Monday, November 12, 2012

LOFT FILM FESTIVAL:3 FILMMAKERS HERE TODAY

November 11, 2012

By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com

 

 

The Loft Film Festival picks up speed on a sunny Sunday with Roger Corman’s classic adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” at 11 a.m.. Or pick the noontime screening of an update from another literary favorite, Emily Bronte’s 1847 best-seller, “Wuthering Heights”  with Heathcliff  (James Howson) now a truly dark-skinned outsider.

A documentary of women who play jazz is set for 1:15 p.m., with director Judy Chaiken on hand to introduce “The Girls in the Band.” The difficulties faced by these female swingers from the 1930s and 1940s are detailed, and connected to the women bandleaders and jazz stars of today.

Then at 2:45 p.m. Oscar-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy (“The Garden”)  takes the stage to introduce his new documentary “Fame High” about the Los Angeles County School for the Arts, just like the one in Manhattan, only with a west coast attitude.

Following the startling Cannes fest flick “Holy Motors” at 4 p.m. and The International Short Film Showcase at 5 p.m., one of Tucson’s favorite quirky directors -- Don Coscarelli of
“Bubba Ho-Tep” fame – is in the house at 7 p.m. to introduce histrippy new horror/sci-fi satire “John Dies at the End.”

But wait…there’s still more. At 7:45 p.m.  Surreal avant garde photographer Gregory Crewdson’s obsession with the dark side of American suburban life gets deeply detailed by filmmaker Ben Shapiro, with complete access  from 2005-2009 as Crewdson created the elaborate settings that became his photo series “Beneath the Roses.”

The Loft Film Festival runs through Nov. 15. For complete details and ticket prices, www.loftfilmfest.com

 

 

 

THIRD ANNUAL LOFT FILM FESTIVAL BEGINS NOW!

Novemver 8, 2012

By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com

 

 

Inspired by film’s unique ability to entertain, engage, challenge and illuminate, The Loft Cinema will present its third annual festival celebrating independent filmmakers and their work, Thursday, Nov. 8, to Thursday, Nov. 15.

Already the Loft Film Festival is known in cinema circles as a thinking person’s film festival. A place to find exceptional offerings that don’t feed on zombies or vampires, seat-rattling pyrotechnics or bone-jarring car crashes (though there are some, if you know where to look).

But never utter the word “stuffy” around the Loft. We’re talking about the kind of thinking that’s fun -- when filmmakers flaunt their independence.

First film out of the box is from Denmark, “A Royal Affair,” screening Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Described as “sumptuous and enthralling” it depicts “a gripping chapter of history recounted with elegance and intelligence.” It also has “a lusty heart” filled with illitic love and political intrigue based on actual Danish history.

An event worth telling your grandchildren about follows on Friday -- attending the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, when an auspicious number of local dignitaries will gather to snip the tape and get an official look at the Loft’s new third screen, in the building next door where that muffler shop used to be.

A free champagne toast and tour will follow. You can be the first person to sink into one of those new and luxurious seats (with cup holders).

Hey, this new third screen is even equipped with 3-D projection technology, for those times when you really need it.

Also free in the Loft’s adjacent  “party tent” at 6  p.m in the parking lot is the modestly titled “The Roger Corman Movie Trailer Extravaganza.” Yep, just like it sounds, this is a string of money shots from the complete body of work created by this box office bad boy who never let good taste get in the way of a good time.

Then on Saturday at 7 p.m. Roger Corman himself, in person, will take the stage to talk about his life as “the King of the B’s.” Corman will here Sunday, as well, for the total tribute due the man who will receive the 2012 Lofty Achievement Award,  nearly 60 years after his first foray into filmmaking.

Back on Friday night at 7 p.m., in the big house on the big screen, the Lee Marvin Maverick Award will be awarded to the barrier-breaking Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, followed by the screening of startling new release, “Post Tenebras Lux.” Reygadas will answer audience questions afterward.

Many more festival highlights will follow, both cinematic and ceremonial, in the rest of the fest.
In other words…the Loft Film Festival is an eight-day celebration of movies for intellectually restless people who need to look beyond the obvious, beneath the surface and through the looking glass.

A world-class film festival infused with that unique flavor the Loft Cinema brings to Tucson movie-lovers year round.

The festival planners also believe it’s important to honor Tucson’s richly diverse cultural community, so the program includes foreign films, documentaries and truly independent U.S. entries for a full-spectrum cinematic celebration of storytelling from around the world. Included are:

  • Festival favorites from Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, and more!
  • Lively Q&A’s with talented filmmakers and actors
  • Exciting retrospective screenings
  • New international cinema
  • Edgy Late Night movies
  • Stimulating shorts from the filmmakers of tomorrow
  •  

For all the details, visit www.loftfilmfest.com

 

 

 

Friday, November 9, 2012

A HAUNTED "NIGHT HERON"

Can a play be both meaningful and absurd, surreal and specific, all at the same time? English playwright Jezz Butterworth comes pretty close with “The Night Heron,” for which the Rogue Theatre Company has prepared an intensely excellent production.

 

To describe this play only in terms of its plot and characters seems rather demeaning. It is so much more. But more what? Ahhh, grasshopper, that is the question.

 

 

For “The Night Heron” uses rather dispirited characters to pose penetrating questions of religion and philosophy, deception and truth. As directed by Tucson newcomer Bryan Rafael Falcon, this story of hard scrabble survivors in England’s Fens district lives within the grip of the Church, but feeds on its own warped delusions of keeping the faith.

 

David Greenwood as Wattmore and Joseph McGrath as Griffin are the central figures, reluctant roommates in a rural hovel full of Christian iconography. The Fens area of northeastern England is described as a particularly beautiful countryside full of equally beautiful churches.

 

To me, a good comparison in atmosphere would be America’s Appalachia, rural and poor in money but rich in scenic beauty and overwhelmingly filled with the spirit of God and Christ. You can’t go anyplace in those hills without Jesus knowing about it.

 

Wattmore and Griffin also live near Cambridge University, where they have worked as gardeners – essential to the school but never really a part of it.

Their place in the village is rather tossed, what with poverty and all, but becomes even more complicated when they decide to take in a boarder, Bolla (Cynthia Meier). It’s a bit disconcerting when they discover Bolla has a manic side fierce enough to make them believe she might have a police record.

 

Also brewing is the dark work of Dougall (Christopher Johnson), said by the villagers to be gathering followers to his religious cult.

There’s a murder out on the fens as well, and sightings of a rare night heron blown off course. People are keeping such a tight eye on each other, what they do can often be more important than what you do.

 

For theatergoers determined to make sense of everything, and to find the logic behind every decision, “The Night Heron” could become annoyingly confusing. To the cast members credit, all find meaning in their individual roles.

So, sitting out in the audience it is better to just ride the story like a wave, lean into the action and keep shifting your intellectual weight to maintain a light-hearted balance. In the end you’ll be rewarded with a wild and crazy ride.

 

 

 

 

HAZARDOUS "JOURNEY TO THE WEST"

Early in the second act of Mary Zimmerman’s “Journey to the West” at the Rogue Theatre, one character says “This isn’t a journey for everybody,” and laughter ripples across the audience. But this isn’t a punch line.

 

The statement strikes home because “Journey to the West” is not a journey for everyone, either. Running nearly three hours, containing little story beyond  three main characters meeting all sorts of difficulties on their travels across China to India in search of original sacred Buddhist texts, Rogue’s  beautifully conceived production has little intellectual substance in the dialogue to sustain interest in the characters.

