The Crucible Was Skillfully Chaotic

by Leticia Gonzalez

Now, I must admit that Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, directed by Christopher Johnson, is the first show I have seen at The Rogue Theatre. I sat down, eager to see what the play had in store. I didn’t know what to expect since I hadn’t watched the movie or read the book, but as this theater is well known in town, I had certain expectations – and they met all of them.

Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

We are in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692. The scene opens with Reverend Paris carrying a limp Betty Paris, portrayed by Christopher Younggren and Flories Rush respectively, who’s passed out after being discovered dancing in the middle of the forest.  The town whispers of witches. The slightest accusations spark into a rampant fire which inevitably leaves the town scrambling and gasping for common sense and sound evidence. This show is meant to portray how quickly things can get out of hand; it is easy to be carried away by feelings. Hope hangs in the air, out of reach of the innocent. Those in power are too concerned with the preservation of self and will do anything to maintain the integrity of their current social and political standing.

This is not a tech heavy show. The emphasis is on the dynamic relationships and high stake issues between the characters. As an ensemble, they all had great energy. They fed off each other’s energy and radiated it back to one another. All of them were committed. The technical elements did not detract from that. The lighting was subtle and simple. The music added depth and emotional respite which I appreciated because there were times when I was overwhelmed by the constant yelling and high energy. The underlying music offered a pleasant escape.  

Matt Bowdren as John Proctor and Holly Griffith as Elizabeth Proctor. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Matt Bowdren as John Proctor and Holly Griffith as Elizabeth Proctor. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Matt Bowdren (John Proctor) is always a treat to watch on stage. I remember when I first saw him in Othello as Iago at the University of Arizona. I enjoyed watching the interaction between him and Holly Griffith (Elizabeth Proctor). They beautifully captured the delicate condition of their relationship. A woman who is hurt and uncertain of how to move past the pain and learn how to trust a man who is repentant but impatient for forgiveness. They were physically and emotionally distant, but you could feel that there was a yearning for things to be better by the way they looked at and spoke to one another.

Bryn Booth, who portrayed Abigail Williams, was a delight to watch as she masterfully manipulated the other characters around her. I found myself watching her even when she wasn’t speaking, curious to see how she’d respond as the tables shifted in and against her favor. And Leah Taylor’s Mary Warren is something to behold. Her ability to portray the internal flip-flopping struggle so vividly for us to see was amazing. I hated her character (in a good way), but I understood myself. There was a moment of well orchestrated possession that gave me goosebumps.The women’s shrill and terrifying screams coupled with their ruthless pursuit of Mary almost had me confessing as well. I even snuck several cautious peeks around the theater to make sure there was nothing around me or on the ceiling. You can never be too careful.

 I left wishing I had known more about what happened to Tituba, by hearing her side of the story. Brought to life by Carley Elizabeth Preston, her monologue was creepy good, but the content fell flat. What was her truth? Did Abigail coerce her? I feel that Arthur Miller could have further developed her character, but seeing that the story mostly revolves a certain demographic of people, there really isn’t room for another perspective. That’s too bad.

Crucible group

Kate Cannon as Mercy Lewis, Erin Buckley as Susanna Walcott, Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams, Matt Bowdren as John Proctor, Florie Rush as Betty Parris, and Leah Taylor as Mary Warren. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

One does not watch The Crucible to simply pass the time or for a gay evening at the theater. From the moment the play starts, the stakes are high and the actors are committed. The hysteria and chaos in the scenes are palpable. It’s no surprise that I could hear the audience gasp and feel them squirm in their seats. We were all aboard the Salem Witch Train racing down a slippery slope without any brakes.

The Crucible runs from April 25 through May 12, Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 pm, with 2:00 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday at The Rogue Theater at the Historic Y, 300 East University Boulevard. Contact the box office at 520-551-2053 or buy tickets online at TheRogueTheatre.org. Tickets are $38, though if you are a student wanting to catch this show you may be able to get a Student Rush Ticket. This ticket is $15 and only available if there are open seats 15 minutes before the curtain (Let the games begin!). There will be discussions with the cast and directors after each performance. Make sure to stay for that as well. I stayed for the discussion and enjoyed the stories some of the elders shared with everyone.

An Astonishing Production of Little Women

by Gabriella De Brequet

Little Women the musical, with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, is based on the 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. It is a coming of age story about sisters Jo (Erin Recuparo), Meg (Diana Ouradnik), Amy (Kelly Coates), Beth (Kate Scally Howell), and their Mother Marmee (Korby Myrick). While their Father is fighting in the war the girls find love, discover their callings, and evolve together as a family.

Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Kelly Coates as Amy, Erin Recuparo as Jo, Korby Myrick as Marmee, Diane Ouradnik as Meg. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Kelly Coates as Amy, Erin Recuparo as Jo, Korby Myrick as Marmee, and Diane Ouradnik as Meg. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

The musical is lead by Jo (Recuparo) the headstrong sister whose passion for writing drives the narrative. Themes of female empowerment and female camaraderie resonate throughout the play. Each Sister is uniquely different from one another and this allows the audience to find a little bit of themselves in each sister. It’s refreshing and timely to see dynamic female characters such as these headlining the narrative. This heart felt production will astonish you!

The vocal performances were impressive and well adjusted for the space. Recuparo’s Jo was passionate, dynamic, and strong. The audience had the great pleasure of watching her evolve from start to finish right before our eyes. Howell’s Beth was bright, kind, and humble. Her performance will break your heart. Ouradnik’s Meg was thoughtful and funny. Coates as Amy was hilarious and brash. Jeremy Vega’s Laurie was sincerely honest and youthful. Ruben Rosthenhausler’s Professor Bhaer was sweet, and comical. Perhaps the most poignant performance for me was Myrick’s Marmee. Myrick’s vocal performance brought me to tears more than once, and her characterization of Marmee was rich, and selfless. The entire ensemble really blew me away. There was not a single weak link in this strong chain of actors.

Erin Recuparo as Jo, Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Diane Ouradnik as Meg, and Kelly Coates as Amy. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

Erin Recuparo as Jo, Kate Scally Howell as Beth, Diane Ouradnik as Meg, and Kelly Coates as Amy. Photo by Brandon Howell, courtesy of Arizona Rose Theatre.

The set design was impressive considering the size of the small venue. The stage has a circular center which rotated. The rotating element helped illustrate the passage of time, growth, and change. The lighting design was vivid. At times I felt that it was too vivid for the space but it remained consistent throughout the play and it wasn’t too distracting. The costumes by Daniela Ayala were thoughtful and fitting. I was thoroughly impressed with Arizona Rose Theatre company’s production of Little Women. I encourage all musical theatre lovers to witness this local gem of a production.

Tickets are available at www.arizonarosetheatre.com or by calling the box office at (520)888-0509. Special tickets prices for students, children, seniors and military apply. Little Women runs from April 27th- May 5th

This Year’s Eight 10s Festival Leaves Us Looking Forward to Next Year’s Eight 10s

Editor’s Note: Guest reviewers Natalia Storie and Catfish Baruni, aka Nickels and Dimes, attended Winding Road Theater’s Eight 10s opening performance. Because Eight 10s was a different format than the shows we usually cover, we’re presenting their conversation and takeaways from the festival, lightly edited, for our reader’s education and entertainment in place of a more traditional prose review. Please enjoy their cute nicknames and biting commentary. Yours shrewly, Leigh

Nickels: First of all, surprise! not eight plays. Although we did debate this before the night started because there is a play called, “Intermission” in the middle of the program. The name was misleading but also probably the point.

Dimes: Festival producer Chad Davies introduced the event as “a dream come true” and that this was the first festival of this type in Tucson, mirrored off Santa Cruz Actors’ Theater’s 8 Tens festival.

N: Out of three hundred plus scripts submitted, eight were selected for this festival. A piece written by Tucsonan Toni Press-Coffman was additionally included, making this a nine play festival.

D: I had a problem with including Press-Coffman’s “bonus” play in the festival. After all, she is a co-founder of Winding Road, and inclusion of her play teetered on making the rest of the festival “competition” null and void. On top of that problem, I don’t like that the “local” in “local theatre” only applies to the actors and directors, not the playwright. Which, as someone who used to take writing more seriously, is annoying and – dare I say? – bullshit.

N: Right. I enjoyed her play, but it did make me wish the rest of the festival was made up of other local playwrights. Perhaps if the contest had been only open to Arizona writers to submit, it wouldn’t have felt too unusual to have her play included. We’ve seen what Tucson writers can produce, and this play festival would’ve been a great opportunity to showcase some of that. I do like these festivals of 10 minute plays, and the idea is really great for theatregoers who enjoy a little mixing it up with their theater experience. So overall, it’s a great concept, but maybe a missed opportunity in what shows they decided to put on.

