Life Imitates Art Imitates Life in “Stage Kiss”

by Chloe Loos

Stage Kiss at Live Theatre Workshop is a play about actors, which often leads to a sense of self-absorbed narcissism that by nature of its topic excludes casual theatre-goers. But that is not the case here. Sarah Ruhl’s amazing script toes the line between commentary on art and commentary on love, in a comedic way that ensures the audience will not be left behind on more theatre-specific jokes — though if you are involved with theatre, it is that much better.

Shanna Brock and Stephen Frankenfeld in Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Shanna Brock as She and Stephen Frankenfeld as He. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The play opens with a woman called She (Shanna Brock) auditioning for her first play in years in that insecure, “do-I-belong-here” way that follows many artists throughout their career. She continues to take this hesitancy through rehearsals, although she finds power in slamming her co-star, her ex, He (Stephen Frankenfeld). The stage kisses lead to off-stage kisses as the two rekindle their romance at the end of the first act, leading to She leaving her husband and child and He breaking up with his girlfriend. The duo are accompanied by a colorful roster of well-costumed talent (Michael Woodson, Janey Roby, and Matthew Copely) playing double-cast characters, the most amusing of all being Keith Wick, who utilizes riotous physical comedy and a variety of different voices to great effect. Jubilee Reynolds as Angela, She’s daughter, was also extremely enjoyable as she caught a very relatable “over-it” attitude while speaking truth to the dysfunctional situation her family finds itself in.

The staging was artfully done; a well-designed rotating set takes the audience from the audition room to opening night to She and He’s apartment to another stage. I especially enjoyed the lighting (by Richard Gremel) throughout as it helped indicate place and was a prominent feature in a couple of surreal dream sequences. While rather minimalist, the scene changes took far too long and I found myself listening to the intermittent music (performed by female pop-stars) more than I would have liked. My other difficulty within the piece was the sense of displacement, as I could never quite figure out what time the play was set, nor the timeline of the action.

The cast of Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The cast of Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

As a melodrama within a drama, Sarah Ruhl frequently blurs the lines of what is truth and what is acting in the piece, thus sending her characters through the wringer with regards to emotions. I think in this it was obvious that most of these actors are comedic players as – while they nailed the quick-paced dialogue and I was audibly laughing through a good 60% of the piece – the moments of genuine emotion were not at the forefront. I was left wanting more of those tender moments that permeate a true relationship.

Overall, I was really excited to see Live Theatre Workshop bring this play to its stage as it felt more contemporary and challenging than most of what I expect their programming to be, featuring adultery, profanity, and, of course, lots of kissing. The fall, rise, and plateau of She and He’s relationship was beautifully structured, particularly as we learn more about their history and hear She reinforce the idea that He was scary, “went through [her] phone,” and that they left each other for a reason. In demystifying the “what-if” of their relationship, Ruhl also demystifies the romance of theatre as they lament that they need the money to be a in a play that features She in the role of a mistreated “whore.” However, in context of clarifying the lack of allure in the relationship and theatre, it is only offensive in the way intended by the script.

However, in a play set first in New Haven (which is only 43% white) then Detroit (which is only 10% white), we again see the lack of diversity on stage in a play about a play, thus doubling the removal of people of color from roles on stage. The evening I attended the theater was completely full and every single audience member was white. This proved to be incredibly uncomfortable for me in a questionable scene in the Detroit portion of the play in which an actor played the role of a pimp that was coded as black (through an unfortunate coat, gold chain, posturing, demeanor, etc.). This is why it is so important to diversify productions in order to avoid reiterating harmful stereotypes. Especially when looking at the statistics I included above, it seems to me that at least half of the roles could have and should have been filled by actors of color. While I don’t think the implications were intentional, this shows what can happen in the macrocosm of theatre if we continue to keep the same (white) voices in the echo chamber of production.

If you like theatre and if you like plays about theatre or plays about love or plays about life, get down to Live Theatre Workshop and see Stage Kiss. It runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Nights at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm, and a final Saturday 3pm on closing, February 16th.

