The Light Princess is a High-Flying Adventure for the Whole Family

by Regina Ford

He may not be as well-known as the Brothers Grimm, but the 19th-century Scottish author George MacDonald wrote his share of whimsical fairy tales. One of his most popular yet particularly peculiar tales was adapted into a musical by Mike Pettry (music and lyrics) and Lila Rose Kaplan (book) and is now running at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre through February 23, the first full musical production at the theatre.

The Light Princess is not your typical happy-ever-after fairy tale. As director Michelle Milne says in her Director’s Notes, “It’s messy.”

Prior to curtain, actors interact with the audience, challenging children and adults alike to play with hula hoops and to participate in The Light Princess guessing game. We are all made to feel as though we are part of the cast.

Wise Ones Flying The Light Princess

Katie Burke and Nicole DelPrete as the Wise Ones, Grace Otto as The Light Princess. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Light Princess is a theatrical journey of twists and turns for the family. The King and Queen (David Gunther and Gretchen Wirges) are desperate to have a baby. A birth is impossible because of a curse placed on the royal couple by the queen’s wicked witch of a sister (Julia Balestracci). Finally bargaining with the witch for a baby, a royal princess is born but with a curse attached. The catch: the princess (Grace Otto) is born without any gravity. Not only will she remain weightless, the Light Princess is unable to cry or experience emotions like sadness, fear, and love. The storyline twists further. If after 16 years the young princess is unable to experience any emotions, she will remain floating for the rest of her life (and the wicked witch will get to marry the king). When the Light Princess meets a handsome failed lyricist and iffy guitar-playing prince (Aubrey King), her heart begins to suddenly flutter.

The show’s quick pace begins with a flurry of movement and activity (acrobatics captain Olivia Rivera) and the Light Princess’s magical world comes to life with the help of Wise One #1 (Katie Burke) and Wise One #2 (Nicole DelPrete) who fill in the scenes with witty, often cornball patter and antics, much to the delight of the kids in the front row — and their parents, too. Horn tooting and clever choreography go a long way with this sometimes playfully disruptive duo.

The princess herself is wild, energetic, curious, and fiercely independent; she only feels freedom when she swims in a nearby lake, the water keeping her buoyant yet grounded. The king and queen want nothing but happiness and a “normal” life for their daughter, that is, what they consider normal: being happily married to a prince. They also fear the consequences of breaking the curse.

Strong women’s roles prevail. It’s the queen who stands up to adversity and fights for her daughter’s freedom of choice as wealthy and mighty husband prospects such as the Man of Stone (Danny Fapp), Man of Silver (Carlos Omar Venegas), and the Man of  Black Diamond (Adrian Encinas) fail to impress the princess. 

The Light Princess is the unconventional tale of two people looking for happiness in their own personal ways. The prince is not interested in marrying a princess and the princess wishes to make her own life, avoiding the traditional princess-like role on her journey. The prince and princess learn from each other. It’s the princess, determined to make her own destiny, who takes control and leads the way, teaching the prince about remaining true to himself while still embracing happiness with one another.

The ingenious touch of wireless floating is created by actors dressed in black who lift the princess into the air and whisk her effortlessly across the stage, where she perches on a distressed turquoise wooden tower (set design by Bryan Rafael Falcón) and where she appears to float over the kingdom below. Otto gave the illusion of weightlessness, delicately moving her arms and legs like a ballet dancer floating in the sky. The actors carrying the princess seem to disappear before our eyes. But for their facial expressions, usually laughing and mimicking the princess’s facial expressions, these actors just magically blend into the background. 

To create the lake in which the prince and princess swim, black-garbed actors playing Elementals (Danny Quinones and Olivia Rivera) make waves with silk-like sheer blue fabric as the prince and princess appear to swim through the water. This clever effect, along with Raulie Martinez’s lighting and Wolfe Bowart’s property design, makes for an enchanting three-dimensional lake. The simplicity of the scenery and the clever use of eclectic props (like a flying bird and google-eyed binoculars) add to the magic. 

