West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-In

Drive-in theaters are reminiscent of a bygone time — and West Wind Glendale 9 is no exception. But there is nothing outdated about this West Valley theater, which features state-of-the-art digital projection, first-run movies, a game room, and a gourmet snack bar. General admission tickets are $6.75 per person, but only $4.75 on Tuesday, during Family Fun Night. Admission for children 5 to 11 is only $1. Even better (and cheaper)? You can pack your own snacks.

It was really no surprise to hear that Elise Salomon's documentary Los Wild Ones won her the best documentary award at the 2013 Phoenix Film Festival. This locally raised girl's knack for capturing raw emotion while telling the story of the Latino rockabilly record label Wild Records certainly is impressive for a new filmmaker. However, her work as a producer with some of our favorite funny people in Hollywood, like Michael Cera in Paper Heart and Nick Offerman in Smashed, also had caught buzz from film festivals across the country. Salomon certainly is up and coming. She has an eye for talent and an ear for a good tale, and we can't wait to see her next project — especially if she's the director again.

You know you're a D-list actor when you have to tell the cops arresting you that you're a rich and famous actor, and then you have to add, "Fucking look me up, bitch!" That's what Jason London did in Scottsdale earlier this year, right before he took a steaming dump in the back of a Scottsdale police car. London, who's best known — excuse us, only known — for his role as Randall "Pink" Floyd in Dazed and Confused, sneezed in a guy's face at Martini Ranch in January and got tossed out after fighting with the guy and bar security, according to police. As the arresting officer drove London to jail, London continued to insult the cop — including, but not limited to, saying that his breath smelled like diarrhea — and at one point, London said the cop's car "smells like shit." The officer wrote in his report: "I looked back at him just in time for him to lean to the left and defecate in his pants. Then he said, 'I told you that I'm happy as shit!'"

Devon Nickel's been around Valley theater a while (not too long — he's a relatively young man), including in Nearly Naked and Phoenix Theatre's co-production of Spring Awakening in 2012 and NNT's acclaimed Blood Brothers in 2009. He sings beautifully enough that he could be routinely cast doing only that, but that isn't what happens, because he acts at least as well. Last winter, he took on the physically, emotionally, intellectually taxing role of utter crazy-pants Alan Strang in Nearly Naked's revival of the classic '70s British drama Equus. The entire production was stunning, but Nickel's Alan was the hub around which it all revolved, and appropriately so. We laughed, we cried, we could not look away — and yet there was so much truth, passion, and pain in Nickel's work that we scarcely remember the play's protracted nude scene. Which is not something that would escape us on an ordinary day.

Some performers are like the J.D. Salinger of acting — hard to catch. (Usually it's because they're working very hard doing other things that generally are none of your business.) But one of Shawna Franks' conflicts, as artistic director of Space 55 Ensemble, understandably eats into her available time to appear in plays. We're happy when we do get to see her act, and sad the rest of the time, because we aren't watching her act. See, she's got mad chops, partly from her training days in Chicago (at the former Goodman School at DePaul and on the mean streets).

In March, Franks played the beautiful, idle, self-loathing Elena in an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. (Everyone in Chekhov, as in life, is self-loathing — but anyway . . .) Her trajectory through the evening appeared entirely inevitable (for the character) and effortless (for the performer). This is pure toil that should look like the random machinations of nature, and that's what Franks accomplishes.

One of the signs of great work in theater or film is that enough time and effort have been invested to make inanimate objects like clothing, furniture, dishes, and books feel as real as the characters do. Give those props and dressings a chance, and they'll enhance the art. (Give them too much leeway and they'll upstage the biggest star.)

We were stumped, before we saw Southwest Shakespeare's A Christmas Carol, trying to imagine the cuddly, grandfatherly David Vining as archetypal grouch Ebenezer Scrooge. Vining's a fine actor, and Don Bluth a masterful director, especially on the visual side, but really? Well, Vining entered playing Charles Dickens himself, promoting Carol to his reluctant publisher, and as he began to read from the manuscript, he picked up a hairbrush, swiped his well-groomed noggin into a neurotic shock, and became Scrooge. Done. May we have a link to get one just like it?

Herberger Theater Center

A handful of Valley theaters operate under year-round contracts with Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers. Actors Theatre, one of our favorites, does amazing work, employs scads of local artists, and was chewed up and spit out by the economy in February. (But will return next month.)

The states's largest professional theater, Arizona Theatre Company, travels between Phoenix and its Tucson birthplace, and while it was a reported $1 million in the red as of June 30, made significant progress on financial and management issues later in the summer. Money worries moved to the back burner during dynamite 2012-13 shows like the edgy, Broadway-hot rock musical Next to Normal and racial drama Clybourne Park, not to mention literate, girly musical romance Jane Austen's Emma. ATC's upcoming season, featuring Arizona premières of Other Desert Cities and Venus in Fur, fuels the hope that local live theater will keep lighting up our nights.

Space 55 Theatre

To be the best crappy little dump at which to see live theater, you have to present astonishing, diverse work that showcases excellence from writers, performers, directors, and designers. And if that were all that Space 55 does, it would have earned this award. However, the seven-year-old company and venue also hosts workshops for writers and performers, touring events from kitty-cat circuses to fringe festivals, and late-night encounters with sketch comedy, experimental political theater, solo performance (some vetted and coached, some fresh outta the butt), and forms of lunacy that blur the boundaries of even those already flexible genres. Meanwhile, along with popular themed series "7 Minutes . . ." and "A Bitch in Time" and holiday spectacle A Bloody Mary Christmas, there's a season of actual plays each year. Some are even recommended for children and families, like environmental puppet epic Of Plastic Things and Butterfly Wings and Charlie Steak's contemplative Woman and Girl, which starred Valley favorite Patti Hannon.

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To be honest, we're always a little skeptical of anything billing itself as "community theater." That is, we were until we saw a production at Hale in downtown Gilbert. Last year's The Secret Garden was so good that we took our family — and some family friends — to see Annie. Equally impressive. This summer, when we took the kids out one night for a spontaneous dinner in Gilbert, there was a collective gasp when we saw the sign advertising Hale's Hairspray — drat, we missed it. But we'll be back. If you can get us excited about a small-town theater production that doesn't include a single cast member we know (who hasn't sat through a dreadful show just because a fourth cousin once removed had a bit part?), you can guarantee it's gonna be good. From the setting to the sets to the dancing, singing, and acting, these people are real pros.

Theater Works

If you enjoy being mesmerized by action-packed adventures, wooed by wistful romances, or cracked up by side-splitting comedies on the big screen, imagine seeing it all happen in front of you — live and in person. There's no better place to experience it all than at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, in the heart of the city's downtown. The center is home to Theater Works, a theater company that thrills audiences with dramas, musicals, mysteries, and comedies. Patrons enjoy varied shows performed by talented actors in an intimate setting and against a backdrop of perfectly executed scenic design. Its simplicity is its genius. The seats in the smaller of the venue's two houses are basic banquet-style chairs, but elevated platforms make sure there isn't a bad seat in the house. With weekday matinees, dinner-and-theater packages, and complimentary coffee and desserts after the shows — along with affordable ticket prices — Theater Works is a must-visit.

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