Overall positives, I thought the transitions from show to show were done really well: swift, not loud and jarring, and they moved right into the next performance. I thought the actors were all really solid and engaging throughout the festival, but in particular in Pretty Ruth, Press-Coffman’s piece. I really liked the women in it.

D: Did you realize that, aside from Press-Coffman, there was only one play written by a woman at the festival?

N: I hadn’t realized that; that’s unfortunate. But there were women involved in some leading capacity in eight of the nine shows, whether they directed or acted in them. And the one play that didn’t feature women had people of color and a gay story line. So, progress?

Moving on to aspects of the festival that we didn’t love… I will say, other 10 minute play festivals I’ve gone to typically had an overall theme linking the works so you had a vague idea of what each of the shows would be about. This one did not, so in almost every play, it took a bit for me to catch up and figure out what was happening.

D: Another surprise! Not all of the plays were 10 minutes! More than half of the plays ran over that ten minute limit— not always to the benefit of the play. And these plays covered heavy topics, often that couldn’t realistically be portrayed in such a short time frame.

N: Eh, true, but I don’t know how real you can get in a 10 minute play.

D: If you can’t get real in a 10 minute play, then what’s the point of doing a 10 minute play?

N: I don’t know! But I didn’t go in expecting groundbreaking stories; I assumed we’d be seeing cute, maybe comedic pieces that were light and fun?

D: You think my expectations were too high I mean, the rest of the audience really seemed to enjoy everything.

N: They may have been, and the audience did love every play. And I thought most of the acting was good, notably Morgan Smith, India Osborn, Steve McKee, and Mara Concordia.

D: So I’m a curmudgeon—

N: Obviously.

D: But on that note, we should review the actual shows now.

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A Long Trip, written by Dan McGeehan (Chicago, IL) and directed by Denise Blum
Dimes: A Long Trip is about an elderly man trying to connect with his elderly wife before she succumbs to dementia. The basic story was predictable and brought nothing new to scenes of Alzheimer’s/dementia that have been seen before.

Nickels: But I thought Peg Peterson, the actor who played the older woman was sweet and believable. As an actor, I really pay attention to the acting first, and then the script.

The Parrots of Heaven, written by Even Guilford-Blake (Stone Mountain, GA) and directed by Eddie Diaz
Dimes: Parrots of Heaven was about a young Persian man who can’t pronounce “Iran” like a Persian.

Nickels: I also noticed that. This script was also somewhat predictable: a pleasant, interracial relationship story. But it was awesome to see more diversity in casting.

Dimes: I don’t like that it feels like a trade-off. You get diverse casting, but in a predictable, trite story? Why can’t we have interesting stories AND diverse actors?

Benchmarks, written by Glenn Altermann (New York, NY) and directed by Linda Andersano
Nickels: I really enjoyed Benchmarks! Actor Maggie Geertsen was in this show and another later on, and I thought her energy was great. Many of these plays contain a lot of metaphors and this was one of them, but it was easy to understand. Again, at this length it was forced to be kind of surface level but I thought the actors played well off of each other and I didn’t feel like this was too long. There were some cheesy lines…

Dimes: Again, I felt like this play didn’t bring anything new to the stage: The wise old stranger who imparts life advice at the unlikeliest of locations? And the advice is that anybody can just leave their literal baggage, or “troubles,” behind? It was a little obvious.

Intermission, written by Joe Bardin (Scottsdale, AZ) and directed by Tyler Gastleum
Dimes: Intermission is about a couple talking about a play during intermission. I was not impressed. A couple in turmoil attends a mediocre play – but the play is a metaphor for their relationship! It’s a play about people talking about a play, but they’re not really talking about a play… That said, there were plenty of inside jokes and references to theatre in general which delighted the audience.

Schrödinger’s Gun, written by Greg Smith (Cleveland Heights, OH) and directed by Samantha Severson

Nickles: I liked this script and thought the actors were great, but the audience really confused me. There were two black police officers training a white officer, right? And they were somewhat putting him through this tough scenario which spoke to police brutality against black people, right? But the audience was laughing so much… I didn’t understand.

Dimes: I actually had problems with the script, and maybe that’s just because the mostly older, mostly white audience was laughing hysterically at what maybe shouldn’t be a laughing matter. I’m not saying that white playwrights can’t write about issues facing the black population in America, but I think that if they do attempt to do this, it has to be done extremely carefully. And also that they probably shouldn’t do it.

