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Interlochen's "As You Like It" a summer delight

Marin Heinritz

REVIEW: As You Like It

Interlochen Shakespeare Festival

Article: 9924

Though the temperatures drop as the sun goes down and mosquitoes nip at the heels, there can be no more enchanting setting for a pastoral comedy such as “As You Like It” than an auditorium en plein air. In fact, for Interlochen’s production, the surrounding woods create the setting as much as the scenic design, and the effect is profound. The audience not only witnesses the transformative power of nature on the characters, they experience it for themselves. In traveling from cities and towns into the placid setting of Interlochen Centre for the Arts, they are players in their own pastoral comedies and feel in their bones that, indeed, “all the world’s a stage.”

The maples and white pines towering above the combination thrust and proscenium stage of Upton-Morley Pavilion and the flicker of fireflies would be mere distractions in a lesser production. But this “As You Like It” spares no attention to detail and harmoniously uses every element imaginable to create superb theatre.

Shakespeare’s fun and light-hearted romantic comedy, full of sass and inventive language, transcends time. Part gender-bending love story, part satire and social commentary, it tracks Orlando and Rosalind who fall in love at first sight but are separately banished to the Forest of Arden. Each of them with troublesome sidekicks, they encounter malcontents and fellow outsiders in the woods. When they meet each other again, she is disguised as a man and with great mischief, tests the verity of his love. As a quest story of sorts, the action emerges from obstacle. And it’s all quite amusing.

Shelby Lewis plays a sharp and delightful Rosalind. She is wonderfully matched by Harry Thornton’s earnest “love shaked” Orlando, and together they embody the exuberance of youth and play with good humor.

Kendra Williams also plays beautifully with Lewis as Rosalind’s cousin Celia.As a bodacious blonde with hilarious vocal range, she presents a nice counterpoint to Lewis’s lithe and grounded boyishness. Together they chirp, scheme, and create an adorably silly friendship.

The greatest roles and standout performances come from David Montee as a fabulously funny Jaques, the cranky melancholic who argues “the worst fault you have is to be in love.” In his mouth, Shakespeare’s words are natural and convincing and he breathes new meaning into the famed “All the world’s a stage” speech.

Likewise, Jeffrey Nauman’s Touchstone is a revelation. He is sassy, raucous and his physical comedy is brilliant. Both Jaques and Touchstone provide the cultural criticism and depth to this comedy, while Montee and Nauman’s charismatic performances are crucial to the success of the show.

Every actor on stage is marvelous. Director William Church not only put together an outstanding cast, but he has them utilize endless various spaces both on and off the traditional stage and gives them remarkably dynamic blocking. From wood chopping to silly dances to a cartoonish wrestling match, the show is alive with meaningful movement as essential to creating characters as the Bard’s language.

Every technical choice creates this engaging world on stage. Risa Alecci’s fun and provocative costumes vaguely span the 20th Century--from ‘80s sparkly ball gowns to a ‘20s fringy flapper frock to ‘40s suits and hats--and the effect supports the overall feeling that the events are happening out of time. Courtney Kaiser-Sandler’s original folksy music provides charming interludes and sets the mood as only music can do, and her singing and guitar playing are gorgeous.

Of course, the set and setting here are inextricable. Not just the actors, but the audience, too, inhabits the Forest of Arden, and this happens only in part because of the natural beauty of Interlochen. Christopher S. Dills’ set, though full of practical ladders and stairs, also signifies forest with its artful metalwork and colorful ropes and netting. Rachel Diebel’s lights work in tandem with the set and the outdoor setting, sparking to life both the forest and its mystery.

To attend Interlochen’s magnificent “As You Like It” is to enter the forest, its mystery, Rosalind and Orlando’s twisted romance, as well as to embrace the unfolding of one’s own pastoral comedy. And isn’t that what summer in Michigan is for?

As You Like It

Interlochen Shakespeare Festival
Upton-Morley Pavilion, Interlochen Center for the Arts, 4000 Highway M-137, Interlochen
July 2, 3, 9 and 11 at 8:00 p.m.


