REVIEW: Tipping Point Theatre’s ‘Miss Firecracker Contest’ kicks off the season with laughs

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Kryssy Becker stars in Tipping Point Theatre’s production of Beth Henley’s “The Miss Firecracker Contest.”

When even the Miss America Pageant is taking a long, hard look at itself (and eliminating its trademark swimsuit competition) in this #MeToo moment, you might be surprised to learn that Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre recently opened its twelfth season with a production of Beth Henley’s “The Miss Firecracker Contest” (1980).

After all, the Southern fried comedy focuses on Carnelle (Kryssy Becker), a reformed, churchgoing, good-deed-doing young woman who previously had been known around her Mississippi hometown as “Miss Hot Tamale.” Carnelle’s decided that if she can win the town’s annual beauty pageant, she might finally be able to put her bad reputation behind her, and maybe even leave town in a “blaze of glory.”

Director Dani Cochrane confesses in her program note that she, too, was initially wary of the play’s messages, but that over time, she and her cast came to appreciate “Miss Firecracker”’s characters and their “desperate need for love and acceptance.”

For in addition to Carnelle, there’s her beautiful older cousin Elain (Hallie Bee Bard) – a former Miss Firecracker herself – who’s run away from her wealthy husband and children; her brother Delmount (Patrick Loos), a mercurial, vain, self-styled poet and lothario who has a score to settle with Elain; Popeye (Maggie Meyer), an eccentric but good-hearted new seamstress in town who’s commissioned to make Carnelle’s pageant costumes; Mac Sam (Aaron Kirby), a self-destructive carnie and former beau of Carnelle’s; and Tessy (Shauna Hitchcock), an assertive stage manager for the pageant who once shared an evening with Delmount that he’d prefer to forget.

Like Cochrane, I approached “Miss Firecracker” with reservations (and I don’t mean our tickets). Having watched a previous production years ago, I didn’t count myself as a big fan of what had felt like a dated script. However, I’m usually pretty open to giving shows another go, especially when there are artists whose work I respect involved – and that’s definitely the case at Tipping Point.

So was the talent involved enough to win me over? Keep reading. Continue reading

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REVIEW (We Love Ann Arbor): Kickshaw’s ‘Milvotchkee, Visconsin’ is moving, no matter how you say it

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The cast of Kickshaw Theatre’s “Milvotchkee, Visconsin.” (Sean Carter Photography)

Shortly before I saw Kickshaw Theatre’s production of Laura Jacqmin’s “Milvotchkee, Visconsin,” I learned that a kind-hearted woman I’d known in high school was recently diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer (while being x-rayed for a completely unrelated condition).

All of which is to say, I’d already been mulling over the ways disease shatters our precarious sense of control over our bodies and our lives when I arrived to watch this play, which deftly, candidly chronicles an aging woman’s (Molly’s) journey into dementia. (Presumably Alzheimer’s, but the script pointedly avoids naming Molly’s illness.)

Jacqmin tells the story through Molly’s point of view – which is less common than approaching it through the lens of loved ones, in part because it’s far more challenging. After all, how do you convey a clear tale from a person who’s losing her grip on memory and reality? Yet Jacqmin makes this bold authorial leap with wit and commitment; and when her script is paired with Kickshaw artistic director Lynn Lammers’ sure-handed direction, the results are, by and large, quite moving.

Molly (Nancy Elizabeth Kammer), a widow, has spent years giving tours of Wisconsin Concrete Park, a strange, real-life roadside attraction that was the brainchild of a man named Fred Smith. The sculptures depict an odd assortment of scenes, built by a man who wasn’t an artist but nonetheless felt compelled to make them, from concrete and pieces of glass (often from beer bottles). We accompany Molly as she gives tours – sometimes with her long-dead husband Richard (Michael Hays) along for the ride – but we also tag along as she sees her doctor (Dave Davies), receives visits from her two grown children (Aral Gribble and Sonja Marquis), gets confused while watching a movie, confronts a haunting personification of her disease (which she diagnoses as a hole in her head), and participates in a support group session. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (We Love Ann Arbor): Theatre Nova’s ‘The Totalitarians’ lampoons American politics

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 2.42.42 PM.pngHarvey Milk famously said, “Politics is theater,” and he wasn’t wrong. When everything you say and do on the campaign trail, and while in office, is closely scrutinized by the public you serve, your behavior is inevitably shaped by that awareness.

Not surprisingly, this natural kinship between two performative constructs has resulted in a number of plays about politicians and the people who work with them, and Theatre Nova’s production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s black comedy “The Totalitarians” (which had its world premiere in 2014) is among the most recent crop.

“The Totalitarians” focuses on a young and hungry political operative wannabe named Francine (Sayre Fox), who hitches her wagon to rising star Penelope Easter (Diane Hill), a Nebraska state government candidate more famous for her great hair than for clear policy positions or eloquence.

Francine’s physician husband Jeffrey (Joe Zarrow) – who feels neglected, wants a baby, and questions Francine’s advocacy for a seemingly unqualified, shallow candidate – also struggles at work, where he meets (and treats) a young, manic conspiracy theory nut named Ben (Connor Forrester). Instead of working up the courage to deliver Ben’s dire prognosis, Jeffrey falls under the sway of Ben’s bizarre notions about a secret plan to make Nebraska a totalitarian state.

“The Totalitarians” clearly doesn’t aim to paint a realistic portrait. (Francine, despite being “on the rise,” is a pretty terrible speech writer, and Jeffrey, who can’t screw up the courage to give his patients bad news, could not possibly retain a license to practice medicine). Rather, it’s an over-the-top bit of silliness, lampooning our political system. Understood. And perhaps the seriousness of our current, divisive political climate makes it harder to sit back and laugh.

Because I must confess, I didn’t find myself laughing much at all. READ THE REST HERE

Dexter’s Encore Theatre gets ready to play ‘A Little Night Music’

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The cast of Encore Theatre’s “A Little Night Music.” (Photo by Michele Anliker)

Director/choreographer Matthew Brennan is gearing up for a kind of “Sondheim hat trick” at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

In 2016, Brennan helmed (and performed as Lee Harvey Oswald in) Encore’s award-winning rendition of “Assassins”; in 2017, he labored for months to bring his searing, unique vision for “Sweeney Todd” to life on Encore’s modest stage (and earned accolades and awards again); and now, he’s running rehearsals for “A Little Night Music,” experimenting and making adjustments.

“We’re doing a run with British dialects tonight, just to ramp up the comedy of manners,” said Brennan. “But it’s working so well, I’m thinking maybe we’ll leave it in, or at least leave a little of that flavor. I always thought it was so weird when (‘Night Music’ productions) did that. I mean, I get that it makes it feel more otherworldly. But the story takes place in Sweden!” Continue reading