Theater in Tucson: David Mamet makes women as unlikable as he makes men by Kathleen Allen | Tucson.com
Photo: Clark Llohr
L to R: T Loving, Carley Preston, and Jill Baker in Something Something's "Boston Marriage"
If there’s a pleasant character in David Mamet’s creative soul, we’ve yet to see it.
His testosterone-driven plays such as “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “American Buffalo” are loaded with men who ooze slime, manipulate with glee, and lack a moral compass.
No surprise, his women in “Boston Marriage” are just as unpleasant. The comedy is Something Something Theatre Company’s current offering.
This one is a bit of a switch for Mamet: There are only female characters, and it is set in the late 19th century. The title is a quaint term for two women who are in a romantic relationship.
The humor and the horror (the way the women treat each other is the horror) are underscored in Director Avis Judd’s hands, and her cast of three — Jill Baker, T Loving and Carley Elizabeth Preston — caress Mamet’s complex, smart language and have some keen timing.
Loving is Anna, who has a nice set-up thanks to a sugar daddy who pays her rent and gives her jewelry in exchange for, well, you know what. Her one-time lover, Claire (Preston) has come to visit. Claire, it seems, has fallen for a woman so young she can’t leave her home without a chaperone. Claire is hoping that Anna will provide the room for a “vile assignation.” Anna is not happy — she still has a thing for Claire. After much protest and hemming and hawing Anna agrees. But only if she is allowed to watch. She will be discreet about it, of course — she’ll look through a peephole.
Constantly interrupting their discussion is the teary-eyed maid (Baker), Scottish, though Anna insists she is Irish, and delightfully confused about just about everything.
This cast is strong and handles Mamet’s rat-a-tat language with authority.
The trouble with this play is that Mamet’s language here is overwrought, the plot is thin, and there is just nobody who is likable in the play.
Worse, Mamet leaves us little to think about. “Glengarry Glen Ross” prompted thoughts about deception and its costs; “American Buffalo” took on the broken American dream, loyalty and greed.
But “Boston Marriage” is too thin and too self-indulgent to give us something to chew on.
What it does have is a cast that knows how to underscore the humor and drive home the language. And it’s Mamet’s language — even at its worst, it’s better than most.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4128.
The Body Electric A winning, understated production tackles the male gaze, Asperger’s Syndrome and what could be offensive in photography by Sherilyn Forrester | Tucson Weekly
Monica Wolfkill, left, and Whitney Morton Woodcock in Body Awareness.
The Something Something Theatre Company (I don't understand the allure of the name either) has done itself proud with their production of Body Awareness, a nifty little play by Annie Baker. The company is only a couple of years old, and as often happens, things can get off to a bumpy start. This is by far the best piece I've seen and I hope it portends the shape of things come.
Baker's play is a brief but substantive gem. A young playwright, she has already won a Pulitzer Prize for her play Flick. Here she has created interesting characters and has placed them in interesting circumstances, and the story unfolds in credible and convincing ways (which is surprisingly not the case with so many newer plays that have been offered audiences of late).
Baker shows us an unconventional home inhabited by Joyce (Monica Wolfkill), her partner of three years, Phyllis (Whitney Morton Woodcock) and Joyce's son Jared (Lorenzo Montijo). The first scene introduces us to Joyce and Jared, an odd-seeming sort of young man, arguing about whether or not Jared is autistic, or, more particularly, if he has Asperger's Syndrome, a type of autism in which an individual can be high functioning and is often exceedingly bright, but has trouble connecting socially. Jared insists he doesn't have the condition and Joyce tries to convince him that although he may not, it might be wise to be evaluated. Jared's been reading a book about the disorder and forcefully argues that he doesn't have Asperger's, citing many of the book's distinctions and categories that he definitely doesn't fall into. His mother doesn't push, assuring him she doesn't think he is a "retard," as Jared charges her with believing. He's clearly aware that he may not be like others, but hates that he might have an identity foisted on him. The focus on Jared and his search for a sense of self is a thread running throughout the fabric of Baker's play, which is skillfully woven with other related themes.