 

 

A different journey from Rogue last season, William Faulkner‘s “As I Lay Dying,” also took place mostly on the road. It was filled with emotion. This play has nothing in common with that play.

 

Wikipedia tells us “’Journey to the West’ is one of theFour Great Classical Novels ofChinese literature.” Apparently something was lost in Zimmerman’s translation. Or maybe it takes a bit of appreciation for China’s cultural history. The first accounting of this expedition comes from the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century.

 

There are bits of Buddhist teaching scattered through the story, as well as a brief period of silence at the end. To practicing Buddhists, silence has substance. It is far more than empty space. But sitting in the Rogue’s own theater space, silence is silence, American style.

 

Although the cast numbers 14, only Patty Gallagher gets to concentrate on one role. All the rest have a variety of parts to play. The best news is that Gallagher as the spirited Monkey King gets a lot of stage time to fill her role with colorful personality and physical vigor.

 

Christopher Johnson has an adventurer’s presence as Tripitaka, the one leading this quest for wisdom. Adding more talent is Matt Bowdren as Pig. It is Tripitaka, Pig and Monkey who share the responsibility of being the protagonist.  

 

Rogue regulars will be happy to know the rest of the cast is equally strong. They are: Jill Baker, Dani Dryer, Marissa Garcia, David Greenwood, Angela Horchem, Ryan Parker Knox, Joseph McGrath, David Morden, Lee Rayment, Dallas Thomas and Matt Walley.

 

There is no shortage of talent in this list. Cynthia Meier is their director. The sumptuous costumes and masks were a group effort. Jenna Johnson is credited with the elaborate headdresses, Matt Cotton the Dragon King mask.

 

“Journey to the West” continues through Sept. 23 at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays (Saturday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m.), Sundays, 2 p.m.   Tickets are $20 Thursdays, $30 Fridays-Sundays. Student rush 15 minutes before each curtain $15 (with ID). For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visitwww.theroguetheatre.org  

 

 

 

 

 

"THE WINTER'S TALE" OF TWO STORIES

If all’s well that ends well, then everything’s wonderful in the part of Shakespeare’s world that we can see from the Rogue Theatre, where a cast of 18 is presenting “The Winter’s Tale” with an exceptionally entertaining Act Two following intermission.

 

This play, we remember, has a serious opening act full of hand- wringing jealousy because good King Leontes of Sicilia (Joseph McGrath) believes his pregnant wife Hermione (Avis Judd) has been unfaithful with his good buddy King Polixenes of Bohemia (David Morden). 

Among royal families back in the Middle Ages this was considered a very serious offense. Leontes in a frothing fit plans to poison Polixenes and have Hermione thrown into prison.

Subsequently, Hermione’s newborn baby daughter also is left in an unknown desolate spot. Too late, Leontes discovers Hermione was never unfaithful. He also learns Hermione has died of grief.

And, yes, this is the same act where a giant bear makes its entrance during the desperate search for Hermione’s daughter. 

During intermission 16 years have passed, which are represented by a small chorus that includes a song and an angel holding an hourglass. Time is definitely not on the side of King Leontes.

But in that jubilant second act all the good stuff kicks in – led by Patty Gallagher’s delightful turn as the combination jester and con man Autolycus.

Adding more humor of a different sort are the dour Shepherd (David Greenwood) and a status-seeking Clown (Matt Walley).

Co-music directors Dawn C. Sellers and Paul Amiel have researched and created ample period music that fits beautifully to the song poems performed by Autolycus, while accompanying herself like a rock star on a mock instrument resembling a one-string banjo.

Still more joy comes from the social and ceremonial dances choreographed by John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow. You can pretty much think of Act Two as Shakespearean musical theater.

King Polixenes is the dominant ruler in this section of “The Winter’s Tale,” wandering aimlessly with Camillo (Steve McKee), who was once an advisor to Leontes but now serves Polixenes.

In due course, we also meet young Prince Florizel (Julian Martinez), who has taken a liking to the native girl Perdita (Dallas Thomas), an adopted daughter of the Shepherd.

Thomas in this smallish but critical role is brilliant in capturing the essence of an innocent young woman with royalty in her blood. Even if Shakespeare’s lines are complicated, Perdita’s intent is always quite clear. She is endlessly charming.

Essentially, “The Winter’s Tale” directed by Cynthia Meier delivers two short and very different plays. The domestic tragedy of Act One is followed by an absolutely winning second act that does indeed end quite well.

“The Winter’s Tale” continues through May 13 in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Musical preshow 15 minutes before each performance. The May 3 performance is sold out.

Tickets are $30, with half-price student rush (when available, with valid student ID) always 15 minutes before curtain. All tickets half-price on May 10. For details, 520-551-2053. To purchase tickets online, www.theroguetheatre.

 

GRIPPING THEATER FILLS "NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM"

By Chuck Graham

TucsonStage.com

There’s more than a bit of the madhouse in Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s “The New Electric Ballroom” now at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd.

There’s more than a bit of the madness metaphor, as well, among a choked family of three helpless sisters who keep talking about the past as a desperate attempt to keep themselves alive in the present – and to keep themselves distracted from admitting they don’t have any future.

Yes, there is an oppressive bleakness here. But there is also humor, and an emotional evening of intense performances by Cynthia Meier, Cynthia Jeffery, Laura Lippman and Joseph McGrath. This is meaningful theater, to be sure -- which isn’t anything like TV…and neither is “The New Electric Ballroom,” directed by Bryan Rafael Falcon.

 

Jeffery as Breda, the dominant sister, begins the play by giving a long speech with her back to the audience. When she finally turns around, there is a large scrawl of lipstick across her mouth. This is only the first of many indicators something is not quite right in this isolated little seacoast cottage.

Walsh has structured this “Ballroom” with very little direct dialogue. Each sister, by turn, makes a long speech about her troubled thoughts. These are occasionally interrupted by Patsy (McGrath), an equally daft fish monger who keeps coming to the door with a tray of three very nice looking fish.

Patsy is always roundly ignored by the three women. But after awhile it seems like Patsy might be interested in Ada (Lippman), youngest of the siblings. Only, all of Ada’s loyalties are already attached to her sisters. There is no room for Patsy in her cloistered life.

In between Breda and Ada chronologically is Clara (Meier), who seems sweet most of the time. Then just when you think she might be the hope of this desolate little group, Clara takes a rapid dive into profanity without any provocation.

The arc of “Ballroom” curves across the memories of Breda and Clara who, several decades earlier, were virginal teens attending a town dance,  yearning for love and their fulfillment as grown women.

First Clara, then Breda, tell their stories with unhappy endings, hoping to warn Ada that any attempt at happiness will only lead to heartbreak. Ada becomes a willing audience, always encouraging her sisters to continue their stories once again.

Patsy becomes the X-factor, when he unexpectedly gets involved as a part of this sad charade. In a brilliant stroke of playwriting, Walsh has Patsy find the courage to speak his heart and his feelings for Ada while singing a rock ‘n’ roll song from the 1950s.

Any devoted reader of Rolling Stone magazine knows exactly what to expect. Only…this isn’t what Walsh has in mind.

“The New Electric Ballroom” is filled with the plain-spoken lyricism we would expect from the Irish tradition.

“My throat is jammed with butterflies,” says Clara, recalling that night at the dance. There are many such images that give the production its own internal liveliness.

The language of the play, coupled with the intensity of the performers, creates a heart-binding theater experience of poignant sympathies laced with Walsh’s own black sense of humor. For continuing to build the Rogue Theatre’s already-awesome reputation, “The New Electric Ballroom” is another fine and sturdy brick.

