Tag Archives: Andres Alcala

“With Two Wings”

My mother loved the work of Lebanese-American artist Kahlil Gibran, especially his verses on various topics contained in “The Prophet.” The section titled “On Children” begins like this:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

I was reminded of these words, and my mother’s remarkable gift for creating both roots and wings, while watching a Childsplay performance of Anne Negri’s “With Two Wings” directed by Andrés Alcala.

It’s the tale of a boy who lives in the woods with his overprotective parents, though all the other families live in colonies. They’ve got lots of rules, all designed to keep the family safe.

Son Lyf (Nathan Dobson) seems content to follow them until he encounters an adventurous young girl named Meta (Kaleena Newman), who fuels his curiosity with tales of flight training. She’s Lyf’s first friend, and she’s a good one.

Meta has a thing for physics, often pondering the wonders and workings of aerodynamics, while Lyf has a gift for imagery and story. I love the deviation from “boys do science” and “girls do words” type thinking

Meta has a twin named Taur (John Moum) who’s quite the bully, and seems to fancy himself an investigative journalist. He uncovers handmade wings inside the workshop Lyf’s father has kept locked for years, and makes a startling discovery.

Lyf’s parents are “dodos” — a name given to those who can’t fly. When Taur starts name-calling, Meta insists that he stop. She teaches Lyf to fly as his anxious Mom (Kate Haas) and hopeful Dad (Jon Gentry) look on. “I’m here,” says Mom, “I’m always here.”

“With Two Wings” is a profound reminder that flying and falling is better than never trying to fly. That bystanders should defend those who are bullied. That some family rules may need to evolve over time. That growth rarely happens without taking risks.

It’s a lovely one hour piece that speaks to both children and adults, making good use of humor and never taking itself too seriously. “With Two Wings” elevates curiosity, individual differences, loyal friendships and trusting your instincts.

The cast of five is superb. Dobson’s Lyf is innocent and earnest, while Newman’s Meta is bright-eyed and confident. Gentry’s Dad is optimistic, while Haas’ Mom is a worrier. Moum’s Taur is a perfect portrayal of everything we love to hate about tabloid types.

The “With Two Wings” set designed by Kimb Williamson is simple — mainly nesting materials inspired by the works of artist Andy Goldworthy. So is lighting design by Tim Monson and sound design by Christopher Neumeyer. Both serve the story well without distracting from its beauty.

The most intriguing visual elements are costumes by D. Daniel Hollinghead, who designed the mechanism used for characters’ wings, and puppets. Thanks to puppets atop long sticks, no one has to pull a Cathy Rigby over the TCA stage.

“With Two Wings” is rich in dialogue we can all relate to. The play’s true beauty rests in its ability to inspire us to reflect on our own experiences with launching and letting go.

I got a little teary-eyed as Lyf learned to fly, thinking of our daughter Lizabeth being cast in her first theater production with Pace University, because I know Childsplay played a part in giving her wings.

I hope you’ll be just as inspired by Childsplay’s interpretation of Negri’s tender tale, and more reflections from “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran…

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

— Lynn

Note: Childsplay performs “With Two Wings” through Feb. 5 at Tempe Center for the Arts, and the play is available for school tours (grades 1-6) Feb. 7-May 25. Click here to learn more, and here to explore Childsplay photos on Facebook.

Coming up: Fun with arts & culture fundraisers

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Shakespeare meets Middle Ages

Mike Roush and Ali Rose Dachis in Southwest Shakespeare Company's Romeo & Juliet

If you’re accustomed to thinking of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as a bittersweet story of young romance gone awry, you’ll find plenty that’s new in the Southwest Shakespeare Company production of “Romeo and Juliet” being performed through Jan. 21 at the Mesa Arts Center.

The work is directed by Richard Corley of Chicago, who set “Romeo and Juliet” during the Middle Ages — before the time it was written by Shakespeare. It’s an intriguing twist for those familiar with productions morphed into modern day settings.

Before a single actor takes the stage, you’re gripped by the jarring nature of the set — the work of scenic artist Laura Johnson. Juliet’s bedroom balcony is askew. Tombs appear cast asunder. And the single stained glass window dotted with dark red circles signals you’re peering into a desecrated church.