Tickets can be purchased by calling (520) 327-4242 or online at livetheatreworkshop.tix.com.

Bro-Code, Me Too, and Much Ado

by Chloe Loos

A classic comedy about mistaken identity and courtly courtship, Much Ado About Nothing at the Rogue Theatre delivers exactly what Tucson has come to expect from its ensemble of well-seasoned actors: clear language and beautiful acting.  

Ryan Parker Knox as Benedick and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Ryan Parker Knox as Benedick and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

The opening was clever, featuring Beatrice (Holly Griffith) and her spitfire delivery of some grade-A Elizabethan insults to her Benedick (Ryan Parker Knox), who serves them right back. The exchange really shows the audience why the duo tends to take center stage despite the main plot turning on the budding love between gentle Hero, played by a darling Bryn Booth, and Claudio, played by a striking Hunter Hnat. I was blown away by the attention given to each minute detail in the facial expressions and slight movements by each member of the cast, from Hero’s waiting ladies (Claire de la Vergne, Sarah Shannon) to the rest of the men who populate Messina. There was also an enjoyable abundance of strong physical comedy from Dogberry, played by the comical Matt Walley, and the Watch (Cole Potwardowski, Sarah Shannon, and Chris Pankratz).

While I enjoyed myself throughout most of the piece, parts of the villainous subplot surrounding Don John (Christopher Johnson), Borachio (Steve McKee), and Conrade (Dave Hentz) fell a little flat due to the liveliness of the main action. While Don John is a brooding character, the implicit pacing in these portions tended to lull me out of the rapid-fire dialogue that flowed around the home of Leonato (Harold Dixon).

I also want to give kudos to the minimal set designed by Joseph McGrath and executed by scenic artist Amy Novelli. The set perfectly echoed a classic Shakespeare piece and was unobtrusively modified throughout scene changes. The costumes were as beautiful as expected and added characterization via details such as color palette and fabric material that built the world of the play. A final element that really tied the piece together was the beautiful use of music provided by Russell Ronnebaum on piano, Samantha Bounkeua on violin, and John Keeney (as Balthasar) on guitar. Although I do feel that the idea of underscoring dramatic action could have been utilized a little more, the sounds that drifted to my ears from the balcony really got me into the mood of the piece before and during the performance.

Now, to review a Shakespeare play is an intimidating task as one needs to consider both the historic meaning of the text and explore why we are still doing his work 500+ years after the fact. Shakespeare is often done due to his “universal” themes, but I believe that there are so many specific place and time-bound constraints of understanding that we really need to examine the specific context in which current versions of his work are being done.

The central conflict of the play revolves around the question of Hero’s worthiness (read: virginity). She is set up to appear a harlot by Don John’s machinations (which, as a bastard, is an extension of his own shame and misogyny), and the play leads us to a point where she is publicly shamed – and forcefully pushed away – by Claudio. Leonato laments that he would rather see her dead than unvirtuous. We can, of course, write this off as a relic of the time, but I think it is important we witness the lines of belief and trust that come through the play, especially in today’s “Me Too” milieu. The play continues and everything ends up just peachy (as this is still a comedy) but there are no repercussions for the horrible actions of the “good guys”. Hero’s silence is also something to be aware of as in this piece she does not speak for 35 minutes (when her identity has shifted into being engaged) and does not speak more than a verse until 55 minutes into the play. The text itself seems to recognize this, however, as we see how the close friendship among men (a “bro-code”) leads to the blameless Hero’s death.

Harold Dixon as Leonato, Bryn Booth as Hero, and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Harold Dixon as Leonato, Bryn Booth as Hero, and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

More overt and surprisingly progressive attitudes towards gender include Beatrice’s commanding actions and fierce thoughts (her “O, that I were a man” speech was incredible) and Benedick’s transformation into a love-struck puppy upon finding out that she could love him, for instance. The first scene between two named men – Benedick and Claudio – showcases a reverse on the Bechdel test in which the two discuss the ladies of the house.

Finally, I do want to notate that there was only one person of color in the show and, in my showing, less than five people of color in the audience which denotes to me that Shakespeare is still affiliated with white audiences. I recognize that the Rogue has built its relationships with actors through the ensemble, but I wonder if the lack of people of color in the ensemble is indicative of a larger problem within the theatre community.

There is still a place for Shakespeare in modern times, and sometimes it can be surprising what these texts of yesterday can tell us today. So, without much ado, get thee to the Rogue! Tickets can be purchased online at theroguetheatre.org or by calling 520-551-2053. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm until January 27th.

The Slow Burn of Hot Tin Roof

by Betsy Labiner

Roadrunner Theatre Company’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Mark Klugheit, is a seething, claustrophobic production of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play that highlights the complex and even cruel relationships that are a hallmark of Williams’ work. The action of the play unfolds over the course of one evening at what is ostensibly a birthday celebration for Big Daddy Pollitt, though the truth is that the celebration is a flimsy cover for a vicious competition regarding who will gain control of the estate in the event of Big Daddy’s impending demise.

Sara Jackson as Maggie and Robert Anthony Peters as Brick. Photo by Chris Scott, courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre.

Sara Jackson as Maggie and Robert Anthony Peters as Brick. Photo by Chris Scott, courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre.

Sara Jackson and Robert Anthony Peters play Maggie and Brick; Brick is Big Daddy’s younger and obviously favored child, and Maggie “the Cat” is Brick’s wife. Peters, as Brick, is given little to do in the opening act as he pours and consumes drink after drink in search of the “click” in his brain that signals he’s reached a state of intoxicated peace. He moves mainly between the bar cart and bed, while Jackson’s Maggie enters, exits, pulls clothing on and off, and talks at, over, and around Brick. Jackson’s performance was notable in particular for her navigation of Maggie’s hairpin emotional turns, especially in moments when her façade of confidence gives way to vulnerability or fear, which in turn

morphs into anger.

The unhappy Maggie and Brick contrast sharply with the self-satisfied elder brother Gooper and his wife Mae, played by Andrew Gray and Amy Scully. Gooper and May’s fecundity is constantly reiterated – though whether with pride or derision depends on who is discussing it. Big Mama, played by Cynthia Jeffery, makes no secret of the fact that she views Brick and Maggie’s childlessness as a failing, though the play eventually reveals unexpected biases on her part as well. Jeffery imbues Big Mama with wrenching instability as she reacts to the rapidly shifting circumstances, though she also exhibits a steely fierceness at critical junctures.

Roger Owen as Big Daddy Pollitt and Cynthia Jeffrey as Big Mama. Photo by Sara Jackson, courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre.

Roger Owen as Big Daddy Pollitt and Cynthia Jeffrey as Big Mama. Photo by Sara Jackson, courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre.

In the midst of the family’s dysfunction, Roger Owen dominates the second act as Big Daddy. Owen’s booming voice and intense physical presence command attention from both his onstage family and the audience, as he pivots from joviality to furious threats in the space of a breath. None of the male characters have any respect for women, and it’s easy to see how Big Daddy’s attitude and ideologies were transferred to his sons. Big Daddy seems only to consider women in their capacity for sex and reproduction, and his fury at what he perceives as Big Mama’s attempts to usurp his power leads to moments of chilling callousness.

While the misogyny of Big Daddy gives audiences food for thought in terms of patriarchal power structures, the tolerance he avows in regard to his son’s suspected sexuality encourages the audience to consider the weight of societal as well as internalized homophobia. Owen and Peters create a deeply charged atmosphere as they respectively try to force or retreat from communicating honestly.

The cast play well off each other, particularly Jackson and Scully. Maggie and Mae are constantly sizing each other up, looking for weak spots through which they can take catty swipes at one another. Taylor Rascher, pulling double duty as both Reverend Tooker and Doctor Baugh, acts as something of a barometer, uncomfortably adjacent to the incipient explosions between family members.

