My Pulp preview of Encore Theatre’s junior production of ‘James and the Giant Peach’

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Encore Theatre’s junior production of “James and the Giant Peach.” (Photo by Michele Anliker Photography)

Perhaps it’s a sign of how trippy a moment we find ourselves in that the work of Roald Dahl seems suddenly, particularly ubiquitous.

For just as a touring production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues its run at Detroit’s Fisher Theater, regional productions of the James and the Giant Peach stage musical — with a book by Timothy Allen McDonald, and music and lyrics by U-M grads and Oscar, Tony, and Grammy Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul — have been sprouting up everywhere, including at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

Encore’s junior production, which begins February 28 and runs for eight performances through March 8, features 22 young performers, ranging in age from eight to 18.

“One of the things I love about [the show] is, not just the chosen family aspect of it, but also, James has this ability to be dealt a terrible hand constantly, and yet he always finds a way to make it better, and always finds the good in things that other are quick to overlook and discard,” said Matthew Brennan, the director of Encore’s production. “The insects, for example, these pests people just want out of their house. … [H]e finds potential in them, and that speaks to something really cool about this story.”

In the stage musical, young James awakes in an orphanage after having a nightmare about his parents’ death-by-rhinos at the London Zoo. (Dahl’s stories for children always have a pretty dark, black comedy lining.) James has no one to tell his story to but a ladybug and a grasshopper, but soon, he’s swept away to live with two aunts who consider him to be little more than an unpaid laborer.

After saving an earthworm from a centipede, and spilling magic potion onto a tree, James soon finds a newly grown, enormous peach on the tree, and he and his insect friends end up setting sail on it, crossing the ocean toward New York. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of the UMS presentation of ‘As Far as My Fingertips Take Me’

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 2.33.20 PMWhenever I see news footage of refugees, I always think, “How bad would things have to get before I packed a bag and fled from my home?”

The answer, of course, is really, really bad, especially when doing so would likely put me in mortal danger and leave me vulnerable, indefinitely, in countless ways.

So I knew that As Far As My Fingertips Take Me — a one-on-one installation performance that’s part of University Musical Society’s No Safety Net 2.0 theater series — would likely challenge me and make the pain of diaspora more tangible. But what I couldn’t have guessed is how strangely attached I’d become to the visible marks it left upon my skin.

Created by Tania Khoury and performed by Basel Zaraa (a Palestinian refugee born in Syria), the experience begins when you bare your left arm to the elbow, sit next to a white wall, pull on a pair of headphones, trustingly extend your arm through a hole in the wall, and listen to a recording of Zaraa telling his own refugee story, accompanied by an atmospheric rap inspired by his sisters’ journey from Damascus to Sweden.

On the recording, Zaraa introduces himself and says, “This is me, touching your arm,” and there’s something both unnerving and comforting about experiencing touch without being able to see its source. First, you feel the pads of your fingers being inked, one by one, and then you feel different areas of your arm being gently drawn upon: a line from one fingertip to a small boat full of people at the center of your palm; and from your wrist to your elbow, a caravan of walking figures, dragging their possessions toward a distinct border.

Zaraa completes the figures before the music ends, leaving you to look at your newly decorated arm and read a long poem (printed on the same wall) that contains the refrain that gives the song you’re hearing its thematic shape: “We only want what everybody wants.” READ THE REST HERE