The Barn’s “Ghost” better than the film

by Marin Heinritz

REVIEW: Ghost the Musical

The Barn Theatre

Article:9923; Posted: July 2, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

"Ghost the Musical" is among a long line of musicals adapted from films that weren’t musicals—including Legally Blonde, Carrie, and Kinky Boots, to name a few. And in the alchemy necessary to turn a straight film into a musical, the worst can happen, especially when the original film is mediocre at best.

However, "Ghost," the current production at The Barn, offers a surprising improvement upon the schmaltzy Academy Award winning 1990 film starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. It features many scenes from the movie, perhaps because Bruce Joel Rubin authored both the screenplay and the book, and its plot is identical. Part love story, part thriller, part metaphysical drama, the show follows Sam and Molly, a young New York couple whose relationship continues after Sam is murdered, partly with the aid of a medium who helps Sam communicate with Molly as he slips between worlds.

Because of a solid cast and really interesting technical choices and effects, The Barn’s "Ghost" provides an entertaining evening that doesn’t kill the audience with sentimentality.

Jamey Grisham is a terrifically likable Sam, a good guy who does good despite having bad things happen to him. He’s a lovely singer and even better dancer who does especially impressive work with his choreography for the ensemble cast, all of whom are quite excellent in their own right.

He and Brooke Evans, who plays Molly, don’t have much time to establish a terribly compelling romance before the script kills him off, but Evans embodies bereavement beautifully. Costuming choices, such as her wearing a white dress shirt and jeans as a leitmotif representing Sam, help, and her hauntingly expressive and beautiful voice captures grief elegantly. She shines in “Three Little Words” and “With You.”

Though most of the score is made up of forgettable pop songs by Dave Stewart, of the Eurythmics, and Glen Ballard, who co-wrote songs with Alanis Morissette, the few that borrow from Blues, Gospel, and Hip-Hop, including “Are You a Believer,” “You Gotta Let Go Now,” and “Focus” shake things up for the better. And when Jamey Grisham, Brooke Evans, and Michael Tuck as Carl sing together in “Suspend my Disbelief/I Had a Life” at the end of Act II, it’s downright riveting.

But the real star of this show is Shinnerrie Jackson who plays the hilariously off-color shyster psychic Oda Mae Brown who sparkles and lights up the stage in Carly Heathcote’s wonderful costumes. Her energy is infectious, and her character has a grounding effect on what could otherwise become saccharine melodrama. She’s laugh-out-loud funny and has a tremendous voice.

And perhaps even more compelling than the story or characters or music are the effective technical effects. Shy Iverson’s set looks deceptively simple. But with its removable panels, the design seamlessly creates a wide variety of private and public spaces, the most astounding of which is a subway car in transit. With lighting, sound, and careful movements from the actors, it legitimately feels like a ride on the MTA.

Likewise, because of Andrew Carson’s lights and Corey Boughton’s sound design, the shifts between worlds and Sam’s struggle to move through them come alive. His presence on stage that the audience sees (but other characters don’t) also makes for dynamic scenes.

The characters sing about “suspended disbelief” but this production manages to create it in a way that the film "Ghost" never does. Though the show contains the often-mocked scene with the pottery wheel and repeated notes and lyrics of “Unchained Melody,” all of it reads with greater subtlety and reality than in the film. In this regard, the Barn’s production is better than the original.

Ghost the Musical

Barn Theatre
13351 West M-96, Augusta
June 30--July 12; Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 5:00 p.m. 2015


“To Kill a Mockingbird” sings hope of change

by Bridgette Redman

REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre

Article:9901; Posted: June 29, 2015 at 8:30 a.m.

Some stories are powerful no matter how they are told—whether on page, stage or screen. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of those stories.

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre opened an adaptation by Christopher Sergel on Friday at its Dewitt Theatre on Hope College’s campus.

This adaptation uses an adult Scout (Ashlee Elizabeth Bashore) as a narrator who stays on the stage and watches the action and brings in some of Lee’s more lush language to describe relationships and scenery. She also introduces us to her younger self, Scout (Ava Britt, a fourth grader at Black River Public School), Jem (Adam Chamness, who just finished 8th grade at Holland High School), Dill (Jack Burkholder, who just finished 6th grade at Harbor Middle School) and all of the rest of the population of Maycomb, Alabama that inhabit this play.

Central to this cast of characters, of course, is Atticus Finch (Mark Kincaid), the widowed father and lawyer who is trying to instill values in his children and is called upon to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Mychael Thompson) from the charges of raping a white woman.