The Light Princess is 80 minutes of musical and magical mayhem with humorous dialogue and a witty score, all brought to life by the talented Lisa Otey on piano. A unique fairy tale that embraces individuality, as well as the challenge of rising above what others say you should do, awaits you at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, 738 North 5th Ave., Tucson now through February 23rd. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, over the phone at 448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before the show. 

Escapism, Reactionism, or Hope?

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Master Harold and the Boys, Athol Fugard’s semi-autobiographical play set in 1950’s South Africa, begs the audience to question how we deal with difficult times. 

Odera Adimorah as Willie, Ian Eaton as Sam, and Oliver Prose as Hally (front). Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Odera Adimorah as Willie, Ian Eaton as Sam, and Oliver Prose as Hally (front). Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Harold opens with two black men practicing ballroom dance steps in a tearoom in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They are both anticipating a dance competition with nervousness and excitement. Their tone is light hearted, a stark contrast to the constant rain falling. Quite quickly we realize that Sam (Ian Eaton) is the older wiser man who is attempting to mentor Willie (Odera Adimorah), not only on ballroom dancing, but on how to treat his partner. This continues until Master Harold (Oliver Prose), the 17-year-old son of the owners of the tearoom comes home from school. Quickly we realize that Sam has taken it upon himself to mentor not only Willie but Hally, as he affectionately refers to Master Harold. Sam and Hally obviously have had a long standing relationship as a quasi uncle and nephew. The men help Hally with his homework assignment, and reminisce about flying kites and sweet times spent together in Hally’s childhood.The play’s light-heartedness abruptly changes when Hally finds out his disabled alcoholic father is coming home from the hospital. We now can see why Sam has taken the role of mentor to young Master Harold.

As the tone of the play changes, we are introduced to the themes of racism, oppression, and privilege.  This is not simply a coming-of-age play in the same realm as Catcher In The Rye. The play addresses how people are changed by their circumstances, the factors that play in generational racism and what our reaction is to it. Do we accept it, escape from it, or hope that situations will change? This is very timely as our country and world are at a tipping point on how we move forward or backwards during difficult times. Do we blame “the other” for our misfortunes and exclude them to bring back a simpler, more idealized time? Or do we move forward and find new ways of dealing with challenges. Do we embrace “ the other” or continue to scapegoat him to assuage our own failings?  What direction are we going to take? 

The play’s powerful message is brought home by excellent acting by all three roles.  However, it is Eaton’s portrayal of Sam that took my breath away. The range and power of his emotions and the reaction he gets from the audience is exhausting in its impact.  I viewed the faces of the audience when leaving, and every person was deep in contemplative, reflective thought. Yes, the script is award-winning, but the actors’ performances brought the words into the hearts and minds of those present.

As always, the sets that Arizona Theatre Company uses are masterful.  There is no doubt that we are in a tearoom in another country, in another time. Jason Sherwood did his homework and I applaud his tasteful depiction. He did not go the route of gaudy 50’s kitsch, but rather chose to  have the set reflect the solemnity of the play. The effectiveness of the non-stop rain, even as we entered the theatre space, effectively foreshadowed the gravity of the show. The work by Lindsay Jones as music and sound designer, Kare Harmon as costume designer, and Dawn Chiang as lighting designer are also to be commended for a job well done in supporting the time period and flavor of the play.

I would be remiss if I did not bring up Sean Daniels’, Artistic Director, and Kent Gash’s, director, roles in bringing Master Harold and the Boys to the Arizona stage. Daniels’ vision of bringing shows that reflect the local community and also the issues that the greater American community is facing is worth noting. Gash masterfully supported that vision through the direction of the play, reflecting all the best we aspire to do in theatre. To give audiences a chance for deep reflection, contemplation, and change is noteworthy.

