My Pulp review of Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s ‘The Killer Angels’


Tobin Hisson as General Lee in Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s “The Killer Angels.”

One thing you’ll inevitably think about while watching the Michigan stage premiere production of Karen Tarjan’s The Killer Angels – presented by Michigan Shakespeare Festival, and inspired by the 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel of the same name by Michael Shaara – is how 19th century American warfare and military strategy look nothing like our contemporary conflicts; yet even so, brutality, death, and nightmarish confusion on the battlefield remain constants.

Focused on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg – cited by many as a key turning point for the victorious (uh, spoiler alert?) Union Army – Killer Angels introduces us to military leaders as well as infantrymen on both sides of the war.

How? By double- and triple-casting the production’s 12 actors. And while this casting instruction/suggestion is wholly practical, it nonetheless makes following the play’s already-complicated narrative that much harder. Indeed, if your knowledge of the Battle of Gettysburg is minimal – ahem – you’ll likely be struggling to keep the characters (and other details) straight.

But there’s also a larger storytelling paradox at work: a military battle must, by definition, involve lots of people; and yet, to establish an emotional connection to the story, the audience must have sustained, intimate access to a smaller group of characters. (This is how we follow Shakespeare’s history plays, which tend to focus less on a single battle and more on those vying for power.) Because so many leaders and soldiers played a key role – some for better, some for worse – in the Battle of Gettysburg, Killer Angels shifts focus often, providing only cursory glimpses of most characters. READ THE REST HERE

My review of ‘A Leaning Tower’ at the Yellow Barn


Scott Screws in “A Leaning Tower”

Most of us aim, in the course of our lives, to build something that will outlast us. Many grasp at immortality by way of our children, whom we hope will carry our memory (not to mention our genetic code) into the future. But for the two characters in Joanna Hasting’s new play A Leaning Tower, presented by the recently-resurrected Ellipsis Theatre Company at Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn, striving to build a structure that stretches into the heavens seems to be a goal that plays a prominent role in the pair being reincarnated again and again.

Fortescue (Hastings) is an artist who, in her current incarnation, dreams of building a grandiose, sky-scraping arts center that provides the world with a gathering place that celebrates art as a common language. And although she doesn’t remember it, her partner, an architect named Smythe (Scott Screws), tells her that in former lives they were twins joined at the forehead who designed the original Tower of Babel.

Building an enormous temple requires money, of course, so Fortescue and Smythe apply for, and receive, grants. But when the costs far outstrip the duo’s funds, they start robbing banks, hearkening back to their previous identities as Bonnie and Clyde, and as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But can they sustain a crime spree long enough to finally see their goal through to its end, and thus stop this Sisyphean cycle?  READ THE REST HERE