There were so many reasons Desert Stages Theatre's production of A Man of No Importance shouldn't have worked. There was the cramped quarters of the company's Actor's Cafe space, into which this odd musical was squeezed. There was the mostly amateur cast, an unusual, time-bending script, and the curse that seems to blight most all stage musicals based on little-known films (in this case, the 1994 Albert Finney movie of the same name). All these should've-failed reasons are what made this production's success all the more notable. Firm direction from Jim Carmody and a better-than-average supporting cast helped, but the main reason this production soared where it might have faltered was Dominic Kidwell's lead performance as Alfie. Kidwell kept his character's complex elements a stubborn determination to bring Oscar Wilde's work to Dublin; a frail gentility; a quick anger in fine balance. When the story turned dark, Kidwell maintained Alfie's sweet, hopeful demeanor in song and in action. His shaded performance elevated what might have been a near miss into a superb production, one that Wilde himself probably would have loved.
Kyle Sorrell gave a powerhouse performance as Mark, the lead in Harry Gibson's dark meander through heroin addiction's dark night no mean feat when one considers that Sorrell was surrounded by a superb cast. Sorrell shone brightest, though; balancing the horror and comedy in the text without ever toppling into camp, and never playing Mark as weird or deranged. Sorrell implied a subtle regret under his endless crowing about the pleasure of getting high that let us see the wretchedness beneath Mark's manic glee about choosing drug addiction over a materialistic, bourgeois existence. Sorrell's was a star turn that we're still recalling with a combination of horror and pleasure.
The eccentric 19th-century German musician Christian Friedrich Buschmann built the first accordion way back in 1822. We're willing to bet the kooky Kraut would have been shocked to learn that his atonal invention would someday be utilized by a pair of goofy and gangly Valley teenagers to create a comically clamorous combination of polka and punk rock. But regardless of how much Herr Buschmann might be spinning in his grave, brothers Andrew and Tristan Jemsek have used their squeezebox (along with an electric guitar and drum kit) to blast out a bizarrely boffo blend of polka and punk rock, delighting denizens of the downtown Phoenix art scene over the past two years. Influenced by everything from the accordion-happy Weird Al Yankovic to The Dead Kennedys, the Jemseks perform more traditional-sounding (yet highly hyperactive) polka jams about Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and haunted European castles, as well as raucous rock ditties about Access Hollywood and local hypnosis guru Sam Meranto. Eat your heart out, Weird Al.
Lillie Richardson is among our finest local actors, and as Paulina in Ariel Dorfman's semi-autobiographical political thriller, she was called on to play a woman who's alternately jovial and condescending; who might be insane or simply jubilant in her finest hour. She played scenes that in the hands of a lesser actress certainly would have fallen to scenery chewing, scenes filled with violence and fear, crackling with tension and crammed with Dorfman's darkly comic dialogue. She shifted from cantankerous glee to spiteful cruelty without a trace of the hamminess this kind of role practically demands. Brava!
Since its wildly cacophonous and sonically entrancing inaugural concert last year, the Phoenix Creative Music Movement has been dead set on getting folks out of their aural comfort zones by offering kick-ass experimental music during its bi-monthly concert series at Modified Arts. And it must be doing something right, because its diehard followers and curious newbies demanded more creative craziness and got it. The PCMM's two-day annual winter festival showcases harmonically ambitious local cats gigging in a variety of styles, including improv jazz, atonal electronica, mixed-media installations, and ambient free-flowing sound narratives. The December '05 Fest featured six original acts; Chicago drumming heavyweight and Phoenix native Frank Rosaly performed solo freak-out deconstruction percussion, while the all-woodwind New Jazz Saxophone Quartet closed the fest with angular walls of modern sound. Ditch the winter coat at home, because these artistic pulsations are hot shit, udig?
Terra Java Coffee House & Bake Shop
Timur Guseynov
Brush up on some classic bluegrass, some low-down country blues, and bring out your inner hillbilly during the Arcadia Bluegrass Jam every Sunday night. Started in August 2004, the open bluegrass flat-pickin' session features a healthy mix of musicians equipped with acoustic guitars, banjos, bass, and violins in Mama Java's relaxed and sociable atmosphere. If the only thing you know how to pick is your nose, don't fret. The java and jams flow from 7 to 9 p.m., and admission is free. The jam is always accepting hot strummers and skilled vocalists of all levels, so bring a country-twanged ax and get pluckin'.
Too busy to get to the theater? Well, you have to eat, right? So multitask in the most creative way and head to the Herberger's Lunch Time Theater. The show is only $6, and for a few extra bucks you can pre-order a bag lunch (salad or sandwich, with all sorts of choices, complete with sides and a drink) that will be waiting for you. Shows last 30 to 45 minutes, beginning at 12:10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, when there's a production. The doors open at 11:40 a.m., and you can buy your ticket at the door (although, unless there are no-shows, not your lunch). We've seen a one-woman show and a completely new play, written by several locals. Upcoming productions include The Apple Pie Hubbub: Several Scenes in One Act, opening October 30 and described as a fully improvised play, in which the audience decides the plots and twists. Sure beats the drive-through at Carl's Jr.!
There are two types of women in the world: those who use spa treatments to lift their spirits, and those who prefer to drown their sorrows in alcohol. Fortunately for us girls who've made friends outside our type, this swanky gay bar hosts a regular Monday bash that will satisfy everybody. "Martinis & Manicures" features both stiff drinks and a good touch-up on your nails for just $5 a pop. Since the specials last from 7 p.m. until the bar closes, you may actually find time to explore the exotic components of Amsterdam's super-long martini list. Pineapple upside-down cake martini, anyone? And how about some polish to match?
For just a few bucks, you can eat a hot dog in the sunshine and head back to work with a sparkling car. We knew this was the best car wash in town when we ran into our boss (not just our editor, but the big boss) here one day at lunch, spiffing up his car and his shoes at the same time. We didn't take advantage of the shoeshine service, but we did note that the business at the hot dog stand just outside Los Olivos was bustling, and we were grateful that the friendly car wash staff didn't try to change our oil, sell us new tires and refinance our house while we struggled to simply request a basic wash. The basic wash was better than basic, too, and we headed back to the office fed and refreshed. Not bad for an hour off work.
Want to get us excited about public transportation? DO NOT TALK TO US ABOUT LIGHT RAIL! We already spend much of our day talking about light rail to ourselves, under our breath, stuck in horrendous traffic. Yeah, yeah, it will make our lives wonderful. Maybe. We'll get back to you in several years. For now, we'd rather talk about the cool thing that happened at Sophie's preschool last year. Our toddler came home from school with a picture of herself driving a city bus. Don't worry, we're pretty sure the bus wasn't moving Sophie's knees didn't even bend over the seat, if the Polaroid was any indication. This is a program where the bus folks drive that thing over to the school, and let each kid take a turn driving. The kids were delighted and so were the parents, eager to demonstrate that public transportation's not such a bad thing, even if you won't catch us waiting at a bus stop. We're putting our faith in the next generation . . . and we're glad Tempe In Motion is, too.

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