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

REVIEW: Tipping Point Theatre’s ‘Ripcord’ pulls out big laughs

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Susan Craves, Ruth Crawford, and the supporting cast of Tipping Point Theatre’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Ripcord.” (Photo by Megan LaCroix Photography)

Early in David Lindsay-Abaire’s comedy “Ripcord,” now on stage at Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre (running time, just under two hours), an aging-but-perpetually-cheerful woman announces that she never gets angry. “It always leads to an ugly place, and I don’t care for ugly places,” Marilyn (Susan Craves) says.

This ends up being an ironic declaration, since it leads Marilyn and her grumpy assisted living facility roommate, Abby (Ruth Crawford), to make a bet that puts the ladies on the express train to ugly. For Abby, a snarky misanthrope, longs to have her own room again, while chatty, hyper-social Marilyn covets Abby’s bed by the window, which has a lovely view of a nearby park. So the two make a wager: if Abby can make Marilyn lose her temper, Marilyn will request a room change; if Marilyn can scare Abby – something Abby believes is no longer possible – they’ll switch beds.

And although the women launch into this venture with obnoxious-but-harmless pranks – such as putting their phone number on Craig’s List, with a claim that Marilyn was giving away a houseful of items and a car, and calling in a fake message from Marilyn’s daughter (Vanessa Sawson), claiming she’d be coming to take her mother out to lunch – things ramp up fast. Marilyn drugs Abby to dope her up for an involuntary skydiving excursion (courtesy of Marilyn’s family’s business), and Abby posts painful records of Marilyn’s past life all over the building. As their bemused caretaker Scotty (Dez Walker) observes in one scene, these very different women may be more suited to each other than they even realize.

To discuss the play, fellow critic Don Calamia and I (Jenn McKee) thought we’d try something new, since we both attended Tipping Point’s opening night performance of “Ripcord”: a joint review – the first of what I’d love to call Platonic Theater Date Reviews, since Don and I have attended many shows together lately – that’s ultimately a conversation between two local critics about the show.  Continue reading

My We Love Ann Arbor short list of upcoming weekend highlights

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Cast members from U-M’s production of the opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.” (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

56th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival. Though it’s still considered a best-kept-secret by some locals, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest experimental and avant-garde film festival in North America, running six days each March (through March 25 this year), and primarily housed at the Michigan Theater. AAFF shows over 200 films from nearly 70 countries, offering approximately $20,000 in awards each year.

You can check out wrap-up award screenings on Sunday, or you can dive in anytime. Thursday night features “Out Night”; Friday night offers up the always-popular (but not necessarily kid-friendly) animation program; the all-ages program happens Saturday; and also on Saturday this year, at 1 p.m., a new documentary titled “The Big House” will have its premiere. The film eschews gridiron glory to look closely at the labor – from cooks to snipers – that goes into hosting 100,000 people. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: Schoolcraft College’s ‘Eleemosynary’ tries to fly, despite flawed script

eleemosynary-promotion-poster2.jpgLet me start this review with a confession: I’m a person who ugly cries upon hearing Olive, the sweet-but-overlooked young heroine of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” sing “My Friend, the Dictionary.” Why? Because I, too, was once a girl who seldom had a playmate, even at school, so I regularly turned to books – including the family’s dog-eared, red paperback dictionary – for company. Words never pointedly picked you last for their team, or refused to let you sit next to them on the bus. They were always there, a seemingly endless supply of them, and they offered escape and refuge to kids like me.

Which brings us to Echo, one of three characters in Lee Blessing’s 1985 drama “Eleemosynary,” now on stage at Livonia’s Schoolcraft College. In Blessing’s play, precocious, isolated young Echo (Kate Hoin) hungrily studies words, too, enthralled by both their music and their meanings; she also aims, however, to win the national spelling bee, believing that this will somehow bring together Artie (Julia Garlotte), the damaged mother who abandoned her, and Dorothea (Linda Rabin Hammell), the eccentric, doting grandmother who raised her.

To tell this story, Blessing jumps around in time, providing impressionistic snapshots of life within this highly dysfunctional matrilineal line. And while Blessing’s intentions appear to be admirably feminist in scope – all three females are extraordinarily smart, independent (particularly from men, who are notably absent), and forge unconventional paths for themselves – the self-consciously quirky quirks with which Blessing saddles the characters ultimately undercut their ability to make the leap from author-constructed devices to human beings. Continue reading

My Destination Ann Arbor story about FoolMoon & FestiFools

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FestiFools cofounder Mark Tucker with students building luminaries. (photo by Julie Cohen)

FoolMoon and FestiFools – two related, celebratory community art events (produced by Ann Arbor nonprofit WonderFool Productions) that happen each year during a single weekend in early April – have a long history of sneaking up on, and delighting, people who aren’t familiar with the events.

“Years ago, we were at the Food Co-op – we’d stopped for lunch – and I heard drumming,” said realtor/business owner Linda Lombardini. “So we went and stood outside on Fourth Avenue, and I said, ‘What the hell is all this craziness?’ as (the first-ever FestiFools parade) came down the street. … Soon someone involved in it ran up to me and put a headband on me, like I used to wear in the ‘60s, when I was a big old hippie, and I looked at Sandy (Smith, Lombardini’s wife) and said, ‘I think I’ve found my next volunteering opportunity.’”

Several years later, Emerson School’s art teacher, Julie Cohen, remembers having students involved in FoolMoon’s annual, Friday night processional walk to downtown – carrying light-up sculptures they made themselves – when a U-M men’s basketball game ended, and fans drove and walked past, trying to figure out what was happening.

