Best Political Ploy 2017 | The Horse Named After Doug Ducey | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Spend enough time in public office without disgracing yourself, and you're bound to wind up with a park or an elementary school named after you. Doug Ducey, however, has a horse. Like, an actual living, breathing animal. Back in February, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group announced that the first wild colt of the year had been born — and, in a transparent bid for attention, named it after the Arizona governor. "Without Governor Ducey's support for the thousands of citizens who stood up for the Salt River wild horses when the federal government threatened to round them up, little Ducey might not have been born wild and free this year," the group explained in a cloying press release. Their stunt apparently was successful, since it was Ducey the horse, not Ducey the governor, who dominated the evening news that night. And we have to admit it: He's pretty cute.

Often, it seems like The Satanic Temple exists solely for the purpose of trolling the Christian right. The group frequently makes headlines by proposing to start After School Satan Clubs at elementary schools, or requesting to give invocations at city council meetings. While reminding public officials about the separation of church and state is a worthy objective in its own right, the Satanists have recently been showing off their more philanthropic side with a campaign designed to make sure that disadvantaged women and girls have access to menstrual products. "Menstruatin' With Satan" collected sanitary pads, napkins, and menstrual cups for the YWCA, which in turn distributed them to women's shelters and community groups across the state. The fact that many women can't afford to buy basic hygienic supplies is a glaring problem that's frequently overlooked by would-be do-gooders who are too squeamish to acknowledge the existence of menstrual blood, and it's one that we're glad to see our local band of civic-minded Satanists taking on.

The 2017 Academy Awards ceremony will live in infamy as the year that Warren Beatty announced the wrong freaking Best Picture winner (our mouths remain agape), but the metro Phoenix theater community will remember it as the time a local director was thanked from the winner's podium. Emma Stone won Best Actress for her role in La La Land, and among the list of people she mentioned in her speech was Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director of Valley Youth Theatre. Stone, a Scottsdale native, performed in a number of VYT productions as a child before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 15 to pursue big-time acting dreams. We must admit, we felt a thrill of local pride not only to see the first Arizona-born actor take home an Oscar, but to hear her give love to one of our own.

Damon Dering is a talented director and the founder of and driving force behind one of our town's best alt theaters. He chooses mostly provocative and underproduced gems, and has helmed some of the better productions in Phoenix theater history. But it's Dering's heartfelt and amusing curtain speeches that continue to stay with us. Few troupes offer much more than an annoying prerecorded welcome ("... and if you're going to unwrap any hard candy, do it now!") these days, but Dering continues to receive his audiences with personal stories about the production we're about to see. He's shameless about asking for support, fearless when admitting how tough it can be to work as an artist these days, and effusive in his praise of casts and crews and those who bother to come out to see what they've created. Perhaps a festival of Dering's 30 best curtain speeches is in order for next season.

Spring Awakening is a 2006 rock musical based on an 1891 German play, a coming-of-age story that hits hard on themes like sex education, homosexuality, suicide, teen pregnancy, and abuse. Not your typical high school production. It was amazing to consider the timelessness of the themes, and, frankly, a little unnerving to see them brought to life by kids. But everything from the acting to the singing to the staging of this production was top-notch — including the "talk back" portion after the play, designed to address stirred-up feelings. Bravo to ASA for taking a risk and nailing the results.

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.

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