William Carton was a playwright active in local theater from the late 1990s.
2001. THE ALL MALE REVIEW. Interview by Kyle Lawson, The Arizona Republic, April 8.
Feeling jaded about theater? Spend an afternoon with the young people of Blackball Ensemble. They still get excited about the little things, like whether there should be a hyphen in The All-Male Review, their new show at their new home on north Central Avenue.
There’s plenty of good-natured bickering between April Smith and Christian Miller, who themselves are hyphenates (as in actor-director), and playwright William Carton, who’s penned Review, which once was The Amazing All-Male Revue but weathered a name change because everyone worried that “amazing” was putting it a bit thick and “revue” would lead audiences to expect a musical.
It’s good to hear the joking. Fans were worried about Blackball. When the Phoenix fire marshal closed Planet Earth Theatre, the 3-year-old troupe was among the resident companies pitched into the streets. With its founders finishing up their college degrees or working full time, the hassle of finding a new home seemed beyond them.
That was a loss. The company was responsible for some of the edgiest theater in recent years: David Greenspan’s Dead Mother or Shirley Not All In Vain, Trista Baldwin’s Sex and Other Collisions and Alan M. Berks’ Mourning Rituals. Like their producers, the shows exhibited attitude, considerable talent and a knack for knocking the audience on its collective fanny.
Thanks to Carton, who works at the Holiday Inn Midtown, 4321 N. Central Ave., the company has found a new home in the motel’s conference center — to be known henceforth, at least on play nights, as the 4321 Theatre. (Miller likes to say it over and over: “FOUR-THREE-TWO-ONE.” Without knowing exactly why, he finds the backward cascade of numbers serendipitous.)
With the new home comes a new play, which, Smith says, thumbing her nose at her partners, answers the question: “What the hell is wrong with men?”
QUESTION: Why the name change?
SMITH: I wanted to avoid people thinking they were going to come and see a Broadway-style show.
CARTON: I’m not too proud to throw in some tap dancing.
MILLER: The real change is from “revue” to “review.” That really says it. A review of the many varieties of the American male.
Q: The flyer calls it “a raucous, dark comedy that probes the male psyche and uncovers some deliciously wicked secrets,” including “thugs who like to play with Barbie dolls as much as their guns.” Sounds like it would have been perfect for Planet Earth. Do you miss the place?
SMITH: I guess. We put a lot of time into renovating that building. It was a piece of crap.
MILLER: I have it written down. More than 400 hours.
SMITH: That’s how many hours you spent on it. All of us? I’d say about 1,197. It was horrible, starting with the fact it had no plumbing.
MILLER: When we finished, two out of three toilets worked. We all know two out of three ain’t bad.
Q: Aside from the funky environment, what did Planet Earth offer you?
SMITH: A cheap place to produce … a full budget there was about $1,500.
MILLER: Losing it forced the guerrilla companies like us to come up with bolder ideas for places to perform. Ultimately, it’s going to be a good thing. A ton of people are gearing up.
Q: The Holiday Inn is a bolder place?
SMITH: They like the arts and they like William.
CARTON: I’m their bat, their vampire, their night auditor.
MILLER: That’s such a great title. The Night Auditor. Right out of Hitchcock. But it’s a good space for theater. We can do all sorts of things with it. And it has 180 rooms attached. A captive audience.
Q: Do you really think Planet Earth’s audiences will come to a Holiday Inn?
SMITH: If they’re that closed-minded, it’s their problem.
MILLER: I think they’ll come to see William’s play because it’s very funny. And because we’re serving free quiche. This play goes well with food. The first read-through, we threw a barbecue in our back yard and stoked burgers.
CARTON: Fifteen guys at that party, and it took the one female there to get the fire started.
SMITH: That’s why I’m co-directing the play.
Q: Review actually is eight short works, each dealing with a different aspect of the masculine experience.
CARTON: I think it’s a vain search for male role models. I lost my father early and I spent the next few years trying to figure out what manhood was supposed to be. The things that happened to me were funny and ironic — as silly as the play gets, it comes out of experience.
MILLER: Good decisions and sensitivity can happen to males at any time, but there is so much stuff to go through to find those moments.