A CRITIC REMINISCES
Theater people learn to live with disappointment. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept the crazy things that happen.
Why Robyn Allen was let go as artistic director of Theater Works (apparently for budgetary reasons) defies comprehension. She was the best thing to happen to the Peoria troupe since its founder, the late David Wo.
But let go she was. The upside to that is that she will now have time to do the thing she does so exceptionally: act.
It would be easy to overlook Robyn as an A-lister among the Valley’s actresses. She is not a flashy person. On first meeting, she impresses you as being unruffled by life’s vicissitudes. She is stylish in appearance and manner. The adjective “overblown” would be unthinkable in crafting a description.
Yet, like Margaret Thatcher, there is an Iron Lady beneath the skin. You couldn’t have her success as an artistic director and theater founder if there wasn’t. You couldn’t own the stage, as she does in every performance, if there wasn’t a charisma there that fully embraced the spotlight.
What Robyn does best, in my humble opinion, is take ordinary, even bland, characters and give them an inner grit that emerges in unexpected and surprising ways.
Never was that more apparent than in her performance as Mary, in Phoenix Theater’s production of The Women. To call Mary bland is simply to reiterate what hundreds of critics have said. She is the “good wife,” who is wronged when her husband runs off with a gold-digging bitch named Crystal. Mary’s friends aren’t surprised; even the closest of them regards her as a mouse stumbling about in a world of vicious felines.
In truth, in many productions Mary IS a mouse. The playwright gives her precious little to work with until the end of the play. Robyn didn’t buy into that. In myriad ways, she alerted the audience to the fact she wasn’t going to take it sitting down. When Robyn’s Mary did stand on her feet, heads rolled – and audiences, who had been anticipating just such an action, roared!
In short, Robyn’s performance proved the critics wrong. Mary was not bland; she was an interesting, even dangerous, woman.
My favorite Robyn performance, though, was as Flo, the harassed single mom at the heart of William Inge’s Picnic, another Phoenix Theater production.
Flo’s life hasn’t been easy. Her husband deserted her years ago and she’s raised two daughters on her own. It’s been a strict upbringing. Flo doesn’t want her girls to repeat her mistakes; she wants them to have the life she never had. The girls, naturally, resent her methods.
Flo could easily be unlikeable. In fact, Inge took some of the resentment he had toward his own mother and played it out in the character. But, again, Robyn didn’t buy into the easy interpretation. Her Flo was a subtle blend of emotions that eventually revealed a heart so big it encompassed the audience if not her daughters.
There have been many other great performances, and exemplary work as a director and artistic chief. Robyn has earned her spot in the pantheon of Valley theatrical icons.
But I will always remember her as an actress who resists the temptation to play to the balcony and, instead, dares the audience to examine the soul within.
NEW TIMES INTERVIEW BY ROBRT PELA, Oct. 5, 2006
So she can’t sing. Robyn Allen can do most everything else on stage — and has. When she’s not performing (most recently in Phoenix Theatre’s The Women; currently in The Beauty Queen of Leenane), she’s often directing; the rest of the time she’s running the West Valley’s Algonquin Theater Company and, she says, reading about dogs and wishing she was one.
I knew I wanted to be in show business when I was 5 and I put up a lemonade stand. For 10 cents you got lemonade, but for 25 cents you got lemonade and a show. I made a fortune that day — something like eight bucks!
The worst thing about being an actor is the pay.
My worst audition ever was when I tried to sing with a piano accompanist. Bob Sorenson was directing the remount of Six Women With Brain Death and said, “Oh, give it a shot, you never know. You’ll be fine.” He was wrong.
The happiest day in my life was the day my children were born. Pure, uncomplicated joy. The next day the worrying began. It drives my children crazy.
If I could be anyone other than myself, it would be nobody. I like me . . . I really like me. Or maybe I’d be a dog. Dogs are cool.
It’s not entirely true, but I sometimes tell people that really, I can sing, I just don’t want to.
The character I am most like is Pocahontas. I proudly boast of my 1/24th Cherokee Indian heritage.
