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A "hidden treasure" at Performance Network

by Frank Anthony Polito

REVIEW: Salvage

Performance Network Theatre

Article: 9637; Posted: April 27, 2015 at 11:00 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 Susan, 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 Susan 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 Susan 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


Nuns At Sea

by David Kiley

REVIEW: Meshuggah-Nuns

Meadow Brook Theatre

Article: 9636; Posted: April 27, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.

"Meshuggah-Nuns" is back by popular demand at The Meadow Brook. The Dan Goggins musical is touted as the highest grossing show the Meadow Brook has ever put on. Lots and lots of people like Goggins’ “Nun” shows, which is why they are seat fillers wherever they are performed.

The premise of the show is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken are taking a cruise when most of the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof”--except the guy playing Tevye--gets sick. He and the nuns pitch in to give the cruisers a show of amateur theatrical sketches, magic, song, etc. The show is as thin on plot as a communion wafer. And the toughest thing about reviewing it is the difficulty in separating the cheesy comic material, which is plot-correct for a low-rent cruise, from the cast's ability, or short-comings, toward pulling it off.

The headliners of the show are Cindy Williams (still touted for her starring role in 1970’s sit-com Laverne & Shirley) as Reverend Mother, and Eddie Mekka (Carmine Ragusa from Laverne & Shirley) as Howard Lizst, the Tevye on board. But as Williams and Mekka are a bit stiff on stage, most of the actual laughs and enjoyment is provided by supporting cast members Sister Amnesia (Jeanne Tinker) Sister Robert Anne (Margot Moreland) and Sister Hubert (Bambi Jones).

If you have found yourself on a cruise with well-intended but ultimately weak entertainment, and enjoyed it, "Meshuggah-Nuns" might just be the show for you. The nuns are sweet and certainly come off as funny to the audience. There was a lot of laughing coming from the seats, especially when the show within the show reached out to audience members for involvement. There are crowd-pleasing numbers and sight-gags, like when the nuns and Mekka do the bottle dance from "Fiddler On The Roof" with milk bottles on their heads.

I guess there is something inherently funny about the sight of nuns doing un-nunny things. This is the formula to the enormous success of Goggins’ nun series of similar shows—Nunsense, Nunsense 2, The Second Coming, Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree, Nuncrackers, The Nunsense Christmas Musical, Nunsensations: The Nunsense Vegas Revue, and Nunset Boulevard. One can’t help but see the similarities to the Muppet series. It’s recipe theater making, but it's a restaurant that patrons seem to like for uncomplicated comfort food--"such big portions, and hot, it must be good." Goggins, like McDonalds, knows what he is doing to fill theaters even if the food is more like fuel than fare.

And as the show is back "by popular demand" and set a record for the theater in a previous run, reservations at "McNunald’s" should be at a premium during the run of the show.

Meadow Brook Theatre
207 Wilson Hall, Oakland University in Rochester
April 27--May 17, 2015; for performance times, please check the website
Price: $26.00-$41.00


Anne Frank’s diary makes a compelling stage play

by Bridgette Redman

REVIEW: The Diary of Anne Frank

Flint Youth Theatre

Article: 9633; Posted: April 26, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.

The story is well-known. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is the true tale of eight Jewish people in Holland who hid in a secret annex during World War II to avoid capture by the Nazis. Yet, no matter what is known about the story beforehand, the drama of it remains powerful and compelling.

Flint Youth Theatre is producing a Wendy Kesselman adaptation of the play and the production is both beautiful and sad as it captures the hardships of living in such conditions and the hopes and dreams that each of the characters have about a future that they’ll never have.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the play is when each of them says what they want to do once they get out of hiding. It is poignant because not one of them is able to realize their dreams of things that are almost mundane and normal under most circumstances. Even the one survivor, Otto Frank, wishes for something he’ll never get--the opportunity to take his family to the sea for the day.

Czerton Lim’s scenic design is also just as much a character in this show and one that helps to capture the overall theme. It is a four-level set, framed in by wall corners. There are stairs in different spots throughout and it faithfully reproduces the cramped feel of so many people living in such a small space for more than two years.

Director Jeremy Winchester makes the most of the set with staging that keeps the main eight characters on stage at all time with the two helpers occasionally coming in to visit. His casting was also stellar, with each cast-member able to faithfully reproduce the characters described in the diary.

