Mystic Ribber

Picture me, just this once, wearing a shiny turban anchored with a big paste jewel. I'm sitting before a tiny, round, velvet-covered table, gazing into a crystal ball. The ball is filled with all kinds of swirling pastel lights and a bunch of purple glitter that occasionally morphs into shapes specific to the upcoming theater season: a playbill for a Neil Simon comedy; Damon Dering in a pleather corset; a number of would-be actors shaking their fists at me and jeering.

I'm the Theater Swami, and I can predict what's going to happen on local stages over the next nine months or so. Like I know that there's going to be a good deal of bad Shakespeare (some of it written by Christopher Marlowe) produced here this year. And an endless stream of road company musicals. And hardly enough Katie McFadzen to please anyone.

I see an amazing performance by John Sankovich in Algonquin Theater's Art in mid-September, and a new play by Raymond Shurtz, and about a thousand musical numbers that all end with the performers lifting their outstretched arms straight up into the air. And here, swimming to the surface, is a vision of me, repeatedly horking up my lunch into a paper bag, which probably represents the part of the future that contains six different Neil Simon comedies, including two productions of Barefoot in the Park.

I don't need a crystal ball to predict that Alternative Theater Company is going to sell out its run of The Player, because all the press reminding us that the show Features Lots Of Naked Boys will guarantee that. But what's this? The number two, floating in a sea of sparkly bilge, which probably stands for all the shows we get to see twice this season. Like Forever Plaid at both Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre and Theater Works, and Company at Tempe Little Theater and Theater Works, and The Nerd, which is playing now at Theater Eclectic and in April at Fountain Hills Community Theater. And it says here that Romeo and Juliet is going to get done by both ASU and Childsplay, but that can't be right. Because whoever heard of an age-appropriate Romeo and Juliet?

I see a whole gaggle of smiling lesbians, probably because Scottsdale Center for the Arts will be swarming with lesbo comediennes this season. Reno will bring her September 11 diatribe Rebel Without a Pause there next month, and Kate Clinton will take the same stage in November, followed by An Evening With Lily Tomlin in May. And even better than happy lesbians is the fact that, no matter how hard I gaze into my crystal ball, I see nothing at all about Gail Wolfenden-Steib, so maybe she won't be blighting any productions with her costuming this year.

Here's Neil Cohen in a black dress and a white apron, clutching a feather duster, which I hope means he'll be appearing in iTheatre Collaborative's The Maids in April. And I see that Manuela Needhammer's husband will be offered a job in another state, so that she'll have to move away to be with him, which isn't necessarily bad news. Because if I have to look at another of Manuela's impossible wig designs, I'm going to throw myself into traffic.

I see Molly Sweeney and The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Thoroughly Modern Millie and, so help me, The Phantom of the Opera. I foresee long, long lines of people waiting to see Arizona Theatre Company's Anna in the Tropics and Titanic at Stagebrush. I see box office records for Tea at Five, the Theater League play about Kate Hepburn, and a whole lot of undraped men in powdered wigs, which must have something to do with Nearly Naked's upcoming production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. At least I hope that's what that means.

Here's a vision of the artistic directors of Theater Works and Phoenix Theatre having a great big bitch fight, which probably represents their battle for supremacy in producing tired old plays that everyone has seen a thousand times before. It's hard to tell who's winning, but I'm going to predict Theater Works, even though practically all of Phoenix Theatre's season is made up of retreads (Cabaret next month; You Can't Take It With You in November; A Chorus Line in January), because Theater Works is doing both Arsenic and Old Lace and Fiddler on the Roof, which is hard to beat in the Oh-God-Not-Again sweepstakes, and because the guy from Theater Works is wielding a much bigger purse.

I see a December filled with the usual holiday pageants: Childsplay's The Velveteen Rabbit, Actors Theatre's A Christmas Carol, and so on. But no matter how hard I gaze, I don't see anything even remotely resembling federal funding for the arts. Nor a respite from The Sound of Music, which Hale Centre Theatre is planning for March; it must be their turn to do it this year.

Just before my crystal ball clouds over and goes dead, I see a below-the-fold headline in the Ahwatukee Foothills News that reads "Local Theater Critic Murdered in Sleep by Angry Thespian," but the print is too small and I can't make out the date or which one of them did it. Which is too bad, because if I have to go, I'm hoping to meet my maker before I have to sit through Jesus Christ Superstar one more time.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela