Staged Resolutions

I've been thinking about making some New Year's resolutions. Normally I don't bother; it's too easy to give in to the bad habits I've honed to perfection, and let's face it: Ice cream will always taste better than salad, and since I work at home and my spouse is gone all day long and there's no one around to see me eat a half-gallon of Häagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Fudge Chunk for lunch -- something I've been meaning to give up lately -- I'm gonna do it. See what I mean?

Probably I should start small; just give up a couple of little things and see how it goes. There are certainly a lot of theater-related things I'd be willing to surrender come January 1 -- like tickets to anything that includes a kick line or anything starring Chris Vaglio. Here are my other resolutions. I will:

Stop throwing temper tantrums. I holler for hours when theater companies promote their shows as "Tony Award-winning," as if the quality of the original New York production had any bearing on how the local version comes out. I need to stop doing this. Especially since the local production very occasionally rivals the beauty of the original, as with Arizona Theatre Company's It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues last January. Granted, the ATC production reunited much of the original, Tony-nominated Broadway cast and its director in this extravagant musical tribute to the Mississippi Delta. But ATC usually provides the exception to every artistic rule, even when it's not doing glorified remounts. And anyway, hollering for hours makes my throat hurt.

Run screaming when I hear the Village People. I definitely resolve never to remain in my seat in any theater that plays cruddy pop music before curtain. AM radio hits from the 1970s mean only one thing: Shitty theater is about to occur. I ignored the warning signs of "YMCA" and "I Love the Nightlife" last July when I went to see Menopause: The Musical in Scottsdale, for which I paid a high price. The program was stuffed with menopause propaganda -- "fun" quizzes about perspiration and menstrual cramps, sing-along lyric sheets, and lots of other inserts that screamed, "Cheesy musical! Run for the nearest exit!" -- but still I stayed, only to be throttled with off-key warbling and flatfooted dance numbers. All these months later, I'm still awakening from nightmares in which "actress" KatiBelle Collins is hollering the mangled lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon" while pelting me with maxi-pads. Not pretty.

Shut up, for Christ's sake. I need to stop talking about the time I almost cried at the theater, because it's kind of an embarrassing story and anyway I think my friends are sick of hearing it. It happened at Theatrescape's production of Eleemosynary last January, right after tiny Michelle Chin made her curtain call. She'd just spent a couple of hours playing a preteen egghead who hates her mother when, her eyes filled with tears, she quickly crossed the stage to retrieve the paper wings that were her character's prized possession. The play was over; Chin's character had no more lines to speak; but that single march across the stage, the way she cradled the wings and tossed a glance out at the audience before exiting, was perfection. Maybe I should just resolve to always pack a pair of dark glasses when I go to the theater.

Forgive Actors Theatre. I'm slow to recover from any injury, and the memory of the headache brought on by Actors Theatre's production of Tapestry last May is still with me. I remember thinking that I could never forgive one of the best theater companies in the state for unleashing this shockingly lame homage to Carole King's seminal songbook on the music-loving public. But I've changed my mind, mostly because one of the best theater companies in the state is in terrible financial trouble and may disappear altogether. Too bad that one of the few resolutions I've ever kept is the one about not standing on street corners yelling at people who don't support the arts. Too bad I gave up praying in 1977. Too bad for all of us if Actors Theatre, which has brought us much in the way of amazing and provocative entertainment, withers and dies.

Come out from behind the corn flakes. I resolve to stop hiding from actors when I see them in the grocery store. Except maybe Robert Harper, who I caught glaring at me in the produce aisle in Safeway last September after I wrote that he was too old and too fat to play the emcee in Cabaret, which he'd recently attempted. And definitely Jennifer Bemis, who's just plain scary, on or off the stage, and therefore impossible not to hide from.

Leave the poor kids alone, already. I've resolved to stop carping about the Zonis, that eternally laughable mess that keeps trying to pass itself off as a theater awards program. I've chased these guys around in print for so long that even I have grown tired of my ranting. I mean, if a roomful of actors are entertained watching one another cheese all over themselves after winning a polyethylene paperweight with their name on it, who the hell am I to wreck their fun? I'll do my best to leave them alone about their little awards party, but resolutions are hard to keep -- particularly when there's so much ice cream to eat and so many annoying things about the theater worth writing about.

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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