To borrow freely from our friend Forrest Gump, theater in Tucson is like a box of chocolates. It contains many assorted treats, and although you can often learn to identify what looks like your favorites, you still take a chance in your selection. Some are wonderfully, and even at times, surprisingly tasty; some may not be to your taste at all.
The fall theater season is upon us, which means that many theaters that take a break during the summer are rolling out their line-ups for 2016-2017. It's time to rip that cellophane from the new box and see what it holds for our sampling.
September seems to be very popular for raising the curtain.
Let's look at the venerable Arizona Theatre Company, which came very close to not having the funds they needed to deliver their 50th anniversary season. Rather miraculously, as many held their breath, they succeeded, and I suppose we can say that demonstrates the value many place on this institution.
First up is King Charles III, "a wonderfully rich stew of a play," according to artistic director David Ira Goldstein. It's a look at what might happen when Prince Charles ascends the throne after Queen Elizabeth's death. It won the 2015 Olivier Award and playwright Mike Bartlett borrows a style that echoes Shakespeare's treatment of royal families. New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley called it "flat out brilliant." Next up, Oct. 22-Nov.12, is An Act of God, by David Javerbaum, who wrote for The Daily Show for years. It was called by New York Times critic Charles Isherwood a "pricelessly funny fusillade of irreverence." From Dec. 3, ATC will invite us to renew our delight with Fiddler on the Roof, the well-seasoned musical that focuses of family and tradition.
Arizona Repertory Theatre, the producing entity of the UA's theater program, will give us three plays this fall. Opening Sept.18 is Epic Proportions, a comedy about two brothers who travel to Arizona to be extras in an "epic" of a movie. Next up is Hands on a Hard Body, a musical based on a documentary of the same name, in which 10 contestants vie for a new truck. It runs from Oct.16-Nov. 6. Born Yesterday, that classic old chestnut by Garson Kanin, will run from Nov. 6-Dec. 4. If you've steered clear of ART, perhaps fearing a "student production" quality, you might want to re-think your judgment. Their productions are generally top-notch.
There is some exciting work being developed at Borderlands Theater Company. Their first offering is Nogales: Storytellers in Cartel Country, a play that uses the real event of the shooting death of a young boy in Mexico by a Border Patrol agent, who claimed he feared for his life although the boy, on the Mexico side of the border wall, was shot 15 times in the back. Yes, this one is close to home. This is a multi-media presentation developed in collaboration with members of the theater Campo Santo from San Francisco. It runs Sept. 7-25. Borderlands will also offer their ever-evolving but firmly traditional A Tucson Pastorella Dec. 1-11.
Invisible Theatre rolls out its first show, the comedy Coming Apart, Sept. 6-18. A humor columnist and his successful wife who writes novels declare they want a divorce. They continue to share a home while the wife writes a book, How to Survive a Marriage. That's followed by Alive and Well, featuring another mis-matched couple. (Notice a theme here?) It runs Nov. 1–13.
The Rogue Theatre is taking on Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches. The epic piece also won the Tony for Best Drama, a Drama Desk award and the New York Critic's Circle award. The play looks at the 1980s through the filter of the massive AIDS epidemic, unethical politics and the dangers of being closeted. It runs Sept. 8-25. From Nov. 3-20, Chekhov's classic Uncle Vanya, a tale of one family's hapless inability to address the changing times, will come to life.
Live Theatre Workshops performs year-round, and they will be doing three shows from now until the end of the year. [sic], according to the LTW website, is about three friends who push the limits of their friendship and find that "language can be both an instrument of intimacy and a weapon of defense." It runs Aug. 25-Oct. 1. Next up is My Name is Asher Lev, running from Oct. 6-Nov. 12. It's the story of a young man determined to become an artist even though his family and cultural tradition insists he must not. Next, getting us into the holiday season, LTW will feature Miracle of 34th Street: A Live Radio Play. It will run Nov. 17-Dec. 23. LTW also has a year-round family theater, definitely worth checking out, and its more adventurous arm, Etcetera, is in the process of developing a new identity. The fall show will be Reasons: The House Burned Down. It runs just one weekend, Oct. 15-16.
Winding Road Theater Ensemble is giving a serious makeover to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, using an all-female cast and declaring "ambition is not just a man's game." It runs Oct. 20-Nov. 5.
The relatively new Something Something Theatre Company declares the theme of their new season is Women Who Dare. From Sept. 30-Oct. 16, they will present Body Awareness by Annie Baker, whose "quiet rewards steal up on you," according to the New York Times. The second show of the season is Boston Marriage by David Mamet, running from December 1-18. It departs from what we usually expect from Mamet. Its characters are three women in Victorian New England.
The Roadrunner Theatre will bring us Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy Sept. 16-Oct. 2. Durang can be beyond funny. Then they will mount the very disturbing but also crazy funny God of Carnage, which the New York Times called "a streamlined anatomy of the human animal." It will run Nov. 4-20.
Fun for all ages is guaranteed at the Gaslight Theatre where good-natured camp, music and puns prevail. Their show Frankenstein opens Sept. 1 and runs through Nov. 13, and that will be followed by "an all new holiday musical," Elf'd, running Nov. 17-Jan. 1.
Broadway in Tucson always brings us Big Theater, and that means professional touring companies doing Broadway musicals. Their season kicks off with Cabaret, Sept. 20-25 and follows up with The Sound of Music, Nov. 29-Dec. 4. And they've corralled a return of Mamma Mia, Oct. 21-23.
In addition to these major Tucson theaters, there are a few more that merit a mention here. The Comedy Playhouse does only, well, comedies, some original and some adapted from other works. The Community Players has been around for years and they call themselves "Tucson's Premiere Community Theatre Company." Their show Real Women Have Curves runs Sept. 9-25, and that will be followed by Paul Osborn's Mornings at Seven, Nov. 11-27. The St. Francis Players will present A Christmas SurvivalGuide Nov. 18-Dec. 3.
No new season (or month, it sometimes seems) would be complete without the opening of brand-new theater hoping to find a footing in Tucson's expansive theater scene. This year is no exception.
The Tucson Community Theatre Company has been "five years in the making," according to executive director Patrick Carson. "What really sets us apart is that every play we do is 100 percent local talent, including the writing." Their first show is The New American Candidate, Sept. 14-30. Carson writes and stars in it.
Monica Bauer, a recent transplant from NYC, has already established a theater presence here. This year she plans to begin to establish a new group, Theater New and Now. They are scheduled to do a show this fall and one in the spring. This fall the theater will unveil a duet of plays, Made for Each Other, which has been performed in several Fringe Festivals, and Debauchery, Thy Name is Stevie Chase, written by Bauer. They run Nov. 17 through Dec. 4.
Finally, this weekend, Aug. 26-28, will see the reprise of My Life in Sports, a one-man show written by and featuring Bill Epstein. It was produced at Live Theatre Workshop last year, and now Epstein is headed to the United Solo Festival at New York City's Theatre Row. This is a chance to brush up the show before it's performed there, and it's also a fundraiser for APCOT, the new theater space in northeast Tucson.
There are several other theater-related groups in town, including Old Pueblo Playwrights and SheWorxx, both fostering the development of new plays. Both groups also showcase plays for the public.
So there's your box of chocolates, theater-wise. May your theater-going be rich and sweet.Editor's Note: This story has been edited since its original publication.