I highly recommend this play for adults, and mature high school students. It is a wonderful reminder to all of us to reflect on our feelings and responses to the challenging times in which we live.

Master Harold and the Boys plays at Arizona Theatre Company through February 8 . Performances are Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 PM. Matinees are Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Prices range from $40 to $70. Tickets are available online at arizonatheatre.com. Box office hours are Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 5:00. The phone number is (520) 622-2823.

SAPAC’s Hot Mikado is a Hoot: A Well-Executed (pun intended) Take on an Old Favorite

by Emily Lyons

Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company’s production of Hot Mikado, now playing at the Scoundrel & Scamp theater, lives up to the title. It sizzles with fast pacing, fun choreography, and spunky, high-energy performances from the whole ensemble. 

Erin Anderson as Pitti-Sing, Aliyah Douglas as Yum-Yum, Ruthie Hayashi as Peep-Bo in Hot Mikado. Photo by Molly Condit, courtesy of Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company.

Erin Anderson as Pitti-Sing, Aliyah Douglas as Yum-Yum, Ruthie Hayashi as Peep-Bo in Hot Mikado. Photo by Molly Condit, courtesy of Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company.

Hot Mikado puts a swing-era spin on Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 operetta, but aside from reworking Sullivan’s music in a different style and updating some of the dialogue, the familiar story is largely unchanged. Nanki-Poo (Christopher Esguerra), son of the Mikado (Matthew Holter) and heir to the throne of Japan, has fled the court and the aggressive attentions of Katisha (Jaqueline Stewart), an elderly court lady. Disguised as the second trumpet in the Titipu town band, he has wandered far and wide in search of his beloved Yum-Yum (Aliyah Douglas), with whom he reunites only to discover that she is shortly to be married, albeit unwillingly, to Ko-Ko (Tyler Wright), the recently appointed Lord High Executioner. We learn that Ko-Ko acquired his title through a loophole in the Mikado’s law declaring flirting a capital offense. Nevertheless, to satisfy the Mikado’s order that someone must be beheaded, “a victim must be found,” and soon. This creates a series of complications for romantic rivals Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko, and their would-be bride Yum-Yum. 

Before I get into reviewing this production, I have to confess that I was both curious and a little nervous about this assignment. I was curious because, although I am a die hard Gilbert and Sullivan fan and could probably sing the entire score of the original The Mikado from top to bottom, I was only vaguely aware of Hot Mikado. As much as I love The Mikado, it is, at best, a problematic choice in 2020. Many historic (and sadly, even some recent) productions featuring largely white casts have leaned into the script’s offhand caricaturing of Japanese culture and gone full yellow-face, rendering the productions cringey and unwatchable now. So, I was nervous about how SAPAC would navigate the ridiculous and orientalist version of Japan, and also how a 1940s jazzy update might further compound the material’s inherent problems. David H. Bell and Rob Bowman’s Hot Mikado is reconstructed from jazz-infused, all-black productions of The Mikado dating from the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance. My question going into the show was, how do you pull this off with a majority white cast and band without teetering into cultural appropriation and minstrel show territory? Consider these issues, but I’ll leave it to you to judge what is appropriate or not. I will say that I think director Kelli Workman was wise for choosing to take a minimalist route with set design and costumes that mostly avoid overt references to either Japan or the Cotton Club. 

Happily, Hot Mikado is A Very Silly Play that manages to mostly transcend its baggage. I found myself smiling broadly starting from Nanki-Poo’s debut in “A Wand’ring Minstrel I” until the show’s finale—and only raised my eyebrows a couple of times. With a premise this absurd and jokes that can seem dated, the directing, especially regarding physical comedy, can make or break the show. My hat is off to Kelli Workman, assistant director/choreographer Thea Hinojosa, and assistant choreographer Jessica Lumm for their inventive and humorous direction. There’s one bit in “I Am So Proud” that makes me cry-laugh to remember: the song was so well executed by Tyler Gastelum (Pooh-Bah), Jacob Walters (Pish-Tush), and Tyler Wright (Ko-Ko) due to their great chemistry as this trio of buffoons. I also noticed many people in the audience were clearly hearing these jokes for the first time, and their genuinely delighted reactions were wonderful for me to experience as someone who knows the text well.

