The 41st Annual Spring Festival of the Arts Returns to Tempe

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All images courtesy of Tempe Festival of the Arts

by Nicole Royse

The Tempe Festival of the Arts is a spectacular 3-day event taking place Friday, March 23 through Sunday, March 25, showcasing exceptional visual artists from around the country. Returning for its 41st season, this festival focuses on amazing art, edibles, and entertainment situated in the heart of beautiful Downtown Tempe!

Open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM and offering visitors the opportunity to explore wonderful Mill Avenue from Third Street to University,  the Tempe Festival of the Arts has consistently been ranked in the Top 200 Fine Art and Fine Craft Festivals in the nation and they are expecting nearly 225,000 visitors this year!

spring festival 05Receiving around 700 applicants, that are then juried by members of the local art community, the top artisans are ranked in each category and the highest-ranking artists receive invitations to participate.

The Tempe Festival of the Arts will highlight a diverse and eclectic array of artists working in 16 different visual arts categories including ceramics, jewelry, photography, wearable art, and wood to name just a few. Selected by jury, 350 artist booths will line Mill Avenue filled with unique and hand-made artwork that offer visitors a wonderful opportunity to meet the artists and shop an eclectic collection of works.

spring festival 02During the Festival, a new jury selects the best overall artist and the top artist in each category receives cash honoraria awards. Adam Homan, an Arizona native who has been creating metal art for the past 21 years is this year’s featured artist, whose work utilizes a “unique blend of steel, re-purposed objects and fiber optics.”

The Festival will present well-known local and regional music with more than a dozen street performers as well as the new edition “Unplugged Lounge” courtesy of the Graduate Tempe. They will also offer a wonderful variety of food options from local vendors that can be found throughout the festival at the food court, “Food Truck Alley”, snack vendors, and the featured Beer and Wine gardens.

spring festival 03The ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, located at the Brickyard on Mill, features an interesting gallery space and open storage combination handled by the Ceramics Research Center with a diverse collection of 3,500 ceramic pieces at any one time.

Festival goers can experiment with chalk at the Chalk-A-Lot Street featuring a special curated chalk art section located on 4th Street and Mill with amazing professional chalk artists competing for awards.

For complete Tempe Festival of the Arts details, artist line up and entertainment schedules visit them online. Be sure also to follow them online on Twitter and Facebook. Admission to the festival is free!


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Outside Mullingar Brings Authentic Irish Life to Arizona Theatre Company

Outside Mullingar 01by Dale I. Rasmussen

In less than a month, St. Patrick’s day will be upon us and, with it, all the usual tropes and clichés of the holiday. As usual, St. Patrick himself will be quickly overlooked by all but the most orthodox of celebrants and the revelry will center on “being Irish.”

Or maybe it’s just “the Irish.” Could be “Ireland.” It depends on who you ask, really. It’s not like Irish people are the only ones wearing green on the 17th.

But whatever people are toasting with their green beer, by the middle of March, we’ll all be walking hip deep in cardboard four-leaf clovers and cartoon leprechauns, corned beef and cabbage salesmen will be having their best month of the year, and whether anyone wants it or not, there will be a bumper crop of awful impressions and painful adventures in dialect straight out of breakfast cereal commercials.

Knowing what’s coming then, it’s reassuring to have a reminder that Ireland is a real place with real dirt under real rain, and the people who live are exactly that – people, not caricatures or cartoons, but actual people with histories, loves, losses, dreams, stories to tell and a language of their own to tell them with.

Outside Mullingar, the fourth production of Arizona Theatre Company’s 2017-2018 season will serve well as that reminder. Playwright John Patrick Shanley spent twenty years ruminating on the stories he heard and the people he met on his first visit to Ireland before writing the show, which was nominated for a Tony for Best Play in 2014. This production, the directorial debut at ATC of Artistic Director David Ivers is an intimate, unpretentious and quietly soulful production.

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Robynn Rodriguez and John Hutton. All photos by Tim Fuller and courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company

This is a love story, though not simply about romantic love, but also about the love of parents for children, children for parents, love of the places we grew up and love of the dreams we have of escaping them. There’s also a romance, too.

