Tag Archives: Halcyon Theatre

“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

Advertisements

Storytelling takes flight

Alyson Marie Maloney soars as Emily Book in Stray Cat Theatre's production of The Sparrow (Photo: John Groseclose)

Storytelling took flight Friday night as Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe opened its 10th season with “The Sparrow,” a work conceived by Nathan Allen and co-written with Chris Mathews and Jake Minton.

It’s directed by Stray Cat Theatre’s founding artistic director Ron May, recently honored with an Arizoni Award for directing last season’s “Learn to be Latina.” He opened the evening by previewing the rest of this season’s shows — “Milk, Milk Lemonade” by Joshua Conkel, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Guirgis and “Heddatron” by Elizabeth Meriwether.

That last one promises a mix of housewife, playwright and robots. May has perfected the fine art of selecting a season — and casting the right people for each role. “The Sparrow” features Alyson Marie Mahoney as Emily Book, the sole survivor of a school bus that somehow collides with a train.

In a day and age of lavish, big budget productions that expect little of their viewers, Stray Cat Theatre knows that less can be more. Robert Kolby Harper, associate artistic director with Phoenix Theatre, praises May’s “minimalist” approach to “The Sparrow” — noting its elegance as an homage to imagination.

Rather than elaborate sets with frequent changes that can distract audience members from the heart of a story, May pumps life into “The Sparrow” with a simple dollhouse, tall red rectangles signifying student lockers and a bevy of chairs — plus a little something we all remember from high school biology but never expected to see doing the disco.

Damon Dering, artistic director for Nearly Naked Theatre in Phoenix, notes that May’s production has a “real Chicago feel.” The play originated at The House Theatre in Chicago, and May’s own Chicago roots have clearly taken flight at the little Tempe theater where he’s feathering the nest with a “$10 for 10th” campaign that’ll help future seasons soar.

This production’s Chicago connections include Andréa Morales, who portrays high school uberachiever Jenny. Morales performed for several years with Childsplay in Tempe before heading to the Windy City, where she’s a company member with Halcyon Theatre and artistic associate with Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

The cast of Stray Cat Theatre's The Sparrow gives a stirring ensemble performance (Photo: John Groseclose)

I hit opening night for “The Sparrow” with my daughter Jennifer, an ASU student who usually ranks attending live theater productions right up there with cleaning out the litter box. But she was eager to see “The Sparrow” after learning that the cast includes a couple of actors she knows from ASU and Arizona School for the Arts.

I spoke with one of them, Joshua Sherrill, after the show. He practically waxed poetic about the show’s deeper meaning. We all experience pain, he told me, but it’s how we come through it that defines who we are. In “The Sparrow,” it’s parents who are grieving.

The parents’ pain, and the grief of a community losing its innocence, are signaled by actors carrying framed photos of children and pastoral rural scenes. No need to wheel trees and plains in and out of view. We get it from the moment the show first spreads its wings — thanks in part to simple but dramatic lighting and music, mostly strings, that mix sweet melodies with sad, somber sounds.

Much of “The Sparrow” centers around small town high school life. Think cheerleaders and football fervor. Wrist corsages and awkward prom moments. Teacher crushes and overhead projectors. The latter makes for nifty shadow effects on a screen also used to show footage of the school bus crash at the heart of the play. The film clips are especially compelling when mixed with sound effects signaling trains careening down the tracks.

You'll have to decide whether Emily Book's strange powers are really beyond her control (Pictured: Alyson Marie Maloney, Photo: John Groseclose)

“The Sparrow” is perfectly enjoyable as a story free from existential elaboration. Theater goers who prefer to let trains be trains will be satiated by this show. But those seeking deeper symbolism can find it in a speeding train that could be the powerful imaginings of a young child or the repressed feelings of a teacher at once tender and treacherous.

It’s the collision of love and loss that gives “The Sparrow” its poignancy and power. The naysayers of a decade ago who told Ron May that starting Stray Cat Theatre could lead to a train wreck were right. But little did they know just how high it would soar.

— Lynn

Note: “The Sparrow” is best for mature teen and adult audiences. To learn more about the show, which runs through Oct 8, visit www.straycattheatre.org. I’m told the fabulous cookies enjoyed by folks who lingered after the show for a 10th season celebration came from Angelica Howland, proprietor of Scrumptious Angel cookies. I’ll update this post with her website once it’s up and running. Baking first, technology second. I like her style. Hooray! You can now click here to find the cookie website!

Coming up: Show me your Sondheim!, Mystery takes center stage