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Performers bare all for art

by John Quinn

REVIEW: 10 Naked Men

Ringwald Theatre

Article:9710; Posted: May 17, 2015 at 1:00 p.m.

If LGBT playwright Ronnie Larsen is to be believed, there are uncanny parallels between professional actors and professional "escorts." Both fields embody the adage, "Practice makes perfect." Both require ambition, self-promotion and a thick skin when promotion fails. In contrast, one is considered--at least in the modern era--a legitimate vocation, and the other a tawdry, illicit activity suitable only for social pariahs. To you gentle reader, I leave the determination of which is which.

In 2013, The Ringwald Theatre produced "Making Porn," Larsen’s wickedly funny skewer of the adult film industry. Lisa Melinn garnered a Wilde Award nomination for best Actress in a Comedy. In a similar vein, Larsen’s 2002 closely meshed vignettes are satires of participants in the broader "entertainment industry" and the West Gomorrah which attracts them.

But down to the gritty details of this show. All you voyeurs asking, "Do we really get our 10 naked men?" Well, yes, in a way. In the course of a prologue, delivered by The Narrator (James E Lee III), the rest of the cast trots out in the buff with only a piece of cardboard for cover. When they had their places on stage, the card spells out "10 Naked Men." When reversed, they spell out our setting, "Hollywood." That, as The Narrator cynically notes, got us into the theater. The conceit is gratuitous; the casual nudity that occurs in the course of the play is safely in context.

Robert, a Detroiter with his newly-awarded MFA (from WSU and the Hilberry Theater, of course) clutched in his fist, joins his college roommate--Kenny (Richard Payton)--in LA, seeking fame, fortune or at least a few acting roles. That simple beginning spawns a web of convoluted relationships, and the chance for Larsen to tar and feather actors and agents--and escorts and “Johns”--with the broadest brush. Brenton Herwat, Alex Hill, Dennis Kleinsmith, Tim Stone, Mark Vukelich, Ben Wright, and Chris Young fill out this merry band of misfits.

The cast is pretty strong and very secure in their roles–and comfortable with the “full monty” those roles call for. Let us note that “10 Naked Men” marks Brandy Joe Plambeck’s return to The Ringwald after a three-year stint at The Hilberry Theatre, where he obtained his MFA in Acting. How appropriate, then, he be cast as Robert. Mr. P, you have been a fine comic actor for as long as we’ve been able to catch your work. Based on your performances this season in “Boeing, Boeing,” “The Way of the World,” “The 39 Steps, and now here, back at home, three years at the Hilberry has turned you into a superb comic actor. Your sense of timing and inflection are extraordinary.

So what can we say about “10 Naked Men?” Bluntly, it’s nowhere near as strong a script as “Making Porn.” Larsen wrote a convoluted plot, illustrated by intertwined vignettes, to achieve the broadest reach for his satire. The result is a scattershot of one-liners that hold the show back from reach the next level even while the show is directed by the formidable director Joe Bailey who was in the original Los Angeles and subsequent Off-Broadway premiere.

“10 Naked Men” can be appreciated by an audience who is willing to work with the playwright, listen to each character’s story, and pay attention to the rapid interplay of emotional commitment. If there was ever a time to remind you, ”Dude, my eyes are up here,” this is it.

90 minutes, no intermission

10 Naked Men

The Ringwald Theatre
22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
May 15--June 8; Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.


Hamlet: to see it, or not to see it?

by John Quinn

REVIEW: Hamlet

Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Article:9692; Posted: May 11, 2015 at 5:00 p.m.

With a wink and a nod, Theatre Initiative takes a creative leap beyond Peter Weiss’ experiment in insanity, “Marat/Sade,” as the company deconstructs William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Note that when a five-act Elizabethan tragedy is cut to a little over ninety minutes, it is the first clue there’s a whole lot of deconstruction going on. But this “Hamlet”, rather than echo The Bard’s reflection, “. . . the play’s the thing . . .” accentuates process over performance. And that process is immensely effective.

