Scottsdale's Theatre Artists Studio Revives And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little
The setup: Many of the best off-Broadway theaters are clubs of a kind: like-minded artists who've come together to form a company that produces the kind of work they value, to joyfully challenge their skills, to share the results with audiences in a meaningful way. If you've spent years doing and/or watching theater in the Phoenix area, it's natural to be suspicious of any arts enterprise that people purchase memberships or pay dues or fees to participate in (especially if you've been a child actor or stage parent), but exploitation is not the nature of Theatre Artists Studio -- it's more New York-style in its mission and operations -- and its members' devotion is what makes the shows so darn good. The directors cast the member actors quite a bit; that's part of the point. But the company also works routinely with theater artists who aren't members, and the cross-pollination is good for everybody.
Mark Gluckman From left, Dee Rich and Maureen Dias pause between past and future in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little.
The Studio also brings us interesting plays we don't get to see often, and its current offering, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, presented here as a longish one-act, is the second best-known play by Paul Zindel, who won a Pulitzer for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The man sure could write a quirky, memorable title. Zindel, raised by hardworking women after his father left the family, also had a firm grasp on the pain, humor, and absurdity of female-led families (and human behavior in general) and the way that intimate, complex conflicts play out.
See also: Theatre Artists Studio's Mary's Wedding in Scottsdale Is Not Just a "Girlfriend in Canada" Joke
The execution: Judy Rollings has collected and rehearsed a dynamite cast to play the three Reardon sisters, who grew up pathologically close to one another and their recently deceased abandoned, repressive mother, and the remaining characters: neighbors in the Staten Island apartment building that's the play's claustrophobic setting and co-workers in the local school system that employs just about everyone on stage and raises the stakes of the events. Debra Rich and Maureen Dias (Maple and Vine) play the older two sisters, Dee Rich portrays Anna Reardon, Judy Lebeau is Fleur Stein, a "guidance teacher" who also lives in the building, and Walt Pedano (August: Osage County, Sons of the Prophet) is her husband, Bob. In smaller but still vital roles are local writer/performer/director Dolores D'Amore Goldsmith and Metropolitan Arts Institute student Taylor Raine Updegraff, who I must disclose is a friend of mine.
Basics of the story: The three sisters all became public school teachers at a time when education was one of the few socially approved career fields for women. (The play was written in the late 1960s, and this production is set, with lovely details of costume and staging, in the '70s.) Ceil (Debra Rich) has become a superintendent, married, and moved out of the family home. Anna has had what used to be called a "nervous breakdown" after a trip to Europe with Catherine (Dias) the previous summer, and she's also under suspicion after one of her male high-school chemistry students accused her of abuse, so she's holed up in the apartment with Catherine.