One of these themes is the objectification of women, the size and shape of their bodies, especially by the "male gaze." Phyllis is a professor of psychology at Shirley State College, a feminist through and through, who has put together a weeklong symposium called Body Awareness Week, with a variety of related activities. Baker uses the convention of Phyllis addressing her symposium audience each day, with scenes of family interactions, the real meat of the play, happening after each day's brief opening address. There are in these addresses small but significant ideas that are a part of the play's intent.
A photographer named Frank (Roger Owen) has been invited to exhibit his work for the event and is staying with the family. When Phyllis learns that he photographs nude females of all ages, she is angered at what she is sure is exploitative. His presence provokes the pre-existing tension between the members of the family and is a catalyst for the events that more fully reveal their troubles.
Baker shows restraint and patience when writing these characters, and that's one of the things that makes us like them enough to be engaged by their story. And we are engaged, in a quiet, reflective way. There's a bit of drama that hooks us and moves the characters in new directions, but it's far from a big, melodramatic conflict. But because of the storytelling demands, we do need to feel tension tightening as the story plays out, and perhaps there might be more of that tightening demonstrated in this production.
Something Something's (OK—that's the last time I'm writing that) production, directed by Joan O'Dwyer, is a smart and earnest effort that wins us over from the start. That's largely due to the wonderful performance of Montijo as Jared. He is odd, he is difficult, he's argumentative and he walks around with a battery-driven toothbrush as a sort of security blanket. But Montijo embraces what Baker has created in the character, which is a real sense of vulnerability. We feel for him.
Wolfkill gives us a sympathetic Joyce, stretched between her son and her partner and herself. Morton can be strident and out-spoken and uber-P.C. Her character isn't always likeable, which is fine, but I never really felt that the women demonstrated a deep attraction and commitment. Owen gives us a low-key Frank, an artist sensitive enough to feel the tension in the family. He offers an honest dose of the world beyond the college town not with bravado, but simply with his rather fascinating persona. He's not defensive when Phyllis attacks his motives for photographing little girls; he merely offers his sensibilities as an artist. Owen delivers this well.
There are some inadequacies (diction, please) and some deeper character work could be mined, but none is big enough to dissuade us from sharing this family's story. Scott Berg's set is attractive and works quite well, as does Mike Saxon's lighting and sound.
There were but three people in the audience when I saw the show, which was performed in the Cabaret above the Temple of Music and Art, and there was a conflict with ATC's annual gala that forced the theater to change what would be its regular Saturday night performance to the afternoon. Unfortunately, distracting noises, including loud music, managed to plague the performance.
I don't know if that's the reason there was a tiny audience. But it's a good show. It deserves an audience.
Ever since I saw the steamy and heartwarming “Anna in the Tropics” by Nilo Cruz, produced by Arizona Theatre Company in 2004, I have loved this play. It contains so many of my favorite topics.
The importance of quality, the temptation of compromise, the nature of true love, the nourishment of family – it's all there in this Pulitzer Prize winner which Something Something Theatre Company opened recently.
Esther Almazan as director finds the magic in every key scene, stirring up all the flavorful emotions of a traditional Cuban family determined to keep its traditional cigar making “factory” alive on the Florida gulf coast.
They call it a factory but really it is just a handful of relatives sitting around wooden tables in the early 1900s, patiently and lovingly rolling up just the right blend of carefully chosen tobacco leaves – not too loose, not to tight – to create heavenly cigars.
Early on we are reminded just how much of a period piece this is, when one of the characters proclaims that every man has two loves in life, his wife and his cigar.
Former smokers should be warned that this rich dialogue contains many wonderful references to the joys of smoking. These are characters who do, indeed, appreciate all the pleasure their lives have to offer. Spend much time in their company and lighting up even a cigarette starts to seem well worth the risk.
