Credit: John Groseclose

Phoenix’s Stray Cat Theatre is at it again, putting cutting-edge shows on stage affordably but with exceptional quality. Their current show, columbinus, is a haunting docudrama that blends The Laramie Project with elements of The Real World.

Credit: John Groseclose

Without seeming glib, columbinus begins simply, bringing together 8 high school students for a typical day of classes, gossip, lunch, and turmoil. Each cast member walks out on stage, strips down to their underwear, and then goes to sleep, only to then start their day all over, putting on the familiar clothing of the archetypes they represent: the jock, the popular girl, the religious girl, the prep, the freak, the nerd, etc. For the next hour, these unnamed archetypes circle each other like sharks, preying on the weaker and butting chests with the stronger.

Although it has bearing on the second half of the show, the way columbins begins was too vague for me. I hope I don’t seem jaded, but the play seemed to state the obvious (that everyone in high school has life-threatening problems/fears/concerns), and then it stated it over and over again. This is really a problem of scripting rather than performance. The strength in the opening was the poetically-crafted dialogue, acting as a sort of Greek chorus of voices who pop and sizzle individually, then snap together percussively.

The actors were all exceptionally made over into teenagers, both looking and acting like crazed hormonally-charged weirdoes. I especially liked “the bad girl,” whose anger was always barely contained–but likewise her vulnerability.

Credit: John Groseclose

By the end of the first act, two of the archetypes morph seamlessly in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers. It’s a powerful moment, one that asks the audience to consider just how easily any of these students could have snapped and become like them; it asks the audience to consider our own part in fostering violence and intolerance.

The second half of the show is much, much stronger. We watch Harris and Klebold plot, prepare, and then attack their school. The playwright smartly backs out of this sequence, letting historical documents and survivor testimony stand in for crafted dialogue. Survivors describe their terror blankly, focusing events more than feelings. We hear of heads exploding, legs torn to shreds by gunfire, the way a body feels as it stops breathing. We watch our friends die, we play dead, we beg, we profess our belief in God, we are shot.

It’s an almost indescribable sequence, staged flawlessly by Ron May and his cast. The rhythm, the lighting, the staging, the sound effects, and the performances are all top-notch, lacking both irony and pathos. The real strengh of columbinus is its resistance of editorial, putting before us the evidence, then asking us who we are.

In Tom Cruise’s Crosshairs

Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
Tempe, AZ

Stray Cat Theatre delivers an unusual holiday show ever so cleverly. “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” looks at the Church of Scientology and its wealthy founder, L. Ron Hubbard, as a funny and very satiric parody of the Nativity. Author Kyle Jarrow presents his comic slams and thoughtful questioning where Hubbard’s birth and his search for religious truth are compared to Christ’s.

The entire show is presented by a talented ensemble of 8- to 12-year olds as a school pageant. Huge praise goes to director Gary Minyard who crafts miracles with these young but amazingly polished troupers.

Minyard asks a lot of his cast. They must learn Jarrow’s tricky satiric puns and off-center comic barbs and deliver them with non-stop but slyly skewed humor kids this age rarely understand. The audience laughed uproariously at the performance I attended. Minyard also expects them to learn cuttingly savage songs that further question the religion, some tricky but cute choreography, clever but intricate staging, handle myriad costume changes, shift scenery, and use endless props. That the cast brings this challenge off with nary a misstep is quite an achievement.

Jarrow picks and pokes at Hubbard, his teachings, and how Hubbard’s religious thinking has turned him into a wealthy man. The script asks all the questions you have ever had about Scientology. That this young cast can deliver this tongue-in-cheek commentary with such delicious abandon is quite a credit. That this young ensemble probably doesn’t fully understand the heady satire makes this exemplary production even more amazing.

Maxx Carlisle-King is poised and always in control as L. Ron. This young actor’s theatrical spark and comic flair suggests a long and successful stage career. No less sharp is Brittney Peters’ Angelic Girl. This character functions as the show’s narrator as she guides the ensemble through its questioning and probing of this unusual religion that inspires its followers by removing their emotions and relying on their analytical ability that uses weird and twisted logic. Everyone in the cast, though, has at least one standout moment.

“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” isn’t for those who want a traditional holiday show but if pointed but thoughtful comic probing delivered by talented troupers is your thing, this show will delight. “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” continues through December 20 at the old Tempe Performing Arts Center in downtown Tempe. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or go online at

Grade: A
Posted on 08 Dec 2008 by Chris Curcio

Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy

On Friday night I caught the opening performance of Stray Cat Theatre’s production of Fata Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. A spoof of the 1987 film of roughly the same name, the quick play (clocking in at just over an hour) tears through all the high points of the original—steamy elevator sex, the suicide attempt, the boiled bunny—and brings their subtext into the text in hilarious and inventive ways. One really significant aspect of the production is its use of a four-person (two men/two women in business suits) Greek chorus, who come on stage between scenes to give commentary derived from tragedies, ladies’ etiquette books, and other scraps of strange (and funny) texts.

The characters in the play are referred to by the names of the actors who played them, often their full names—Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Michael Douglas, etc. Ellen, the child of the philanderer, was played by a six-foot+ man. All of the performances were great send ups, but Alicia Sutton as Anne Archer and Cynthia Rena as Glenn Close probably got to have the most fun with their meaty parts. “I am a WORKING WOMAN, Michael,” Glenn Close seethes at several non-sequitous points throughout the play.

Even the chorus pull double duty, often standing in as props or flies on the wall during the scenes. One chorus member served as the Answering Machine (standing in the house holding the phone and beeping, then making rewinding noises with her mouth as the message sped backwards) AND later stood in the corner of the kitchen blowing through a straw into a little jug of water to make the sounds of the bunny boiling on the stove. These little touches—along with hilarious costume choices for each cast member—brought so much to the script.

The play also included a five or ten minute “dream” ballet in which the chorus members took on each of the primary performer’s roles and resummarized the plot in dance, complete with a huge devil-eyed bunny who chased many of the dancers around the stage. I’m not sure this was part of the original script, but it added so much.

I laughed my ass off throughout the production. I thought it was a smart parody of the “scheming woman” genre of filmmaking and it got me thinking about other films like Working Girl that do similar things to the role of women in the workplace. But that’s an essay for another time. For now, if you’re in Phoenix, go see this play.