sweet Thing. Grace has a beautiful voice, and I found myself frequently watching her in moments when all four women sang together.
The play grapples with a lot of heavy, thorny issues — at times it verges on feeling like too much. It’s a necessary discomfort, though, as the United States has yet to reconcile its institutional oppression with the promise of equality. I left the theater mulling on my own experiences and the ways in which the play’s depiction of 1963 could easily have been a depiction of the present with only the smallest of changes in references to current events. This was particularly true in the moments when the characters named the four girls killed in the bombing — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair — in what felt to me like a nod to the current “Say Their Names” movement. Nina Simone: Four Women is at times not an easy play to watch, but don’t skip it. It is an example of the way that strong theatre bridges experiences, creates connections, and encourages us to think more deeply and critically about our present and ourselves. Nina Simone: Four Women is playing at ATC through March 19th. Tickets are available for purchase online at arizonatheatre.org or by calling the box office at 1-833-ATC-SEAT (1-833-282-7328). ATC is requiring proof of vaccination for entry to the theatre, and masks must be worn in the courtyard and theatre.
Based on the well-known and loved cartoon by Stephen Hillenburg, The SpongeBob Musical features original songs by a host of popular artists including Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Sarah Bareiles, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, T.I., and many more! The play follows Spongebob, Patrick, Sandy and others as they team up on a mission to save Bikini Bottom from a volcanic eruption; meanwhile, their rival at the Chum Bucket, Plankton, is up to no good as he plans to take advantage of the ensuing chaos to benefit his own interests. Hilarity ensues and friendships are tested in this musical adventure!
There were many great things worth noting about the incredible talents and efforts of the Pima Community College Theatre students. However, there were, unfortunately, also production issues and directorial decisions that I feel heavily impacted the overall quality of the show.
The lighting and set design transports audiences to what we love and know as the underwater town of Bikini Bottom. The sound production unfortunately fell short as balancing volume in group numbers at times was highly distorted or imbalanced, making it difficult to hear the soloist as well. A few of the soloists were singing in the lower end of their vocal register and as a result the mics would at times not pick up their words or notes. That was not the only barrier, though, as on top of that, the sound system used did not fill the space as a whole or round out effectively for audience listening. I found it an interesting choice to not alter the keys of a few of the lead roles, considering that there were three lower vocal part roles (tenor/baritone/bass) played by three higher vocal singers (alto, Soprano). I would be remiss to not mention this incredible feat conquered by three incredibly talented performers: Samantha Beemer, Allie Devaney, and Kendall Hicks. Having heard all of these actors perform vocally in other settings, I know the disadvantage they were up against by not getting to sing in the most comfortable parts of their registers. That being said, they absolutely killed it. And it only got better when they had group features. My favorite example of this was the music number “BFF.” This is vocal talent and versatility at its finest and I am encouraged to see such skill in young, rising performers!
Staging choices overall for the production were good, but there was some difficulty at times for the actors speaking to be seen by the audience members on the orchestra floor. On the positive side, though, there were also staging choices that really physically pulled the audience in and made you feel part of the camaraderie and mission to save Bikini Bottom! An example of this is the dance numbers that come out into the house walkways, wonderfully choreographed by Lena Quach. It’s always a treat to see more modern and hip-hop dance styles featured in theatre.
There are nostalgic and reminiscent character choices as well as new character interpretations that these students have worked incredibly hard on to bring to life. With those expectations in mind, I recommend that local theatre and SpongeBob fans come out and support the Pima Theatre program. As a member of the community who works in social services with youth and children’s theatre, I would advise for the families interested in seeing the production with young children to be aware that the show contains some adult situations and content. That being said, patrons should storm the box offices for a chance to see independent and sultry Plankton steal the dance floor.
The show runs Feb. 24 – March 6, Thursday – Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m., ASL Night: March 3 at the Pima West Campus, Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W, Anklam Rd. 85709. Tickets are $18 – $24, with student discounts available. Tickets can be purchased at pima.edu/arts. The box office is open Tuesday – Friday 12-5 and one hour prior to each performance. 520-206-6986, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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.
“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.
“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!
“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.
“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/.