The biggest weakness in this production was the diction. While everyone maintained consistent Southern accents through the course of the show, it was often rushed and sometimes not loud enough to be heard, especially when actors were turned to one side of the thrust stage or the other.

Kincaid was one of the exceptions to this issue. He spoke clearly and was a powerful force on the stage. He made sure to show all of the different descriptions of him. He was tired and old when Jeb described Atticus as such, but he was also always a man of integrity who could be passionate in his defense of the weak and innocent. He had a strength to him that could be seen in the way he carried himself, the way he spoke and the things he said.

Sierra White’s Calpurnia was also a delightful supporting character and was a proper mother hen every time she was on stage. She even earned applause when she took the three children back to the courtroom muttering all the way in a long cross about how they shouldn’t be allowed to see such things.

Director John K.V. Tammi was able to find the humor in this drama and worked well with the child actors to create scenes that strengthened this coming-of-age story.

The child actors are the main characters in this show and crucial to a successful performance. While they had clarity issues, they were a delightful trio who related well to each other and were good storytellers. They carried their burden well and showed a great deal of confidence and grace. Britt in particular was able to show childlike innocence, affection for her family and a spunky strength when confronted with adversity.

Kristin Ellert’s scenic design was sweeping and tall, with two houses that converted into a courtroom backdrop or a jail as needed as well as a tree that was sufficiently spooky for the Radley house. It worked well with Stephen Sakowski’s lighting design, which was most noticeable in the evening scenes where he balanced darkness with shadows and keeping the main action light enough to be seen.

Jeffrey Levin's moody sound designs were occasionally executed too loudly and covered up the actors who were speaking.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” continues to be a compelling story as the U.S. continues to struggle with treating people fairly under the law no matter what their color, gender or orientation. We’ve made great strides since the 1930s, and Friday’s opening came on the same day as the historic Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. It offers hope that perhaps some day, this play will just be a historic reminder of past battles fought.

Run time: 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with one intermission.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre
DeWitt Stage, 141 E. 12th St., Holland
Evenings at 8:00 p.m.; single matinee on July 18 at 1:30 p.m.


Mason Street Warehouse "Cabaret" funny, heartbreaking and terrifying

by Marin Heinritz

REVIEW: Cabaret

Mason Street Warehouse

Article:9900; Posted: June 28, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

“Life is disappointing, yah?” asks the Master of Ceremonies at the beginning of the dark, sexy musical Cabaret. “Here, life is beautiful.”

From start to finish of Mason Street Warehouse’s 13th season opener, the Kit Kat club is the place to be. It’s beautiful, yes, also seedy, funny, heartbreaking, and terrifying.

It’s 1931 in Berlin, sexual liberation is the norm in this counter culture, money is scarce, and the Nazi Party has just begun to gain traction. There’s a whiff of fear in the air, but it hasn’t yet fully taken hold.

The Kit Kat Club puts on shows within this show visually represented by a false proscenium and a live orchestra upstage left. As the plot and subplots unfold, scene changes happen with simple furniture brought on and offstage, aided by effective changes in lighting effects.

The audience is in good hands here, guided by the exceptional Christopher Behmke as Emcee. He seems to take a cue from Alan Cumming and the 1993 West End revival of Cabaret (and the recent NYC revival) in all his animated, hyper sexualized, glittery red nippled glory. Behmke is the best kind of star in this show, fully embodying the character, singing and dancing like it’s what he was born to do, taking control of the audience’s experience, at times interacting with them directly, and alternately shining in the spotlight and supporting the ensemble in the shadows. His presence is enormous and charming. He is both light and dark, and the way his character evolves--both physically and emotionally--is chilling, and paves the way for every other seismic shift in the show.

He also leads the Kit Kat Girls, six stunning burlesque performers, each unique and fully realized. They look fantastic in Darlene K. Veenstra’s authentic period costumes, composed largely of racy lingerie and fabulously interesting shoes. And Director Kurt Stamm’s Fosse-esque choreography also looks good on them as they shake their money makers, smack booties, splay legs, and straddle chairs. Laurie Elizabeth Gardner and Payton Reilly give standout and particularly acrobatic performances.