Scenic Designer Scott Davis’ unassuming composition conjures two adjacent farmhouses in rural Ireland, and occasionally the fields around them. Worn lumber, stained a weathered emerald, forms a tightly constructed frame around the action, neatly symbolizing the bonds between the characters – tightly crafted, if not always intentional.

The houses themselves – or more accurately, the rooms, as we only see one room of each house – are neither stylized or showy, though they serve to paint clear pictures of the people living within them – a pair of grown bachelors in one, a proud and capable woman putting up a good fight in a solitary life in the other.

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Cassandra Bissell and Larry Bull

The land outside these homes, a land the characters each have a complicated relationship with, and which complicates their relationships with each other, is evoked through sound, light and shadow by Sound Designer Brian Jerome Petersen and Lighting Designer Xavier Pierce.

In a story where the spaces around things and people is so important to the narrative, their designs handshake both eloquently and unobtrusively, mostly by suggestion. When it rains on stage, it’s easy to imagine the smell of wet soil under old boots, which is a credit to their work.

The cast of characters is not a large one, though the show doesn’t suffer any dearth of personality as a result. Two generations of Reilly men, Tony and his son Anthony live next door, as the play opens, to the Muldoons, Rosemary and her mother Aoife. Aoife’s husband, an old friend of Tony’s has just passed, and Tony is hopeful of convincing Aoife of a business offer he’d never convinced her husband of when he was alive.

Outside Mullingar 02As a result of his efforts, old grudges and long-held secrets begin to drip out, though only slowly, as each character is model of ornery stubbornness and less-than-tender sensitivities. The dialogue is not only sharply funny, if often heartbreaking, but under the ministrations of Dialect Coach David Morden, achieves that rarest of accolades in productions requiring dialects: It’s consistent. The musicality that compelled Shanley to scribe the play in the first place resounds from the stage like a score by turns brassy and enchanting.

Aoife and Tony are embodied by Robynn Rodriguez and John Hutton, respectively. Neither is burdened with an overabundance of stage time, but neither fails to make a meal of the time given their characters. Hutton is particularly effective, especially in the first scenes of the play. He’s funny and frustrating, dropping sharp lines impossible not to laugh at, then lobbing casual cruelty at his son and neighbors. Tony walks an impossibly fine line, being somehow mean without coming off as malicious or unlikeable, and Hutton is clearly having a ball with him.

The younger pair, and the characters which the script deals with most directly and often are Anthony and Rosemary, played in this staging by Larry Bull and Cassandra Bissell. That there’s a romance simmering between these two is established to the audience in the first minutes of the play, but the authentic walls each of them erects out of pride and spite make the question of if they’ll ever realize that fact themselves a compelling one until the lights come up at the end of the show.

Outside Mullingar 04Bissell is a powerhouse. Sleight of frame, it sometimes seems that her temper and her contempt move her against her will. But even for her touchiness, Rosemary is a character who aches, and her aching is palpable.

Not every moment is a treasure, as there’s a joke or two that doesn’t work, a bedroom scene that treads on some unearned reconciliation, and revelation late in the show that crosses the line of non sequitur, but the actors are to be commended for throwing themselves into it. If the moment doesn’t work, it’s because it doesn’t work on the page, and the thud is easily forgivable, considering how the rest of Shanley’s script booms.

The odd misstep aside, Outside Mullingar was a fantastic production, that was both simple and complex. And, I reiterate, no leprechauns.


For more info and where you can get tickets to upcoming Arizona Theatre Company shows (including the stellar looking Low Down Dirty Blues), head to their website.

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Director David Ivers with cast
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The Company

Space 55 Presents Phoenix Premiere of Luna Gale

luna gale 01by Rebecca Rudnyk

Luna Gale, playing at the intimate Space 55 through March 4, is gritty, powerful and profoundly topical.

Set amongst the cultural awakening of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement, and unable to ignore the ideological political perspectives that certainly divide (and are arguably beginning to culturally define) us, this show has something important to say. And now is an opportune time to do so.

An unusual Batmobile greets patrons upon their first step within the doors. It brings a smile, and an intrigue that sustains through the experience of the production. This is an unconventional venue with a powerful story to tell. And thanks to the artistic vision of the Space 55 team, and the undeniable talent of the cast, this show successfully reminds even the most spoiled of high brow audiences that good theatre is about telling important stories and leaving an impact on those who cathartically experience them.

