Saturday, September 28, 2013



Those trolley tracks are in and every cobweb is blown out. From decades of dust and indifference, downtown Tucson is emerging with a vibrant energy full of busy sidewalks and bustling restaurants.


Even the side streets are popping on new lights as this rejuvenation of Congress and Broadway between the Fox Theatre's bright marquee to the west and historic Hotel Congress to the east turns up the volume.


On a Wednesday night in August, you needed reservations to get a table in the most popular spots. Just imagine what it will be like when college students and snowbirds are filling the sidewalks every evening.


"It's starting to feel like a real city," said one veteran watcher of downtown's development. "The streets aren't dark and scary anymore."


Among those new faces are a variety of ages – along with the wide-eyed families out on their own urban adventures there are plenty of hip older people joining the restless young professionals in this search for new fun in unexpected places.


And the best part of all in this transformation of creating new restaurants out of old storefronts, everything so far is home grown.


Instead of tearing down the old to make room for something new, it's all about keeping the old buildings and making their insides new again.


Putting a forgotten charm back into the two-story brick walls and cozy corners, hanging chandeliers from lofty spaces and giving everything new air conditioning. Tucson's venerable architecture is getting lots of respect from this new generation of entrepreneurs pushing the Old Pueblo into the 21st century.



"Every Thursday we have date night downtown," said cheery Esther Bayle, sitting at the long bar of the Hub Restaurant and Creamery, 266 E. Congress St., with her smiling husband Greg. "We always go to different places."


"We love the ambiance at Proper," said Greg. "It reminds her of the bay area. It's so great to see all these places downtown."


"We love the martinis at the Playground," added Esther. "And the infused vodka and garlic parmesan fries at Elliott's."


Newest kid on this refurbished block is the Saint House Rum Bar, 256 E. Congress, with an ever-expanding list of rums and rum drinks. There must be a dozen variations on the traditional daiquiri alone.


The Saint House joins the Hub, Playground, 278 E. Congress St. and Proper Restaurant, 300 E. Congress St. in its preference for taking existing buildings on Congress and modernizing the inside while keeping the old brick charm and outside appearance.


At Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St., it's the same story, but more so. For many decades, this building was a solemn funeral parlor. The outside is virtually unchanged from those times.


But inside….ahhhhh! Ample wood finishes, warm tones and an impressive chandelier create a cozy ambiance for meaningful chats with special friends over truly gourmet pizza and tastefully adult beverages.  Other Italian staples are also on the menu.


For the maximum energized downtown experience, join in each month's city-sponsored 2nd Saturday when special events and street performers fill Congress and its adjoining streets with happy visitors – some of them looking exceptionally arty in painted faces and imaginative clothing.

While this daily resurrection of the Congress/Broadway corridor grows stronger, don't forget about the loyal and longstanding restaurants that have stood resolutely through the hard times.

Traditional favorites such as the Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, 198 W. Cushing St., have kept the faith and deserve to be rewarded. Jazz on Saturday evenings has been an honored tradition here for years, another way of mixing the old and the new --Tucson style.



Friday, September 27, 2013

THERESE loft movie sept 2013

Audrey Tautou stays sullen in "Therese."

The message is a good one and the French film "Therese" directed by Claude Miller, now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E.Speedway Blvd., is certainly sincere. But the casting of our bubbly innocent Audrey Tautou in the title role was a mistake. An actress with a doleful face and basset hound eyes would have been much better.

Of course Tautou would like to be known for doing more challenging roles in her career. What great artist wouldn't?

Remember 10 years ago when Charlize Theron turned her strikingly beautiful appearance way down to portray the frustrated and depressed serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster?"

The transformation was jaw-dropping. But was it really necessary? There are plenty of great actresses who are already ugly. Just get one of them to play the role.

Theron, of course, has big box office muscle. So does Tautou…but still.

The Audrey we see in "Therese" is not the Audrey we loved instantly in "Amelie." In fact, she is just the opposite in this adaptation of the 1927 novel (considered scandalous at the time) by François Mauriac. Much of the scandal came from the author's portrayal of two families of fine French citizens as having very little character to admire.

That valuable lesson begins with Therese feeling superior because of her exceptional intelligence. She resents having to stifle all the thoughts that keep filling her head.

But being a responsible person who wanted to do the right thing, she not only quenched her desire for more knowledge but also agreed to marry Bernard (Gilles Lellouche), the handsome son of the millionaire property owner next door – thus combining the fortunes of both families and controlling a sizable portion of France itself.

Alas, this is where the tragic lesson begins. Therese's lovely face becomes a sullen mask from which no emotion escapes. Implied in her refusal to respond to anyone is the emotional time bomb building inside her.