“Hamlet” is the collective endeavor of nine actresses under the direction of Bailey Boudreau and Steve Xander Carson. Yes, I wrote actresses. The cast features Luna Alexander in the title role, as well as Kaitlyn Valor Bourque, Maya Gangadharan, Laura Heikkinen, Jennifer Jolliffe, Egla Kishta, Kez Settle, Kazzy Skoretz, Victoria Rose Weatherspoon. We are to imagine ourselves as the honored guests of the Elsinore Women’s Asylum where Doctors Clark (Joliffe) and Carrol (Settle) are using theater as a method of determining which patient may be recovered enough to release. In order to better gauge their personalities and reactions (and channeling the Initiative’s creative process in developing this production), the women have chosen how to portray their characters, what plot devices and lines to retain, and which one’s to eliminate.

There is the key to reducing Shakespeare to a hundred minutes. His “Hamlet” is rife with themes; murder and assassination, intrigue and deception among them. Here, the artists concentrate on one strong theme – suicide. This is not Shakespeare Lite, it’s Shakespeare 2.0.

Some of the performances are mind-bending, as well as gender-bending. Luna Alexander’s “Harriet,” who plays Hamlet, is a disturbing psychological mess. Edgy, easily distracted, at times wild-eyed, she keeps her audience off balance. The character is unpredictable, even sliding at one point from “Hamlet” into “As You Like It.” Thus, we eventually come to an “I shoulda seen that one coming” moment that’s still a surprise.

“Melanie,” as envisioned by Maya Cameron, is another easily distracted, easily excitable patient, and her melodramatic Polonia serves as comic foil. She, along with Kassy Skoretz, who plays “Horatia,” slightly edge the rest of the cast in developing original characters well within the playwright’s intent. They are compelling examples of clarity, even if the performances are set in a madhouse.

Laura Heikkinen and Kaitlyn Valor Bourque, playing Gertrude and “Claudia,” are suitably aloof but may be too icy given the hot emotional context. It is particularly noticeable as they engage the rebellious Hamlet; it would appear that they are helpless in the face of his contempt. Victoria Rose Weatherspoon doesn’t have as much stage time as the others; as in the original play, “Laertes” is overseas and only returns in time to avenge his father’s and sister’s deaths – and meet her own demise. Shakespeare buffs who are familiar with the courtly ballet staged as the duel between Laertes and Hamlet better prepare for a shock. The scene becomes a gory bloodbath when fought by two insane women armed with a loaded hypodermic syringe. This is a visceral, eye-and-mind-opening experience, perfectly in keeping with Slipstream’s desire for an “immersive experience” and a recurring taste for the macabre in their work.

Lest I leave out the company’s Ophelia, let us just say that Egla Kishta “Anna” may be the most disturbed character in the play. There is a haunting vacancy behind her eyes that can make the hair on the back of your neck tingle.

Boudreau and Carson, as well as technical designer Ryan Ernst, had their work cut out for them adapting the un-air conditioned (dress appropriately) Hazel Park storefront that serves as their summer home into what may be one of the smallest local venues since The Mix opened in Ypsilanti. It may well be the first production I’ve seen lit by overhead fluorescents. There is a method to the madness here, and it’s not another “All the world’s a stage” rant. Companies like Slipstream, and, starting next season The Abreact, are increasingly itinerant; coming full circle to the days when theater meant, “Have play, will travel.” But their work is not what theater was, it’s what theater is becoming. And there are surprises around every corner.

96 minutes, no intermission

Slipstream Summer Home, 20937 John R. Rd, Hazel Park
May 10--June 7, 2015; Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:00 p.m.
Price: $10


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: Hamlet - Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Read PATTY NOLAN's review -


Taut political drama makes history at What a Do

by Bridgette Redman

REVIEW: Frost/Nixon

What a Do Theatre

Article:9660; Posted: May 11, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

Nowadays, Frost/Nixon is a historical drama, but it is one whose events continue to reverberate in politics today.

What a Do is presenting this challenging drama as the closing show of their season. Director David Lew Cooper has compiled a cast that has carefully balanced making this show one of period vs. contemporary. The company strives for historical accuracy while still trying to make this an accessible drama with modern relevancy.

Frost/Nixon is the story of the first major interviews Richard Nixon did after resigning from office. British television host David Frost spent hours with the disgraced president reviewing his entire presidency and specifically the Watergate break-in scandal.

