A Love Story Told in (Multi)verse

by Leigh Moyer

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

Constellations, photo by James Pack.

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

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

Constellations, photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock

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

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

A ‘Modern’ Take on Moliere’s Classic Scandal, “Tartuffe”

by Felíz Torralba

Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts presents Moliere’s Tartuffe, a comedy about Orgon, a wealthy Parisian patriarch who falls under the influence of Tartuffe, a hypocrite and conman.

Scarlett Sky was enchanting as Elmire. This young woman has incredible focus and engagement. She always seemed to have an internal dialogue. Watching her made me feel excited as an audience member. Though, similar to Miller, I feel that she could have been “aged up” a bit. Taylor Hernandez, who played Mariane, reminds me of a lovely Juliet. I really sympathize with her character. She was heartbroken that her father was forcing her to marry Tartuffe and successfully showed the audience her frustration and outrage. My only criticism is that anger was the primary emotion she really showed us. I really would have liked to have seen more sadness, confusion, and maybe even a little sarcasm – this would make Mariane more rounded and relatable. Bianca Regalado, who played Cléante, had very impressive physicality. She took us on a journey and worked hard to clearly get her points across. She really showed me Cléante. Enunciation and vocal energy was a bit weak. Nevertheless, she was engaged and attentive to each scene she was in. Chris Farnsworth as Tartuffe had consistent low energy, low volume, and looked bored when he wasn’t talking. He did not embody Tartuffe. He did not make choices, or play with the audience, or take advantage of this amazing character. He did not tell us a story. In all honesty, Farnsworth was a bit difficult to watch. Gianbari Deebom, who played Madame Loyal, is a force to be reckoned with. She is so powerful and executed her performance perfectly. She was laser focused and balanced acknowledging the audience and being present in the scene seamlessly. She left me wanting more!

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Tartuffe, art courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

After reading Chris Will’s director’s notes* I was disappointed with his brief and seemingly careless commentary. His text elicited a lack of interest and it just didn’t seem like his heart was in it. This reflected in Pima’s production of Tartuffe. These young performers are oozing with talent and potential. I just don’t think they were given the proper guidance. This is a fantastic show for students to study and perform. Performing a farce is not an easy task, the actors have enough on their plate just by navigating the story and taking the audience with them. As this is educational theatre, each student definitely could have used more help with character analysis, identifying/utilizing iambic pentameter, and other basic skills like projection, cheating out, and breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect. “Don’t expect this to be a historical play,” writes director Chris Will. With all due respect to the director, this is a historical play, and if claiming a ‘modern twist,’ I felt it needed more components. It lacked follow through, and seemed to make a complicated play even more complicated. Even the actors didn’t appear able to bridge the gap between a classical text and a ‘modern twist’.
During the time this play was written (1664) women were seen as inferior objects. This is obviously not a modern way of thinking. This is a play about a man, written by a man, and directed by a man. Perhaps finding a creative way to highlight the women’s struggle and their opinions would have added a more modern vibe. The cast is following what’s in the script, and many of the situations these characters go through is very prominent in today’s politics and society – I definitely made those connections and still would have made them without electronic music awkwardly sprinkled throughout the play.
There were 7 women and 6 men in the cast. I couldn’t help but think, what if the role of Tartuffe was played by a female-identifying individual? Now that would have been a game changer. I think the gender breakdown of this play could have been tastefully tweaked. What if the role of Elmire was played by a male-identifying individual? Switching one of those two roles could have added an LGBTQ acknowledgement to the story. I think if this play was supposed to “relate to the modern audience’s struggle,” this could have been one tactful choice to take that point and run with it. Tartuffe is supposed to be risqué, sexy, and “cause quite a stir.” Perhaps making a creative choice like ‘gender-bending’ would have achieved that with a modern audience.
When the show started, I was pleasantly surprised by a dance with modern, french music. This was very a creative way to catch the audience’s attention and introduce the actors. The sound was high quality and the lighting color choices looked very thoughtful, elegant, and bright. Unfortunately, this same dance strategy and music was used to transition between scenes and didn’t seem to produce the same effect as when first presented. It got old rather quickly. The actors looked confused when dancing – not all of them were committed – and it made me feel confused as well. The dance should have been used only at the beginning and maybe after intermission.
There were moments of internal thought for a few characters. This was done by pre-recorded dialogue and a spotlight while the actors used facial expressions to tell the audience their thoughts. This was very distracting and just didn’t really work.
The costumes and the set were absolutely stunning. Everything looked really expensive and elegant. I wonder if the costumes and set were modern, perhaps this would have made the director’s vision of a ‘modern’ day Tartuffe’ more clear.
I did not leave the theatre feeling moved or inspired. The one thing I truly walked away with was joy because it’s a beautiful thing to see actors of color performing classical theatre. This made me very happy. If anything, come to this show to see passionate young men and women having fun up there! We just don’t see that enough these days. You will definitely be entertained here.
To purchase tickets, go to https://pima.edu/cfa or call 206-6986. You can see the show from now until November 18th at 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:00pm on Sundays in the Pima Community College (PCC) Center for the Arts Black Box Theater.
* “This sardonic comedy, set in the era of King Louis XVI of France, caused quite a stir when it opened, creating an exposé of the times. Don’t expect this to be a historical play! Be prepared for some surprises as this old story unfolds and relates to the modern audience’s struggle to make sense of today’s politics, society, and family values.” – Chris Will

Good People is Great Theatre

by China Young

Winding Road Theatre Ensemble’s production of Good People by David Lindsay Abaire is a beautifully crafted snapshot of the modern American class struggle with its focus on those living on the “economic knife-edge,” as described by director Glen Coffman. That makes it sound like a heavy drama, but Abaire and Winding Road apply plenty of humor and heart to this production.

