Encore Michigan

BoxFest is rocking the D at Planet Ant

Review August 19, 2017 Martin F. Kohn

HAMTRAMCK, Mich.–The American short play has never garnered the same position of respect as the American short story. For every acknowledged master of the short story like Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, or Flannery O’Connor, there is a…

That’s just it: there isn’t anyone.

And while the annual stage anthology BoxFest Detroit celebrates the work of female directors it also reminds us there are pleasures to be found in short-form playwriting. BoxFest 2017, at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre, consists of four “boxes,” each containing two or three plays. Each performance includes only two of the boxes. Opening Night, Boxes 3 and 4, comprised three comedies, a drama and one…other…, proved delightful.

Until its surprise ending “Pumps,” by Brett Hursey, directed by Shannon Hurst, appears to be a study of addiction in the guise of a comedy. The object off dependency is a pair of gold and glittering, fashion-forward high-heeled shoes. Stephie (played by Maggie Alger), about to leave for work, desperately wants to wear the shoes but recognizes her unhealthy attachment to them.

Her sensitive significant other, Dave (played by Matthew Woods), tries to provide a whole lot more support than the shoes. Stephie keeps leaving and coming back, Dave keeps going into the bathroom and emerging, and they and director Hurst use to maximum effect the amount of time when no-one’s on stage.

The sole drama, “Legacy,” written and directed by Charity Clark-Anderson, finds Majora (Angela Roberts-Johnson), who is having difficulty getting pregnant, in the office of her doctor (Jacqua Scott). Major has a sad story to tell and Roberts-Johnson goes full out in telling it, to the point where it seems the doctor is just there to keep the play from being a monologue.

Then the doctor tells her own story, which Scott performs in a nicely contrasting understated manner, which leads to a surprise ending.

“The Train,” written by Irene L. Pynn and directed and choreographed by Leia Squillace, is the “other” of the package, a lovely dance theater piece in which there is no dialogue but much is expressed. Two strangers, Chelsea Hamm and Elliott Styles, in a subway car are literally thrown together when the car lurches. A lighting change initiates a dance-fantasy in waltz time, beautifully executed by Hamm and Styles. And when reality returns? There’ll be no spoiler here.

The sole Detroit-centric piece, “Digging Up Hoffa,” by Dave Carley, directed by Terie Spencer, takes place in a house where, to the offstage sounds of a bulldozer, a woman explains to a TV interviewer why Jimmy Hoffa might be buried in her backyard. Doing double duty, director Spencer plays the woman as a guileless, salt-of-the-earth kind of person and the story she tells is convincing: She was working as a waitress at the restaurant where Hoffa was last seen.

The level-headed interviewer (Jim Sniderman) asks the right questions, the woman’s adult but childlike son (Alexander Trice) wants to go outside and see them dig what he thinks will be their new swimming pool. There’s something surprising unearthed when it’s all over.

“Not This White Woman,” by Adrienne Dawes and directed by Bridgette Jordan, a sly look at the personal politics of race, also takes place on a subway. Two African American women (Tayler Jones and Assata Haki) are approached by a white woman (Katy Kujala Cronin) who really, really wants to bridge the racial divide and has no idea how to accomplish this other than acting like the human equivalent of a six-week-old puppy. Jones doesn’t get quite enough to do, but Cronin and Haki have a great deal of fun with the hands they’ve been dealt.

Boxfest’s Boxes 3 and 4 pack a lot of enjoyment into a compact program.

Click here for show days, times and ticket details.

Week of 12/11/2017

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