Life is a Team Sport

by China Young

As a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe is currently one of the hottest plays making the circuit right now. With a story that is modern and fiercely female, it is no surprise that Arizona Repertory Theatre at the University of Arizona added it to its 2019/20 Season, and produced it with a team made, predominantly, of women. 

The wolves

The cast of The Wolves. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

The Wolves follows a soccer team of nine teenage girls through six consecutive weeks of soccer pre-game warm-ups. Within these weekly snapshots the audience is not spoon-fed the plot, but instead must listen to the characters and watch them interact to follow the story being told. The young women often talk in multiple smaller conversations that overlap one another, sometimes briefly merging into a group conversation before branching off again. They talk about the stereotypical teenage girl things like college and sex, but they also discuss world events, politics, abortion, and many other topics that some might consider “too adult” for the generation being portrayed. I find this consideration especially important at a time when the youth of the world are screaming at the top of lungs for adults to take them seriously about their concerns for their future, and when women are fighting just as hard as ever to not be silenced or scoffed at. 

Breaking several identity molds, The Wolves is not a typical coming of age story, yet it is still incredibly identifiable. At its core, this story amplifies the importance of being on a team. Whether in sports, theatre, or any other aspect of life, being on a team teaches us how to navigate group dynamics, become more mindful of those around us, learn to lead, and learn to follow. Teamwork also helps us find our chosen tribes, with teammates often becoming the people we celebrate our joy with and who hold us together when we experience loss.

Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production, expertly directed by Claire Mannle, portrays the familial dynamic of this particular team, channeling the love these young women have for one another into the Tornabene Theatre. Mannle puts this cast through the wringer – every scene contains physical exercises that ensure the cast will be in good shape for months after this show. She “coaches” the cast’s execution of the rhythms in the script, especially in moments when we must shift from multi-faceted chaos to attention on one particular character, Mannle guides our attention seamlessly.

The rest of the creative team’s designs further enhance the rawness of the script. Ally Frieders’ scenic design is simple and smart – replicating a corner of an indoor soccer square with turf on the ground and a netted backdrop on two of the four sides, helping to keep the action tight, and the balls on stage. The lighting by Mack Woods and sound design by Hunter Sweetser are also simple but sophisticated and do their part to generate the world of the production.  Sierra Adamo’s costume design is perfect. The characters are dressed in the same soccer uniform throughout, however Adamo compliments each character’s personality through their accessories.I fully appreciated what each hairstyle, headband, jacket and backpack said about each individual. That level of attention to detail can only be the result of true collaborative teamwork with Mannle and the cast.

Paige Mills (#14), Lauren Vialva (#11), Sophia Goodin (#2), Vuane Suitt (#00), Eavan Clare Brunswick (#8), Elana Rose Richardson (#13). Scenic Design by Ally Frieders

Paige Mills (#14), Lauren Vialva (#11), Sophia Goodin (#2), Vuane Suitt (#00), Eavan Clare Brunswick (#8), Elana Rose Richardson (#13). Scenic Design by Ally Frieders. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

The actors are women from various backgrounds, though most of them are students in the UA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. The characters are listed by their jersey number, enhancing the show’s “Everyman” status. #25 (Lotus Rogers) is the team Captain and peacemaker. Rogers brought an air of leadership and responsibility that suited the character perfectly. #00 (Vaune Suite) played the mostly speechless goalie.  Though silent, Suite commanded our attention through her own focus. #46 (Maggie McNeil) is the new girl who just joined the team. She’s a bit odd and struggles to be accepted into the group, but after learning she is a world traveler the rest of the team starts to accept her awkwardness for worldliness. I found McNeil’s comedic timing and embodiment of her character to be truly inspired. #07 (Reagan Kennedy) and #14 (Paige Mills) are “BFFs FOREVER”. They have a bond unlike any of the other ladies on the team and the chemistry generated by Kennedy and Mills make it clear that they will always be the first to defend and protect the other when it comes to the rest of the group, even if they can’t protect themselves from each other. #02 (Sophia Goodin), is the most conservative character who we learn was raised very religiously and with no television. We’ve all known those kids, or have been those kids, and I am still finding humor in how fantastically Goodin portrayed the personality of someone who grew up under those circumstances. Not because it’s actually funny, but because it was just – so – perfect. #13 (Elana Rose Richardson) is a tomboy/Sporty Spice character with an older drug-dealing brother that has influenced some of her own habits, and Richardson brought many nuanced layers to the role. Both her personality and her physique reminded me of someone I went to high school with that played all the sports, making her another character I felt like I knew. #11 (Lauren Vialva) brought a nice balance of intensity and sincerity to a character that is a passionate activist, eager to tell everyone about all the injustices in the world and then out on their “isms.” #08 (Eaven Clare Brunswick) was the most childlike and stereotypically “girly” of all the characters. She was quick to be excitable or over-dramatic about the smallest issues. Though she was almost a caricature, Brunswick managed to find found the honesty in her ridiculousness. In the final scene we meet one other character that is not on the team, Soccer Mom (Callie Hutchinson). This character doesn’t stop talking once she appears, and is only present for about five to ten minutes, but Hutchinson does a fine job channeling the energy of the emotional chaos that the character is living in.

