Encore Michigan

Box-Fest Winning ‘Game Play’ Becomes Engrossing Planet Ant Production

Review February 11, 2018 Patrice Nolan

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – There are two sides to every story. That truism frequently accompanies news that someone’s marriage is falling apart. The assumption, of course, is that we can never know the “other” person’s side of the story. And that’s what makes Game Play, the one-act Box Fest winner, so intriguing. In this full production now running at Planet Ant in Hamtramck, we literally watch both sides of the story unfold at the same time.

It’s 2010, and Detroiters are reeling from the global recession and the massive layoffs triggered by the hard-hit auto industry. Of course, there are always a few businesses that thrive in times of disruption. The disparity between those individuals overwhelmed by work and those desperate to find any work can cause resentment on both sides. Especially when those people are married to each other.

Charity Clark-Anderson, the playwright and director of Game Play, divides the performance area in half. Stage left is styled as an upscale bistro where Michelle Sutton (Kamia Hicks) is catching up with her best friend Carol (LaTanya Underwood) and hoping for some much-needed advice. Stage right is a pub where John Sutton (William J McLin III) is pouring out his heart to Wanda (Andi Maziarz), an attractive barmaid who pours a generous Jack Daniels.

Carol teases Michelle about being too busy for her old friends and congratulates her on a sky-rocketing corporate career. We quickly learn that Michelle, who returned to work when their youngest child was old enough, has been racking up promotions, working on a second master’s degree, and pulling crazy hours to prove that she is the right choice to be named the firm’s next partner. The problem, she explains to Carol, is that her husband John is simply not the ambitious man she married 19 years ago. Did he just give up?

Meanwhile, John is explaining to Wanda how weary he is after a year of looking for work and being told – day after day – that no one is hiring chemical engineers. And the few jobs out there all go to young people right out of college with multiple advanced degrees. The worst part, John explains, is how his wife Michelle looks at him – with contempt. What happened to the loving, supportive woman he married? Doesn’t she know how hard he’s trying?

This play could easily degenerate into a bitter ping-pong of he-said/she-said recriminations. But the clever script expands beyond this construct. As John and Carol separately remember the sweeter moments of their relationship – falling in love in college, seizing romance between the demands of parenting – they physically come together on the stage to recreate these tender moments. As an audience, we see what makes John and Michelle work as a couple. They are both good, emotionally intelligent people — but one is being their best self. Stress does that to people. And because we bear witness to both sides of their story, we realize something that they cannot: the decision to save their marriage is within their grasp, but only if they manage to reach out to each other at the same time.

Hicks and McLin do a great job of fleshing out interesting, admirable characters who are struggling to redefine their relationship now that their roles have dramatically changed. Underwood, as Carol, is the friend we’d all like to have – funny, down to earth, ready to offer support when needed, but not afraid to pull her punches. Maziarz is the woman we love to hate – the “friend” who’s willing to listen to John’s sorrows, and eager to be more than a friend.

Given the fixed, split-set layout, music is effectively used to shift the mood, which ranges from classic jazz to classical Vivaldi. Clark-Anderson is supported in the production of Game Play by Rhonda English (Assistant Director), James H. Anderson (Production Crew), and Matthew Morley (Stage Manager).

It’s easy to understand why Game Play earned audience-favorite status at last August’s Box Fest. As we learn more about this couple – and see what they can’t see – there’s a very real temptation to shout, “don’t do it … turn around.” Wondering whether or not they do, of course, is what makes Game Play worth seeing.