Best Budget Movie Theater 2012 | Pollack Tempe Cinemas | People & Places | Phoenix

 The last time we took the kids to a movie, we had to take out a second mortgage on the house first. Next time, we figure, it'll be time to sell the second car. Just getting in the door of a first-run theater is a ridiculous prospect — let alone the situation at the snack bar. Which is why we are so grateful to Michael Pollack. Not only does the guy own just about every strip mall in the East Valley (really, people, where would Phoenix be without the strip mall?), he graciously houses the best budget theater in town in one of them. The selection is good (you'll catch the films that have just left the big movie houses) and best of all, movies are $3 — $2 on Tuesdays. Sure, the snack bar is still pricey, but Pollack's got such a crazy collection of movie memorabilia for your family to gawk at that the sensory overload will knock the appetite right out of 'em. The air-conditioning blasts, just like at the fancy joints, and no one will try to up-sell you on your bag of popcorn. Now that's luxury.

Susan Claassen's performance in A Conversation with Edith Head, Actors Theatre's one-woman show about the world's most famous Hollywood costume designer, was the one to beat last season. In this pleasant, quietly entertaining homage to Head, which Claassen co-wrote with Head's biographer, Paddy Calisto, Claassen-as-Head dished about Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn ("She was awful, with that long, skinny neck!"), Hedy Lamarr (who ate constantly, even during fittings), and Bing Crosby (who hated clothes that made him look silly) and allowed us to forget that the renowned designer died in 1981. She prompted the audience with trivia questions and struck poses Edith Head was known for, placing a manicured hand on a hip she repeatedly jutted out into the audience. Claassen moved effortlessly from scripted storytelling to ad libs aimed at her audience, and even those of us not obsessed with the Late Late Show were able to enjoy this warm, witty performance by a fine actress.

iTheatre Collaborative's production of Race was a stunner, thanks in good part to a striking and memorable lead performance by Mike Traylor. Race, a triptych of short acts about lawyers who consider taking on a controversial rape case involving a billionaire, offers a typically Mametian setup. But Traylor's performance was anything but typical. As an embittered black man and a successful lawyer, he delivered a polemic on racism and commentary on the amorality of the legal profession with an amped-up intensity that allowed us to simultaneously hate and admire his character — a tough sell for even as estimable an actor as Mr. Traylor.

Shakespeare's R & J offers the bare bones of Romeo and Juliet (interspersed with other Shakespearean verse) in Joe Calarco's passionate play about four Catholic school boys who read aloud from a banned copy of the bard's most famous tragedy. In a chilly attic that doubles as Verona, these repressed, rep-tie-wearing lads honor an old Shakespearean tradition of males playing female roles as they create an evening's entertainment that's all subtext. And every moment of that subtext was cleverly outlined for even the most illiterate among us, thanks to the finesse and insight of director Damon Dering in last season's production of this difficult, complex piece of theater. It's a rough-and-tumble play that grafts comedy onto a tragic love story and asks that we watch both what these boys are doing with Old Will and what reading his love story is doing for them. And Dering made it all look so easy — and entertained us, besides.

Last season, he (and his Actors Theatre) brought us Geoffrey Nauffts's Tony-nominated and controversial paean to atheism, Next Fall. He brought Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's Hunter Gatherers (about a dinner party at which an animal sacrifice kicks off the evening, followed by sex, violence, wrestling, and dancing). And while so many other theaters were dusting off Gypsy and West Side Story for the umpteenth time, he brought us a stunning Time Stands Still, Donald Margulies' finest play in years. Weiner and company take risks where other companies won't, and for that (and for the bravery that led to Weiner booking this season's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, starring Ron May), we salute him.

Teatro Bravo

Having completed a successful 12th season (which included a beyond-the-grave visit from Federico García Lorca and a play about Frida Kahlo, culminating in a New Works series of staged readings), Teatro Bravo is going strong. The company, co-founded by playwright Guillermo Reyes, has produced plays in English or Spanish for more than a decade — plays that offer a complex portrait of the Latino and Latin American populations of Arizona. Its upcoming season is sure to offer another cultural boon to Phoenix — as if the company's mission to employ and develop the talents of Latino actors, directors, playwrights, and designers weren't enough.

Local performers Bill Binder, Jose Gonzalez, Jacque Arend, Sam Haldiman, Nina Miller, Mack Duncan, Shane Shannon, and Tommy Schaeffer own and operate a theater collective they insist isn't theirs.

There's no one leader or decision-maker in Torch Theatre, which formed in 2007 when local performance troupes Apollo 12, Galapagos, Remainders, Mail Order Bride, Light Rail Pirates, Phoenix Neutrino Project, and Dangerville joined forces to perform on a regular basis, as well as offer classes and workshops.For Torch, the goal was always to find a home. And in 2011, they found a spot on Central Avenue, took out what was left of an old hair salon, added few coats of fresh paint, a stage and a curtain, and a few rows of chairs, and settled in.The Torch members since have seen countless performances, a number of graduation ceremonies, and a wedding. They've solidified a weekly schedule of performances and introduced new levels of instruction, and they organize the annual Phoenix Improv Festival. And now, they're waiting for you to come on board.

Mere days before this venerable company throws open the doors on its brand-new downtown theater facility, we're happy to remind them and you that Black Theatre Troupe has been pleasing and enlightening local audiences for years.

This last season, we needed no reminding. A stunning production of Pearl Cleage's A Song for Coretta was followed by Bill Harris' Stories About the Old Days featuring Rod Ambrose and DeAngelus Grisby. Winding up with a new production of Ain't Nothin' but the Blues, BTT wowed us again, and this year's season promises to be just as engaging and features The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin. We can't wait, but the anticipation of what BTT has in store for us this year is almost as exciting as seeing the plays themselves.
Courtesy of iTheater
From iTheater's T Bone N Weasel (2013)

As if it weren't enough that this thought-provoking and well-tuned community troupe brought us a stunner in David Mamet's Race last winter, Christopher Haines and company also launched a unique series of drama workshops aimed at boosting the self-esteem of Arizona teenagers at a local homeless shelter. The iPlay curriculum, developed by Haines himself, since has taught dozens of at-risk teens about acting, improvisation, and performance. That, combined with a stunning season finale (up-and-coming dramatist Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries) convinced us that good theater and good deeds deserve some kind of recognition.

We almost lost them last year, and that would have been a shrieking nightmare from Hell. Because Actors Theatre has brought us decades of consistently high-quality professional theater from Stage West at the Herberger Theater Center. Just this past season, artistic director Matthew Weiner and company brought us Susan Claassen's dead-on impersonation of the famous Hollywood costume designer in A Conversation with Edith Head, followed quickly by Geoffrey Nauffts' Next Fall, and a staging of Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still that local theater fans were counting among the company's best productions, ever. So forgive us while we hoot and holler with joy that Actors Theatre was able to scrape together the financial means to stay with us for another year — and, hopefully, beyond.

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