Sam Carter plays the title role and she has fantastic energy and vocal projection. She is immediately different in character from the others in the sanctuary and it is easy to see why she is an odd one out. Not only is she the youngest of the residents, but she has a bubbly personality and is cheerful when everyone else is morose and scared. Even her fears are expressed differently from the others. Throughout the play, Carter presents an Anne who is thoughtful, energetic and who grows and matures during their time in hiding.

Brian Haggard creates an Otto Frank who holds things together and shows kindness and wisdom as he tries to keep peace with everyone in the annex. For most of the play he is highly effective at this, though his final monologue came off weaker than it should have because he swallowed his words while attempting to portray sorrow. His words about the all-important news of what happened to each person became impossible to hear.

Layla Meillier’s Margot Frank was calm, polite and the opposite in temperament to her sister, though she was always kind and loving. Lindsay Duso captured well the difficult role of Mrs. Edith Frank who is trying to keep her daughter under control while living in cramped conditions.

Mark Gmazel’s Mr. Van Daan and Kristina Lakey’s Mrs. Van Daan played well off of each other. They each managed to capture the subtext of what made them difficult to live with, especially for Anne. But they also had their poignant moments that left the audience hoping for a happy ending they would not get.

George Lieber’s Peter was appropriately shy. The scene with him in the attic with Anne was sweet and heartfelt. Gary Jones rounded out the annex residents as the older dentist who is sometimes crabby with Anne and the others, and deeply misses his wife. Mary Paige Rieffel and Bary Lehr brought breaths of fresh air from the outside when they came in with news and gifts to share.

Winchester handled well the challenge of blocking on a thrust stage where levels often blocked sight lines from one side to the other. He kept people standing and moving so that the action remained visually interesting while still feeling cramped and stifling.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” is a play that still offers hope despite the ending that it has. It also reinforces the message that we must never allow this kind of thing to happen again.

7:30 p.m. to 9:03, no intermission.

The Diary of Anne Frank

Flint Youth Theatre
The Whiting, 1220 E. Kearsley St., Flint
April 24--May 10, 2015; evening performances Fridays and Saturdays at $7:30 p.m.; matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 9 and Sundays
Price: $12.00-$18.00


The Passion Is everywhere in “The Cross and the Light”

by David Kiley

REVIEW: The Cross and the Light

Multiple Venues

Article: 9631; Posted: April 25, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.

When one is working with the Gospels of the New Testament, it is an easy choice to stick close to the source material. After all, it is the “greatest story ever told.” "The Cross and the Light" Concert Experience, a scaled-down version of the familiar big musical that has performed previously in the Michigan and is preparing for an international tour, is a well-produced and performed faith experience that certainly lifts a lot of spirits.

Like the full musical, "The Cross and the Light" Concert and Media Experience makes innovative use of light, using high-powered projectors to create images 150-feet wide and 30-feet high. The seven-performer production easily moves from venue to venue, mostly churches. Music is pre-recorded, but quite good, as are the actor-vocalists.

The cast, with several notable performers, brings theatrical and vocal precision. This is no church basement play. Kenny Watson as Jesus, combines both the right physical look and huge belting pipes that the role calls for. Others in the ensemble include: Tim Bowman Jr., who is a recording artist with a Lifestyle Music/Capitol CMG album coming out later this year as Thomas, High Priest and a soldier; Ashley Rozanski as Mary Magdalene; Beth Lackey (honorable mention 2014 Wilde Award for Maria in Arbor Opera Theatre’s The Sound of Music) as Mary; Bradley Ellison as Judas, Pontius Pilate.

The songs are original, written for the show. The actors, dressed in black, follow the script of the passion play fairly closely. Unlike shows like Godspell or Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, there is no analogous storytelling, metaphors, nuance of the story really. It is an interesting hybrid of modern musical theater performers performing modern-style songs, but sticking as close to the original material as skin to bone.

Whereas Godspell or Joseph have proven secular appeal, while also being performed often in churches and parochial schools, The Cross and The Light feels very rooted, by design by its writers and producers, in evangelizing the Good News of the gospels in a big, theatrical way.

The show is conceived, written and produced by Kelly Nieto, former Miss Michigan and a runner-up Miss America. The production, which actually gets performed in three versions—the 65-80 cast-member full costumed musical, this concert version and a further cut-down version called The Journey—is clearly, and literally, a passion project for the former beauty queen. The website outlines her own faith journey and how she became inspired to create the show(s).

