Tag Archives: theater discounts

The fine art of farce

A Valley reviewer recently dubbed Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off” the “best comedy you are likely ever to see.” I’d be inclined to agree had I not seen so much fabulously funny fare from this professional theater company through the years.

There’s plenty more to come from Phoenix Theatre — including the first production of the racy Broadway musical “Avenue Q” by an Arizona theater company. Who’s to say they won’t outdo themselves yet again?

Their casting is simply superb — and this show is no exception. Add a complex and creative set, maddeningly funny material and music to knock your socks (or boxer shorts) off — and you have a farce that’s nothing short of fine art.

"Noises Off" elevates farce to a fine art (Photo by Laura Durant)

Direction by Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director for Actors Theatre of Phoenix, only fuels the flames — for both the fantastically talented cast and the audience members who mistakenly presume they are out for a night of modest theater.

Picture yourself in a British theater waiting for the curtain to rise on “Nothing On” presented by “A Noise Within” productions. You’re leafing through the program only to discover actor/creative team credits that include playing Britain’s most famous lollypop lady, winning a coveted medal for violence, and loving anything small and furry.

It’s easy to imagine because every “Noises Off” playbill includes a fictitious “Nothing On” program replete with cast/creative team bios as well as a lovely bit of dramaturgy borrowed from an expert ‘in the semantics of Bedroom Farce.’

Members of the "Noises Off" cast in all their slapstick glory (Photo by Laura Durant)

If you carefully read the pseudo-program before the curtain opens, you’ll get your fix of fascinating facts about various elements of the production — the slamming doors, the falling trousers, mistaken identities and more.

You’ll discover that uproarious laughter, for some, “is a metaphysical representation of the sexual act.” If that’s the case, you’re in for one heck of an orgy when you see this show.

Good news for parents: Other than a black negligee and boxer shorts (not worn together, thankfully), there’s little that’s explicitly rude or crude in this show. It’s rife with inuendo, but I can’t imagine that many kids would catch the subtleties. They will, however, appreciate the many triumphs in physical comedy.

You never know where that baggage might end up (Photo by Laura Durant)

“Noises Off” by Michael Frayn consists of three acts featuring the folly of a ficticious “Nothing On” production. Act I depicts the final rehearsal for “Nothing On” — setting up characters and situations that won’t be fully appreciated until later in the work. It’s funny, but you won’t yet find yourself wishing you’d made that last minute potty stop.

Act II reveals a bevy of backstage bungling as we witness a performance of “Nothing On” from behind the scenes. It’s funnier and more outrageous than the first, but the farce really hits the fan during Act III, when we finally see the onstage mayhem as it appears to unwitting audience members.

Plenty of pratfalls involve persnickety props — a disappearing and reappearing plate of sardines, a rotary dial phone with a tendency-to-tangle cord, flowers that never cease to find their way into the wrong suitors’ hands. The rotating set-piece — the two-story home where “Nothing On” is set — is equally delightful.

I do have to wonder, though, whether younger audiences would be more appreciative if the work was updated a bit with Starbucks in lieu of sardines or computer wires in lieu of telephone cords. Of course, there’d be no stopping there since the world may soon be wireless — and the modern day quest for efficiency robbed of sensual pleasures like reading a paperback book over a cup of coffee might just as easily bring caffeine injections via some sort of biochip.

Steer clear of slippery sardines, among other things (Photo by Laura Durant)

It’s been several days since I saw the play, being performed at Phoenix Theatre through Sept 19 (extended from Sept 12 due to ‘popular demand and critical acclaim’). But I still find myself leafing through the actual program — where I’m learning all sorts of things about our local talent.

Leann Dearing (Brooke) and her husband Matthew are acting instructors with Dearing Acting Studio. Mike Lawler (Selsdon) is a member of Phoenix Theatre’s “Partners That Heal” program. Maren Maclean (Belinda) has extensive Shakespeare experience (including several seasons as education outreach director for Southwest Shakespeare Company) — which I’m convinced is the best training ground for the craft of comedy.

Gail Wolfenden-Steib (costume designer) operates Rukshana Raks!, a custom dancewear business specializing in belly dance costumes for both cabaret and tribal dance styles. Katie McNamara (properties designer) has worked as a prop artisan for the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Shakespeare Santa Cruz and others.

Matthew Wiener (director) holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. Michael J. Eddy (production manager/lighting designer) sits on the board of Scorpius Dance Theatre (which presents “A Vampire Tale” to sold out crowds each Halloween season). Pasha W. Yamotahari (assistant director and more) holds a journalism degree from the Cronkite School at ASU and has earned dramaturge and critic awards from the presitigious Kennedy Center.

Beware of doors that fly open or slam shut (Photo by Laura Durant)

Despite the farcical nature of the fare, I came away from it asking myself a rather serious question. Might I want to be a dramatuge when I grow up? Thankfully, I still have time to decide.

In the meantime, being an avid supporter of the Valley’s arts scene is a mighty fine gig.


Note: Mention the word “sardines” when ordering your tickets to enjoy a $5 savings while the offer lasts.

