Amazing Ladies on the Playbill


Article No. 1

In some things, Valley theater is distressingly average. Giving credit to women, for example.

If you think of American theater, who comes to mind? Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, David Mamet, Tony Kushner, Edward Albee. Quite the list of men.

Think about the Valley. Again, it’s men who are most often in the news columns: David Ira Goldstein of Arizona Theatre Company, Matthew Wiener of Actors Theatre, David Saar of Childsplay, Michael Barnard of Phoenix Theatre; or such actors as Bob Sorenson and Jon Gentry.

But there are just as many women whose stars shine just as brightly and whose impact on the local stage has been just as revolutionary.

Actresses Maren MacLean, Cathy Dresbach, Jacqueline Gaston, Katie McFadzen, Debra K. Stevens and Robyn Allen regularly bring audiences to their feet with astonishing performances. Arizona Theatre Company’s Jessica Andrews, Gammage’s Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s Janet Arnold have propelled their companies to national prominence.

Behind the scenes, costumers Connie Furr-Solomon and Gail Wolfenden-Steib, lighting designer Nykol DeDreu, and directors Samantha Wyer and April Smith have transformed local productions into trend-setting works of art.

None of this happened overnight. The diverse, challenging work that is making the Valley one of the nation’s important theater centers rests on a foundation laid by generations of gifted artists, many of them women.

Theater would be a far different thing here if it weren’t for Arnold; Jan Rothman-Sickler of Actors Lab Arizona; Judy Rollings, Carol McLeod and Glorianne Engle of Actors Theatre; Helen Mason of the Black Theatre Troupe; Lin Wright of Arizona State University; or Trini Yanez Hale of Teatro del Valle, to name just a handful.

Where are the memorials, the testimonials? There are precious few of them. Men get theaters named after them, women all too often are reduced to faded snapshots in an album when the spotlight slides away.

It’s a crime, says Kathe Hellwitz of Women & Theatre, a British troupe renowned for its innovative use of performance to explore women’s issues.

“It’s not that men bring more to the table, it’s that women bring no less,” she said. “Women are just as intelligent, creative, energetic, thoughtful, provocative — and, dare I say it? — occasionally as foolish as men.

“But are they regarded in that way? I’m afraid not. I’m afraid that, in theater, as in life, women are too often thought of as the second sex and, therefore, somehow inferior.”

It’s time to put that assumption to rest with a look at women, past and present, who have raised and continue to raise the standards of Valley theater. It’s giving credit where credit is due, and at the same time, an affirmation of theater as one of the truly collaborative arts.

Article No. 2

They have appeared on stage in many guises. Fairy queens and worried mothers. Flaming vamps and desperate drug users. Women who kill their men and girls on the verge of suicide.

They are the Valley’s major-league actresses, an accomplished lot who can hold their own with any import from London, New York or LA.

The nine represented here acknowledge they are a few among many.

“I think that we have finally reached the point where we don’t have to go looking for fabulous talent — it’s right here all around us,” Nearly Naked Theatre’s Damon Dering said two years ago.

Things have only gotten better. The next time you see one of these names in a program, sit back and prepare to be astonished.


Known for: Drama, comedy

What we like about her: A subtle performance style that sneaks up on you. You begin by watching and end by feeling.

Favorite performance: The Shadow Box, In Mixed Company.


Known for: Musical comedy.

What we like about her: The way she belts a song and the fact that’s she also one of the funniest women onstage.

Favorite performance: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Phoenix Theatre.


Known for: You name it, she can do it.

What we like about her: Her attention to detail. She doesn’t just say the words, she wraps them in characterizations so deeply evoked that they linger in the memory for years.

Favorite performances: Frame 312, Nickel and Dimed, both Actors Theatre.


Known for: Dramas and comedies.

What we like about her: The fact that she’s an elemental force of nature. She doesn’t act, she is.

Favorite performances: Before It Hits Home and Grace & Glorie, both Black Theatre Troupe.


Known for: The role of Sister in the long-running Late Nite Catechism and Late Nite Catechism II at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

What we like about her: Is there an actress who’s better at improvisational comedy? We doubt it. No matter how many times you see her Sister, there’s always something new to tickle you.

Favorite performances: Need we say?


Known for: Comedy, musicals.

What we like about her: Her comic timing, which reminds us of Eve Arden, and her voice, which is just enough like Bea Arthur’s to make us giggle.

Favorite performance: Noises Off, Copperstate Dinner Theater.


Known for: Contemporary comedy, Shakespearean classics.

What we like about her: Few women can combine the sexy comedy of Carole Lombard and the physical slapstick of Lucille Ball, but MacLean does it effortlessly. Then she knocks your socks off as one of the witches in Macbeth.

Favorite performances: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Southwest Shakespeare Company, Macbeth, Arizona Theatre Company.


Known for: Musicals, dramas.

What we like about her: Although she’s still in her teens, she can steal the spotlight from a cast of bicoastal professionals (Beauty and the Beast) or blend perfectly into an ensemble (Picnic).

Favorite performance: Beauty and the Beast, co-production of Phoenix Theatre and Valley Youth Theatre.


Known for: Work with alternative theater groups.

What we like about her: No matter how bizarre the material, Tavassoli’s no-nonsense style grounds it in reality so that an audience can just sit back and believe.

Favorite performances: The Seductions of Johnny Diego, Arizona State University; Wonder of the World, Stray Cat Theatre.