Stamm’s choreography is most powerful in big ensemble numbers that make use of line formations and high kicks. Anytime Behmke and the Kit Kat Girls are on stage together is dazzling; however, the militaristic movements combined with Jennifer Kules’ stunning lighting creates a surreal and scary spectacle at the end of Act I on which the rest of this deeply affecting show hinges.

The inevitably horrifying turn that history is about to take is quietly mirrored in the love found and then lost because of outside forces beyond the lovers’ control. Mary Robin Roth and Tim Ewing are wonderful together as lovers who find each other late in life. Their arc of joy and desperation is heartbreaking, and her enormous voice and belting is contrasted nicely by his quiet but powerful lyricism.

Stacey Harris gives a deeply moving performance as Sally Bowles, a scrappy Cabaret performer who falls for an earnest and sexually ambiguous American writer played by Joe Somodi, who utterly looks and sounds the part but otherwise gives Harris little to play off. This makes her achievements on stage all the more impressive. Her complex and devastating character arc parallels the Emcee’s, and she manages to embody both pain and promise with every movement and every note. She seems to glide with every step, and her rendition of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret” hold incredible layers of meaning.

Thanks to terrific performances and an overall stellar production, unlike life, this Cabaret is anything but disappointing—and it is, indeed, beautiful.


Mason Street Warehouse
Saugatuck Center for the Arts, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck
June 26--July 12, 2015; check website for perfomance times


Dio heads down the aisle with a delightful cast of women

by Bridgette Redman

REVIEW: "Always a Bridesmaid"

The Dio - Dining & Entertainment

Article:9874; Posted: June 21, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.; updated June 30, 2015 at 5:21 p.m.

Here comes the bride…and again…and again…and again.

Prolific writers are often able to achieve volume by finding a formula that works for them. It provides a framework within which they can achieve a success that their fans will appreciate and return for more.

Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten have written 15 plays together and several more individually. Each of them draws on Southern comedy and most of them focus on Southern women and their friendships and relationships. They’re bigger than life, yet charmingly familiar.

The Dio successfully put on “The Dixie Swim Club” last summer by these three same playwrights and returned to the well to find a similar crowd-pleaser for this summer-- “Always a Bridesmaid,” a play about four friends who, the night of their senior prom, vowed they would always be in each other’s weddings. Now they’re in their 40s and one of them is having her third wedding.

Like last year’s show, this play skips forward in time, covering a total of seven years and four marriages. Each scene opens with a young woman in a traditional bridal gown giving her post-marriage speech and enjoying some champagne as she speaks. Ann Dilworth gives delightful monologues as Kari Ames-Bissette and reveals some of the things that can go wrong in weddings—such as the perils of releasing doves on the first day of hunting season.

Each of the four weddings come with their own unique hijinks and their own set of mishaps. All of them are memorable and make for a comic evening for the audience. But this is not a play that relies on plot so much as it does on character and the ensemble of actors plays to this strength.

Nancy Penvose plays Libby Ruth Ames, the eternal optimist and romantic. She creates a likeable character who is the glue that holds these women together. As an actress, she is as generous as her character, giving straight lines to those around her and making them seem even bigger.

Sonja Marquis has the most costume changes, sometimes right on stage. Her character is the self-absorbed Monette, who wants people to “accept me for who I pretend to be.” Monette is obsessed with being younger and wearing 5-inch spike heels.

The somewhat tomboyish one of the lot is Wendy Hedstrom’s Charlie. Fiercely independent, she spurns dresses whenever possible and is cynical about the whole romance ideal. Hedstrom mines Charlie to provide several levels to the character without simply falling back on stereotype.

The script tells us that Amy Morrisey’s Deedra is cold-blooded, but we have to rely on what others say about her. The script doesn’t give her much opportunity to show that except in the second scene where we discover her bitterness has cause and isn’t just a personality issue. Morrisey does her best with what she’s been given and shines in the third scene where she’s faced with a tough, albeit amusing, choice.

Rounding out the cast is Fran Potasnik as Sedalia, the owner of the wedding venue who runs it with an iron hand and sometimes an axe, making sure all of her brides behave and the weddings go off with as few hitches as possible.

There are times early on when the Southern accents get thick, quick and hard to follow, but that doesn’t last long.