Coming up: Lynn and Liz encounter a frog and a toad a la Childsplay in Tempe; “Music Man” (with Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre) meets the Musical Instrument Museum; Making magic happen

Photos (from the top): Joseph Kremer;  Mike Lawler, Joseph Kremer, Christopher Williams, Maren Maclean, Cathy Dresbach; Christopher Williams, Leeann Dearing; Christopher Williams, Cathy Dresbach; Joseph Kremer, Cathy Dresbach, Robert Kolby Harper, Leeann Dearing (counter-clockwise from top left). All photos by Laura Durant of Durant Communications.


Once upon a kindness

The finest of good deeds are done quietly. No expectation of rewards. No sense of self-importance. 

They’re just given. 

And not soon forgotten… 

Childsplay sets are stunning works of art

So it is with Childsplay, the Tempe-based professional theater company for young audiences and families, which opens its 33rd season in September. 

The first year I bought play passes for Childsplay productions, we weren’t able to use a single ticket. 

Our son was having a tumultuous year, as we all were, when a serious health condition became our constant shadow. A trip to the theater felt tougher than a trip to the moon. 

We mourned the loss of many things that year—the joys of children’s theater among them. 

I shared a bit of our story with one of the fine folks at Childsplay, who graciously offered us play passes for the following season. 

Life had settled a bit by then, and the light of theater chased many shadows from our midst. 

Childsplay extends learning beyond the classroom

I’ll always be grateful to Childsplay for that simple act of kindness. 

I remember it well each time they announce another season full of whimsy and wonder. 

I recently learned that Childsplay passes for the 2010-2011 season are an especially good value when purchased before June 30. 

When you purchase play passes, they’re deposited directly into an account created for you at the Tempe Center for the Arts box office, and you can exchange the passes for show tickets either in person, by phone or online. 

Friendship is a common theme for Childsplay

The play pass program gives you a chance to enjoy lower ticket prices, waived processing fees and the ability to obtain show tickets a week before they go on sale to the general public.

Tickets can be mailed to you, printed at home or held for you at the box office. 

This is especially lovely for those of us who find that dealing with tangibles like tickets and money is way beyond bothersome. 

Although passes will be available for purchase through September, you’ll enjoy the best discounts if you order before June 30. You can click here for all the juicy details. 

Childsplay offerings for the 2010-2011 season are:

“A Year With Frog and Toad.” Follows the adventure of two great friends—a cheerful frog and a grouchy toad. Sept 18-Oct 16. Ages 4+. 

Childsplay makes learning fun

“Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” Recreates the world of intrigue that is “Room One” in a trio of Barbara Parker’s best-selling books. Jan 29-March 6. Ages 5+. 

“Go, Dog. Go!” Brings the adventures of P.D. Eastman’s book to life in a frolicking musical dog party. Jan 29-March 6. Ages 3+. 

“The Imaginators.” Explores the power of make believe as three friends discover friendship, courage and cooperation. April 9-17 (two weekends only). Ages 5+. 

“The Borrowers.” Follows a family who live under the floorboards as their curious daughter begins to explore the world of the ‘human beans’ who live upstairs. April 30-May 22. Ages 7+. 

Each show has it’s own charm, and back-story. To learn more about individual shows, their creators and their characters, visit Childsplay online at www.childsplayaz.org

I lost my heart to Childsplay after that first act of kindness. But more than a decade later, I still feel a genuine heart-tug each time I see them perform. 

Childsplay is truly the gift that keeps on giving. 



Childsplay shows make great play dates

Photos from previous Childsplay productions of “A Year With Frog and Toad,” “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” and “Go Dog. Go!” courtesy of Childsplay

Note: Childsplay will also perform “New Kid” (tour only) and “Ferdinand the Bull” (national tour only) this season. They offer classes year-round and are now booking school performances for the coming school year. Consider getting extra passes so you can take friends along and have some on hand for last-minute birthday gifts.  

Coming up: An intriguing season from Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Preview of weekend arts events (including the “I Matter” performance this Friday night by youth in the Free Arts theater camp program), Valley theaters present new works

[title of blog]

Note: Please see end of post for NEW information about remaining shows…

“Have you seen the show?”

It’s a question recently posed to me by actor Stanley Bahorek, who’s between Tucson and Phoenix runs of “[title of show]” with Arizona Theatre Company. The show opens Thursday night at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix.

He wasn’t referring to his current gig, but the first bit of acting he did—which was in middle school. Bahorek shares that his first audition was for the school production of “Annie,” and he must have nailed it.

Bahorek was cast as the riotous renegade Rooster Hannigan, one of a trio of cons poised to profit by claiming the orphan Annie as their own. Worthington, Ohio theater wasn’t on my radar at that point (it is now), but I’ve seen plenty of other productions of Annie.

Bahorek surmised as much, suggesting I might need every finger and toe at my disposable to count the many ways. If I hadn’t glimpsed it sooner, this was a sure sign. This fellow is fabulously fun.

I’ve been gently asked to avoid overplaying this fact, but feel I must share it nonetheless. Bahorek confesses to saying the following to his mother when he was just ten years old: “I want to be an actor.”