In this production, everybody is given something to do, so even minor characters and ensemble members get a chance to shine. The entire cast had great energy and played off of one another really well. I especially want to commend the younger members of the cast for their great jobs, and I look forward to seeing them in future shows. Still, I want to highlight a few standouts. Aliyah Douglas is very funny and very darling as Yum-Yum. Erin Anderson as Pitti-Sing wows with her gospel stylings in the Act 1 finale. Jacqueline Stewart as Katisha brings big vamp energy to her two solo ballads (thankfully not played for laughs). Jacob Walters is delightfully campy and frenetic as Pish-Tush. While his performance came uncomfortably close at times to a Cab Calloway impersonation, Matthew Holter is suave and captivating as the tap-dancing Mikado. Finally, Tyler Wright as Ko-Ko very nearly stole the show with his spot-on, hilarious performance. 

Take your whole family to Hot Mikado; there’s something in it that everyone will enjoy. Even Gilbert and Sullivan purists will not be disappointed. Hot Mikado runs until January 26th at the Scoundrel and Scamp Theater. Tickets are $20-$25; for ticket information call (520) 261-9309 or visit www.sapactucson.org

Set up a meeting with The Norwegians

by Betsy Labiner

Clockwise from top: Avis Judd as Olive, Samantha Cormier as Betty, and Stephen Frankenfield as Gus. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Clockwise from top: Avis Judd as Olive, Samantha Cormier as Betty, and Stephen Frankenfield as Gus. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The Norwegians, by C. Denby Swanson, is more like a Tucson winter than the Minnesota winter in which it’s set; it’s brisk without being cold, bright but not quite sunny, with moments of warmth chased by a sudden chill. 

The play opens with a woman seeking to engage two men as contract killers. We soon learn that Olive and her friend Betty (played by Avis Judd and Samantha Cormier, respectively) have decided to have their ex-boyfriends killed. The titular Norwegians, Tor and Gus (played by Keith Wick and Stephen Frankenfield, respectively), are gangsters – “but nice ones!” The hit men are very invested in their marketing and customer satisfaction, and their amusing asides about how best to manage and grow their business are peppered throughout with reminders of just what their business is. 

We learn about the characters in trickles, as we jump between Olive’s conversation with Tor and Gus, and the earlier conversation with Betty that led her here. Under Robert Guajardo’s direction, Live Theatre Workshop’s production makes strong use of the minimalist set, using changes in lighting to create different times and locations on a single stage. The characters’ conversations at times feel disjointed as vignettes interrupt each other to offer background and additional perspectives, including at times having characters directly address the audience, but the play flows well overall as it unspools across the accumulated moments. Judd’s Olive vacillates between heartbroken fury and wistful hope, while Cormier’s Betty rants about men in general in a way that makes clear her fixation on one man in particular. The women’s interactions are both familiar and outrageous, as their frank discussion of murder is interspersed with commentary on forming friendships in bar bathrooms, what it means to be “nice”, and how to move forward after breakup. Tor and Gus, meanwhile, are oddly charming despite uneasy moments in which underlying violence bubbles up. In one exchange, as Tor seeks praise from Olive, Wick put his hands in his jacket pockets and swayed gently, giving off a disarmingly sweet and boyish air that was pointedly at odds with the way Judd was cringing away from him. As Gus, Frankenfield was more energetic, at times even bordering on unhinged – a tendency that was repeatedly condemned as not very Norwegian. 