And the ending where the white trainee is fired for pulling the trigger of his – spoiler alert – unloaded gun on a black man? I’m not sure if the playwright hasn’t been paying attention, or if this is supposed to be an instance of magical realism (or just wishful thinking), but it’s not realistic, sadly.

Love at the Louvre, written by Diane Sposito (Bronx, NY) and directed by China Young
Dimes: I thought the acting in Love at the Louvre was great. I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about art, classical or otherwise, so all of the art references and allusions were totally lost on me but the audience ate it up. In fact, I didn’t realize the characters were supposed to be Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo until way too far into the scene. How embarrassing for me. The rules of the universe didn’t track completely but it was still enjoyable.

Nickels: This was probably my favorite play of the night. This was more of what I was expecting for the festival. You know right away what is happening, who these characters are (or most of us do), and it was light and funny with some good points. Again, Maggie Geertsen performance stood out the most for me. Also worth noting, this was the first play in the festival that passed the Bechdel test pretty easily. I think that’s also why I liked it. I’d go see this show by itself, it was fun.

Stain, written by Oded Gross (Montclair, NJ) and directed by Chad Davies
Dimes: Stain is a comedy about the KKK. This… was not good. It was like a bad SNL sketch that went on for too long. Oh no, the wife left a red sock in with the whites and now her husband’s Klan robe is pink! Gadzooks! Wackiness! Hijinks! In the universe of this play, white people only have a problem with the KKK when 23 and Me reveals that they have a small percentage of black or Jewish ancestry… Get it? They’re not really white. Hilarious.

Nickels: To be fair to this piece, the acting was appropriate and funny. I can see these actors being really great in other comedic pieces. Their timing was on but it was hard to find the funny for me because of the subject matter. I do think the audience was laughing uproariously at how ridiculous these characters are and not necessarily maybe at the racism humor? I hope? I don’t know. It’s a fine line.

Arguing with Toasters, written by Matthew Weaver (Spokane, WA) and directed by Chloe Loos
Nickels: Arguing with Toasters features an all women cast quite literally arguing with toasters, where the toaster is a metaphor for a man. I liked how the women bond in the end and also it was silly without being outrageous. However, not a Bechdel test passer. Also, made me want toast.

Dimes: I actually thought this play was a disservice to the topic of toxic masculinity and the threat of violence from men that women have to face every day. What was the point of having toasters stand in for men in such serious situations? I didn’t get it. If you’re going to have actors arguing with toasters (or other kitchen appliances), a ridiculous premise, maybe the arguments should be absurd, too? A woman telling a toaster, who is really a man, not to hit her again just isn’t very funny. I think the playwright might think he’s more clever than he actually is.

Dimes: I’m may not be the average theatregoer. I did not love these plays, but the audience did and that means something. I thought the festival was hit or miss… with more of the latter than the former, but I applaud their effort and hope that next year’s festival will improve.

Nickels: Yes, I hope they keep doing this type of festival. I think Tucson audiences enjoy them, they’re great for actors because there’s so many acting and directing opportunities, and it’s a good way to get your fill of a bunch of different types of plays. I would love to see more local writers developing pieces for this festival, though. For all the stumbles, I would still tell people to check it out.

Eight 10s is playing at the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art (333 S. Scott Ave.) Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm through May 5th. You can get tickets by calling 401-3626 or online at www.WindingRoadTheater.org.

 

Nickels and DimesNickels and Dimes is a Tucson-based comedy duo comprised of Natalia Storie and Catfish Baruni, respectively. She studied theatre at the University of Arizona and participated in seminars at The Globe Theatre in London. She has participated in multiple Fringe Festivals and performed in works for TADA, Beowulf Alley Theatre Company, Winding Road Theatre Ensemble, and Sheworxx. He has also participated in a number of Fringe Festivals, is the creator of Slideshow Fairytales, and the cohost of the podcast Stop Hating Yourself. He owns two cats, Zappa and Ariel.

Make Room for Things I Know To Be True

by Rebekah Thimlar

The company of Things I Know To Be True. Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

The company of Things I Know To Be True. Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

It can be a difficult thing, to introduce your true self to the people who should know you best. In this heartbreakingly funny play by Andrew Bovell, we watch as members of the Price family struggle make room for their true selves within their predetermined family roles.

