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BWW Review: Scoundrel and Scamp Brings Dickens Classic to Sacred Desert


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

BWW 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.

BWW 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.

BWW 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. BWW 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

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From This Author Robert Encila-Celdran