REVIEW: Theatre Nova’s ‘The Revolutionists’ conquer all


K Edmonds and Melissa Beckwith in Theatre Nova’s production of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists.” (Photo by Jee-Hak Pinsoneault Photography)

“I’m here for a re-write,” Marie Antoinette tells feminist playwright Olympe de Gouges in Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists,” now playing at Theatre Nova.

But the prevailing edit achieved by the play itself is that France’s longstanding motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” gets tweaked so that the final word becomes “sororité.”

For sisterhood is precisely what develops when four very different, strong, smart, opinionated women (whose paths would have probably never crossed in real life) spend time talking things out in de Gouges’ study during the bloodiest years of the French Revolution. Continue reading

My Michigan Alumni Association newsletter story about the first women in the Michigan Marching Band

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 7.44.47 AM.pngIn the fall of 1972, the ranks of the Michigan Marching Band (MMB) significantly changed just after the passage that summer of Title IX. Twelve women got their first opportunity to don an MMB uniform and join their male counterparts on the field, with instruments, flags, and batons firmly in hand. But what should have been a shining moment for these new female members was undercut by having to perform “The Stripper” during their first halftime show in the Big House. What’s more, the formation for the song was a woman’s hemline, rising higher and higher.

“It just felt like such poor taste,” remembers Lynn Hansen, ’75, MA’77, who played tenor sax and was the section leader in the MMB that year. “I remember most of us women not feeling very swell about that. But there was this thinking, ‘Don’t make waves. We’ve got to make this work. We can’t be whiners.’”

U-M had officially struck down the MMB’s male-only policy a year earlier in 1971. However, nearly all Big Ten marching bands held firm to their no-female tradition until Title IX, passed 45 years ago this summer, banned sexual discrimination in federally funded education. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s ‘Seussical, the Musical’

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Rob Roy and Eric VanWasshnova in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s “Seussical, the Musical.” (Photo by Lisa Gavan/Gavan Photo)

The fanciful world of Dr. Seuss will come to life on the Mendelssohn Theater stage this weekend when Ann Arbor Civic Theatre presents Seussical, the Musical

“We were looking for a family fare kind of show,” said director Denyse Clayton. “Most every show for families is a ‘feel good’ show, but in the particular political climate we’re living in now, I think that to buy a ticket and go someplace magical to escape it all for a while feels particularly good.”

Seussical, with music, lyrics, and a book by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, made its Broadway debut in 2000. Combining characters and situations from a number of different Seuss tales, the show’s framing story involves a sweet-natured elephant named Horton (of Hears a Who fame), who struggles to protect not just an invisible, fractious population of Whos living on a speck of dust, but also a nearly-ready-to-hatch egg that’s carelessly thrust upon him by Mayzie. Meanwhile, Gertrude McFuzz pines for Horton, and a Who named Jojo, the mayor’s son, has unbridled, imaginative “thinks” that cause disruptions in his school and in his family. READ THE REST HERE

My latest Visit Ann Arbor! blog post, highlighting community and cultural events (September)

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 9.55.48 PM.pngSeptember marks the start of fall, when school resumes, huge crowds pack Michigan Stadium on Saturdays, temperatures start to get cooler, and cultural events kick into high gear in Washtenaw County. While this is partly because students are back in town, it’s also because most arts organizations launch a brand new season of offerings in the fall. So whether theater and classical music are your thing, or air shows and motorcycles, you can find them all here this month. READ THE REST HERE

My Communication Arts magazine profile of Chicago-based caricaturist Jason Seiler


The new Communication Arts Design Annual has arrived!

In illustrator and caricaturist Jason Seiler’s North Chicago apartment, there’s little to no separation between family and art.

Seiler’s tidy in-home studio—a white-walled den that branches off from the living room—is decorated with a large portrait painted by his wife, Jackie (who’s expecting the couple’s first child in the fall); a couple of paintings and a duck stamp by his award-winning wildlife painter father, Larry; a mounted fox that was a Christmas gift from his younger brother, Jeremy, who only recently began dabbling in taxidermy as a hobby (yet he has already won statewide awards in Wisconsin); a crayon drawing of Supergirl, created by one of Seiler’s two daughters (aged ten and thirteen) from his first marriage; and some of his own favorite projects, including covers from magazines and newspapers like the New York ObserverThe Weekly Standard and Time that take up every inch of the room’s folding closet doors.

Seiler—who wears a newsboy cap, often smokes a pipe when walking around his Rogers Park neighborhood and sports a number of tattoos—embraces the collision of art and family in his life now. But as a young, small-town Wisconsin kid who couldn’t stop sketching, he was driven to forge a space for himself, by himself. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: Encore Theatre’s ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ labors with thin story

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Alex Koza, Stacia Fernandez, and Thalia Schramm in Encore Theatre’s production of “9 to 5: The Musical.” (Photo by Michele Anliker Photography)

I thought that my un(der)employed status might make “9 to 5: The Musical” – which concluded its run at Dexter’s Encore Theatre on Sunday, August 27 – a double-edged sword: it would likely remind me of the workplace collegiality I miss, but also the office politics that I don’t.