The performance area is stark, primarily occupied by chairs, with a backdrop of white panels and hanging foliage. There is a certain beauty in the shadows cast by hanging leaves and human figures. So clean and simple. So natural. Almost comfortable. Almost.

Lori Kaminsky’s lighting choices are muted, with only two moments of significance offering a true variation in luminescence. In a black-box theatre with the audience so close they are spying on intimate moments more than observing through a fourth wall: each choice is amplified.

Ultimately, this production proves that Rebecca Gilman’s eloquent script requires very little more than brilliant performances to make a tremendous impact.

The audience’s journey is anchored by Caroline, a woman living a life dedicated to saving children, or at least trying her best though struggling to so do. Hers is a life full of pain and regret, existential fulfillment and accomplishment. Never quelling her battle to find inner peace. She is the everyman. She is us. And Lindsey Gemme as Caroline is absolutely radiant at being so. At all times she carries her heavy and overflowing bag of cases. She is encumbered, though she has chosen to be. And the burden she bears weighs on the audience, a true testament to the success of the choices made by Duane Daniels, RC Contreras, and the entire cast.

The underpinning themes and characters are arguably as powerful as the anchor. Parental love, control and selfishness. Religion, faith, fanaticism, and skepticism. Marriage and divorce. The struggle for sobriety, accompanied by justification and an understanding for the act of self-medicating. Sacrifice. Shame. All of these concepts play an integral role in telling the story. A story that needs to be told. Perhaps now more than ever before.

The show is performed on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM, and on Sundays at 2 PM, through March 4. Tickets are $15, and there is not a bad seat in the (albeit quite tiny) house. There is free parking available just outside the doors, and the unique warehouse-like space is definitely worth a walk around before the show starts.

If you have an inclination to support local theatre while experiencing it first-hand, Luna Gale is a solid option.


For mature audiences. Visit Space 55’s website for tickets.

Hamilton Comes to Tempe

by Rebecca Rudnyk

So let’s be honest. If you’re reading this, a formal introduction is likely not necessary. In my lifetime as a dedicated theatre nerd, I recall no other show garnering the excitement or the hype of Hamilton.

The musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is based on the Ron Chernow biography detailing the life, death, and legacy of Alexander Hamilton. And it is arguably the biggest thing to happen to live theatre in decades. It is a show about America; its founding and its founders. Portrayed by actors, and using music, as diverse as our society is today. It is apologetically complex, while simultaneously crisp and minimalistic.

Currently playing on Broadway, as well as in London and Chicago, Hamilton recently launched its first national tour. Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium is hosting some of the earliest productions, playing from January 30 – February 25, 2018. Outside of the venue on opening night, you could feel the tangible electricity in the air. Expectations were high, and excitement was palpable. And I suspect that nobody left disappointed.

Amber Iman, Emmy Raver-Lampman & Hamilton Company – HAMILTON National Tour (c) Joan Marcus

The cast had enormous shoes to fill. A large portion of attendees had heard, if not obsessively listened to, the Triple Platinum original cast recording. Cast albums can be a double-edged sword. While the album played an integral role in establishing Hamilton as a cultural phenomenon, it also set a bar of expectation that any album recorded and perfected in a studio does.

As fans and audience members, we cannot help but desire to hear the songs and interactions precisely as they sound when we listen to them in our earbuds, cars, and homes. Thus, there is always a chance that the audience will be disappointed by the richness of extremely incredible, but occasionally live, voices. Even without the perfect acoustics some smaller venues provide, the entire cast delivered heartily. And the absolutely stellar performances by Austin Scott as Hamilton and Sabrina Sloan as Angelica Schuyler elevated the production to an unquestionably Broadway-caliber level.

Jordan Donica & Hamilton Company – HAMILTON National Tour (c) Joan Marcus

Hamilton is unpretentiously complex. Character development is layered upon social commentary, which is layered on top of music of every possible genre. The complexity of words and articulation develops as characters do. Music serves as a venue to represent culture. Immigrants, who have to fight for their place in society, leverage the percussion and rapidity of rap to speak their minds. The European monarch leverages the comfort of British pop to convey his thoughts. And “Americans,” those who were born in (and thus did not have to fight for their place in) their new country, play in the melodic spaces in between.

