Mesa Encore Theatre's August: Osage County (the Play, Not the Movie) Is Subtle, Powerful

Sarah Rodgers
From left, Shari Watts and Nathalie Cadieux in August: Osage County
The setup: Tracy Letts' epic, relentlessly dismal yet moving and entertaining August: Osage County won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and came through Tempe on a national tour four years ago. Since then, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor have grown old enough to play middle-aged in the film version released last month.

Nobody else is Meryl Streep, who's nominated for an Oscar for the challenging role of Violet Weston in the movie, but, putting that aside, Osage was created to be experienced as live stage work and is much more effective and satisfying that way, including at Mesa Encore Theatre for the rest of this weekend.

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Theatre Artists Studio's Mary's Wedding in Scottsdale Is Not Just a "Girlfriend in Canada" Joke

Mark Gluckman
Kent Welborn and Heidi Haggerty enjoy a rain-soaked horseback ride in Mary's dream of the evening they met, in Mary's Wedding.
The setup: Mary's Wedding is a contemporary play set during and just after World War I. This partially historic romance/dream/action adventure about a young Canadian couple has been the most widely produced play in Canada in the decade since its première.

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Southwest Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in Mesa Is Both Silly and Complex

Devon Adams
Kate and Petruchio (Trisha Miller and Ross Hellwig) work out a few minor wedding details while trusty servant Grumio (Jesse James Kamps) keeps order in the background.
The setup: In my old, crumbly Folger Library The Taming of the Shrew that I grabbed for a quarter to get through school, there's an introductory essay about how William Shakespeare never meant to suggest that enhanced coercive techniques such as food and sleep deprivation, manufactured cognitive dissonance, and the type of bargaining one might engage in with a toddler ("Well, since you've chosen to be ornery, I guess we aren't going anywhere") are a therapeutic way to approach an adult who's relationship-phobic to the point of physical aggression and screaming (BTW, that's a "shrew")-- let alone someone you love and wish to marry.

The main plot of Shrew makes little sense (nobody changes that much in just a few days). In addition, though, the editors advance the idea that while the action does, on its face, rankle some people of polite sensibilities, it was intended to be a farcical comedy, not a play about regular people.

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Xanadu from Arizona Theatre Company -- Just Forget Everything You Know

Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin
Clio/Kira (Jessica Skerritt, center, in pale pink) surrounded by some of her "sister" Muses (clockwise from left: Jessica Low, Lisa Estridge, Christine Riippi, Richard Peacock, Taylor Niemeyer, Taylor Niemeyer's wig, Michael Feldman) in Xanadu
The setup: The 2007 stage musical Xanadu comes with so much baggage that it should be a Southwest flight. Thing is, most of that baggage is at least 34 years old. That's why people buy tickets to the show -- everything it's based on is embarrassing and awful (roller disco being a glaring but surprisingly unimportant example), but most of you barely remember it, and the show itself is a lot of fun. This month, Arizona Theatre Company lets us Phoenicians (who already have a lot to forget) take a dip in those soothing waters of oblivion.

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Phoenix's Black Theatre Troupe Is Tellin' It on the Mountain

Laura Durant
From left, Ebony Green, Chanel Bragg, and Brittaneé Perkins in Tellin' It on the Mountain
The setup: For several if not most of the past 17 years, Black Theatre Troupe presented Langston Hughes' seminal 1961 pageant Black Nativity as its Christmas show. I never got to see it, but I hear it's rather awesome, and now it's a Major Motion Picture.

Meanwhile, BTT is premièring a new Gospel jukebox musical called Tellin' It on the Mountain. It is beautifully sung and certainly among the most overtly Christ-focused and spiritually rousing plays you will ever see outside the walls of a church.

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Orange Theatre Group's Blood Wedding Adaptation Is Provocative, Entertaining

courtesy of Orange Theatre Group
From left, Elizabeth Peterson, Colby Terrill, William Crook, Katrina Donaldson, and Carrie Fee are the visible performers of Blood Wedding.
The setup: Orange Theatre Group has been working since last summer to develop an experimental theater production inspired by Federico García Lorca's 1933 play Blood Wedding. The show is about two-thirds complete, and that two-thirds is a stunning (yet appropriately bizarre) event that's quite unlikely to be much like anything you've ever seen before. In a good way.

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Space 55's A Bloody Mary Christmas Features Killer Perfomances

courtesy of Space 55
From left, Elizabeth Athetis, Toni Jourdan, Leslie Barton, and BJ Garrett in A Bloody Mary Christmas

BIG OL' HOLIDAY THEATER UPDATE: Because of you people and how much you love to go to good plays, White Christmas has added two performances, one this Sunday evening, December 15, and one on Christmas freakin' Eve!

Back to our regularly scheduled weirdness:

The setup: Can it be only three years ago that Space 55 premièred its original play about three fun-loving elderly Sun Citians at Christmastime, an event so wildly popular that it attracts audience members who think people standing around smoking outside a black-box theater means some shit is going down to the extent that they're afraid to get out of the car? Can it be that this show is the reason I couldn't figure out why other theater critics kept saying that Fifty Shades of Felt was the filthiest (not that there's anything wrong with that) thing they'd ever seen on a Valley stage?

Yes, Virginia.

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Evita at Tempe's Gammage Disingenuously Criticizes Superficiality, Manipulation

Richard Termine
Evita (Caroline Bowman) feels the love tonight.
The setup: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's third blockbuster sung-through musical collaboration, 1978's Evita, was revived in a new production on London's West End in 2006. That restaging, which ran 337 performances on Broadway last year, began its U.S. tour this fall and visits Gammage Auditorium through Sunday.

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Childsplay's The Velveteen Rabbit Hops Back Onstage in Tempe

Tim Trumble
Kaleena Newman welcomes The Velveteen Rabbit.
The setup: Though Childsplay first presented The Velveteen Rabbit 25 years ago and it was the company's go-to holiday offering for many years, the past several seasons have featured alternates such as Seussical, Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! and, one memorable year, Lyle the Crocodile, who I hope will return sometime.

This year, many of us (both old and young) get to see the bunny's adventures for the first time, and it's a short, straightforward show featuring almost-magical puppetry and live actors who are nearly magical as well -- a great introduction to theater for sprouts as young as 3.

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White Christmas at Phoenix Theatre Is Dreamy! and Fifty Shades of Felt Is Extended

courtesy of Phoenix Theatre
From left, Molly Lajoie, Peter Marinaro, Debby Rosenthal, and Joseph Cannon in White Christmas
BIG OL' HOLIDAY THEATER UPDATE: Because of you people and how much you love to go to good plays, White Christmas has added two performances, one this Sunday evening, December 15, and one on Christmas freakin' Eve!

The setup: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" isn't just the best-selling song ever -- it's the linchpin of two fabulously popular films, 1942's black-and-white Holiday Inn (for which it was first recorded and snagged an Oscar for Best Original Song) and 1954's White Christmas, in glorious Technicolor and high-res VistaVision.

Plot is not the strong suit of either, but they're warm and fuzzy, and the latter was turned into a stage musical in 2004 that's darn near perfect right now at Phoenix Theatre.

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