My Kingdom for Cohesive Direction!

by Gabriella De Brequet

Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most famous history plays written about the insidious king and his corrupt quest for blood, power, and the throne of England. It’s truly horrifying how relevant Richard III is for today’s audience considering our current political climate. However, the direction by Brent Gibbs, in this Arizona Repertory Theatre production, left me unsatisfied and confused.

‘The blocking of this production was awkward and unmotivated. The performers seemed to be crossing from once side of the stage to the other with no greater reason other than the fact that they were told to.  This was especially the case in large crowd scenes.

Richard III is a play heavy with death. But this production seemed to have little to no stakes from characters who were being sent to their executions. There was no sense of danger associated with many of the character’s deaths, and ultimately it didn’t support the content of the play. The world just wasn’t believable and this made the two-hour production difficult to sit through, even for a Shakespeare-lover such as myself. To top it off, director Gibbs chose to create an out of left-field alternate horror movie ending which completely strays from the original text. This left me wondering, will there be a sequel? If so, count me out.

Through all of the awkward staging, lack of relationships, and bold directorial choices there were some notable performances. Liam Thibeault’s Duke of Buckingham was witty and sharp, Kelly Hajek’s Queen Elizabeth was strong and striking, Jenna Meadow’s as the Murder was hilarious, Marina DeVaux and Sophia Goodin as Edward and Duke of York were unified and clear. Overall I felt that the female ensemble members carried the show. They were dynamic and interesting to watch on stage. As for Connor Mckinley Griffin’s portrayal of the title character, I felt that his lack of charm presented the character as one dimensional. Griffin delivered plenty of horrifying menace, but I wish that his Richard had a little more depth in his villainy.

In spite of all the production’s directional bumps, visually this play was stunning with a multi-leveled set by Jason Jamerson adorned with spikes, skeletons, and abstract metal work. The lighting by Tori Mays was striking and helped set the scene. The costumes by Elizabeth Eaton were gorgeously grungy. This production was a technically and visually jaw dropping, and the production is worth witnessing for the design elements alone. However, the production design team could not save the show from its misguided direction.

Richard III is playing at the Marroney Theater through Sunday, March 31st. Tickets can be purchased via the Arizona Repertory Theatre website: theatre.arizona.edu or by calling the box office at 520-621-1162.

Sweet Calendar Girls

by China Young

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth is a sweet story about love, friendship, and female empowerment. But when I say female empowerment, I don’t mean radical feminism, bra burning, or Women’s Marches. The production, currently performing at St. Francis in the Foothills, offers its audiences a sweeter, subtler version of girl power. Although, it does still involve the removal of bras.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo by Gretchen Wirges, courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The story, based on real life events, takes place in England. Annie (played by Gretchen Wirges), is married to John (played by Mike Manolakes), a delightful man that everyone in her women’s group (WI) adores. John quickly loses a battle with Leukemia, and the women all share the grief of his loss. However, this grief is quickly transformed into a fundraising project. Annie’s friend and fellow WI member, Chris (played by Colleen Zandbergen), strategizes a way to honor John by raising funds for a new settee in the local hospital waiting room in his memory. She hopes to accomplish this through the the sales of the annual WI calendar. In an effort to make the calendar more appealing than usual, Chris convinces the women to pose nude, using various objects to hide behind. The women debate over their fears and excitement about the idea, but their enthusiasm, comradery, and mutual love of John win over and they decide to do it. The calendar turns out to be a hit, giving the women tons of public exposure, in more ways than one. However, fame does what it does best and eventually leads Annie to question Chris’s true motives for helping John, and their friendship falters.

I decided to Google the true story behind Calendar Girls and discovered that there was in fact a schism of friendships that took its toll on the actual group of women. There remains a permanent split, with some more in the public eye than others. The fracture of trust between Chris and Annie mirrors this real-life split. Despite the real Calendar Girls being unable to make amends, this production leaves the audience with feelings of warmth and love.  