But the drama comes from the two men approaching this with opposing goals. Nixon saw these interviews as a way to rehabilitate his shattered image, while Frost wanted it to be the trial Nixon never had.

Dave Stubbs was convincing as Richard Nixon, moving and talking like the former president. He was able to capture both the statesman and the paranoid politician who let his paranoia destroy him. Stubbs reveals how he had the potential to be a great man but self-destructed. It was a believable performance revealing more about Nixon as a flawed human being who nonetheless was able to touch and achieve greatness for a time.

David Frost’s role was played by Joe Dely, who captures both the serious journalist and the playboy talk show host. Dely was the only one who spoke in an accent, even the other British producer, Scott Whitesells’ John Birt, did not use an accent. Dely’s Frost stood out from the others as a man full of energy and optimism but who took great risks. Dely made sure the stakes were high for the interview and showed how much it was a contest between Nixon and Frost with only one possible winner for the outcome.

The supporting cast also worked hard to show the two sides and their opposing goals. Bruce Brown Jr.’s Jack Brennan was bull doggish in his support of the president, while his disdain for liberals could make him a star guest today on a Rush Limbaugh segment. Nixon was a statesman at all times in public, and Brennan was the partisan hack behind him.

Lars J Loofboro’s Bob Zelnick is the American journalist on Frost’s team who recruited historian/journalist James Reston Jr. to join in preparing Frost. (Landon Cally). Loofboro and Cally made a great team of Nixon opponents who raised the stakes within Frost’s team. They were both intense, especially Cally, and provided the explanation of who Nixon was and why it was important he get a trial.

RJ Soule’s Swifty Lazar was over-the-top compared to most of the other performances. He was slick and played the part of the agent with stereotypical comic choices.

The women in the ensemble flitted about the edges, adding some personality and human moments to the drama, creating moments that helped define Frost and the television world of journalism.

The pre-show was a combination of John Purchase’ original music and a series of projections (uncredited in the program) of headlines from Hitler’s death through the Ferguson riots and the Boston marathon bombings. It was challenging to figure out why the headlines were chosen except to set a stage that this was a non-fiction drama and to set this in a continuum—that Watergate was not a moment in time, but an episode that continues to have an effect on today’s politics and journalism.

I took a 16-year-old with me to see the show, and her perspective was different from this journalist who was influenced in her career choice by “All the President’s Men” and the example set by the investigative journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who brought Nixon down. For her, the play was pure history, and she had only the thinnest notions of what Watergate was about.

Frost/Nixon for her became a history lesson. And at intermission, she was seeing Nixon as a decent president who did a lot of good things. It is a testament to how well What a Do accomplishes the play’s mission--that it wasn’t until the final interview that Frost was able to succeed in his goal of revealing Nixon’s darker side.

Frost/Nixon is a drama that works because it is human as well as political. It was a battle that was not just partisan, but between two people who hung all their hopes on this event with only one of them a possible winner.

But there is one more winner in this tautly paced and high stakes drama—the What a Do audiences.

Show time: 8:06 to 10:12, with intermission


What A Do Theatre
4071 West Dickman Road, Battle Creek
May 8-23, 2015; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., also Thursday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. (pay what you can) and a half-price matinee Saturday, May 16 at 3:00 p.m.
$20.00/discounts available for seniors/students/military
(269) 282-1953


“It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage!”

by Frank Anthony Polito

REVIEW: School for Scandal

The Snug Theatre

Article:9687; Posted: May 11, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

“Gossip,” as the author Joseph Conrad once said, “is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.” In a world where so many turn to sources like “Extra” and “TMZ” for their daily fill of “news,” the story in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic “The School for Scandal” is as relevant today as it was when the comedy first premiered almost 240 years ago.

It’s during these moments of onstage kibbitzing among the characters that the play, now being produced at The Snug Theatre in Marine City, is at its most enjoyable. Watching the likes of 18th century high society ladies--with names like Sneerwell, Candour, and Crabtree--sitting around the salon playing parlor games as they weave woeful tales of their so-called friends, we can not help but snicker along. But, woefully, once these group scenes have cleared The Snug’s stage, the story begins to fall flat, and becomes confusing.

