Tag Archives: Utah Shakespearean Festival

Get real: “Romeo & Juliet”

Christian Barillas (L) as Romeo and Magan Wiles as Juliet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

We’ve seen all sorts of “Romeo & Juliet” productions through the years — including wonderful works by Ballet Arizona and Childsplay. So it was hard to imagine, going into Thursday evening’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, that the work could feel truly fresh.

It’s often said that no two theater performances, even of the same show with the same cast, are ever the same — which seems especially wise when dealing with the ways of Shakespeare. Seeing “Romeo and Juliet” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was like seeing it for the very first time.

Christian Barillas (L) as Romeo and Magan Wiles as Juliet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

It’s fresh, flirty and fun — which feels a bit unexpected to those who’ve never seen the play, too often viewed as singularly tragic, in the hands of David Ivers. He directs this production of “Romeo and Juliet,” and Lizabeth couldn’t wait to race off and find him after the show.

I’ve seen Lizabeth wait in long lines to meet various celebrities, but I’ve never seen her gush the way she did after seeing this production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

After the show she exclaimed “David Ivers is brilliant — that ending, oh!” Then she ran off to share her enthusiasm with Ivers himself, as well as Quinn Mattfeld, one of her instructors when she studied acting here last summer.

Melinda Parrett (L) as Lady Capulet, Quinn Mattfeld as Benvolio, and Demetra Pittman in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl High. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

“I’m probably the only person who gets star-struck at the Shakespeare festival,” she told me. But clearly other teens and young adults were enamoured with the work — laughing or turning to one another in amazement as the play unfolded.

We ran into Magan Wiles, who performs the role of Juliet in this production, as we arrived at The Grind — where select cast members offer rousing cabaret-style entertainment after Thursday evening performances on the Adams Memorial Theatre stage.

I shared with her that I’d been seated in the balcony close to quite a few teenagers, and that I’d spent part of the show scanning the theater for audience member reactions.

She was delighted to learn that young audience members reacted so favorably to the work. “That’s really where I started from,” she told me — referring to her approach to performing the role of Juliet. It’s her first season performing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

The youth in Iver’s Verona feel refreshingly young. “The boys acted like boys,” Lizabeth told me. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but there are other Shakespeare productions out there in which the young lovers and their kinsmen and companions feel stiff and stunted.

Matt Mueller (L) as Mercutio and Ben Jacoby as Tybalt in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Here, they feel impetuous, full of energy. They don’t just fall in love, they get lovesick. They don’t just walk the streets of Verona, they jump. They don’t just talk, they shout and laugh and boisterously bemoan their fate. They feel alive — which makes all that death feel all the more tragic.

The production opens with ringing bells, then drums. With pounding feet and the scuffle of sword-fighting — masterfully done here as expected. But there’s plenty of unexpected along the way too. The final moments of “Romeo and Juliet” are gripping — the stuff that gasps, and glorious theater, are made of.

Christian Barillas as Romeo (L) and Magan Wiles as Juliet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Despite the tragic storyline, Lizabeth and I agree that a single word best describes this production of “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s “playful.”

I so hope that Valley youth who are studying or performing the works of Shakespeare will come to Cedar City to see this production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The teens who turn their noses up at Shakespeare need to see it too.

For Shakespeare, and Ivers, understand the young among us better than most.

— Lynn

Coming up: Some serious comedy

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A city on the move

I enjoyed The Acting Company and Guthrie Theater production of Romeo and Juliet at the newly renovated Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix (Photo: Michal Daniel)

It’s been apparent for some time that Phoenix is a city on the move.

The single largest indicator is perhaps the light rail system that now takes arts patrons and professionals to and from their diverse destinations.

But I was reminded again of our ongoing cultural maturation during my first encounter with the newly renovated Herberger Theater Center — which now has a decidedly more cosmopolitan feel.

I was there Saturday afternoon to experience The Acting Company and Guthrie Theater production of “Romeo and Juliet,” presented by the Arizona Theatre Company.

A renovated plaza with a now generous rather than merely dotted distribution of statues conjures the image of an evolving city in motion.

These bronze dancers of various ages, body types and expressions remind me of how the city has grown since I came to Phoenix more than two decades ago.