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Tony Caprile as Mike, Maria Caprile as Margie, and Carley Preston as Kate. Photo by Jeffrey Snyder, courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

Good People is the story of Margie, played by Maria Caprile, a working-class woman from the projects of Boston. Margie, like many single mothers, can barely support herself and her daughter, who is grown but suffers from disabilities brought on by being born premature. After getting fired from her low-paying job by her generations-younger manager Stevie (Joshua Parra), Margie is desperate to find something that is sustainable before she gets evicted by her landlady, Dottie (Peg Peterson). Encouraged by her good friend Jean (Toni Press-Coffman), Margie decides to reconnect with an old flame, Mike (Tony Caprile), who has found his way out of the “uncomfortable” slum life into that of “comfortable” stability, complete with an equally successful wife, Kate (Carley Elizabeth Preston).
Margie’s hope is that Mike can find her a job, or at least introduce her to someone else that can, and help her escape the pattern of underpaid labor she knows far too well. While there is much more to the story, I don’t know that I can adequately summarize any more without giving away moments of discovery by both the characters and the audience that truly make this experience worth having, and there are more than a few.
While Abaire has written his female characters well, I am almost convinced that it is Winding Road’s powerful female performers that put those characters in the driver’s seat without letting off the gas. Maria Caprile expertly commands Margie’s “good” but borderline manipulative qualities, filling every beat with truth and vulnerability.
If you aren’t completely drawn in by the first scene between her and Joshua Parra, hold on because Peg Peterson and Toni Press-Coffman join forces with Caprile in the next scene to finish the job. Both of their characters are commanding, believable, and drive the plot forward with such force it is impossible to not be swept away in the action. I couldn’t help but admire the strength and resilience of the blue-collar women that they represented. Not to mention the ease with which Press-Coffman can turn a phrase, and Peterson’s brutal hilarity that punches you, and Margie, in the gut. The truly impressive part is that they do all that from their seats.

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Peg Peterson as Dottie and Maria Caprile as Margie. Photo by Jeffrey Snyder, courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

Even though we do not meet her until the second act, Carley Elizabeth Preston’s portrayal of Mike’s wife, Kate, is honest, compassionate, and fierce, making the character vital and worth the wait. Though Kate comes from money and education, she states that she is passionately protective of her and Mike’s daughter, drawing a parallel between her and Margie that fuels any nuance of tension that may exist considering Margie and Mike’s past.
All of that said, the men certainly hold their own. Joshua Parra portrays Stevie as someone who has gained success through hard-work and genuine kindness, but still doesn’t back down from a battle. Tony Caprile’s Mike is likeable, smarmy, fun, and incredibly naïve about his privilege, despite having grown up as working class and in the projects like the other characters. Mike and Margie have some of the most palpable exchanges in the whole show, with scenes that swell with subtle texture by both performers. In fact, the evening I was present, one scene in particular seemed to affect the audience tremendously (again, you’ve got to see it to experience it).
Not only does every performer do their job in creating the world of the play, but the production’s use of every inch available to them in The Scoundrel & Scamp’s small black box theatre space is equally impressive. The lighting, however, had a few issues. Most noticeably, there was one dark spot that actors found themselves in over and over. And though I appreciate how lighting can affect the mood of the scene, some transitions were just a little too obvious and left me momentarily distracted.
The only other troublesome aspect of this performance was the accent work. At the beginning of the play there were some incredibly thick Boston accents and it was clear that some performers had a stronger command of it than others. As the show progressed, the accents dissipated and settled into simpler subtleties that I found much more palatable and less distracting. Perhaps it was a choice to go strong at first so that the audience knows exactly where and who our characters are, but it felt as though the show was initially more about the accent than the characters. Fortunately, the characters ultimately took over and I didn’t care whether they had an accent or not.
Good People was a truly rewarding theatrical experience. I often forgot I was watching a play, allowing myself to be swept away by the characters and action, which can be a hard thing to do when you’ve been submerged in theatre since you were six like I was. I was genuinely thrilled to have experienced this production, and I think you will be too.
Good People runs through November 18 with evening performances at 7:30 on November 8th – 10th, 15th – 17th, and 18th (yes, that’s a Sunday evening), and matinee performances at 2:00 on November 11th and 17th (that’s a Sunday and a Saturday, respectively) at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at the Historic Y. Tickets are available online at windingroadtheater.org or by calling 401-3626.