As part of Jenn McKee and Don Calamia’s new Platonic Theater Date review series, they attended the same Saturday performance of Detroit Public Theatre’s “Birthday Candles” on May 26, and followed-up with a conversation about the show. Here’s their joint review:
After moments of extreme duress, people often say, “my life flashed before my eyes” – but in Noah Haidle’s drama “Birthday Candles,” now having its world premiere at Detroit Public Theatre through June 3, we instead bear witness to a highly compressed version of someone else’s long, eventful-but-ordinary life.
Specifically, Ernestine Ashworth’s (Claire Karpen) life. We first meet Ernestine on her seventeenth birthday, as her mom (Hallie Lee Bard, who plays multiple roles) is performing the ritual of making her daughter a cake, and also helping Ernestine run lines for her school’s feminist production of “King Lear.” Kenneth (Daniel Pearce), a nerdy neighbor boy smitten with Ernestine, drops by with a gift – the first of what will be a long series of goldfish – and a prom-posal, but after Ernestine turns him down, Matt (Michael Brian Ogden) drops by, causing Ernestine to visibly swoon, despite her stated commitment to live an unconventional life that will “surprise God.”
The scene ends with a audio cue, like a bell, that signals the passage of time to a near-future birthday of Ernestine’s, wherein she’s assumed responsibility for making her own cake in the exact way her mother did, citing the importance of this ritual. And this jump forward in time happens repeatedly throughout the 80 minute play (directed by Vivienne Benesch), so that we see Ernestine’s life play out in bursts as she gets married, raises a family, suffers loss and heartbreak, launches a business, re-discovers her independence, and experiences both profound joy and terrifying loneliness. Continue reading