Herberger Theater Center — now complete with an illuminated metal and glass art piece passing through the inner circle of the second story that houses the Herberger Art Gallery and the swanky Bob’s Spot fit for apres-show coffee and cocktails — is a place you want to sit, or stroll through, and stay awhile.

It’s no longer one of many venues that locals and tourists rush in to and out of amidst mad parking garage skirmishes. The new black, red and white scheme has true elegance, with an easy yet sophisticated grace befitting the country’s fifth largest city.

Movement seemed the maxim of the day as I sat watching The Acting Company and Guthrie Theater perform “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Penny Metropulos (a bit more espresso and I’ll be making a Metropulos/metropolis connection).

Just across the way at Symphony Hall, Ballet Arizona is performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I expect exquisite movement with good dance performance. But this is the first time I’ve been struck by the sheer beauty of movement in a straight play.

There’s hardly a moment when bold movement isn’t launching the characters and story forward. Still, it enhances rather than distracts from the dialogue  — so perfectly played with during this romp through an early 20th century setting complete with newsboy caps and walking sticks.

I did some informal polling during intermission, starting with seven or so folks affiliated with Nearly Naked Theatre, which prides itself on producing “the Valley’s most challenging and provocative” work (“The Muckle Man” opened Saturday night in The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre).

Artistic Director Damon Dering agreed that the movement work and fight scenes in this production of “Romeo and Juliet” are exceptional — giving high praise as well for the caliber of acting.

There’s one spunky, saucy nurse at Juliet’s side — and roving men with a rioutous nature that rivals a modern-day frat party vibe. Elizabeth Grullon (Nurse) reminded me in many ways of the Valley’s own talented Maren Maclean. I was also struck by the at once affectionate and angry Friar Laurence (Ray Chapman).

Unlike some of the other productions I’ve seen, this performance left me mesmerized with more than the Romeo and Juliet coupling. There’s a single set (designed by UCSD alum Neil Patel, production designer for HBO’s “In Treatment”) that’s free of the distracting bells and whistles too prevalent in some other productions.

Truth be told, I had a pretty good ideas of what the Nearly Naked folks were likely to say. They sat one row behind me and delivered hearty laughs throughout the entire first act, which is every bit as comical in this production as the second act is, of necessity, dramatic.

I was thrilled to meet several students in the audience, including a delightful mother and her two children who graciously chatted with me about their experiences with homeschooling and the Valley arts scene — telling me about the Arizona Renaissance Commonwealth School.

I mentioned my recent tag-along tour of the Musical Instrument Museum’s education program, sharing how much I’d have enjoyed the MIM during my own days as a homeschooling parent.

I also shared a bit about the Southwest Shakespeare Company and an upcoming event to benefit their education programs.

I even managed a mention of Lizabeth’s earliest Shakespeare training, with Childsplay in Tempe, and her recent acting studies with Southern Utah University and the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Staci, who lives in the East Valley, spoke of enjoying the dinner theater experience and suggested I take in a show at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Mesa. I recall Lizabeth auditioning with them as a young child, but don’t get to return as often as I would like to.

Still, I love learning what fellow parents recommend — and hope the mom and daughter duo I met at the snack bar will call to tell me more about the Mesquite Junior High School English class currently studying “Romeo and Juliet.”

I hope the Mesa school knows about the extensive education offerings on the Arizona Theatre Company website, which include lessons plans, study guides and a great deal more.

Families or classes who miss this production of “Romeo and Juliet” in Phoenix will have another opportunity to see it during the Nov 11-14 Tucson run. 

Arizona arts and culture is indeed on the move, thanks in large measure to hometown and guest artists, arts advocates, and art aficionados who continue to strengthen and share the arts.

Keep making art, keep fighting for arts funding and keep voting with your feet by getting out there to enjoy Arizona’s diverse array of visual and performing arts. In reality, we don’t vote every two years.

We vote each day with our time and treasure. Thanks to the Herberger Theater Center and others for giving us ballot boxes of sorts that we can all be proud of in this city on the move.

— Lynn

Note:  Click here to learn more about Sunday’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet” as well as other works in the Arizona Theatre Company 2010-2011 season. And, because I’m both a proud stage mom and a proud social justice mom, you can click here to learn about a project my daughter Jennifer worked on as part of an ASU justice studies class.