First, I’d like to note that out of the 20 people listed in the program, 14 of them were women with 9 on stage and 5 off stage, including a female director, Samantha Cormier, and female producer, Cecilia Monroe. Though the men were fewer in number, they were essential in helping the production bloom and are certainly not discounted. The only thing that would have elevated it would be more ethnically diverse representation. Director Samantha Cormier notes that the production is “another example of how women need to help each other out and be there for each other.” She is absolutely right, especially when it seems as though women have a tendency to see each other as threats instead of kindred spirits. This story is about the power of coming together for a cause that is important. In that way, it’s much like the Women’s Marches and can be used as a tool for change. For me, those protests promoted awareness of the intersectionality of women and minorities, and this show provides the perfect vehicle to share the same message through theatre.

Of course, sometimes a play is just a play, but as an artist, I always appreciate when a much larger message is presented profoundly within the simplicity of a beautiful show like this. Even so, this cast represents the essence of community and the power that love and kindness can have on all of us. Not to mention how vulnerable it must have felt being literally naked in front of an audience. Their encouragement of one another to fearlessly liberate themselves was truly powerful. This production reminded me of the strength and power that women can have to change the world through simply supporting one another.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo by the Pima Community College department of theatre, courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

Cormier and her cast create a fun and high energy environment that envelops the audience, literally. Many entrances were from the back of the house, inviting the audience to be a part of the action. To further enhance that quality, the stage was set up as a thrust with audience on three sides. While there were often enough people on the stage to provide nice stage pictures from all angles, I felt there were lost opportunities to take advantage of diagonal angles when fewer characters were on stage or when one character took focus. I also found the high energy of the women to sometimes be a bit chaotic and in need of a little more focus. All that said, the joy the performers had with this show and the heart that they brought to it overshadowed those few technicalities.

Gretchen Wirges as Annie was a pillar of this production. She grounded herself and her character beautifully. Even in the moments she wasn’t speaking or taking center stage, you could sense her internal life holding its own. She had moments of vulnerability that wrecked my heart, as well as moments of strength and fortitude that I could admire. The other “Calendar Girls” included Colleen Zandbergen, tragically convincing as she channeled Chris’s hubris, Ellie Vought, bringing a ton of fun and sass to her character Celia, Sue Bishop, giving Ruth a genuine innocence that turns rebellious, Pat Timm, delivering unapologetic bluntness as Jessie, and Nancy French with her skilled piano playing and hilarious punchlines.

The cast is rounded out by Jan Aalberts Waukon, Ina Shivack, Naima Boushaki, David Zinke, and David Gunther, all of whom did more than their share to create a production that is sure to lift your spirits. In lieu of revealing the most touching moment of the production, I encourage you to take the opportunity to experience the magic it summons, making every single person in the room feel loved and appreciated. I left humbled and inspired by the mark it left in my heart.

Calendar Girls runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3:00pm through March 24th. You can purchase tickets online at www.artmeetsheart.com or by phone at (520) 329-2910.

Don’t Keep This a Secret

by Marguerite Saxton

When asked about theatre, playwright and director Mary Zimmerman states that she “really like(s) to try to stage the impossible” (Chicago Tribune, 2014). Knowing this, one should be excited to see The Secret in the Wings. Under the direction of Cynthia Meier one is invited into a palette of beige, burnt sienna, and red: the bruised colors of fall.  Soft amber floor lamps, discarded sparkly clothes, and an old wood armoire add to the nostalgia and mystery that come with fairy tales. Remember when your mom’s fancy silk dress became dragon wings, stacked chairs became a castle, and that decaying set of records became magical volumes of spell books? This cozy basement set, designed by Joseph McGrath, frames the organized and tucked away minutiae of life.  

Typically, a theatre audience is given permission only to particular images: ones that purposefully illustrate a particular reality. Yet in “The Secret in the Wings” the secrets that usually live in the wings were not hidden, but instead acknowledged and displayed with refreshing candor on stage, fully lit, and unapologetic. Because the set and costume changes happened onstage, the edges of naturalism and surrealism are blurred and the audience receives a peek into what is typically reserved for the shadows. This carefully crafted set is a blank canvas that transforms with each of the differing fairy tales; one becomes transfixed by the ritualistic movement on stage.  It feels like a tape skipping, being rewound, finding the start again, and whipping back into a strange unison with time.