David Korins’ set design is muted and beautiful. Comprised of wood, brick, and rope, it serves as the perfect setting for a country in development; built by enslaved hostages, brilliant idealists, and “manumission abolitionists”. The turntable, used to symbolize the passage of time and the struggles of existence, subtly provides the mechanics for some of the show’s most heart-wrenching and powerful moments. Angelica’s request that Hamilton not “forget to write” proved profoundly intense. It gets me every time. There are many other moments that could only exist through the brilliant use of the turntable. But this is not meant to be a spoiler article, so I encourage you to go and discover those moments for yourself!

Additionally, Howell Binkley’s lighting design is a character in itself. A muted stage palate provides a blank canvas in need of light. Binkley found the space with shadows, depth, movement, and color. There are moments that evoke audible gasps from the audience perfectly timed to a lighting change, most notably in the “eye of a hurricane”.

Hamilton Company – HAMILTON National Tour (c) Joan Marcus_preview

Paul Tazewell’s costume design, primarily cloaking dancers in white, also considers the power of shadow. This is not a show meant to distract with beauty, glitz or glamour. The costumes are not memorable, nor are they meant to be. They serve a utilitarian purpose. They allow you to know and understand the characters.

In life there is some art that is world-changing; art that changes us, leaving an indelible mark on our souls. We experience it and know we are forever changed. I encourage you to experience Hamilton for yourself.

If you don’t already have tickets, there’s still hope! While Hamilton in Tempe is officially sold out, a small number of tickets are released daily. Your best best is to try in the morning the day of, through ASU Gammage/Ticketmaster. There is also a lottery for 40 tickets in the first two rows of the theater for every performance. If you win, those premium seats will only cost you $10 each! You can enter the lottery for every single performance through the Hamilton App which you can download from iTunes or Google Play.


Man of La Mancha Lights Up the Herberger

la mancha 01by Dale I. Rasmussen

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap these days.

It seems that for every person you know who’s buying new running shoes or a couple of boxes of nicotine gum, there’s a half-dozen more all too happy to explain why, and usually when and how, they decided to forego the ritual. Moreover, they’ll usually offer a sad, knowing smile at the new Nike crossfits, shrugging in their certainty that the shoes will be buried at the back of the closet before Valentine’s Day.

This time of year, a time for those who are looking to see something better from themselves, and the ones with a hunger to keep them from doing so, is then a uniquely appropriate time for the story of Don Quixote, a man possessed by visions of a world, and a humanity, better than this one.

Luckily, Arizona Theatre Company is prepared with exactly that.  Mounting their third production in the 2017-18 season is the classic Man of La Mancha, by Dale Wasserman with music by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion. With a Tony for Best Musical when it debuted over 50 years ago, four Broadway revivals, the ubiquitous Peter O’Toole adaptation, perhaps the most impressive fact is that people who don’t even watch musicals know “The Impossible Dream”. The show’s bona fides are unquestionable.

Now, understand that this new production, under the direction of David Bennett doesn’t need any of that, and manages to not only live up to the mammoth fame of the script and music, but actually eclipses them, presenting an experience that is electrifying, visceral, and fresh. This show is no nostalgia act; it’s a revelation.

Wasserman’s text remains, contextualizing the story of Don Quixote around the character of the man who wrote him, Miguel de Cervantes. The majority of the action is still devoted to a play-within-a-play where Cervantes (playing Don Quixote) offers a defense of his uncynical philosophy.

However, instead of taking place in a sixteenth century dungeon, the colossal (and vandalized) Franco poster that greets the audience as they take their seats establishes immediately that this Cervantes is tilting at windmills in the midst of Spain’s civil war of the 1930s.

The dungeon is now a below-street level tavern, stunningly realized by William Bloodgood’s scenic design and peopled with political dissidents awaiting their day in a kangaroo court. This simple shift recolors every scene of the story, creating an immediacy that will not allow the audience to file the story under the easy heading of a fairy tale or a bedtime story. The challenge to repudiate cynicism is made painfully new and laid squarely before a 2018 audience.

Cervantes and Quixote are incarnated here by Broadway veteran Philip Hernandez, who is nothing short of stunning. His Quixote is endearing, and earnest, and unquestionably mad, whereas Cervantes is exhausted, noble, and clearly fully aware of the reality he’s unwilling to settle for. A gentle force would be impressive by itself, but when paired with his rich and stirring baritone, his performance crosses a line into superlative. His performance of “The Impossible Dream” was a show-stopper, and I swear he made taking ownership of the iconic song look all-but-easy.

