Wednesday, April 23, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird at Albuquerque Little Theatre

Collaborating to bring an American classic to life, Mother Road Theatre Company and Albuquerque Little Theatre present "To Kill a Mockingbird," and if it's been a while since you've visited Maycomb, Alabama (7th grade English class' required reading?), now is the perfect chance. Set in 1935, the economic, social and moral challenges of the time and place come to life through the memories of Jean Louise Finch, called Scout as a child.

Narrating the show is the grownup Jean Louise, played by Julia Thudium, whose recollections allow us to visit the past as she and her older brother Jem were raised by their widower father and his black maid Calpurnia in this small Southern town. Thudium recalls the happenings of her hometown, giving us glimpses of the woman that the child later evolved into, due in part to the events such as the summer of 1935. Mackenzie Jarrell, as Scout, and Traeton Pucket, as Jem -- along with their friend Dill, played by Logan Smith -- exceed the expectations typical of child actors, delivering powerful performances that are central to the action of the tale, while Thudium brings Jean Louise's emotional evolution to life with tremendous heartfelt honesty.

Their father, and perhaps the most moral man of Maycomb, is the lawyer Atticus Finch, expertly played by Christopher Atwood. Atwood, balancing the conscientious character of Atticus against the turbulent times of his town, creates a man whose principles necessitate the choices he feels must be made, even when it means going against the opinions of his fellow town locals. Scout is quite certain her father "doesn't do anything," but throughout the play she finds surprises along the way as to Atticus' true character. When asked about the Tom Robinson case, where Atticus defends a black man against the charge of raping a white woman, Atticus responds, "Every lawyer gets one case in his life that affects him personally. This is mine."

The story stands so strongly that to have such a mutually talented cast allows the emotions of the play to rise to the surface. A dramatic work such as this showcases so many of the talented actors -- Yvonne Mangrum as Calpurnia, Amy Bourque as Mayella Ewell, Bridget Kelly as Miss Maudie -- even when their appearances are cursory. Through these townspeople, including the cameo of the reclusive, mentally incompetent Boo Radley (Morse Bicknell) and the accused black man Tom Robinson (Hakim Bellamy), Lee illustrates the prejudices and cruelty of mankind, as well as the quiet voice of conscience that can also prevail when not drowned out by the noise of an angry mob.

The disease of misanthropic behavior can become virulent as we see it infect Maycomb before, during and after the Robinson trial. Bellamy as Tom Robinson shines as the portrait of an innocent man who knows he very well may yet pay for a crime he didn't commit. His command of the dialect and ability to believably embody Tom was impressive. And, giving one of the best mean drunks I've ever seen, Vic Browder plays Bob Ewell, the villain of the tale, and catalyst to much of the town's chaotic behavior. Even Boo, who is momentary, is haunting and leaves a strong impression, bespeaking of Bicknell's tremendous acting abilities to embody a character so elusive, and in so brief a moment.

Larger themes emerge from Lee's work, most notably the concept of individual merit versus mob mentality, whether it be an actual mob or even a jury of one's "peers." That a man or woman can become so compromised to their own basic character when goaded into doing so by a crowd is the shaming fact of human existence, and one which holds our salvation as well. As individuals, such as Atticus, Miss Maudie, and later Jean Louise, we are encouraged to ask questions of the status quo, to find our voice and in doing so, to stand our ground while seeking to change the injustices of our world. The goal is lofty, but the means are humble, a lesson that is as applicable in today's times as it was in the Depression-era South.

By the end of the evening the audience was on their feet congratulating the cast on a superb performance. To become a part of this classic yourself, you can visit or for tickets and more information on showtimes, playing currently until April 27th.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dancing at Lughnasa at the Adobe Theatre

Step dance your way into another time by entering the world of  "Dancing at Lughnasa," currently playing at the Adobe Theatre, and running until April 27.  Taking us to the fictional village of Ballybeg in Ireland, we enter the childhood memories of Michael, recalling what it was like to be raised by five women, and an absentee father, and struggling to understand the grownups' ways while finding himself.

Photo by Daryl Streeter
Jennifer Lloyd-Cary plays Christina, the young mother whose child Michael was born out of wedlock. Michael, played by Paul Hunton and appearing as a grownup, narrates the memory play as his own recollections from the age of 7, and through him we glimpse life at a very economically depressed time. Vacillating between the joy of her lover's unpredictable homecomings and despondency during his long, unexplained absences, Lloyd-Cary brings her character to life with a sense of emotional believability that we can connect with. As Gerry, the absentee father, Jeremy Gwin charms her, giving Christina the impression he has returned for good, only to disappear again (and again). Like Christina, we want to believe in his promises for a better life, even though we know it probably won't happen.