This is a play for those with a penchant for dark humor, along with those with at least some familiarity with the Midwest and its cultural mores. Though I’m neither a Midwesterner nor of Scandinavian descent, the majority of the jokes still worked for me, and I laughed out loud at many points in the play. However, I suspect a woman down the row from me – who after the play informed me that she was from Minneapolis – got even more out of the play, as she absolutely cackled with delight for the duration. The dry humor of the observations on romance and relationships, astrology, and happiness felt more universal, and I found myself nodding along and huffing in amused recognition as characters ranted about their hopes, fears, and experiences. The desire to kill (or kill by proxy) is treated as simply a fact of life, as Tor blandly explains, “Everyone wants someone dead at least once in their life. This is just your time.” I found the play’s lasting message to be about choice: how we tackle choices that can’t be reversed, how we react to getting what we thought we wanted, and, perhaps most crucially, how we can choose to be happy. This final aspect is a fascinating line of thought, particularly in a comedy about murderous revenge, and left me mulling on when and how we variously support or sabotage happiness in ourselves. 

The dark premise of this play may not be for everybody, and the dialogue contains a good deal of profanity, but if you’re in the mood for a killer comedy with a large helping of Minnesota personality, let The Norwegians execute the job. 

The Norwegians runs at Live Theatre Workshop through February 15th, Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets may be purchased online at livetheatreworkshop.org, by phone at 520-327-4242, or at the box office beginning one hour prior to shows (walk-up purchasing is always pending availability).

Moving, Beautiful Production of Moby Dick is Better Than the Book

by Lena Quach

I am going to start off this review by being brutally honest with you, readers. I loathe the novel and walked into the theater highly skeptical. I wondered if I would find myself fighting to stay awake. I was quickly proved very, very, very wrong. The Rogue Theatre’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick is artistic collaboration at its finest. Cynthia Meier and Holly Griffith adapted the novel and what a dream team they are. This dream duo adapted a tough story in a way that draws you in as an audience member and keeps you wondering what might happen next. I was also pleasantly surprised by the appearance and addition of the Three Fates. This added an extra level of magical mystery. 

The cast of Moby Dick. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

The cast of Moby Dick. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

The production showcases several types of artistic collaboration from music direction by Russell Ronnebaum, movement coaching from Patty Gallagher, Don Fox’s lighting design and Joe McGrath’s set design. I was very impressed by one specific scene that had choreography by Ballet Tucson’s Daniel Precup. Precup’s knowledge of traditional character dances was highlighted in this dance and added a wonderful energy and beauty to the show. 

The performances were moving and beautifully done. Aaron Shand was the perfect Ishmael. He gave Ishamel a relatable and human aspect that was greatly appreciated. I hope to see more of Shand in other Rogue productions. Joe McGrath as the crazed and obsessed Captain Ahab was eloquent and heartbreaking at times. Ryan Parker Knox as Starbuck was impressive. Starbuck’s journey as a character was one of my favorites in this adaptation and this performance shows how talented and well rounded Knox is. 

Some breakout and new performances were also in this production. Eduardo Rodriguez as Tashtego was captivating and well balanced. Owen Saunders as The Boy was charming. Saunders is a young actor to look out for and I am looking forward to see more from him in the future. There were two performances in particular that were graceful, moving, charming and a wonderful addition to this already brilliant ensemble of actors. Gianbari Deebom as Daggoo is casting at its finest. Deebom embodied her character and made everyone in the room forget that she is a woman playing a male character. I applaud this performance and I hope I see casting like this in the Tucson community more often. Jeffrey Baden as Queequeg was intense but still very human and my favorite overall performance in this production. You could tell that Baden did his research. I was very impressed with some of his mannerisms and physical qualities. For example, before Queequeg and the men go off to fight the great white whale for the first time Baden beat his chest and stuck out his tongue just like the Maori do in the traditional dance of the Haka, which is performed before battles and special occasions. These little movements made Baden’s Queequeg even more real for me as an audience member. 

