Encore Michigan

Valentine’s month at Planet Ant is not all roses and candy

Review February 06, 2019 Tanya Gazdik

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — If you’re looking for an alternative to the sap-filled commercialized dreck that takes over everything around Valentine’s Day, Planet Ant Theatre has the ticket.

In the 25th season of its black box, the small theater explores love and relationships from every angle with A Valentine Double Feature. Offered up are two romantically-inclined, original one-act plays: Love, Lust, & Lunacy, written/adapted and directed by Darren Shelton, and He Said Yes, by Kelly A. Rossi.

Mikey Brown handles lights/sound and is stage manager. Each play is 45-50 minutes with a 10-minute intermission between acts.

The first half of the double feature presents an avant-garde “experimental exploration of romantic love.” Love, Lust, & Lunacy also features Shelton and stars Kaitlyn Valor Bourque in an abstract, theatrical compilation of exchanges between lovers through varying stages of a relationship’s lifetime.

In addition to its original content features adaptations of three public domain plays: The Illuminati in Drama Libre by Alice Gerstenberg, originally published in Ten One-Act Plays. New York, 1921; Enigma by Floyd Dell, originally published in King Arthur’s Socks and Other Village Plays, New York, 1922 and A Pair of Lunatics by W.R. Walkes, originally produced at at the Palace Theatre,1895. The production also uses audio of Ravel’s orchestral piece Boléro.

The show is wonderfully physical, with Bourque in particular showing tremendous stamina. The two characters literally run circles around each other and their movement is key to the exploration of the cycles of their nontraditional relationship.

In the second half, He Said Yes is the newest work from local playwright, actor and the executive director of BoxFest Detroit, Kelly A. Rossi. In this original one-act romantic comedy, two longtime middle-aged co-workers are discovered having a workplace affair.

After they are fired, they are asked to recount the progression of their longtime entanglement during their exit interviews. The interview ends up being more about what drove the affair, which the male character hatefully points out during a moment of anger is “not a relationship.”

Obviously, the play asks the viewer to suspend belief for its very premise. It’s unlikely that there are any work places remaining that are so conservative that a non-marital dalliance would be grounds for termination. The storyline sounds titillating in theory, but in reality, it’s sort of painful to listen to because none of the characters are particularly likable. There are flashback scenes to earlier in the relationship which don’t work particularly well.

It is directed by BoxFest Detroit Artistic Director Amanda Ewing and features Maya Gangadharan and Jeff Priskorn as the co-workers, with Nicole Levey-Hunt as the HR director/supposed best friend of the female character and Phil Leslie as another company official.

The first play is more dependent on movement, with its somewhat limited and poetic dialogue, while dialogue is front and center in the second play. In total, the two one-acts, which are both decidedly low on cheesy sentiment, nicely contrast and complement each other. But this probably isn’t the best option to take someone who you are trying to woo, as it could leave the audience feeling a little melancholic.