Two U-M exhibitions examine the battle for equality on campus

Constructing Gender: The Origins of Michigan's Union and League, The Student Experience: Flappers, Mappers, and The Fight for Equality on Campus

A fine example of "Young American Womanhood" from the "Constructing Gender: The Origins of Michigan's Union and League" exhibition.

Two local art exhibits highlight equality on University of Michigan’s campus: one focuses on two particular campus buildings while the other looks at the students and campus as a whole.

"Constructing Gender: The Origins of Michigan's Union and League" at UMMA

You’ve driven by them dozens of times: the Michigan Union and the Michigan League. You know that inside these iconic campus buildings are study rooms, eateries, visitor suites. But did you know they were originally envisioned as being separate facilities for male and female students?

The UMMA exhibit “Constructing Gender: The Origins of Michigan’s Union and League” highlights the fascinating -- and very gendered -- beginnings of these structures. Early planners intended the entire university to be gender segregated. President Marion Burton said in 1921, “[M]en’s interests will center south and west of campus … while new buildings for women will go to the north of campus” and these buildings were no exception. The Union (opened in in 1919) was intended for men while the League (opened in 1929) was to be the domain of women. To raise funds for the buildings, fundraisers pitched the League as “The House That Jill Would Build” while the Union used the slogan, “What 2,000 Michigan men go after they are certain to get.”


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #633

An April 2017 LibraryReads, Kate Eberlen's engaging debut Miss You * brings to mind One Day by David Nicholls, where two souls that are meant to be, crisscross each other for years without connecting, after a chance meeting as 18 year-olds.

Tess and (An)Gus first met in a dim church in Florence and bumped into each other on the Ponte Vecchio while on holiday, before heading off to university in London.


"The Bridges of Madison County" makes its Michigan debut at The Dio Theatre

The Bridges of Madison County at The Dio Theatre

Francesca (Marlene Inman) and Robert (Jon McHatton) are 'bout to cross that chasm in The Dio Theatre's production of The Bridges of Madison County. Photo by Michele Anliker.

The stage musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, now making its Michigan premiere at Pinckney’s Dio Theatre, ends its first act with a moment that feels like a key catching in a lock -- and in that instant, you feel each person in the audience make a choice: they’re either checking out or they’re all in.

Why? Because the show’s story, set in Iowa in 1965, focuses on a lonely, middle-aged, Italian former war bride (Francesca, played by Marlene Inman) who, while her husband and two teenage children are away for a few days at the Indiana State Fair, finds herself irresistibly drawn into a love affair with an itinerant National Geographic photographer (Robert, played by Jon McHatton) who’s in town to shoot pictures of the local covered bridges.


Hail to the Catholepistemiad Michigania: 200 years of U-M at “True Blue!”

True Blue! A Tribute to Michigan

True Blue! A Tribute to Michigan danced through 200 years of Wolverine history. Photo courtesy of Michigan Photography.

Saturday evening’s sold-out, star-studded True Blue! A Tribute to Michigan event at Hill Auditorium, celebrating U-M’s bicentennial, began like Michigan football games do: with the sonorous voice of Carl Grapentine.

But instead of introducing the Michigan Marching Band, Grapentine introduced two of the evening’s emcees, Glee star Darren Criss (’09) and Grimm star Jacqueline Toboni (’14), who welcomed musical theater majors to the stage to perform a special version of “The Victors,” arranged by A.J. Holmes (’11); and theater majors, who delivered a rap about U-M’s founding and growth -- wherein we learned that the school was originally called Catholepistemiad -- or University -- of Michigania. (Thankfully, the name didn’t stick. Imagine spelling that in the stadium.)


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #632

Author Caite Dolan-Leach's clever title for her debut Dead Letters * references the obvious, but also its alternate definition.

Graduate student Ava Antipova made her way home to upstate New York when news of her estranged twin Zelda's death reached her in Paris. They have not spoken for 2 years after a bitter betrayal.

Arriving at Seneca Lake where the family's failing vineyard Silenus, was located, Ava immediately stepped into caring for their ailing mother and estranged father who long ago, abandoned them for a sunnier vineyard, wealthier wife, and a younger family in California. Almost immediately, even before the Police suspected foul play, Ava began receiving cryptic emails and social media messages from Zelda.

Arranged in 26 chapters, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet and recounting the games the twins played as children, Zelda led Ava on a scavenger hunt, delivering "a lock-room mystery with flavors of Perec", which as it became increasingly obvious, was also a taunt for the Edgar Allan Poe scholar (subject of Ava's dissertation) and the OuLiPo Movement - writers obsessed with mysteries and literary games.

"In this, her startling debut novel, Dolan-Leach nimbly entwines the clever mystery of Agatha Christie, the wit of Dorothy Parker, and the inebriated Gothic of Eugene O’Neill." (Kirkus Reviews)

For readers who enjoyed Sister by Rosamund Lupton, and The Widow by Fiona Barton.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts, full archive


Carving Out a Niche: Marian Short's "Cakeasaurus: Scenes From a Picture Book"


Quimby Law Awake is now a part of the Ann Arbor District Library's borrowable prints collection.

Cakeasaurus, the gleefully cake-thieving, sweet-sneaking monster brainchild of Ann Arbor printmaker/storyteller Marian Short, will be lurking on the walls and in the halls of the Taubman Health Center's North Lobby from now until June 11, 2017. Cakeasaurus: Scenes From a Picture Book is curated by Gifts of Art, a program designed to bring art and music to patients, visitors and staff in the University of Michigan Health System.