The performances and multi-media aspects of the show are mighty impressive, especially the ability to make all the production values so portable. Any church, school or venue who is interested in hosting the show can go to the website where there are detailed explanations on how to have it produced at a church, school or theater, costs, as well as how to promote it and pay for it. It is quite a tidy and extremely well organized enterprise. At the start of the performance that I saw, Kelly Nieto mentioned how happy the hosting pastor was that “it was all paid for.”

"The Cross and the Light" is powerful evangelism and theater combined into a unique faith experience.

The Cross and the Light

April 23-25, 2015: St. Patrick of White Lake, White Lake Township
April 30-May 2, 2015: Our Lady Star of the Sea, Grosse Pointe Woods
May 7-9, 2015: St. Frances Cabrini, Allen Park
May 14-16, 2015: St. Isidore, Macomb


Two plays of particular Pinterest

by John Quinn

REVIEW: Two Plays by Harold Pinter

The Abreact

Article: 9600; Posted: April 19, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.

“Two Plays by Harold Pinter (with drinking in between).” The evening cannot be described much more simply than that. If there were a tad less consumed at intermission of the Abreact’s 14th season closer, it’s only that the first offering of the evening, ”One For the Road” is quite the shocker. Pinter’s 1983 provocative examination of the tools of a totalitarian society is more likely to spark an exchange of ideas than an exchange of toasts.

A broken, tortured political dissident is hauled before the director of intelligence in some authoritarian sink-hole. Whatever the setting, intellectualism seems to be a high crime against the State, and Nicholas (Sergio Mautone) is prepared to stop at nothing in his fight against the unorthodox – in this case, Victor (Charles Reynolds).

What is most disturbing in “One for the Road” is not the manipulative advantage that power gives authority, but how casually, almost gleefully, it’s employed. Mautone keeps his delivery largely soft-spoken; the fist in the velvet glove. Reynold’s performance elicits emotion through its physical, rather than oral, aspect. It is on this level that John Jakary, director, achieves an eerie balance between unequal characters.

After drinking in between, the evening concludes with Pinter’s “The Dwarfs,” a play adapted from a novel published in 1992. “The Dwarfs” has undergone further editing by director John Jakary for this production script. It’s more a “Pinteresque” play than the first--if we may introduce that term--although the playwright abhorred it. While Pinter’s works are in-your-face confrontational, “The Dwarfs” turns from the raw destruction of the body to the more deadly murder of the soul.

Three pals—Len (Sean McGettigan), Mark (Josh Campos) and Nicholas (Sergio Mautone)--stay on the verge of discovering that “breaking up is hard to do.” Relationships evolve; some survive change, others fail. “The Dwarfs” is memorable for its stunningly evocative poetry, something totally unexpected given this fundamental plot. The trick is delivering the necessary emotional context to their audience without making the medium sound like poetry. Each of the trio elegantly handles that balance.

The audience might never have needed that “drinking inbetween” to recognize the basic sincerity in the performances. Of course, it didn’t hurt.

Two Plays by Harold Pinter (with drinking in between)

The Abreact
1301 West Lafayette, Detroit
April 17-May 9, 2015; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday matinee on May 3 at 4:00 p.m.
Price: by donation; please give what you can
313-454-1542 or 313-918-5283

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, with 15 minute intermission


World-premiere: “Sugarhill” harbors weathered hearts

by Carolyn Hayes Harmer

REVIEW: Sugarhill

Jewish Ensemble Theatre

Article: 9599; Posted: April 19, 2015 at 4:00 p.m.

Local playwright Linda Ramsay-Detherage strikes quite a delicate balance in her latest play, “Sugarhill.” This tale of one mother’s tenuous journey back from loss manages to combine heartache, tenderness, cheeky humor, cultural evolution, and the dual grimness and possibility of the future into a single enigmatic fable.

In the enchanting world-premiere production at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, director Christopher Bremer and an incomparable cast send toughened hearts overflowing.

The setting is an idyllic plantation building in little Sugarhill, Louisiana. Designer Daniel C. Walker’s whitewashed scenic design and blazing lighting scheme convey an unseasonable December heat wave; sound designer Matt Lira’s palette of crickets and faraway noises lend a sense of remoteness. The year is 1941, and the world is again on the brink of upheaval. It’s becoming a bad time to be Jewish in faraway Europe, and it is still a very bad time to be black in the Deep South. But for now, this affectionately dilapidated household has problems enough at home--chief among them their lovely, broken Marietta.