Performances continue through March 11 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. A 15-minute pre-show of music is offered before every performance. All tickets are $30. March 1 and March 8 all tickets are $15. For details and reservations, 551-2053, or visit www.theroguetheatre.org

 

 

GET CARRIED AWAY IN"SHIPWRECKED!"

by Chuck Graham,

TucsonStage.com

Feel like a kid again, sitting cross-legged on the floor listening to a colorful storyteller take you away with animated accounts of 19th century sailing ships on stormy seas full of giant sea monsters, alluring native islanders and oysters full of pearls.

That’s the promise of the Rogue Theatre in its newest production “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself).”

And tell them he does. David Morden, tall and broad shouldered, is completely believable as Rougemont the self-seduced describer who so vividly believes in his own fantastic fables.

 

The play does have a contemporary playwright, Pulitzer Prize-winning Donald Margulies (“Dinner with Friends”), who must have been delighted to be capturing such old-fashioned joy stimulating one’s most playful imagination.

Cynthia Meier directs this production with fun and flair. It is impossible not to be drawn into the make-believe of sound effects created by wind machines and thunder sheets, along with all manner of clacking, cracking, bonging and banging provided by Angela Dawnielle Horchem, Dawn C. Sellers and Matt Walley while actors Patty Gallagher and Joseph McGrath play a variety of costumed roles to complement Rougemont’s autobiographical adventures.

We are told Louis de Rougemont was a real person of rock star proportions in Victorian England, receiving a medal of honor from Queen Victoria herself. But when cynical scientists began questioning the veracity of Rougemont’s fanciful rambling, his fame collapsed.

We in the audience are left to decide among ourselves whether this daring explorer of such dashing mien was a man of winning ambition pulled down by the jealousy of his peers, or just another blowhard willing to lie a lot to keep the public’s attention.

Well, the play is called “An Entertainment” after all and that is exactly what we get – truth be damned. Morden delivers an amazing performance. His role is practically a 90-minute monologue enhanced by occasional commentary and those wonderful sound effects.

On opening night everyone was talking about McGrath’s impersonation of Rougemont’s faithful dog Bruno. Clearly, McGrath spent considerable time observing large canines at the dog park. He’s also effective in a brief appearance as Queen Victoria.

Gallagher powers through all of her roles, including that of a hard-drinking sea captain, with boundless energy and a twinkling eye. Watching her is like following that bouncing ball.

At the Rogue Theatre it is traditional to precede each performance with 15 minutes of music connected in some way to the play being staged. For “Shipwrecked” the full cast presents vocal renditions of Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” the tale of “The Owl and the Pussycat” and a dramatic presentation of “On the Road to Mandalay.” This is not to be missed.

“Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)” continues through Jan.22 in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Tickets are $30, with several discounts; half-price nights Jan. 12 and 19. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visitwww.theroguetheatre.org

 

 

 

"AS I LAY DYING" IS VIVIDLYALIVE

The language is the star in the Rogue Theatre production of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” Coupled with a uniformly strong cast of actors and some imaginative staging by director Joseph McGrath, we get a dramatization of the famous novel that’s both powerful and poignant.

From the first scene the theater is filled with raw emotions wrung from desperate lives. The words delivered with southern accents quickly draw us into the deep Mississippi poverty of the rural Bundren family struggling against themselves and their culture to just do the right thing for once.

 

The year is 1927 as the Bundrens must begin stretching their luck some 40 miles across Yoknapatawpha County to bury Addie (Cynthia Meier), the family matriarch, in the town of Jefferson where she was born.

That was always Addie’s wish. Her husband Anse Bundren (David Greenwood) is determined that wish be fulfilled.

Not that there is anything particularly noble about this family. As we listen, we eventually learn Anse’s determination to reach Jefferson with Addie’s body decomposing in her homemade coffin mostly comes from needing to clear his conscience of a miserable marriage.

In their life together, Addie wasn’t too happy, either. The times were harsh. The social customs were rigid. No one strayed too far from the straight and narrow without suffering for it. Her affair with the church minister brought some comfort, but also some unfortunate consequences.

Their troubled family of five children includes three grown sons –the strong-willed and ever-angry Jewel (Christopher Johnson), often laughing and a bit psychotic Darl (Matt Bowdren), serious natured Cash (Matt Walley) – plus a younger son Vardaman (Andrew Garrett) who seems a little slow, and the equally adolescent Dewey Dell (Dylan Page), who is most definitely pregnant without benefit of marriage.

It is up to family friend Cora Tull (Leanne Whitewolf Charlton) as the God-fearing Christian woman to keep reminding everyone how important it is to suffer as much as possible now in order to assure themselves a higher place in Heaven.

Working from a script adapted by Annette Martin when she was a Distinguished Professor of Performance Studies at Eastern Michigan University, McGrath as director has chosen an essentially bare black stage to become his canvas of theatrical emotions.

With the audience seated equally on both sides of his performance space, there is a wide platform at one end and a narrower platform at the other. Vivid descriptions in expressive monologues provide all the scenery and props. Hidden behind a scrim, a string band plays music and provides sound effects.

The story begins with Addie dying in bed as her son Cash lovingly builds her coffin just outside Addie’s bedroom window so she can watch. As we meet the other family members Addie passes away, the casket is loaded onto the family’s rickety wagon and the journey begins.

Immediately they run into trouble as a storm washes out the only bridge across a river, so they try to ford the rushing waters. This is a total disaster for the harried Bundrens but a fine dramatic scene for the audience.

We can see, hear and feel the tumult, thanks in large part to some massively muscular acting by Johnson as Jewel turns his anger into defiance of the swollen river, the weak wagon and the heavy coffin that comes loose in the water.

Further misadventures give each cast member an opportunity center stage in this ensemble performance. While Jewel has the dominant personality, each of the family members contributes mightily. Even Addie, though she has died, returns in a flashback scene to become the solid figure which held this lost family together.

“As I Lay Dying” continues in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 20 at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Tickets are $30; $15 on Half-Price Thursdays Nov. 10 and 17, and during student rush 15 minutes before each curtain. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.theroguetheatre.org

 

 

 

"MAJOR BARBARA"IS MAJOR THEATRE

We can watch any of Shakespeare’s plays and be reminded that human beings have not changed much in the last several hundred years.  We can watch the Rogue Theatre production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” and begin to get some sense of the wreckage that has been wrought by the culture wars currently under way for nearly 50 years.

The brilliance of Shaw’s polemical play is that both liberals and conservatives can watch and nod with approval. They won’t be nodding at the same time, but all sides can go home believing “That guy Shaw had some good ideas.”

“Major Barbara,” which premiered in 1905, is filled with serious commentary about capitalist economics, the entrenched religious leaders and their political agendas, the plight of workers, conflict between the sexes, pointlessness worrying about one’s soul and the conviction that what really matters in life is who dies with the most toys.

It would be fascinating to hear Shaw’s comments about today’s muddled society of blurred identities, hedging personalities and gridlocked ideology. Having the chance to read his essay on the bogus value of political correctness alone would be worth calling him back from the dead.

 

Rogue Theatre has solidly defined itself as Tucson’s theater for the thinking person. The company is to be commended for wanting to produce “Major Barbara,” a piece of theater specifically for those inclined to be concerned about the future of the civilized world. This is no comic entertainment for a light night on the town.

While there is humor in Shaw's snide sniping at the self-righteous, for example, and the insistence that educated men need to be fluent in Greek, most of the jokes come from situations rather than one-liners in the George Carlin tradition.