Amusingly paired with this series of Cakeasaurus prints are the sweet yet dangerous-looking glass confections of Janet Kelman. A combination of pate de verre, slumped and sheet glass, the sugary looking cupcakes and gateaux look delicious, but engender feelings of both attraction and dismay at the thought of biting into one of these glossy but inedible desserts. Cakeasaurus beware!

The (mostly) wood block prints in Cakeasaurus: Scenes From a Picture Book describe the exploits of the cake-stealing monster through its 8-year development from inception into what Short hopes will soon become a children’s book. They track the artist’s process as she refines, rethinks, and develops the story visually and narratively. Short is generous and humorous in her explanations of her creative process and thoughtfully provides several large explanatory prints, visually satisfying in their own right, to accompany the smaller artworks.


Purple Rose’s Vino Veritas finds humor and pain in the middle class

Vino Veritas

Aphrodite Nikolovski lets the truth be known to Alex Leydenfrost and Kate Thomsen / Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

The Purple Rose Theatre has made its mark as an outstanding professional theater company with smart, contemporary comedies with a sting.

So it’s appropriate that the Chelsea theater founded by Jeff Daniels would mark its 100th presentation with a new production of Detroit playwright David MacGregor’s Vino Veritas, which had its world premiere at the Purple Rose in 2008. It is a fine example of the plays that the company has premiered over the years. It’s contemporary, witty, fast-paced but also biting, brutally honest, and perceptive about the worries and frustrations of middle-class Americans.

Vino Veritas is set in “an upper middle class living room” on Halloween night. As the play opens a couple are waiting for their neighbors to come for a drink before they all head off for their annual appearance at a costume party.

The couple has recently returned from a trip to Peru. This was a rare adventure for the two studio photographers who had once been daring photojournalists. It was, it seems, an attempt to re-spark a troubled relationship. While there, the wife is given a bottle of wine made from the skin of blue dart tree frogs. The wine is alleged to be a truth serum.

The wife wants to share the wine with their neighbors; the husband is horrified by the idea. The madness ensues when the wine flows.


Complicite’s "The Encounter" is a hallucinatory audio playground

The Encounter

Simon McBurney is a one-man cast of hundreds in Complicite’s The Encounter. Photo by Tristram Kenton x1080.

Thursday’s opening night performance of Complicite’s The Encounter, presented by UMS (and running through Saturday night), got me thinking about how, when you’re a parent of young kids, you notice on a daily basis how their powers of imagination, and capacity for wonder, utterly dwarf your own. Now, this isn’t too surprising when you consider how often kids are encouraged to conjure up stories and images, while the adults around them are stuck in “adulting” mode: worrying about work, home upkeep, money, relationships, emails, appointments, and various other responsibilities.

So how do you lure a capacity crowd of over-stressed adults down the rabbit hole of imagination and deep into the Amazonian rainforest? By finding new, innovative ways to open this often-jammed door in our brains.

With The Encounter, Complicite -- one of Britain’s (and the world’s) most inventive theater companies -- achieves new levels of theatrical immersion by delivering the show’s time-hopping, atmospheric narrative to the audience through headphones; employing a visceral, binaural soundscape (designed by Gareth Fry, with Pete Malkin) that does a real number on your perception; and through employing lighting (Paul Anderson) and projections (Will Duke) that make a deceptively spare set (Michael Levine) -- with a textured foam backdrop, suggesting an enormous recording studio -- into a hallucinatory playground.


U-M’s "Insurrection" uses drama, comedy in a swirling, challenging trip through time


Left to right: Shaunie Lewis as Mutha Wit, Aaron Huey as Ron, and Eddie Williams Jr. as T.J. in Insurrection: Holding History. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

Time travel is a hot topic with three new television series featuring characters who travel back to historic events and learn some lessons about history and themselves.

Robert O’Hara’s 1995 play Insurrection: Holding History takes a fantastical and theatrical approach to time travel to offer some rich insights into African-American history and the continuing friction between black and white Americans.

The production by the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama at the Arthur Miller Theatre takes a fine measure of O’Hara’s swirling combination of broad satirical comedy, cultural touchstones, and searing drama as Insurrection moves back and forth from the present to the doomed and bloody 1831 slave uprising of Nat Turner.


Theatre Nova's "Clutter" explores the traps of false memories


Artun Kircali as Sir and Tory Matsos as Woman in Clutter. Photo by Jee-Hak Pinsoneault.

Much like a plaster casting mold, most modern American plays squeeze themselves into ready-made stylistic and thematic models that have a good track record. The styles can often be pinpointed back to one or two particularly significant behemoths that are scattered throughout the history of the American theater.

One such theatrical prototype is the Memory Play. It was initially popularized by playwright Tennessee Williams in the preface for his 1945 drama The Glass Menagerie. As Williams described it, “When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn’t be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are.”

The playwrights Pinter (Betrayal), Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa), and Leonard Jr. (The Diviners) are all known for their Memory Plays. Each examined different subjects, but all used the power of characters retelling their memories and dreams to exaggerate details in order to increase the emotional impact of those stories.

Clutter, the new show at Theatre Nova written by Brian Cox, is a world premiere Memory Play about the traps of false memories that we set for ourselves by taking part in nostalgic rumination.