Encore Michigan

‘Annamals’ Crackles at Planet Ant

Review April 16, 2017 Patrice Nolan

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – Annamals is the latest original play created by the Planet Ant troupe and its higher purpose is immediately evident: it exists to make people laugh loudly and frequently. Created by director Dave Davies and a six-person cast, this one-act comedy quickly introduces us to a variety of disparate, seemingly unrelated characters and scenes, and then threads them together in a surreal and totally satisfying way.

In the first scene, we meet a lonely orphan girl and her well-meaning social worker. The child desperately wishes that a drawing of her imaginary friend – half bunny, half pig – could become real, so she would have someone to love and be loved by. Moved by the child’s plight, the caseworker admits that she has the magical power to bring illustrations to life – and to the child’s delight, does so.

Of course, anyone who has read about Frankenstein, Pygmalion, the Golem of Prague, or Pinocchio knows that when one dabbles with the creation of life, bad things invariably happen. But before we can meet the bizarre “annamal” that has been brought to life, the lights dip to black and we are transported to another scene.

From this point on the play unspools like a Lorne Michaels acid flashback in which we meet a variety of oddly endearing characters: a veteran soldier who has seen a few too many black ops missions and is ready to snap the neck of anyone who fails to meet his strict code of behavior; a young immigrant woman from an unspecified Baltic country who is a gifted painter, but now wants to dance and become famous, “like Allan Thicke;” two men who plan a duel to the death behind the Dairy Queen to determine who will get the girl; an arrogant young man who has big plans to turn his parents’ sudden death into a marketing scheme for their California ski resort; a woman seeking to find meaning and purpose by dropping LSD for the first time; and a few other characters sucked into the vortex of the swirling Annamals storyline.

Performed in the intimate black-box theatre with minimal props, the show runs a tight 60-minutes with rapid-fire pacing that scarcely leaves the audience time to draw breath between laughs. The Planet Ant ensemble makes this crazy plot crackle with wit, dead pan deliveries and delightful physical comedy. Kudos to director Dave Davies and the Annamals cast: Tony Agusty, Jaclynn Cherry, Annelyse Miller, Maggie O’Reilly, Jim Rimmel, and Dan Tice for proving that even a string of unlikely deaths can be funny in the right context. Planet Ant frames that context with outrageous dexterity and shameless abandon – giving the audience permission to forget propriety and enjoy an hour of cathartic laughter.