“Some people just stopped in their cars,” said Cohen. “ … There were lots of people in town who don’t live in our community, they were here for the game, and many of them rolled down their windows and asked, ‘What’s going on? This is so amazing.’ They were just completely blown away by these beautiful creations.”

Originally the brainchild of Mark Tucker, who teaches a public art course for non-art majors within U-M’s Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, and Shoshana Hurand, then a U-M graduate student, FestiFools first came to life in 2007 when Tucker’s students, along with a few classes’ worth of U-M Stamps Art School students, were asked to design and build large, Carnival-esque, papier-mache puppets (with the community’s help) before winter semester’s end.

Which is to say, around the time of April Fool’s Day – so irreverent whimsy was in the event’s DNA from the start. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp story about Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagán’s new book, ‘Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties’

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 1.55.02 PM.pngAnn Arbor-based novelist Camille Pagán (Forever Is the Worst Long TimeLife and Other Near Death Experiences) was in the midst of writing a book that wasn’t going anywhere when she had an unnerving grocery-store experience.

“This guy, a college kid … bumped into me and didn’t even look at me or say anything,” said Pagán, who also noted that on other occasions while out shopping, she’d observed “when a cashier would talk to and make conversation with a middle-aged man but then not talk to the middle-aged woman who was next in line. This seemed to me to really be saying something about our society and how we view and treat women as they age.”

Indeed, Pagán’s grandmother “once made the observation that it was better to be an old woman than a middle-aged woman,” said Pagán. “She said, ‘When you’re an old woman, people open doors for you, they offer you a seat, they talk to you.’ … And I was on the cusp of middle age, so I already knew what things looked like from that perspective.”

These incidents planted the seed for Pagán’s newest novel, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, which tells the story of Maggie, an anxious, 53-year-old empty nester in Chicago who’s blindsided when her husband, Adam, suddenly announces he’s in love with a 30-year-old and wants out of the marriage. When Maggie decides to still take the trip to Rome the couple had been planning for their upcoming anniversary, she meets a new friend — a female painter named Jean who’s heading to Italy for a six-month-long fellowship — who offers Maggie the chance to have a change of scenery by house-sitting her place in Ann Arbor. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s ‘Tartuffe’ offers a satisfying tale for our #MeToo time

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Dan Johnson and Luna Alexander in Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s “Tartuffe.” (Photo by Jennifer Jolliffe)

While watching Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s zippy take on Moliere’s “Tartuffe” – the company’s adaptation runs a fleet 75 minutes – I noticed how much more angry and repulsed I felt while watching the titular con-man (Jay Jolliffe) press his unwanted advances on the lady of the house (played by Luna Alexander) than I had been when seeing previous productions of this classic.

Which is to say, I found myself suddenly having a #MeToo moment right there in Slipstream’s space in Ferndale.

But in this Weinstein age – when ugly, hard truths related to gendered power structures and cruel abuses are finally being brought to light – it’s hard not to start seeing everything through this highly charged lens.

And that kind of makes this a perfect (if complicated) moment for “Tartuffe.” The seventeenth century comedy – which employed physical humor and character types drawn from commedia dell’arte – tells the tale of a bloviating swindler and his mark (Dan Johnson), who becomes so blinded by worship that he signs over his possessions and invites Tartuffe into his home to stay. Everyone else in the family sees through Tartuffe’s false piety, but to convince the utterly smitten patriarch, the family must plot a way for him to witness Tartuffe’s hypocrisy for himself. Continue reading

My We Love Ann Arbor preview of Tappan Players’ ’13: The Musical’

The cast of Tappan Players’ “13: The Musical.” (Photo by Kristina Crow)

Reilly Conlon, director of this year’s Tappan Players musical production (“13”), reportedly told her middle school student cast, “This show is everything you want to say to your parents, wrapped up in a musical.”

Why? Because the show, which premiered on Broadway in 2008 (with a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown), tells the story of 12 year old Evan, a New York kid who lands in a small Indiana town when his parents get divorced. While preparing for his bar mitzvah and adjusting to a new town and school, Evan gets caught up in a number of tween dramas. His first friend and neighbor, Patrice, develops a crush on Evan, but at school, she’s a social pariah; and while Evan schemes to get the most popular kid in school to attend his bar mitzvah, Patrice and others get caught in the crossfire.

“The reason we chose ’13’ is because it’s about the kids that are in it,” said Conlon. “We thought it was a great way to tell … stories that are relatable to kids in their age group. And the music is incredibly modern. It’s easy to grab onto, and get into, and be passionate about.”

Photos by Kristina Crow

That’s not to say that the music is technically simple, however. Far from it.

“The music is incredibly difficult,” said Conlon. “Jason Robert Brown is the composer, and he writes some of the most difficult music in the theater world today. To have (the student performers) tackle that is a challenge, but they’ve been very open to it, and very hardworking throughout the process. They’ve really made great strides.” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Encore Theatre’s ‘School of Rock: Youth Edition’

28876995_10100286284567434_1832674786_o.jpgTaking a beloved hit movie and transforming it into a stage musical is standard practice these days. One look at current Broadway listings — AladdinAnastasiaFrozen, the soon-to-open Mean Girls, and Waitress, to name a few — proves how often the stage artists are borrowing from the screen.

But of course, not every translation works.

What made School of Rock — the youth version of which is now being staged at Dexter’s Encore Theatre — a bona fide hit (and a Tony Award nominee) instead of a B-side flop?

“With a character who is essentially just Jack Black teaching kids to defy expectations and rise above the world on a cloud of rock, it’s hard to go wrong,” said David Moan, music director of Encore’s production. READ THE REST HERE