Award-winning actress Inga R. Wilson has returned to Michigan for this production, and her turn in the starring role is tremendous. Marietta has just been released from the hospital after suffering an injury and then undergoing electroshock therapy to improve her mental state. As her family treats this frail specimen with kid gloves, Wilson adapts to her unreliable memory, pulsing in and out of fugue. Her hands flutter to ward off her evergreen grief: the absence of her recently dead son, an absentee husband rendered catatonic by a burst blood vessel.

A sweet series of coincidences heralds the arrival of a stranger (Jonathan West), a wounded black man on the lam from white aggressors. Marietta allows herself to believe that this outsider has a cosmic connection to her late son, and insists on providing Mr. Franklin with safe haven. The bulk of the play’s two acts charts Franklin’s brief visit with the family, which fosters organic opportunities for discovery, soul searching, and healing.

The surrounding characters have distinct aims, and their personalities come through not merely in speaking, but in deliberate listening and reacting. The result is a rich tapestry of character work by a stellar ensemble. As the sage family patriarch and the insolent nursemaid, Arthur Beer and Dominique Lowell form an amiably crotchety old comedy team. Pushy comic foil Sonja Marquis kills with culinary kindness, while authoritarian Joel Mitchell is at once politically slick and fiendishly vile. And as Marietta’s felled, mute husband, York Griffith’s work is nearly imperceptible, a marathon of restraint.

There are secrets in “Sugarhill” that are better left unspoiled; suffice it to say, the production is grounded in tenderness, but also wafts on an endearing air of mystery. The result is two bittersweet but satisfying hours — for all its heartbreaking resilience, this charming story ultimately infuses its audience with renewed faith in the virtue of optimism and compassion.


Jewish Ensemble Theatre
6600 West Maple Rd., West Bloomfield
April 15-May 10
Wednesday at 7:30 pm: May 6
Wednesday at 2:00 pm: April 29
Thursdays at 7:30 pm: April 23, 30
Friday at 7:30 pm: May 8
Saturdays at 5:00 pm: April 18, 25, May 2, 9
Saturdays at 8:30 pm: April 18, 25, May 2, 9
Sundays at 2:00 pm: April 19, 26, May 3, 10
Sunday at 7:00 pm: April 26
Price: $41-$48
(248) 788-2900

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes (including 15-minute intermission)


Cornwell’s Dinner Theatre knows how to please its audiences

by Bridgette Redman

REVIEW: Yaketey-Yak

Cornwell DinnerTheatre

Article: 9580; Posted: April 14, 2015 at 5:00 p.m.

The shows that Top Hat Productions creates for Cornwell’s audiences are designed to entertain, inspire some nostalgia and engender some laughs. “Yakety Yak…a Fifties Tale” succeeds in doing all those things.

The 50s musical revue is cute and fun. Three elderly people buy a diner to hold a class reunion. When they try to get the juke box running, it takes them back in time to when they were 18 again in the 1950s. It is then that Ray’s (Peter Riopelle) lost love Carol (Holly Norton-McKeen) makes an appearance and he gets a second chance to win her heart.

The plot is woven around favorite songs from the 50s with Robert (Shawn Patrick Fletcher) leading the way in such kooky numbers as Little Bitty Pretty One, Witch Doctor, and Purple People Eater.

The first five songs were especially amusing as Fletcher, Morris and Riopelle were singing and dancing as seniors who had plenty of aches and pains and limited motion. They shuffled and limped around the stage while singing teenage songs like “Dream Lover,” “Blueberry Hill” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”

Fletcher and Jen Morris as Susie are cute together, the nerdy one who falls in love with the poodle-skirted, wholesome, all-American teen waitress. Morris sings such songs as “A Teenager in Love” and “Splish Splash” with great energy and charm.

Norton-McKeen is a cleaner version of Rizzo from Grease, not as innocent as Susie, but not someone who would pull out a cigarette either. She had a voice that varied from slightly strained to full and strong. When she belted, it was impressive.

Riopelle brings strong comedic acting as well as a deep, full voice to this revue. He transforms from the older man relying on his cane to a hot-shot, leather-jacket-wearing 50s bad boy who kisses all the girls but can’t seem to connect to his true love, passing out whenever she kisses him. Riopelle matches comic timing with a physicality that works for each aspect of his character. He commits to the dance numbers and even introduces some heartbreak into the ballads.

