My We Love Ann Arbor preview of Ubiquitous Theater’s ‘Kissing the Witch’

kissing.jpegIronically, you may not have heard of the Ubiquitous Theater company yet.

But you can get acquainted this weekend, when the company presents Emma Donoghue’s play “Kissing the Witch” at Ypsilanti’s Dreamland Theatre.

“I first did a production of the play fifteen years ago in Buffalo,” said UT’s founder and “Witch” director Margaret Smith, who previously worked as artistic director for Buffalo’s HAG Theatre before moving to Michigan. “I loved the play. Emma Donoghue took these fairy tales – mostly middle Europe fairy tales – and re-wrote them with feminist endings. So there’s no rescue by some guy on a white horse. … Instead, these women find new identities for each other and themselves.”

In “Witch,” Irish writer Donoghue – most famous for her bestselling novel “Room,” which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film – reimagines the familiar stories of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstilskin.

“What’s great is, with each one, you think you know where it’s going, but it’s not going there at all,” said Smith. And in this #metoo moment, the show’s production team is almost entirely made up of women. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Kickshaw Theatre’s ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ focuses on long friendship between troubled souls

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Doug (Michael Lopetrone) and Kayleen (Dani Cochrane)flirt with romance and self-sabotage in Gruesome Playground Injuries. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Fittingly, Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, now being staged by Kickshaw Theatre at Ann Arbor’s trustArt Studios, starts in a parochial school’s infirmary, where a deep, lasting friendship takes root between a girl and a boy who recognize in each other a common compulsion toward self-destruction.

The boy, Doug (Michael Lopetrone), is a reckless, thrill-seeking daredevil, while the girl, Kayleen (Dani Cochrane), suffers from stomach problems and later develops a serious cutting habit. The 80-minute play shows glimpses of these two characters at several different ages, between 8 and 38, but it jumps around in time, inviting us to piece together the puzzle of Doug and Kayleen’s intense connection by shifting from childhood to adulthood and back again.

Indeed, Lynn Lammers’ scenic and props design, Shelby Newport’s costume design, Rita Girardi’s lighting design, and Lammers’ and Aral Gribble’s sound design all work together to execute the play’s structure, with a rising line drawn on the back wall, and coat hooks (marked with different ages) holding different costumes for each scene. In addition, Lammers — also the production’s director — provides a bit of choreography as connecting tissue, with music and coolly colored, dim lighting, so that the costume change transitions have an emotional component as well.

Despite Doug and Kayleen’s soulmate-like affinity, they only flirt with romance, despite their obvious, years-long love for, and attraction to, each other. Perhaps on some level they realize — while visiting each other in the hospital, at a recovery center, at a funeral — that their self-sabotage makes each of them both a ticking time bomb and a walking heartache. Even so, Doug firmly believes Kayleen has the power to heal him with her touch; and while Kayleen remains skeptical, over the years, she comes to think it might be true. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: U-M’s ‘Me and My Girl’ offers up vaudevillian comedy and terrific choreography

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Elliott Styles as Bill Snibson and Sophie Madorsky as Sally in the U-M Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Me and My Girl playing at the Power Center April 12-15. (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

While the 1937 British stage musical “Me and My Girl” – staged this past weekend by U-M’s musical theater department – isn’t well-known in America, theatergoers who saw it at the Power Center may have been put in mind of a show that is pretty famous in these parts: “My Fair Lady.”

For while that Lerner and Loewe classic focuses on a young Cockney woman who’s trained to speak and act like a society lady, “Me and My Girl” – with book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber (revised by Stephen Fry, with contributions by Mike Ockrent), and music by Noel Gay – tells the story of a Cockney man, named Bill Snibson (Elliott Styles), who must go through a similar process in order to claim his hereditary right to the title Earl of Hereford.

Bill’s added wrinkle, however, is that he must not only change himself, but leave behind his lovably sweet Cockney girlfriend, Sally (Sophie Madorsky), which he doesn’t wish to do. But because the title’s executors – Maria, Duchess of Dene (Emilie Kouatchou) and Sir John Tremayne (Griffin Binnicker) – must be satisfied in order for Bill to become Earl, Sally tries to do the honorable thing and step aside.

Unless “Me and My Girl” audience members happened to remember Herman’s Hermits’ cover of Gay’s “Leaning on the Lamppost,” which became a minor hit in America in 1966 (long before it was added to “Me and My Girl” in 1985), or had seen the show’s first and only Broadway production (’86-’89), they likely didn’t recognize any of the songs from “Me and My Girl” – though the show produced a number of hits in Britain.