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Bryn Booth, Patty Gallagher, Joe McGrath, and Matt Walley in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

A tale within a tale within a tale, like a theatrical display of Matryoshka dolls (the set of small Russian dolls that stack within one another). The featured stories include one about a girl who never laughs, star-crossed lovers turned enemies, and an ever-present ogre. Decapitated heads, eyeballs in a jar, and magic leaves all added curious fodder to the patchworked storytelling.  Each tale stitches through another with a well-oiled choreography that relies on a rhythm like that of sand pendulums.

Patty Gallagher, Claire Elise, Bryn Booth, and Holly Griffith in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Patty Gallagher, Claire Elise, Bryn Booth, and Holly Griffith in The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Most curious though, is the voice of the performance.  The stories are told with the authority of a 3rd grader – that way they are necessarily and subjectively honest, and still possessing an optimism untouched by life’s troubles.  The Secret in the Wings is what would happen if a child spun out of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, watched American Psycho one too many times, and then decided to recount their favorite fairy tales.  Absurd at times and absurdly funny at others, this play embodies a liminal space that is both harmonious and arresting. Throughout it you will find intentional blocks of silence that strangely syncopate with frenzied parades of choral chanting.  Thanks to the crisp ensemble work by Bryn Booth, Patty Gallagher, Holly Griffith, and Claire Hancock, what initially seems non-sequitur becomes an intimate portrayal of the way young girls bond. Another stand out performer is Hunter Hnat, the badly behaved son who becomes the wildly demonstrative prince who becomes the interpretive dancing suitor and so on until you’re not sure what began and how it ended, but really it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s just so damn interesting.

What really resonates is the exploration of our culture’s collective subconscious – something that’s been molded through fairy tales for thousands of years. In fact, some of the tales included in this production are upwards of 4000 years old.  With that said, this play does not sanitize the violence of the ancient tales. It gives you grit, double-takes, and lots of questions. It relishes in the strangeness of those stories’ ability to gingerly explain beheadings, incestuous relations, and murderous melancholy. And, like a fairy tale, this play perfumes the jarring morals in a saccharin haze, feigning fun.  But then, creeping in slowly, one begins to understand the allegory hidden beneath the playfulness.

Holly Griffith, Joe McGrath and the cast of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith, Joe McGrath and the cast of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

More than anything, the stories that Zimmerman has adapted and Meier has crafted are laden with morals; they pose pretty significant questions for our time:  How does ancient wisdom fit into our modern culture? How do old world morals find their way into our new world ways? I left the theatre asking myself these, among other, questions. And isn’t that the objective of theatre: to provoke? To prod us into understanding our roles in THE one big, revolving story? To see ourselves unmasked, brightly lit, exposed, and uncomfortable. As this play reminds us: “We all have a tale.”

You can catch The Secret in the Wings at The Rogue Theater (300 E. University Blvd) through March 17, 2019. Shows are Thursday-Sunday with matinee and evening performances. To get more information or purchase tickets, visit theroguetheatre.org.

 

 

 

A Good Death and a Good Time in Hall of Final Ruin

by Betsy Labiner

Here’s what you’re in for with Something Something Theatre’s The Hall of Final Ruin: death. But a good death. A death that makes you laugh. A death that forces you to face your own mortality and confront the terror of the unknown. Death that is relentless and unyielding. Death that allows for hope and possibility. Death that acknowledges no limits on time or space, and certainly not the limits of the fourth wall.

Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana and Rosanne Couston as La Tules. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana and Rosanne Couston as La Tules. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

The Hall of Final Ruin, written by Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos and directed by Alida Holguín Gunn, initially presents the audience with death in the form of Doña Sebastiana, a “death car driver” played with delightful panache and boundless sass by an absolutely superb Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones. Doña Sebastiana doesn’t mince words when reminding the audience that every one of us is going to die, and demands self-reflection even while slinging profanity and cheeky barbs. Sebastiana segues into the main action of the play by inviting, “Let’s watch Doña Tules die, ¿bueno?”

