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Best Local Theatrical Production

Arizona Theatre Company

READERS' PICK: What an enthusiastic bunch of ATC supporters! You voted for the whole darn theatre company instead of just a single play. Our scientific analysis of this strange vote determined that you meant you absolutely loved the entire 1996-'97 season at ATC. And, last year, with a single disastrous exception, ATC did indeed live up to its mission by providing a fine mix of classic and contemporary pieces.

It was an inspired move to transport the sublimely silly season opener, Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, from 16th-century Italy to Roaring Twenties America. Then Edward Albee's superbly acted Three Tall Women took a sharp look at aging. The holiday production, Swinging on a Star, if not exactly our cup of tea, was deft, professional and fun. Tony Kushner's Illusion tampered more than we would have liked with the original text by Corneille, but the work was still an enchanting examination of the magical illusions of the theatre. Finally, in our humble opinion, August Wilson's Seven Guitars was the play of the year. (See adjacent capsule.) Yet mixed into this fine melange was the disastrous, offensive La Malinche, an ill-conceived Carlos Morton play that violated the historical record--and a real woman's life--by transforming Cortes' Indian mistress into the murderous Greek Medea.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Borderlands Theater also had a very good year, starting with the sidesplitting Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, just about the only play we've ever seen in which a dress gets a starring comic role. (It was a bridesmaid's dress, a Little Bo-Beep number all pink swirls and hoops.) La Pastorela was an enchanting update of a traditional Mexican Christmas play adorned with beautiful Spanish-language carols, a mean Satan and a gorgeous Michael the Archangel. Then came the gender-bending Romeo and Juliet, a co-production with Pima College. Finally, Borderlands offered Dominion, the only decent play in a very dry summer this year. It was an intense examination of a racially charged murder on Los Angeles' mean streets.

A REAL SCREAM: ATC came up with the best play in town this past year, the superlative Seven Guitars by the incomparable August Wilson. An extraordinarily poetic text, performed by a gifted cast, helped make this tragic play everything great theatre ought to be. Wilson brought to vivid life a rundown black neighborhood in 1940s Pittsburgh, at the same time giving his story of a desperate would-be blues musician a transcendant universality. Drenched in the rhythms of the blues, the play's language was the musical, metaphorical African-American idiom of country people newly arrived in the big city.

A REAL SCREAM: Bloodhut's Between the Sheets deserves honorable mention at the very least. A seriocomic look at women and sex, it took in everything from first menstruation woes to blown-up sex dolls. As always with this unusual women's company, the performances were personal and profound.

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