The small stage and relatively minimal set work well for this play, as it literalizes the way the characters are unable to extricate themselves from the familial morass of deceit, resentment, and dependency. The characters circle one another, jockeying for position, invading each other’s space, and attempting and failing to remove themselves from the others’ reach. The actors’ body language underscores the simmering tensions, particularly in moments when Big Daddy looms over his wife and sons, or when Maggie and Mae position themselves to signal their sexual or reproductive power. Bodies in general hold a great deal of significance in the play: healthy versus ill, young versus old, fruitful versus barren, living versus dying. The focus on bodies within the play emphasizes the respective links between athleticism and masculinity and fertility and femininity, prompting the audience to evaluate the casual ableism that continues to resonate within society. It’s another interesting lens through which to consider the power structures of the play, and whether or not we as an audience are still engaging in those modes of thinking.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a slice of family drama that stands both as a product of its time and as a reminder that perhaps the issues and dynamics of the 1950s continue to be more present today than we might care to admit.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs January 11th through February 3rd at Roadrunner Theatre (8892 East Tanque Verde), though the shows on January 24th through 27th are at The Temple of Music and Art Cabaret (330 South Scott). Tickets may be purchased online at roadrunnertheatrecompany.org or by phone at 520-207-2491.

Get your imaginary spoons out and have some Cloud Soup!

by Felíz Torralba

The Scoundrel & Scamp Theater’s production of Cloud Soup (written, directed, and performed by Wolfe Bowart) tells the story of a tailor who discovers that the adventure he longs for lies at his feet – in his pile of laundry. The tailor’s humble shop becomes an undiscovered world as fabrics magically morph, found objects transform into curious beings and puffs of steam remind us of a time when we saw faces in the clouds.

Wolfe Bowart is “devoted to creating and presenting theatre productions that engage cross-generational audiences in theatrical experiences that evoke thought, wonder, and laughter.” This proves to be undoubtedly true in the Scoundrel and Scamp’s production of Cloud Soup. Bowart’s use of physical theatre, commedia dell’arte/clowning, multimedia, and magical stage illusion evokes thought, wonder, and loads of laughter throughout the performance. There are so many jaw dropping moments, I found myself in awe of the magic occurring right before my eyes. I felt like a child again! Bowart demonstrates skill, talent, and mastery of his craft. It was a true delight to watch him tear up the stage! The raw talent oozing from this man made me feel lucky to be in the room. This adorable story with bubbles, silly sounds, and incomprehensible magic blew me away.

Wolfe Bowart. Photo by Tim Fuller

Wolfe Bowart in Cloud Soup. Photo by Tim Fuller, photo courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

No doubt this story is worth telling. However, is it being told in a thoughtful, socially responsible manner? Putting special effects aside, you will ultimately experience a show about a man, written by a man; performed by a man. I was entertained. I laughed harder than I have laughed in a year. I did not leave feeling significantly moved or inspired. After some reflection and a long conversation with my partner (and theatre professional), we came to an agreement that we found no real message or “take-away” after our experience. Having witnessed Bowart’s incredible artistry and a great performance, I want more. Cloud Soup lacks objective. It entertained me… but theatre is about so much more than just entertainment.

Cloud Soup is a perfect representation of classic physical theatre and how it has evolved to entertain the modern audience. “Wear mismatched socks, put your shoes on the wrong feet, turn your shirt inside out and you’ll be perfectly dressed for Cloud Soup.” Wolfe Bowart’s Cloud Soup is an incredible opportunity for people of all ages to have a blast and be amazed! Get your tickets online at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/cloud-soup or call 448-3300. Performances are Thursday & Friday, January 10-11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday, January 12-13 @ 2:00 p.m.

Editor’s Note: Felíz Torralba has performed with The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre in past production. While she had no input or involvement within this production, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.

The Music Man: Trouble With A Capital T

by Gretchen Wirges

The Music Man

Bill English as Harold Hill and cast of The Music Man. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

The Music Man opened for the first time in 1957. It went on to Broadway, critical acclaim, and nearly 1400 performances. Arizona Theater Company has taken on the task of staging this nostalgic musical as part of it’s 2018-19 season. The show is larger than life and has a history to match.