And so we meet La Tules, played by Rosanne Couston, the matriarch who presides over her granddaughters, the gambling hall, and indeed, over all of Santa Fe. Couston imbues La Tules with sharp pragmatism as a woman in a position of power who is concerned with the legacy she’ll leave behind, but also interweaves moments of vulnerability and fear as she contemplates death and her eternal fate.

La Tules is particularly concerned with what will happen to her granddaughters, Carmelita and Rallitos, as well as her servant Pilar, played by Amália Clarice Mora, Nathalie Rodriguez, and Cisiany Olivar, respectively. The four women, though not biologically related, are a convincing little family, by turns supportive and squabbling, loving and lashing out. The arrival of Sister Jane, played by Angie Garcia, adds an interesting wrinkle to their dynamic as the girls fawn over the white woman even as the older women are suspicious of and even disgusted by her sanctimonious attitudes. Couston certainly has the most to work with, as this really is La Tules’s story, but the women all bring strengths to the play — particularly the physical comedy of Rodriguez and the quick banter between Rodriguez and Mora.

It’s worth noting that this play is woman-centric in all senses, both within the world of the play and from the metatheatrical perspective. Men are named and discussed in the dialogue, but never appear onstage. Instead, we see life and death without the direct presence of the overbearing male hegemony we might expect within the world of a play set in the 19th century.

In forcing us to face death, this play encourages us to face our own failings. Pride and greed are the sins on which the play focuses most heavily, but the blunt discussions of scoring rubrics for the soul and the impact of our actions will have audiences reflecting on the grade they might make – and whether they, like La Tules, need to work to improve it.

Cisiany Olivar as Pilar, Rosanne Couston as La Tules, Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana, Amàlia Mora as Carmelita, and Nathalie Rodriguez as Rallitos. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Cisiany Olivar as Pilar, Rosanne Couston as La Tules, Guillermo Francisco Raphael Jones as Doña Sebastiana, Amàlia Mora as Carmelita, and Nathalie Rodriguez as Rallitos. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

While The Hall of Final Ruin is about deeply personal themes such as fear, redemption, love, and family dynamics (or dysfunction), it also takes on macro socio-political issues. The setting of mid-1800s Santa Fe allows for overt discussion of patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism, and even when these issues aren’t being actively talked about, they remain present in the way they shape ideologies and events. Power dynamics, particularly as manifested through control of land and money, are a major concern. Even as Doña Tules insists that the Norteamericanos — as she calls the white Euro-American settlers — will not wrest control from Spaniards who’ve held the land for three hundred years, Pilar reminds her that Native Americans held it for over a thousand years prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. The play invites the audience to consider the legacy not just of individuals, but of the mass movements and historical moments in which religions, cultures, and peoples supplanted one another. This, for me, was one of the strongest features of the play; death may be able to cure one individual of her greed, but when insatiable greed is part of the very foundation of a society or culture, it’s much harder to address.

Despite the heavy topics on which the play focuses, it is a comedy. The audience laughed throughout, particularly in Doña Sebastiana’s scenes. I’d recommend this play most to those who enjoy dark humor, and who have an appreciation for American Gothic and a willingness to critically assess both history and oneself.  

The Hall of Final Ruin runs February 22 through March 10 at the Temple of Music and Art’s Cabaret Theater at 330 S. Scott Avenue. Tickets can be purchased online at www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com or by phone at 520-468-6111.

A List of Epic Proportions

by Marguerite Saxton

For the month of February an evening at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre will treat you to an immersive experience: a 65-minute trip into the minds of playwright Duncan Macmillan and director Michelle Milne. In Every Brilliant Thing, the narrator Claire Marie Mannle leads an unsuspecting audience with gentle familiarity, a soft consensual nudge that enrolls ordinary folks in becoming co-narrators in this supposedly one-person show. Though we learn that “suicide is contagious,” we’re guided through farcical absurdity – poignant moments of total surreal accuracy, sobering, convoluted pockets of humor wound within the labyrinth of a life. If space permitted, I’d list a million brilliant reasons to see this play. But here are five:

  1. Theatre-in-the-Round (and round and round and round):

The concentric layout of Mannle’s movement keeps this piece in a groove which guides the audience’s eyes in a continual search around the theatre, peeking at one another’s expressions, wondering where the next scene will be, and guessing what delightful, odd treasures it will produce.

