“Wonderland Wives” – Nearly Naked Theatre & “Black Pearl Sings” – Black Theatre Troupe

This review aired on KBAQ April 18, 2016


The Hardes Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Two Valley theaters are presenting unique and well performed shows.  Nearly Naked Theatre mounts the wacky “Wonderland Wives” that is nothing but silly inanities as it plays fast and loose with a familiar fairytale, while Black Theatre Troupe presents a serious look at saving songs brought to America by slaves.

Buddy Thomas’ irreverent “Wonderland Wives” is a twist on “Alice in Wonderland” complete with frustrated princesses who drink to cope with their bizarre environment that includes law breaking princes and a prince who lives with pigs.  Playwright Thomas bends and turns with merry zaniness the familiar story as he transforms normally upstanding characters to create chaotic silliness.  Thomas’ infectiously amusing alterations are presented by director Damon Dering with madcap impishness and with a cast that knows how to have fun with these peculiar characters and the ridiculous plot changes.

A warning.  “Wonderland Wives” is filled with nudity and naughty adult humor but the stupidity is played with straight-laced conventionality by the top-notch cast turning it hysterical.  A colorful set slams an elegant castle and the gorgeously garish period costumes further enhance the shenanigans.

Dering’s cast maintains frivolously inviting overplaying.  Nathalie Cadieux’s off-center Snow has unabashed joy as she shifts from hysterical overacting to steadfast seriousness.  Male actors cavort in many female roles amusingly including Bill Dyer who has screwball fun with feet-on-the-ground Belle and Matthew Harris’ madcap Cindy that’s loaded with malarkey.  Terre Steed goes from light-hearted humor to dramatically amusing overacting to turn four crucial female roles to absurdity.  As the sole super-masculine male, David Nelson displays slithery sensuality as the Beast and Charming.  “Wonderland Wives” continues through Saturday, April 23.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151.

Grade: B

Black Theatre Troupe, The Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

In “”Black Pearl Sings,” researcher Susannah goes to a Texas prison to interview prisoner Alberta also known as the singer Pearl.  The prisoner’s family left her with songs brought to this country by slaves.  Susannah hopes to preserve these songs and she secures Pearl’s parole so they can give live performances of the songs throughout the north.  Pearl has doubts about Susannah’s intentions but develops trust.  Two commanding performances make this study fascinating including Dzifa Kwawu  who blends a sensitive portrait with a rich voice to bring Pearl to vibrant life and Shari Watts’ Susannah who overcomes Peal’s doubts to become Pearl’s mentor.  The performances are enhanced by David J. Hemphill’s steady staging including costumes and a set that capture the story’s early ‘30s period as many songs augment the story.  “Black Pearl Sings” continues through Sunday, April 24.  For tickets, call the Black Theatre Troupe box office at 602-258-8129 or purchase tickets online at www.blacktheatyretroupe.tixato.com/buy.

Grade: B