Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Scoundrel and Scamp Brings Dickens Classic to Sacred Desert

A SONORAN DESERT CAROL is a warm and satisfying piece of physical theatre.

Review: Scoundrel and Scamp Brings Dickens Classic to Sacred Desert

In A SONORAN DESERT CAROL, Claire Mannle had the insight to adapt Charles Dickens' Christmas classic as a sacred homage to our native ancestors, but not without admonishing the predatory elites of our modern economic system. Dickens would likely approve the latter inasmuch as income inequality had become a chief ingredient of his social criticism.

In Victorian England, Scrooge was a mere symptom of a pervasive problem. But Dickens's hopeful disposition renders the indignant miser as a subject of an idealist's call for personal transformation. A CHRISTMAS CAROL became a classic for its universal imprint: an isolated narrative with a sweeping moral directive.

It comes as no surprise that Rick Wamer, director and seasoned mime artist, should exploit the actor's instrument as a consummate vehicle for illuminating a much older tale of injustice (the show begins with the company's prepared invocation to our desert predecessors, the Yaqui and Tohono O'odham tribes). Tasked with the development of Mannle's project, Wamer collaborates with assistant China Young and Premier Ensemble to craft a compelling piece of devised theater.

To an audience steeped in a heavy dose of Stanislavski, it's a good chance to press the reset button and relish a uniquely dynamic ensemble work not unlike Joseph Chaikin's groundbreaking experiment with the Open Theatre. Add to that mix the transcendent influence of the recently departed Jean-Claude van Itallie (THE SERPENT, AMERICA HURRAH), who sought to convey, through physical alchemy and collaboration, not only our divine aspirations but also the unbridled iniquities of a monolithic corporate machine.

That's the substance of the Christmas play currently in production at The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre. It's an uncommon celebration of a time-honored tradition, wielded with reverence for a hallowed territory through a correspondingly ancient theatrical form. It's a diverse ensemble informed by the physical and vocal requirements of Rick Wamer's specific brand of performance art. They weave, writhe, and chant together as a coherent unit, navigating the liminal space between reality and dream, where change is possible and magic takes the upper hand.

Review: Scoundrel and Scamp Brings Dickens Classic to Sacred Desert

It's hypnotic, to say the least, even as I find the ensemble in white needing extensive training to reach its full potential. But it's also part of its allure, an earnest cast of varying ages to illustrate a humble community anchored in its spiritual identity.

Review: Scoundrel and Scamp Brings Dickens Classic to Sacred Desert

In DESERT CAROL, visiting ghosts are referred to as "time beings." Scrooge is Eli Rumpet, a modern-day corporate CEO with no less angst and greed than his Victorian counterpart. He grew up on a staple diet of Ayn Rand and detests the mere mention of liberal charity. Rumpet is played with fierce vigor by Gretchen Wirges, who turns out to be quite a revelation as an actor. A local playwright and an all-around force behind the scenes, Wirges captures the tenacity of a resentful curmudgeon and breaks our hearts as a genuinely remorseful and transformed man. One can only hope to see more of Gretchen Wirges in future Tucson productions.

Another standout is Molly Lyons, whose seamless transitions from ensemble to Fezziwig, and then to Jacob Marley (there are meaningful changes to the order of scenes) are a simple testament to Lyons' impressive acting range. Her Marley is raw and grave, but one who hasn't entirely lost his verve; Fezziwig, on the other hand, is a business professor with a distinguished charm. I got a chuckle out of Fezziwig's bit where she hands a young Eli Rumpet a hard copy of Rand's The Fountainhead as a gift to a budding libertarian. Review: Scoundrel and Scamp Brings Dickens Classic to Sacred Desert

Technical elements deserve acclaim for lifting up a production that relies a great deal on open space and imagination: Raulie Martinez on lights and projection; Tiffer Hill for sound design; Feliz Torralba for the warm, haunting music and Sonoran Desert sounds.

