PTD’s "August: Osage County" mines rich humor and strong drama


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PTD Productions takes on Tracy Letts' 2008 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, August: Osage County.

Violet Weston is the sharp-tongued, nasty piece of work at the center of Tracy Letts’ brilliant family dissection August: Osage County. Violet can be awfully unpleasant, but she has her reasons, as do all the others in this play that is rich in symbolism but played with a tough realism.

Any good production of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play starts with a ferocious, vulgar, and yet sympathetic Violet, the matriarch of an Oklahoma family in transition. Janet Rich is all of that and more in Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions presentation of Letts’ play. She grumbles, complains, coos, and rages in the face of a tragedy that briefly unites her broken family.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #636 & #637



Fabulous Fiction Firsts #636

At long last. After 170 years, readers of Charlotte Brontë's beloved Jane Eyre (1847) and Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which tells the story of the mysterious madwoman in the attic, will finally hear from Mr. Rochester himself. Not only will we get a first-person perspective from "the brooding romantic antihero" created by Charlotte Brontë, but debut novelist Sarah Shoemaker has also created a credible back story and adds unexpected twists to the tale.

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Rooted in the Community: Westside Art Hop


Westside

Some Art Hop highlights, from the top left: handwoven art by Carol Furtado, Lisa L's Grixdolls, paintings by Sophie Grillet, glass work by Larry Nisson, and paintings by Barb Anderson.

What is the Westside Art Hop? Is it an art fair? A historic home tour? A block party?

Well, it’s all of those things plus a nice stroll, and it’s scheduled for Saturday, May 13, from 10 am to 5 pm on the streets and in the homes, garages, porches, and artists’ studios of Ann Arbor’s historic Old West Side.

The district’s resident artists, friends, and neighbors will be showing off -- and offering for sale -- a broad array of paintings, ceramics, blown glass, photography, and assorted fine crafts. On hand to greet visitors and converse will be the artists themselves. Organizers of the free event describe Art Hop as “artists supporting artists … rooted in the local community. We present high-quality art and hand-made crafts for sale to the public in a festive atmosphere.”

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Revival: “Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles" at Ann Arbor Art Center


Whipstich:

“Exploding Stars Quilt," Libs Elliott / "View III," Anna Von Mertens.

The Ann Arbor Art Center’s “Whipstitch: The State of Contemporary Textiles” does the rather nifty trick of reimagining yesterday’s art today through a conceptualization of what may be the art of tomorrow.

Granted, this notion may sound convoluted, but it’s really quite simple: Fiber, like architecture, can reasonably vie as the oldest of all arts. The reason for this is quite apparent with little consideration.

Yet the art of fiber (like another such ancient art, ceramics) has been essentially aesthetically dormant for millenniums -- and this is also for the same reason already considered. For as a practical artisan regard, fiber’s use has been largely defined rigidly as either being functional or fashionable with little thought outside of this.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #634 & #635



Fabulous Fiction Firsts #634

In Marlena * *, Julie Buntin's "(s)ensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful debut" (Kirkus Reviews), 15 year-old Cathy (now calling herself Cat), arrived at Silver Lake, a small rural community in Northern Michigan with her newly divorced mother and older brother, determined to shed her good-girl image and reinvent herself, and was immediately drawn to the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena, her next door neighbor.

Over the course of the coming weeks, the girls turned the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground - skipping school, running feral as Marlena introduced Cat to a new world of drinking and pills and sex and also friendship, the depth of which neither girl has experienced before. Within the year, Marlena was dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby.

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Michelle Hegyi's superb sense of spatial balance on display at the WSG


Michelle

“Wild Forest No. 1,” pigment on paper.

Illustrating the principle that an artful passion can arise from the coolest of mediums, Michelle Hegyi’s “Wild Forest” manages to encapsulate both passion and discipline in a further consolidation of aesthetic strategy.

This is the fifth time I’ve caught Hegyi’s art in her WSG context. There was a streak of exhibits—June 2006’s “The shape of the Sky”; August 2008’s “Gardens of Love and Fire”; August 2010’s “Do You Remember the Shape of Trees…”; and November 2012’s “How the Day Changes with the Light”—where it was possible to chart Hegyi’s growth transitioning from old school printmaking to digital printmaking.

It’s been a privilege to see her work advancing technologically even as she consolidated her print expertise. It’s equally good to note that she’s still as restless in her study as she is in her craft.

In this instance—and working happily in the juncture between abstraction and representation—Hegyi continues to craft a hybrid computer-based painting where her abstraction is comingled with her inspiration.

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Encore helps develop new musical take on ‘Into the Wild’


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Conor Ryan, as Christopher McCandless, sets off Into the Wild at the Encore Musical Theatre. / Photo by Michele Anliker.

The Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter is participating in an exciting creative collaboration. Encore is offering its space and many of its talented actors and musicians in the “developmental premiere” of a new musical based in part on Jon Krakauer’s best-selling non-fiction book “Into the Wild” and in part on “Back to the Wild,” a photographic history of Chris McCandless’s journey by the McCandless Foundation.

Krakauer’s book told the story of Chris McCandless, who took off after graduating from Emory University on a cross-country tour in search of adventure and his soul. The adventure ultimately led to the wilds of Alaska and a brutal death and left more questions than answers about McCandless and his quest.

The book was later adapted into a critically acclaimed movie under the direction of Sean Penn.

Janet Allard wrote the book and lyrics for the new musical with music and additional lyrics by Niko Tsakalakos. Mia Walker is the director. She has worked as director or been assistant director on Broadway, off-Broadway, and touring productions.

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Smooth Sailing: U-M’s "The Little Mermaid"


U-M's production of The Little Mermaid

Under the sea, you and me: Ariel (Halli Toland) and Prince Eric (Trevor Carr) take a dramatic pause in U-M's The Little Mermaid. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

The seaway to true love is full of perils in Disney’s The Little Mermaid but, of course, the young lovers bridge land and sea for a happy ever after. And the magical production of the University of Michigan Musical Theatre Department carries us smoothly along to that expected Disney end.

The Little Mermaid production at the Power Center for the Performing Arts is light, airy, expertly performed and a fine display of how imaginative staging can turn fluff into gold. The production continues 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. April 15 and 16.

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A Model Modern Pirate Musical: UMGASS's "The Pirates of Penzance"


With cat-like tread, upon their prey they steal.

Photo by Marilyn Gouin.

The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society (UMGASS) hits the stage at the Mendelssohn Theater again this weekend with what must be their umpteenth production of The Pirates of Penzance. Pirates is far and away Gilbert & Sullivan's best-known work, well-represented in popular culture, as demonstrated by Muppets, Animaniacs, Kevin Kline, and even a complete production in Yiddish.

UMGASS takes Pirates seriously, which is to say, not seriously at all, delivering a delightful community production, loaded with talent and laughs, that stays true to the original work without casting it in amber.

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The Great Eight: Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Michigan Theater


It’s been over 20 years since the Banff Mountain Film Festival launched its “world tour,” bringing various films from the competition to over 40 countries and hundreds of cities around the world. Ann Arbor has been lucky enough to be a stop on the tour for more than a decade.

The film festival, which takes place at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada each fall, features short films and documentaries about outdoor recreation of all sorts. Eight of the best films from the festival were shown at the Michigan Theater this past Tuesday evening.

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