Even if you read the synopsis provided by director Chris Mick, who dubs it “‘Downton Abbey’ meets ‘Mean Girls’,” you still might have difficulty following along. There are a lot of characters in this play! It isn’t until we meet them, and we learn who they are, that we begin to comprehend the situation before us. But the problem here is: How can we, the audience, possibly understand this centuries-old story when the actors, telling it to us onstage, appear as if even maybe they don’t?

Like the multitude of characters in the play, there are also a lot of words! Words that must be spoken at a clip, and with an English dialect. Unfortunately, more than a few of the actors in this production have a difficult time with the text, let alone delivering it in a believable British accent. According to their program bios, many of these young (perhaps therein lies the problem?) performers are formally trained and have a lot of onstage experience. Or, maybe they just haven’t done much Classical Theater? This makes one wonder why The Snug would choose to tackle such an undertaking that is Sheridan, if the talent for it isn’t plentiful.

All this said, the saving grace onstage now at The Sung is the charismatic Kelly Kennedy. As Lady Teazle, the young wife of the wealthy, and much older, Sir Peter, from the moment she appears, Kennedy is a proverbial breath of fresh air. Not only does she have the dialect down, she commands the text in such a way that we, the audience, have no trouble following the story she is telling. When Kennedy stands before us in her purple and pink period gown, with her pretty powder-white face and her blond Marie Antoinette-esque hairdo piled high, we believe she’s an 18th century high society lady because, most importantly, she believes it.

To call the production an “Epic Fail” could be akin to the play’s characters who relish in slander and gross exaggeration. But at almost three hours (including a 20-minute intermission), it makes for a long evening, most of it spent trying to figure things out. Perhaps with stronger direction from Mick, the pace could have been picked up, the actors kept all on the same page, and this school a bit more scandalous, in the way that everybody will enjoy.

The School for Scandal

The Snug Theatre
160 S. Water Street, Marine City
May 8-24, 2015; Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.


A "hidden treasure" at Performance Network

by Frank Anthony Polito

REVIEW: Salvage

Performance Network Theatre

Article: 9637; Posted: April 27, 2015 at 11 a.m.; updated May 4, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.

If you’re a theater-goer in Michigan, chances are you’ve seen a Joseph Zettelmaier play at some point. This past season alone, three--count ’em--three of his plays were produced at theaters across our state. His latest offering is the two-hander "Salvage," being given its Michigan Equity Premiere at Performance Network in Ann Arbor.

From a playwriting standpoint, there’s very little "drama" going on here. The stakes aren't high, and the conflict comes from within the characters. This isn’t to say that "Salvage" is boring, or uninteresting, or not a good play. On the contrary, it’s fun, and fascinating, and very well-written with its snappy, sitcom-y dialogue and equal moments of humor and heartbreak.

And who doesn’t enjoy sitting in the dark for close to two hours rooting for boy to get girl or vice-versa? But wait! Because Mr. Zettelmaier is a prolific playwright, he knows that something has got to happen in his play at some point that will tear these two kids apart. And when it does, sit back and enjoy the ride. For this is when "Salvage" really starts to cook.

As Jason and Sarah, Patrick O'Connor Cronin and Katherine Banks are terrific. He's got the whole hipster thing down, from the prevalent paunch that pairs perfectly with the wide-cuffed dark jeans and vintage T-shirts selected for him by costume designer Amber Marisa Cook, to his cigarette-smoker voice. Ms. Banks, as the mysterious girl who walks into Jason's collectables shop and into his life has an infectious smile that will make you, too, fall in love with her. Under the direction of Joseph Albright, there’s just the right balance as this couple plays off each other, taking turns at cracking the jokes, and inviting us into their world.

One concern in their casting, however, lies in the actors' age range verses that of their characters as written in the script. Jason and Sarah talk of their love of 1970s pop culture, with references made to Erin Gray of "Buck Rogers" and the TV show "Little House on the Prairie." As the setting of "Salvage" is present day, perhaps a pair of slightly older actors should have been cast, or an earlier time-period chosen for the play’s setting, to better align this particular pair of actors with the memories of their onstage counterparts? Then again, perhaps Jason and Sarah are both just geeky enough to possess a love of a time that came before their own--which would explain exactly why they deserve to be together?

