Dames at Sea (Okay, Across from the Water Tower) at Gilbert's Hale Centre Theatre Will Shuffle Its Way Into Your Heart

Sam Miller
Not just Dames at Sea, but sailors, too! Yum. Kate E. Cook leads Vinny Chavez (left) and Julian Peña back to good times, while Emily Giauque Evans has their six and Tedd Glazebrook (right foreground) remains doubtful.
The setup: Before sometime in the 1940s, American musical theater consisted of just a buttload of singing and dancing, reasons to look at women's exposed legs, and no particular attempt at character or storytelling. During the Great Depression, movies were an affordable, diverting novelty, and the more implausibly cheerful and uplifting the plots, the better we liked them. So the Busby Berkeley style of extravaganza (which did add a tiny bit of narrative, conveniently about show business, generally) filled the silver screen like implausible giant cupcakes in a glass case.

Flash forward to the mid-1960s in Manhattan. Rodgers and Hammerstein have changed everything. Fiddler on the Roof is somewhere in the middle of what will be its first 3,242 performances. We're mere months or a couple of years out from shows like Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Oh! Calcutta! Counterculture sentiment and avant-garde expression are erupting everywhere. But a team of spunky troupers in a Greenwich Village club put together a literally cheap, six-person parody of those '30s tuners called Dames at Sea. It starred newcomer Bernadette Peters, it became a bona fide off-Broadway hit, and you can see it now at Hale Centre Theatre on Mondays and Tuesdays only -- not your usual theater nights.

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Scottsdale's Theatre Artists Studio Revives And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little

Mark Gluckman
From left, Dee Rich and Maureen Dias pause between past and future in 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.

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.

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Phoenix Film Festival Review: Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child

A24 Films
Jenny Slate stars in Obvious Child.

Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child isn't your typical romantic comedy.

Jenny Slate stars as Donna Stern, a charmingly foul-mouthed Williamsburg stand-up, whose cheating boyfriend (Paul Briganti) dumps her for another woman.

She goes through the typical stages of relationship loss. She gets drunk, leaves him many inebriated messages, finds comfort in her roommate Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann), and does some light stalking of her ex and his new girlfriend, who had been a close friend of Donna's. Adding insult to injury, she also loses her job at an independent bookstore.

But then, something great happens.

She stops chasing him.

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Phoenix Film Festival Review: Randy Murray's The Joe Show

Randy Murray Productions
Joe puts on a show.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio can't carry a tune.

Yet America's toughest sheriff sings both the intro and outro to Randy Murray's documentary The Joe Show. Bordering on funny and sickening, he starts the show with a poor take on "My Way," made famous by Frank Sinatra. For the finale, Joe takes a stab at "Fame," the title song from the 1980 musical.

"I'm gonna live forever" has never sounded like such a threat.

These tone-deaf gimmicks illustrate the gist of what's in between: that Arpaio's zest for attention trumps all else.

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Around the World in 80 Days in Downtown Phoenix in a Couple of Hours, from Arizona Theatre Company

Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company
From left, Mark Anders, Bob Sorenson, and Jon Gentry hew to the timetable in Around the World in 80 Days.
The setup: If you're fans of some of the Valley's best theater artists, it's both delightful and reassuring when they get particularly good jobs like a gig with Arizona Theatre Company, which is a nice bump in pay, visibility, and production values. Around the World in 80 Days is our opportunity to see the work of several of our favorites in a smart, charming, slightly tongue-in-cheek stage adaptation of Jules Verne's classic-yet-popular novel.

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Phoenix Film Festival Review: Charlie Paul's For No Good Reason

Courtesy of Allied PR.
Johnny Depp explores Ralph Steadman's world in For No Good Reason.
It's no surprise that indie documentary For No Good Reason drew a large audience at the Phoenix Film Festival. The star power of Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman, along with real footage of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs, was definitely a contributing factor. Since attendees didn't get the same filmmaker-audience interaction as other movies because there was no Q&A and the film wasn't in competition, For No Good Reason was entertainment for entertainment's sake. But it achieved more than that.

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Phoenix Film Festival Review: Clark Gregg's Trust Me

Trust Me (via Facebook)
Trust Me is an indie dark comedy written and directed by Clark Gregg that tells the tale of a Los Angeles underdog and features such well-known actors as Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, Molly Shannon, and even a brief appearance by William H. Macy. Unfortunately for us, the movie screened just once during the Phoenix Film Festival.

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Phoenix Film Festival Review: Thomas Beatty's Teddy Bears

Courtesy of Allied PR.
Teddy Bears is a story about an indecent proposal.
If you're going to make a film based on a zany idea, say, a man who wants to have an orgy with his friends' girlfriends in order to heal from his mother's recent passing, you're going to take a lot of care to not make it a gimmick. You're going to have to make your characters believable and their emotions realistic. You're definitely going to have to make more to the story than just a sad man who wants to have sex with three women, but Teddy Bears, which made its Phoenix Film Festival première on Sunday, April 6, just didn't do any of that.

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Phoenix Film Festival Review: Eddie Jemison's King of Herrings

Courtesy of Allied PR.
King of Herrings takes place in a gritty, almost surreal, New Orleans.
When we read up on King of Herrings while deciding which films to go see at this year's Phoenix Film Festival, the peg of a "Tom Waits tips-his-hat-to Woody Allen world" pretty much promised an entertaining, artsy ride into grittiness. However, limiting what King of Herrings does to just those two elements would betray what writer, director, and lead actor Eddie Jemison accomplished in his first feature. From Shakespearean dialogue and themes to a cinematography style that many are comparing to that of John Cassavetes, this indie flick is rich with dramatic and comedic elements.

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Don't Dress for Dinner Is a Farce to Be Reckoned with at Desert Foothills Theater

Kyle C. Greene
They didn't dress. Why should you? From left, Melissa Powers, Glenn Parker, Diane Senffner, and Roger Prenger in Don't Dress for Dinner
The setup: Madcap, whirlwind, and sexy, the farce is the perfect form of theater to revive the pants off of during recovery from an economic recession. As I recall, if you do it right, an illicit relationship can be one of the most affordable diversions ("We can't go out; people might see us!") -- but it's really the silliness that's the point. People hiding their actual or prospective side dishes from their significant others: the suspense!

So Marc Camoletti's Boeing Boeing, which eventually became a Tony Curtis movie about a man who easily juggled engagements to three international stewardesses until planes got faster in the early '60s, has made a second round in this century from Broadway all the way out to people like us. And another of Camoletti's scripts (he wrote a great many, but most have not been translated from French yet), Don't Dress for Dinner, is currently going strong 20 years after its American première that never got out of New Jersey. The West End revival ran six years, and now, on the heels of 2012's New York production, Desert Foothills Theater in Carefree gives us a nice big serving of crazy.

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