Not to worry, though. Those who attended this past weekend’s production will likely now be humming its signature act one closer, “The Lambeth Walk,” for days and weeks to come. Continue reading

REVIEW: Purple Rose Theatre revisits an iconic sleuth in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear’

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Paul Stroili, Mark Colson, and Sarab Kamoo in the world premiere production of David MacGregor’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

The real mystery now unfolding at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre is how tried and true Sherlock Holmes fans will take to David MacGregor’s new theatrical riff, “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear.”

For although the comic drama (now having its world premiere at the Rose) is set in Holmes’ Victorian era London flat – at 221B Baker Street, presumably – it playfully explores all-too-timely questions about the gap between the private and the public self; touches on the sexual and economic lives of its familiar characters; and features things like swashbuckling women and “The Princess Bride” references.

“Ear” begins when a lazy morning spent among compatriots Dr. Watson (Paul Stroili), Holmes (Mark Colson), and Holmes’ secret lover Irene Adler (Sarab Kamoo) is interrupted by a visit from not-yet-famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (Tom Whalen), who has no money but wishes to hire Holmes for a case nonetheless. Soon, however, a mysterious, veiled woman in mourning named Marie Chartier (Caitlin Cavannaugh) also arrives at the flat to retain Holmes’ services, and in the course of Holmes discovering a link between these two clients, Oscar Wilde (Rusty Mewha) drops in.

Because, well, why not?

Obviously MacGregor knows his stuff regarding all-things-Holmes-ian – you hear the sleuth’s violin-playing off-stage early on, and mentions of his expensive cocaine habit come up more than once – but instead of writing something solemnly reverent, the playwright opted for something far more fanciful and fun.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few bumps in the road – we’ll get to those in a bit – but in the end, “Ear” (running time, 100 minutes) aims to give audiences a good time, and for the most part, it succeeds. Continue reading

My Pulp preview of U-M’s musical theater department production of ‘Me and My Girl’

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Elliott Styles as Bill Snibson and Sophie Madorsky as Sally in the U-M Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Me and My Girl playing at the Power Center April 12-15. (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

It feels a bit like director/choreographer Linda Goodrich, a professor in U-M’s musical theater department, has long had a date with destiny regarding the 1937 British musical Me and My Girl.

For although the show had long been one of Britain’s biggest home-grown stage musical hits, it didn’t make its Broadway debut until 1986 — the same year Goodrich moved to New York.

“I remember seeing it on a marquee, but I never did see it,” said Goodrich. “In fact, I’d never seen it on stage before we started rehearsals. I’d always been familiar with the music and been curious about the show, but it just never crossed my path again.”

For the 1986 Broadway production, Stephen Fry (with contributions by director Mike Ockrent) revised Douglas Furber’s and L. Arthur Rose’s original book for the show and added composer Noel Gay’s song “Leaning on a Lamppost” to the catchy score.

The show tells the story of an aristocratic family seeking a legitimate male heir to become the next Earl of Hareford. The search unearths a Hareford man’s secret, brief past marriage to a Cockney girl, which yielded a son named Bill Snibson. To claim his inheritance, though, Bill must satisfy the executors by adopting aristocratic speech and manners — and possibly leave behind his beloved Cockney girlfriend Sally. READ THE REST HERE

My We Love Ann Arbor story about Penny Seats Theatre’s ‘Matt & Ben’

30073901_10156213275730135_837576264_o.jpgIn the pantheon of celebrity bromances, longtime friends and collaborators Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rank pretty high.

So it’s hardly a surprise that when Mindy Kaling (“The Office,” “The Mindy Project”) and Brenda Withers wrote their 2002 New York Fringe Festival comedy “Matt and Ben,” now being staged by Penny Seats Theatre as a dinner theater production (at Conor O’Neill’s), the pair’s first names sufficed to give audiences an idea of precisely what they were in for.

What was more of a surprise, however, was that Kaling and Withers had winkingly played the titular roles themselves, so local actresses Allison Megroet and Allyson Miko are now doing so for Penny Seats’ production.

“It’s harder to truly compare people to Matt and Ben when they’re not the same gender, so having women play them helps people to go into the show with a clean slate,” said director Mat Pecek.