One would be remiss if mention was not made of the set on which "Salvage" is played out. Attributed to both Phill Harmer (as set designer) and Jennifer Maiseloff (as scenic artist), we are treated to a delightful sensory overload of 20th century pop culture memorabilia in the creation of their "Hidden Treasures" collectables shop. As you wait for the play to start, take a good look around, because the mind will boggle! And you will curse yourself for ever allowing your mother to toss out your toy collection from when you were a kid.

This, perhaps, could be the very theme of "Salvage." Even though we grow up, we don’t have to allow our memories to be tossed out. As nostalgic as they may seem, they are what keeps us forever young.


Performance Network Theatre
120 E. Huron St, Ann Arbor
April 23--May 24; evening performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.
Matinee performances are Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Price: $27.00-$39.00


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: Salvage - Performance Network Theatre

Read DAN SKORA's review - New Monitor

Read RONELLE GRIER's review - Oakland Press

Read JENN MCKEE's review - MLive


Hope dances at The Purple Rose

by John Quinn

REVIEW: Talley's Folly

Purple Rose Theatre

Article: 9569; Posted: April 11, 2015 at 5:00 p.m.

Matt Friedman, the persistent suitor in Lanford Wilson’s prizing winning comedy, "Talley’s Folly," is very forthright. He tells his audience that the next 87 minutes should result in "a waltz one-two-three, one-two-three, no-holds-barred romantic story." While the play, indeed, progresses with the grace and gentility of a waltz, director Angie Kane Ferrante’s sprightly interpretation renders "Folly" as brisk as a quick-step.

"Talley’s Folly" is the second, in order of performance, of Wilson’s "Talley Trilogy" and its events parallel in time to the events of the first play, "Talley & Son." Matt Friedman (Robert Najarian) returns to Lebanon, Missouri to continue his courtship of Sally Talley (Aphrodite Nikolovski), whom he met while on vacation the year before. A contentious scene (detailed in "Talley & Son") with Sally"s kin drives Matt to take refuge in the decaying boathouse, which lends its name to the play's title. There, among the splintered remains of Belle Epoch frivolity, Matt woos the reluctant Miss Talley.

Of course, "Talley’s Folly" is also an apt description of a spinster's improbable relationship with a hyperbolic, immigrant accountant. At times, the play is less dance than fencing match. The actors prowl the stage. And with each sharp parry and thrust, the couple remains on the defensive, shielding deep emotional vulnerabilities. Wilson's characters are textured and multi-layered. Savor the emerging personalities, as the actors drop layers of concealment. It's a pleasure that makes up for the fact that in this unsubstantial little plot you can smell the happy ending as quickly as cherry blossoms in spring.

Backing up the first-rate acting and directing are harmonious designs. Sarah Pearline's set is already striking in its rococo rendition of "Whistler" Talley’s mad creation of turned posts and carpenter's lace. The high-gloss finish on the lowest level gives an astonishingly real sense of place: a quiet backwater on a placid river. Danna Segrest has graced the place with what seems like a couple of decades of Talley family castoffs.

Dana L. White's lighting design is remarkably kinetic for a two-person show. But aside from subtly directing audience attention, it gradually eases with the emotional beats, moving from warm washes of amber towards a cool, introspective gleam that captures "the light of the silvery moon." Similarly subtle is Tom Whalen’s sound design, which can conjure barking dogs and brass bands on cue.

There are exactly two costumes for the show--his ‘n’ hers. Najarian's business suit would appear non-descript, but while well-tailored, offers enough "give" that the performer is capable of some really energetic stunts. Sally Talley tells us herself that the dress she wears down to the boathouse is "special," but we didn’t need to be told. That dress spoke for itself on its first entrance. Credit costumer Christianne Myers with the magic spell that give apparel a voice.

90 minutes. No intermission.

Talley's Folly

Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park Street, Chelsea, Michigan 48118
April 2 – May 23, 2015:
Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sundays at 2:00 p.m.


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: Talley's Folly - Purple Rose Theatre

Read CHRISTIAN USERA's review - Ann Arbor Independent

Read PATTY NOLAN's review - Examiner


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