ECHOMAG.COM EXCLUSIVE: Four Shows for Fall
By Richard Schultz
1. By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Through Sept. 6 | iTheatre Collaborative
This Arizona premiere of a new comedy from Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Ruined, draws upon the screwball films of the 1930s to take a funny and irreverent look at racial stereotypes in Hollywood.
This show chronicles a 70-year journey through the life of Vera Stark, a headstrong African-American maid and budding actress, and her tangled relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood movie starlet desperately grasping to hold on to her career. When circumstances collide and both women land roles in the same Southern epic movie, the story behind the cameras leaves Vera with a surprising and controversial legacy scholars will debate for years to come
Nottage credits the life and career of Theresa Harris, a pioneering African-American film star known for her appearance in the 1933 Barbara Stanwyck movie Babyface, for her inspiration.
Herberger Theater Center – Kax Stage;
222 E. Monroe, Phoenix
Sept. 5-14 | Desert Foothills Theater
Kicking off its 40th season, Ken Ludwig’s zany screwball comedy is wild romp of mistaken identity, slamming doors and nonstop double entendres combine for an evening of side-splitting hilarity.
Set in 1934, the play begins with a scene showing the Cleveland Grand Opera Company anxiously awaiting the arrival of the world-famous Italian tenor Signor Tito Merelli, known to legions of fans as Il Stupendo. Their benefit performance of “Othello” is the most important fundraiser of the season for the opera company. Merelli’s late arrival sets off a series of mishaps.
“We purposely chose Tenor and its ongoing popularity as an audience favorite,” said Mark-Alan C. Clemente, the show’s director. “We have an amazing cast of tenured Valley actors who are up to the task in this challenging comedy.”
Clemente said his inspiration was the movie It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.
“We’re doing an ode to Frank Capra,” he said. “Even our set designer researched 1930s hotels from Cleveland and created a design to replicate them.
Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center
33606 N. 60th St., Scottsdale;
3. Baby with the Bathwater
Sept. 5-21 | Theatre Artists Studio
This dark comedy by gay playwright Christopher Durang delves into the perils of parenthood. Durang’s absurd depiction of Helen and John, new parents without a clue as to how to take care of their newborn – coupled with a hilarious, warped Mary Poppins-type Nanny – make for a comedy of epic proportion. Part farce, part satire and part wicked wackiness, this dark comedy presents a hysterical view of modern parenting.
While the play premiered in 1983, its biting commentary on permissive parenting and sexual identity are not only pertinent today, they’re two of the most relevant issues facing modern society.
“Durang unravels the “normal” rules of behavior and logic and turns the world upside down,” said Barbara Acker, the show’s director. “All his characters earnestly try to do the right thing. Only the audience can see that the characters live in a world in which good is bad and bad is good: in short a crazy world.”
According to Acker, Durang makes fun of all of the authority figures that oppressed and depressed him as a child.
“He has never stopped blaming his parents,” she said. “The shortcomings of unhappy families are the best recipe for laughter. This production is a fable of how the bad world makes baby very unhappy.”
4848 E. Cactus Road, #406, Scottsdale;
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Sept. 5-Oct. 24 | Desert Stages Theatre – Actor’s Café
Dale Wasserman’s stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name, details the friction between the antihero Randle P. McMurphy, played by Trevor Starkey, and Head Nurse Ratched, played by Shari Watts.
McMurphy, who has been convicted of statutory rape and chooses to serve time in a mental hospital rather than state prison, under the manipulative and vindictive, but ever so calm and falsely compassionate care of the Nurse Ratched.
McMurphy fights a futile battle to liberate his fellow mental patients from the psychological and emotional controls exerted by Nurse Ratched. She ultimately wins, but at a cost which diminishes her absolute control over her patients.
“Robin Williams’ shocking suicide has put the spotlight back on mental health and is tragic reminder that the conversation about mental health cannot stop,” said Louis Farber, the show’s director. “As a society, we have come a long way from the days when we treated the mentally ill as oddities. However, we still treat it as a less important disease. While the majority of the characters are deemed mentally ill, the play implies that there’s a fine line between normal and abnormal.”
4720 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale;
Richard Schultz is a playwright, actor, director and freelance writer based in Phoenix.