Yet for me to have this response, the 2009 stage adaptation of the 1980 hit movie (starring Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda) would have to present an office culture and characters that felt, for a couple of hours at least, palpably real. But there’s ultimately not enough meat on the show’s bones to achieve that effect.

“9 to 5: The Musical” largely stays quite faithful to its original source material. Timid and broken Judy (Thalia Schramm) gets a job in the office pool when her husband Dick (Daniel Helmer) runs off with his own young secretary; Doralee (Alex Koza), a happily married blond bombshell, gets harassed daily by the unapologetically sexist boss Mr. Hart (Ernest William); and a highly capable widow named Violet (Stacia Fernandez) keeps getting passed over for promotions because she’s a woman. One evening, the three women bond over a joint, so later, when Violet believes she may have accidentally put rat poison in Mr. Hart’s coffee, she turns to her new friends for help. The poison turns out to be a false alarm, but when Hart tries to blackmail Doralee for sexual favors, the trio kidnap him and keep him hostage in his own house while they re-make the office in their own image.

The logistics and nature of this sustained detention, by the way, raised some pretty distracting questions for me, which pulled me out of the story now and then. For although the show is meant to be cartoonish, its real world setting means that the narrative must take that context, and its rules and rhythms, into account. Continue reading

REVIEW: Purple Rose Theatre’s ‘Harvey’ proves the classic show still has hops

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David Bendena, Michelle Mountain, Richard McWilliams, Hugh Maguire, Rusty Mewha, and Caitlin Cavannaugh in the Purple Rose Theatre’s “Harvey.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

When we’re stressed, we turn to comfort food – which may be one reason why Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre had a hit on its hands via Mary Chase’s 1944 comedy classic, “Harvey.”

Yes, people who sought a small break from anxiety about nuclear annihilation, white supremacy, and impending natural disasters were likely more than happy to be temporarily transported to a time when a man with a huge, imaginary bunny friend was of great concern.

The play – which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and is largely known these days through a 1950 film adaptation starring Jimmy Stewart – begins as Veta Simmons (Michelle Mountain) is throwing a high society coming-out party for her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Caitlin Cavannaugh), while Veta’s eccentric brother Elwood Dowd (Richard McWilliams) is supposed to be out playing cards. When Elwood arrives home unexpectedly and starts introducing Harvey, his invisible, six foot three inch tall rabbit friend, to party guests, Veta finally decides she needs to have Elwood committed. But when Elwood keeps charming everyone he meets, and the question of Harvey’s existence becomes murkier, Veta must decide what version of her brother she wants to have in her life. Continue reading

My latest WEMU 89.1 FM Art & Soul segment for September, with Lisa Barry and UMS President Matthew VanBesien

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 10.41.24 PM.pngWe talked with new UMS prez Matthew VanBesien about upcoming music and theatrical presentations. We also mention September performances presented by Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (I appear to have mispronounced “Bernstein” on air – facepalm – I blame my German language training) and The Ark – Ann Arbor. Check out the entire 8 minute segment here!

My Concentrate story on the near-extinction of arts criticism in Washtenaw County

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 9.58.27 AM.pngIn my past life as a staff arts critic for The Ann Arbor News, I sometimes worried that my hard-fought battles to articulate my responses to shows might be, in the end, little more than a self-indulgent (albeit personally satisfying) intellectual exercise.

 But then I’d run into the occasional person who took my reviews to heart. For instance, I once had lunch with my father and his former boss, and before we even sat down, my dad’s boss peppered me with questions like, “Why didn’t you care for The Mountaintop? I really liked that show. I mean, I read your review, but I really want to talk more about that show with you.”

So while not every Ann Arbor News subscriber read the paper’s locally produced cultural reviews, those who did often had strong reactions, and felt compelled (and downright excited) to extend the conversation further. Yet because of the revenue struggles news outlets have faced across the country, arts critics have been among the first journalists shown the door, rendering regional reviewers nearly extinct in many markets. And here in Washtenaw County, many in the arts community are bemoaning the effects of that transition. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Grown Folks Story Time at Bookbound

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 9.46.11 AM.pngAs adults, we often forget how pleasurable it can be shut everything off, stop talking for a while, and just listen to someone read a story out loud.

But Ann Arbor educator — and frequent Pulp contributor — Patti F. Smith remembered that childhood joy while skimming local event listings.

“There were all these different storytimes for children, and I thought about how much I loved story time as a kid when I was in school,” she said, adding that she then noticed that a group of young Detroiters “had an event that had interesting people reading interesting things. I went to it, and a woman — not an author — brought a book she just really liked, a memoir, and read some quick little lines from it. There was a brunch with mimosas, and it was just a lovely event. It wasn’t political, it wasn’t deep, it only lasted about an hour, but it just made me remember that it’s really, really nice to be read to. So I thought, well, why not have something in Ann Arbor?”

With this in mind, Smith has planned Grown Folks Story Time at BookBound on Thursday, August 24, at 7 pm. The theme is “childhood,” since the three participants will read from books they loved as kids. READ THE REST HERE