Cigarettes, though, are just for those modern types working so hard to make piles of money that they don't have time to stop long enough to properly appreciate the full draw of a fine cigar rolled by hand with great affection.
That's the type of cigar this family creates through the long, hot days before air conditioning was invented. To help the time pass more pleasantly, it became the tradition in Cuba for cigar factories to hire a reader, someone who sat in a chair opposite the workers to expressively read them world class literature.
These readers were as theatrical as they were educated, knowing all the greatest published books. To the largely uneducated cigar rollers, mostly women, the readers were like rock stars.
In the Something Something cast, Eddie Diaz as Cheche is the spark plug of confrontation, insisting this family is terminally stuck in the past. They need to act like Americans, buy modern cigar-making machines that cheaply produce hundreds more cigars. Yes, they are inferior smokes...but so what?
CiCi Salcido holds center stage as Ofelia, the matriarch who keeps everything together, insisting their family is known for making the best cigars and always will be. Stepping into this tinder box of combustible passion is the factory's new reader arriving from Havanna, Juan Julian (newcomer Thomas Tucker).
Ever gracious and refusing to take sides, Juan becomes romantically involved with Conchita (a convincing Whitney Morton Woodcock). Unfortunately, Conchita is already married to Palomo (Tiernan Erickson). You can see where this is going.
Strong in smaller roles are Paul Hammack playing Santiago, the harried husband of Ofelia. He always means well, and feels so sorry about drinking too much. Robin Carson brings spunky energy as the young and idealistic Marela.
This is the debut season of Something Something Theatre, starting out the Tucson way with very little in resources but moving van loads of courage and enthusiasm. Their investment is paying off.
“Anna in the Tropics” runs through May 1, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at the ZUZI! theater in the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave.
Tickets are $22 general admission, $18 students, seniors, military. For details and reservations, 520.468.6111, or visit somethingsomethingtheatre.com
"4,000 MILES" MATCHES COMMUNIST LEFTIES, TODAY'S PROGRESSIVES by Chuck Graham | TucsonStage.blogspot.com
Maybe too subtle for its own good, but loads of fun to discuss afterward, “4,000 Miles” does call for your patience but also provides a nice reward.
As the winner of an Obie and a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, the play compares leftist attitudes of radical communist supporters in the 1940s with today's progressive activists more concerned with America's attitudes toward gender and race.
Is one more important than the other? Does the history of one hold any implications for the coming history of the other? Can we actually learn anything from contemplating any of this?
There is the part where Vera gruffly calls Leo's sensitive philosophizing “New Age baloney,” but Leo gets in his licks, too. He looks at the collection of communist tomes written by Vera's late husband and finds them quaint.
Amy Herzog the playwright is too determined not to take sides in this philosophical debate. But the hippies did seem to be having more fun than today's tight-jawed feminists and racial score-card keepers.
Tucson's most daring new company of thespians, the Something Something Theater led by Joan O'Dwyer, fearlessly raises its own bar of expectations by presenting “4000 Miles” in the downtown Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art.
DDavis is cast as 91-year-old Vera, a lifetime denizen of Greenwich Village living in a rent-controlled apartment. Feeling as committed to the cause as ever, she recalls that sentimental image of the old firehouse dog who sleeps all day but is instantly ready to run when the fire bell goes off.
Eric Everts plays Leo, 21-year-old grandson of Vera, who arrives unannounced at her apartment in the middle of the night, carrying the bicycle he has just ridden from Seattle. He did stop first at his ex-girlfriend's Manhattan apartment, but she threw him out.
While “4000 Miles” contains no echoes of “Harold and Maude,” there is a kind of wary understanding that does develop between the fading Vera and needy Leo. She recognizes his outsider status, sees through the veneer he tries to project for protection.
Leo is convinced he is helping his grandmother just by showing up. And in some ways, he is. Additional complications pop up when Leo's ex-girlfriend Bec (Meagan Jones) does show up at Vera's place.
