REVIEW: Arizona Theatre Company’s “Freud’s Last Session”

By Judith Dauncey – Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) is once again proving its strength in local theatre.  Its current production, Freud’s Last Session written by Mark St. Germain (suggested by The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.), is a long-running off-Broadway hit.  This is an engaging peek into a theoretical meeting between renowned minds Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, in Freud’s London home on the eve of England’s entrance into World War II.

This work, which could have been as entertaining as dry toast, is surprisingly well-paced and at times funny.  The actors, J. Michael Flynn (Freud) and Benjamin Evett (Lewis), handle the material and the characters well.  ATC’s production of Freud’s Last Session comes at an interesting time.  The last few years have seen heated and not so friendly social commentary regarding religion, sex and societal morality.  How refreshing to have viewed a civil discourse that, while converting neither participant, ultimately leads to a tenuous mutual respect.

Freud’s Last Session runs from February 14 – March 3 at Herberger Theater Center. For additional information, call 602.256.6995 or visit www.arizonatheatre.org.

J. Michael Flynn (Sigmund Freud) in Arizona Theatre Company's Freud’s Last Session.

J. Michael Flynn (Sigmund Freud) in Arizona Theatre Company’s Freud’s Last Session.

Benjamin Evett (C.S. Lewis) in Arizona Theatre Company's Freud’s Last Session.

Benjamin Evett (C.S. Lewis) in Arizona Theatre Company’s Freud’s Last Session.

32nd Street Revitalization Project Gains Traction

By Judith Dauncey –

Anyone who has seen the recent development in Downtown Phoenix can sense that the economy is continuing an upswing.  In outlying areas, though, development and revitalization have needed more of a push.  District 3 Councilman Bill Gates is doing just that with the 32nd Street Revitalization Project.  As noted in the project overview (available on the City’s website), the area has one of the highest retail vacancy rates in the city, an average of 19.8%, some as high as 50%, and yet the residential neighborhood is quite stable with a middle/upper class median income and long term residents.  After establishing the project and the 32nd Street Working Group to further the process, the area over the last year has seen successful results.

The project has two goals, one to create incentives for adaptive reuse of existing business centers and two, overhauling the infrastructure; the primary success has been on the business front.  Cactus Village, the shopping center on the southwest corner of Cactus Road and 32nd Street, is a shining example of this progress.  The owner of the center worked closely with the Council to solidify its tenant inclusion bringing Jambo, an indoor amusement park, to the center as well as renovating the exterior, and since then has seen an occupancy rate close to 100 percent.  The Rock at 32nd Street (Thunderbird intersection), established through a partnership between the Genesis Church Group and the Solid Rock Foundation, is the other successful large-scale adaptive reuse in the area; taking over an entire business center.  Local businesses like the Hubbard Family School, Shea 32, The Rock and Bashas’ have been hosting the Working Group and have had an active voice in the process.  With these successes as an example, they hope to promote a groundswell of growth.  McDonald’s is taking the initiative to do a multi-million dollar remodel on an existing site and has already helped change the face of the area and draw more business in.  As Gates puts it,

“I feel the area is underperforming for what it has to offer, and this is a great opportunity for advancement and growth for the surrounding area.”32ndstreet-rendering

In regards to the second goal, infrastructure, starting with the intersection of Shea Boulevard and 32nd Street as the anchor for the project, Councilman Gates is working closely with District 2 Councilman Jim Waring to further the development north of Greenway Road.  The Shea Boulevard intersection, once the gateway to the SR 51, previously saw a much greater volume of traffic.  There are a lot of lanes and pavement not necessary any longer.  By applying the Road Diet Concept, in which lanes are reduced on either side of the roadway to accommodate pedestrians and traffic calming amenities, they hope to redevelop the area to suit the new needs of traffic flow.  They have applied for a Maricopa Association of Governments grant to change the current layout of the streets; by reconfiguring them, Gates hopes to cut into the “sea of pavement” that exists now.

32nd-street-bike2The next Working Group meeting will be some time in February, and the group will be presenting a report by the Urban Land Institute that was recently compiled during a day long bus tour of the area with the councilmember.  Gates will also be presenting artist renderings of some of the proposed infrastructure changes; bike lanes, landscaped medians and tree additions are all part of the proposal.  There are so many preserve areas surrounding 32nd Street that biking lanes would be beneficial to facilitate connecting them.  Gates is hoping to create a Biking with the Councilman Tour in the future as well.

Because of the surrounding preserves (to the west and south of 32nd Street), the Councilman, along with the Mayor, would like to focus on sustainability and yet create more of a draw to invigorate what was once a thriving area.  Plans are in the works for a 32nd Street Fair this March, with the intent of creating an annual event for the area.

It is a long process, but Gates is committed to making the project work.

“I’ve recently discussed with the Mayor to have resources identified to create a non-profit, such as the one created for the Discovery Triangle (Sky Harbor/Gateway College/South Scottsdale/North Tempe area), that will allow a focus to be placed on developing smaller more individual neighborhood areas, fostering strategic development.”

A non-profit could work directly with the District 3 office to further the work that the district has already done.

“To have even a single individual operating as a non-profit would be of benefit,” Gates says, in order to act as an advocate for these neighborhoods, applying for the grants, doing the research and developing progress that piggybacks the work that the City and councilmembers are doing.  In the meantime, Councilman Gates encourages business and community involvement to help this effort of revitalization.

For additional information, visit http://phoenix.gov/district3 or http://phoenix.gov/district2. |CST

“Emma” A Joyous, Raucous, Breath Of Fresh Air

By Judith Dauncey

Arizona Theatre Company’s (ATC) current production, Jane Austen’s Emma, is like a breath of fresh air for a new year.   Paul Gordon, who adapted Emma from the original novel, also crafted the music and lyrics.  He first developed Jane Austen’s Emma at TeatreWorks in Palo Alto, and it won the 2007 Bay Area Critics Circle Award.  Taking one of Jane Austen’s most beloved pieces and settings it to music is no easy task; a task he handled nicely with another classic piece of literature; creating the Tony Award-nominated score for the musical Jane Eyre.

ATC’s production of Emma was fluid and bubbled with energy.  The actress in the lead role of Emma, Anneliese van der Pol, had the audience eating out of her hands during the raucous Recital scene.  While all of the performers handled the work nicely, Dani Marcus’ Harriet was adorable in her naiveté; and Shannon Stoeke’s Knightly was as uptight and first-love-crushable as they come.

I am endlessly proud of the quality of the productions and performances by the ATC.  Take the opportunity before the run ends and treat yourself to the mischief, enthusiasm and joy of Emma.

Jane Austen’s Emma runs at Herberger Theatre through January 20. For more information, visit www.arizonatheatre.org.

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