AT INVISIBLE THEATRE "TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS" GETS UNIVERSALLY PERSONAL
photo by Wirges Photography
From left, Tim Tully, Emily Gates, Susan Cookie Baker and Richard “Chomps” Thompson share pressing personal problems in an advice column.

If you haven't been out of your house for 14 COVID months “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Nia Vardalos, now playing at the Invisible Theatre, is the perfect play to remind you what life was like before the pandemic neutralized our lives.

Vardalos is best known for writing and starring in the insightful comedy film about complicated family bonding, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Here on the theater stage she takes a broader look at the rest of America's middle class foibles by turning to that eternally seductive format, the free-wheeling advice columnist.

Ipso facto the playwright adapted for the stage Cheryl Strayed's collection of advice columns written and published as the popular book “Tiny Beautiful Things.” Who knows what makes this bittersweet sort of narrative so seductive to read, whether its's online or in a newspaper. Or gathered together in a book.

Admit it, you can't resist reading them, either.

Maybe it is the unpretentious assumptions, the love-me-or-leave-me attitudes that director Samantha Cormier charts so clearly in this touching production.

Unfaithful spouses complain about the adulterous attitudes of their mates. Young men, heartsick and lost, suddenly discover their muscular strength and athletic quickness aren't worth anything against the whims of a woman who has her man exactly where she wants him.

Other women, sadder by far, feel the inequalities of an economic system stacked against their paychecks, working for bosses who make unreasonable demands. Harried husbands describe what it feels like to be torn between their own threadbare wives and those always flashier lovers.

Strayed's columns were written anonymously, always signed “Sugar.” In this lively rendition, Susan Cookie Baker plays the role of Sugar, facing the columnist's daily email tsunami of winners and victims, cheaters and champions.

What will touch your heart is Sugar's defiant honesty. Instead of saying dump him or trump him, Sugar will answer a sad story by remembering an even sadder one from her own life. She isn't telling the writer what to do so much as providing something to compare.

It's like getting battle-tested advice from the soldier in the next fox hole. You know it has been run through the wringer of reality.

The other cast members are Tim Tully, Emily Gates and Richard “Chomps” Thompson. They take turns portraying the myriad letter writers, saying their lines like reading their own letters, adding body language and inflection to express the intensity of their feelings.

Baker gets to create a more complete character, seeing Sugar as a sympathetic ear rather than a blind justice dispensing fairness and letting the chips fall where they may. Sugar's advice comes from a much warmer place. A mother's love, an anguished heart, and a weary traveler, all rolled into one lump of Sugar.

Although the threat of COVID seems to be waning, Invisible Theatre's managing artistic director Susan Claassen and staff are maintaining full vigilance on stage and in the theater. There is no intermission or gathering in the lobby before the performance.

Cast members will not wear masks, but all have completed their vaccinations and will maintain their social distance on stage. The audience will be expected to wear masks, with distanced and reserved theater seating as issued by the CDC and City of Tucson.

No tickets will be sold at any performance. Ticket holders are asked to take their temperatures before leaving home and will be asked to arrive at a specific time to be taken directly to their seats. Should there be any COVID symptoms, alternate performance reservations can be arranged.

"Tiny Beautiful Things” runs 80 minutes without intermission. General admission tickets are $40, students $20. Performances are 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. most Saturdays and all Sundays, through June 27 at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

To make reservations: (520) 882-9721, email katy@invisibletheatre.com or visit www.invisibletheatre.com for online purchase 24/7 through Ovation Tix.













 

GASLIGHT THEATRE IS BACK INDOORS WITH FIRED UP "SPACE WARS"
photo by Brian Gawne
By their costumes  you will know them in "Space Wars" as Gaslight Theatre's indoor shows return full force.

The sets look brighter and sharper, the costumes crisper and fluffier (especially Shuey) in the fabled Gaslight Theatre's return to its own stage with a fully enhanced and energetically performed production of “Space Wars,” written and directed by Peter Van Slyke.

To say Gaslight's return is “out of this world” is obvious, as the show bears more than a passing resemblance to the interstellar adventures of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

But it is worth noting, the fabled Gaslight spirit has not been dampened by a nearly 15-month absence since the COVID pandemic struck in mid-March of 2020, freezing us in the theater world solid as Han Solo in that cube of carbonite.

Waging war in the vast emptiness of the Gaslight's stage, ominous Dark Visor (Heather Stricker) in total black leads the Quasar Confederacy against Duke Starfighter (Mike Yarema) of the Steller Union, battling with laser blades and other galactic technology to free (or capture) the lovely Princess Layla (Janee Page) with hair twirled in twin buns, who personifies all that is good and wholesome throughout the universe.

Serving the Princess in deep data obedience is the silvery humanoid MP3PO (Jacob Brown) and the squatty vacuum-cleaner looking robot WD40, scarcely three feet tall (is there an actor inside that container?).

WD40 doesn't have a speaking role. It communicates in a series of whistles and beeps, understood only by MP3PO, who himself has a bit of an English accent.

Providing insidious assistance to Dark Visor are her dedicated minions Vendala (Ruthie Hayashi) and Zarphixius (Erin Thompson).

Proving you can never have too many villains in a Gaslight show is Jake Chapman as the furrow-browed Dark Brawl, another warrior turned to the Dark Side.

Duke Starfighter gathers associates to his fight for justice as the story goes on. First is the brown-robed and spiritually powerful Sobe Kaleidoscopie (David Orley), using his most God-like voice to recommend the power of the Course. Later on we also discover Sobe is a sincere student of Dr. Seuss.

Making a blazing entrance as the exuberant rebel who is only in it for the money is viral mercenary Lance Jericho (Todd Thompson), flying his souped-up hot rod rocket ship, the Mustang Galley.

But it is Chapman who steals the show when he also comes on stage as the towering, hirsute alien Shoomonga (Shuey), whose language sounds more like growls and howls. His long, shag-cut locks of wild hair are an instant hit with the audience, bursting into spontaneous applause when Shuey begins to howl his song.

You gotta see it to believe it. If the Gaslight costume shop is renting costumes for Halloween this year, everybody – short or tall – will want to go trick-or-treating as Shuey.

Fans of the “Star Wars” pantheon still have two more characters to greet in this tribute to life in worlds outside the box and beyond the envelope. Brown begins speaking in scrambled syntax as Yoga the green and wise one, and an uncredited actor speaks in slurpy tones as the gross, grotesque and obesely heavy Java the Cup.

Lots of key scenes from Hollywood's iconic space opera receive a nod of recognition. The Mustang Galley's blast into nanospeed is particularly effective.

But wait! There's more. Everybody's favorite encore, the aftershow olio, features songs from several Disney musicals, complete with costumes and scenic effects: “The Little Mermaid,” “Frozen,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Lion King,” “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast” and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park attraction.

My favorite, of course, are the pirate jokes. How does a pirate pay for his drinks at the pub? With his barnacles (bar nickles...get it?)

As the pandemic restrictions begin to lighten, “Space Wars” opens indoors with relaxed seating at tables that are more spread apart than the Gaslight's traditional seating. Masks are not required while seated. Actors are not wearing masks. The staff and servers are wearing masks.

Reservations are required. A ticketless system is in use. For details and reservations, 520-886-9428, or visit the Gaslight box office, 7010 E, Broadway Blvd., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

"Space Wars” plays at various times Wednesdays-Sundays through Aug. 29. Tickets are $23.95 plus tax for adults, with discounts for groups, students, seniors, military, first responders and children 2-12.