Director Steve DeBruyne paces the show well and keeps the stakes high in each scene. He stresses the relationships between the women and lets those take the forefront. Each woman gets her chance to shine in her own way.

The set is a single unit, designed by Matthew Tomich, who also did lighting and sound design. Norma Polk had the fun job of finding wedding and bridesmaid dresses for each scene. They ranged from the elegant to the comically atrocious.

Chef Jarod DeBruyne served up his usual delicious meal, this time a Greek salad with salad bar options, mixed vegetables, boneless fried chicken and a vegetable lasagna with squash and eggplant.

The story may be familiar to those who have seen other plays by Jones, Hope and Wooten, but it has an entertaining familiarity which invites audiences to remember their own friendships and perhaps even their own wedding days. It may be a formula, but it is a formula that works and serves its purpose.

Run time 7:48 to 10:15 with a 20-minute intermission for dessert.

Always a Bridesmaid

The Dio - Dining & Entertainment
177 E. Main St., Pinckney
June 19--August 2, 2015
Thursday-Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees (July and August) at 12:30 p.m.


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: Always a Bridesmaid - Dio Dining and Entertainment

Read DAN SKORA's review in The New Monitor, posted June 25, 2015


World Premiere: Zombie invasion at Purple Rose is something to see

David Kiley


Purple Rose Theatre

Article:9871; Posted: June 20, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

There are zombie people, and non-zombie people. Just like there seems to be Star-Trek people, and non Star-Trek people. Heck, there are even “theater people,” and “non-theater people.” Those whose eyes glaze over or feel a sharp jab in their temple at the mere mention of “zombies,” though, ought not to be put off by the subject matter of 2AZ (second year after zombies), which is having its world premiere at The Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea.

Yes, there are zombies on stage at times, and there are killings and blood. But the un-dead really serve merely as a back-drop for an extremely well written story by Michael Brian Ogden of conflict, pain, humor and mettle-testing of a band of survivors of a worldwide plague that has resulted in a two-year war between humans and zombies.

Some 70% of the world’s population has turned zombie following a plague that, big surprise, the government knew about for years before it erupted into an apocalypse. One bite from one of the un-dead—usually a huge chunk of flesh that kills almost instantly—and then the victim will come to a bit later in a zombie state. The drama that surrounds two women, Rachel and Kelly, a father, Jeff, and his daughter, Kristina, as well as two special forces soldiers and a botanist is one of survival, journey (they are on foot across country) and inner conflict about right and wrong.

The actors under the direction of Guy Sanville are riveting and deliver Ogden’s brilliantly paced, crackling dialogue with humor, genuine fear and deeply felt pain. My only quibble was with Lauren Knox’s (Kelly) fabricated Boston accent. Yes, she is meant to be from Boston, but the accent just wasn’t working right half the time. Lose the accent and nothing is lost. It was the only distraction from her otherwise fine and steely performance as the bitchy, wise-cracky center of the band. Rhiannon Ragland is a vibrant, sexy, almost comic-book cool Rachel, who provides both muscle and tenderness. She has an almost Lara Croft quality, and kudos to Sanville for casting her and Knox, because their physical chemistry on stage works perfectly.

The biggest stars of the show may be set designer Gary Ciarkowski, lighting and projection designer Noelle Stollmack and sound designer Tom Whalen. The Purple Rose was brilliantly (I don’t throw that adjective around easily) transformed into a space that has you utterly believing this band is moving on a fight-for-their-life journey from the Southeastern U.S. to Colorado Springs. The depth of space is created by a beautiful and imposing ivy-covered woods down-stage, a campsite patch that can be anywhere, and a screen in the center of the ivy that delivers shadows of zombies or video that was shot in the Michigan woods of the zombies. The synchronicity among staging, lighting, projection and sound in 2AZ was a thing of great achievement, especially in a space as small as the Rose. I’d love to see it on a larger stage to see how it plays, but the intimacy of the Rose theatre gave it a special energy that might get lost in a bigger space.

Katherine Nelson’s costumes and Danna Segrest’s props are not to be overlooked, though amidst such a big production, they might be. These are folks traveling light with what they have been able to forage, from an abandoned Cabela’s maybe. It’s all spot-on for where they are and what they are doing. Blood and wounds that appear after a zombie bite worked effortlessly. The actors had great stuff to work with here.