Let me start by saying that I grew up loving this musical. I loved the stage version and I loved the 1962 film adaption. When I sat down to view ATC’s production, I was excited, giddy even, to recapture the joy I remembered feeling from watching this show. So let’s dig into the good, the bad, and the “trouble” with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for confused.

Let’s start with the good–the ensemble was incredible. The dancers were talented, the townsfolk were animated and lovely fun to watch. Among those I enjoyed most were the ladies ensemble which included the Mayor’s wife, Eulalie Shinn, played by Leslie Alexander, the character of Ethel Toffelmier played by Kara Mikula, Mrs. Squires played by Chanel Bragg, and Alma Hix played by Brenda Jean Foley. The scenes that included these actors were filled with joy and humor and memorable vignettes. Mikula’s hilarious facial expressions and deft physical comedy made me smile throughout the show.

Another good note about this show is the diverse representation in the casting. Bravo to directors who cast people of color in roles that have traditionally gone exclusively to white actors. Every step toward diversity is important. As many contemporary shows have shown us, taking bolder steps toward diversity by casting the leading roles with such awareness is a win for everyone. I hope ATC moves further in that direction. We want to see ourselves on stage. The stories will support it and so will the audiences.

Okay, the bad. While the sets are beautiful and expansive, they are also numerous to a fault. It may sound counter intuitive, but I think the over-abundance of sets moving in and out was distracting. It took away from the magic and the burden of the material and the performance to create the world we’re watching. I think that the show relied too much on this aspect of the production, and not enough on the performances itself.  As a whole, the show felt lacking in joy and energy for me.

Harold Hill, the lead character, is arguably one of the most charismatic and over-the-top musical characters of all time. Hill, played by Bill English, was played way too flat for my tastes. The charisma and power just wasn’t there. And honestly I don’t fault English, I fault the director. Many of the songs, led by English, were choreographed in a subtle way that didn’t capture the joy and excitement of the script. 76 Trombones, one of my favorite Broadway songs EVER, felt like more of a throw-away number than a showstopper. The Wells Fargo Wagon song was almost boring, save the fantastic bright spot of Winthrop’s solo by local Nathaniel Wiley. There needed to be more fun, more joy, more reckless abandon in this show. As whole, it was just a buttoned up version that needed to break loose.

The Music Man

The cast of The Music Man. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

And finally, the “trouble with a capital T” of this show really is the story and the script, which of course is no fault of the these particular performers in this particular staging. I think this is a show that needs to be retired. Frankly, it is incredibly misogynistic, to the point where more than a few people in the audience audibly gasped at many of the horrifically offensive lines. Much like the recent debate over the holiday song Baby, It’s Cold Outside, I’m sure the show wasn’t written with this sensitivity, but we know better now. And when we know better, we need to do better.

The Music Man

Manna Nichols as Marian. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

In the anvil salesman scene, the character makes several leering, disgusting, predatory comments to Marian. Her response to this is to seduce him in order to keep him from chasing after her lying, cheating love interest, Harold Hill. Hill himself  basically stalks her throughout the majority of the show trying to win her over so he could distract her from his illegal pursuits. She says no, many many times, and he continues to follow her.

Many of us have watched movies that we once saw as kids, only now realizing the “adult” jokes that we didn’t understand at the time. This was my experience with listening to these songs 20 years later than the last time I’d seen it.  “The Sadder but Wiser Girl” was especially cringe worthy:

A girl who trades on all that purity
Merely wants to trade my independence for her security.
The only affirmative she will file
Refers to marching down the aisle.
No golden, glorious, gleaming pristine goddess–

I snarl, I hiss: How can ignorance be compared to bliss?
I spark, I fizz for the lady who knows what time it is.
I cheer, I rave for the virtue I’m too late to save
The sadder-but-wiser girl for me.
No bright-eyed, blushing, breathless baby-doll baby
That kinda child ties knots no sailor ever knew.
I prefer to take a chance on a more adult romance.
No dewy young miss
Who keeps resisting all the time she keeps insisting!
No wide-eyed, wholesome innocent female.