David Morden as director has prepared a clear-headed interpretation that values the words. This play, after all, is not about a fascinating protagonist or a cleverly twisted plot. It’s about the values and observations of George Bernard Shaw.

On opening night there were a very un-Rogue-like number of fluffed lines. These will no doubt be cleared up over the weekend.

Leading the list of exceptional performances was Matt Bowdren as the idealistic Adolphus Cusins, fiancé of Barbara (Marissa Garcia) who becomes a major in the fledgling Salvation Army.

Garcia is also fine as Barbara, who feels guilty about being born into such a wealthy family. Insisting on dedicating her life to helping the poor with Christian values, she is discouraged to discover the top Salvation Army officers are happy to take the generous cash donations of whiskey distillers and military arms manufacturers.

This kind of hypocrisy is elevated to an art form of philosophical rationalizing in the cynical life of Barbara’s father, Andrew Underschaft (Joseph McGrath), whose family has grown quite rich over the generations with its weapons factory -- dreaming up ingenious designs for the most efficiently destructive weaponry in modern British military history.

McGrath plays the role with welcomed understatement, practically making Andrew a sympathetic figure who knows if he wants to stay wealthy he must continue thinking of better ways to kill more people.

Andrew calls the work “fascinating,” and does good by providing cheery and comfortable homes and working conditions for his employees. Presumably to make these workers’ own bargain with the Devil more palatable.

In smaller roles, David Greenwood as a proud but poor fellow and Matt Walley as an angry and also poor fellow fling hurtful words at each other in a most convincing manner.

“Major Barbara” continues through Sunday, Sept. 25, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, always at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd.  Before each performance is 15 minutes of music by the Del Pueblo Brass Quintet. Tickets are $30 general admission, with several types of discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.theRogueTheatre.org

 

 

 

NO PILLOW TALK IN "THE PILLOWMAN"

Nothing less than the nature of Truth is poked and prodded, pushed and pulled, rolled all about and stomped on a few times in The Now Theatre’s fine production of “The Pillowman” by Irish playwright Martin McDonough.  That infamously thin dividing line between fact and fiction never seemed more malleable.

 

Nic Adams, working on a nearly bare stage at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., directs his cast of four with a clear eye on the complexities of  McDonough’s language. The play is set mostly in the interrogation room of a police station in an unnamed “totalitarian state.”

It used to be our nation’s bias to believe that people who lived in totalitarian states were always victims of raw and relentless governments. But as more and more horror stories come to light about the behavior of America’s own military in the current string of wars in the Middle East, the United States no longer seems immune to justifying cruel treatment in order to achieve its own ends.

Such metaphors flow easily, watching the devious mind games of government interrogators Tupolski (Matt Bowdren) and Ariel (Nick Trice) as they work over the fractured Katurian (Lee Rayment) and his mentally challenged brother Michal (Brian Johnson).

The arc of the play belongs to Rayment, who defies our expectations with his every phrase. An ever-changing series of facts keeps topping the last false assumption with a new one.

For the audience, after an hour or so of being sent reeling by one game-changing admission after another, it’s easy to start feeling a little groggy. Sort of mentally punch drunk.

Finally, we realize the playwright is testing our willingness to let go of the truth,  to stop trying to make sense (as David Byrne once demanded in the Talking Heads concert film).

Another realization is how short our attention spans have become, how unaccustomed our ears have become to dense language often delivered in Pinter-esque cadences. (There’s also a joke in there about describing certain characteristics of anything as “-esque.”)

 

There is lots of humor in Martin McDonough‘s award-winning Broadway play, despite the raw language and vivid descriptions of torturing and murdering children. So don’t be afraid to laugh. Something has to break the tension now and then.  

“Pillowman” runs nearly two and one-half hours, with two 10-minute intermissions. Attending a performance does take more than the usual level of commitment to the average theatrical production. 

But you can be sure that final act is just as brilliantly constructed. All the brutality, all the twisted images, the pain both mental and physical, everything that builds the story’s emotional bitterness to rancid levels, becomes an equally satisfying release.

Rayment is brilliant as the helpless Katurian, whose life is shredded right before our eyes. He captures the prisoner’s determination to salvage something from his desperate situation, even as the police questioning keeps adding pressure that squeezes still more air from his wrecked body.

Bowdren and Trice as the good cop and bad cop, respectively, are convincing enough in their bullying tactics. Johnson as the least tortured needs to act more tortured. 

But the ensemble works well together, the message is powerful. The images that Now Theatre creates on the Rogue Theatre stage will stay in your mind for a very long time.

.

Artists at The Rogue generously serve as mentors to those at The Now Theatre, and the two share a commitment to language and idea-based plays.

"The Pillowman" is presented Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug 7.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door (cash only), or online by visiting www.theroguetheatre.org.

Ticket reservations can be made by calling949-547-6067. Reservations are encouraged for all performances.

Free parking is available in The Rogue Theatre's parking lot off Herbert Avenue (the alley just east of the theatre).

 

 

"THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND" A TAIL WAGGER

Anybody who loves language and laughter will get a double-barreled dose out of the Rogue Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s gleefully overwritten comedy satirizing the traditional who-dunit genre in “The Real Inspector Hound.”

With Joseph McGrath as director, the ensemble cast playing pretentious Brits to the manor born and dedicated to stuffing their own shirts takes a winning line of winks and nudges.

 

Matt Bowdren and Nic Adams play the two nattering theatre critics in bowler hats, Moon and Birdboot respectively. Cynthia Meier gets her share of laughs as the sour-faced housekeeper Mrs . Drudge in the play-within-a-play which the two critics are reviewing.

Every time Mrs. Drudge shows up, it seems, somebody has just threatened to murder someone else.

It is the two self-absorbed theater critics who provide the early laughs. Moon is also quite insecure because he is the theatre critic substituting for his newspaper’s regular man. As the “second string” critic, Moon tries even harder to be taken seriously. He is forever finding profound meaning in the most ordinary of scenes.

This is, after all, one of those creaking old mansions isolated by geography and the billowing fog that clings like a moist shroud to the suspicious inhabitants seething in their own dark suspicions of infidelity.

Birdboot, meanwhile as the ranking theater critic in the front row, is happy to use his influence and experience to “help” any actress get that big break by giving her a great review – so long as she is young, beautiful and accommodating.

Being the senior theater critic with the most years of experience sitting in the dark watching others pretend to be something they aren’t, Birdboot is also addicted to sugar – especially chocolate. It is true even the grumpiest critic can endure the most inept performance as long as he has enough chocolate at hand.

In the play-within-a-play that is being reviewed, Leanne Whitewolf Charlton has the central role as Matron of the Manor, Cynthia Muldoon. She is the patrician prize pursued by the dashing younger gentleman, Simon Gascoyne (Brian Johnson), who has arrived at the manor under mysterious circumstances.

Also on hand to complicate matters are tennis debutante Felicity Cunningham (Dylan Page) and the blustering military man Maj. Magnus Muldoon (Roger Owen). In the title role as the dog-faced Inspector Hound is David Greenwood.

“The Real Inspector Hound” is a one-act preceded by another one-act to begin the evening, Stoppard’s “New-Found-Land.” This play is essentially two monologues presented by two men in a cluttered London government office.

McGrath plays the elderly Bernard, ranting about the British view of America. Bowdren takes the part of Arthur, a younger man who raves about all the accomplishments of the United States.

Listening to Bowdren describe in elaborate detail  how much this proud young country has achieved, it is sad to realize how much of the country’s can-do spirit and optimism has been betrayed since the 1960s.