One might readily expect such a powerful performance to outshine those nearby, so it’s to the production’s great credit that the performers surrounding Hernandez are so impressive in their own right. Quixote’s long-suffering sidekick Sancho is brought to giddy and hilarious life by Carlos Lopez, who may have been born specifically to play this part.

The pessimistic barmaid/prostitute who finds herself reluctantly envisioned as the knight-errant’s virtuous Dulcinea is here portrayed by Michelle Dawson. Her operatic soprano is transcendent and her ability to project the kind of weariness that comes from carrying around hurt is heartbreaking.

Finally, every story worth telling has a good villain. That role (or roles, considering the dual parts) is filled here to fantastic effect by Michael Sharon. He isn’t given pages of lines to deliver, but with a fairly limited amount of time in the spotlight, Sharon creates that magically powerful rarity – a villain who really seems to believe that he’s right. It was noted before the show that it took eight months to assemble this cast. Frankly, I have no trouble believing it, and the time was obviously put to good use.

The sheer immensity of the performances put on by the central cast of characters makes it difficult to believe that they would be outshined by the company, and yet that’s exactly what happens. Mitch Leigh’s music under supervision of Tim Symons and arranged by Greg Fulton is played onstage by the company, with instruments passed freely from hand to hand. The talent on casual display is no less than astounding, and only moreso when Kathryn Van Meter’s choreography comes into play, creating a shifting kaleidoscope of bodies and music on the stage that often explodes in complexity, but never devolves into chaos.

It’s January, and by bringing a production that mines so much verve, surprise, and raw emotion from such familiar ground, the ATC is laying down a challenge to us all, I believe. It’s a time for impossible dreams, for believing in the fantastic, and questing for new adventures. I’m inclined to agree, and I would hasten to add that catching this show would be grand and worthwhile adventure to start the year.


Man of La Mancha opened January 5th, and runs until the 28th. Information and tickets are available through the Arizona Theatre Company.

Prizefighting Kangaroo: Corpse Party

Prizefighting Kangaroo 500In the premiere episode of the Prizefighting Kangaroo, Ashley and Amy talk about some of the actors and behind-the-scenes folks from the movie industry who shuffled off this mortal coil in 2017.

From controversial celebs like Jerry Lewis to great character actors like Bill Paxton and Powers Boothe to Tobe Hooper, the director who gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these two get opinionated about their work and careers.

After checking out the podcast below, make sure to head out to Valley Bar on Tuesday, December 26 for TRIVIADOME: Cinema & Culture Trivia!  Get your team of (6) together for this multi-round quiz featuring awesome cinema-related prizes from Prizefighting Kangaroo, gift certificates from Valley Bar, concert tickets from Stateside Presents, and much more. FREE in the Rose Room, sign-up starts at 7:00 PM and the trivia begins at 8:00! More info can be found here.

49th Annual Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts

tempe festival -1by Nicole Royse

December 1st through December 3rd the Tempe Festival of the Arts brings amazing art, edibles and entertainment to beautiful downtown Tempe in a FREE family friendly event! Highlighting a diverse array of artists working in 16 different visual arts categories including ceramics, jewelry, photography, wearable art, and wood. Since its inception, the Tempe Festival of the Arts has consistently been ranked in the Top 100 Classic & Contemporary Craft Shows in the nation and they are expecting nearly 225,000 visitors this year!

Those heading to Tempe this weekend can explore the festival on Mill Avenue (from 3rd Street to University) daily from 10am to 5:30pm. The street will be lined with about 350 artist booths selected by jury, filled with unique, hand-made artwork. The festival also gives folks the opportunity to meet the artists while shopping an eclectic collection of works.

This year’s featured artist is local mixed-media artist Erin Curry, who was selected by a jurying committee. “Curry’s one-of-a-kind artwork incorporates Nanoliner ink pen drawings on watercolor paper and wood panels, while she is admittedly afraid of needles, they play an imperative role in creating her 3-D shadowbox artwork.”

tempe festival 02Live entertainment is scheduled throughout the event from captivating street performers and entertainment booths set up along the streets to live music. Three different stages will highlight a variety of live music including bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz and rock featuring such artists Bossa Brazil, The Blaise Lantana Band, Walt Richardson, The Hourglass Cats, Desert Dixie, The Brothers Too and other local and regional talent.