Together, the four performers are cute together and their voices blend well. They make great comic choices that keep the show light and sweet. The solo songs are chosen well for their voices and the ensemble dance pieces are fun and nostalgic.

“Yakety Yak” isn’t the type of play that is going to make you think or whose characters will stay with you long after the show, but you might come out humming the songs and feeling good about yourself. It’s what Cornwell’s does best—feeds people and then sends them home happy.

Dinner is served at noon, show starts at 2 p.m., ends at 3:47 after a 15-minute intermission.

The Cornwell caters to tour bus groups. Check out the website for details on how you can book a group.


Incendiary “Napalm” a depraved, tantalizing puzzle

By Carolyn Hayes Harmer

REVIEW: Tender Napalm

The Ringwald Theatre

Article: 9573; Posted: April 12, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

For viewers who prefer depravity and discomfort in their art, the new production of Philip Ridley’s “Tender Napalm” at The Ringwald Theatre lives contentedly at that rare intersection of hard-to-watch and can’t-miss.

The play, by provocateur Ridley fits right in with the Ringwald’s often-confrontational fare; four years ago, the playwright’s apocalyptic “Mercury Fur” scandalized audiences to much fanfare and sold-out crowds.

As the lights come up, a half-dressed woman and man (Meredith Deighton and Michael Lopetrone) are in the middle of an intimate conversation, talking dirty about each other’s bodies. But rather than kittenish foreplay, their sexual words have violent connotations. The assaulting, literally penetrative nature of the content is meant to be distressing; even the characters seem unsure how comfortable they are with their role-playing from moment to moment. It’s the first in a series of question marks about these unknown people, their history, and their ultimate purpose.

The production design offers similarly little in terms of context: skeletally painted surfaces by scenic designer Alexander Leo Carr are downplayed by dissonant orange-green lighting by Brandy Joe Plambeck. Without any tangible sense of place or character, the play offers nothing but this single relationship in what appears to be a complete vacuum. Long monologues drop clues like breadcrumbs as the man and woman whisk each other off on tangents, either recalling separate memories or departing from reality entirely to a shared desert-island fantasy, commenting on the imaginary “view.”

In the absence of plot or objective, the success of the show can be chalked up to tone and performance, both of which are appropriately eerie. Lopetrone gets caught up in his storytelling with coked-out enthusiasm, bounding unconstrained around the space with exaggerated, stylized physicality (splendidly overseen by special movement designer Jill Dion). In Deighton, readiness and unwillingness commingle more subtly; the actor revels in moments of sweetly smug confidence, but also shows tiny, telling cracks when her coping mechanism fails her.

For all their raunchy talk, tandem competitiveness, and overwriting of each other’s fictions, the actors overwhelmingly convey support throughout their interactions; whatever has them seeking this suspended animation, it’s shared. As their trains of thought begin to gather steam and converge, patient viewers begin to get more of an inkling of the underlying concern. But Warrow’s direction wisely kicks away hard from the source of trouble, making the relentless pursuit of escape all the more powerful as things come into focus, bringing jarring moments of conception.

A deliberately perplexing piece like “Tender Napalm” calls for some kind of caveat, but not necessarily for its risqué content. This is not the play for a casual viewer seeking light entertainment; rather, it rewards viewers who are prepared to key in and trust that its maddening ambiguity will have some kind of payoff. Indeed, careful attention is amply rewarded here, as all kinds of details eventually come full circle — a testament to the incredible depth of empathy that can be attained without explicit understanding.

Tender Napalm

The Ringwald
22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
April 11--May 4, 2015; Saturdays and Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.
Price: $20.00 for Saturday performances, $15.00 for Sundays, $10.00 Monday nights


A trek to Armageddon: if only the real one were this funny

John Quinn

REVIEW: See You Next Doomsday

Planet Ant Theatre

Article: 9572; Posted: April 12, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

Two of the stalwart space cadets who patrol the remote Hamtramck Galaxy have devised a new weapon in their war against mediocre drama. “See You Next Doomsday,” by Shawn Handlon and Mike McGettigan, is about as subtle as a Buck Roger’s Atomic Ray Gun; hold down the trigger, aim at the audience and leave ‘em dying in the aisles.

