Tag Archives: Chicago theater

Neanderthals making nice?

Cast of Arizona Theatre Company production of God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

There’s a point in the play “God of Carnage” where things take a decided turn, but making it that far into the Arizona Theatre Company production, which I saw on opening night, took some doing. I found myself thinking, “I can’t take any more of these plays about people whining on pristine sofas.”

Soon slurs, swearing and something best left unnamed before the uninitiated start spewing forth — and the story develops at a quickening pace. Still, theater afficianonado Alan Handelsman, who was part of the first class of ASU Gammage Goer reviewers, felt “there was something missing” in the opening night performance.

Handelsman and his wife Anita saw the play a couple of years ago in New York City, and he’s got a clear preference for the NYC version’s vibe — feeling it had more “energy, commitment, rhythm, flow, surprise, pacing, abandon, arc and continuity.” Even simple prop choices, he recalls, gave the NYC production “a much greater sense of impending danger.”

Clockwise: Joey Parsons, Bob Sorenson, Amy Resnick and Benjamin Evett in the ATC production of God of Carnage

The Arizona Theatre Company production was good, says Handelsman, but not great. Despite being surrounded at the Herberger Theater Center by people laughing loud and proud, I’m afraid I have to concur. “God of Carnage” felt a bit of a letdown — perhaps because I went into it expecting so much. “God of Carnage” won the 2009 Tony Award for best play.

Other people whose opinions I respect felt differently. I saw Frances Smith Cohen, artistic director for Center Dance Ensemble, and her daughter Rachel Cohen in the theater foyer after the show, and both praised its artistry. Rachel loved “the writing and directing” and Frances “the contrast in characters.” My own theater baby Lizabeth, who has studied dance with both, would likely take their side.

We talked via “Skype” after I got home from the theater Saturday night, and Lizabeth was shocked when I shared my tepid response to the show. She saw “God of Carnage” in Chicago last year while touring colleges with my husband James. Both remember it being fabulously funny.

Lizabeth described it as “well written and well acted” — and shared that she loved watching the different characters evolve during the course of the story. Seems she was amused by just how “quickly the adults became the children.”

“God of Carnage” centers on two couples’ attempts at a civilized conversation after their sons spar on a playground. “You just don’t expect it to go as far as it does,” reflects Lizabeth. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen dad laugh that much,” she recalls. “He totally let loose.”

“Maybe.” she says, “it was his way of letting off steam after all the things that happened when we were little.” Seems she’s observed that the things we sometimes took too much to heart as young parents now fall into more perspective. “You used to take it all so seriously,” she told me. “You guys have learned to let go since then.”

The journey from kindergarden to college does effect profound changes. But the parents in “God of Carnage” have survived only grade school, and the perils of middle school are proving a bit more daunting. After meeting to discuss one boy’s use of a stick and another’s missing teeth, they demonstrate that words are perhaps the worst weapons of all.

The parents who seem so perfectly civilized to begin with soon dissolve into shreiking narcissism and nihilism, something that feels more believable once alcohol enters the picture. I hate to think any of us could trade “nice” for “Neanderthal” so quickly in its absence.

Handelsman, a highly-trained hypnotherapist, says the play reveals “how many different layers humans live in” — showing “the difference between the person we show, and the person we are, and the person we may be afraid we are.” Confronted with the final image in this production, we realize that humans haven’t evolved nearly as far as they imagine.

— Lynn

Note: This original production, directed by Rick Lombardo, is a co-production of Arizona Theatre Company and San Jose Repertory Theatre (which performs it next spring). Yasmina Reza has teamed with Roman Polanski to write the screenplay for a movie titled “Carnage,” directed by Polanski and scheduled for mid-December release. It stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Click here to learn about another opportunity to see the play performed live. Please note that “God of Carnage” contains “mature content.”

Coming up: Advice for young filmmakers, Handelsman shares his “Wicked” ways, Holiday shopping “arts and culture” style, The fine “Art” of Yasmina Reza

Photos: Tim Fuller for Arizona Theatre Company

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“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

Stray cat meets sparrow

Our family cat, Pinky, was a stray kitten with searing blue eyes and tiny gnashing teeth before we rescued her from the roof of a local school that borders a park where she used to play.

Nowadays Pinky loves to sit by a window near the kitchen table where I write. It gives her the best view of all those birds who find our backyard a welcoming habitat. Hummingbirds. Quail. Wrens. Grackles.

When I heard about a play titled “Sparrow” making its Southwest premiere later this year, I did a little homework and discovered — thanks to the Arizona Bird Committee — that Arizona is home to all sorts of sparrows. Fox Sparrow. Swamp Sparrow. Lincoln’s Sparrow. And more.

But Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe is bringing a different sort of sparrow to our neck of the woods. It’s a play titled “Sparrow” that originated at The House Theatre of Chicago in 2007 — a work conceived by Nathan Allen and written by Chris Matthews and Jake Minton. “Sparrow” is the tale of a young girl with special powers.

Emily Book is an elementary school student — the sole survivor of a school bus crash that leaves her hometown devastated. She moves away, only to return for her senior year. It’s a painful reminder, and few are happy to see her. What unfolds next will surprise and stir you.

The Strat Cat Theatre audition notice describes “Sparrow” as a “very physical, ensemble-based work” in which many actors play multiple roles. It’s storytelling intertwined with music and dance, plus sci-fi and graphic novel sensibilities. Reviewers have likened it to “Mean Girls,” “Carrie” and “Wicked.”

With direction by Stray Cat founding artistic director Ron May, “Sparrow” should prove edgy yet accessible, like his production of “Columbinus” a couple of seasons ago. I’m eager to experience all four of this season’s Stray Cat productions — including “Milk, Milk Lemonade,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” and “Heddatron.”

In the meantime, I have my own cat to keep watch over the world with me.

— Lynn

Note: “Sparrow,” which is recommended for teens & up, runs Sept 23-Oct 8 at the Tempe Performing Arts Center in the Mill Avenue District.

Coming up: Zoot suit tales, From ukes to clogs, Art in motion

Update: Head to Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Phoenix this Thurs, July 28 at 1pm for a “Bird-a-palooza” with the Arizona Animal Welfare League. Click here for details.

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12