  1. Jazz Music on Vinyl:
Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

There really isn’t a parallel to the nostalgia that vinyl records conjure. The feel of plastic imperfections running under one’s fingertip, the romantic crackling of static perfuming the air, the ritual of buying and unwrapping. The somatic sitting still. Every Brilliant Thing reveals an undeniable reverence for jazz music, treating us to the moody tunes of Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Ometta Coleman, just to name a few. One even gets the feeling that the music is a scene partner, a dramaturg of sorts; giving history and credence to the already vulnerable unfolding of life.

  1. Levity in Depression:

Mannle performs a spoken dance in this play – a magnetic ebbing of transformation. Depression is serious and haunting, a generational ghost. Even so, our fearless narrator is graceful as she weaves between seven year old sheepishness and collegiate courage. She fluidly reveals years of time passing, mere minutes to us audience, but great leaps of life’s monuments in her story. We are taken along the non-linear way that most people think and feel in, possessing a secret notion that we’re privy to some private experience, the ones we keep close to our hearts and share only with beloveds.

  1. Audience Tomfoolery:

In this performance there are particular analog moments that defy expectation and tickle the edges of conformity. It blurs the boundaries of authorship and audience, projecting Mannle like a circus ringmaster who hypnotizes us through a mélange, a maze of memories. There are disappointments, assessments, and antics: sock puppets and improvised conversations with “Dad” – serious belly laughs injected into an ordinarily down-beaten topic of depression.

  1. Snacks

Didn’t know live theatre included snacks? Well, it does. This one does. Snacks!

This play is a craftfully produced arrangement of intimate and uncomfortable situations. It’s a good way to laugh at something difficult, which we could all use some allowance to do now and then. It encourages us to embrace the difficult and strive for better, while permitting many moments to laugh at the irony of it all.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Every Brilliant Thing runs from February 7th-24th at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, located in the Historic Y at 738 N. 5th Avenue. Evening and matinee shows are available. Tickets can be purchased from scoundrelandscamp.org or directly from the box office on premises. The box office opens for ticket sales one hour prior to the show.

 

Editor’s Note: Marguerite has worked with The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre on other productions and as a teacher with their youth theatre program, she had no involvement with this production. All our reviewers work to identify and avoid any potential biases.

Standing on the Rails

by guest reviewer Richard Thompson

Cedric Mays as Sterling. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Cedric Mays as Sterling. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

With righteous fury and inconsolable indignation buried down in his eyes, a nigga stood on stage. And where the world heard a question tear out this man’s mouth, my eyes welled and I cried deep from the combustible power before me, because I knew then what playwright August Wilson is trying to tell the audience from the very beginning, with the most magically absurd testament to the importance of acknowledging the needs, expectations, and humanity of a person: “Where’s my ham?”

Two Trains Running, masterfully directed by Lou Bellamy at Arizona Theater Company, is the kind of story that you hear from your pops when he wants to remind you how bad he used to be way back when, or how Aunt Lulu May wouldn’t take no excuse to acting a fool, especially ’cause you living with her now ’cause mom stopped coming home. It is a story of invisible peoples’ struggles and triumphs, of life. Just life. Two Trains Running barrels down the narrow tunnel from the past on to the future, and the audience is standing right on the rails. Yet, Wilson nurtured a luminosity in this play by allowing the audience to see life from the eyes of a nigga. When it comes to the inherent and critical necessity of owning one’s own identity – of knowing who you are and where you come from – it’s vital to know that a nigga isn’t what you think it is.

I promise, it’s all good. It’s good because this is a story about niggas, niggahs, niggas, nyaggas, and NI-GGAHHS. Did that sentence make you uncomfortable? It’s all good, there wasn’t one bad word in that sentence; you’re confusing it with another, completely different word – the one we all undeniably know, so for the sake of this discussion – and to make sure you all feel cool and chill despite being unsure on proper cultural protocol, I give you permission to mentally say the above term for as long as it takes you to read this article – it’s okay, I made sure it cool at the last meeting. But only for this article.