Things I Know to be True begins with a monologue from the youngest Price daughter, Rosie (Aubyn Heglie). She is away on an extended vacation. Feeling low, she begins to pine for her family. In this scene, Rosie introduces the audience to the Price family, her mother and father, Fran (Jordan Baker) and Bob (Bill Geisslinger), her siblings, Pip (Kelley Faulkner) Ben (Zach Fifer), and Mia (Kevin Kantor). Upon Rosie’s return home, the family welcomes her warmly and we feel a genuine sense of love between them.

The story progresses over the course of a year. During which time, we see the characters struggle between the urge to live their lives with absolute honesty and living up to the expectations of their family. This fine line is walked along such matters as love, identity, double standards, regret, and the indelible aching of possibilities unpursued. In this production, the specifics become the social, making this play highly relatable.

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Bill Geisslinger as Bob and Jordan Baker as Fran.Photo by Michael Brosilow, courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

This production is well cast, the actors do an incredible job of immersing the audience in the emotional highs and lows of the Price family. Notable performances were given by Baker and Geisslinger as the parents of the Price children. Where Geisslinger emanated calm, straight lines as the understanding father, Baker’s performance embodies the chaotic layers of Fran Price wonderfully. This pair does a fine job of portraying a couple that has been together so long, their traits begin to polarize as a mode of self-preservation. Through the parent’s interactions with each of their children, we see the wrenching disbelief of expectations unfulfilled and watch as they contemplate the true price of happiness.   

The play is largely set in the Price family’s backyard. As Pip mentions, “This backyard is everything.” Watching the family muse backward and forward in time, you start to believe her. The story of the Price family is told not only in memories but in their hopes for the future. These memories and hopes appear to be anchored to the large, beautifully crafted, oak tree which dominates the stage. This oak tree is the symbolic support of the family. The lighting and changing foliage move us through the seasons and the collaboration of the set components reinforce the sense of contemporary familiarity.

Though it is set in a midwestern backyard, this intimate family play faces a spectrum of themes relevant to modern society. Things I Know to be True wants the audience to see their own families on the stage and this production pulls that off. At times, the action is a bit crowded and distracting, particularly during the monologues. There are moments when the musical selections feel a bit out of place. These were minor distractions in this otherwise outstanding production.

This play is extremely funny and enjoyable, but what makes it worth seeing is that it’s not afraid to be honest. You will undoubtedly laugh a lot and more than likely cry a little as you relive your own memories through the stories of the Price family. The writing is so funny, so authentic, and so universal, you will feel as though parts were ripped from your own thoughts. On the list of things I know to be true, you will not regret making room for this play.

Things I Know to be True is playing through Saturday May 11 at the Temple of Music and Art. Tickets can be purchased online at arizonatheatre.org or by phone (520) 622-2823.

There’s Nothing Neutral in This Switzerland

by Betsy Labiner

Sarah Macmillan as Patricia Highsmith. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Sarah Macmillan as Patricia Highsmith. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Switzerland, by Joanna Murray-Smith, is a dark comedy with razor sharp commentary on literature, creativity, and society – and it isn’t shy about pressing that razor to the audience’s throat. With this play, Something Something Theatre and director Whitney Morton Woodcock delve into the complicated life and legacy of author Patricia Highsmith, who penned psychological thrillers such as The Talented Mr. Ripley (and its four sequels) and Strangers on a Train. The play goes beyond one woman’s work, though; it questions authorial power and literary impact, as well as the institutions producing, publishing, and reviewing books. What’s more, it questions the basic nature of the self and of humanity, challenging notions of reflection and knowledge, good and evil, and growth and change.

The play is a taut, close look at Highsmith (played by Sarah Macmillan) as she struggles to write one more Ripley novel: one final, triumphant success. Edward Ridgeway (played by Damian Garcia) arrives, sent by Highsmith’s publisher with instructions to ensure that the cash cow produces to their satisfaction. Highsmith and Ridgeway engage in a battle of wits and wills, flinging venomous verbal volleys at one another as they prod each other for weaknesses to exploit. They fluctuate between conspiratorial camaraderie and threats both subtle and overt as the future of Tom Ripley hangs in the balance.

