Wry Observations

Thoughts on local theater as the 2008-2009 season nears its end

Tucson's 2008-2009 theater season is almost over. After Invisible Theatre opens Don't Talk to the Actors next week, your friendly neighborhood drama critic will have to hustle to fill this space during the coming months. Summer may be Tucson's primary rainy season, but in terms of play-going, it's parched.

This week, with some time to relax for a change, I'll catch up on a few things I've neglected, and alert you to some things coming up—including those few productions that will help us get through the summer.

The Red Barn Theater Company has been operating for five seasons now in, yes, a red building on Main Avenue, about a block south of Speedway Boulevard. It's a community-theater group whose purpose is not to compete with the city's more polished productions, but to give amateurs of varying experience a place to perform. This is exactly the sort of company that every community needs, but the resulting work is not really reviewable. It wouldn't be fair to hold it to the standards of groups of higher ambition and proficiency, yet sliding the critical scale down might raise your expectations to levels the company can't really meet.

I did check out Red Barn's production of The King and I last weekend, and I can report that the leads certainly acquit themselves well. In the role of Anna, the Welsh schoolteacher brought to Siam to give the king's children a modern, "scientific" education, Kate Smithyman was in fine voice last weekend. Frederick A. Edwards was a confident, lively bantam as the king, and it would be nice to see him infiltrate productions elsewhere.

True, this is exactly the sort of "let's put on a show" amateur production that Gaslight loves to spoof, but it made me imagine living in a small town where neighbors get up a production for their own amusement, and throw their hearts into it. And frankly, this sort of grassroots effort is every bit as important to our cultural health as an Equity organization like Arizona Theatre Company.

Performances continue at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through May 17, at the Red Barn Theater, 948 N. Main Ave. Tickets cost $15 for adults, and $12 for seniors and students. The info number is 622-6973.

Because of declining advertising in this tanking economy, the Weekly's page count has shrunk, so I've had to cram the standard number of reviews into about half the usual space. That means that a lot of little details fell by the wayside.

This week, I thought I'd offer a grab-bag of observations I hadn't managed to get into print. But then I realized I'd forgotten almost all of the choice observations I'd hoped to make.

The one thing I distinctly recall not getting into my review of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in January is a mention of the projected images. The drawings by Christopher Johnson, who also played Hedwig, were sleek and simple and did a lot to support the storytelling of the songs. Even on a tight budget in a small space, a little imagination can greatly expand a show.

Hedwig was a late-night offering from Live Theatre Workshop, which is one of the two Tucson theater companies that don't go dark most of the summer. (The other is the indefatigable Gaslight Theatre.) LTW will be cranking up the air conditioning all summer, with light fare on the main stage—The Mystery of Irma Vep, Shirley Valentine and The Housekeeper—and more provocative stuff for grown-ups who stay up late—Speech and Debate and Kitty Kitty Kitty. Live Theatre Workshop (and Gaslight) should be commended for remembering that several hundred thousand Tucsonans do not flee for the summer.

The UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre, despite losing most of its student population in the hot months, is making its annual effort to entertain us in the summer. Its production of Rum and Coke will open in June, run a few weeks, then estivate a while until it's revived in September.

Also, Arizona Onstage Productions promises a production or two in the coming months, mainly Jewtopia in June (or is that "Jewn"?), something postponed from this spring.

Which reminds me: Producers, if you need to postpone or cancel a show, please let us know. On one occasion recently, I noticed that there hadn't been the usual barrage of publicity for a show that had been announced, but I hadn't gotten a cancellation notice; the production was still popping up in the listings of the Tucson Weekly and another major publication; and the producer didn't return my voice mail.

Once you put out a press release, or even just list an upcoming event on the back of your program, chances are, it's going onto my schedule. So if things fall through, you need to make an announcement to that effect. For the Weekly, you should send two e-mails: one to me at jreel@tucsonweekly.com, and one to the listings editor at listings@tucsonweekly.com. I have nothing to do with listings, so if something's wrong there, you need to call the main office number and work things out with somebody who is actually involved.

Also, please do not call me to complain about your listings. One producer made the mistake of calling my home number when I was absent and berating my wife, who has absolutely nothing to do with the Weekly, because his next production wasn't in our list of upcoming shows. First of all, what's in the "upcoming" list is limited by space considerations, and on most occasions, you won't hit the listings until the week of your production. Second, as I mentioned, I have nothing to do with the listings. Third, it's extremely unprofessional to be abusive to the wife of somebody who has nothing to do with the listings.

I didn't return the guy's call, but if I had, my message would have included the words "fuck," "you" and "asshole."