Foodies be sure to check out the “Cottage Edibles” section, which includes hand-made gourmet foods, seasonings, cottage crafts and remedies, and festival favorite food. An assortment of fair food and street eats will be on hand including Blue Banjo BBQ, The Crepe Club, Hot Bamboo, Island Noodles — plus food trucks like Hibachibot, The Maine Lobster Lady, Rockabelly, Yellowman Fry Bread, and more.

This year the festival also features two beer and wine gardens where visitors (21 & older) can enjoy beverages on site from local vendors. Visit the Arizona Wine Tasting in Centerpoint Plaza for sampling and purchase of featured Arizona wines, including local award-winning wineries like Burning Tree Cellars, Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Pillsbury Wine Company & Vineyard and others. Or raise a glass and toast with beers and brews from Tempe’s own Pedal Haus, and Four Peaks Brewing Company. Tickets are available on-site for the beer and wine gardens, as well as online in advance.

tempe festival 03The festival offers something for everyone in the family with kid-oriented programming and interactive sponsored exhibits such as Boots in the House, Build-A-Racecar Party, Creative Reuse Arizona, Girls Rock! (a musical petting zoo), Phoenix Youth Circus, Practical Art, and more. Did we mention that Kids Block, a hands-on exhibit will be featuring artwork from over 400 students throughout the valley, Chalk-a-Lot Street where kids and professionals use chalk to create original murals. Visitors can also stop by the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery (located at the Brickyard on Mill) that includes an intriguing gallery space and open storage combination handled by the Ceramics Research Center with a diverse collection of 3,500 ceramic pieces at any one time.

Get out and explore the 49th Annual Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts this weekend enjoy art, music, and get your holiday shopping done early! For complete details about this weekend’s Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts visit them online here and don’t forget to share your photos throughout the festival!


All images courtesy and copyright of Tempe Festival of the Arts.

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The Arizona Theatre Company Brings The River Bride To Life

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All photos courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company

by Dale I. Rasmussen

This week, around the Valley, children will return to their parents’ homes, families with gather around dining room tables, and proclamations will be made about what they’re thankful for this year.

Then, over a handful of hours, old resentments, grudges, and disappointments will be removed like grandma’s china from the dining room cabinet and laid out in orderly patterns, just like happens every year. If, between the jellied cranberries and screaming diatribes about “just giving the President a chance,” you find yourself in need of a respite, the Arizona Theatre Company would be excited to offer you the option to see a return they are thankful for.

Last week, ATC opened the second show of their 51st season, Marisela Trevino Orta’s The River Bride which was recognized with the company’s National Latino Playwriting Award in 2013; a tale in which familial resentments, grudges, and disappointments take center stage.

Orta’s story, the first of an intended “grim Latino fairy-tale cycle,” is one of those plays that, like the best bedtime stories, feels both immediately familiar and strangely menacing at the same time. Set against the Amazon and drawn like river water from Brazilian folklore, the story concerns itself with the Costa family; especially its oldest daughter Helena and her younger sister Belmira.

As the play opens, it is three days until Belmira’s marriage to a local fisherman, which is the most exciting news in the household until a strange man is pulled out the river in Senor Costa’s fishing nets. From there, for the next hour and a half, Orta takes us on a cruise through themes of jealousy, love (romantic and otherwise), loss, loneliness, mystery and regret.

Paula Rebelo as Belmira Costa | Photo by Tim Fuller

If that sounds like a downer or a buzzkill, well, frankly it kind of is. But as downer buzzkills go, it’s a moving and haunting one, even if not every theme is given equal measure. Under the direction of Kinan Valdez, The River Bride is a balance of successes and near-misses, but the overall effect is still a powerful one.

Regina Garcia’s scenic design is a highlight. A handful of simple wooden pieces slide away or silently fly in as needed, moving action from the family home to the docks nearby in less time than it takes to realize that it’s happened. It feels like the way things move in dreams, and that dreamlike quality is a large part of why this fable is so effective. Shows probably shouldn’t be recommended on the virtue of their sets alone, but when the set is this good – and used this well – it’s easy to be tempted.