The song Shipoopi includes the following lyrics:

Now a woman who’ll kiss on the very first date is usually a hussy
And a woman who’ll kiss on the second time out is anything but fussy

Walk her once just to raise the curtain
Walk around twice and you’ve made for certain

Squeeze her once when she isn’t lookin’
If you get a squeeze back, that’s fancy cookin’
Once more for a pepper-upper
She will never get [mad] on her way to supper

To have a man sing these lyrics in 2018 is a bit mind-boggling. To be honest, it was mind-boggling for 1957 as well, but that sort of inappropriate behavior was accepted, even applauded. However, I’ll say it  again, now that we know better, we should do better. This show is antiquated and does not hold up to modern awareness. Let’s put it to rest and find new stories to tell.

The Music Man plays at Arizona Theater Company through December 30th. Tickets can be purchased through arizonatheatre.org or by calling the box office at (520) 622-2823.

A Love Story Told in (Multi)verse

by Leigh Moyer

Billed as “a dreamlike story of love and quantum physics,” Something Something Theatre’s production of Constellations did not disappoint. We’re reminded, through the short lives of honey bees, the impossible incongruities of macro physics and quantum mechanics, and our own life experiences, that every experience, if nothing else, has potential.

Constellations, photo by James Pack.

Damian Garcia as Roland and Bailey Renee as Marianne. Photo by James Pack, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Constellations, by playwright Nick Payne, follows the story of Roland (Damian Garcia) and Marianne (Bailey Renee) as they fall in love. It also follows the story where they don’t fall in love. And the one where they fall in love, fall out of love, and fall back in love. Inspired by the physicist Brian Greene’s 1999 book and subsequent documentary detailing the conflicts between the physics of the massive and quantum mechanics though string theory and the theory of multiverses, Constellations plays with the idea that every love story could also be a story of a missed connection. In an interview included in the program, Payne explains, “By chance I watched a documentary called The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene and it was amazing. It was a history of contemporary theoretical physics and right at the end he touched on this idea of the multiverse.”
The idea of the multiverse is that for every decision we make or don’t make, there is another universe that is exactly the same except the opposite decision is made, or not. This idea is used to full effect in this play, which in its ninety minutes details maybe six scenes, told again and again with slight differences and with slight changes that have big consequences for Roland and Marianne.
Payne uses this device to tell a bigger story. As each new version of a scene played out I found myself rooting for the happily-ever-after that some variations offered, while simultaneously dreading the repeated and unforgiving failure we all experience so often in love and life. But more than showing how an interaction could play out, Payne is putting the audience in the sometimes murky, often frustrating position of not being able to find the right words, something that becomes a key part (and the only unchanging piece) of the story.
Both Garcia and Renee are impressive as they say and resay lines without losing the core of the characters you have come to care about. They had a strong ability to hold onto who their character clearly is, even while playing back-to-back scenes with very different emotions. I can’t imagine what this script looks like, but Garcia and Renee take it and instead of making a joke of the characters’ lives, especially in the versions that can’t seem to help but make the wrong decisions, both actors live their characters. Every variation feels believable and extremely, even at times painfully, relatable.
The stage is simply dressed and this serves the show well. The point isn’t where the characters are, but rather what they say and how they say it. Director Joan O’Dwyer uses the actors’ positions on the stage to give the audience clues about how a scene will play out even before they start, giving us just enough insight to feel like we’re a part of the choices Roland and Marianne make.

Constellations, photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock

Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

While the two characters portray heteronormative relationships, I was thrilled that Marianne is not only the scientist of the pair, but holds her own in situations that all too frequently paint female characters as damsels in distress. I expect nothing less from Something Something Theatre. This is the only play written by a man in their lineup this season and I would be shocked to see anything but strong women on their stage.
Like the way a constellation in the night sky is familiar and almost not worth noticing, a straightforward love story on the stage loses its grasp on attention; but looking at that same constellation in a darker sky, lost among countless other stars, becomes interesting, a love story told a hundred times, slightly different each time, is greater than its component parts.
Constellations runs through December 23rd. Shows are at 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday, and 2:00pm on Sunday at Community Playhouse (1881 N. Oracle Road). Tickets are available at somethingsomethingtheatre.com or by phone at 468-6111.