Coming up: The week ahead in arts — featuring diverse art offerings coming to the Valley Monday through Sunday

Heads will roll

Southwest Shakespeare Company performs this world-premiere through Sept 25

Strangulations, decapitations and stabbings. Infidelity, revenge and betrayal.

It’s not another “reality television” series gone awry — but rather, the delicious adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy by Michael Flachmann, esteemed dramaturg of the Utah Shakespearean Festival since 1986.

Heads were rolling at the Mesa Arts Center on Friday as Lizabeth and I attended a world-premiere production of “Blood Royal,” directed by Jared Sakren, artistic director of the Southwest Shakespeare Company (also director and sound designer for this production).

“There are 27 moments of on-stage violence,” Sakren quipped during a cast/creative team “talkback” with audience members after Friday’s opening night performance. But who’s counting?

Apparently Sakren, whose research indicates that this is “four times what you get in Romeo and Juliet.” Sakren also notes that there are 45 major scenes — which explains the show’s length of more than three hours (there’s a single intermission). Still, there’s never a dull moment.

Cover art for the "Blood Royal" program depicts one of many fight scenes

Flachmann describes the work as “sprawling and episodic,” noting that 22 actors cover 76 roles (closer to 100 if you add in all those soldiers and such). It’s seamless from the audience perspective, but not so much for the cast and technical team backstage.

“My goal,” said one of the young male actors, “was to get into character, find a sword and get on stage without being impaled.” The piece features plenty of sword fights — something I imagine many boys would enjoy seeing, assuming mom and dad are okay with the play’s many depictions of death (including Joan of Arc being burned at the stake).

It seems a multitude of men wish to be king — a deadly desire that rarely ends well. All around them swirl a myriad of mischief-makers, from high-ranking religious figures to women with their own agendas.

Their sons, of course, fare no better fate. Two scenes we found particularly moving involved parents mourning their children’s demise. Randy Messersmith (co-founder of SSC) delivered a hard-driving performance as the Duke of York, a man made to mourn over the body of his murdered son before meeting his own violent end.

Lana Buss plays Margaret, who marries the way-beyond-wimpy King Henry VI (played by Larry Stone) for all the wrong reasons, and does justice to Shakespeare’s crafting of women as strong and smart — traits at once their gift and their undoing.

We also enjoyed the performances of Nicole Belit (Chorus/John (the son) Talbot/Monkfiend/Asnath/Ensemble) and Eric Schoen (Soldier/Suffolk/Ensemble), who launched his own theater company — Class 6 Theatre — just last year in the Valley.

As the proud mother of an SSC wench (Lizabeth recently entered the company’s “Wenches and Knaves” education program — which means I’ll soon be sewing Shakespearean garb), I was delighted to see several young cast members.

Ryan Janko (Soldier/Ensemble/Prince Edward) is a college freshman from Gilbert appearing in his fourth SSC production. Ezekiel Hill (Soldier/Aldecon/Lord/Murderer/Norfolk/Cade/Ensemble) is a 19-year-old student at Mesa Community College recently seen as “The Beast” in an East Valley Children’s Theatre production of “The Enchantment of Beauty and the Beast.”

The youngest cast member is Tristan Foster (Edmund (Rutland)/Soldier/Ensemble), a 16-year-old making his professional acting debut in “Blood Royal.” Foster competes and performs with the Mesa Caledonian Pipe Band (a haunting bagpipe tune opens the show), and admits to  playing video games and annoying his younger siblings on occasion.

The SSC season brochure pays homage to "More Than Kin...Less Than Kind"

So how do you take three historical Shakespeare works and turn them into a single production both clear and compelling? Flachmann explained his process during the talkback: “I took out what I didn’t like and this is what was left.” Editing for the stage — now I get it.

But what’s the relevance for today’s audiences? Sakren’s “Director’s Notes” for the program share the George Santayana quote made famous by Winston Churchill: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“The technology has changed,” writes Sakren, “but not the essential nature of man, or his politics.”

–Lynn

Note: Visit the Southwest Shakespeare Company online to learn more about this season’s offerings (“Blood Royal” runs through Sept 25) and special opportunities including “Flachmann Seminars” with Michael Flachmann. Click here to learn about “Knave” opportunities for boys.

