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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Kill Socrates: A Comedy
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Gilligan's Island: The Musical

Van Rockwell, Tom Koelbel, and J. Kevin Tallent
Photo by Stephanie Cartwright
While he is credited as one of the fathers of modern philosophy, Socrates didn't leave behind any published writings, so what we know about his views on philosophy are only from the writings of his contemporaries. However, most of the details of his trial, in which he was sentenced to death, are known. In the new play Kill Socrates: A Comedy, making its Arizona premiere in a smartly directed and well-cast production at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, playwright Amanda Schaar uses comedy, witty wordplay, and modern sensibilities to take us inside the mind of Socrates to witness his thoughts and feelings on the day of, and the moments after, his trial and up to his subsequent death. With funny dialogue and well-written characterizations, Schaar has crafted a drama that is very humorous while also moving and ultimately heartbreaking.

The play begins right before Socrates' trial and ends right after his death. Socrates is on trial for crimes against the state. He's been accused of transgressions against religion, going against the will of the people, and corrupting the young with his ideas. He's also been called an "evil doer" and there are rumors that a god even said he was the wisest man. Socrates' friend Phaedo just happens to also be at the court that day, having accused his father of murder, and offers his support, though they both think he'll be found innocent. Since Socrates doesn't think he did anything wrong, he doesn't hire anyone to represent him and also doesn't truly defend himself.

Schaar's comedy-drama plays out in a few well-composed scenes. The dialogue at times mirrors the witty, confused conversational humor of Waiting for Godot, but Schaar also weaves into the piece many of the arguments and philosophical conversations that anyone with even a slight understanding of Socrates can recognize. Some of the witty wordplay includes: "If you can't prophesize something nice about someone don't prophesize at all"; and Socrates stating to the guard, "If you marry badly, you become a philosopher," to which the guard replies, "Aren't you a philosopher?"

However, as good as the writing is, there is some repetitiveness and the second act drags on a bit, which are the only few negative comments I have about this otherwise well-crafted work. While Socrates' outcome is known from the title of the play, and you don't truly need to know anything about the man to enjoy what Schaar has written, a little background can give you some information on him. Also, before the play begins, I recommend reading the page of notes in the program that help fill in some of the gaps.

Tom Koelbel is direct, clear and forceful as Socrates, a man who is deeply convinced that he did nothing wrong and someone who, while he questions the way things are done, is also committed to obeying the laws. Koelbel's assured line delivery, firm posture, and clarity in his portrayal help the audience to clearly understand Socrates' views, feelings, and how he feels about his predicament. Koelbel delivers a beautiful performance.

Van Rockwell does a good job depicting Socrates' friend Phaedo, who is struggling with his own predicament concerning his relationship with his father. When Phaedo learns of Socrates' verdict, the urgency and pain in Rockwell's performance are palpable. J. Kevin Tallent expertly plays two completely different roles: Meletus, the prosecutor in Socrates' case; and the guard outside Socrates' cell. While the majority of roles I've seen Tallent perform have been in dramas, as he recently proved in his portrayal of Oscar in The Odd Couple, he is equally talented in comedy, and his portrayal of Meletus is a downright hoot. His varied, repeated and loud proclamations to "think of the children" whenever he is at a loss for words during the trial, and as basically his main proof of evidence of Socrates' guilt, are hilarious. He is just as good in act two, when he returns in a dramatic role as the quiet, simple and friendly guard.

Director Cheryl Schaar has staged the play perfectly in Don Bluth's three-sided venue so that the actor's movement is natural while also allowing for audience members on all sides to have a view of the action and feeling drawn into the story. Schaar directs her cast beautifully so they deliver performances that are both funny and moving. Corinne Hawkins' costumes are modern, which adds a nice modern take to the plot, and the lighting design by Don Bluth and Bret Reese delivers some gorgeous stage images. Cheryl Schaar and Roger McKay's winning sound design includes a musical underscore for appropriate moments as well as the sounds of the large number of people in the court, providing a perfect ambiance for the scenes in the court.

With a talented cast, firm direction, and nice creative aspects, Kill Socrates: A Comedy at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre is a winning production of a funny, charming, moving, interesting and intriguing new play.

Kill Socrates: A Comedy runs through July 24, 2021, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8989 E. Vía Linda #118, Scottsdale AZ. For more information on this production or to order tickets, visit or call 480 314-0841.

Directed by Cheryl Schaar
Scenic Design: Amanda Schaar
Lighting Designer: Don Bluth and Bret Reese
Sound Designer: Cheryl Schaar and Roger McKay
Costumes: Corinne Hawkins
Properties: Cheryl Schaar
Stage Manager: Malcom Hooper

Socrates: Tom Koelbel
Phaedo: Van Rockwell
Meletus/Guard: J Kevin Tallent