Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Sleeping Giant
Stray Cat Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's review of The School for Lies

Tanner J. Conley, Allison Sell, and Louis Farber
Photo by John Groseclose
With the fractured state of politics in the United States today there is much talk of fear, doom, and feeling distressed, with people on either side calling those who don't agree with their political views sheep blindly following their respective powerful, political leader without thinking for themselves. I'm not certain if playwright Steve Yockey based his dark comedy Sleeping Giant entirely on the current political state in our country, but his characters do talk of feeling like they are in a state of dread and unease and find themselves drawn to a powerful force that, once awakened, makes them do things they wouldn't normally do.

Stray Cat Theatre is presenting the local premiere production of Yockey's play, which premiered at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it's a doozy. With a fantastic cast and crisp direction, it's macabre, creepy, comical, kooky, and a slow burn of a surreal thriller that brings its horror slowly to the forefront. It's also a whole lot of fun and a play that will make you think.

The one-act, 85-minute play is set in a series of houses surrounding a lake. When Ryan proposes to his girlfriend Alex, he sets off a large number of fireworks as a celebratory mark of the event which causes a massive explosion that appears to wake up something in the lake that's been dormant for years. Could it be the mythical Butterfly King that Ryan has been reading about, who is the leader of a sacrificial cult? Through a series of vignettes set over the next few weeks, we meet other residents of the lake homes who are, seemingly, afraid of the unknown that lurks in the lake but also curious and drawn to it.

Yockey is no stranger to Stray Cat and his plays are often full of dark and macabre characters, themes and moments. While it is a dark comedy, Sleeping Giant also focuses on the fascination of the unknown and the desire to become a member of a group in order to find a sense of belonging. Yockey adds in some very comical characters and situations that help ease the tension and make the transitions into the unknown elements in the play more impactful. There are also many jarring moments of discomfort and other worldly elements that keep one engaged throughout. Yockey's characters are all realistic and, while the plot is far fetched at times, the scenes all build to an appropriate ending.

The cast features Ksjusha Povod, Louis Farber, Allison Sell, and Tanner J. Conley, all of whom expertly dive head first into the horror elements of the play while also creating portrayals that are realistic with comical undertones. The serious nature helps ground the play and its somewhat eccentric characters in reality, even as supernatural elements are swirling just outside their lake house doors. The cast are often asked to switch gears between emotionally disturbing moments and comedic lines while also playing numerous different characters and they all accomplish this wonderfully under Ron May's direction. May and his cast keep the characters and the action realistic with each actor creating multiple characters that are distinct and unique. May also ensures the surreal moments are terrifying with a sense of foreboding that is always present.

The creative elements are excellent. David J. Castellano's smart set design quickly transforms to the living rooms in various homes around the lake while Jessie Tully's costumes are used effectively to quickly distinguish each character. The nuanced lighting by Ashley Hohnstein and evocative sound design by Pete Bish combine to create many sinister and eerie effects. Andrew J. Hungerford's media design is used to portray an imaginative world, and Dolores E. Mendoza provides some very effective props that ratchet up the eeriness.

One of the big questions the play asks is, if something like this sleeping giant is awakened in your world, perhaps something like a political authoritarian, will you follow it blindly or wake up to make sure it does as little damage as possible? Or maybe Yockey is saying that many of us are afraid of change and the unknown and we all have our own theoretical monster sleeping dormant right outside our homes that's just waiting to be awakened. The meaning of the play and its title character is clearly up to interpretation, but whether its political, religious, or has to do with the lengths people will go to in order to believe in something, or even just the dread and fear some have of making a decision, it's the sense of the unknown that he focuses on and the fact that there is a lot to be fearful of at the moment that can grow into a feeling of dread. What we need to remember is, we can't let the fear get the best of us and that it's never too late to fight back at the sleeping giants around us.

Sleeping Giant, a Stray Cat Theatre production, runs through May 18, 2024, at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-227-1766 or visit

Director: Ron May
Assistant Director: Stephen Hohendorf
Production Stage Manager: Amanda Keegan
Production Manager: Shelly Trujillo
Scenic Design: David J. Castellano
Costume Design: Jessie Tully
Lighting Design: Ashley Hohnstein
Property Design: Dolores E. Mendoza
Sound Design: Pete Bish
Media Design: Andrew J. Hungerford Intimacy Choreography: Monica Sampson

The Naïf: Ksjusha Povod
The Raconteur: Louis Farber
The Convert: Allison Sell
The Messenger: Tanner J. Conley