“Churches have so many associations with things that happen in life,” says Corley. Marriage. Death. “I wanted the set to be evocative.” Corley shared his vision for the production during a post-show talkback with cast and creative team members on opening night — noting his fascination with the play’s too often overlooked apothecary scene.

It sparked Corley’s exploration of “the sense of disease and starvation” that’s an undercurrent in the play — something he punctuates with Friar John’s (Spencer Dooley) explanation that travel routes blocked off for fear of the plague prevented him from delivering the note that could have saved Romeo’s life. 

It’s tempting to assume that there’s little thrill in seeing a work already mounted many times over. But this “Romeo and Juliet” will heighten your appreciation for parts of the story you might have overlooked. Many in the audience remarked that the production gave them a greater understanding and appreciation for the language of this play. 

Mike Roush, Andres Alcala and Ali Rose Dachis in Southwest Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet

The journeys of Romeo and Juliet from childlike wonder to grown-up woe are well portrayed in this production, but I was most intrigued by their enablers — Nurse to Juliet (Janae Thomas) and Friar Laurence. Andrés Alcalá (Friar Laurence during evening performances) delivers an especially compelling performance.

The cast and creative team include both fresh faces and Valley favorites. Both Mike Roush (Romeo) and Ali Rose Dachis (Juliet) are graduates of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program.

Alcalá was recently seen in Childsplay’s “The Sun Serpent” and is directing their upcoming production of “With Two Wings.” David Barker, the Valley’s best known fight choreographer, returns for his 25th Southwest Shakespeare Company production.

Southwest Shakespeare Company will present two additional works to round out their 2011/12 season — a Yasmina Reza play titled “Art” (March 1-17) and Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” (April 19-May 5). Jared Saken serves as artistic director, and Utah Shakespearean scholar Michael Flachmann will lead a “Much Ado About Nothing” seminar on April 21.

Folks eager to support the Southwest Shakespeare Company’s education programs can attend a Feb. 25 fundraiser dubbed “Speakeasy Night” at the Wrigley Mansion — which features Dennis Rowland and his Jazz Trio, emcee Bob Sorenson and plenty of live/silent auction items.

Those needing a summer Shakespeare fix can head to Cedar City for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. And those of you eager to return to the Middle Ages can simply throw out your televisions, laptops and cell phones.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for show and ticket information (no one under the age of six will be permitted for this production). For a taste of scholarly discourse about Shakespeare and the Middle Ages, click here to read a review article written by Dermot Cavanagh for the August 2011 issue of the “Journal of the Northern Renaissance.”

Coming up: Writing tips and resources, More Shakespeare on Valley stages

“The Sun Serpent”

An early rendering of "The Sun Serpent" set design

For two years, a unique collaboration of Valley artists and arts organizations have worked together to bring “The Sun Serpent” by José Cruz González to Valley  audiences. It’s being performed through Nov. 13 by Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in works for young audiences and families.

“The Sun Serpent” is an adventure tale on a grand scale. It depicts the collision of worlds old and new as a boy struggles to save his family and preserve the memory of his Aztec culture, bringing the conquest of Mexico to life through captivating media, masks, music and more.

Entering the studio theater at Tempe Center for the Arts Saturday evening, I felt transported to another world. Lush rainforest scenes, the work of projection designer Adam Larsen, were projected onto three giant panels layered on each side of the stage.

Lights with a beautiful blend of blue and green, the work of lighting designer Tim Monson, shown down onto large Aztec images painted on the stage — the work of scenic designer Carey Wong. A gentle cloud of mist hovered over the stage as sounds of birds and other rainforest creatures, the work of sound designer Christopher Neumeyer, floated through the air. It was breathtaking.

“The Sun Serpent” marries the best of traditional storytelling with technology. As its three main characters — a young boy, his widowed grandmother and his older brother — face cultural shifts with diverse motivations and dreams, projections reflect their changing world.

We see foreign ships approaching the shore, villages consumed by fire, and journeys trekked over mountaintops — all part of a visual feast best suited for audience members ages 8 & above. There’s greed, death and betrayal. But also hope and courage. “The Sun Serpent,” says director Rachel Bowditch, “portrays the strength of the human spirit.”

