“The Sparrow” – Stray Cat Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ September 26, 2011


Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
Tempe, AZ

Leave it to Stray Cat Theatre to mount a fascinating, well written, and superbly executed new play dealing with a dramatic occurrence in a young person’s life.  “The Sparrow” traces Emily Book, a high school senior who was the only survivor of an accident that killed the rest of her elementary school class.  Everyone in her graduating class knows about the incident and it still plagues the town.  The play begins with Emily’s return to the town and reveals the tragedy’s devastating impact on Emily but also on the town’s people.  There’s another twist as Emily tries to hide special powers that differentiate her from her peers.

Playwrights Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews, and Jake Minton create typical adolescent problems but show dramatically how Emily and her fellow students grapple with them.  There’s nothing cliché about the experiences these kids endure and the play sparks, flairs, and glimmers with vibrant theatricality.  Growing up challenges in “The Sparrow” not only has relevance but an honest truth that parallels many emerging young people.  There are issues about relationships, friendships, traditions, education, and physical maturation that are thoughtfully revealed.

Ron May’s exquisite production is staged with his usual theatrical perfection.  It’s alive, real, and a pleasure to watch.  May stages it on a simple set that suggests locales rather than depicts them with realism.  This approach fits the play which is loaded with telling symbolism.  Emily is taken in by a family with a rebellious son who doesn’t like his attention being diverted by Emily.  Emily’s adoptive Mom, at first very supportive, breaks down because of her own daughter’s death in the accident.  The play shows both the awful negatives and a few positives of the dreadful circumstances.

The young cast creates believable, honest portrayals of these troubled and challenged teenagers.  Alyson Marie Maloney’s introspectively quiet portrait of Emily is a complex creation.  Maloney conveys a myriad of emotions and telling insight into what is on Emily’s mind with subtle glances, grimaces, and other physicality.  Joshua Yeats delivers a dogmatically real science teacher, Mr. Christopher, who is influenced by Emily, sees her abilities, and works hard to help Emily fit in.  There’s not a false performance in “The Sparrow” and actors with small roles each get a chance to distinguish themselves in specific scenes.

“The Sparrow” is a tellingly insightful drama that is not easy to sit through because of its harsh honesty.  The Stray Cat Theatre production continues through October 8.  For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-634-6435 or order tickets online at www.straycattheatre.org.

Grade: A