REVIEW: Open Book’s ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ offers a hilarious spin on middle-aged angst

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The cast of Open Book Theatre’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” (Photo by Jan Cartwright)

Years ago, when my husband and I had just suffered through a stiff, all-too-reverent production of a Chekhov play, he pronounced himself done-ski with the iconic Russian dramatist, arguing that life was simply too short for “Uncle Vanya.”

Which is one reason I think he’d really enjoy Christopher Durang’s witty “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” now being staged at Trenton’s Open Book Theatre.

Not that you have to be well-versed in Chekhov to laugh loudly and often while watching Durang’s play; but if, by chance, you are familiar with the likes of “The Seagull” and “The Cherry Orchard,” the characters on stage, as well as their charged interactions and existential struggles, will feel all the more familiar – albeit with a contemporary twist. Continue reading


My We Love Ann Arbor preview of Spinning Dot Theatre’s ‘The Kids from Amandla Street’

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 12.46.41 AM.pngEven though, in this Digital Age, we tend to view things through an expansive global lens – now more than in any previous era – we still, when we want to hear a story, tend to look no further than our own backyard.

Perhaps this tendency is driven by our ever-growing hunger for familiarity and connection. Yet Ann Arbor’s Spinning Dot Theatre – which specializes in global children’s theater, and has both a youth company and an adult repertory company – believes that exploring stories from faraway places not only offers exciting new ways to connect, but also provides ways to reframe the struggles that we may be too close to to see clearly.

SDT’s latest presentation, “The Kids from Amandla Street,” is the company’s first-ever Unity Production – meaning that it features both youth and adult SDT actors, with various levels of experience – and comes from South Africa. (SDT’s age recommendation for “Amandla” is ten or older, since issues related to racism, violence, and immigration are explored.) READ THE REST HERE

My We Love Ann Arbor preview for the Threads All Arts Festival

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 12.43.11 AM.pngWhen you first hear about the Threads All Arts Festival, happening for just the second time ever this weekend, you might have a vague notion, as I did, of a big event featuring local fiber artists.


Let me help: instead of focusing on the “Threads” part, focus instead on the “All Arts” part, and you’ll get a much more accurate sense of this ambitious festival’s vision, which involves bringing together local artists who create different kinds of music, dance, poetry, visual art, film and more.
“We spent a few months trying to name it, and came up with some silly names, like Local Grounds and Locally Bassed,” said co-founder/drummer Nicole Patrick. “At the end of a long night, someone was standing on a rug and said, ‘We should name it Threads, because … it’s about all these art forms coming together, and being woven together.’”

Patrick was a U-M music school senior when she and a friend (Samuel Schaefer) applied for and received a grant from the school’s EXCEL entrepreneurial program. The inaugural Threads All Arts Festival happened in April 2016 at Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn.

“It was really an experiment,” said Patrick. “ … Being artists ourselves, it was a melting pot of things we wish would happen for us at a gig. We made all these plans to get people to help the artists carry their gear, help them get it hooked up on stage – at the end of the festival, that’s where we heard the most positive feedback. … One of our philosophies is that, if the artist is happy and appreciative, the audience feels that. … If an artist wants to perform and gives their all, and it matters to them, that reads in the audience.” READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor story about the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s place in the town’s cultural ecosystem

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 1.06.03 PM.pngBecause Ann Arbor has long been the home of North America’s oldest experimental film festival – 2018 will mark the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s 56th year – the town also has also become the home of some pretty big AAFF fans.

Robin Sober and her husband were living outside of Toronto in the 1990s when they visited Ann Arbor and stumbled upon the cutting edge annual film fest (happening March 20-25 this year, at the Michigan Theater and other venues). “It became part of the story of why we loved Ann Arbor, and why we wanted to move here,” said Sober, a retiree who now works as a leadership consultant. She and her husband Ron arrived in 1999 and have lived in Ann Arbor since. “ … We tended to always travel to university towns, because they generally have an open-mindedness that we like, and used books and music stores, and things like that that we appreciate. When we came to Ann Arbor, the town had that, but it also had something special beyond that. And that’s the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which is so near and dear to us now – to the point where Ron and I sponsor an experimental film award as part of our contribution to the festival.” READ THE REST HERE