This original comedy is a production by Planet Ant Theatre. Just how original is the comedy? No zombies were eviscerated in the production of “See You Next Doomsday,” which is a change of pace from most box-office blockbusters. But pretty much every end of the world scenario squeezed from the nightmares of fantasy fiction gets a satirical sendup.

Oliver (Handlon) is a 40-year old slacker, a devotee of sci-fi and adventure flicks. A trip “Up North” with his brother, Nelson (Michael Hovitch), to ready their family cabin for sale is interrupted by an alien visitor, Richard Gere (McGettigan). This is not to imply that Richard Gere, the actor, is an extra-terrestrial--that’s another story entirely.

Oliver takes off for a three-day joy-ride aboard the spaceship. But while Richard returns Oliver to the exact location, he’s off on the time, say, by a millennium or so. Oliver is stranded on a dystopic Earth plagued by cannibal children, racist robots and bloodthirsty mermen. He endeavors to reach a space elevator in Ecuador, take a quick trip to the moon and beg Richard Gere to save him. His trek is sometimes helped, and sometimes hindered, by Dafne (Jade Fearn), who serves as his Sacagawea.

The premise is ripe for both satire and parody, and it’s a wonder that director Lauren Bickers can rein in her ensemble so well. That being said, the second act still seems to drag. This is likely due to the wealth of material developed for the show. It always seems a shame to jettison some first-rate bits so others can be properly explored. But “See You Next Doomsday” doesn’t need an editor at this point, but rather sharper delivery. Jade Fearn and Moni Jones deliver intensely focused performances. They are so deadpan, in fact, they’re convincingly sincere. This is where the production reaches the level of high camp; the artist grabs the absurd and makes it utterly believable.

The quick change artists in “See You Next Doomsday” are aided and abetted with costumes by Christina Tomlinson. Outrageous, garish and inventive, the costumes allow an immediate, visual identification of the unlikely denizens of this brave new world.

See You Next Doomsday

Planet Ant Theatre
2357 Caniff in Hamtramck
April 10-May 2; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Price: $20.00

2 hours with 15-minute intermission


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: See You Next Doomsday - Planet Ant Theatre

Read BUB SMITH'S review - Slack Jaw Punks


Tying up loose ends at Tipping Point

Frank Anthony Polito

REVIEW: The Outgoing Tide

Tipping Point Theatre

Article: 9571; Posted: April 12, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

Two men meet on a dock along the shore of the Chesapeake. They exchange getting-to-know-you pleasantries—well, the older man, 70-ish, does most of the talking as he casts his fishing line, rambling on about his wife of fifty years and his not-gay chef son. The younger man, 50-ish, sits patiently by, listening and sporadically interjecting. An older woman appears, soon revealed to be the older man’s wife—and the younger man’s mother.

And so the story of “The Outgoing Tide” begins.

This three-hander, penned by Philadelphia native Bruce Graham, is billed as a Michigan premiere at Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre. While not ground-breaking in its subject mater, “The Outgoing Tide” paints a poignant portrait of an unfortunate, and increasingly all-too-familiar, familial circumstance: the aging, and ailing, loved one, on the verge of literally losing themselves, and what we (and they) can or can’t do about it.

Patriarch Gunner (Hugh Maguire) informs his wife, Peg (Trudy Mason), and their son, Jack (Alex Leydenfrost), that he’s come up with a plan to alleviate his debilitating illness, all the while securing their financial future. They (and we, the audience) sit in wait, wondering if the retired codger will really carry it out.

Had there been a few more twists and turns in Graham’s script (a fast 1 hour and 45 minutes, including the intermission) then perhaps there might have been the potential for a different outcome. From the minute our hero reveals the play’s major dramatic question (“What is this play about?”), we suspect we know how it’s going to end. But all we can do is sit back and go along for the ride.

Anyone who has loved, and has been faced with—or even contemplated—the loss of that love, will appreciate this thought-provoking play. And while it’s definitely a “serious” one, there is no shortage of humor in “The Outgoing Tide.” And humor-through-tears makes for the most compelling theater.

And it’s a pretty darn good production.

The cast is terrific, especially their on-stage relationships with each other. Maguire’s deadpan delivery, Mason’s maternal musings, and Leydenfrost, as the so-called straight man pitted between his parents, make us chuckle one minute and weep the next. Meet them on the street, and you will believe they are indeed a family.

