Tag Archives: Vampire Tales

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.

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From vampires to toy soldiers

I’ve enjoyed many a backstage moment at Symphony Hall helping young dancers prepare to take the stage for Ballet Arizona’s “The Nutcracker”–placing round red stickers on toy soldier faces, tying bows on the backs of party girl dresses, pinning all sorts of headgear in place.

I suspect it’ll be a very different scene backstage before Lisa Starry’s “A Vampire Tale,” which opens its 7th annual production October 13 at Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre (adjacent to the Phoenix Art Museum). Red, indeed. Headgear, perhaps. And fangs?

I can’t say because I’ve never been clever enought to snag tickets before they sell out. Mark your calendar for Sept 1 and you can learn from my mistakes.

Also note the dates Sept 22-26, which is when Ballet Arizona presents another annual dance tradition–their free, outdoor performances of “Ballet Under the Stars.” They’ll perform at four parks Valleywide, which many families enjoy ala picnics and beach blankets.

Next up in annual dance delights is the “Arizona Dance Festival,” being presented by Desert Dance Theatre Oct 7-9 at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Young performers and their parents may want to note dance audition dates for upcoming productions of “The Nutcracker.”

Scene from Ballet Etudes' "The Nutcracker"

Ballet Etudes children’s auditions (ages 7-18) will be held in Gilbert on Saturday, Sept 9. Their production of “The Nutcracker” features a cast of more than 100, and is performed over the course of three weeks at both Chandler Center for the Arts and Mesa Arts Center.

Ballet Arizona children’s auditions for “The Nutcracker” take place the following day, Sunday, Sept 12 at their studios in Phoenix. They perform the state’s only professional production of “The Nutcracker”–which runs Dec 10-26 this year at Symphony Hall in Phoenix.

Be sure to check websites carefully for age, height, skill level and other requirements–and remember all those cardinal rules of auditioning such as being well rested, taking plenty of water and arriving early to register and warm up.

I’ve also enjoyed “stage mom” time behind the scenes with “The Snow Queen,” performed annually at the Herberger Theater Center (which will celebrate a glorious renovation with an Oct 1 grand reopening event).

Snow Queen is presented by Center Dance Ensemble, resident modern dance company of the Herberger Theater Center–and runs Dec 4-19 this year.

Scene from Center Dance Ensemble's "Snow Queen"

Snow Queen auditions take place Sunday, Sept 26, at the Dance Theater West studios in Phoenix, and are open to dancers ages 7-17 with a minimum of two years dance experience.

This next annual dance event is a ways off yet, but it’s worth marking your calendar now…

It’s the Arizona State University “2011 Dance Annual,” which is just one of many dance events presented each year by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts School of Dance.

Radio City Rockettes

Finally, don’t forget your tickets to see the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes” Dec 1 and 2 at Glendale’s Jobing.com arena.

For a sneak peek, and a chance to win a free ticket voucher, join talented hometown dancers with the Rockettes as they lead the Phoenix leg (tee hee) of a nationwide “Kicking Across America” event tomorrow (Thursday, Aug 12) at 11am at Scottsdale Fashion Square.

Stay tuned for news of other exciting dance performances coming to the Valley–including the Merce Cunningham Dance Company “Legacy Tour” coming next year to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts–as well as a wealth of offerings from our many local dance companies and college dance programs.

–Lynn

Note: After writing this post, I received an alert about the “first annual” production of “The Nutcracker” being presented by Ballet Academy of Arizona and Theater Works at the Peoria Center for the Arts. Visit www.balletacademyofarizona.org to learn about performance dates/times and how your child can participate.

Coming up: Musings on museums and Mountain Dew, Conversations with Radio City Rockettes, Season openers for Valley theaters, The amazing travels of “Curious George,” Broadway musings from a Phoenix Theatre pro

More than candy and costumes…

For the first time in a long time, I won’t be up most of the night sewing Halloween costumes. I’ve done the bumble bee and the spider. I’ve done the fairy and the princess. I’ve done everything from the 1920s flapper to the phlebotomist. Yup. You read that right.

I’m looking for other memorable moments, which is why I turned to the magazine’s October calendar of events (something I’ve counted on for nearly 20 years now). It features several Halloween happenings that involve the arts. Many are annual events that our family has enjoyed together for years—and some are newer finds.

Consider celebrating Halloween this year with some together time that’s a bit out of the ordinary. Here are some fun options…

• The Phantom of the Opera. Wear your mask or costume for the Halloween show and you may save some money on tickets. Visit www.asugammage.com for details.

• Little Bunny Halloween. Enjoy a puppet show with your wee one/s. Visit www.azpuppets.org for details.

• A Vampire Tale. Indulge in a bold and haunting dance performance (ages 13 +). Visit www.scorpiusdance.org for details.

• Night of the Living Dead. Experience a harrowing tale live theater style. Visit www.theaterworks.org for details.

• Trick or Treat with the Symphony. Take in a themed symphony performance complete with costume contest. Visit www.phoenixsymphony.org for details.

• Halloween LIT III. Hear spooky stories perfect for a grown-up night out. Visit www.chyro.org to learn more. (This is a one night only event at a cozy, offbeat venue so contact them ASAP before they sell out).

If you’re trick-or-treating with the kids, consider making it about more than candy and costumes. Our kids started trick-or-treating for UNICEF during grade school at Desert View Learning Center and always enjoyed knowing their night of fun might ease a night of suffering for a child somewhere else in the world.

The program began in 1950 when Philadelphia school children raised just $17 for fellow youth in other countries. (This year kids have an extra incentive—it’s a cool thing to do, according to program spokesperson and teen star Selena Gomez!)

The program allows kids to collect donations for UNICEF in lieu of candy using a fun and festive collection box available at participating Hallmark Gold Crown stores, Pier 1 Imports and Baskin Robbins (or homemade materials available online). Funds help provide water, education and medicine to children in need around the globe. (Learn more at www.unicefusa.org, which features information for kids, parents and teachers.)

The day after Halloween is just as much fun around our house. My husband James has yet to outgrow trolling for half-price candy, although the kids are a bit too old now for my favorite ritual. Perhaps you can carry on in my stead. For many years, I took advantage of day-after-Halloween sales to stock up on clothes and accessories for my children’s costume trunk.

For years, the girls and their friends used the contents—a myriad of hats, gloves, shoes, necklaces, feather boas, gowns, animal masks and more—to put on impromptu plays, puppet shows and musical or dance productions (which might explain why we were always a Nintendo-free family). Ask any child development expert and they’ll tell you just how critical pretend play can be for developing and enhancing social skills.

Halloween is a great excuse for that little bit of performer in each of us to seek the spotlight. Have fun shining your light!

Lynn

Note: For additional Halloween events throughout the Valley and state, see our online calendar at www.raisingarizonakids.com. For information on upcoming winter holiday events, stay tuned online or subscribe to the magazine so you’ll have a print copy of the calendar you can stash in your tote bag or glove compartment!

Coming soon: As President Obama signs new hate crimes legislation, a look at The Laramie Project, and the ways theater helps us explore social justice issues–plus thoughts from Valley students who took part in a Laramie Project workshop this weekend with the Tectonic Theater Project at Phoenix Theatre. Also, reflections from people who participated on October 12th in The Laramie Project: Eplilogue.