Bowdren's lengthy list of shining examples of excellence from the past reminds us that if this nation is presently going through a contemporary version of “Paradise Lost,” America is certainly ready for a sea-change of attitude and a morale-boosting update to “Paradise Found.”

Performances of “The Real Inspector Hound” and “New-Found-Land” continue through Sunday, June 26.

Curtain times are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at www.TheRogueTheatre.org or by calling520-551-2053.

Thursday, June 23 is a "$25 or pay-what-you-will" performances.

Reservations are encouraged for all performances.

Half-price student rush for remaining tickets begins 15 minutes before curtain with valid student ID.

Free parking is available in our lot off Herbert Avenue (the alley just east of the theatre).

 

The Real Inspector Hound and New-Found-Land  preview on Wednesday, June 15 and Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 7:30 P.M. Tickets for the preview performances are $19.

Opening Night is on Friday, June 17, 2011.

Regular performances of  The Real Inspector Hound and New-Found-Land continue on Saturday, June 18 through Sunday, June 26, 2011.

Curtain times are Thursday through Saturdayat 7:30 P.M. and Sundays at 2:00 P.M.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at TheRogueTheatre.org or by calling 520-551-2053.

Thursday, June 23 is a "$25 or pay-what-you-will" performance.

Reservations are encouraged for allperformances.

Half-price student rush for remaining tickets begins 15 minutes before curtain with valid student ID.

Free parking is available in our lot off Herbert Avenue (the alley just east of the theatre).

 And in case you missed the photo the first time around...

 

 

 

 

A VERY HUMAN "DECAMERON"

Making theater that stretches across cultural and temporal divides has become a favorite pursuit of the Rogue Theatre. Now this daring gang of thespian types -- assisted by Patrick Baliani’s translation and adaptation of “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio – are taking us deep into the passions and fears of  Italian villagers trying hard to ignore the death rattle of Black Plague that swirls about them in 1348.

It is an interesting journey with some messages that may not be appreciated until later. The speech patterns in Baliani’s translation lack the immediacy of today’s direct talk. In the mid-14th century, without the speed of electronic communications to hurry them along, people actually had time to construct elaborate sentences to express their feelings.

 

On subjects such as sex, always one of the Big Sins in the eyes of the church, the conversation could become ingeniously convoluted. So could the devious strategies devised by both women and men to satisfy their individual needs for sexual attention from the opposite gender.

Taking in the Rogue’s medieval portrait of ever-shifting power plays throughout “The Decameron,” as directed by Joseph McGrath, one is frequently thinking “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

No wonder so many of the jokes in Shakespeare’s plays are still funny. The influence of religion may rise and fall. Leading scientific theories may be disproved by newer scientific theories. Technology may control some aspects of our lives.

But really, human nature stays as resistant to change as the lifestyles of migrating geese and giant sea turtles. In the time scale of evolution, a deep sense of humor will be more important to survival than having the latest digital do-dad at hand.

Is anybody writing stories today that will still be relevant in the year 2661? By then, humans will either be scrambling to survive in caves or else transporting themselves telepathically to the colder corners of the universe. Yet, “The Decameron” was written in 1351 and we easily recognize all the relationships today.

Baliani and McGrath have mined “The Decameron” for timeless gems of insight. The play is structured so the 10 stories chosen from Boccaccio’s 100-story work of fiction flow one into the other, just like real life.

There is nothing so tidy as a clear triumph of good over evil. Every resolution creates repercussions that will shape the next conflict. Thus, this stage adaptation with its cast of 10 becomes a true ensemble effort. Just like us, they are all part hero and part villain.

Baliani sets up his play on a bare stage with all 10 characters (seven women, three men) fleeing to an abandoned villa outside Florence, for the Black Plague continues raging inside the city’s walls.To stay optimistic, they tell each other stories full of the life that disease could snatch away at any time.

As in other Rogue productions, fancifully carved masks are often used to help define various personalities. Large noses are often a prominent feature.

According to program notes, the masks come from collections owned by the Theatre Arts department at the University of California in Santa Cruz as well as by Patty Gallagher, one of the company’s artistic associates.

Adding immeasurably to the production is the music of Harlan Hokin, Paul Amiel and Robert Villa. Hokin as music director has chosen pieces from the 14th century and composed others to fit the times. Inconspicuously seated at the edge of the stage, the trio’s music accompanies the action and adds shape to the characters.

Performances of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” as translated and adapted for the stage by Patrick Baliani continue to May 15 in the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets are $25, except May 5 and 12, which are $25 or pay-what-you-will. Half-price student rush is 15 minutes before each performance, with valid ID. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.TheRogueTheatre.org

 

 

 

PINTER'S MIND GAMES FILL"OLD TIMES"

Is it better to know the truth, or to think you know the truth? Such delicious questions always come along with every night of theater spent in the presence of a Harold Pinter play.

There is a delicious production of Pinter’s “Old Times (1971),” directed by Cynthia Meier now playing at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Adding an aperitif are Meier and Joseph McGrath doing the pre-show playlet “Night (1969),” which also shakes up the shared memories of a long-time married couple trying to remember the details of their first date.

Both were among Pinter’s memory plays, as they are called, which become mind games of ambiguity. Logically, it would seem like truth is truth, no matter what we believe.

Pinter thinks not. Truth may be ascertained in the science lab, but real life is another matter altogether. “Old Times” plays cat-and-mouse with issues of fidelity. Meier enjoys bringing out the green-eyed  nuances of insecurity, as well as hanging her actors on the horns of moral dilemmas.

For emphasis, the costumes and sets are all completely black, on which is set white furniture and a white coffee service.

 

The setting is an English country home in the late 1960s where Joseph McGrath plays the cocksure Deeley, a filmmaker married to the devoted and domesticated Kate (Avis Judd). The play opens with Deeley and Kate discussing the imminent arrival of Anna (Laura Lippman), who was Kate’s lively roommate when both were single girls in London living a gay but low-budget bohemian lifestyle.

The surprise comes when we discover Deeley’s irritation over the implication that Kate and Anna might have had a more intimate relationship during those psychedelic days when England swung like a pendulum did. The more Deeley tries to find out what really went on between these two young women back then, the more coquettish they become and the more Deeley’s confidence melts away.

But the plot is not so simple as all that. Pinter would never tell anyone what to think. Meier as director loves to leave all the open spaces available to all. Like tea leaves in a cup these silent moments can be read any number of ways.

Should you be in a vengeful mood, you can side with Deeley…or maybe Anna, the financially successful friend who subtly flaunts her comfortable life in a grand home on a craggy hill with a lovely view of the Mediterranean Sea.

Those of a more spiritual persuasion could imagine Anna to be the more sexually expressive side of responsible Kate.

Maybe ignorance is bliss, after all.

“Old Times” is definitely not one of those plot-driven sit-com productions leading the audience to a punch line conclusion. Emotions are suggested, possibilities engaged. The three actors, like a trio of musicians, feel an unheard beat and keep the emotions flowing to sweep the audience along.

As a pure theater experience, the two theater pieces are further enhanced by a performance 15 minutes before curtain of three works by Astor Piazzolla: “Primavera Portena,” “Triston” from “Cinco Piezas” and “Oblivion.” This tasty treat is not to be missed.

The musicians are Dawn Sellers, piano, Tim Blevins, violin, and James Beauchamp, cello.

“Old Times” and its full entourage of extras will be presented through Sunday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, always at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Tickets are $25, half-price student rush 15 minutes before curtain with valid student ID. Thursdays, March 3 and 10, are “$25 or pay-what-you-will.” For details and reservations, 551-2053, or visitwww.theroguetheatre.org. Do not miss the music!