However, as impressive as I may have found Garcia’s set (and here I should mention David Lee Cuthbert’s lighting and projection design as well), it wouldn’t be much of a fairy-tale without characters, and Orta’s story is told by an impressive cast. The sisters at the heart of the story form a strong core. Paula Rebelo’s Belmira deftly walks the line between wide-eyed ingenue and the closest thing this story has to an onstage antagonist. You want to slap her, and you want to see her happy, and, in that, her “little sister” game is strong. Sarita Ocon, on the other hand, is easily believable as the older sister who long ago got used to bowing to Belmira’s whims, and it’s not hard to find yourself rooting for her.

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Hugo E. Carbajal as Moises | Tim Fuller

Dena Martinez plays their mother, and in the manner of mothers in fairy-tales, Senora Costa is suitably wise, warm, and patient, but it’s in her husband, portrayed by Leandro Cano that the cast finds its standout and the production finds its most satisfying element. Cano’s Senor Costa is a hulking bear of a man and the evergreen love of Helena and Belmira’s parents is, without question, the most infectious element of the show.

Unfortunately, the production’s central love story, and the mystery surrounding it, aren’t the same unqualified success. As far as the mystery goes, we’ll avoid veering into spoilers here, but Orta’s script won’t make you wait long for the goods. The identity of the handsome stranger won’t be stated out loud until near the end of the story, but it won’t take more than a handful of scenes to put the pieces together, which makes it easier to focus on the love story, which isn’t to the production’s benefit.

Ocon’s Helena is both stalwart and sacrificing, and Hugo E. Carbajal as Moises, the bandaged and amnesiac stranger, is both charming and engaging, but the connection between them feels more like the beginning of a beautiful friendship than a passionate romance. They’re both likable and trustworthy, so when they say they’re in love, I guess I believe them, but you’ll have to take their word for it.

The production isn’t heavy on surprises, but fables seldom are, and what is here is presented in a way that seems both fresh and familiar, comfortable but not safe. Disney, this is not, and no guarantees are made for a feel-good ending, but if you don’t let that deter you, you can not only catch a great show this weekend, but maybe get a few hours away from the debate your cousin is having with your uncle in front of the TV.

The River Bride continues at The Herberger Theatre through December 3rd. Up next for The ATC is Man of La Mancha which promises to be a highlight of the season. Tickets to both shows (and others) are available through the Arizona Theatre Company here.


Cast and Crew of The River Bride | Tim Fuller

6th Street Market Returns to Downtown Tempe

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All images are courtesy and copyright of Downtown Tempe Authority and 6th Street Market.

by Nicole Royse

TEMPE, AZ — The 6th Street Market, a seasonal Sunday marketplace featuring locally produced, handmade goods, takes place every Sunday through April 22, 2018.

This wonderful, local, and multifaceted marketplace is situated in the heart of downtown Tempe at the beautiful 6th Street Park, running from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM each week.

Featuring an eclectic mix of 30+ makers, food booths, live music, interactive art projects and much more, some local brands featured include indie darlings Iconic Cocktail, Hardcore Handmade, and All the Tiny Pieces, as well as numerous area designers, studios and makers of all kinds.

6th street market 01“We’re beyond excited to re-launch the 6th Street Market this season with such a powerhouse of strong, talented and accomplished creatives,” said the Downtown Tempe Authority’s Director of Placemaking and market coordinator Julie Kent. She went on to say, “The market offers the opportunity for the community to celebrate, embrace, and support local creativity while creating a true sense of place in our Downtown.”

The Downtown Tempe Authority (DTA) are an “award-winning, private non-profit organization that works in partnership with the City of Tempe to increase the value of Downtown Tempe through enhanced management, safety, marketing and promotional services on behalf of DTA members and other downtown stakeholders.”

6th street market 02The DTA has created a fantastic event for the community with 6th Street Market.  They support the budding arts community, providing artists with an opportunity to showcase and sell their work, while encouraging a thriving and diverse community of artists and makers in Downtown Tempe and the surrounding areas.

6th Street Market also plans to host special events throughout the season. Recently showcasing a fantastic event coordinated by Local Lily partnering with Stella the Airstream, a mobile photo booth outfitted inside a vintage Airstream trailer was raising money for a worthy cause: Tempe-based pet rescue Lost Our Home.

