Friday, November 14, 2014

Arizona Daily Star

Invisible Theatre has accomplished the seemingly impossible:
Found a talented Hebrew-speaking actress in Tucson.
Noga Panai spent the bulk of her time as Ayelet in IT’s current offering, “Handle With Care,” speaking Hebrew. It was a demand of the role that that be her first, and almost only, language. Really, now, how many actors can you point to here that could step into that role? And step into it well?
While no one else on the stage understood her character (except her grandmother in the few scenes they had), and most of the audience wasn’t sure what she was saying, Panai made Ayelet, a young Israeli who has reluctantly accompanied her grandmother on a trip to the to states, full and recognizable.
This Jason Odell Williams play about fate and a search for love and meaning is slight, and excessively contrived.
But this cast of four, directed with a tender touch by Susan Claassen, made us believe — in fate, friendship, and love at first — maybe it was the second — glance.
Ayelet and her grandmother (Lois Lederman nicely portrayed the hopelessly romantic oldster) have been haunting small, out-of-the way Virginia towns. They stay in blah hotel rooms — think the lower-end of Motel 6 — in search of something. Ayelet doesn’t know what, and her grandmother isn’t saying. At least not at first.
When her grandmother dies, Ayelet quickly makes arrangements to fly her back to Israel. Thing is, Terrence, the seriously spacey courier (a very funny Jesse Boone), loses the body. As he speaks no Hebrew, and she no English, getting the message across is a tad difficult.
Enter Josh (Luke S. Howell in a sweet and completely sincere performance). Josh is Terrence’s friend and happens to have a Jewish mother. Terrence makes the giant leap that, therefore, Josh can speak Hebrew.
“Handle With Care” chronicles their struggles to communicate as the story jumps back and forth between the day of the death, and the day after.
There are plenty of laughs in the play, but more than anything it has a sweetness that counterbalances the thin plot. And while the story might not stick with you, this cast and its heartfelt performances surely will.

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Thank you Chuck Graham for this rave review!!!

This year give the holidays an ecumenical lift by taking in an Invisible Theater performance of “Handle With Care,” a sweetly charming Jewish Christmas story about finding love in a provincial Virginia motel the night of Dec. 24, as a gentle snow falls outside on the window sill.
All the magic of the seasons – both Christian and Jewish – are sprinkled throughout the play by Jason Odell Williams. Lots of good humor and some tips on Jewish religious traditions fill the animated dialogue being tossed about by Ayelet (Israeli actress Noga Panai), Josh and Edna, played by local talents Luke S. Howell and Lois Lederman.
On hand to be the Southern boy who only knows what he's learned in Sunday School is Terrence (Jesse Boone), the hapless DHL driver who had his delivery truck stolen with the body of Ayelet's grandmother inside. Terrence is also best buddies with Josh, whose mother is Jewish and father is Catholic.
In flashbacks two days before, we learn Ayelet's grandmother Edna has brought Ayelet from Israel for a visit to Virginia. So the scenes bounce back back and forth, bringing the two stories together as, toward the end, Josh and Aylet make some discoveries about each other that could only happen in the spirit of Christmas.
Panai is the sparkle at the center of this IT production directed by Susan Claassen. With tightly focused energy and a natural command of Hebrew, Panai has her own magic to make anything seem possible.
Josh is the nice Jewish boy who doesn't even know he is one as the play begins. He only knows a few words of Hebrew that have any use in polite company. And has just a passing familiarity with Jewish religious traditions. But Josh becomes an eager learner as he begins to realize the importance of these traditions to Ayelet, who speaks very little English.
As for the humor, much of that comes from Terrence trying to explain how the grandmother's body disappeared when someone stole the delivery truck without looking inside first – just figuring that on Christmas Eve the truck would be full of Christmas presents.
All this gets worked out over several scenes in both acts, fumbling, with the language, learning Ayelet's boyfriend in Israel was a jerk who dumped her and Josh's wife was killed in an auto accident two years earlier.
The mysterious figure is Edna, the grandmother, whose own love story from her youth got tangled up back in times more rigidly controlled by those same Jewish traditions.
"Handle With Care” lives up to its title, proving once again that romance at any age can become a powerful healing force. Claassen nurtures these feelings, as well as our willingness to believe such a sentimental story could happen during this highest of holidays for both Christians and Jews.
Sometimes it can feel really good to just believe in the importance of believing a little harder.
Performances continue through Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. matinees Sundays and also Saturday, Nov. 22, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. All tickets are $30, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-882-9721, or visit

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Arizona Daily Wildcat :: 'A Kid Like Jake' breaks gender stereotypes

Arizona Daily Wildcat :: 'A Kid Like Jake' breaks gender stereotypes

'A Kid Like Jake' breaks gender stereotypes

It might be hard figuring out what’s so special about the title character in “A Kid Like Jake,” especially since the audience never gets to meet him.
The Invisible Theatre attempts to resolve this ambiguity by premiering Daniel Pearle’s play at the start of its 44th season. The story involves a 4-year-old boy named Jake who is just starting his first year of preschool in New York City. Before he can begin, however, his parents must find a private school they think is best for him.
The play opens with Alex, Jake’s mother, sitting in the living room, mulling over an essay draft she will submit in a private school application. The essay prompt is to share what makes her child special. Alex realizes that everything about her son is special.
He’s bright, inquisitive, loves fairy tales and has an interest in playing dress up with girls. The latter, although unique to Jake and perhaps a bit odd, would look good on an application, according to Judy, the family friend helping to get Jake into these private schools.

