Nicole Belit Dazzles in By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Phoenix's Herberger Theater

Categories: Review, Theater

Courtesy of iTheatre Collaborative
Nicole Belit shines in By The Way, Meet Vera Stark.

Vera Stark is, like so many actresses who start out hungry and wind up legendary, alone on her own stage. She works alongside other actors only because she needs someone to talk to, but none -- in her estimation, and in ours -- are her equals.

Vera is a fictional character, drawn from life by playwright Lynn Nottage. Nicole Belit, the woman who plays her in the iTheatre Collaborative production of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark that opened on Friday night at the Herberger, is very real. The two women share this: They are -- thanks to Belit's enchanting performance -- alone onstage.

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Welcome Diner Film Fest 2014: A Bag of Biscuits and Some Talking Animals

Heather Hoch
Standing room only at Welcome Diner Film Festival's showing Thursday night.
For two nights, people crowded the Welcome Diner front patio to watch 11 short films made in just 48 hours. Each team was randomly assigned an odd genre to make a film, with such options as "talking animal sitcom" and "coming-of-age time travel." What the teams made in just two days ranged from odd and experimental to dramatic and emotional, with many teams going for laughs overall.

Though all the films were interesting to watch in their own right, only one could win.

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Alive Inside Is an Engaging, Vaguely Uplifting Look at Music Therapy

Courtesy of Bond 360
Alive Inside misses the opportunity to delve deeper into its characters.

If there's a problem with Michael Rossato-Bennett's Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, an engaging, vaguely uplifting documentary about how personalized music therapy can help dementia patients, it's that it ignores the very tune it's playing. Rather than present its elderly, memory-impaired subjects as human beings who deserve more from life, they're offered up as ersatz spokespeople for the effectiveness of this already-tested technique.

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Biloxi Blues Exceeds Expectations at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre

Categories: Review, Theater

Wade Moran
Rick Davis as Toomey and Ryan Toro as Eugene in Biloxi Blues.

One attends a community theater production of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues hoping to see pleasant performances and, if you're a Simon fan, expecting to have a few laughs. One does not go expecting a powerhouse performance by a principal player -- a performance so thrilling that it completely overshadows the production itself and its other leads, both of whom also make their mark in this tidy little presentation.

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Orange Theatre's Blood Wedding Gallops Through Completed Version at ASU Tempe's Lyceum

Courtesy of Orange Theatre
Katrina Donaldson is the Bride in Orange Theatre's Blood Wedding.
The setup: Orange Theatre's industrially flavored, iconoclastic mounting of Lorca's Blood Wedding is similar in many ways to the roughly two-thirds complete work-in-progress version we got to see last winter. The company develops a play in several periods spanning about a year, and viewing multiple iterations reveals some of the decision-making that goes into the creation of art.

If that alone doesn't sound like fun (and if so, understandably -- a lot of people prefer not to witness the making of sausage, either), you're in luck, because the show is still densely packed with complex characters who strut and romp through a Home Depot-y wonderland, managing to symbolize concepts like lust and vengeance while also representing real people.

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Downtown Phoenix's Space 55 Presents a Different 7 Minutes in Heaven Each Saturday in June

courtesy of Space 55
Patrick Hershey and Amy Ouzoonian are Expat, and they wail.
The setup: Space 55's Late Night Series is a thing we've visited and written about before. It's alternative performance for (eventually) every taste, something we both enjoy and pine for more of.

This month, Saturday nights at 9 p.m. bring us 7 Minutes in Heaven, a thing that link kind of describes the content of, but not the concept. (Disclosure: I have performed in 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe. Space 55 does not select or vet artists or material for its 7 Minutes . . . series -- and that is the concept.)

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The Full Monty from Mesa Encore Drops More Than Trou

Wade Moran
Foreground, Michael Leeth, and left to right, Chad Campbell, Andrew Lipman, Jonathan Holdsworth, and Julian Peña discuss "The Goods" in The Full Monty.
The setup: There really isn't anything wrong with the lemons God gave you, even before you pluckily make lemonade from them. But in 1997, when director Peter Cattaneo showed us the work of screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) in The Full Monty, the desperate, laid-off male inhabitants of economically ravaged steel town Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, became brave, brilliant, sexy heroes. (Oh, yeah -- by stripping for money in front of friends, family, and neighbors, despite zero qualifications to do so, in case you didn't know.) Mesa Encore Theatre's mounting of the fine stage musical that resulted (set in Buffalo, New York) runs one more weekend in the Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse at Mesa Arts Center.

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Young Frankenstein Is Proportionally Large at Peoria's Arizona Broadway Theatre

courtesy of Arizona Broadway Theatre
From left, Kurtis W. Overby and Adam Vargas put on some Raaarh in Young Frankenstein.
The setup: You may remember a massive hit musical, The Producers, that was based on a Mel Brooks film that, by the time this century turned, not really all that many people remembered. You might not realize that Brooks wrote all the songs for that show, not just "Springtime for Hitler" (which was in the original fake musical in the original movie). He's very musically talented!

Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are probably considered Brooks' biggest hits, and I don't know whether there'll ever be a musical version of Blazing Saddles, but YF makes a nice, fun musical, and it's stomping into Arizona right now at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

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Bitch of the Baskervilles at Downtown Phoenix's Trunk Space This Weekend Only

Heather Corner
From left, Liz Bragg and Amanda O'Halloran search desperately for a clue in Bitch of the Baskervilles, in a photo that displays vastly greater quantities of hat and lesser quantities of bosom than the real thing.
The setup: Let's set you up, first. You obviously need something to do with yourself this long weekend, based on last night's two-hour-plus karaoke rotations, and now that the chick who sang "Don't Stop Believing" has doubtless been murdered, you can get some investigative tips from Holmes and Watson at Bitch of the Baskervilles, a short new play that's here on a three-day stop on a two-city tour, i.e., get a move on.

A Toronto troupe called Socratic Theatre Collective has collaborated with Current Theatrics, which provided Philippines-born, Dublin-educated, Las Vegas-residing director Ruth Pe Palileo, to produce S. R. Kriger's Bitch of the Baskervilles this weekend in Phoenix and next weekend in Vegas. It's a short, gender-blended parody of the Conan Doyle story with adorable, sexy, steampunky costumes (including the first tiny deerstalkanator hat I've ever seen), some nice, goofy acting choices, and subtly self-referential jokes about literature, stage conventions, and gender [insert noun here].

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Avenue Q: We Can Tell You How to Get to It (Go to Phoenix Theatre)

courtesy of Phoenix Theatre
Colin Ross (right) and two unseen puppeteer/actors operate part of the ensemble of Avenue Q during the number "Purpose."
The setup: Avenue Q, a sort of adults-only musical parody of Sesame Street that exists and functions, nevertheless, completely independently of the kids' show, opened in 2003 and won a cluster of Tonys. One would think its songs and subject matter, apparently quite topical at the time, would feel dated and stale by now, but happily for the show (maybe not so happily for the prospects of people like its 22-year-old characters), it works as well as ever.

Phoenix Theatre
's current production, a revival of its 2011 staging, still has two more weekends to run and, surprisingly, a lot of you have never seen Avenue Q and you need to remedy that immediately.

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