On a technical note, Lisa Charlotte Berg’s multi-leveled waterfront set design, featuring a simple pair of Adirondack chairs, a few wooden posts (piles?), and an impressive painted-on wood plank floor, gives a gray reminder of the play’s impending winter—and its final moment. The sound design (subtle and spot-on) by Sonja Marquis includes a mix of migrating birds, period-evoking pop-music, and even Muzak, and perfectly sets the scenes taking place outside the world of the waterfront, accompanied by the lighting design (subtle and spot-on) of Rachael Nardeechia.

Tipping Point’s producing artistic director, James R. Kuhl, skillfully serves the theatricality of Graham’s script in his apt direction. What some may call a “kitchen sink drama,” “The Outgoing Tide” is not theatrical realism. As mentioned, several scenes are set in non-waterfront locations, and also in other time periods. It is within these past memories that we learn the most about the members of this family whom, by play’s end, we come to care for as if they were our very own.

The Outgoing Tide

Tipping Point Theater
361. E. Cady St., Northville
April 9--May 3, 2015; 8:00 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; matinees 3:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. on Sundays
Price: $29--$32 adults, $27--$30 students, seniors
(248) 347-0003

1 hour 45 minutes with intermission.


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.


"Merchant" of bold staging at Slipstream

Martin F. Kohn

REVIEW: Merchant of Venice

Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Article: 9558; Posted: April 8, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

Director Alexander Trice and his Slipstream Theatre Initiative colleagues take many risks in their production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Like the vessels belonging to the title character, some ships come in and some don’t.

The biggest departure from convention is an adaptation that eliminates a subplot or two and a handful of characters, including the tedious Gobbos—Launcelot and Old. What remains is a slimmed-down, sort of “greatest hits” version that runs 1:35 with no intermission. The big speeches and big moments are preserved, and while the abridgement is refreshing, some of the other innovations don’t quite pay off.

Here, Shylock is played by a woman, Tricia Turek, as a woman. Not as radical as it seems: I’ve seen Prospero played by a woman as a woman, and Richard III played by a woman as a man. I know (because she told me) that Sarah Colley, before she became Minnie Pearl, played Bottom at her all-women’s college.

This is one of those ships that don’t come in, but non-traditional casting isn’t the stumbling block. Dressed snappily in a suit, with business-like accoutrements, Turek blends in with the all the other businessmen on stage: Ryan Ernest as Antonio, Brenton Herwat as Bassanio, Richard Payton as a composite of their compadres. Director Trice and, I’m guessing, Slipstream artistic director Bailey Boudreau may be going for subtext: instead of the Jew as the outsider, it’s the woman. But the text clearly says it’s the Jew; this is a problem.

More problematic is that while the principal actors say their lines with clarity, they generally don’t convey their feelings in other ways. The mutual animosity between Shylock and the rest of the business community is stated, but not really demonstrated. The same goes for the infatuation and love between Bassanio and Portia (Victoria Rose Weatherspoon).

The actors have more success with some of the smaller parts. Kaitlyn Valor Bourque is appealing as gum-chewing, spoiled rich girl Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, whose running away with the Christian Lorenzo (Graham Todd) and her mother’s jewelry comes off as believable adolescent behavior. Sarah Wilder, as Nerissa, Portia’s servant and friend, takes palpable delight in Portia’s clever accomplishments and rocks in a suit and big cigar in the courtroom scene.

Visually, Slipstream’s “Merchant” is appealing. As production designer and costume designer, respectively, Trice and Bailey do impressive work, turning the commercial hub that was 16th century Venice into the floor of a stock exchange, with power-suited people jockeying for advantage. And they’ve made Portia’s country estate look like the patio of an Italian restaurant, complete with strings of little white lights.

For an extra treat, before the show read the sign on the set piece that looks like a food truck: brewed coffee is 5 ducats, French press is 10.

The quality of this “Merchant” is mixed, but Slipstream is a company with ideas and enthusiasm. It isn’t strictly a Shakespeare company but its upcoming production is an all-female “Hamlet.” Sounds promising.

