Best Non-Equity Production 2018 | A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Playwright Lucas Hnath drags out some juicy Walt Disney legends in his caustic comedy — that old bit about Disney's head being cryogenically preserved, the one about lemmings being hurled from a cliff top during a nature documentary shoot. But it was iTheatre co-founder Christopher Haines's efficient direction and austere and practical set design that brought this work to life. Haines created the illusion of action from four players who are mostly sitting stock-still in office chairs in a showbiz pitch room. Hnath's staccato, overlapping dialogue and repetitive rhythms made a quagmire of half-finished sentences, but Haines and a fine cast created a startling homage to pathology and the dangers of egoism that deserved 90 minutes of our time.

Only Katie McFadzen could pull off playing bitchy Mrs. Cratchit, sickly-sweet Tiny Tim, and that blowhard Ghost of Christmas Present, while also making something of Charles Dickens' 173-year-old narration in a one-woman production of A Christmas Carol. McFadzen adapted the script herself, from the original text, with the help of director Matthew Wiener. It played last winter at Tempe Center for the Arts, and was way more than a recitation, even while it quoted great hunks of the Dickens novella. Rather than inhabit each character, McFadzen described them with distinct voices and slightly altered stature — a subtle trick that elevated this 80-minute adaptation, turning a how-did-she-do-that curiosity into a tidy entertainment.

The Best Man is a long, talky peek behind the scenes of a presidential primary in 1960 Philadelphia. Gore Vidal's preachy play can be a snooze, but Compass Players wedged a nice production onto the stage of Peoria Center for the Performing Arts last winter. At its center, a pair of presidential candidates duke it out for a top political spot, but audiences were distracted, in this production directed by the late Jeanna Michaels, by actor Jeffrey Middleton, who should not be allowed on any stage where other performers are meant to be seen. Here, he was a campaign manager named Blades, equal parts Wallace Beery and Daddy Warbucks, who stomped through every scene, chewing scenery and waving his arms and radiating comedy even in repose. While our memories of the other performances in this and other plays might fade, Middleton's scene-stealing Blades lingers on.

Now an annual dance tradition, Breaking Ground pairs high-quality contemporary dance performance and dance films to reveal and punctuate the breadth and depth of contemporary dance in and beyond metro Phoenix. It's the brainchild of Carley Conder, artistic director for CONDER/dance. Conder founded the festival back in 2008, and it's still going strong. Breaking Ground 2018 was particularly powerful, because so many of its choreographers captured the zeitgeist at play both within and beyond the world of dance — including the focus on women's agency over their own bodies, emotions, ideas, and actions. For a dance community that lacks resources, even as it competes with big-budget entertainment, the festival reminds Phoenix audiences of the talent in our own midst, but also encourages choreographers, dancers, and other creatives to innovate and grow in new directions.

All eyes were on the #MeToo movement this year, raising women's voices against sexual abuse and the systems that help to perpetuate it. Into that ethos, choreographer, dancer, and photographer Jenny Gerena injected a new dance work called Woman, Do You Fear?, which premiered at the 2018 Breaking Ground dance festival at Tempe Center for the Arts. Inspired in part by the instincts of wolves, it explored "feminist perspectives on dominance, protection, solitude, and solidarity" within the context of women's freedom and support for fellow women. For the first BlakTina Dance Festival in Phoenix, she performed Self-Portrait of a Dying Soul, which gave voice to the death grip of dominant culture on women of color. Gerena uses the female body, including her own dark, free-flowing hair, to write the poetry of women's strength and solidarity through movement.

Nayon Iovino knows his way around neurons. They're the brain cells that receive, process, and transmit information. And they're all about connectivity, which inspired Iovino's Threads, a new dance work that premiered during Today's Masters, performed by Ballet Arizona at the Orpheum Theatre in March. He's danced with the company since 2012. And he's choreographed more than 10 new dance works featured in Ballet Arizona seasons since then, starting with Inner Layer in 2014. Like Ib Andersen, artistic director for Ballet Arizona, he's a master at blending classical and contemporary ballet — infusing works with humor and drama to channel the mysterious complexities of connections within the human psyche even as he explores the connections forged between one person and another.

The word "interactive" had become a buzzword in contemporary art, used far too frequently for art that doesn't deliver on that promise. But that's not the case with works by Valeska Soares, whose "Any Moment Now" exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum included the periodic temporary installation of sculptural pieces made with taffy. On Saturday, March 24, for example, a trio of large taffy pieces hung from three metal poles placed near the entrance to the exhibition, constantly formed into new shapes by gloved museum professionals who offered small pieces to onlookers. Each sculpture, created in collaboration with New York-based Kreëmart, had a different color, aroma, and taste — created by pairing flavors such as blood orange, bergamot, and lavender. Plenty of conceptual conversations revolve around consuming art, but Soares gave the issue a new twist with works that could actually be chewed, swallowed, and digested by museum visitors. Talk about being one with the art.

Some of the most intriguing works pair artists working in different fields. That's just what happened when visual artist Patricia Sannit and dance artist Nicole Olson started working together at Phoenix Art Museum. While Sannit's "Rise Fall Rise" exhibition was on view at the museum, she invited Olson to choreograph a site-specific performance inspired by one particular installation called The Dance (La danza). Olson created a piece called Eternal Home, then performed it amid the installation while museumgoers gathered around. They vowed that day to work together again, and that's just what they did — during FORM Arcosanti in May. It's easy for artists to get so busy making their own work that they forget to experience time with other creatives. But when they do, magic happens, for artist and audience alike.

Modern existence can be frustrating, to say the least, and there's only so much that therapy, scented candles, and meditation apps can do to mellow us out. Which is why we dig the concept of Simply Smashing Rage Room, a small space in a Tempe strip mall where we can work through our emotions by breaking stuff. When we arrive, we have our choice of what to break, as well as what to break it with, which creates dozens of possibilities — we can break dishes with a crowbar, computer monitors with a golf club, or lamps with a baseball bat. After a session, someone else handles the cleanup, and we emerge into the sunshine with a much rosier outlook on life.

Ann Morton launched her "Proof Reading" series in 2017 with a hand-made handkerchief embroidered with the phrase "are we fucked?" — modified through editing marks to say "we are fucked." Now her second work in the series, inspired this year by Donald Trump's "shithole" remark, is the year's best political art. Once again, Morton has used tasteful red, white, and blue materials to address the brutality that's rife in the age of Trump. With a single word, transformed from "shithole" to "asshole" through editing marks, she gives voice to those resisting Trump and his ilk. There's no shortage of Trump-inspired artwork, but Morton's work is distinguished by its elegant simplicity, which profoundly whispers to viewers even as they live within a perpetual primal scream for truth and justice.

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