Coming up: Phoenix Symphony for families and educators, Community college art offerings

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.

–Lynn

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.

Scottish night or Irish night?

Lizabeth rocking her Childsplay t-shirt at The Greenshow

I faced plenty of tough decisions during a recent trip to enjoy the Utah Shakespearean Festival with my daughter Lizabeth.

Khakis or denim? Apple tart or summerberry tart? Scottish night or Irish night?

Every Monday through Saturday evening at 7pm, festival patrons can enjoy “The Greenshow”–featuring “the spirited song, dance and costumes of Shakespeare’s day.” The event is free and fun for all ages.

Festival fare features folk music and dance

The Greenshow sets the mood for evening performances at the Adams Shakespearean Theatre with storytelling, juggling, fiddling and comedic fare on the green and courtyard area surrounding the spectacular outdoor performance venue.

Lizabeth and I went nearly every night we were there and enjoyed the alternating “Scottish” and “Irish” themes–as well as Elizabethan sweets and treats (and my nightly double espresso on the rocks).

The Greenshow cast consists of several young actors–many of whom are B.F.A. candidates in the musical theatre program at Southern Utah University (site of the annual festival).

Carter (Ratsby) & Adams (Scum) earn every laugh

Performers Payden L. Adams and Tony Carter routinely steal the show with their “Scum & Ratsby” back-and-forth of jokes, jabs and jest.

Other highlights include traditional Scottish and Irish dance, fiddle and song–even music ala the washboard.

Another crowd favorite is The Greenshow trivia quiz–during which young attendees are invited to raise a hand if they’d like to come on stage and answer a question for the cast.

A future performer at The Greenshow, perhaps?

Cast members choose a child to join them for a simple trivia question. The nights we attended it went something like this…

Q: How many tamborines did the four girls use during the show?
A: Four (four tamborines hang within feet of the cast at this point)

Q: What’s your favorite food here at the Festival?
A: Suckers

The Greenshow features guitar, fiddle, washboard & more

Winners–which include every child who participates (there’s just a single player each evening)–have their photo taken with the cast (then sent via e-mail to the proud parents).

One night we were delighted to see a little girl from Tucson join the cast onstage (though the photo above is of another lovely participant who stole the spotlight the one evening I had my camera in tow).

The Greenshow is but one of many activities above and beyond the rich assortment of Shakespearean works you can enjoy at the festival–which also include backstage tours, repertory magic, literary seminars, production seminars, play orientations, curtain call lunches and more.

Scottish night at The Greenshow

Other festival and area events include a cabaret featuring festival performers, exhibits at the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, The Wooden O Symposium, the Cedar City Fall Arts Festival and the Shakespeare Competition (also affiliated with Southern Utah University).

I wasn’t able to photograph every activity we enjoyed, which will likely come as a relief to both festival cast members and the talented creative and technical team members it takes to make all this Shakespeare seem so seamless.

To learn more, or enjoy festival pictures from the pros, visit the Utah Shakespearean Festival online. Better yet, jump in the car and head to Cedar City for a one-of-a-kind family-friendly vacation.

–Lynn

"Blood Royal" performed by the Southwest Shakespeare Company opens Sept 9th at Mesa Center for the Arts

Note: Arizona’s own Southwest Shakespeare Company, one of several resident companies at Mesa Arts Center, opens their 2010-2011 season on Sept 9 with “Blood Royal”–an original adapatation of William Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy by Michael Flachmann. The work, directed by Jared Sakren, runs through Sept 25 in MAC’s Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse Theatre. Details/tickets at www.swshakespeare.org. Learn more about The Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix at www.azirish.org and The Caledonian Society of Arizona in Scottsdale at www.arizonascots.com.

Coming up: Beyond crayons and classrooms, Musings on museums and Mountain Dew, Dancing with vampires and sugar plum fairies, Arizona’s own festivals featuring Scottish and Irish fare

What’s your sign?

My son Christopher is the better photographer by far, but he was kind enough to suggest I take one of his cameras along when I went to visit Lizabeth between acting camp sessions at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City last month.