Set during a time of civil unrest, social awakening, and reclamation of identity, Wilson introduces us to men and women who could easily slip right into our shoes and we wouldn’t know the difference. Men and women who struggle all day to be seen as who they are, especially when the terms that identify them are only arbitrarily scary or undefinable to others who are afraid to see the beauty in it. Men and women who proudly identify as niggas in such a simply dignified manner, that today’s audience before them, filled with hues ranging from apricot to midnight, understood exactly what was being said: brother, sister, baby, muthafuka, fam. And no one had to explain why.
August Wilson gave the audience even more than they would recognize. A word now infused with such fluidity; and power; and comradery; and inherent understanding. This is a word that transcends time now. It is the original “I am Spartacus” (or for the cool kids: “I am Groot”). The undeniable affirmation of worth that a people considered disposable can take a word that was borne from the putrid places rooted in fear and remold, remake, and reinstitute that phrase; instead claiming it completely – history and all – owning who we are and who we can be.

His work, so relevant today as it was 60 years ago, places front and center the cold realities that one’s own definition is always being defined by others and – as Sterling, played effortlessly by Cedric Mays, so exuberantly expressed while resting easy on the bar bench waiting for a particular waitress – that the notion ‘Black is Beautiful’ is not only a reminder that we are in fact here; but we are in fact good. And if black can be beautiful, then why can’t being a nigga be a good thing?

It’s the Hill District, Pittsburgh, 1969. This is where niggas live. Jim Crow didn’t die once he crossed the Mason-Dixon Line; instead his overt influence shifted to a more covert and insidious existence in cities up north such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cleveland. He found easy sanctuary in building contracts, imminent domain claims, and employment repudiations, where important rules can be written without much notice, where racism and segregation were just as baked into the system, just not as publicly. It’s during this time of civil-unrest and social awakening, in a once vibrant neighborhood, that we watch the slow whisper of time descend on a small diner where the former problem of having too few chairs for patrons has now become the problem of having too many empty chairs.

Alan Bomar Jones, Dennis Spears, and James Craven. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Alan Bomar Jones as Holloway, Dennis Spears as West, and James Craven as Memphis. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Memphis, the single-minded restaurateur at the center of the play, is performed with a deliberate determination by James Craven, and he has a way of speaking that when his voice cracks from feeling violated, you almost forget what an insufferable son-of-a-bitch he can be.

Risa, owned by Erika LaVonn, brings a quiet omnipotence in her performance. With few words, her eyes command respect and forethought that no other character emphasizes throughout. Her masterful trick is fooling the world into thinking it is silencing her, when the reality is she has decided not to speak. She watches and knows the clockworks of the world, even if it is only placing a cap on hat rack everyday.

Ahanti Young, Cedric Mays, and Erika LaVonn. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Cedric Mays as Sterling and Erika LaVonn as Risa. Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company.

Lester Purry wields a grin like a weapon and I have no doubt, many have fallen from it. Mr. Purry plays Wolf, a man who knows the hustle, with such a realistic ferocity that every phone call, gait, laugh, and scribble on his bookie pad seems like ATC just went to Silverlake and 22nd and asked for a corner-boy to play an actor for a night.

Which brings us to the rest of these standout actors that turned the stage into a smudged glass window so we could peer inside and watch a moment in time that seems eerily like today; Holloway (Alan Bomar Jones) and West (Dennis W. Spears) were characters who provided an emotional stabilizer for the rest of the cast. Not necessarily understated, their roles were subdued proficiently by Bellamy, so that when Holloway asks, “Which is better, the fields or the streets?” the audience doesn’t need further explanation.

And lastly we have Sterling and Hambone, played unparalleled by Ahanti Young. Whereas all the other characters railed, cursed, embraced, or shrugged off how the world saw them, these two did not. Hambone, ultimately impotent but completely justified in his need to be given what was his, but not knowing how to say it, and Sterling, knowing exactly what to say, how to say it, and who to say it to, but still trying to find his own voice.