 

 

LOVELY DANCERS LIGHTEN "THE TEMPEST"

From the Rogue's stage to our ears.

What with political correctness and race being so closely linked to slavery these days, William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” has a few more buzz words than you might think. Generally accepted cultural standards are changing so fast.

Remember how we used to laugh at comedians playing drunks on stage and in the movies? We don’t do that anymore. The woeful Caliban, whose island was ursuped by Prospero, used to be played for laughs, too.

Now in the elaborately costumed and choreographed Rogue Theatre production of “The Tempest” directed by Cynthia Meier, when Joseph McGrath as Caliban spits out the world “slave” it electrifies the air. Shocks and shudders sweep through the audience.

 

Caliban the stumblebum is transformed from being a joke to being a political figure with social symbolism stretching farther than Shakespeare could ever have imagined.

Prospero the good magician, even though he was robbed of his own kingdom in Italy, is no longer as sympathetic a figure. Didn’t he steal this lovely island from Caliban? The cowering creature may not be worthy of our respect, but he did live here happily enough before Prospero arrived by boat with his young daughter Miranda.

But maybe it’s OK if we laugh at Caliban’s groveling, boot-licking antics today since he was created in the early 17th century – that's about the same time European explorers and settlers began pushing Native Americans out of their homes.

It’s generally accepted “The Tempest” was written some four hundred years ago. People in England knew about the New World. Shakespeare with his usual foresight could see there would be problems.

Thus “The Tempest” is worth seeing, if for no other reason than having the chance to talk about these current issues from a longer and more literary perspective.

Last season the Rogue found timely success with its production of “Othello” as a story about race issues. Now this brave new company could follow up “The Tempest” next season with “The Merchant of Venice” to discuss anti-Semitism. Then do “The Taming of the Shrew” so feminists get some of the Bard’s attention.

If Hilary Clinton ever gets elected President of the United States, “Macbeth” will be in order.

How did Shakespeare do it? He really was the Man for all Seasons.

As for “The Tempest” at the Rogue Theatre, it is a kick to see John Wilson fill the magical robes of Prospero. If ever there was a performer with a constant twinkle in his eye, it is Wilson – he personifies the spirit of a true magician who can’t resist stirring up a little mischief now and then.

Now enjoying himself as Professor Emeritus of the University Of Arizona School Of Dance, Wilson gives the role an easy elegance perfect for this figure in complete control of his world and his life.

Such willowy ease of movement blossoms in the choreography of Ariel (Patty Gallagher) and the three mystical spirits, Ceres (Leanne Whitewolf Charleton), Iris (Carrie J. Cole) and Juno (Jenna Johnson). 

Balletomanes know Johnson as a principle dancer with Ballet Tucson. The choreographer is Daniel Precup, also a principle dancer with Ballet Tucson. 

The aforementioned Caliban gets muscled up a bit in McGrath’s performance. His subservience feels more calculated, like the defeated man who runs away so he can fight another day.

Dallas Thomas has the small but critical role of Prospero’s adolescent daughter Miranda. She perfectly captures the delight we would imagine when a girl who has never seen any other male except her father suddenly discovers there are other men, especially younger ones, in the world.

Jon Benda as Gonzalo and David Morden as Stephano get extra mileage from their roles, as well. Ryan DeLuca makes young Trinculo memorable in his comedy bits as this shipwrecked party from Milan wanders about Prospero’s island.

“The Tempest” continues in performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, to Jan. 23 at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Special prelude music 15 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $25; Jan. 13 and Jan. 20 are “$25 or pay-what-you-will,” with reservations encouraged. Half-price student rush tickets 15 minutes before curtain, with current ID. For details and reservations, 520-551-2052, or visit www.TheRogueTheatre.org

 

 

 

"GHOSTS" FILLED WITH HAUNTING THOUGHTS

By Chuck Graham

 

Is society about to come full circle? Has the illusion of obtaining more personal freedom by breaking so many rules of propriety finally run its course? Will the political conservatives’ promise of restoring order keep becoming more appealing to an ideologically fragmented America?

The Rogue Theatre is helping stimulate that conversation with its vigorously committed production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts.” Written in 1881 and immediately despised for its frank discussions of illicit sexual activity by uppity Mrs. Alving, “Ghosts” gets laughs these days for its old-fashioned ideals.

 

Ibsen hated the obsessively proper rules of his time. He felt people were forced to live lies and ignore the transgressions everybody made but nobody talked about. Which sounds a lot like how we remember the 1950s.

Theater historians assure us “Ghosts” in the 1880s was considered not only scandalous but worse, degenerate. All that Ibsen suggested was that if people were going to have extra-marital affairs, they should admit it. If fathers were going to have sex with their daughters, they should admit it. Of course, if husbands were going to abuse their wives, they should admit that, too.

A dominant theme of the dour Norwegian playwright was to dispute the idea that fulfilling one’s duty was far more important, and certainly more satisfying, than following one’s own personal desires. Ibsen believed this kind of rigidity was not about providing structure and stability, it was to create domestic prisons to keep everyone in their proper places.

The ghosts in his title are not the spooky kind, but more like haunting thoughts that won’t let go. Cynthia Meier plays Mrs. Alving as a woman tired of being stretched out for so many decades between fulfilling her womanly duties and suppressing what she felt certain were better ideas for handling her family’s affairs.

Her husband the late Capt. Alving was a dedicated philanderer to the day he died. Wanting to be sure he was remembered as a respected member of society, she slowly used up his fortune building an orphanage for their village in Norway. A strategy which also assured her own respectability.

Pastor Manders (Joseph McGrath) was the cold-blooded minister hiding behind the authority of the church, feeling righteous by making everyone else feel miserable. He counseled Mrs. Alving to sacrifice her own urges and live a responsible life.

As the play opens, Mrs. Alving is beginning to feel like her life of sacrifice has been wasted. Pastor Manders, in a philosophical power play, keeps trying to convince her it was the right thing to do.

Then Oswald Alving (Robert Anthony Peters), her grown son, makes a surprise visit home.  Another of Mrs. Alving’s strategies was to keep Oswald in school in other cities so he would be out of the house and not corrupted by Capt. Alving’s hunger for fleshly pleasure.

Regina Engstrand (Jill Baker) is Mrs. Alving’s maid, raised as the daughter of Jacob Engstrand (Brian Taraz), a local workman. 

David Morden, the director, achieves excellent balance in the cast members as each person gets at least one powerful scene and makes the most of it. Meier and McGrath are the central characters, playing their mind games in Act One while providing all the backstory that intensifies the clashes of personality that fill Act Two.

By the end, we look back on this portrait of decay and wonder if their lives would have been any better in a more forgiving society. Or in the past 125 years have we just exchanged one set of taboos for another set that will be seen as equally primitive in the year 2135?

“Ghosts” by Henrik Ibsen continues through Nov. 28 (no performance Thanksgiving Day) at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Before each show, 15 minutes of piano music by Edvard Grieg and Frederic Chopin, played by Dawn C. Sellers. Tickets are $25, with several discounts available. For details and reservations, visitwww.theroguetheatre.org, or phone 520-551-2053.

 

VISIT ANOTHER CULTURE IN "NAGA MANDALA"

“Naga Mandala (Play With A Cobra),” by the India playwright Girish Karnad, is more of an experience than a story. As directed by Cynthia Meier at the Rogue Theatre, “Naga Mandala” becomes a swirl of masked characters wearing colorful costumes in bright reds and yellows, performing on an equally colorful mandala painted to cover the entire circular stage. Off to the side Matthew Finstrom accompanies the proceedings with music played on a sitar and other Indian instruments. 