Courtesy of Tim Fuller Kevin Black, an associate professor in the UA School of Theatre, Film and Television, both directs and performs in "A Kid Like Jake" at the Invisible Theatre. The play is about a married couple grappling with their son's feminine habits.
“This kind of strategizing — it’s sickening, but I think you can capitalize from it,” Judy says to Alex. “They’re looking for kids who stand out.”
However, once the interesting hobby is out for the schools to see, social conflicts start to arise. Questions emerge, such as, “Why is he acting up? When did he become so aggressive? Is he going through a phase?”
In bringing this play to the stage, the Invisible Theatre leaves the audience members to their own imaginations as to how this 4-year-old boy is handling these pressures to conform. The viewer only experiences the struggle through his two parents, whose relationship begins to unravel due to this ordeal.
Jake’s love of dress up stirs up his stubbornness — something his father insists he gets from his mother later in the play. When Halloween comes around, Jake is faced with the dilemma of choosing between a pirate or skeleton costume.
His mother and father await his choice, but the child instead asks if he can dress as Snow White. This is followed by an argument that leaves Jake revoked of his trick-or-treating privileges and results in a hurtful accusation that Jake slings at his mother.
The play consists of a four-person cast featuring Anna Augustowska, Lori Hunt, Cynthia Jeffrey and Kevin Black, who also directed the play. Black and Hunt’s performances as Jake’s parents evokes the real-life issue of gender identity crisis and the difficulty of raising a child in a politically-correct world.
It is this aspect that makes the play engaging as the parents struggle to decide what’s best for Jake. In the end, after damaging relationships and hashing out arguments, neither parent knows what to do. They opt to just sit in their living room and watch “Cinderella,” an incredibly symbolic gesture for this gritty, family drama. But there is no fairy godmother to resolve this crisis, and the characters are left with the uncertainty of what is in store for their precocious son.
“A Kid Like Jake” will run until Sept. 14. Each show starts at 7:30 p.m. with two matinee showings on Sept. 13 and 14 at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $30.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Invisible Theatre launches art season with a winner

Invisible Theatre launches art season with a winner

Arizona Daily Star
Here’s a prediction:
This will be a good season for theater.
At least it will be if The Invisible Theatre’s “A Kid Like Jake,” which launched the 2014-15 season, is any indication.
The Daniel Pearle play, which opened Wednesday, is provocative, poignant and heartbreaking.
Smoothly directed by Kevin Black, it is also quite funny, (thankfully) devoid of sentimentality, and propelled by a killer cast.
A Kid Like Jake
Invisible Theatre stages 'A Kid Like Jake'
Greg (Kevin Black) and his wife, Alex (Lori Hunt), want only the best for their son, Jake. His test scores indicate he is very creative, but his passion for Cinderella starts to cause concern.
Photo credit: Tim Fuller

Thursday, August 28, 2014

'A Kid Like Jake' poignant, poses hard choices

'A Kid Like Jake' poignant, poses hard choices

Parents trying to do what's best for an imaginative child is at heart of play.
Read the entire review here: 'A Kid Like Jake' poignant, poses hard choices

Friday, May 2, 2014

Richard Skipper Celebrates...: Susan Claassen: Celebrating Edith Head!

Richard Skipper Celebrates...: Susan Claassen: Celebrating Edith Head!: SUSAN CLAASSEN, managing artistic director of the Invisible Theatre, was named Best Actress by Phoenix New Times for her performance in A ...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Olive and One-Liners | Review | Tucson Weekly

Olive and One-Liners 


Charles Busch's Olive and the Bitter Herbs is a playful little comedy, notable only for its zippy one-liners and its lead character. But what a character she is. And who better to play her than Susan Claassen, IT's artistic director, who has shepherded this company through most of its history.

... Olive is a tasty dish. The cast totally invests itself in the season finale's silliness, no matter how disjointed the story. And Claassen, well, she spreads the wisecracking, acerbic, misanthrope with a heart of—well, at least with a heart—across that tiny stage "like buttah."

Read the entire review here: Olive and One-Liners | Review | Tucson Weekly

David Alexander Johnston, Eric Anson, Susan Claassen, Susan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck in Olive and the Bitter Herbs.