I am utterly terrified of drunken clowns. It’s a long story.
I laugh uncontrollably at bad acting on television and in movies — some of which includes my own stuff. At a screening of one movie I was in, I required my guests to drink two shots of tequila before they were allowed to view it. It helped ease the pain.
The one thing I absolutely refuse to do on stage is stand in front of an audience completely nude. That ship has sailed.
Something I have never admitted to anyone before is I am terrified of auditions and completely suck at them! Auditions are cruel, and I am currently working on having them banned from our art form. I haven’t figured out how we’ll get hired yet, but it’ll come to me. See, the truth is, when they sit behind that desk and stare at us, they aren’t laughing with us, they’re laughing at us! (Perhaps I should seek counseling about this.)
Currently I am reading Marley and Me by John Grogan. It’s about this dog that is a pain in the ass, messes up a lot, but loves and is loved unconditionally. My husband and I live that story on a daily basis.
The first time I got drunk, I threw up all over my bedroom floor. The next morning my mom said, “You look tired, go back to bed.” She truly is the original Sandra Dee. I absolutely love her. She’s a saint.
Like my mother used to say, “Be a lady in public and a whore in bed.” My husband loves this. (Or is it, “Be a whore in public and a lady in bed?” I guess it depends on what character I’m playing. It’s not easy being married to an actress.)
ARIZONA REPUBLIC INTERVIEW WITH KYLE LAWSON, April 7, 2002
Robyn Allen is a rare find.
That’s not a reference to her talents as an actress and director, which are considerable. She’s a Phoenix native, and not many of those stick around to carve out a career in the Valley.
Allen has. The actress, who’s in her 30s, has far too many shows to her credit, far too many awards on her shelves, to list. It’s sufficient to say most Valley troupes — and many Valley audiences — have benefited from her presence.
The latest theater to employ Allen is Peoria’s tiny (55-seat) Algonquin Theatre Company, where she opens Friday in John Ford Noonan’s prizewinning comedy-drama, All She Cares About Is the Yankees.
It’s the story of a woman who deals with her fear of leaving her room by creating a fantasy world where she talks with past and present members of the fabled New York baseball team.
In some ways, it’s a role tailor-made for Allen.
“I was a tomboy,” she says. “I’m such a girly girl now, no one will believe that, but I used to climb the fences and try to play baseball or whatever sports my brothers were playing. I was left-handed and they were always wanting to teach me to pitch right-handed. I was horrible, but I kept trying.”
She’s still a lefty on the mound, but her lack of success hasn’t dimmed her enthusiasm for sports. She admits not only to being a fan, but she’s married to a dedicated jock and is the mother of another.
“At our house, the Diamondbacks rule,” she says, chuckling.
It must have been fun when she told everyone her next role was as an obsessed Yankees fan.
“My husband was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding; now I’ve got to deal with this?’ ,” she says. “He never knows what’s coming home. Right now, he’s probably hanging garlic in the house. The other night, I couldn’t find my Yankees cap until I realized he had put a Diamondbacks cap on top of it.”
Although Noonan crams a lot of Yankees lore into his play, you don’t have to be a fan, or even know baseball, to get it, Allen says.
“It’s really about fear, and how it can cripple you if you let it take over your life,” she says. “That’s what this woman has done. She’s doing her best to escape reality by creating another life. I know that sounds serious — but it’s also very, very funny.”
Allen can relate to her character on another level besides that of sports fan. The actress was painfully shy as a child.
“Again, people probably won’t believe that. I had this lemonade stand,” she says. “For 10 cents, you got a glass of lemonade, but for 25 cents, you got the lemonade and a show. I danced to the Archies. How a shy person could do that is beyond me.”
It was all an act, something she learned in eighth grade when a teacher tricked her into reading aloud from a play, then told her she had the lead part. The experience taught her that the lemonade seller was on to something: When Allen was performing, people — and life — didn’t frighten her.
“I guess that was what it took,” she says. “I never would have dreamed of auditioning for a play — I was too scared. But when I discovered I had the power to make people laugh or cry — well, that was cool.”
