Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Women in Jeopardy
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of The Lady's Not for Burning and The Band's Visit

Gail Rastorfer, Aysan Celik, and Julia Brothers
Photo by Tim Fuller
In the program for Arizona Theatre Company's Women in Jeopardy, ATC's Artistic Director Sean Daniels, who is also the production's director, said that playwright Wendy MacLeod was tired of complaining about the lack of plays that feature female characters over 40, so she went out and wrote one of her own. While it's great to see representation of a close group of women in their "mid-years" represented in Women in Jeopardy, the play itself, which is a cross between "Desperate Housewives," "I Love Lucy," and "CSI," and is amusing and funny in parts, is not an entirely successful comedy. This production is also lacking due to the broad acting and almost slapstick nature that shortchanges the emotional importance of seeing a close group of female friends in their 40s depicted on stage.

Set in Salt Lake City, and taking place almost entirely in Mary's gorgeous high-end kitchen, the plot follows a divorced trio of friends who have known each other for years. It's "chardonnay Tuesday" and Mary has invited her best friends Jo and Liz over. Liz has recently started to date Jackson, a dentist, and has brought him along for her friends to meet. But Jackson is a little odd, and when Liz informs them that a girl, who just recently went missing is feared to have been abducted and most likely murdered, was one of Jackson's dental hygienists, and that Jackson was the last person to see her, Jo and Mary get very suspicious. When Mary and Jo learn that Jackson plans on taking Liz's 19-year-old daughter Amanda camping over the weekend, it sets off even more alarms and the duo goes into overdrive to protect Amanda and Liz while also trying to find out if Jackson is the young woman's killer.

MacLeod has created a nifty plot that is also entertaining and engrossing. It also doesn't always go where you think it will go. Her dialogue at times is very sharp and funny, such as when Liz takes offense at her friends' comment that she's dating a dentist and not a doctor, and says "dentists are doctors with regular hours," or when Mary is asked if she has a gun in the house and replies "of course not, we're Democrats." The characters are also fairly well defined, although we know a lot less about Jo than Mary or Liz, and Liz's daughter Amanda and her on again/off again boyfriend Trenner are painted mainly as clueless simpletons. Also, the ending is very abrupt, which, after investing close to two hours to find out who the killer is, is somewhat disappointing.

Daniels directed the 2015 premiere of the play at the Geva Theater in Rochester, New York, so I'm assuming the almost farcical style of this production is how Macleod intended it to be. While the cast is good, and they all have good comic timing, the comedy is a bit too broad and over the top at times, more so than "Desperate Housewives" ever was, which is a detriment to the characters and the plot. It's almost like seeing Lucy and Ethel from "I Love Lucy" stalking a killer, where there are some poignant moments about the importance of friendships shoe-horned in. There are also some uninspired dance moments by the cast during the scene changes that are only slightly amusing and often overstay their welcome.

All members of the cast are quite good, although while they are gifted comic actors, the broad nature of the production and lack of depth in the script means almost any emotion required to depict a three-dimensional character is lacking. Aysan Celik is great as Mary. Celik's rubbery facial expressions and lithe body movement work well for the many over-the-top comical lines and situations Mary has. Julia Brothers does a good job as Jo, the common-sense member of the trio (she also played this role in the world premiere production). She and Celik play off each other very well. Gail Rastorfer is humorous as the flirty divorcee who finally feels like her life is complete. Joel Van Liew is excellent as both Jackson and the bumbling police Sergeant who is assigned to the case. Van Liew presents two unique and distinct characters. While they are both very charming, Ashley Shamoon is appropriately vacant as the bubble-headed Amanda, and Damian Garcia is a hoot as the equally brainless Trenner. The comical interactions Garcia and Celik have, when he believes she's interested in him romantically, are exceptional.

The production's creative elements are exceptional. Scenic designer Michael B. Raiford's superb kitchen set, which becomes a beautiful birch-tree forest toward the end of act two, is gorgeous. Connie Furr's character-specific costumes are excellent. The lighting design by Brian J. Lilienthal works extremely well, especially for the scenes set in the forest, and sound designer Dave Remedios delivers some great effects. However, as good as the creative aspects are, their realistic nature is often at odds with the farcical material.

While Women in Jeopardy is an escapist piece of comic fluff that most people will enjoy, it's also a shame that Macleod wasn't able to manage what Neil Simon often did in creating realistic, emotionally rich, three-dimensional characters who get into comical situations while also having an emotional connection to each other. That disconnect is why, though it's funny, Women in Jeopardy isn't entirely successful.

Women in Jeopardy runs through February 27, 2022, at Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-256–6995.

Written by Wendy MacLeod
Director: Sean Daniels
Scenic Designer: Michael B. Raiford
Costume Designer: Connie Furr
Lighting Designer: Brian J. Lilienthal
Sound Designer: Dave Remedios
Stage Manager: Dom Ruggiero

Cast: Mary: Aysan Celik*
Jo: Julia Brothers *
Liz: Gail Rastorfer*
Amanda: Ashley Shamoon*
Trenner: Damian Garcia*
Jackson / Sgt. Kirk Sponsüllar: Joel Van Liew*

*Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States