And when Sterling did find his voice, it was in the form a three worded question: “Where’s my ham?”

Scenic Designer Vicki Smith continues her dazzling ability, as she had done in Low Down Dirty Blues, to construct pieces that resonate with the time and feeling of an era without inundating the audience with unnecessary flamboyant novelties. Choosing to stick with very earthen colors for the structural elements of the diner, she weaves in history through old Dad’s Rootbeer placards that rust above the kitchen, carefully placed jackets that subtly tip-toed greys and greens on the wall, and the most deceptively resonant stage props: shining, cerulean blue barstools. The cushions are a slice of blue so vibrant, yet unassuming, they became inanimate reaffirmations of the individuals that inhabited the same space.

Arizona Theatre Company’s Resident Sound Designer, Brian Jerome Peterson, delivered intermixed a smoke compilation of jazz and blues, electric and folk, and even soul, so that we are not tied to a day from a song-list, we are connected to entire generations through song. This harmonic gateway started the only way it was could have as far as I’m concerned: On the Trail from the Miles Davis album Grand Canyon Suite. As slow, nightscape scales, pips, and bursts drip down, the flats and sharps rest easy on every piece of fabric that touches the ensemble cast as if the notes were woven into the thread before the show.

Lighting Designer Don Darnutzer enhanced the raw feelings expressed throughout the production by highlighting the stage with ethereal god-ray type lighting, in both moments of blossoming love to disdainful reflection, reminding me that heavenly moments can be found when the world is falling apart. Even if the world may not be falling apart completely, it’s certainly following that predictable ebb and flow we can’t ever seem to escape. There is an inevitable rock in the stream marking where our history and our future intersect in the present, and how the lessons learned before now seem to go forgotten, only to be relearned later in the hopes that this time they will take hold.
So where are tracks taking us now? We know what happens to Hill district by the end of Act III, but it’s now that we have the opportunity to actually get somewhere. As important to remember the Memphis, Risas, and Sterlings of the past it is just as important also recognizing the Kapernicks, Castiles, Gardeners, Rices, and Martins of today. They were all niggas and that doesn’t make them bad. But it defines them.

And isn’t that the point? How we define ourselves. The businesses we build. The individuality we ascribe. The knowledge we collect. The bodies we bury. The scars we collect. Or, as Wolf so eloquently embodied for us with the grace of gold-plated peacock, “the amount of money in yo’ pocket.” These aspects of worth are what is being taken and thrust upon the characters as they find time to be distracted by neighborhood myths and invisible thieves. Yet, the silence was undeniable when the most important question wasn’t being asked anymore: “Where’s my Ham?” Because it was never a question. It was never a plea. It was a demand for an answer. The owed answer to the historic and perpetuated denial of one’s own right to their own very existence as a person. The denial of the fact that I am, in fact, right here.

So where’s my ham, nigga!?

Watch Two Trains Running at the Temple of Music and Art through February 9th. Showtimes and tickets are available at arizonatheatre.org.

 

About the guest reviewer:
Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson (Actor) was born in Kokomo, Indiana. He has no relevant education from any formal institution in theater or film. His writing career comprises of columnist work for The Arizona Daily Star, editor for Persona Magazine, content creator of Looking Back manuscript for P.C.C., Sandscript Magazine contributor, and editor and columnist for Gourmet News for which he received a James Beard nomination for his article, “Holy See-Food”. He is also a Hearst Poet and a published IEEE author (2018-2019), as well as a technical writer whose proposals, grants and speeches have totaled in over $250k in gained between 2016 to now. Since 2017, The Community Players produced his stage play, Last Call, followed by performances in No Admittance (Bill Bowen) and One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest (Chief), numerous Radio Theater shows, backstage crew for ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ (A Midsummer’s Night Dream) as well as multiple roles in musical shows. In 2018, he worked under Eugenia Wood in Hark, with Ron Athey, Cassils, and Arshia Fatima in Cyclic, and produced his original manuscript The GRANDest Pageant. Films include Rise, The Righteous Twelve, and The GRANDest Pageant. In 2019, he founded Graveyard Production Company (www.gyproco.com) and will perform Exist.