One more weekend to partake of this satisfying celebration in person (streaming options begin December 17). Audiences are required to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination at the box office. At the conclusion of the performance, audiences are invited to join in the merrymaking by taking a short jaunt to the outdoor patio for hot chocolate and cookies with the cast.

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller

The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre ~~738 N. 5th Avenue, Suite 131, Tucson, AZ 85705

Box Office: 520-448-3300

Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre Photo
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre's production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS features an outstanding ensemble of six seasoned actresses, under the caring and keen direction of Cheryl Schaar. Runs through April 29th.

Photos: TV WESTFEST Takes Place in Tucson Photo
It was Willie Nelson who first said 'My heroes have always been cowboys.' If your heroes have always been television cowboys then TV WESTFEST held from Thursday, March 16th, thru Sunday March 19th, in Tucson, AZ was all that you would want.

Interview: Broadway Producer Julian Schlossberg Photo
Producer Julian Schlossberg's autobiography, TRY NOT TO HOLD IT AGAINST ME, is a chronicle of singular moments and stars of Broadway.

Photos: Musical Theatre of Anthem Presents THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL Photo
Musical Theatre of Anthem (MTA) announces their upcoming production of The SpongeBob Musical, a musical extravaganza with songs written by the most popular recording artists such as Aerosmith, John Legend, and Sara Bareilles. Fans of the show will be highly entertained by the stage version, but even if you have no knowledge of the television version, the stage production will surely not disappoint! See first look photos of the cast.

From This Author - Robert Encila-Celdran

Born and raised in the Philippines, Robert Encila-Celdran resides in Tucson, Arizona where he works as a full-time theatre educator. A Fine Arts scholar from the University of Arizona, he f... (read more about this author)

Review: Mimi Kennedy, Gordon Clapp Dazzle in World Premiere of PRU PAYNE at Arizona Theatre CompanyReview: Mimi Kennedy, Gordon Clapp Dazzle in World Premiere of PRU PAYNE at Arizona Theatre Company
March 14, 2023

Mimi Kennedy renders an imperious and brassy Pru Payne (her public moniker). She's a renowned intellectual, feared for her trenchant criticism and scathing takedowns of mediocre aspirations (a faint redolence of critic Michiko Kakutani's public feuds with John Updike and Norman Mailer et al). Pru exists in the lofty penthouse of her intellect. She deflects the impulse to linger in the subterranean region of emotions -- until she loses her bearing and meets Gus Cudahy.

Review: School of Theatre, Film and Television Sets Shakespeare Tragedy in American SouthReview: School of Theatre, Film and Television Sets Shakespeare Tragedy in American South
March 8, 2023

Review: BRONTË Underscores Hardship and Genius of Literary IconsReview: BRONTË Underscores Hardship and Genius of Literary Icons
March 5, 2023

Teale's dramatic conceit - a seamless juxtaposition of present reality and childhood memories - makes for an engaging theatrical form that justifies the Brontës' epic narrative.

Review: Winding Road Theater Ensemble Flaunts Committed Cast with TICK, TICK...BOOMReview: Winding Road Theater Ensemble Flaunts Committed Cast with TICK, TICK...BOOM
February 27, 2023

Staging choices notwithstanding, Winding Road's production is a moving personal encounter. It recalls the existential confrontation we tend to ignore until we come of age: Do we choose love or fear? What happens if we compromise our mission for comfort and security? The proverbial clock nears midnight -- what becomes of me?

Review: ATC Production Breaks More Than Glass FigurinesReview: ATC Production Breaks More Than Glass Figurines
January 31, 2023

For the record, director Chanel Bragg didn't have to secure a movie star to manifest a compelling production of her own. She features a charismatic powerhouse in Lillie Richardson, who submits a resounding performance as the flamboyant matriarch. Ms. Richardson strides with regal confidence and speaks with a stately optimism that defies her fear of an austere future. Amanda has conjured traditional perceptions of an imperious monster, but Lillie Richardson plays against that tendency, showing us an overzealous mother who only wants the best for her children. Indeed she fluctuates between illusion and reality, and in Richardson, we see Amanda's inability to distinguish them as a tragedy.