The Rogue’s adaptation of Moby Dick is one you shouldn’t miss. This is probably my favorite Rogue performance that I have seen in a very long time. Sometimes I find Rogue productions repetitive or overdone, and I hope that trend for the theater is over.  Moby Dick had me asking questions about destiny and fate. It had me wondering what would have happened if Ahab made different decisions and I believe that is what theater about. I was also elated to finally see women adapting and directing a play that deals with the topic of one man’s obsession and his ego. This was beautifully done and gave me as an audience member a new perspective on a story I was not too fond of. 

You can catch the beautiful performance and purchase tickets at The Rouge Theater online at theroguetheatre.org or by calling (520) 551-2053 through January 26th, 2020.

A Texas-sized Holiday Comedy

by Jess Herrera

It’s the mad dash before the holidays. Malls are buzzing with last-minute shoppers, and people are frantically trying to check everyone off their lists. But, tucked in the lower level of the Tucson Mall, there’s a different bit of holiday chaos — Dashing Through The Snow.

This, the latest production by the Arizona Rose Theatre Company, introduces us to an ensemble cast through a series of four vignettes set in the days leading up to Christmas. The acts, directed by Stephanie Howell, are all tied together by their location: the Snowflake Inn, a Christmas-themed bed and breakfast found in the tiny town of Tinsel, Texas.

The set design for Dashing Through The Snow is worth recognizing. Mark Balta, Ruben Rosthenhausler, Brandon Howell, and Luke Howell did an excellent job of creating a cozy, albeit incredibly kitschy atmosphere. Every inch that could be decked was covered with Christmas decor. It was gaudy and borderline garish — the perfect depiction of the holiday setting.

Each scene was a complete storyline on its own, giving the ensemble cast equal billing in the production. Only the innkeeper Trina Wolcott, played by Teresa Shade, appeared in all acts. Shade played her character well, mixing both syrupy sweet hospitality with some real Texas attitude — all while holding a sing-songy drawl and a smile.

In the first scene, we meet Cuddles (Diana Ouradnik) and Binky (Ruben Rosthenhausler). Cuddles looks suspiciously like Mrs. Claus and Binky an elf. They’re having a secret affair, and using the Snowflake in as their rendezvous spot. Ouradnik and Rosthenhausler each played their parts so convincingly it was almost difficult to watch.

Next arrive Hoyt (Cameron Hendrix) and Donna Jo (Stephanie Howell), a brother and sister hoping to reconnect their aunts that have been feuding for 35 years. The eccentric aunts, Ennis (Annie Koepf) and Della (Regina Ford), absolutely stole the show. Both Koepf and Ford were a delight to watch, and their witty banter had the audience rolling.

It was exciting to see mature characters portrayed with such wit and candor, a credit to both the play’s writing and the actresses’ wonderful depictions.

In the second act, we meet Ainsley (Daniel Hagberg) and Leonora (Diana Ouradnik). The two traveling actors are on an illicit mission to spread a friend’s ashes in the backyard of the inn. Full of hilarious and overly dramatic flourishes, they work to distract the innkeeper and their stage manager (Karen Alexander) to complete their task without being caught.

In the final scene the Snowflake Inn becomes the setting of a wedding. Three sisters, Twink (Leah Rosthenhausler), Frankie (Karen Alexander), and Rhonda Lynn (Rae Williams) are scrambling to put together last-minute nuptials for their sister Honey Raye (Anne Butman). This is her sixth time at the altar, and it’s all being planned in just a matter of hours. Without dresses, decorations, or food, the madness is palpable. The women come together gloriously, and Raynerd (Cameron Hendrix), the angel in the church nativity recruited to help, delivered some of the best lines in the show.

In true Texas fashion, the play is full of outlandish characters and lots of southern charm.

That said, it’s worth noting that the play was billed as a family-friendly production. Unfortunately the subject matter was not appropriate for younger audience members, and most of the jokes went right over their heads. There was even a disclaimer at the top of the show about the first act, which was certainly confusing for the handful of kids watching. The nearly two-hour runtime was also too long for the youngest viewers, who got restless.

