Audience Enjoys Solving Mystery Alongside Sherlock Holmes

by Chelsey Wade

Black Box Theater, at Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts, presents Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by Ken Ludwig. 

Image result for baskerville sherlock tucson pima community college

This story follows Sherlock Holmes, played by Etienne Wegryzniak, and Dr. Watson, played by Ciel McNulty, as they solve the mysterious case of Baskerville. Set in London, the mystery-solving duo set out to find out who murdered Sir Charles, uncle of the Baskerville heir. Initially, they have little to go on except a bitten cane that seems to have been dragged through the mud. Could this be the work of the fabled Baskerville hounds? Or is there more going on in the dark, hidden woods near the city of Baskerville? 

The director, Chris Will, did a fine job of staging the actors to utilize the full theater space. Throughout the play, action alternates with scenes taking place in various parts of the theater. It made for a visually interesting aspect of the performance to follow the movement between the main floor, the sides, and top of the arena. While the action felt a little slow at the beginning of certain scenes, overall, the pace picked up and was fairly steady throughout the two and a half hour play. There were some confusing moments, particularly when actors would break character or play multiple characters in the same scene. Still, it was ultimately effective in coming across as humorous. Some actors would physically change their hats and this, as well as pacing, had a lot to do with effectiveness.

Will selected a diverse cast for this play. Several of the male characters are played by females, including the role of Watson, Cartwright, and “Man in Black Beard.” Brandon Saxon in the role of Mrs. Hudson created an extra touch of comedy through the high-pitched tones of Holmes’ landlady. Strong, believable chemistry flowed among the actors consistently and pleasantly through their quick dialogue. The equality in this play, in terms of casting, was excellent. It broke out of the form one might expect in only seeing a man playing a male character on stage, and vice versa. Specifically, casting a female lead for Watson’s character gives a different lens in viewing well-known characters. This kind of brave choice in casting also allows more gender equality on the stage, addressing female and male artists in a way that reflects back on the actor’s talents.

The actors often break from the traditional framework of the story to add humor in other parts of the play. Unexpected bits of comedy throughout serve to remind the audience that we are watching the world of a play, one that can adhere to the traditions of a script and also veer off from it in the name of comedy (and relevance, in one instance of commentary about Mr. Trump). Even though this play is being performed in the closing months of 2019, it reminded me of the timelessness of the Holmes’ stories. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the late 1800s; the stories continue to be adapted and told to stay relevant. That in itself speaks to the power of creating strong, dynamic characters in literature. 

The costumes, designed by Kaylee Johnson, and the actor’s British accents, immersed the audience in 20th century London. The clock tower set up behind Sherlock’s desk also added to the plausibility of environment.  One of the most intense moments early on was the unveiling of Baskerville Hall. The striking music and shadowy lighting added to the drama of reaching a place that held such significance to the case. 

Ultimately, this play was fun to watch, with some dark moments of the mystery, but stayed light-hearted by the humor scattered throughout each scene. Anyone who shares Sherlock’s admiration for the opera as a means to escape the routine of day-to-day life in order to be moved by performance art can also appreciate this piece of student orchestrated theater. 

Were there some strange elements to this play? Sure. But then again, this is a Sherlock Holmes story. I would expect a few surprises from the mystery solvers from Baker Street. Half the point of watching a mystery play and the drama unfolding is to watch the characters solve the mystery. But finding out the answer isn’t the whole point at all. It’s a delightful paradox to take part in. 

Tickets are available online through Pima’s website, with a link to their 3rd party
“Vendini” ticket- purchasing website. Tickets are $10 for PCC students and $17 for general admission. The play runs until November 17th.

Students of All Ages Are Invited to See Themselves in Any Role at PCC Arts

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

A theatre education for all audiences with Pima’s Todd Poelstra and Chris Will.

by Leigh Moyer

Pima ArtsIt should come as no surprise that Pima Community College Theatre Arts’ advance program coordinator Todd Poelstra and theatre faculty member Chris Will took the opportunity to teach me when I sat down with them a few weeks ago. They are, after all, professors. It struck me as very likely that they see almost every moment with an audience, from an interviewer to a classroom to a theater full of people, as an educational moment. Each season is structured to contain a children’s show in the fall, a musical in the spring, and either a contemporary piece or a classical piece rounding out each semester for a total of four productions per year. While chatting, though, they quickly moved past these nominal constraints to the boundlessness of what theatre offers.