The Deeper Meaning of Sports

by China Young

 

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Spoiler Alert: My Life in Sports, a one man show written and performed by English professor Bill Epstein and performed at Scoundrel & Scamp, is not actually about sports. Well, not entirely. I felt as though sports served more as a loom and thread. A tapestry of life experiences is woven before our very eyes. The structure of the story-telling takes on various shapes and patterns as Epstein connects memories through time, using anecdotes and metaphors that often circle back to where they started.

The simplicity of the direction and production design by Bryan Rafael Falcón and the sincerity of Epstein’s delivery of the dialogue drew me in with a comfortable warmth that felt like I was 8 years old being told a folk tale by my grandfather and hanging on every word. Now that I think of it, the play starts when Epstein is 8 years old, so perhaps that was the intention all along. I found it to be a very effective way to draw people in, although at times I did find myself drifting simply from the soothing tones of the narration. Still, I was very impressed with the production and how the concept of sports, whether literal or metaphorical, took me on a journey that touched me profoundly.  

The thing I appreciated the most was Epstein’s reflections on the relationship between sports and the “construct of masculinity.” We all know that there seems to be this unspoken “romance” between men and sports. Not all men experience this of course, and not all people that experience this are men, but somehow society has created this construct of “boys play sports” that this production explores a little more deeply and with a self-awareness that is appreciated in a time where constant social examination and re-evaluation is needed. Epstein does a fantastic job capturing the essence of the time in which he was raised, amplifying the understood gender norms, racial inequality, and his privilege of being not only a white male, but also his father’s son. He discusses, at times, how sports, or sport-like behavior, was how boys established their pecking order. In his Author’s Notes he states “Virtually the only live and unrehearsed programming still on network television, the subject being discussed, endlessly, on twenty-four-hour talk-radio stations across the country, the section of the newspaper most men turn to first, sports are a powerful and influential narrative formation, one of the crucial ways that American men construct identity.”

We all saw this truth during the NFL “taking a knee” controversy, which, as you’ve noticed, has disappeared as quickly as began (maybe because it’s off-season, or maybe because those that were “offended” by it have moved on to other asinine battles… but I digress). My biggest fear is that sports is to America what the games of the Colosseum were to Rome, a tactic to distract the poor from their poverty in the hopes that they would not revolt. I don’t dislike sports, and played them for many years (before theatre took complete reign of my life), but I believe they have the power to keep the masses complacent just as they have the power to fuel the “masculinity complex.” Although he used some derogatory language on occasion, and I hate giving him the “product of his time” pass, I wasn’t terribly bothered by it because it was made clear that that was in fact the past, and not the present, and I believe and embrace the social evolution of which we are all capable. If we don’t know where we came from, we can’t possibly accurately assess where we are.  

There were several other lovely elements of the production. The space is lightly littered with a baseball bat and glove, eventually a coat rack with a jacket to signify Epstein’s scholarly career choice, and even a pair of ballet shoes to represent Epstein’s late wife, but to also remind us that dance is another sport that significantly impacted his life. The use of projections offered environmental settings, magnification of text, and the creation of emotional atmospheres. The subtle sound effects enhanced those atmospheres, as did the simplicity of the lighting. Epstein includes references to Tennessee Williams in his Author’s Note, describing memory as “dimly lighted” and “poetic” and “seems to happen to music.” The design team, comprised of Bryan Rafael Falcón, Josh Hemmo (Projection design), Connor Greene (Production Design Associate), Brian Graham (Lighting Designer), and Tyler Berg (Sound Design), manage to capture that description of memory within the intimate performance area with skill and artistry.  

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Though I could call out this production for is male-heavy team (Stage Manager Marguerite Saxon being the only female name listed) and focus on the voice of yet another white man, the content of the work gives me faith that these men understand the privileged patriarchal patterns society perpetuates. Besides, if they are engaging in the creation of theatre, they have likely broken from the “construction of masculinity” imbedded in a “life in sports.”

My Life in Sports plays at Scoundrel & Scamp Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. For tickets call 448-3300 or visit scoundrelandscamp.org.