I could go on for days dissecting all the themes and issues that The Wolves explores, but suggest you just go see this contemporary, female-driven production instead. Don’t let your UA Theatre team down – those 90 minutes are worth it.

The Wolves is playing at the Tornabene Theatre on the UA campus from February 8-23, tickets available at theatre.arizona.edu or (520) 621-1162.

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.

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

Costumes, Set, and Technical Design Breathe New Life into a Familiar Coming of Age Tale

by Marguerite Saxton

The 1800’s brought many influential things to Germany: Adolf Hitler, Nietzsche, The Brothers Grimm and the infinite creep factor of “Der Struwwelpeter” (Google it!). This is the backdrop for Arizona Repertory Theatre’s season finale, Spring Awakening.

Michael Schulz as Melchior and Rachel Franke as Wendla. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Spring Awakening is based on the late 19th century play The Awakening Spring, A Children’s Tragedy by German playwright Frank Wedekind. This modernized version is an austere depiction of oppression, rebellion, and sexuality, featuring maturing kids finding their bodies amongst shifting roles – girls drool over guys who don’t care about anything but are good at everything, while the guys suffer explicit fantasies about their piano teachers. Typical.

Spring is “a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). In this lusty season of rebirth we find ourselves sowing metaphorical seeds for the future. Spring Awakening’s director Hank Stratton has expressed that it’s necessary to have death in order to have new life. And what is a more fitting way to celebrate Eostre, the Germanic goddess of spring, than with awkward teenage S.E.X.?

This multiple-Tony winning musical features Steven Sater’s cringy, angsty songs about new ways to touch oneself. But Stratton, according to his recent interview in the Arizona Daily Star, is okay with that. He “expects some audience members to be uncomfortable.” And well, it is.

Yet, this is a show of contrasts. While hopelessness pervades, a spirit of dissent runs almost as wild as the hormones. Though conscientiously directed, the obvious opposites within the script create scenes that are confusing but, in a way, accurate to that time when seemingly everyone was mystified by human sexuality.

The motifs in the story are predictable: adults vs. kids, sex vs. chastity, pleasure vs. pain. A bit cliché. How many times have we seen this story? Girl has sex, gets pregnant, and has a terrible life while the boy basically gets to be the bad ass. Though the narrative starts out strong and funny, it unfortunately flickers out.

While the script leaves something to be desired, there are key performances that pack a punch: much of the movement is purposeful and well timed – a particularly satisfying scene features caustic schoolmasters, headbanging, and air-guitars. And there were stand out vocals by actors Jared Machado (Georg/Dieter) and Rachel Franke (Wendla).
Another gem in the script is the queer love story. Its nuanced vulnerability adds dimension to a predominantly straight tale. This was an astute detail to add to an otherwise familiar story.

Zach Zupke as Moritz and Gabriela Giusti as Ilse. Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of Arizona Repertory Theatre.

Where this play really shines is with the set design, technical, and costuming teams. The design of the theater is such that some audience members sit only feet from a technician, but wouldn’t know it due to the team’s utmost professionalism. They execute their jobs efficiently and in perfect unison. And the design team finds new ways to tell an old story. The set explores space in funky ways thanks to Scenic Designer, Joe C. Klug. Chairs hang from ceilings and the floors become a place to take notes. Tori Mays, Lighting Designer, rounds out a visually creative production with unlikely textural choices, employing geometric gobos and infusing many scenes with disconcerting chartreuse. Costume Designer, Ryan B. Moore, goes for symbolic touches by stitching tiny crosses of Peter onto the boys’ uniforms. This cross is a common symbol in counter-culture scenes, serving as a sneaky reference to the defiant nature of the students.

Another great component of this production was the live musical accompaniment – a classy touch that fosters a multisensory opportunity to connect with the play’s ethos. In many other productions they’d be hidden in a pit, but in this production they are instead proudly displayed for the audience as an essential organ, pumping their feet in tune, plucking their fingers in a rhythmic heartbeat that circulates vital energy throughout.
The script is predictable, but the execution of the production is done with gusto and skill. It’s clear those working on Spring Awakening are truly invested in this piece. This season’s final show at Arizona Repertory Theatre may not have awakened all of the senses, but it energizes one into the next phase, however screwy that may be.

Spring Awakening is directed by Hank Stratton and shows at Arizona Repertory Theatre from 4/7 through 4/28. Tickets can be purchased at https://theatre.arizona.edu/shows/spring-awakening/.

 

Editor’s Note: We mistakenly credited Richard Tuckett as the costume designer in a previous version of this article. In fact, Ryan B. Moore, a second year MFA student, was the costume designer for this production of Spring Awakening.