“We could do Disney or something very popular but we don’t,” Will said, explaining why they are producing The Sun Serpent, the third installment of a bilingual (or in this case, trilingual) series by José Cruz González. “We’re doing Sun Serpent because it is culturally important, and because the kids who see this show, who come on field trips, probably wouldn’t come to theatre otherwise. Those kids need to see this work. Kids should have the very best theatre because they’re the future of theatre.”

“And it isn’t just the grade school students, it’s our students, they need that too,” Poelstra added, “We really want to change the dynamic; we want students of color to see themselves onstage and see stories that might be their story on stage and have opportunities to imagine themselves on stage.”

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 Hernandez as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus in the 2018-2019 season production of Polaroid Stories. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

But if a mixed media story about the conquest of Cortez isn’t your thing (but really, it ought to be), don’t worry: the season is very eclectic. After Sun Serpent, audiences will be treated to Baskerville, a stage adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of Baskervilles. Then they change direction again, with the musical Singin’ in the Rain. The season wraps up with Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the origin of the oft-repeated line “All the world’s a stage.”

While many theatres have a theme tying the season together, Will pointed out that that can be hard or even inappropriate in an educational setting: “We need a balance, because we need to give these students a variety of pieces since we don’t know where they’re going to be heading. It’s our job to give them the experiences that will be good on a resume and get them roles in local theatres. We’re the training ground for them.”

There is one unifying trait among this season’s plays, although it might be more obvious to a director than to audiences. Each show is an ensemble piece, so while there will be a Sherlock and a Watson, for example, there will be a whole cast of characters that don’t have to fit a specific type. Casting is done based on who is excited, who is a promising young actor, and who gets what the directors are trying to create. 

Poelstra had a number of examples: “For all our shows this year, the idea of casting can, for the most part, go in any direction. We’re already making changes. The Sun Serpent is written as two brothers, now it is a sister and a brother. So as far as gender, and certainly any other category of identity, almost anything could happen in almost any of the shows. It is challenging with a dance-heavy musical; we have a student who is an amazing singer and in a wheelchair. I don’t know if she’ll be in the show before auditions, but I’m interested in the idea conceptually. And Watson could be anybody. Or, so could Sherlock. Anything could happen. It depends on who shows up and what they bring to auditions.”

It is exceptionally refreshing to see a company adopting this mindset. When Poelstra and Will choose plays, they are looking at the story and how it is best told. Casting is a secondary consideration, focusing on which actors bring the works most vividly to life, rather than seeking to fill the roles with a specific type of person. For me, Will summed it up best: “A lot of people become actors because they they think they want to play all these different characters, but in reality it’s the opposite, you find all those characters within yourself.”

Check out the whole season, whatever it might bring, at the West Campus (2202 W. Anklam Road). Contact the box office at (520) 206-6989 for tickets and information or shop online. The whole season is outlined below.

Pima Community College Center for the Arts’ 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Sun Serpent, by José Cruz González, directed by Milta Pinate
September 28 – October 6, 2019
When young Anahuac’s family meets the newly arrived Cortes, they believe he is the Sun Serpent come to usher in a new and better world. Anahuac’s brother eagerly joins Cortes’ grand march to the capital, Tenochtitlan. But while Cortes promised a world of peace and plenty, the soldiers he left behind soon engage in a ruthless search for gold. Orphaned during one of their raids, Anahuac sets off through the jungle to find and warn her  brother. Along the way, she meets the omnipotent Aztec ruler, Motecuhzoma and discovers that he is unable to protect his people against the Spanish. She comes to realize that neither leader is divine.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, by Ken Ludwig, directed by Chris Will
November 7 – 17, 2019
Comedic genius Ken Ludwig transforms Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic The Hound of the Baskervilles into a murderously funny adventure. Sherlock Holmes is on the case. The male heirs of the Baskerville line are being dispatched one by one. To find their ingenious killer, Holmes and Watson must brave the desolate moors before a family curse dooms its newest heir. Watch as our intrepid investigators try to escape a dizzying web of clues, silly accents, disguises, and deceit as five actors deftly portray more than 40 characters. Join the fun and see how far from elementary the truth can be.

