Fall Theater Season in Tucson 2015

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Winding Road Theater Company
Saint Joan, by George Bernard Shaw, adapted by Toni Press-Coffman
directed by Susan Arnold, featuring MAC-Award Winner Lucille Petty
Our first Saint Joan, and admirably performed by Winding Road, especially Lucille Petty, who seemed the embodiment of a slight, middle-class French girl.  Shaw’s plays are usually long, so Press-Coffman’s shortened adaptation was appreciated.

All Hamlet, All the Time.

This Fall, The Rogue produced Hamlet and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern
Are Dead
in rep.  And, the National Theater broadcast live a performance of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

National Theater:  Saw this production first – most lasting impressions:

  • Cumberbatch, lithe as a cat, gliding from floor to tabletop, rooftop to street.  That man moved like a ballet professional.  
  • Always impressive, the NT’s staging of the final scenes included the destroyed castle of Elsinore, complete with tons of dirt.  What a job to clean that up after each performance.
  • Polonius, always one of my favorites, played by David Calder, seemed shrunken in the role.

That National Theater Live is a great gift to the world from the U.K.

The Rogue

Hamlet by Wm. Shakespeare and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, playing in rep. 

Oh, theatrical joy!  Matt Bowdren played Hamlet.  No, he became Hamlet.  Again, in a micro-theater, you heard Shakespeare’s most quoted lines up close and personal.  The Tucson production was considerably shortened from the NT Live production (almost four hours).  But this was easily the best Shakespeare production by The Rogue – we have seen about five over the years.  

And, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – pure magic.  Tom Stoppard brought the lunacy of Beckett to the stage existence of minor characters, whose only purpose is to appear several times in Hamlet, and like everyone else, to die.  The pair create word games, bet on coin flips and doze to pass the time between appearances.  When they are “on stage”, you experience that exact scene, with the same actors, that you saw in the performance of Hamlet.  How wonderful to see the plays in tandem.  Patty Gallagher is the more dim-witted Rosencrantz; Ryan Parker Knox is Guildenstern.  They inhabited the roles.  This was the best exploitation of Gallagher’s outstanding physical theater skills ever.  

University of Arizona Repertory Theater
Ooops, we did it again.  Cabaret, starring the U of A theater students.  They nailed it!  Excellent Master of Ceremonies and a Sally who gave her all.  The band appeared to be composed of profs – and they reveled in the swinging music.  







Reckless by Craig Lucas – Interesting, but not great, play with a dark Christmas theme.  Most memorable for split second scene changes.  All parts well-acted, but the ending was a let-down that wrapped things up a bit too neatly.  

Emotional void…

DBH and I saw three plays recently – and none of them resonated with us.  Yet most received sterling reviews.  What’s wrong with us - especially after our delight with How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying?

The White Snake

The White Snake

First, we saw The White Snake, produced and directed by Mary Zimmerman.  This woman can create.  She’s a former MacArthur Fellow and now creative director at both The Goodman and Lookingglass Theaters in Chicago.  She usually provides a thrill ride for her audience.  Several years ago, her production of Metamorphosis at Lookingglass brought me to tears as I stood to applaud at the end, it was so stunning.  But White Snake, produced at Goodman (where I feel the stage was too large for such a small production) was flat.  There isn’t much of a story – a Chinese tale about a demon white snake who longs to be human and experience love, and the man who loves her.  Same old, same old.  Lots of Zimmerman stagecraft and panache, but no real heart.  



Then onto to Cabaret, produced by The Citadel Theater Group in Lake Forest.  We love Cabaret, and this is the fourth time we have seen it in two years.  Are we Cabaret-ed out?  No, this play always grabs my heartstrings.  And per usual, the romance between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, who have the most lyrical songs and the best voices, did play beautifully.  But Sally Bowles?  Cassie Johnson played her with such an affected accent and no singing voice at all.  Granted Sally is supposed to be a hard case cabaret floozy, but she does have a lot of great song and dance numbers and Cassie didn’t hit the mark with us.  Dominic Rescigno’s Emcee was nuanced, but small.  The Kit Kat girls and boys were suitably sleazy and Citadel did a good job of staging a large production in a very small space.

I wanted the Cabaret production to be mind-blowing.  My two nieces, ages 16 and 13 were with us - their first really adult musical theater.  They both had just studied the Holocaust, so it was appropriate that they see how theater can treat such a tragic subject with music, laughter, respect and awe.  

Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy

Lastly, we raced to see Exit Strategy, a new play by Ike Holter produced by Jackalope Theater in the depths of the old Armory on North Broadway.  The reviews were stunning.  Focusing on the closing of a Chicago public high school, the characters are five teachers, a vice-principal and a student.  The audience was studded with teachers who laughed and cried throughout the performance.  Maybe you had to be a teacher to love it.  But, neither DBH nor I felt emotionally involved.  That’s the fault of the playwright, who actually used the ghost of a character who kills herself in the first scene to pull the plot development along 2/3 of the way through.  A ghost?  Does this author think he is Shakespeare?  On the other hand, the actors were wonderful.  Unlike a lot of newer plays, Exit Strategy actually makes the actors sustain long scenes of intense emotion and they nailed it.  But the play did not come together into a cohesive emotional build.  In fact the ending (when the bulldozers come) was flat as a pancake for us. 

5900 North Broadway

5900 North Broadway

On a higher note, we discovered a great new restaurant, Broadway Cellars, directly across from the Armory.  DBH had the biggest plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes ever (BP claims to be a comfort food restaurant) and I enjoyed Salad Nicoise with excellent rare tuna.  I snitched a few bites of the mashed potatoes with gravy and they were yummy.  We will return.  

Come to the Cabaret


How many times can you see Cabaret and still enjoy it?  DBH and I still trying to find that out.  Whether the movie version, or live, it is one of the great musicals of the 20th century.  Last Sunday we fell in love all over again with the Chicago Light Opera Works production, starring their Artistic Director, Rudy Hogamiller as the Emcee.  He was more than significantly malicious and a great singer and dancer.  Rudy danced in the chorus of Cabaret on Broadway.  The version of the show we saw was the original, with the secondary romance built around the older owner of the boarding house, Fraulein Schneider and the Jewish fruit shop owner, Herr Schultz. 

I don't mean to slight Jenny Lamb who was a great Sally Bowles.  And, without seeming like a fashionista, we wore the magnificent costumes designed by Jesus Perez with aplomb.  Lots of mid 30's style flowing chiffon and bias cut dresses. 

Manys the night we reach into our video collection (yes we keep a video player because we have so many) and pull out Cabaret with Joel Gray and Lisa Minnelli.  It never grows old.  Who could forget the gorgeous Marisa Berenson as Natalia Landauer and Michael York as Brian Roberts.  In the movie, the secondary romance is changed to a German/Jewish conflict featuring a young couple, Natalia and Fritz Wandel, which is resolved with Fritz discovers he is Jewish - and they flee Germany together with her Daddy's millions.  They are so beautiful to watch, but the romance of the older couple, which ends with them separating, is much more poignant and true to the Jewish/Nazi strife. 


Where the movie triumphs over the stage is the rendering of Nazi anthem, Tomorrow Belongs to Me.  In the CLOW version we saw, the song is first introduced by waiters at the Kit Kat Club.  Then at the end of the first act, it is reprised with all the singers and dancers at the engagement party of Frau Kost and Herr Schultz, turning a happy time into tragedy.  In the movie, a very blonde Hitler Youth member stands in bier garten  and sings the anthem in a clear boy tenor voice, solo at first, but then with all the customers joining and tilting the emotional movement towards the coming tragedy, both for Sally and Brian and for Germany. 


While enjoying Cabaret, thoughts flooded over me of how the current situation in Egypt is reflective of German history.  How could the Egyptians elect ultra-conservative Muslims who then elected a member of the Muslim Brotherhood as president, and not expect that they would attempt to establish Sharia law?  And how could they expect that people who give not a whit for the trials and tribulations of anyone except their conservative Muslim allies is going to pull Egypt out of its economic downward spiral?  The fall-off in tourism alone has a domino effect throughout their fragile economy.  And the Copts?  It won't be long before this prosperous segment of the population has fled the country entirely, if they can get out.  Like the Jews, they are a handy whipping-boy for whatever ails the Muslims.  I've advocated before that the US should just open its borders to all Christians in the Middle East.  They surely pass the persecution criteria we set for political asylum. 


So, the next time you want to see a great movie/play about the decline and fall of a country while the citizens dance and sing it up, see Cabaret.  You will leave the theater full of music and thoughtful sadness.