The creative team also includes composer Daniel Valdez, costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman, mask designer Zarco Guerrero and puppet designer Jim Luther. Amy Gilbert, who recently made the move from Atlanta to Arizona, serves as stage manager.

David Saar has directed and taught for Childsplay since it began in 1977. Managing director Steve Martin, also president of the board for Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts, is enjoying his 11th season with Childsplay.

Just three actors peform 30 roles in the Childsplay production of “The Sun Serpent.” Andrés Alcalá (Tlememe), an associate artist with Childsplay since 2007, has also performed with Actors Theatre of Phoenix, the Southwest Shakespeare Company, Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre.

Ricky Araiza (Young/Elder Anáhuac), an Arizona native who attended Brophy College Preparatory, graduated from ASU in 2004 with a B.A. in theatre before pursuing additional training in ensemble-based physical theater. Araiza is a freelance acting and movement teacher studying mask-making with Zarco Guerrero.

Andréa Morales (Anci) previously spent five seasons as a Childsplay company member, but now lives in Chicago, where she is a company member of Halcyon Theatre and an artistic associate of Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

As I chatted with cast members after the show, I marveled at the amazing depth and breadth of Childsplay offerings. It seems only yesterday that I was watching Childsplay associate artists D. Scott Withers and Jon Gentry bounce, run, bark and drive around in circles during a theater-in-the-round performance of “Go, Dog. Go!” You never know where the artistry of Childsplay might take you.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for additonal show and ticket information, and here to learn about other works being presented as part of the CALA Festival.

Coming up: Border tales

Update: Playwright José Cruz Gonzaléz writes about developing “The Sun Serpent” and his experiences with Childsplay in an article titled “Chasing the Sun” published in the January 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine. 1/4/12

“The Borrowers”

A cup of sugar. A gelatin mold. A casserole dish. Neighbors used to borrow such things from one another all the time. What we borrow changes, but the act of borrowing never seems to go out of style.

I’m guilty of borrowing all sorts of books that never made their way back to original owners, but I’ve loaned plenty of them too. Some books, like Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers,” seem too precious to share.

“The Borrowers” made its way to the big screen in a 1997 movie by the same name. The PG-13 flick, dismissed by some because of its sometimes crude humor, was directed by Peter Hewitt and starred John Goodman.

British actor Hugh Laurie, now known to most Americans for his leading role in the television series “House,” appeared in the film as “Police Officer Steady.”

Fond as I am of Laurie, I suspect I’ll enjoy Childsplay’s live performance of “The Borrowers” a whole lot more than the film. The Childsplay production, which opens April 30 at Tempe Center for the Arts, is directed by Dwayne Hartford.

“The Borrowers” was adapted for the stage by British playwright Charles Way. It’s the tale of a tiny family living under the floorboards of another family’s home — and the adventures that ensue when someone living below makes her way to higher ground.

“I try to create work,” writes Way, “that does not preach, that examines the pressures under which we live through story and metaphor, that is fun, sometimes dangerous, but always I trust, humane and hopeful.” Sounds like much of the work I’ve seen Childsplay perform through the years.

Childsplay presents “The Borrowers” at 1pm and 4pm every Saturday and Sunday between April 30-May 22. An ASL interpreted performance takes place Sun, May 15, at 1pm.

You can jump online in the meantime to learn more about the show, the actors and the wealth of Childsplay offerings — from school tours to summer classes.

And you can get your tickets to what I suspect will be one of the Valley’s most creative shindigs of the season — the May 6 “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits” gala designed to support the company’s many arts-in-education programs, which “serve one in five Arizona school children each year.”

Let your toddlers borrow the pots and pans. Let your preschoolers borrow the lipstick and high heels. Let your teens borrow the car.

But give your children the things that really matter. Imagination. Dreams. Adventure. Curiosity. They’re all waiting for you at Childsplay.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn how your children can experience a tour of “The Borrowers” set — and how your family can enjoy a workshop exploring the secrets of shadow theater with visual effects artist Andrés Alcalá (you’ll learn to create and use shadow puppets — and even take home your own shadow theater).

Coming up: Whatever works