Macmillan and Garcia have a strong rapport, building ever-increasing tension as the play progresses. The play ruminates on reading and writing, repeatedly casting the author as a god whose words create worlds and people. The audience is presented with the long-vaunted notion of authorial immortality through their works, but simultaneously reminded of the misogyny of the American literary fraternity. Highsmith sneers at the praise given to other authors and rails at the dismissive or damning critiques of her work. Avid readers and literary buffs in particular will appreciate the metaliterary conversation, as names and allusions are tossed out alongside comments ranging from the scathing – “publishing is well-dressed pimping” – to the nearly worshipful – “The writer starts with nothing, nothing but the word.” Writing is the primary focus, as Highsmith struggles to match her earlier successes, but the banter also questions the connections forged through books, emphasizing the inherent human engagement in sharing stories, even as the audience is reminded that, while a reader might feel an overwhelming connection to an author or character, that connection runs only in one direction.

As the play dissects the act of creative production, from an author’s idea all the way through a publisher’s printing, it also investigates the makeup of people and their society. Highsmith is a cynical, racist, bigot who eagerly looks for the worst in people, dreaming up death and violence and taking delight in guns, knives, and poison. At one point, she asserts, “If you put two people in a room together and their true selves emerge, only one of them is going to make it.” Ridgeway calls out Highsmith on her ugliness and meanness, briefly championing social progress and change, even as he himself moves along the spectrum of (a)morality. The characters’ slipperiness is challenging, as the audience is forced to ponder whether we like or loathe these people, as we find ourselves alternately laughing and cringing at their banter. We’re also forced to reckon with the question of whether we have, in fact, moved beyond the ignorance derided by Ridgeway, as well as the thorny issue of how we, as contemporary consumers, interact with literature or art produced by people with problematic or even abhorrent views.

Damian Garcia as Edward Ridgeway and Sarah Macmillan as Patricia Highsmith. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Damian Garcia as Edward Ridgeway and Sarah Macmillan as Patricia Highsmith. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Macmillan and Garcia are strong actors and play off each other well, pairing the often-rapid conversation with intense physical presence; it’s remarkable how much they convey in their postures and invasions of each other’s space. Their shifting dynamic is utterly engaging, and the simmering pressure keeps the audience wondering not only if and when the knife will slash out, but whose blood will be drawn when it does.

The set, designed by Marchus Lewis, is a shrine to literature and death. Books and weapons line the shelves, while swords, masks, and skulls adorn the walls. Every item speaks to the action and themes of the play and feels provocatively deliberate. So too are the costumes, particularly Garcia’s, which speak volumes over the progress of the action. The costuming was designed by the actors themselves, with minimal input from the director.

The tightly-paced plot unfolds like one of Highsmith’s own thrillers, with clues and red herrings leading up to the climactic finale. In the final moments of the play, an audience member nearby breathed out a heartfelt “What the f*ck” as the scene closed out.

Whether you see the twists coming or not, going to Switzerland is one darkly fun trip you’ll want to take.

Switzerland runs April 25th through May 12th at St. Francis in the Foothills (4625 E. River Road). Tickets may be purchased online at somethingsomethingtheatre.com or by phone at 520-468-6111.

Perfectly Imperfect Women’s Stories in 20th Century Blues

by Gretchen Wirges

I had been perusing the playbill for 20th Century Blues while waiting for the show to begin. I noticed the image of four women, standing in solidarity, walking toward a camera. The sounds of Motown and 70’s anthems played in the background. As the lights rose on Invisible Theatre’s season-ending production, my feminist spirit was ready to see what playwright Susan Miller, and directors Susan Claassen and Fred Rodriguez had in store.

P.J. Peavy as Sil, Susan Cookie Baker as Gabby, ToReeNee Wolf as Mac, and  Geri Hooper Wharham as Danny. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

P.J. Peavy as Sil, Susan Cookie Baker as Gabby, To-ree-nee Wolf as Mac, and Geri Hooper Wharham as Danny. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

The play begins with Danny, a woman in her 60’s, delivering a TEDTalk about her photography. Just as we’re about to see a retrospective of photos of her closest confidants over the 40 year span of their friendship, the scene transitions to four months prior, when she and her friends Sil, Mac, and Gabby were gathering to take their final photo.

I felt myself exhale more and more as each woman entered the set, styled as a New York City loft. Designed by James Blair and Susan Claasen, the set looked polished and professional. It was believable, without being over the top.

Having met 40 years ago, the characters have an obvious history and chemistry that evolves with the play. While discussing the photos, the women take us on a journey through their relationships, and 40 years of politics and cultural struggle. They flit from Civil Rights to Transgender issues to the ERA to the Black Lives Matter movements. At first, I was frustrated that they covered too much, instead of spending more meaningful time on one issue. But what I realized is that these women are a cultural timeline personified. They take us on a journey through that timeline in a way that also allows us to see their triumphs, fears, and desires.

