"Where's the play about Arizona that everyone has been waiting for?" Not at ASU Tempe (Not This Month, Anyway)

A rare moment of impending action in Untold Stories/Unsung Heroes
A rare moment of impending action in Untold Stories/Unsung Heroes
Tim Trumble

Yikes. It's always a risk to set yourself up in your production's title or tagline, such as the one in the headline above, for ASU Tempe's centennial show Untold Stories/Unsung Heroes -- another trap that suggests the snarky "There's a reason these were untold before now." But I winced even more when a sweet young actress spoke directly to the audience at the end of Act I: "It's time for intermission. Thanks for staying. Please come back." Ouch.

I'd already decided not to come back. I don't like doing that, I don't approve of doing that, but I couldn't bear the thought of watching or listening to any more, and I figured the performers might notice if I closed my eyes, and the rest of the audience would be distracted if I pulled my sweater over my face. So this review does not cover the alleged second half (assuming that anyone did come back and it took place).

If there were a grid comparing this show to Desert Foothills Theater's In the Devil's Frying Pan, Untold would get high marks for a relatively attractive, functional set, dramatic lighting and media effects, and interesting, well-executed choreography and blocking, other than the scenes (like the one pictured above) that place a narrator on a perch upstage from which all but the strongest voices fade up into the flyloft, especially when background music is playing from speakers downstage.

That's it, though. The folks who put this together also relied on firsthand historical accounts and contemporary interviews and oral and written histories they solicited. Taken together, the two plays are almost enough to convince you that no one who's ever set foot here has ever had anything particularly diverting to say about anything -- but it's hard to say for sure, as many of the ASU actors are making vocal sounds that resemble neither acting nor ordinary human speech, so there might be some good stories that just aren't coming across.

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The script is much better constructed than the one for Frying Pan (at least in parts -- the opening sequence, in which some "real people" try to put a play together, is the absolute worst), and the performance attempts to build and flow under Pamela Sterling's direction. It's a halting, draggy, joyless ensemble, however, except for the brunette in the reddish knitted cap, who smiles literally constantly and is supremely annoying. Innocent guest artists appear before intermission -- tonight, it will be the second appearance of some ASU and South Mountain High School dance students, and others will fill out the weekend.

Next month, ASU's Herberger Institute presents their third and final centennial stage production, American Victory. It was written by one playwright, and it's about one thing (Olympic wrestler Henry Cejudo). Sounds promising, for a change. Untold Stories/Unsung Heroes continues through Sunday, February 19, at the Lyceum Theatre, 901 South Forest Mall on the ASU Tempe campus. For tickets, $8 to $16, call 480-965-6447 or click here.

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