“I’ve been performing all my life,” reflects Bahorek. I get the feeling his toothbrush might have served as a microphone on more than one occasion, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

Bahorek followed the declaration to his mother with a question: “Is that okay?” Happily, he shares, his parents were very supportive. Some kids leave dreams of dentistry or dinosaur hunting when they catch the theater bug—but Bahorek seems to have been born with it.

It didn’t hurt that as a middle school and high school student, he had oodles of friends doing theater, preparing for or entering university theater programs. And so, thought Bahorek, “why not?”

He’s quick to credit the theater teachers he studied with in public school settings—sharing just how dedicated they were to giving kids opportunities. (Legislators take note: If you want to lower Arizona’s high school drop-out rate, return rich arts experiences to all our schools.)

Bahorek was thrilled when accepted at the University of Michigan, renowned for its stellar musical theater department. “That,” quips Bahorek, “sealed the deal.” He raves about their “excellent training,” adding that some of his best experiences occurred during his time there.

I asked Bahorek whether he had any advice for high school students researching universities and preparing for theater program auditions.

Here’s his first tip: “Take piano.” It’s an essential component of hearing and speaking the language of music. (Take note if your child is considering Arizona School for the Arts—which includes two hours of piano each week as part of its middle school curriculum.)

“Read plays and see as much theater as you can,” suggests Bahorek, who recalls seeing “all the touring shows” while in high school. “Get to know both classic and contemporary work.” Know current playwrights—plus those from “pre-1965.”

“The greater your breadth of knowledge,” says Bahorek, “the better your foundation.” The more a person is exposed to, he explains, the better he or she becomes at selecting monologues and vocal performance pieces for auditions.

Bahorek seizes this opportunity to share with me his hope that plenty of young people will come to see “[title of show].” While show advisories note the mature content of the piece, Bahorek likens it to a PG-13 rather than R-rated movie.

He notes that there is some swearing, but that it’s done in part of raise the issue of whether swearing is or isn’t acceptable. “It’s never graphic,” he says, “or gratuitous.”

With two kids in college and another preparing for a career in theater, I’m way past worrying about episodic exposure to swearing—especially within the context of the arts.

“I would have loved this show in high school,” shares Bahorek.

Bahorek describes “[title of show]” as a play about four people in New York, two of whom are writers. I’m hooked already but will happily provide more info for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the frequent foibles and follies of being, or being with, a writer.

“The show has a great premise,” says Bahorek. “The writers end up writing a show about them writing a show.” Not that writers are ever prone to navel-gazing, mind you.

Bahorek fondly recalls his experience with seeing “[title of show],” describing it as “charming, ingenious and funny.” Like many musicals, he reflects, it’s about dreamers and their dreams. “You fall in love with these characters—their dreams, their chutzpah.”

There’s a moment near the middle of the show, Bahorek adds, when you really start to see what it’s all about. It’s during a musical number called “Die, Vampire, Die!” The vampires, he says, are the little voices in our heads that tell us we’re not pretty, talented or good enough. “Once you get to that point, you’re really pulled into the story.”

I asked Bahorek how he came to be involved with the Arizona Theatre Company production of “[title of show]”—“The old fashioned way,” he told me, “by pounding the pavement.” He auditioned for the show in New York with David Ira Goldstein (now celebrating his 18th season as artistic director for ATC).

Bahorek says he was familiar with ATC’s sterling reputation and suspected a January/February gig in Arizona might not be such a bad thing. He recalls meeting Goldstein and feeling right away that the two had a connection.

“We had a little too much fun,” he recalls. “He told jokes, I did a few songs.” Bahorek says Goldstein struck him as seriously smart, adding that he loved the way Goldstein spoke about the show.

So what does he think of Goldstein now that they’ve worked together? “He’s excellent to work with,” says Bahorek, “and he treats his actors really well.” If there’s a recipe for the perfect show, I’m sure artistic excellence and fun are near the top of the list of ingredients.

I can’t wait to see what this cast, crew and creative team cook up together…


Note: “[title of show]” will be presented by Arizona Theatre Company Feb. 18 to March 7 at the Herberger Theater Center. Tickets available at http://www.arizonatheatre.or or 602-256-6995. Some performances feature student, senior and active military discounts. “Pay What You Can” for this show is Feb. 21 at 7pm, subject to restrictions and availability. Group rates/fundraising packages/rush tickets may be available. Please check details before attending.

Feb. 23 update from Arizona Theatre Company…

The post-show discussion following the March 4th 7:30pm performance will feature the show’s creators (also its original stars) Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, as well as the original keyboardist and musical arranger Larry Pressgrove. Discussion will also feature ATC artistic director David Ira Goldstein. Larry Pressgrove, the original ‘Larry’ for the show’s off-Broadway and Broadway runs, will play the role onstage for ATC’s March 3-7 performances. Returning ‘”[title of show]” patrons can receive 50% off regularly-priced tickets for their second experience of the show.  For details, visit www.arizonatheatre.org or call 602-256-6995.