It’s not often we get to see four older, diverse female actors on stage together with meaningful, powerful dialogue. The women talk to each other with a directness that we rarely get to witness. They talk about sex and race and gender and their aging bodies with brutal honesty.  One of the characters, Mac, played by To-ree-nee Wolf, is African American, and a lesbian. Mac often calls out the others for privilege and for asking her speak for “her people”. A few of the topics discussed made the audience cringe just a bit, which I absolutely loved. The playwright didn’t care if the honesty pushed buttons. In the time of #metoo and #timesup, we need to tell women’s stories without abandon or apology. 

Geri Hooper Wharham as Danny, ToReeNee Wolf as Mac, P.J. Peavy as Sil, and Susan Cookie Baker as Gabby. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

Geri Hooper Wharham as Danny, To-ree-nee Wolf as Mac, P.J. Peavy as Sil, and Susan Cookie Baker as Gabby. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Invisible Theatre.

While some of the dialogue felt a bit rushed at times, I attribute that to being one of the very first performances. I was impressed with the cast as a whole.  Molly McKasson (Bess) and Cole Potwardowski (Simon) were brief parts of the story, but gave us some touching moments. Geri Hooper Waram (Danny) delivered an earnest performance, and concludes the play with a powerfully delivered monologue. PJ Peavy (Sil) was able to transition deftly between her great comedic timing and the ability to ground the tender moments elegantly. Susan Cookie Baker (Gabby) gave the production a lightness with her humor and affable portrayal of this quirky character. And then we have Wolf (Mac), who in my opinion, was the standout of the show.  Wolf took my breath away. She was acting down to her fingertips. Her physicality, facial expressions, and patience on stage was such a beautiful thing to watch. She was the one that truly made the production come alive with her obvious aura of heart and grounded acting.

I felt strong connections in the cast between the women, especially between Sil and Gabby, and between Danny and Mac. I think that as the performances evolve and the run of the show continues, the chemistry between all four women will deepen and provide even more believability to the relationships between the characters. One of my favorite moments was when all four women had a mini-dance party filled with laughter and a nod to their long history.

The importance of these friendships and their conversation throughout 20th Century Blues is expressed beautifully during one of my favorite moments of the play. Danny tells the women, “You’re rock and roll, the space launch, civil rights. The decades that chronicle the most sweeping changes in everything. Style. Music. Literature. You’re my sundial, my alphabet, my guide to better living. You’re my memorial to all that.”

This play isn’t perfect but I’m able to overlook the imperfections to see women of color, women over 50, women who are queer, women who are artists, women who are afraid of loss, women who are struggling with their bodies, women who are celebrating their bodies, and women who just plain love and support each other.

20th Century Blues is playing at Invisible Theatre now through May 5th. Tickets can be purchased online at www.invisibletheatre.com or by calling their box office at 882-9721.

The Myths of Modern Societies

by Leigh Moyer

It’s hard to explain what Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts production of Polaroid Stories, directed by Marc David Pinate, is like. It’s ancient myth and modern problems, but turned in on itself until it is both dizzyingly beautiful and powerfully painful. It’s like the euphoria of letting go with a good buzz. It’s like a heartbroken song sung beautifully but without accompaniment. It’s like too many voices talking all at once and then perfect silence. It’s like this.

Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus, Veronica Hernandez as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus, Veronica Conran as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts.

This is a story of ten men and women living – fighting to survive – on the streets of Seattle. And while the action follows these men and women through their troubled home lives, bad beginnings, worse endings, and bad choice after bad choice, playwright Naomi Iizuka does something clever: she keeps the modern day setting, with the harsh language, the cheap beer, and the sirens in the background, while her cast of downtrodden are pulled right out of mythology. This isn’t a morality play. This isn’t the story of falling on hard times and triumphing anyway. This is classic poetry, safe and removed from us and therefore infallible on some level, but with the context twisted. We’re left in a place where we can’t say, well, if only they’d lived differently, it wouldn’t be like this.

Iizuka uses familiar Greek myths, including Hades and Persephone, Narcissus and Echo, and Orpheus and Eurydice, in place of the John and Jane Does who usually fill these roles in the news. If you aren’t familiar with the myths, you won’t miss anything; the story is still clear, but a quick Google search on your phone during intermission brings so much more depth to the play that I recommend taking a few minutes to learn the basics of these figures and their mythology.