Singin’ in the Rain, Screenplay by Better Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, directed by Todd Poelstra
February 20 – March 1, 2020
Adapted from the 1952 movie, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN captures the waning days of the silent screen era as they give way to new-fangled talkies. Set in Hollywood, the studios are forced to suddenly change all the movie-making rules at once to accommodate sound. The plot focuses on Monumental Studio’s romantic lead Don Lockwood, his sidekick Cosmo Brown and Lockwood’s leading lady Lina Lamont who can’t sing, and can’t even really talk. Lina’s voice sounds something like nails on a chalkboard. Enter Kathy Selden, whose dulcet tones are able to cover Lina Lamont’s—calling into question what it means to act, how credit is distributed, and what it means to get a fair shake in the movie  business. Singin’ in the Rain includes some of the best-loved comedy routines, dance numbers and love songs ever written, including Good Mornin’, Make ‘em Laugh, and the show-stopping dance number, Singin’ in the Rain.

As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, directed by Mickey Nugent
April 16 – 26, 2020
The story follows its heroine Rosalind, accompanied by her cousin Celia, as she flees  persecution in her uncle’s court to find safety and eventually love in the Forest of Arden. In the forest, they find Orlando, Rosalind’s love. Disguised as a boy shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her under the guise of “curing” him of his love for Rosalind. Along the way they encounter a variety of memorable characters, notably the melancholy traveler, Jaques, who speaks many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches—such as “All the world’s a stage,” “too much of a good thing” and “A fool! A fool! I met a fool in the forest”. Jaques provides a sharp contrast to the other characters in the play, always observing and disputing the hardships of life in the country.

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.

You Can Dance, You Can Try, I Had The Time of my Life!

by Felíz Torralba

Set on an idyllic Greek island, 20 year old bride-to-be Sophie (Olivia Gainey) dreams of having her father give her away on her wedding day. Sophie invites three strangers discovered in her mother’s diary: Sam (Rafael Acuña), Harry (Evan Taylor) or Bill (Andrew Miller) who all might be her father. Sophie secretly invites the three men to her wedding with the hope that she will finally find out who her father is. When her mother, Donna (Thea Lancaster) sees the three men, she, with the help of her best friends and former singing partners Rosie (Gianbari Deebom) and Tanya (Shann Oliver), also tries to figure out what she will do with the sudden appearance of three former lovers. As complications ensue from the misunderstandings, Sophie and Sky’s (Eduardo Rodriguez) wedding and relationship may be jeopardized. While finding what is truly in their hearts, many may discover the course of true love. The best part: the story unfolds to the nostalgic and uplifting beats of ABBA!

The audience is primed for the story with a gorgeous musical overture (Mark Nelson, conductor). From this moment on, I knew that I would enjoy this performance solely based on the orchestra’s infectiously joyful sound. There was a whimsical, modern spin on the music that I enjoyed so much I could have listened to that and been satisfied. When the curtains lifted, I was immediately drawn to the simplistic architecture of this set (Todd Poelstra). There are two versatile pieces of what look like limestone structures with rusted iron rods and old, colorful wooden doors. This transported me straight to Greece and the island hotel where the story takes place. Scene changes were seamless and entertaining (this makes or breaks musicals in my opinion), and it was amazing that the versatility of the set allowed a dock, a chapel, a hotel, and different bedrooms to inhabit one stage.

The choreography (Mickey Nugent) is really one aspect of the show that blew me away the most. The show was choreographed as if the ensemble was one giant amoeba. Everybody hit every cue, each detail was articulated clearly, and each seemed like the moves came naturally to them. The movement supplemented the show so incredibly well and made me want to keep watching. I also think an element of the show that should not go unnoticed is the musical direction (Martha Reed). The cast knew how to HARMONIZE. This made their sound swelling; (literally) giving off good vibrations.