Photo by Daryl Streeter
Joy, like the songs from the Marconi radio in their kitchen, is a sporadic visitor that seldom stays for long, but in true Irish spirit, when the sisters begin to dance, they leave their real worlds behind just long enough to touch that something greater. As the leaders of the family, Kate, the eldest (Lacey Bingham) is rigidly devout, while Maggie (Heather Lovick-Tolley) is more earthy and free spirited. With meager skills to support themselves with, the two middle sisters turn to hand knitting, Agnes (Bridget Dunne) and Rose (Andrea Haskett), only to find their livelihood threatened by new technology, forcing them both to make hard decisions of their own.

Photo by Daryl Streeter
The Ireland of the show is downtrodden, recovering from the loss of many of its young men in the first World War as well as the economic struggles of the Great Depression, but like the women themselves, the joyful spirit of the people cannot be squelched by the difficulties of their times. Just the idea of attending the Festival of Lughnasa, one of the only social outings the women might know in a year, is enough to inspire fits of laughter and squeals of joy -- like so many of their generation, they must learn to live on hope and ideas far more than the reality that confronts them daily. Their lives are a mix of the secular and religious, a concept personified by their brother Jack (William Lang), a priest who stays with his sisters while recuperating from malaria, caught in Africa during his missionary work.

The metaphor of dancing appears throughout the show, and as Michael states, "Dancing is a language that no longer existed, because words no longer mattered." Directed by Leslee Richards, the show wraps you into its tale and makes you consider that time and place already long past, and when the sisters dance, with choreography by Judith Chazin-Bennahum, you almost wish you could join in their fun. Each sister expresses herself a little differently once the music begins to play, and the act of abandoning one's self to ecstatic movement that comes from within gives each of them a little of the release they seek while living under such oppressing circumstances.

To join the dance for yourself, you can buy tickets online at their website, , or call their box office at 505.898.9222.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Into the Woods by Musical Theatre Southwest

In literature, the forested woods can symbolize a place of unknown possibility (like theatre!), both frightening and tantalizing, and sure to test your character. Venturing fearlessly into the unknown, Musical Theatre Southwest presents "Into the Woods," the musical written by Stephen Sondheim and playing at their Center for the Arts Black Box until April 27. Written with gentle humor, the story plays as equally charming to adults, so don't assume fairy tales are only for children. In fact, many moments in the show reckon to more mature emotions, including romantic love, a parent's love for their child, and the desire to protect those we love from the evils of the world.

The story revolves primarily around the Baker (Jonathan Dunski) and his Wife (Erin Warden), who venture into the woods to remove the Witch's curse of childlessness. In their effort, they meet Cinderella and her evil Stepmother, Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf, a couple of Princes and many more storybook characters. But, "careful the wish you make. Wishes are children. Careful the path they take." Dunski and Warden's chemistry with each other is compelling throughout the show, while each perform equally as strong in their solo moments, both bringing their own personalities to infuse these lead roles with.

Tahirih Garcia plays Cinderella, who is often running from her destiny, but finds that when her choices catch up with her, she must decide for herself the path to happiness. Garcia creates a more emotionally believable woman from the fairy tale princess we already know, all while juggling the attentions of one of the show's two Princes (played by Aaron and David Aubrey), who have great moments in the show in their own right. The delightfully tongue-in-cheek duet "Agony" brought chuckles from the audience, spoofing the twos' besotted foolishness.

Derrick Medrano, as Jack, brings another dimension to the story, that of the innocent, and performs beautifully in his memorable moment, "Giants in the Sky." Fairy tales are built from the structure of what we universally share, and youthfulness and innocence we can all relate to, as well as other themes, such as the challenges of parenthood. Beth Elliot makes her company debut quite charmingly as Jack's Mother, while Tasha Waters brings an emotional depth to the Witch, giving her many more dimensions than the archetypal villain. Her two solos, "Stay With Me," and "Witch's Lament," express her desire to keep her daughter Rapunzel safe, and they tore me open with the kind of heart wrenching, strong emotions that come from watching fearless actors at work.

Not to be forgotten is another enchanting debut, Jessica Quindlen as the engenue Little Red. Perky and relentlessly upbeat, it takes the maturity of the second act for Little Red, Cinderella, and Jack to realize they are all orphans of one sort or another, and that the sadness which ties them together also reminds us, "No One is Alone." As the Baker tells Little Red, "Mother said to never stray from the path, but the path strayed from you." How metaphorically true that is for so many of us, to set a path in life only to find ourselves to have strayed far from it, and into something strange, and altogether new and unexpected.

With live music to be enjoyed, the show is a great way to introduce children to musical theatre, but you only have to be a kid at heart to want to see it too. With limited seating, advance tickets are very much recommended -- opening weekend was already completely sold out -- so visit their website at or call their box office at (505) 265-9119 to book ahead and settle in to this show's journey on your own. There were standing ovations on opening night, so you may even find yourself jumping out of your chair before it's all over.