Set at the time when the two men co-wrote their Oscar-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” (1997), “Matt and Ben” is set in motion when the script literally falls from the sky into their apartment, demanding their attention. And while it may launch the two struggling actors into super-stardom, it also threatens to end their friendship. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of EMU’s production of ‘Detroit ’67’

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Brother and sister Lank (Darien Vaughn) and Chelle (Tayler Jones) face problems after they inherit their parent’s Motor City home in Detroit ’67. (Photo by Eastern Michigan University Theatre)

Historical events, when presented as a series of statistics and dates, have far less impact on us than they do when integrated into a human story.

This is why, of course, history is the backdrop for so many movies, plays, television shows, and novels. These entertainments let us briefly experience what it was like to be living when a specific historical moment was unfolding around us. And most recently, in our own backyard, the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Riots/Rebellion — depending on who’s telling the story — spawned a number of creative works that helped us revisit this pivotal moment in the Motor City’s history.

University of Michigan graduate (and Detroit native) Dominique Morisseau got a bit of a jump on things, premiering her play, Detroit ’67, in New York in 2013. The drama — now being staged by Eastern Michigan University’s Theater Department — won the 2014 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, and ended up being the first in a Morisseau-penned trilogy focused on Detroit’s past. (Paradise Blue and Skeleton Crew were the second and third.)

But helping audiences go back in time, to a particular place, requires attention to detail, so expect to hear Motown tunes; spot script-specified images of Muhammad Ali, a black power fist, and The Four Tops on the walls; and see clothes and appliances from the play’s era. “We have a washing machine with a crank on top that I swear was on my mother’s porch back in 1962,” said EMU Theater Professor Wallace Bridges, who’s directing Detroit ’67. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): U-M’s can’t-miss production of ‘Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches’

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The cast of U-M’s phenomenal production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches.” (Photo by Kyle Prue)

It’s amazing how, when a brilliant script is masterfully executed, three and a half hours can seem to pass in the blink of an eye.

Yet that’s the experience you’ll have if you’re lucky enough to catch the University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches — which is so terrific that it’ll remind you all over again why the play has earned its status as a timeless masterpiece.

For the first chapter of this two-part, epic, Pulitzer Prize-winning play premiered back in 1991 at San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre and told an era-defining story set in New York City in the mid-1980s – the height of the AIDS epidemic. We’re introduced to three sets of characters whose lives intersect: Second Circuit Court word processor Louis (Jesse Aaronson) and his boyfriend Prior Walter (Jeffrey James Fox), whose health is rapidly worsening; a judge’s chief clerk, and a transplanted-from-Utah Mormon, Joe Pitt (Peter Donahue), and his hallucinating, Valium-popping wife, Harper (Savanna Crosby); and powerful right-wing lawyer/macher Roy Cohn (Sam Dubin), who pushes Joe to accept a position in the Justice Department in Washington so as to have a sympathetic ally in high places.

Joe’s and Louis’ paths initially cross at work, in a public bathroom, as Louis is crying over his struggle to stay with Prior as AIDS ravages his body. In that moment, Louis voices his assumption regarding Joe’s homosexuality — which Joe denies, citing his marriage as proof, but he’s visibly rattled by the observation. Harper, meanwhile, spends her days alone in the couple’s apartment, obsessing over the Earth’s deteriorating ozone layer, dreaming of traveling to Antarctica, and struggling to figure out why her husband goes on so many long walks and shows no sexual interest in her. Cohn is enraged by charges of ethical misconduct, as well as his own AIDS diagnosis. And Prior, finally, finds himself in and out of the hospital, facing his illness and his mortality alone. READ THE REST HERE

My We Love Ann Arbor column about this week’s five cultural highlights

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Chick Corea plays at Hill Auditorium on Saturday night, courtesy of UMS.

Bestselling author/illustrator Brian Selznick (Penny Stamps Speaker Series)
Thursday, March 29, 5:10 pm, Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Free.

Selznick has been making children’s books since 1991. His illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the 2008 Caldecott medal and was the basis for Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning movie HugoWonderstruck, his 2011 follow-up, was made into a movie by celebrated filmmaker Todd Haynes. The Marvels, the third book in a trilogy loosely connected to Hugo and Wonderstruck by themes of family and discovery, was published in 2016. Celebrated as much for their stunning object quality as for their rich narrative, Selznick’s books are best summarized in his own words: “It’s not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” His newest project is a 200-page illustrated book for beginning readers called Baby Monkey, Private Eye, written by his husband, Dr. David Serlin. READ THE REST HERE