It’s easy to get caught up with the women on stage, as they are physically striking and often dominate scenes. And that goes for newcomer Nina White (Christina), who holds her own and then some with these strong women. A tough, funny teen clearly wanting to assert her cred, she is the daughter of Jeff (David Bendena) who balances his vulnerability (the women are stronger than he is) with his deep capacity to care and want to protect all of them, if only he could. Drew Parker (Porter) and playwright Michael Brian Ogden (Channing) play the special-forces shepherds with grit and comedy, and terrific line delivery.

The ensemble of zombies is not to be taken for granted. They have no lines, of course, but their movements and killing scenes could have gone off the rails. To the contrary, their movements and presence, whether in shadow or lunging about on stage was exactly the right menacing back-drop of the story without taking it into being campy. Michelle Mountain as the President of the new territories that have formed since the war began, thrust into the position to lead the remnants of the Federal government and armies, hits all the right notes as a grieving mother and leader of what’s left of the free world who is trying to figure what is right from wrong herself. She doesn’t have much stage time, but what there is…is choice.

David Daoust does a quick and jolting turn on stage as Billy, a slaver who represents the worst element of the post zombie apocalypse world, but written by Ogden as a pretty layered character who also delivers a screed directed at those in the South who embrace the Confederate flag that could have been ripped out of this week's headlines, yet wasn't.

Ogden’s gift for dialogue is very much on display. An artist in residence at Purple Rose, he has previously penned “Bleeding Red” and “Corktown.” It’s not easy to do what Ogden does, which is to write dialogue the way people actually talk. He not only gets the bricks right, but the mortar as well that holds it all together.

The scenario and set up for the group is a familiar one, played out in such films as “Back from Eternity,” “The Thing,” and even “Predator” when you get right down to it. But familiar scenarios work because they…work. “Us against them” drama, and figuring out where the boundaries and standards of behavior are when our backs are against the wall—that is a universal scenario that never really gets tired or overdone, as long as it is done as well as in 2AZ.


Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park St., Chelsea
June 11--August 29, 2015
Evening performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and Wednesdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Price: $15.00-$42.00

photo credit: Sean Carter Photography


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: 2AZ - Purple Rose Theatre

Read DAN SKORA's review in New Monitor (posted June 25, 2015)

Read JENN MCKEE's review in

Read PATTY NOLAN's review in


Hyper pirate holiday delights young audiences

by Sue Merrell

REVIEW: Jingle Arrgh the Way

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre

Article:9870; Posted: June 20, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

Ever notice that Santa says “Ho, ho, ho” and a pirate says “Yo, ho, ho?”

Me neither. But it is just one of the similarities between Christmas and pirates that is pointed out in “Jingle ARRGH The Way,” the newest production of Hope Summer Repertory Theatre’s Children Performance Troupe.

A sequel to “How I Became a Pirate,” which was produced at Hope four years ago, the musical by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman is based on a story by children’s author Melinda Long.

What a hyper holiday! In just 60 minutes, our hero Jeremy Jacob (Connor Briggs) and his band of imaginary pirate pals bounce from Caribbean and pirate rhythms to hip-hop and jazz, with quick nods to “The Nutcracker” and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.”

They string Christmas lights on the mast and replace the skull-and- crossbones flag with skull and crossed candy-canes. While sailing the ship to the North Pole, they play basketball and board games and sing about cookie recipes and dreams of acting. At the North Pole, they get a sprinkling of snow, have a run-in with a polar bear, meet Santa Claus and learn about true treasure. And they still get back to Holland, MI in time for Jeremy Jacob’s school Christmas pageant.

It’s enough activity to keep even the squirmiest toddler glued to his seat. Parents, on the other hand, will have to be satisfied with happy kids since there’s little plot or witty repartee for grown-up entertainment. There is one funny reference to the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” which would probably be overlooked by anyone who hadn’t seen the movie as many times as I have.

Director Desha Crownover describes this play as a “sprint.” I’d say it’s a flat-out run at some points, but that’s when the kids are laughing the hardest. In the intimate studio theater in DeWitt Center, the stage is surrounded on four sides by seating, so characters have plenty of opportunities to shake hands with audience members and interact personally, as well as run up through the audience when a polar bear growls.

