On an intimate stage at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, the Mesa-based Southwest Shakespeare Company hosts an experimental evening, aptly named “Desert Arts Lab” Nov. 10-11.
My evening began upon arrival, greeted at the entrance by Noah Brown in costume, who immediately sought to immerse me in the experience as I walked up the path.
He raced ahead to sing with a string player at the entrance to the theater where the show would be held, setting the stage for the show to come.
Upon entering the first thing I noticed was the design of the room, which may be in part because I knew the history of Taliesin West and creator Frank Lloyd Wright.
This would be brought up in the opening minutes of introduction by MC of the show Joseph Cullen, who spoke briefly about the location and what would be in store for the audience that evening.
The night was a series of acts billed as a variety show, with the short play “Siren” at the end that was written by Cullen and Sasha Wilson.
The first act of the night was Brian Foley, performing a new act that involved dexterity, and some acrobatics executed with the assistance of a young performer.
Foley encouraged audience participation, evoking a range of reactions as his activities became more complex and difficult to execute.
A great sense of comedic timing and a fun stage presence, made Foley’s time on stage an ideal one to lead the night with.
Cullen would return to set the stage for what came next, informing the crowd of the origins of the short piece that would be acted out by himself, Wilson and Brown.
It was interesting to learn a bit of the history behind it, and the light-hearted nature of the performance was hilarious, if perhaps a bit bawdy for some sensibilities.
It should be said that a fair bit of the evening might not be suitable to younger attendees, and discretion should be employed by those interested in going; adult-oriented plot points and language are present here and in the play “Siren” performed at the end.
Christopher Allen performed a selection of songs from his musicals with Sarah Stansbury and Bethany Baca providing vocals.
The instrumentation was played live by Allen, and I enjoyed the change of pace it provided in the midst of the mostly physical performances of the night.
An interpretive dance accompanied by recorded music by Rosy Ferguson of Ignite Collaborative was interesting; I liked the straight jacket themed outfit and the audience was transfixed trying to figure out what Ferguson’s movements were communicating.
The final act prior to an intermission was a drag show, with female drag queen performers Velveeta and Ambrosia, the Chiffon Sisters.
Their songs were delivered powerfully, and the humor landed throughout their time on stage, which included some gags on top of their skillful singing.
After a brief intermission, the audience gathered outside, while Associate Artistic Director of Stray Cat Theatre Louis Farber told of a series of moments, all tied together by a theme that he titled “Bucket.”
Perhaps the most captivating part of the night for me, the intensity was enhanced by the enveloping darkness of the outdoors at night.
To say much more might lessen the impact of “Bucket,” and so I would rather urge those that have the chance, to see Farber perform it instead.
Once everyone had returned to their seats inside, the play “Siren” would soon commence, though not before Brown would sing a song that prepared the audience for the mood appropriately.
Charming and funny, the dark humor of the lyrics perfectly laid the groundwork for the play that it preceded.
“Siren” is primarily about a pair of serial killers that struggle to maintain their relationship, with some portions told as flashbacks to their first encounter, at times where more information is necessary for the audience to grasp what is taking place in the present.
Running jokes, puns and morbid humor that involve death and murder abound, though the arguments between the two could easily be empathized with by any who have been in a relationship.
My favorite lines involved breaking the fourth wall, which is done periodically to great effect.
The resolution of the play wasn’t entirely surprising I felt, but was a satisfying end that made sense.
“Desert Arts Lab” was interesting, and the fast-paced series of acts never grew stale; a great night out with a fair amount of variety that I would recommend.
– Mesa resident Kian Hagerman is a Mesa Community College journalism intern for MyNewsMesa.com.