ARIZONA REPUBLIC COLUMN ITEM BY KYLE LAWSON, Dec. 15, 2001
Every art has its flavor of the moment — and, at the moment, everyone wants a pint of Robyn Allen.
Hard on the heels of the critical and popular success of On Golden Pond at Peoria’s Theater Works, Allen took over the director’s chair of Lost in Yonkers at Scottsdale’s Stagebrush Theatre.
She received more than she bargained for. A family emergency forced one of the leads to leave. On short notice, Allen stepped into the role, keeping the show going.
Yonkers closes Sunday, but Allen already is deep into rehearsals of her latest production. Produced by Greasepaint Scottsdale Youtheatre, the musical Annie opens Dec. 27 at Stagebrush.
After that, she tackles Quilters, another musical, which is scheduled for Jan. 11-Feb. 3 at Theater Works.
“Christmas? Who’s had time to think of that?” the harried Allen says.
The Whipping Man, Black Theatre Troupe, 2013. Robrt Pela, New Times.
The Whipping Man, clearly written in the earnest cause of redemption, moves slowly toward its surprising conclusion. But thanks to director Robyn Allen’s firm hand, and subtle and convincing performances from a sterling cast, the story manages never to languish in the melancholy which might, in a lesser production, have sunk it.
The Smell of the Kill, Algonquin Theatre, 2009. Robrt Pela, New Times.
Robyn Allen delivered the necessary blend of sarcasm and ennui to pull off comedy this dark; her sharp line readings made Nicky’s matter-of-fact attitude about murder seem plausible and that much more amusing.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Algonquin Theatre, 2007. Robrt Pela, New Times.
Algonquin Theater’s remount of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, playwright Martin McDoonagh’s stunning two-act about a tyrannical mother-daughter relationship set in a dismal Irish village, was a high point that reminded us that Robyn Allen is a superb actress.
Mornings at Seven. Phoenix Theatre. 2004. Robrt Pela, New Times.
The excellent ensemble actually improves on Osborn’s chatty script. Betsy Beard is superb as the sassy spinster who may or may not have been having an affair with her sister’s husband all these years. She slowly transforms Arry from a snappy terrier into a scrappy bulldog. Peggy Lord Chilton makes Esther — whose husband disapproves of her dimwitted family — sympathetic without any cute grandmotherliness, and Pamela Fields creates variations from a tiny palette. As written, her speeches tend to sound alike, but subtle differences in her performance help unfold Ida’s story. No less commanding is Jacqueline Gaston, whose airy voice is like a musical instrument and whose delivery of the simplest lines is filled with Cora’s anguish and joy. Robyn Allen and Chris Vaglio hold their own in this notable company, and Jack Ritschel’s efficiency and versatility proves that there’s no such thing as a small part.
On Golden Pond. Theater Works. 2001. Kyle Lawson, Arizona Republic.
Robyn Allen’s sensitive direction rids Thompson’s tale of its potentially cloying schmaltz, while the performances of Charles Sohn, Jacqueline Gaston and Zachary Hawley add human dimension even as they blatantly mine every laugh and heart-tug. Allen, best known locally as an actress, shows promise in the helmer’s seat, pacing the show astutely and underlining the emotional and humorous notes with just the right emphasis.
Talley’s Folly. Arizona Jewish Theatre. 2001. Kyle Lawson, Arizona Republic.
All of this — the emotional sparring, the lovely talk, the drifting currents of the river — is beautifully choreographed by director Wanda McHatton in Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s revival at the Viad Playhouse on the Park — just as Sally and Matt are fully realized in the luminescent performances of Robyn Allen and Rusty Ferracane.
Broadway Bound. Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. 1998. Robrt Pela, New Times.
Blanche actually appears in one scene, though it’s a throwaway and could easily be cut from the play. She’s with us only long enough to throw a tantrum and wave a fur coat around, but actress Robyn Allen plays this scene for all it’s worth, and her speech reverberates with all the rage and passion that her sister, Kate, never musters.
