Encore Michigan

Love conquers all at the North Crawford Mask and Wig Club

Review March 07, 2016 Tanya Gazdik

SOUTHGATE, Mich.–Shakespeare, check. Tennessee Williams, double-check. But Kurt Vonnegut? He isn’t an author that pops into one’s mine when contemplating the subject of love.

Vonnegut’s early short stories are being brought to the stage in Open Book Theatre Company’s production of Who Am I This Time? (& other conundrums of love). Playwright Aaron Posner adapted Long Walk to Forever, Who am I This Time? and Go Back to Your Precious Wife and Son into a family-friendly comedy. Readers of Vonnegut will recognize details from several other short stories in his Welcome to the Monkey House collection.

Tom Newton (Joshua Brown) is the likeable narrator and guide, along with his friends and family who are on stage in the spring of 1962 at the “Mask and Wig Club” in North Crawford Conn. His wife, Kate Newton, is played by Krista Schafer Ewbank, who also is the artistic director of the theater company.

The two-hour long play, directed by Topher Alan Payne, examines the difficult-to-define love in many various ways, always with a side of comedy.

In the first vignette, Long Walk to Forever, Catharine (Allison Megroet) is preparing for her wedding, when longtime neighbor Newt (Chris Peterson) shows up at her door and invites her to take a walk. He is AWOL from the service and the reason is simple: He feels compelled to tell her of his feelings before she marries in hopes of swaying her to call off the wedding and wait for him instead.

In Who Am I This Time? Megroet returns as Helene Shaw/Stella, who along with Harry Nash/Stanley Kowalski (Richard Payton), Vern Miller (Sean Paraventi), Doris Sawyer/Blanche (Sarah Hawkins Moan) and Joey “Doodles” Brookes (Peterson).

The ensemble works brilliantly together, but lighting designer Harley Miah (Wilde Award winner) and sound designer Topher Alan Payne steal the show during the montage at the end when the play is “shown” in fast forward, complete with well-timed spotlights and that distinctive squeaky electronic tape-winding noise you hear when you are fast forwarding a VHS tape (those of us old enough to remember that technology can’t help but smile.)

Payton shines as Harry, the slightly daft introverted hardware clerk who comes out of his shell for whatever role he is asked to play in the various community theater productions. Megroet captures the quirky Helene Shaw, who although only supposed to be in town for eight weeks, takes on the role of Stella, and ends up being Juliet to Harry’s Romeo, or whoever they happen to be reading once the plays have ended.

Finally, the final story, Back To Your Precious Wife and Son features Moan as Gloria Hilton, whose relationship with fourth husband George Murra (Paraventi, now wearing a Donald Trump-like wig) is shown unraveling in a rapid fashion. Peterson returns as his son, John Murra, while Payton plays the hapless plumber, Roy Crocker Jr.

The actors switch seamlessly from role to role in the three vignettes and the simple set design adapts readily to the varying themes. Ultimately, it is the love of lead characters Tom and Kate Newton that transcends the story lines and reminds the audience that love is both pure and complicated, and always worthy of our fascination.

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