As this conflict keeps seething, Miller the director seems to linger more on the outside propriety of actions and fashions that surround Therese: the elaborate costumes both male and female, the elegant furnishing, the servants' attention to detail so that nothing is ever out of place.

Within this picture perfect home on a lovely estate famous for its pine forests, Therese's personality is crumbling away. So when the opportunity comes along purely by chance to poison Bernard, she can't resist.

But that isn't the end of the story. Nor will it be the end of Therese's suffering.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


 SwanRise Productions is pleased to announce that it will once again bring jazz to the gardens of Tohono Chul Park this fall and next spring.  The concert series, titled Rhythm Nights at Tohono Chul Park, features two distinct concerts for the fall and three will be presented in the spring of 2014.

The first concert, Blues is Jazz, takes place on Friday, September 27th and includes top local blues musicians continuing the SwanRise focus on featuring musical talent from the Tucson area.  The concerts will also feature nonperishable food item collections for the Southern Arizona Food Bank in order to fulfill their commitment to raise funds for the local community.  

                                   Lisa Otey

Blues is Jazz brings together Tucson’s finest for a night of Blues you won’t forget.  Heather Hardy, Lisa Otey and Diane Van Deurzen, Grams and Kreiger, Ed Delucia and Pete Swan will be performing solo, duos, trios and quartets leading up to a large ensemble finale in a show that has never before been presented in Southern Arizona. 

                              Heather Hardy

The concert begins at 7:00 PM and doors will open at 6:00 PM.  Food and beverages are available for purchase at the concert. 

More information about the concert and the second fall concert on October 25, 2013 is available


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MICHAEL TRENI BIG BAND pop-culture blues cd 2013


"Pop-Culture Blues"

big band punch fills this new release, a collection of 10 expressive
tracks written and arranged by Michael Treni. The shortest is the title
track at 4:20 minutes. The longest is "Blues in Triplicate" expressing
itself for nine minutes and four seconds.

makes these generous recording times so nice is that even after the
horn sections have flexed their chops on some convincing section work,
all the soloists still receive a spacious showcase and a propulsive beat
to ride like an old school surfer hanging ten on a very big board.

And because each track has "blues" in the title, you know exactly what to expect.

only exception is the lead track "One for Duke" -- still the blues, but
with a little more symphonic treatment. Especially tasty are the
multiple tenor solos by Jerry Bergonzi.

liner notes describe this recording as a "suite in 10 parts that
presents the development of the blues within the jazz idiom by utilizing
the changing compositional styles prevalent from the late 1950s to

don't be frightened. Every one of these 10 parts is a vigorous
rendering of its theme and variations. Nobody agonizes in atonal chaos
or goes asperger on us, repeating the same chromatic sequence over and

These are big city blues and Treni goes for the beef every time. Toast him with a properly chilled martini.

BOB MOVER my heart tells me cd 2013


sound is softly swinging and richly pliant. Veteran reedman Bob Most
has his arsenal of saxophones stacked up, and a double-CD release
conveniently packaged in two distinct settings.

rhythm section on both CDs is led by Kenny Barron with bassist Bob
Crenshaw. Drummer duties are shared by Steve Williams and Victor Lewis.

first has Most with a standard rhythm section. The second recording has
Most's quartet augmented by tenor man Steve Hall and trumpet player
Josh Evans.

intimacy are Most's very personal vocals on several standards, the kind
of singing that always feels genuine even when the melodies get
scarcely more than a kind caress in passing.

it is the horn sounds that make this release so special. No matter if
he is playing tenor, alto or soprano, Most draws a distinctive tone from
each horn. His tenor recalls the Lester Young/ Ben Webster era of macho
warmth, his rhythms sensual as the smoky, dark leather nightclubs they

His higher pitched alto still has that plaintive quality of yearning hearts
adrift in confusion. Even his soprano solos on "You Must Believe in
Spring" and "By Myself"' are free of that fish horn penetration we
associate with the instrument these days.

Or just call Mover in this shaded quartet setting the jazz equivalent of George Clooney, making old school the new cool.

When those additional horn players get into the studio, Most stops singing
and the energy picks up considerably. The boldly bebop chops come out,
with Most encouraging everyone to add more notes.

Having so many accomplished musicians involved, with such cleanly written
charts, every track (all but one written by Most) becomes a quick witted
conversation worthy of repeated listening.

Sample the tracks at or

Sunday, September 22, 2013

MACBETH'S KNIFE beuwulf alley sept 2013


Despite their best intentions, the Beowulf Alley Theatre Company production of "MacBeth's Knife" is never going to be ready for prime time. The program lists the director as "Nobody."

That is unfortunately the truth, because it looks like nobody was in charge of directing this one. Few of the actors have any particular stage presence. While the language belongs to Shakespeare, this particular "Nobody" also takes credit for adapting the Scottish play to emphasize its psychological impact.