Kids also appreciate pseudo-embarassing phrases such as “poop deck.” They love it when the scariest looking pirate, Sharktooth (Mychael Thompson) puts on a tutu and does a little ballet. French Chef Pirate Pierre (Noah Bridgestock) tries to dribble a basketball with a wooden spoon, which also draws laughs and hoots. There’s a fun comparison between the portly captain Braid Beard (Brandon Campbell) and hefty Santa (Liam Snead). Max (Brianna Brice) wears a hook on one hand and a stuffed parrot on her shoulder. Swill (Mollie Murk) has all the answers in her little black book.

The Christmas carol finale gives everyone a chance to sing along. But in my book, the most memorable lyrics are “Aye, Aye, Bye, Bye.”

Jingle Aargh the Way

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre
DeWitt Studio Theatre, 141 E. 12th St., Holland
June 17, 19, 22, 24, 29, July 1, 6, 8, 27, 31, August 5, 2015 at 10:30 a.m.
July 24, 29 August 3, 7, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.
check website for ticket prices


Slipstream breathes hilarious new life into "Earnest"

by Jenn McKee

REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest

Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Article:9848; Posted: June 16, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

There’s a key moment in Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” when a man who’d once been a foundling produces the black handbag in which he’d been abandoned as an infant.

In Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s new, pared-down version of the classic play, the handbag is a teeny wallet, and Lady Bracknell (Richard Payton) observes that the now-grown foundling character, Jack Worthing (Graham Todd), must have been a “micro-baby.”

All of which is to say, this isn’t your grandparents’ “Earnest.”

Much of Wilde’s original text remains intact, but Slipstream’s intermission-free production pares the script down so that the running time clocks in at just over 90 minutes; features an all-male cast; and sets the action in the deep South – specifically, Atlanta and Willacoochee (a town name I can’t help but think Wilde would appreciate, applaud, and insert into a play as soon as humanly possible). Plus, rather than having a set change, the production moves its audience to a second room.

Yes, Slipstream gleefully tosses much of what we’ve come to expect, by way of modern theater conventions, out the nearest window. And what a goofy, fantastic time they have by doing so.

The story, of course, begins when city-dwelling Algernon (Steve Xander Carson) gets a visit from his friend Jack Worthing (Todd), who reluctantly confesses that he’s a guardian to 18-year-old Cecily Cardew (Bailey Boudreau), stationed at his country home; and that he’s come to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolyn (Patrick Flanagan), who soon arrives with her mother, the comically stuffy Lady Bracknell (Payton). The proposal is received well by Gwendolyn – who only knows Jack as Ernest, his “city alias” - but not Lady Bracknell.

Jack decides that his imaginary, ne’er-do-well brother Ernest, whom Jack uses to get out of unappealing social obligations, must be killed off. But at the same time, Algernon grows anxious to meet young Cecily, so he travels out to the country to meet her, introducing himself as - wait for it - Ernest. Misunderstandings that drive the story ensue.

The first act’s set (Algernon’s apartment) is a cramped corner strewn with beer cans and bottles, a Millenium Falcon rug, a couple of seats and funky lamps – you know, the consummate bachelor’s pad. When the theater is at capacity, as it was on opening night, patrons squeeze together on benches in front of, and alongside, the space, making the action, and the theater-going experience, far more than simply “intimate.” It’s downright visceral.

The second act, which begins when the audience has moved to an adjacent room and has been re-situated on its rows of benches, is set at Jack’s country house: the room is brightly painted in green, and it’s furnished with a kiddie pool and some uncomfortable, white, fussy Victorian outdoor chairs (the source of a few physical jokes).

Payton has a grand time chomping on every bit of scenery, and wheeling recklessly around the sets in a motorized wheelchair. With a stacked-high blond wig, a booty-shaking toddle,and super-dry delivery, Payton played the pompous Lady Bracknell to the hilt. Ryan Ernst provides a funny straight-man – two, actually. He plays both Algernon’s long-suffering servant Lane, and the country house servant, Merriman. And Boudreau is hysterical, whether he’s jumping in the kiddie pool with Flanagan, self-obsessively writing in a diary, or leaping into Carson’s arms, all while delivering lines in a wise-beyond-her-years Southern drawl.

