Fall Arts Preview: Theater Arts

Tucson hoards theaters like an old coot might hoard cats. There is a whole bunch of them, and every time you turn around it seems there are more.

Beginning in just a few days the first of over 25 plays will begin their artful assault on our theater-loving sensibilities. Space limits inclusion of everything, but I'll do the best I can.

One—or actually two—of the things that seem especially exciting is the Rogue Theatre's rotating repertory of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It's a big undertaking—not only because of the material, but because of the demands of flip-flopping rep. R&G, as they are often referred to, are minor characters in Hamlet, and if ever there was a playwright who could complement Shakespeare's wit and smarts, it's Tom Stoppard. A chance to see either of these plays would be a tasty treat, but being able to see them as they feed off each other promises to be an absolutely delicious meal. (Oct.15 to Nov. 22)

Another fall highlight really hits home. Borderlands Theater is premiering Mas, by playwright in residence, Milta Ortiz, who was the recipient of a national award to develop this piece. It was inspired by the conflict in Tucson Unified School District between those who supported the school's Mexican-American studies program, and the state's reaction that, well, nothing good could possibly come from that, and so the state shut the program down and banned the books the courses used. Aren't you proud to be from Arizona? (Sept.10 to 27)

Both Arizona Theatre Company and the Invisible Theatre begin their respective seasons with one-person shows. ATC is bringing in storyteller/pianist extraordinaire Hershey Felder in Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin. (Sept. 16 to Oct. 4.) Felder was here a few years ago, wowing audiences with George Gershwin Alone. As a bonus, for one night only, he will provide a chance for us to join in the fun with Hershey Felder's Great American Songbook Sing-along. (Oct. 3)

Invisible Theatre hosts guest actor Chuck Yates in Tru, by Jay Presson Allen, about the always interesting, always controversial Truman Capote. Pressman has used Capote's own words in crafting this story of the writer's devolution into loneliness and pills and alcohol. (Sept. 1 to 13) IT will follow up with Bakersfield Mist, by Stephen Sachs which is based on a true story. A woman who buys what she thinks is a Jackson Pollack painting at a yard sale for $5 invites a fancy New York art appraiser to her trailer park to deliver a verdict on its authenticity. Hmm. No potential conflict in that scenario. (October 13 to 25)

How could a theater season be complete without a couple of Neil Simon plays to cheer us (and pad box office receipts?) Opening this weekend at Live Theatre Workshop is Laughter on the 23rd Floor, inspired by a young Simon's experience as a staff writer on TV's Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. (Through Oct. 3) Arizona Repertory Theatre at the UA will open its season with the Simon classic Barefoot in the Park. (Sept. 9 to Oct. 11)

In general, things take a turn toward a more serious note mid-season. ATC will wow us with the first regional theater production of Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013. The New York Times called it a "continuously engaging play about the thorny questions of identity and religion, including the incendiary topic of how radical Islam has affected the public discourse." The short version would be, there are some things you just don't discuss at a dinner party. (Oct. 17 through Nov. 7)

LTW will give us another view of the perils of reckoning with religious beliefs in a bit more light-hearted tone, but with serious intent, with David Rambo's God's Man in Texas. Focusing on the pastors' push for power over a 30,000-member mega-church, the play looks at the difficulty of balancing the temptations of worldly success with the motivations of true faith. (Oct. 8 to Nov.15)

For their contribution to the gnarly issues of religion and public policy, ART will bring us the very familiar Cabaret, which although a musical, is a very rich one. At its soul lies Hitler's hideous goal to rid the world of Jews and other undesirables. (Oct. 18 to Nov. 8)

Winding Road Theater Ensemble contributes yet another examination of the clash of faith and politics with George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan. It's the story of a young peasant girl who, claiming to hear the voice of God, is first lauded as a soldier, then burned at the stake for heresy and finally canonized as a saint. (October 8-25)

Heavens, gnarly doesn't begin to describe this stuff.

You can temper this serious streak with a bit more frivolity thanks to Broadway in Tucson. A cartoon character comes to life in "Annie," the optimistic orphan who puts her faith in Tomorrow. (Sept. 20 to Oct. 4) And the chandelier will come crashing down and The Music of the Night will soar in Andrew Lloyd Webber's extravaganza in Phantom of the Opera. (Oct. 21 to Nov. 1)

As the months count down to the holidays, theaters tend to turn to lighter fare. ART gives us a rather surreal jump-start with Reckless, by Craig Lucas, a play set into motion by a husband hiring a hit man to kill his wife. (Nov. 8 to Dec. 6) Snapshots, featuring the music of Stephen Schwartz (of Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked fame) will be ATC's contribution to a light-hearted season (Nov. 28 to Dec. 19); and LTW will bring us Every Christmas Show Ever Told (And Then Some) (Nov. 19 to Dec. 27)

After a one-year hiatus, Borderlands has promised the return of The Tucson Pastorela, (Dec. 3 to 6) and Arizona Onstage Productions will give us the gloriously silly The Great American Trailer Part Christmas Musical by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso.(Dec. 11 to 27) The Great American Playhouse will help celebrate the season with Planes, Trains and Sleigh Bells. (Nov. 19-Jan. 2)

For 35 years the Gaslight Theatre has given us supreme silliness in very slick form, and opening next week is a brand new show, Henry Porter and the Sorcerer's Secret. (Through Nov. 8) And of course they will get into the holiday spirit with Race to the North Pole. (Nov. 12 to Jan. 3)

Some newer theaters will undertake some pretty ambitious pieces during the fall. The Something Something Theatre will bring us the Irish hit By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr (Nov. 5 to 22); and Speak the Speech Theatre will tackle The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance Oct. 9 to 25.)

Whew! Now get out there and play!

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