The setup: Local writer Charlie Steak's short play Woman and Girl follows its two characters through a stressful period of accepting change and learning to live together. (It's quite different from Steak's popular short, I'm Voting Republican.) The première production is at Phoenix's Space 55.
See also: - "Where's the play about Arizona that everyone has been waiting for?" Not at ASU Tempe (Not This Month, Anyway) - Late Night Catechism's Patti Hannon Stars in Space 55's The Bakers of Lakewood - Best Reason to Relive the Pain of Catechism
The execution: Some theater people (and audiences, for that matter) will look at something low-key like Steak's script and say, "I enjoyed it; it was well-written; but it wasn't a play." Such people want to see more overt conflict and/or a significant change in a character from beginning to end, which is a legitimate beef if you care about picking such literary nits.
Woman and Girl is more like a snapshot than a whole carousel of slides. It's less like a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and more like an image from the middle of a story or memory that makes it pretty clear what the beginning and end are like.
The characters do face conflicts and they do change, but those elements are subtle and lifelike. I generally like a work of drama that doesn't get all in my face about its issues but instead presents the behavior of relatable human beings from whom we can gain perspective on our own lives if we're open to that, and that's the kind of play this is.
One of Steak's aims, he told New Times a couple of weeks ago, was to share "what life in Phoenix can be like, once you get past . . . the main thoroughfares. I wanted to write about the desert; we're so close to it but so far away." The show's vignettes do have that warm, slow feeling of time spent away from "business" in a climate like ours; everything's worth noticing, yet nothing's urgent, and it's as though you don't want to move too rapidly or speak too loudly because you'll get overheated -- yet the daylight hours stretch into a scenario that makes you feel you have all the time in the world.
Kim Porter's set, all watercolory, multi-purpose, and partly symbolic, reinforces the concept of austere yet exotic beauty. And Patti Hannon, one of the most natural actors our metro area boasts, plays the grandmother everyone would like to have -- patient, nurturing, respectful, and willing to explain, but not a pushover, either.
Brinley Nasisse does a darn good job as Girl. Her character is confused and insecure for good reasons, and Nasisse plays her impetuosity and distractedness very much like a real kid. Director Xanthia Angel Walker has encouraged the duo in detailed, telling choices that sometimes inspire a smile or laugh from something as small as opening a door, putting down a potato, or donning a backpack.
The two actresses are a nicely matched team, maintaining attachment and tension between their characters as they test each other's limits. Steak's dialogue demonstrates an ear for real conversation, and without being annoying perfect people, the characters set examples of listening to each other that could serve most of us well in our attempts to communicate -- along with ways to have fun at home without spending a lot of money on crap.
The verdict: Neither overly long nor overly complicated, Woman and Girl is a show family members of multiple generations can experience without feeling misunderstood or talked down to. It's also funny in several spots, and it leaves you feeling sort of like you've been on a relaxing weekend getaway and everything's going to be okay.
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Woman and Girl continues through Sunday, May 19, at 636 East Pierce Street. Tickets are $5 for children and $15 for adults. If you bring your mother, she gets in for half price if you enter the code MOM when you order here. Call 602-663-4032 for more info.
Disclosure: I was one of 10 writer/performers who presented short solo pieces at Space 55's A Bitch in Time: He Said/She Said event in April.