The telling is immersive and jarring. One minute you feel the palpable pain of a character, the next you are relishing the release of a light, drug-induced moment, the next you are jerked back into your seat by the reality of a moment. The staging and direction keeps the audience looking around for the next thing, a detail Pinate likely added to both put you in the mindset of the characters always checking over their shoulder and to allow for actors to exit and enter during scenes of distraction, allowing them to almost appear out of thin air. It is very effective.

I was equally impressed with the actors’ abilities to be present on a stage with a lot of activity without losing a beat, their character, or the thread of the modern combined with the classic. I commend the cast’s performances, each playing two roles: the myth and the contemporary representation.

Taylor Hernandez as Eurydice gives us a battered woman, too young to have dealt with her trauma, running from a lover that won’t let her go. She is haunting as she swings from brave and freed to petty and foul mouthed. I felt for her. I wanted to take her in, protect her, but simultaneously knew she’d never accept it. Shalin Allen as Narcissus, trapped in poverty, but dreaming of better and doing whatever he has to to get it, is almost annoying, in the right way, in his obsession with telling, retelling, and embellishing his life story. Veronica Conran as Persephone/Semele was very much a broken woman; costumed to suggest she is a prostitute, she played the woman blamed for ruining the life of men, the woman who can’t win. The slight twanged accent and effortless charm of Brandon Saxon’s Hades/Zeus, who is easy to feel sorry for among the crowd of addicts for craving only love and a good night’s sleep, paints Persephone/Semele, and in fact all the characters and their flaws, in sharp relief.

I was particularly moved by Izzy Georgiaes as Philomel, who communicated intense longing and terrible loss entirely though song and silence. And, with the most myth spoken word for word, but slurred and jumbled up with f-bombs, Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus and Rene Gallego as Orpheus blew me away as they retold myths in such a way that they were were completely recognizable as poetry and equally as the ridiculous ramblings of drunk or high men stumbling after dreams they can’t remember. Sauri’ Rae Nez as Echo, even once freed from repeating the second half of her stage partner’s lines, still couldn’t find the words. Echo’s frustration is conveyed through exasperated motions and begging hands and eyes, even with so little actually said, was achingly familiar to anyone who has found themselves unable to find the right words.

Tossed in amongst the Greek tragedies are two very modern characters, named simply Skinhead Boy and Skinhead Girl. Played by Evan Taylor and Vauxn Mcquillen respectively, these two had perhaps the hardest parts to play. They had no poetry to fall back on. They were raw. They could be difficult to watch. They forced the audience, me, to remember this isn’t an edgy retelling of old stories. These types of events are unfolding with young people just like them in every city. They each have moments that pull them out of the fairytale the others live in, such as when Skinhead Boy swears he is going straight edge, a look in his face doubting it even as he says it, or when Skinhead Girl, scared of the dark, reminds herself, “Ain’t no monsters, nor for real, except the ones in your head.”

Brandon Saxon as Hades/Zeus and Taylor Hernandez as Eurydice. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for Fine Arts.

Brandon Saxon as Hades/Zeus and Taylor Hernandez as Eurydice. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College’s Center for Fine Arts.

The eleventh character is the stage itself. It is stunning. With audience seated on two sides along a long waterway, massive drain pipe, and bridge utilized to connect and distance characters, the scenic design, by Todd Poelstra and Anthony Richards, does a lot of work to tell the story. Additionally, the light (Cammy Silcox and Etienne Wegryzniak), sound (Adrianna Kendrick and Mary Tran), and video design (Kyle Odell) move the story from the real to the surreal. Though the dialogue is powerful, without the staging, it would have felt flat. And with such a set, mad props to the crew (Gianbari Deebom, Stacey Posey, Fiona Germann, Brianna Tapia, and Mary Tran) for taking on such a beast of a production.

I was impressed with this production. There were some slips or slow cues, as well as a handful of moments I felt were just a little too over the top that could have been reined in a little, but altogether I was blown away. It is the kind of theatre you watch to think and feel, not just spend an evening being entertained, although I was that as well.

Don’t go for a happily ever after. Polaroid Stories won’t give you one. Instead go because the stories need to be heard as badly as they need to be told. Give the storytellers, ten young men and women trapped in poverty, homelessness, addiction, and violence, the audience they deserve.

Polaroid Stories plays at Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts (West Campus) Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:00pm through April 28th. You can purchase tickets at pima.edu/cfa.