And there is the night Leo brings home an even younger pop culture progressive, Amanda (Samantha Orzech), whose ideas come with a right wing rigidity.
There is a resolution of sorts to this demand for change across the generations. That demand to divide us into winners and losers is inherent in the American personality, a carryover from our frontier past when only the winners survived.
But there is also the implication that all this agitation hasn't accomplished much of anything. That maybe Facebook is right, the real winners are the bankers, the military-industrial combine, corporate executives, Wall Street's money manipulators...
“4000 Miles” continues through February 28 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $22, with $4 discounts for students and seniors. For details and reservations, 520.468.6111, or visit somethingsomethingtheatre.com
Carly Elizabeth Preston probes the depths of desperation as Hester Swane in "The Bog of Cats" at Theatre ZUZI.
It takes a village to raise a monster, too. And you can bet no villager is going to step forward to take the credit. Certainly not in Ireland's rural Bog of Cats where the witchy Catwoman (Martie van der Voort) slurps her milk from a bowl.
Yes, we are speaking of the new and ambitious Something Something Theatre Company with its production “The Bog of Cats” by Marina Carr, in which the director Joan O'Dwyer has drawn a deeply profound performance from Carley Elizabeth Preston as the terminally troubled Hester Swane.
Preston has been a successful Tucson actor for several years, playing both comedic and serious roles. But her performance here is something beyond all that, a far more complex and artistically meaningful accomplishment.
Every Carly Preston fan will want to see this show, so years from now they can claim to have been there when she created such a simultaneously horrifying and sympathetic character.
O'Dwyer takes pride in the playwright's choice of loosely basing this work on the tragic Greek myth of Media, by making the role of Hester a symbol of suppressed female energy in a rigid society of traditional values. The harder Hester tries to justify her own defiant life choices, the more certain becomes her demise.
A sprawling cast of 12 (the child role of Josie is double-cast) creates some confusing scenes in Act One on the expansive Zuzi Theater stage steeped in shadows. It takes awhile to get all the main personalities established and their conflicted demands defined.
But then in the second act each of the players has at least one showcase scene, their emotions adding one by one to the stack of hurdles blocking Hester's path to resolution. As her frustration builds, so does the sour nature of this imploding little community that can't help feeding on itself.
Basically, we have Carthage Kilbride (Nowell Kral), the young father of Hester's beloved seven-year-old child Josie (played by Sierra Ryan-Langan and Melanie Sparrold), all set to marry the more well-to-do and lovely Caroline Cassidy (Jasmine Roth).
Never mind that Carthage and Hester (who is about 10 years older than Carthage), have already been living together for a decade without benefit of marriage. Although Josie their child has been happily living with them, Carthage now wants Josie to leave her mother. Josie must come live with him and Caroline once they are properly married.
Josie is upset by this, and rightfully so. Meanwhile, Caroline's father Xavier (Roger Owen) has his own reasons for being bothered by Josie continuing to live with Hester.
Adding their voices are Monica Murray (O'Dwyer), as a kind of one-person Greek chorus sympathetic to Hester's plight, and Carthhage's eccentric mother Mrs. Kilbride (India Osborne), who provides the play's comic relief.
Paul Hammack gets his measure of laughs as the tipsy priest Father Willow. Vaughn Sherman has a small but pivotal role as the young Ghost of Joseph Swane, who was Hester's brother.
It takes all of Act One to get the main personalities established and their conflicted demands defined. Having so many inexperienced actors on stage does turn many of the scenes into a bit of a muddle.
But this also gives Preston time to build her own fated momentum, which we watch helplessly from the sidelines. Imagine a freight train bearing down on a cluster of cows innocently nibbling grass between the railroad ties.
“The Bog of Cats” continues through Nov. 22, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, at Theatre ZUZI! in the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $22, with discounts available. For details and reservations, www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com