The Cast of Mamma Mia! Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

The Cast of Mamma Mia! Photo by Carol Carder, courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

One of my favorite performances of the night was the radiant Rafael Acuña, who portrayed Sam. Credit is very much due and deserved here. Acuña was romantic, paternal, showed impeccable vocal control and ability, and gave us a damn good Sam. This program is very lucky to have him and I would watch this performance again just to experience this young man of color perform. Thea Lancaster (Donna) acted as the glue that held this show together. Lancaster was balanced in all aspects of her performance and it was satisfying to watch. She was both playful and maternal, both harsh and sweet, youthful and womanly. I found her portrayal of Donna refreshing.

Unfortunately, I found Olivia Gainey’s Sophie to be insincere and sloppy    She was simply not mature enough to be Sophie, she did not look or sound like an island girl and was not the sexy, fun, curious character that you’d expect when reading the script. In fact, during the number between lovers Sophie and Sky “Lay All Your Love On Me,” I was a little uncomfortable because she looked like a very little girl in a questionable situation. It was evident that she relied too heavily on her direction and her vocal ability (which had its moments but was inconsistent in volume and quality).

Quite frankly, Lidia Zadareky who played Sophie’s friend Lisa read more “Sophie” than anyone else. Zadareky shone brightly and reflected (appropriate) youthfulness along with very capable vocal and physical ability. She looked very confident and gave a genuine performance filled with joy and playfulness. She stood out, you need that kind of power when casting a strong female lead. I feel that if Gainey and Zadareky would have been cast in each other’s place the show would have benefited from it.

I would also like to mention Gianbari Deebom and Shann Oliver – Rosie and Tanya respectively. They were quite the duo and I was impressed by their contrasting vocal timbre. They complimented each other incredibly well (them harmonies, though!). Rosie is a free, fearless woman and Tanya is an affluent, pampered, girly girl and the performances from these two young ladies were so true to the script. It was very refreshing to see young performers put their egos aside and work to tell the story and not make the performance about themselves. Bravo.

Although the casting for Sophie was not ideal, everyone else was cast very strategically. Every actor had strengths and each person’s talents brought something valuable to the storytelling. Each artist understood the story, knew where it was going, and took the audience with them. Most had clear intentions, high energy, and seemed settled into each of their characters. All of this is a sign of good direction (Todd Poelstra) and a healthy communication between the actors and the director.

The costumes were hit or miss (Julio Hernandez). Sophie was dressed very oddly throughout the play. There was not one outfit of Sophie’s that seemed to match the character, not even the wedding dress. Sophie is classically dressed in a white tank top and shorts. Throughout the play, she was wearing long skirts and loud shirts – totally opposite from the character’s free-spirited, curious nature. I was disappointed by Donna’s wedding outfit: a modern day halter dress with blue tye dye. It seemed as if the designer did not understand how to dress people for everyday life, especially women. To contrast, the designer did well with the “showy” outfits: Donna was wearing her classic overalls at the beginning of the play and for the song “Mamma Mia.” Donna and the Dynamos looked FABULOUS. They looked like a girl band, and that was the goal. The party dresses for the ensemble in “Voulez Vous,” were gorgeous.

Gianbari Deebom as Rosie, Thea Lancaster as Donna, and as Shann Oliver Tanya. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Gianbari Deebom as Rosie, Thea Lancaster as Donna, and as Shann Oliver Tanya. Photo by Carol Carder, courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

As always, when experiencing Pima Arts shows, I love seeing young POC’s getting opportunities to play historic musical theatre roles. Everyone seemed like they were enjoying themselves so I could not help but enjoy myself. With all that’s going in on the world today, it was just so nice to forget about everything and smile, laugh, listen to fun music, and be entertained by talented, enthusiastic performers. I can guarantee you’ll have a blast at Pima Arts’ production of Mamma Mia!

Ticket and box office info: Feb 28th at 7:30, March 1st at 2pm & 7:30 pm, March 2nd at 7:30pm and March 3rd at 2pm. Buy tickets to see Mamma Mia at www.pima.edu.cfa or call (520) 206-6986.