photo by Mike Sultzbach

Taige Lauren dominates the stage as Emma, a hopeful actress whose dreams of success keep getting thwarted by the demands of her addiction to drugs and alcohol in "People, Places and Things" by award winning Duncan Macmillan.

Whether or not you are disgusted by, or feel sympathy toward, those who become addicted to drugs and alcohol, the new TAZ Theatre Company production of Duncan Macmillan's “People, Places and Things” will make an impression.

At the very least you can appreciate the relentless struggles of such sadly shattered souls.

Macmillan the playwright also takes this opportunity to make some telling observations about the ambiguous nature of both art and reality.

Foremost among them is his insistence that reality is not necessarily factual. For the professional actor, when his pretending is praised for being “real,” the actor considers that rare praise.

Yes, the harder you pretend, the more real it seems. Stage irony, for sure.

Tucson theater veteran Robert Encila is the director here. On stage is a relatively new face, Taige Lauren, playing the budding actress and troubled young woman Emma. She will assume a couple of other names in her struggle to reclaim the real person inside her mentally scattered body.

Emma is psychologically poked and prodded by the hospital's nameless staff doctor (Susan Arnold). The doctor's role is to keep challenging Emma the professional actor to fight back against her addiction.

Emma also keeps saying the doctor looks like Emma's mom. Is this appearance a coincidence, or does Emma project her mother's face onto every female that must be confronted?

The heart of “People. Places and Things” is this continuous duel between Emma and her doctor. Their mind games branch out into dance rave scenes, hospital conflicts, 12-step type confessions, ego outbursts and other nose dives. There's also a lot of cigarette smoking and a little coke snorting.

The stage setting itself is an ever-moving effect of lightly tinted portable floor-to-ceiling panels and perpetually re-sorted arrangements of black boxes that represent various pieces of furniture. These abstract feelings are seamlessly effective. Encila. Arnold and Clark Ray share the billing for this unique scene design.

Ray and Richard “Chomps” Thompson also give energetic performances as other patients Emma meets at her clinic.

While stories of drug triumphs and failures are sadly common in today's culture, Macmillan doesn't settle for any easy decisions.

There are no winners or losers here. Addiction itself is a relentless foe that never stops trying to win. And even for those patients who won yesterday and win again today, they know it doesn't mean they will win tomorrow.

"People, Places and Things” is an auspicious debut for TAZ, introducing a theater company that intends to be taken seriously.

Macmillan's sympathies may lie with the addicted ones, but he doesn't let them off the hook. They are still guilty. What the playwright hopes is that we more deeply appreciate the difficulty of their struggle.

“People, Places and Things” continues through May 26 with performances at 7:30 p.m. May 23, 24 and 25 -- 2 p.m. matinees May 25 and 26 -- in the Scoundrel & Scamp Theater at the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave.

Tickets are $30 general admission. For details and reservations, visit www.TAZTheatre.com



photo by The Gawnes

The Angels are (from left) Janee Page, Heather Stricker and Erin Todd.

Over at the Gaslight Theatre, before the show even begins, you just know “Harlie's Angels” is set in the 1970s...because everything that isn't yellow or orange is colored hot pink.

Keeping up with the noisy colors is all that music of the period, filled with sweeping choruses made for disco dancing, choc-a-bloc with the goofy mannerisms that were so intrinsic to the elaborate mating rituals filling every weekend of the pop culture swirling Seventies,

Which is exactly what fascinates the two wild and crazy guys from that disco crazy nation of Slobovia, an eager pair of brothers always seeking to meet more super-foxy American ladies.

Maybe it is all those head-spinning color clashes in their costumes, but “Harlie's Angels” seems to never stop moving. Contributing the most commotion are those devoutly disco Piroshki brothers, Serge (Jake Chapman) and Yerge (Jacob Brown). With only the slightest encouragement, their Saturday night fever shoots straight up into triple digits.

But they don't call the show “Harlie's Angels” for nuthin'. This trio of flashy females who excel at just about everything have got all their crime-catcher moves down pat. Just give them a couple of motorcycles and get out of the way. These Angels – Jessie (Erin Thompson), Samantha (Janee Page) and Kimberly (Heather Stricker) – can't go party until Justice has been done.

As you might be expecting, the unseen Harlie's strategic crime-stopping orders to this angelic triumvirate are relayed by the humorously bumbling Beasley (Steve McKee).

To get the plot moving, we learn Slobovia has its own disco hero, Flavio Suave (Todd Thompson), a tall man in a full length fur coat. He became an international disco favorite wearing gold shoes, gold shirt and purple pants.

Well, it is the 1970s, and the communist-leaning Slobovia wants to capture the freedom-loving Flavio so the true party-minded Slobovian government can dominate the international disco scene.

Being a no-nonsense believer in superior technology, the Commisar of the Slobovian Secret Services (Mike Yarema) has created his own deadly Discosizer, a clever machine that can suck the disco spirit out of anyone.

The Commisar is also assisted by the ever-wily Comrade Notinchka (Erin Helm).

Adding to all that discomania onstage is music director Josh Lamoreaux with a rack of electric keyboards and swooshing effects that prove he did his research on the music of the period.

The script by Peter Van Slyke, adapted and directed by Yarema and Kathryn Byrnes (who is also the choreography), put costumer Renee Cloutier at the top of her game as well.

But that is not all. The aftershow olio doubles down on providing more bang for the buck with a fully detailed 20-minute production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Not just the songs but also the scenery and characters from Dorothy (Page) blown into the land of Oz along with her little dog Toto, to meeting her pals the Tin Woodsman, brainless Scarecrow and cowardly Lion, as well as the sinister green Wicked Witch of the West.

The most remarkable performer in Oz is that green-hued Witch (Helm). She becomes everything you could ever want a wicked witch to be.

“Harlie's Angels” and the accompanying olio run through June 2 at the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway, with shows at various times Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets are $27 plus tax, with discounts for groups, students, seniors, military, first responders and children age 2-12. Phone 520-886-9428, visit www.thegaslighttheatre.com or stop by the Gaslight box office.