| Reviews |

Stray Cat Theatre's Pluto Is a Splendid, Surreal Production in Tempe

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Elizabeth, a youngish suburban mother, is determined to have a normal day. But there's a tree growing, upside down, in her kitchen. Her three-headed talking dog is acting churlishly. The announcer on her radio, which keeps turning itself on, is speaking directly to her. And someone keeps trying to climb out from inside her refrigerator.

Elizabeth is a character in a Steve Yockey play. A normal day doesn't seem likely. If Pluto, now on stage at Stray Cat Theatre, comes across as one long fever dream, that's deliberate. The point of Yockey's surrealist story is that life isn't always neat and tidy; in fact, it can be downright scary and quite awful. Director Ron May and his impressive company of players find each and every comic moment in Elizabeth's dreadful day, and make the most of what little subtlety there is in his dramatic message, besides. This is a splendid production of a noteworthy play.

See also: Gina Gionfriddo on Having It All, Pulitzer Prizes, and Rapture, Blister, Burn

Its story unfolds slowly, as Elizabeth attempts to converse with Bailey, her college-aged son, who's trying to study. Both are deliberately not talking about something terrible that may have already happened. Instead, they banter about the mysterious death of Bailey's father, argue about the value of blueberry Pop-Tarts, and bicker about their snarky pet (played with gentle mirth by Yolanda London), all in the most suburban kitchen you'll see on stage all season. (I'll eat my hat if Eric Beeck's flawless set design doesn't win kudos in this year's theater awards season.)

May has created an appropriately traditional staging for a world-gone-topsy-turvy script, and wisely refrains from restraining his players, who climb over the top of each scene without once over-acting -- particularly Gabrielle Van Buren, whose full-throttle performance as a caterwauling mystery woman is both terrifying and delightful. Cole Brackney's sometimes frantic, ultimately heartbreaking performance as Elizabeth's oddball son makes the final moments of Yockey's peculiar story all the more touching. And Neda Tavassoli offers admirable restraint as a put-upon suburban mom whose life just doesn't make much sense, today.

Michael Peck, who joins the fray late in Yockey's story, plays Death with a barely perceptible sneer, the subtle equivalent to a wink at the audience that says, "I'm having a blast!" So are we, watching both Peck's controlled performance and this dark, fascinating story.

Pluto continues through Saturday, March 7, at Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. 6th St. in Tempe. 
Call 480-227-1766 or visit 

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.