I discovered while reviewing my photos that I apparently have a thing for signs–signs describing statues, signs adorning storefronts and more. So here’s a brief tour of Cedar City and Utah Shakespearean Festival highlights ala signage…

Bench near statue of festival founder Fred C. Adams
An early version of the GPS, perhaps?
Signage for King Lear statue near the Randall L. Jones Theatre
Welcome sign featuring 2010 festival dates

Show banners line walls near the festival box office

Utah's first "dry" Irish pub--with the yummiest chocolate cake in town

Home of the festival Cabaret, local artwork and a mean espresso

Home of some serious vinyl and cozy spot for live local music

One of many funky shops we enjoyed during a rainstorm

Donation can at Braun bookstore--which features an eclectic collection of titles

One of several festival flags lining a walkway at SUU

Sign noting the festival's daily offerings

Poster for one of many art exhibits in the area

List of shows you can enjoy at the festival this year

A sneak peek of festival shows coming next season

Fabulous place to find gifts for teachers, children, friends and self

My new favorite vacation destination

Essential sign for those of us with poor mapping skills

True, a slideshow of mother/daughter time in Utah might have been more interesting–but what teen really wants to see her face plastered all over her mother’s blog?

Instead I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the many fun options for enjoying art, music, Shakespeare and more in charming Cedar City.

Technically, my sign is Scorpio (no great surprise to those who know me well)–but I prefer to think of myself as a “Shakes.”

–Lynn

My new favorite movie

I hit the local movie theater with Lizabeth while we were in Cedar City, Utah for the Shakespearean festival last week, and came away with a surpising new favorite.

I tend to favor foreign and independent fare, so my embrace of such a popular flick took me a bit by surprise.

I’ve never had a single all-time favorite–just films that leave their mark in particular ways. In the underdog category there’s “Precious” and “The Soloist.” In the men who don women’s wigs category there’s “Tootsie” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Often I’m drawn to movies about parents whose children face health-related challenges–such as “Lorenzo’s Oil” or “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Or to movies about young people struggling to overcome obstacles, like “Good Will Hunting” or “Music of the Heart.”

On my short “I could watch it a million times list” there’s “Fatal Attraction,” largely because I am so intrigued by the use of light and color. I’m equally intrigued by the erotic drama “Unfaithful,” also directed by Adriane Lyne.

Sometimes it’s the performance of a single actor that makes or breaks a film. Among more popular fare, my favorite individual performances include Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman,” John Travolta in “Phenomenon” and Amy Adams in “Enchanted” (which might top my list of overall favorites were it not for the whole future mother-in-law turns dragon scene).

Often it’s the image of a strong woman protecting herself or those she loves that catches my interest–as in “An Eye for an Eye” with Sally Fields or “The Brave One” with Jodie Foster.

But the first “feel good” film I’ve really enjoyed in a long time is the recent release titled “Ramona and Beezus”–based on the popular book series by Beverly Cleary that includes “Beezus and Ramona.”

Ramona is the little sister, but she has a big imagination that’s the source of endless adventures for the fictional Quimby family.

“Ramona and Beezus” is all about love. Love of home and family. Young love. Mature love. Lost love. Found love. Hesitant love and whole-hog love.

It’s well-written, well-acted and utterly charming in every way. Funny but not frivolous. Moving but not maudlin.

And it’s proof positive for young viewers that seemingly tyranical teachers can be tender, that financial worries needn’t dash a family’s wonderment.

Lizabeth and I both left the theater teary-eyed, and she’s eager to see the film again with her dad since it also features a glorious glimpse into the special bond between father and daughter.

Next on our movie outing list is “Charlie St. Cloud,” because we’ve both been impressed by what we’ve seen of Zac Efron’s acting chops and insights he’s exhibited during various interviews and public appearances.

In another year, Lizabeth will be off to college–so our movie together time will be harder to find.

On the other hand, I’ll get to catch up on all those movies I’ve missed through the years.

Any suggestions on good films to begin with?

–Lynn

Note: Posters pictured here are available online at www.movieposters.com (except for the “Ramona and Beezus” poster I found at the www.amazon.com website)

Coming up: Photos from “Stage Mom” travels to Cedar City, the Utah Shakespearean Festival and Southern Utah University

Update: I discovered while researching the history of holidays on the History Channel website today that Aug. 4th is the date on which Anne Frank and her family were captured while hiding from Nazis–to learn more, click here.