The Merchant of Venice
Michigan Actors Studio
648 East 9 Mile, Ferndale
Sundays (4/5, 4/12, 4/19, 4/26)
Tuesdays (4/7, 4/14, 4/21, 4/28)
Wednesdays (4/8, 4/15, 4/22, 4/29)
Thursdays (4/9, 4/16, 4/23, 4/30)
All performances at 7:00 p.m.
Price: $10


Finding beauty in the heart

by David Kiley

REVIEW: Violet

Dio Theatre

Article: 9536; Posted: April 4, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

A play, let alone a musical, with an all-too-obvious homily attached to it, has a great deal of potential to descend into pools of syrup and bouquets of wilting wild-flowers. The script of “Violet” has, indeed, long skated the razor’s edge between saccharine and a show of real heart. But the tight ensemble at The Dio Theater in Pinckney keeps the Brian Crawley/Jeanine Tesori play very much grounded while allowing performances to soar when they need to.

"Violet," set in 1964, is the story of a 25-year old woman from the mountains of North Carolina whose face was disfigured by her father with the blade of a hatchet when she was thirteen. Her father dead--but appearing throughout the play in flashback-- Violet takes the bus to Tulsa where she hopes, after doctors have failed her, that a preacher/healer has the right powers to remove the scar that curses her self image. Along the trip she meets and becomes involved with two soldiers—one white and one African American who toy with her affections at first, but then form emotional attachments.

Playing the title role is Mahalia Greenway, who is becoming a pleasant fixture at both the Dio and Encore Theatre in Dexter--from Nancy in Oliver (2014 Wilde Award winner) to Lucy in Dracula and Carrie in Carousel and more in just the last year. Her Violet is world-weary-wise, but with just enough of the Smokey Mountain gullibility it takes to think a television preacher will remove the scar that disfigures her face. Greenway’s vocals are appropriately gritty at times, and winsome when she needs to be. In fact, her performance rises above some of the shortcoming in the show’s writing.

"Violet" doesn’t really have a song that stays in one’s head for long, but that is not a weakness. A combination of gospel, bittersweet ballads and country rhythms, the totality of score works very much in support of the whole show and story. Musical direction is by Daniel Bachelis. And Thalia Schramm directed the musical staging, which delivers extremely well given the many role changes for the actors and the unchanging set. The simple set, by Matthew Tomich, is fixed throughout the show with no physical changes save some clever projections that change the context, for example, from bus station to evangelical church.

Steve DeBruyne (2014 Wilde Award winner) directs, and also plays Monty, the soldier who tinkers with Violet’s situation and affections and can’t really commit to anything except lack of commitment. He has cast the rest of the characters extremely well—the chemistry between actors are very much in evidence. Luther Raphael Simon as the African-American “Flick” establishes heartfelt connections to Greenway’s Violet, and shows his excellent singing chops on the roof-raising “Let It Sing,” and the tender "Promise Me Violet" reprise.

The flashbacks to young Violet (Maeve Donevan) and her father (Andrew Gorney) are seamlessly integrated into the small Dio stage. Donevan, a student at Dexter High School (who we saw, but is double-cast with Lily Rosenberg), is a force on stage with vocals and expressive acting that beautifully convey the pain, tenderness and desire to be loved that grip every teenage girl. Her scenes with the always-solid Gorney provide some of the show’s best scenes as in Father’s “That’s what I could do” as he tries to reconcile with young Violet.

An experienced ensemble playing multiple roles never disappoints, coming together beautifully on “Raise Me Up” and “On My Way.” Linda Rabin Hammell (a 2014 Wilde Award winner), Lauren Norris, Kirsten Crockett, Peter Crist and Jeff Steinhauer all deliver solid turns in each of their multiple roles.

For patrons who have never seen the show, it is a little puzzling that Violet has no scar—no make-up or appliance. She frequently refers to the terrible scar that cuts across her cheek and nose. Of course, the point of not showing it is that most others do not see the scar and are taken instead by her heart. The story is adapted from ''The Ugliest Pilgrim,'' a short story by Doris Betts. You can’t miss the sledge-hammer message of “beauty is only skin deep.” But as that is as evergreen a message as there is, and worth telling again and again, it makes for another feel-good and uplifting evening at the Dio.

The Dio – Dining & Entertainment
177 E. Main Street, Pinckney
April 2--May 17 on Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. for 6:45 p.m. dinner service; Sundays matinees at 12:30 p.m.
Price (including dinner): $41; seniors and students $37; children and groups of 20 or more $35 each
(517) 672-6009


OTHER VOICES - REVIEWS: Violet - The Dio-Dining and Entertainment

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