Despite this misstep, the comedy was perfect for adult viewers. Each scene was filled with truly funny moments, and the actors were a joy to watch.

 Dashing Through The Snow has completed its run at the Arizona Rose Theatre, but you can find out more about future productions by calling (520) 888-0509 or visiting www.arizonarosetheatre.com.

Winding Road’s The Big Meal is a Theatrical Feast

by Holly Griffith

Winding Road Theater showcases ensemble talent and honest storytelling in their latest offering, Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal. The play opens with a flirtatious encounter between characters Sam and Nicole, a young couple who meet in a restaurant. Over the course of the play, they date, fall in love, fight, break up, reconcile, get married, have children, and grow old together. We meet their family members, witness their joys, and share in their grief. But don’t be fooled by this predictable, even cliché plot. LeFranc’s theatrical twists, buoyed by an excellent ensemble and skillful direction, make The Big Meal a flavorful feast of family dynamics.

The cast of The Big Meal. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

The cast of The Big Meal. Photo by Creatista Photography, courtesy of Winding Road Theater.

The first theatrical curveball LeFranc throws is his fast-paced structure of short scenes that follow one another without marked transitions. The actors must shift time, place, and tone in the space of a breath, and this cast handles the challenge beautifully. They move as a unit, making rhythmic shifts that clarify the passage of time without being heavy-handed. This is a difficult, delicate technique to master, but this ensemble (Tony Caprile, Damian Garcia, Cynthia Jeffery, Chris Koval, Kat McIntosh, Lena Quach, Danny Quinones, and China Young) blazes forward with astonishing skill. The production is airtight, and it needs to be. The actors fly through the script at a rushing pace, never missing a beat, overlapping lines and even entire conversations, unafraid to talk like a real family. The effect is sometimes chaotic, but in a good way.  The stage becomes electrified with dialogue, and the audience can only revel in the realness of it all. The lines we miss, the conversations we choose to ignore, the big personalities that drown out the more measured ones are all part of the experience.

The second twist is a complex web of casting that unfolds over the course of the play. As Sam and Nicole age, the actors who once played their parents are re-cast to play the middle-aged versions of our protagonist couple. Similarly, the actors who once played Sam and Nicole in their twenties shift to portray the couple’s children, friends, or lovers. Later, the actors who first played Sam and Nicole’s grandparents portray the pair in their old age, and the rest of the ensemble shifts accordingly. In only ninety minutes, we meet five generations of family members, several sets of children and parents, multiple iterations of characters at different ages, and a veritable army of boyfriends and girlfriends, all acted by the ensemble of eight. Not an easy feat for any acting company, but Winding Road nails it. The company provides enough clarity to keep us along for the ride without sacrificing the honesty of the scenes.

Director Maria Caprile handles this web of family dynamics deftly. By staging the play in the round, the story sings. As the characters whirl around the play’s central set piece, a circular dining table, the audience is presented with a kaleidoscope of relationship combinations, ever-shifting, ever-circulating, and beautiful to watch. Each shift in the kaleidoscope brings a new image, but with colors and shapes reminiscent of the last, inviting us to make connections between generations and among relationships. Seated around the intimate Cabaret space at the Temple of Music and Art, we are able to watch not only the characters onstage, but our fellow audience members across the room. They become part of the drama, and also somehow part of the family. We share their joy and grief in the same way we share Sam and Nicole’s.

Alex Alegria’s lighting design is powerful. He and stage manager Samantha Severson work together to punctuate the rushing scenes with a handful of expertly crafted passages of surrealism, each designed to represent the death of a character. These moments are somehow both familiar and chilling, a layer of nuance that I attribute to Alegria’s lights.

The unshakeable ensemble, honest script, and thoughtful direction make The Big Meal a triumph for Winding Road. Pull up a chair and enjoy it for yourself.

The Big Meal plays at the The Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art through December 22nd. Tickets can be purchased at www.windingroadtheater.org or by calling 520-401-3626.