“Inspecting Carol” a Humbug of a Play

by Holly Griffith

The Roadrunner Theatre has an impressive lineup of plays in their season, including classic playwrights like Tennessee Williams, comic playwrights like Noel Coward, and even local playwrights like Monica Bauer. They have an ambitious season, and I was happy to see a community theatre company producing such varied work on the east side of town. Local, accessible theatre is important, and I am glad Roadrunner exists.

Inspecting Carol Poster

Promotional Poster courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre.

That being said, I was troubled by their production of Inspecting Carol by Daniel J. Sullivan. Written in 1991, Inspecting Carol is a comedy about a regional theatre company in financial turmoil and their dysfunctional attempt to produce A Christmas Carol for the millionth time. That’s all I knew before seeing the play, and I looked forward to it. I love comedy. I love metatheatre. I even love A Christmas Carol. I was excited to see the show and to explore a theatre I had not been to yet. But the script is very problematic. Not only is the comedy somewhat thin, but the politics of the script are outdated and outright offensive.
The play, directed by Robert Ulsrud, centers on Wayne Wellacre, a bright-eyed wannabe actor looking for his big break despite his complete lack of experience. Ironically, John Reimann plays Wayne very convincingly. A good actor playing a bad actor is a real treat. When he arrives to audition for A Christmas Carol, the Artistic Director Zorah Bloch, played by the capable Shari Goddard, mistakes him for an inspector from an important government agency deciding on their funding. Mishaps ensue. A decent premise. A promising conceit. But the script had so many tasteless jokes I couldn’t get past.
Perhaps most inappropriate was the storyline of Walter E. Parsons. Walter, played by Bird Moody, is the first black man ever hired by the fictional theatre company, and he was hired to play the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The script is a minefield of cringe-worthy jokes about covering Walter up to make him stand out less in the sea of white actors. Zorah says several times that he was hired to fulfill a diversity quota, complaining about how the company won’t receive public funding without him. Another character, Phil Hewlit, is openly racist toward Walter, repeatedly referring to him as “my man” and harboring unjustified rage towards him.
While I think these are actual issues facing many theatre companies nationwide, and therefore worthy of exposure and discussion, the script did not present them as problems to be solved, but rather as funny quirks of an otherwise morally upright company. We were meant to chuckle at the grotesque racism of the company and move on, and the script even invites us to celebrate Phil’s racism as a fuel for his impassioned performances.

Inspecting Carol Cast

The cast of Inspecting Carol. Photo by Jeffrey Snyder, courtesy of Roadrunner Theatre.

The other problem of Walter’s storyline is that it forces Roadrunner it whitewash its cast. When you stage a play about an all-white company who hired one black man, you have to BECOME an all-white company with one black man. Had there been more black actors onstage, Walter’s storyline would not have made sense. Why not avoid plays that force racial inequality? Why not choose scripts that allow for more diversity? Or, at the very least, if a script demands a mostly white racial demographic, the story should be worth sacrificing that diversity. I’m not sure that this one was.
There are similar problems throughout the script. There are homophobic jokes and caricatures of Mexican culture. The script brushes over moments of sexual misconduct and celebrates aggressive, toxic masculine personalities. Inspecting Carol is almost 30 years old, and it shows. The politics of the world portrayed are wildly outdated and, in my opinion, no longer appropriate on the American stage.
I will give Roadrunner another chance because I believe in their mission and support their place in our community, but I want to urge their leadership to be more careful about their play selection. I would rather have seen them actually produce A Christmas Carol with diverse casting. It would have been more compelling, productive, and responsible.

Inspecting Carol runs at the Roadrunner Theatre through December 23rd at 8892 East Tanque Verde Road. Tickets may be purchased online at www.roadrunnertheatrecompany.org.