Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Miriam Gonzales' play follows the story of brother and sister Leo and Lizzy Martinez, who almost solely depend on each other since their hardworking parents are rarely at home. Leo is determined to prove he is one of the smartest kids in the world by getting on, and winning, the local TV quiz show called "Challenge." But Leo's parents refuse to let him participate, afraid that the challenging demands will cause him to have health problems due to his sickle-cell anemia. So Lizzy comes up with a plan to help out her brotherbut everything doesn't go exactly as expected.
The Smartest Girl in the World features realistic characters and dialogue. The fact that Leo and Lizzy are both aspirational but also exhibit typical childlike traits adds layers of authenticity. Osiris Cuen and Rudy Ramirez lead an exceptional foursome as Lizzy and Leo. Under Debra K. Stevens' incisive direction, they are impressive playing these youngsters, with childlike expressions and voices, even though they are both in their twenties. Jamie Sandomire and Vinny Chavez complete the cast, with both playing several characters, from child to adult, with ease. These four actors have appeared at various theatres across the Valley and are some of the finest actors of their generation in town.
Stevens keeps the action fast paced, allowing the humor to shine through but also letting the warmth of the bond between Leo and Lizzy to be present throughout. Since this production will tour to schools throughout the Valley, the set needs to be able to travel to multiple locations, yet the set design by Douglas Clarke doesn't scrimp on beautifully representing the bedroom that Leo and Lizzy share. Gail Wolfenden-Steib's costumes are age appropriate and also specific enough to help us quickly identify Lizzy and Leo's parents, even though they hardly speak and are mostly seen in the background.
Heartfelt and funny yet full of warmth, Miriam Gonzales' play includes witty dialogue and realistic characters who are full of determination and the desire to succeed. In a smart production with an exceptional cast and solid direction, The Smartest Girl in the World is another major success for Childsplay as they continue to present premiere productions of plays that resonate with children and adults alike.
The Smartest Girl in the World at Childsplay runs through November 22nd, 2015, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at www.childsplayaz.org or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office 480-350-2822 (ext. 0)
By Miriam Gonzales