That could be true, but it wasn't clear at a recent performance. Of course, with more acting and less screaming the intention might have worked a little better. "Nobody" and the cast have bought into the notion that powerful emotions can be conveyed by screaming and shouting.

Alas and forsooth, that has never been true of Shakespeare or any other playwright.

There are some good elements that do give the production interesting twists worth developing. In an early scene, MacDuff (Gary Tyrrell) is seen in the background talking on a cell phone. MacDuff, Banquo and MacBeth are dressed in modern soldier gear, as well.

Banquo is played by Sara Jackson in a nice gender surprise, with Aaron Guisinger giving MacBeth a punkster sense of street smarts.

There is a simulated sex scene, but it is between MacBeth and Lady MacBeth (Bree Boyd-Martin), so the MacBeths are married at least.

The most imagination – as is often the case in productions of "MacBeth" – is found in the staging of those scenes with the three witches. Armen Sarrafian makes his witch sexually ambiguous, which feels perfect. Melanie Kersey's witch is a voluptuous bad girl, also an excellent choice.

Shannon Rzucidlo fills her witch with sinister drama that combines seductive intentions and an edgy madness. The kind of beauty you can love while fearing for your own safety.

Nor is there any bubbling cauldron around which these three unholy ghouls famously chant "Double, double, toil and trouble." Instead, this trio of lost souls go slinking about the stage with a threatening hunger, making their devilish recitation particularly ominous.

When we get to the really bloody parts toward the end, there is lots of stage blood, a couple of knives effectively used and several bouts of hand-to-hand fighting. These action parts work best -- of course – because there is no one speaking required.

Is this enough to justify the ticket price? Deciding that part is up to you.

"MacBeth's Knife" continues in repertory with "Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief," adapted from Shakespeare's "Othello,"
through Sept. 22 at Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.

"MacBeth's Knive plays at 2:30 p.m. Saturday- Sunday, Sept. 14-15; at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21. 

Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 for seniors, military and teachers, $10 students. For reservations, 520-882-0555. For details,

"DESDEMONA" beowulf alley sept. 2013

In this play, at least, it often seems like Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel's idea of female liberation is for women to act as badly as men. In essence, letting the behavior of men decide the attitudes that shape these females.
The three women acting out
their roles in the Beowulf Alley Theatre Company production of Vogel's "Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief" can't be blamed for any of this. They are only presenting the play, as directed by Nicole Scott, who also plays the role of Bianca.

As you recall, in Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello," it is the innocent Desdemona who is done in by the unfortunate placement of a handkerchief, which outrages Othello.

It isn't really necessary to be brushing up on your Shakespeare in order to appreciate the subtleties of the playwright. There aren't any subtleties.

Desdemona has been turned into a generous companion offering her favors to nearly all the soldiers in Othello's camp. Emilia the wife of Iago is shocked and disapproving of such uninhibited actions. Bianca, as you might imagine, is now the madam of a house of ill repute (as folks used to say).

In the script, Vogel has instructed each of these women to have a specific accent. Desdemona will adopt a proper British tone, Bianca will use Cockney slang and Emilia will be Irish.

None of this works out too well on the Beowulf Alley stage. Candace Bean as Desdemona only occasionally hits the right note. Scott as Bianca gives her Cockney speech a kiss and a promise.

At the opposite extreme, Diana Ouradnik as Emilia embraces her Irish brogue with such enthusiasm she is often unintelligible. Quite probably, however, her accent is completely accurate.

So even if the playwright has rearranged this trio of relatively minor characters so they have completely different personalities from what Shakespeare's lines would suggest, we still know Desdemona must come to no good in the end.

So the tension, really, is in staying a step ahead of the characters trying to figure out how their bawdy conversations will eventually fit into the Bard's larger structure.

Meanwhile, Vogel leaves us with the impression that the women in Venice, at least when they think no one is listening, have conversations amongst themselves that are consumed with sex.

Lovers of Shakespeare will not find too much comfort here. The performances are adequate enough, but Vogel's agenda is not to heighten our appreciation of "Othello," or of Desdemona, but to use the reputation of "Othello" as Vogel's platform for making her own political statements.

"Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief" continues in repertory performances with "MacBeth's Knife," another adaptation of a Shakespearian work, through Sept. 22 at Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave. "Desdemonia" plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, and Friday, Sept. 20, also at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22.

Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 for seniors, military and teachers, $10 students. For reservations, 520-882-0555. For details,

Saturday, September 21, 2013


By Chuck Graham,


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,


By Chuck Graham


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



by Chuck Graham,


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



By Chuck Graham,


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



By Chuck Graham,



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