Get out this Sunday and explore downtown Tempe while checking out the 6th Street Market. Great local vendors to meet, unique local goods to buy, and engagement with the community!


For more info, visit the 6th Street Market online. For more info about the DTA visit their website.

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The Arizona Theatre Company Opens New Season with Neil Simon’s Chapter Two

chapter two 01by Dale I. Rasmussen

Around most of the country, Spring gets a lot of recognition as a time of new beginnings, but here in the Valley of the Sun, the Fall fills that role. And, once again, our own season of reawakening is upon us.

This past weekend, Arizona Theatre Company, going through a something of a rebirth of its own, kicked off it’s 51st season – it’s first under new Artistic Director David Ivers and Managing Director Billy Russo – with a play that turns its own focus on the blessings and perils of starting over, Neil Simon’s Chapter Two.

Chapter Two is Simon’s 1977 semi-autobiographical story about a writer and freshly minted widower – George Schneider, played by David Mason – finding love again, and mostly against his will, with actress and new divorcee Jennie Malone, here brought to wide-eyed life by Blair Baker.

They are, at various points, encouraged, discouraged, distracted and dismayed in their fledgling romance by George’s brother Leo, and Jennie’s best friend Faye Medwick, with Ben Huber and Diana Pappas rounding out the cast in those roles. Simon wrote the piece as a tribute to his second wife, Marsha Mason, who directed the ATC production.

Schneider, our substitute for Simon, is portrayed here by Mason as a man lost at sea. From his first moments onstage, returning from an overseas trip revisiting the sites of his first honeymoon and holding his unopened mail like he’s can’t quite comprehend its purpose, Mason paints a picture of a life that had once been secure now come untethered.

Schneider’s a funny character, with most of his dialogue coming across like punchlines, and punchlines that land, so it’s to Mason’s credit that his plight doesn’t come off as funny. Instead he seems very much like a man using his humor to keep his staggering grief (mostly) at arm’s length.

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David Mason and Blair Baker in Arizona Theatre Company’s CHAPTER TWO. Photo by Tim Fuller.

Also kept at arm’s length is Jennie Malone, who Blair Baker manages to endow with a sense of good-hearted optimism and charm without ever coming off as inexperienced or simple. Baker’s Jennie has experienced her own share of heartache and has clearly made the conscious decision not to let it callous her.

There is a tension in Baker that creeps its way throughout the theater during her performance – a disparity between the strength of her conviction to be sunny and her own growing awareness, as well as ours as the audience, of the fragility of her outlook in the face of the struggles she and her heart face. The charm Baker imbues Jennie with is, in the same moment, both admirable and adorable and serves as the mortar binding the show together.

Though Mason and Baker make the strongest impressions, they are supported ably by the rest of the production around around them. Huber and Pappas, as George and Jennie’s respective foils, are given less to do, but each finds their own way of making an impression, with Huber attacking every moment, dramatic or comedic, with an infectious zeal and Pappas’ Faye serving as the most lived-in and authentically motivated character in the ensemble.

The action moves quickly between George and Jennie’s New York apartments, and Lauren Helpern’s efficient set design allows segues to flow smoothly without ever feeling disjointed or whiplash-inducing. Director Mason has deftly interwoven these elements into a production that doesn’t announce itself with crashing drums and flashing lights, but instead insinuates itself subtly, like a romance you weren’t expecting.

Chapter Two is quintessentially Simon, a mile-a-minute string of wit and self-deprecation wrapped around an unflinching examination of the uncomfortable and awkward, a cinder block at the center of a goose-down pillow. Disney and the Hallmark Corporation have built their business on the notion of love as a one-and-done thing that lasts forever, but ATC has built a fine case for believing in second chances, and in so doing, provided a love story for those of us who’ve found – or still hold hope that we will – something messy, complicated, hilarious, and beautifully less-than-perfect the second time around.

Things are looking good for this new season under new management at ATC, and that makes me excited for their next production, a tale blending Brazilian folklore and lyrical storytelling exploring love, regret, and longing titled The River Bride. For information on this, and the other shows that will round out ATC’s 51st season, be sure to check their website.

But don’t miss Chapter Two, which runs through October 22nd. Tickets can be found here.