- PHOTOGRAPHS, REVIEWS & THE KITCHEN SINK
Colette D’Antona as Nurse, Meg Sprinkle as Juliet, Matt Zimmerer as Capulet and Amy Serafin as Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet at Theater Works. Directed by Robyn Allen. (Photo by Bo Allen)
Doubt, Sister Aloysius, Theater Works
Smell of the Kill, Nikki, Algonquin Theater Co.
Moonlight and Valentino, Rebecca, Phoenix Theatre
The Women, Mary, Phoenix Theatre
Proposals, Annie, Algonquin Theater Co.
Mornings at Seven, Myrtle, Phoenix Theatre
Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, Kathleen, Theater Works
Search For Intelligent Signs Of the Universe, Various roles, Algonquin Theater Co.
Picnic, Flo, Phoenix Theatre,
Beauty Queen of Leenane, Maureen, Algonquin Theater Co.
Road to Mecca, Elsa, Algonquin Theater Co.
All She Cares About is the Yankees, Maureen, Algonquin Theater Co.
Lost in Yonkers, Bella, Algonquin Theater Co.
Tally’s Folly, Sally, Arizona Jewish Theater
Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, The Shakespeare Co.
Broken Glass, Sylvia, Arizona Jewish Theater
King Lear, Goneril, Arizona State University
Broadway Bound, Blanche, Arizona Jewish Theater
Social Security, Barbara, Arizona Jewish Theater
The Waiting Room, Victoria, In Mixed Company
Brighton Beach Memoirs, Blanche, Arizona Jewish Theater
David’s Mother, Sally, The Actor’s Group
Shadow Box, Beverly, In Mixed Company
Autumn Leaves, Sara, Actors Theater of Phoenix
New Actor’s Workshop-New York
Arizona State University- Acting Emphasis
Arizoni Best Actress-Road to Mecca, Park Your Car in Harvard Yard; Best Supporting Actress-Picnic; Arizoni Best Actress Nomination- Doubt, Proposals, Smell of the Kill, The Women, Picnic, Broken Glass, Search for Intelligent Signs of the Universe, The Waiting Room, Tally’s Folly, MacBeth, Beauty Queen of Leenane, All She Cares About is the Yankees, David’s Mother
Honorable Maxi Award- Broken Glass, David’s Mother
Goldy Award- Beauty Queen of Leenane
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, Theater Works 2007-2014
Responsible for conceiving, developing, and implementing the artistic vision and focus of the organization, and for major decisions about the ongoing development of the aesthetic values and activities. Hire, supervise and evaluate artistic personnel including directors, performers, designers, and stage managers. Report to the Board of Directors on a regular basis to give an update on artistic activity. Direct and approve casting; attend design meetings and approve designs in consultation with each show’s director and creative team. Develop and monitor annual program budget with the administrative and production staff. Work with marketing dept in developing language and images that best represent the artistic vision. Direct at least one show per season when appropriate.
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION, Phoenix Theatre 2005-2007
Responsible for the design, development, administration, and evaluation of all education/outreach programs. Plan and manage all education activities including the supervision of volunteers and staff and teaching artists in delivering all aspects of the programs. Develop budgets for each program and monitor success. Identify education trends that may present new opportunities for future programming.
ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE-TEACHING ARTIST, Phoenix Theatre 1998-2007
Responsibilities include programming, curriculum development and Performing Arts Director of Paramount Academy (400 students), Actors Equity Association Artist
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR/ACTOR/CO-FOUNDER, Algonquin Theater Company 1997-2009
Responsibilities include developing mission statement and creative vision, negotiating performance rights, creating and managing budgets, assembling technical crew, marketing, public relations and scheduling. Provide artistic input both as an actor and director
ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, Tempe, AZ
NEW ACTORS WORKSHOP, New York City, NY
Member of Actors Equity Association- Union for professional actors
Who’s Who in Valley Theater-Arizona Republic 2007
Center Stage Women- Arizona Republic 2007
Actress Performance of the year- New Times 2007
Actress Notable performance of the year- Arizona Republic 2005