photo by  Tim Fuller
Ellen (India Osborne) and Bernard (John Keeney) both love the Romantic poet William Blake and each other, maybe a little too much.

Talk about taking your work home with you. Actually, college professors Bernard (John Keeney) and Ellen (India Osborne) -- both fond of each other, also dedicated for two decades to teaching and living the sensual poetry of William Blake – didn't even make it off campus.

Hopelessly caught up one fateful evening in their physical desire for each other, Ellen and Bernard threw their conservative East coast small college values to the wind, threw each other down on the campus lawn and did it right there. Passing students and the college's president saw everything.

Consequently, as Mickle Maher's play begins, “There Is A Happiness That Morning Is,” both Ellen and Bernard are being forced the next morning to fully explain themselves and apologize to their students.

Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre sets this scene in their intimate studio theater. The stage is a flat space designed to look like a miniature lecture hall.

Bernard goes first, standing beside his podium to face his morning class, with a very long blackboard stretching out behind him. We in the audience are his students, listening to this hopeless defense that just because his romantic interests were pure, making love so spontaneously with Ellen right out there in front of God and everybody, proves it was the absolute right thing to do.

Since the play is performed without an intermission, we move directly to Ellen's afternoon class. There will be no wimpy plea in the defense she provides.

Ellen may have a prim and proper appearance, but she is defiant and angry that the college's President should be so provincial as to fail in seeing the beauty of Ellen's proclamation of affection with Bernard, sharing that most natural act which God alone designed into the very creation of life itself.

Thanks to Bryan Rafael Falcon's sensitive direction we get to enjoy not only the intricacies of passionate reasoning in their heartfelt logic, but also the rhymed verse Maher weaves through their labyrinthine journey to self-redemption.

The playwright's touch is light, finding ways to connect “crappiness” with “happiness,” “dump” with ”jump,” “shock” with “chalk,” “dream” with “screamed,” “fraud” with “dickwad,” “anticipation” with “obfuscation, “shrubbery” with ”mummery” and “bear trap” with “spinal tap.” There are hundreds of examples, lots of ear-ticklers.

Enjoying the play doesn't require any knowledge of William Blake. More fun to think about is when can you justify having sex in a public park, and how would you go about it? There isn't much of a leap to remembering the 1970s and the belief in “If it feels good, do it!”

Blake would certainly approve. But should life go around imitating art like that? Bernard does mention that 200 years ago in London it wasn't unusual for people to be having sex al fresco.

Can art finally set us free? You may debate that question with your significant other....as you drive past a Tucson park on the way home.

There Is A Happiness That Morning Is” runs through April 1, with performances at7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, in the Historic Y, 738 N Fifth Ave. Tickets are $22 general admission with discounts, including students and teachers. For details and reservations, 520-448-3300, on Facebook, and at scoundrelandscamp,org.

photo by Tim Fuller
Big Mama (Felicia P. Fields) and Shake (Shake Anderson) share a suggestive moment in their blues club.

If you're going to call your show “Low Down Dirty Blues,” you better mean it. Arizona Theatre Company has invited this cast to raise the heat and flaunt its earthy nature. The players are more than happy to oblige.

Co-writers and chief instigators Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman have paved the road to satisfaction with some very insistent body language accompanied by song lyrics that raise double entendre to the quadruple entendre level and beyond...way beyond.

Felicia P. Fields as beaming Big Mama gets all sweaty and glistening in a good way, wearing a bright red gown and an attitude that implies “All you got to do is hang on – if you can.”

Scenic designer Vicki Smith must have spent a lot of time in low places, because she captures in deep detail a very authentic looking dive bar – the kind you reach by stepping off the sidewalk and walking down a hard flight of stairs.

Beer signs for Stroh's and Schlitz hang on dingy walls that have soaked up decades of unfiltered cigarette smoke and stale ale. You can be sure the health department doesn't get any respect down here.

This is Big Mama's domain and she rules it with an iron hand. But if she likes you, she can be very, very generous.

When Big mama's eyes start twinkling and she begins to sing “Come On In My Kitchen,” then adds “My Stove's In Good Condition,” staying focused on the business at hand will not be a problem.

Early in the first act, slender guitarist Chic Street Man (his real name) delivers an extremely steamy rendition of “Crawlin' King Snake” that will coil around Big Mama's heart, as well as all the ladies listening in.

Meanwhile, gentlemen, it might be a good idea to remember where you stashed that guitar you had back in high school, and start thinking of snakes as being very sensual. Youtube will help you out with several versions by John Lee Hooker.

All five cast members have extensive stage and recording careers. Fields is a Tony nominee who played Sofia in the Broadway and first national touring company of “The Color Purple.” Street Man was in the off-Broadway hit “Spunk” adapted by George C. Wolfe.

But after the sex is over, the voice you will remember is Shake Anderson, a big man with a big voice and a bigger heart. That's because Act Two takes the songs and the message into deeper waters. Steve Schmidt playing keyboards and Calvin Jones on bass are rock solid, able to take the three lead singers on soul searching journeys that pay tribute to the blues lifestyle born of segregated living and limited opportunities.

There is no plot, but more of a scene as the players arrive, one by one, to begin the “Low Down and Dirty Blues.” Mama talks about how she grew up in the church and how the blues stole her away from the gospel. How she moved from St. Louis to Chicago and eventually got her own club.

Her message: It's not about the songs, it's about the feeling,

After intermission there's more serious talk about how young white boys got rich playing the blues and stealing the music from those who lived it. Anderson gets to sing his big numbers, sure to take your breath away, as the music builds to a rousing soul and gospel conclusion with everybody joining in.

"Low Down Dirty Blues" continues through March 31, with performances at various times Tuesdays through Sundays in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $25-$73. For details and information, 622-2823 or arizonatheatre.org.