From Lilly to Wiley

I should have taken a cot along to Tempe Center for the Arts on Sunday. I was there to see Childsplay’s production of “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” — and I’m returning this evening for the AriZoni Awards ceremony.

The ceremony features both a youth and adult portion. Though Childsplay performs for children, it’s not a youth theater — so I’ll be listening for their awards during the grown-up portion of the evening.

Several Childsplay artists act and direct throughout the community, so I’m accustomed to watching for them in both Childsplay productions and works by other companies.

Childsplay associate artist Debra K. Stevens, who performs the role of “Mom” in “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,” has been with the company since 1982 — but she’s directing a show that opens this week at Mesa Community College.

Mesa Community College presents Wiley and the Hairy Man later this week

It’s “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” a work performed (along with David Saar’s
“The Big Yellow Boat”) during Childsplay’s 1993-1994 season. My own theater baby Lizabeth was born in 1993. This is the first year I’ve attended the AriZoni Awards without her, and she’ll be missed.

When Childsplay performed “Wiley and the Hairy Man” it garnered all sorts of AriZoni Award nominations — best director and choreographer for Michael Barnard (artistic director for Phoenix Theatre), best actor for D. Scott Withers and more.

I’m hoping to see “Wiley and the Hairy Man” when it’s performed at MCC’s Theatre Outback Fri, Sept 23 (10 am and 7:30pm) or Sat, Sept 24 (2pm). They’re performing an original adaptation by Justin Taylor.

Mesa Community College describes “Wiley and the Hairy Man” as the gripping story of a young boy trying to overcome his greatest fear. It’s set in the swamps of the south, where Wiley prepares to confront the creature who took his father away. MCC notes that the work is heavily influenced by Gullah culture.

“Gullah culture” is a broad descriptor for the traditions, skills and beliefs brought to this country by enslaved Africans — many of whom, according to a 2003 PBS broadcast on the topic, came ashore along the coast of Southern Carolina.

The play is an intriguing gateway to conversations about cultural preservation and assimilation. A 2001 piece picked up by National Geographic notes that similar issues have faced “American Indians, Cajuns in Louisiana and highlanders in Appalachia.”

Mesa Community College plans school tours of the production for October and November. Also coming this fall is “Next Fall,” being presented by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center Oct 28-Nov 13.

Stevens performs the role of “Arlene” in the Geoffrey Nauffts work, which explores the collision of ideas wrought by an actual collision. If you want to find fascinating theater in the Valley, just start at Childsplay.

Then see where their fine actors lead you…

— Lynn

Note: You’ll find Childsplay at www.childsplayaz.org, Mesa Community College at www.mesacc.edu, Tempe Center for the Arts at www.tempe.gov/tca, Actors Theatre at www.atphx.org and the AriZoni Awards at www.arizoniawards.com.

Coming up: Highlights from the 2011 AriZoni Awards ceremony, “Mixing It Up” in Tempe, Chinese arts and culture

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