Best Equity Production 2017 | La Esquinita, USA | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Written and performed by Rubén C. González, Arizona Theatre Company's production of La Esquinita, USA peeked at a once-booming American border town, the kind in which the poor and undereducated find themselves trapped between prosperity and failure. Fast-paced and often funny, this one-act offered a series of intertwined monologues, each brought vividly to life with a minimum of costuming or contrivance by Gonzalez, a student of the London Academy for the Performing Arts. With crafty posturing and jargony Spanglish, he created real people whose truth-talking was infused with street slang and cautious profanity. Gonzalez wisely resisted a tidy "Let's make lemonade!" approach to the harrowing death of the American factory town, and managed to make a story drenched in fear and hopelessness that was both entertaining and poetic.

Chicago playwright Joel Drake Johnson's tidy one-act isn't perfect, but it offers interesting perspective and burnishes its rough edges with some real literary style. And in the case of Black Theatre Troupe's production of Rasheeda Speaking, the cast and their director offset the script's soft spots with sturdy acting and an obvious affection for the material. In the lead, Lillie Richardson gave an almost maniacally jovial performance as a smart-tongued schemer. Her big speech toward the end of the play, in which she talks about riding the bus with white-collar white men, was an acting class in stage subtlety. Katie McFadzen made a convincing leap from confident to cowed, and both performances were polished by direction from Matthew Wiener.

Billy Elliot: The Musical is, of course, the one about the 11-year-old boy who wants to study dance in a small village in northeastern England where guys are expected to learn boxing. Its Phoenix Theatre production had plenty going for it: Maria Amorocho's showstopping take on "Grandma's Song"; Ross Nemeth's joyful performance as Michael; and Sam Hay's skillful choreography, which made even non-dancers appear poised. But it was Matthew Dean's magnificent Billy that one remembers. His en pointe was polished, his singing superb, and "Angry Dance," in which he exploded into a ball of fury (because no one in County Durham is as angry as a kid who wants to demi-plie but can't), was worth, as the saying goes, the price of admission.

Set in New York circa 1928, Eugene O'Neill's Hughie takes us to a dim, gloomy corner of a dank lobby in a crummy hotel, where a sad old guy won't stop talking to a night clerk who's only half-listening. iTheatre Collaborative's excellent production was especially notable for Greg Lutz's performance as Erie, a shady grifter down on his luck since the death of the lamented night clerk in this fleabag hotel. Hughie is really an hourlong monologue delivered by a sad sack, and Lutz filled him with bluster and melancholy. In lesser hands, this peculiar mix of emotions might have been sentimental or pathetic, but Lutz as Erie was neither — and he broke our hearts.

As far as escapist entertainment goes, there's nothing like a mindless action movie. And they don't get much more mindless than Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth installment of director Michael Bay's steel-crunching, ear-splitting franchise. Viewers in Arizona, however, will have more to watch for than just the blizzard of special effects. Parts of the movie were filmed in Arizona, including scenes at Luke Air Force Base, a junkyard, and stretches of Loop 303 and State Route 88. During the shooting of Transformers, 300 people made Arizona their home for three weeks last summer. Star Mark Wahlberg had nothing but good things to say about his temporary home, calling the state "amazing" in a farewell Instagram post. We appreciate it, Mark — don't worry about what those film critics have to say.

In the blazing hot Arizona summer, it's probably best to restrict one's moviegoing to traditional indoor theaters. But when the temperature drops and we can bear to be outside again, Street Food Cinema is our movie experience of choice. The concept, which began in California and headed east to Phoenix in 2016, brings together classic films, local music, and food trucks for a thoroughly satisfying night of entertainment. Phoenix's events are held from fall through early summer at Steele Indian School Park in central Phoenix, where cinephiles bring a blanket or chair to sit on and watch films like Mean Girls, Edward Scissorhands, Dirty Dancing, and Back to the Future on a giant inflatable screen. Local acts MRCH, Celebration Guns, and The Senators have provided tunes for the series, and past food truck participants include favorites like Cousins Maine Lobster and Waffle Luv.

There's an inherent joy in seeing relatively recent film releases on the cheap, but visiting East Valley real estate mogul Michael Pollack's Pollack Tempe Cinemas is an experience in itself. Bathed in strange, purple light, the theater serves as a home for a huge chunk of Pollack's collection of pop culture ephemera. Life-size statues of Spock, Darth Vader, and Jar Jar Binks? Check. An animatronic band of pirates? Also check. Pollack's peculiar aesthetic drives the feel of the place, featuring vintage tin lunchboxes with '70s cartoon characters alongside giant photos of Pollack's lion's mane of hair posed next to former President George Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. It's a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of place worth scoping out even if you don't catch a matinee of that superhero flick you missed when it was in regular theaters a few months ago.

Whether you're looking for a new indie release, insightful documentary, classic film programming, or a Big Gay Sing-Along Night, the FilmBar downtown is the place for those who want an alternative to the multiplex experience. The bar's geared toward lounging, but it's the thoughtful programming and personalized vibe that sets FilmBar apart from its corporate competition. Since opening in 2011, FilmBar has served passionate Phoenix film fans, working with an eye toward the local community. The theater's monthly Arizona Film Showcase offers local filmmakers a chance to show off their work on the regular.

Look, call us old-fashioned, but the food service during a film screening just doesn't work for us. We like to get our snacks and drinks before the flick starts, so for our money, you can't beat Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square. The food and drink is pretty damn stellar — including coffee drinks from Cartel, craft beers, wine, and upgraded takes on standard theater munchies — and the reclining, plush seats are comfy as hell. Programming works hard to match any taste: You can catch indie movies like Lady Macbeth if that's your bag, or stick to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2-size blockbusters — Camelview screens 'em all.

Year in, year out, the Phoenix Film Festival spoils Valley moviegoers. Its 2017 edition brought 175 films to Harkins Scottsdale 101, where some 20,000 people came together for a week to watch local, national, and international films in an unpretentious environment. This year, the festival highlighted just how much moviemaking potential there is in Arizona by screening an array of films — including documentaries, shorts, and features — made here or by people from here. Ryan Anderson and his feature IMperfect took home best Arizona filmmaker and Arizona feature, while Peter Byck's documentary One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts won best Arizona short.

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