David Alexander Johnston, Eric Anson, Susan Claassen, Susan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck in Olive and the Bitter Herbs.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: Invisible Theatre's "Olive and the Bitter Herbs"

Review: Invisible Theatre's "Olive and the Bitter Herbs"

By Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star

Oy vey. There is a mighty unpleasant woman on stage at Invisible Theatre. And funny. And annoying. And funnier still.
That would be Olive, given a very funny turn by Susan Claassen in IT’s production of Charles Busch’s hodgepodge comedy, “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.” Olive is the washed-up and very grumpy actress who lives alone in her New York apartment and does everything she can to run everyone she can off.
Here’s a rundown of the play, the production, and all that jazz.
Olive (Susan Claassen), the original star of the "Gimme The Sausage" commercial sees an image in the mirror within the mirror that sets off a chain of mad-cap events! -- Credit: Tim Fuller

Saturday, April 19, 2014


By Chuck Graham,

photo by Tim Fuller
This Passover Seder becomes a time of truce for (from left) David Alexander Johnston, Eric Anson, Susan Claassen, Susan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck.
Watching a culture clash take place in a haunted mirror during a seasonal Jewish holiday doesn’t happen often, but here it is at Invisible Theatre in a Charles Busch-wacky production of “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.”
James Blair is at the controls as director, with IT’s managing artistic director Susan Claassen flaunting her love for the eccentric in the title role of Olive Fisher
Although that title could well be the name of a popular vegetarian rock band, it is actually Busch’s way of framing Olive as eternally bitter about everything.
From the gay couple who live next door in her rent-controlled East 30s Manhattan co-op, to the noisy roomer upstairs (who’s dead now, thank goodness), Olive is unhappy. Not just unhappy, but unhappy-unhappy, expressing herself in the most creatively insulting dialogue directed at everyone else onstage.
On opening night there was instant recognition and constant laughter from the audience, connecting with her double barreled insider complaints common to Big Apple life at the middle-class bohemian level, a lifestyle delightfully expressed through the catchy set design by Blair and Claassen.
In the play Olive resents having become an actor of a certain age, still hoping for that big role – even though her career peaked some 30 years ago as the “star” of a popular series of commercials with the hook line “Gimme the sausage” (remember that vintage TV ad where the salty old lady kept asking “Where’s the beef?” Like that).
Acting as loyal band members in this ensemble effort are Wendy (Susan Kovitz), a retired theater manager who considers herself a kind of caretaker for Olive; Robert (David Alexander Johnston), also retired, formerly an editor of children’s books; Trey (Eric Anson), the gay companion of Robert; and Sylvan (Jack Neubeck), who is sweet on Olive and no doubt has a fondness for astringent wines.
All are popular veterans of the Tucson theater scene, carrying their roles responsibly and getting all their laughs. Each develops an identifiable character and keeps up the energy that builds as Olive becomes more taken by the unseen figure in her full-length framed mirror at the edge of the stage.
This spooky fantasy gets the mundane name “Howard,” but his presence is announced by the ghostly lights and eerie sounds you would expect from a spirit with a more fearsome handle. Howard never speaks, however. We come to “know” him through the comments of others.
Plot-wise, there isn’t a lot happening. Mostly the others are drawn to Olive’s apartment because of some past connection to Howard. There aren’t any labyrinthine trails to follow, no red herrings to dismiss.
The real fun is just in catching all the jokes, which are pretty good, filled with Busch’s over-the-top attitudes whetted by that New York edge. Exactly the kind of humor Classen can deliver so well.
“Olive and the Bitter Herbs” continues through April 27 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, plus a 4 p.m. matinee Saturday, April 26, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
All tickets are $28, group discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-882-9721, or visit

Friday, April 11, 2014

IT serves up Pesach comedy, ‘Olive and the Bitter Herbs’

IT serves up Pesach comedy, ‘Olive and the Bitter Herbs’ « AZ Jewish Post

Actress Olive Fisher, known for her “Gimme the Sausage” commercial, is a classic New York curmudgeon at war with the world in general and her next door neighbors in particular. Her closed-off life is shaken by the appearance of a ghost in her mirror, but that’s the least of her problems. Can a Passover Seder bring about a temporary truce? Artistic Director Susan Claassen stars in Invisible Theatre’s production of “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” by Charles Busch, which runs April 15-27. For tickets, call 882-9721 or go

The cast of ‘Olive and the Bitter Herbs,’ (L-R):  David Alexander Johnston, Eric Anson, Susan Claassen, Susan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck (Tim Fuller)

The cast of ‘Olive and the Bitter Herbs,’ (L-R): David Alexander Johnston, Eric Anson, Susan Claassen, Susan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck (Tim Fuller)

Invisible Theatre' 'Olive and the Bitter Herbs': It's a howler, we assume

Invisible Theatre' 'Olive and the Bitter Herbs': It's a howler, we assume

Invisible Theatre's 'Olive and the Bitter Herbs': It's a howler, we assume

By Kathy Allen, Arizona Daily Star

... Speaking of laughs, Susan Claassen, Invisible Theatre’s managing artistic director, knows how to wring them out of every word. So it’s natural that she portray that old grouch, Olive. DirectorJames Blair has assembled a supporting cast with the chops to back Claassen up: Eric Anson,David Alexander JohnstonSusan Kovitz and Jack Neubeck.

Susan Claassen as Olive sees an image that sets off a chain of events in Invisible Theatre’s “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.”