 

You will be remembering when Dorothy told Toto, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

 

There is a story within this visit to another culture. It is a story full of folk mythology about family life and the intricate relationships between husbands and wives. We are also reminded of the demands every society makes and the sometimes devious ways men and women take to get around the taboos created by their traditions.

 

Every society, large or small, in highly technological or un-technological settings, has its rules for survival and the pressure to bend those rules under extenuating circumstances. This is an inevitable part of the human condition.

 

So we watch “Naga Mandala” and see ourselves in the harsh marriage of Rani (Patty Gallagher) and Appanna (Joseph McGrath), smile at the gossiping lamp flames who silently observe everything that happens after dark in their flickering light.

 

We have that saying “If these walls could talk.” In India, the flames do talk, and in “Naga Mandala” they tell some funny stories. They are played by Avis Judd, Kristina Sloan and Jenny Wise.

 

Adding more humor are patient Kappanna (Brian Taraz) and his eavesdropping, nosey mother Kurudavva (Jill Baker). There is also the Cobra, a symbolic creature whose presence is represented by a multi-jointed figure several feet long, manipulated by Matt Cotten.

 

Basically, Rani is a sweet virgin girl given in marriage to Appanna, a cold and uncaring husband who keeps her locked up at home and only visits her to eat lunch. At night, he sleeps with his concubine instead of with Rani.

 

Unhappy, Rani tries to use a magical love root to make her husband love her. She mixes the love root in with the curry for his daily meal, but the curry gets tossed onto the old ant hill behind her house. Her husband still hates her and only comes home to eat lunch.

 

So the cobra that lives in the ant hill eats the curry and falls in love with Rani, coming to her every night in the form of her husband Appanna. This is very confusing to Rani, but she is happy her husband now visits her at night.

 

Only…it isn’t her husband. He get angry when Rani becomes pregnant, insisting he has never been intimate with her. Rani angrily insists she has never been touched by anyone but her husband.

 

The resolution of this problem is told with more charming folk tale mythology, along with the extremely realistic barking of a very cobra-phobic dog.

 

The acting is more stylized than realistic, befitting the ritual telling of these tales about mysterious men and the women who love them. But mostly “Naga Mandala” is a light-hearted visit to another culture, where in a joke concealed is the truth revealed.

 

 

 

"THE FOUR OF US" COMES STRAIGHT FROM TODAY'S GENERATION

Fans of mumblecore, that movie genre centering on nerdy young adults who have trouble saying anything, will feel right at home watching the stage play “The Four of Us” by Itamar Moses. This Berkeley, California, native could well become the Harold Pinter of mumblecore. Some chatterers online maintain the play is more than a little bit autobiographical.

 

The Rogue Theatre brightens our summer with a fine production performed by Matt Bowdren and John Shartzer as a couple of twenty-something writer-types remembering their past and imagining their future.

 

Language, in both style and structure, is at the heart of this play that projects far more than just the meaning of words. Pauses and phrasing, often in a musical sense, create the framework on which everything is hung. Within this language a world exists that can only be known to young people who are rooting their life-long identities in today’s pop culture crammed with digital devices.

 

Their innocence has not been tinged with rue. The current music and fashions are their nourishment. They have yet to hook the big love that will ultimately get away. There are no wounds for time to heal.

Madonna is ancient history. The Rolling Stones are so old they probably set down their music on stone tablets using a hammer and chisel.

 

The heroes of today’s generation breathe technology. Physical strength isn’t so important. Gender differences don’t matter. Recreational drugs don’t carry any moral stigma. Real life is for the ones clever enough to appreciate it.

 

No wonder today’s leading men are nerds. They are the grown up kids with outdated computer games and stacks of graphic novels under their beds. Their fantasies may have a film noir edge, but their reality is filled with…mumblecore. They don’t care about global warming or saving the world so much as they wonder if they will ever have a sex life.

 

Speaking precise thoughts in complete sentences is not a top priority, either.

 

 Bowdren and Shartzer are brilliant in catching all the layers implied in the dialogue Moses has written to portray this life. As directed by Cynthia Meier, with assistance from Nic Adams, the two actors give performances so fresh and natural it feels like eavesdropping.

 

Although there is a linear story line, the episodes are shuffled out of sequence. Performed without an intermission, the disconnected experiences have a continual ebb and flow that will be always reshaping itself in your own memory as new information comes in about the friendship between these two. A 10-year friendship that becomes both a blessing and a curse.

 

Chronologically, Benjamin (Bowdren) and David (Shartzer) meet at a teen music camp when both are 17, playing keyboards and knowing when to push all the right buttons.

 

Then a few years later they spend some vacation time together in Prague. Finally, both are back in New York pursuing their careers. Benjamin is successful and David isn’t.

 

So “The Four of Us” begins at the end of this story arc, in a restaurant over drinks. Two guys who haven’t seen each other for awhile are just getting together to catch up. That’s when Ben the novelist casually announces he recently signed his first book deal.

 

“For how much?” asks David, the struggling playwright.

 

“Two million,” says Ben, in about the same tone you’d expect for “two dollars.”

 

This is the telescope through which we see the rest of the play; always mindful that no matter how well these two friends get along, this two million dollar book deal hangs over the thread of their friendship like the sword of Damocles. 

 

One last note: Bowdren and Shartzer are also artists of improvisation. Before each performance this weekend they will do 15 minutes of improv, imagining they are 17-year-old Benjamin and David at that music camp, each with his own computer and keyboard, creating a song together. The performance  I saw that they made up on the spot was pretty funny.

 

"The Four of Us” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, to June 27.  The musical pre-show begins 15 minutes before each performance.

 

All tickets are $24, with half-price tickets for those with valid student ID, on sale 15 minutes before curtain. Pay-what-you-will night is June 24.  For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.TheRogueTheatre.org

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE IS THE MASTER PSYCHOLOGIST IN ROGUE'S "OTHELLO"

Othello is twisting on Iago’s skewer once again, helpless to be anything but a free meal for Shakespeare’s green-eyed monster of jealousy in Rogue Theatre’s solid production of "Othello." Wearing elaborate costumes of the period and working on a bare stage, this cast captures the essence of these two famously flawed personalities.

“Othello” should really be titled “Iago,” of course. He does all the heavy lifting in this classic psychological study of a man who loves not wisely but too well.

 

Joseph McGrath plays Iago with a remarkable facility for Shakespeare’s complicated speech patterns. Those long sentences roll so easily off McGrath’s tongue he has room left to add inflection that makes the words sound even more natural.

Iago was a smooth talker by the standards of late 16th century Venice. McGrath makes him oily enough to be a politician for today.

Othello does not fare quite so well in the hands of Nathan Crocker, making his debut at the Rogue. This Othello looks terrific as a proud African general finding success winning battles for armies of the city/state Venice. He’s bold. He’s confident.  He’s leader of men.

But dealing with women…ahh, that’s another story. This Othello is so filled with doubt he crumbles like a crisp cookie. On the plate he looks delicious, but try to break off a little bite and he shatters into a thousand pieces.

Crocker could have given the troubled general more substance in the middle portion, where he wants to believe Desdemona is loyal. Every time Othello praises his buddy “honest Iago,” we should feel pangs of regret that Othello is being so painfully deceived.

Crocker is a great closer, though. The final scenes of the bloody showdown, his last moments with Desdemona in the midst of chaos, are powerful theater. That’s when we realize all the cast has done its part to bring us along through the cynical manipulations that led to this complete collapse of order.