Director Luna Alexander oversees all this lunacy, and does so with such a sense of irreverent abandon that it’s pretty impossible not to be seduced. Yes, as with the original, full-length play, the energy and spark flattens a bit as you get impatient for the misunderstandings to get straightened out. But generally, this bawdy, no-holds-barred approach to (or assault on?) “Earnest” feels exactly right.

For Wilde wanted us to laugh hard at these characters and their ridiculous foibles. Too often, Victorian era comedies like “Earnest” are produced as dry, stiff, museum pieces – productions that occasionally cause audience members to, at most, politely titter. Part of this, of course, is due to the many ways we’ve changed, and how humor has evolved, since the time when “Earnest” originally was a hit on stage. But this makes it all the more impressive that Slipstream has figured out how to breathe new life – and for the love of God, FUN – into a script more than a century old.

I have to think that Oscar himself would heartily approve.

The Importance of Being Earnest
Slipstream Summer Home, 20937 John R. Rd, Hazel Park
June 14--July 7, 2015
Evening performances Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.
Price: $10 (in advance, no walkins)


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: The Importance of Being Earnest - Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Read PATTY NOLAN's review in


A family in peril at Performance Network

by Frank Anthony Polito

REVIEW: Other Desert Cities

Performance Network Theatre

Article:9837; Posted: June 14, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.

What audience doesn’t enjoy watching a family gather to celebrate a joyous occasion, only to wind up arguing over unhappy childhood upbringings and long-kept secrets? Throw in some sibling rivalry (and a lot of alcohol) and you really get the family drama flowing!

This is the case in Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” the 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist now closing out the 2014-2015 season at Performance Network in Ann Arbor. A co-production with Jewish Ensemble Theatre, the play was first produced in the spring of 2014 and features the same cast, once again under the direction of David Wolber.

“Other Desert Cities” tells the story of Brooke Wyeth, a novelist, who returns home to Palm Springs after a six-year absence to celebrate Christmas with her parents, her brother and her aunt. But when Brooke announces that she’s about to publish a new book that will dredge up a tragic event in the family’s past, she draws a line in the sand and dares them all to cross it. Over the course of the play, alliances will be formed, past experiences will be scrutinized, and family secrets will be revealed.

As the liberal daughter Brooke, Leah Smith is a natural, as if playwright Baitz had written the role with her in mind. Smith commands the stage, employing the right amount of sass and wit and die-hard determination as she, as Brooke, confronts her conservative parents in an attempt to dig up--and ultimately make sense of¬--the tragic event that has paralyzed her life.

Naz Edwards and Hugh Maguire embody the roles of Brooke’s parents with aplomb. Edwards’ elevated speech clearly suggests Polly’s high position in society, while Maguire is more grounded as the former Hollywood actor-turned ambassador. Bryan Lark is the glue that holds the family together as Brooke’s younger brother, Trip. Lark is at his best in his scenes with Smith, as a brother who not only loves--but also resents--his self-involved big sister.

Much of the humor in this play, and in this production, is owed to the character of Polly Wyeth’s down-on-her luck, recovering-alcoholic sister, Silda, played by Sandra Birch. From her first appearance, dressed in a brightly-colored mumu with a mop of dark hair, Birch brings an air of comedy to this otherwise dark drama. Her deadpan delivery of some of Baitz’s best lines is dead on.

Mary Copenhagen’s costumes reflect each character, both physically and emotionally, from Polly’s pearls to Silda’s knock-off Pucci blouse. Props designer Jennifer Maiseloff clues us in to the Wyeth family’s wealth, with her selection of the crystal decanters and glass-bottled water that clutter the corner bar. Sadly, the minimalist scenic design, credited originally to Daniel C. Walker, doesn’t quite convey a well-to-do family living in Palm Springs. (Perhaps the choice of a lack of actual walls is meant to represent the walls coming down among the Wyeth family?) But in this otherwise “realistic” production, one expects a bit more wow-factor.

Still, “Other Desert Cities” is a wonderful play, and Performance Network’s production of it is well-worth the price of admission.

Other Desert Cities

Performance Network Theatre
120 E. Huron St, Ann Arbor
June 11--July 12; 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-$41.00


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: Other Desert Cities - Performance Network Theatre

Read DAN SKORA's review in The New Monitor, posted June 25, 2015


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