Cynthia Meier directs with a clear eye for the drama and intrigue of Iago’s string-pulling as the Venetian court’s puppet master. Shakespeare’s play is not about race, as many others have tried to make it in these recent times of heated conflicts over civil rights.

Othello is an outsider, to be sure. But he isn’t a second-class citizen in his own country. He is not only from another country, but another continent. He perceives the sophisticated Venetian elite as superior beings. He longs to be an insider among them.

So Othello fights their battles and becomes a celebrity general honored throughout the city. Wanting more, he takes one of the court’s most desirable women to be his bride.

But when Iago challenges Othello’s right to enjoy all these glories, Othello can’t find the self-respect he needs. It is easier for Othello to doubt Desdemona than to believe in himself.

Meier gets all this, and Rogue’s production of “Othello” is all the better for it. Avis Judd as Desdemona is the truest believer in Othello’s worth. We are convinced she is blameless and would stand by her husband no matter what. Othello truly could have had it all, if only…

Adding strong support in smaller roles are Patty Gallagher as Emilia, who is innocently sucked into Iago’s dastardly plan then tries to make amends, David Morden in a couple of key scenes as different characters, and Sarah Smith as Bianca another innocent courtesan.

Performances of “Othello” continue in the Rogue Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, to May 16. A pre-show of period music, led by Harlan Hokin, begins 15 minutes before curtain. Tickets are $24.

Pay-what-you-will nights are May 6 and May 13. Reservations for these dates are strongly recommended. Half-price student rush tickets for all performances go on sale 15 minutes before curtain, current student ID is required.

For details and all reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.TheRogueTheatre.org

 

 

 

FANS OF BECKETT GET A THOUGHTFUL MEAL AT ROGUE THEATRE

Samuel Beckett ‘s one-act monologue “Krapp’s Last Tape” was first staged in 1958. But the play could well become an anthem for the Boomer Generation. That is, if Beckett’s writing was more accessible, and maybe had a rock ‘n’ roll beat.

 

Imagine something like “Ozzy Osbourne’s Last Tape” and you’ll get some idea of the potential. As Beckett describes Krapp, he sees himself as a depressed writer who fears he may have wasted a lifetime of talent pursuing a muse who couldn’t care less.

 

 

With our nation presently paralyzed by philosophical gridlock that has its roots in the 1960s counterculture movement, many of today’s more thoughtful Boomers ought to be pondering a similar question.

 

Joseph McGrath goes deep into the pathos of Krapp’s own indecision, performing “Krapp’s Last Tape” in The Rogue Theatre’s production of three Beckett one-acts that opened Feb. 26. Looking bleary-eyed and totally distraught, McGrath becomes a man barely hanging on to the thinnest awareness of reality.

 

David Morden directs all three pieces – with Patty Gallagher in the pantomime-styled “Act Without Words” and Cynthia Meier in “Not I” (who is joined by Gallagher in another wordless role) to complete the bill.

 

The three plays taken together provide an intriguing portrait of Beckett as a playwright determined to create his own landscapes of logic reduced to their most essential elements. Always described as equally confounding and brilliant, Beckett’s place in literature remains controversial – as will these one-acts.

 

“Act Without Words” is almost comedy, with Gallagher dressed in black as a nameless character reminiscent of the duo who are so patient in “Waiting For Godot.” Using her career skills as a classic clown, Gallagher becomes the person confounded by life’s possibilities. She’s leaping for success, tumbling over failure. Metaphors pour from the imagery in her acting without words.

 

“Not I” recalls the famous ad for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where all we see are those luscious red lips. “Not I” wraps the actor in black, literally, exposing only the actor’s mouth and putting that relatively small space in the heat of the tightly-focused spotlight. The character is named Mouth, and many describe this role as the most difficult in all theater.

 

Cynthia Meier accepts this challenge in the Rogue production. The performance is called a stream-of-consciousness rant, spoken rapidly without any pauses for reflection. We feel the mental pressure of stressed out souls compulsively running on empty, with all the anxiety that phrase implies…yet never actually running out of gas, thus being denied the relief of having an excuse to stop.

 

This production does add the mysteriously hooded Auditor (Gallagher) whose only role is to observe Mouth from the edge of the stage. While far more intellectual experts than I ponder the role of the Auditor (as did Beckett himself), my personal preference is to believe the Auditor gives the words of Mouth permanence.

 

As in “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” The Auditor makes sure this Mouth is heard. 

“Krapp’s Last Tape/ Not I/ Act Without Words” continues Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., to March 14 in The Rogue Theatre at the Historic Y, 300 E. University Blvd. Tickets are $24 general admission; student rush tickets, $12, 15 minutes before curtain; pay-what-you--will nights are Thursdays, March 4 and 11. For details and reservations, 551-2053, or online at www.theroguetheatre.org.

 

 

ROGUE'S NEW THEATER IS A HIT! SO IS ITS "ANIMAL FARM"

The magic of metaphor filled the Rogue Theatre in one of the most auspicious openings of a new theater this town has seen in years. Creating such a magically intimate space in the vast emptiness of a gymnasium is no easy feat, but they did it.

They are Cynthia Meier and Joseph McGrath, founders of the Rogue, with help from a whole lot of their friends. This new performance space is on the lovely hardwood floor of the gym in the Historic Y, 300 E. University Blvd. Signing a lease and accepting the responsibility, this company has a permanent home for at least five years.

 

Heavy black stage drapes hanging from the two-story ceiling define the space as a black box theater. Banks of risers inside provide 150 seats with a clear line of sight to the stage. Overhead, a full lighting grid can fill the performance below with atmosphere.

For its debut show at the Historic Y, Rogue has chosen "Animal Farm" adapted from George Orwell's novella by playwright Andrew Periale. The choice is appropriate for many reasons, but the one reason everyone appreciates is that, of all Tucson's theater companies, the only one willing to risk producing such a philosophical and thought-provoking piece would be the Rogue Theatre.

Periale has provided an insightful structure for presenting this parable of human nature and politics. Orwell first found success with "Animal Farm" in the 1940s wake of World War II, with communists feeding the world Utopian dreams while Europe lay exhausted.

Orwell's warning about the more insidious qualities of human nature makes the story feel just as pertinent today, but for different reasons. Dreams that big government can save us are no less dangerous than the misguided beliefs in Utopia.

The author's best known quote that we are all equal, but some of us are more equal than others, now plays out as a reminder that giving up freedom in order to have more security is a fool’s bargain. Consider the personal freedoms that we have already relinquished in order to catch terrorists in America.

Meier has directed Periale's adaptation with a clear eye on Orwell's message. Using few costumes and lots of movement, she keeps the cast of six actors covering the stage with choreographed actitivity. No one stands and delivers any speeches. Everybody is talking on the run in this pure ensemble effort.

Since there is not the usual hero vs. villain conflict to create drama, the actors equally share time being the focus of attention. All this movement creates the feeling of a larger story at work, as each performer at any moment could be an animal, a human, a puppeteer or narrator.

Orwell's main characters are still in there. Boxer represents the people. Molly is the middle class. Napoleon the pig becomes a figure resembling iron-fisted Stalin who turned the communist countries into a police state.

In Tucson, it is the Rogue Theatre's chosen role to remind us art plays an important part in helping focus society's attention on the parts of human nature that keep changing. And the parts that will always remain the same.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, to Sept. 27. Tickets are $24. Pay-What-You-Will nights Sept. 17 and 24. For tickets and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.theroguetheatre.org