Crossing Borders: National Theatre of Ghana explores Tennessee Williams’ "Ten Blocks"

National Theatre of Ghana

National Theatre of Ghana will turn Ten Blocks on the Camino Real into a Ghanaian Concert Party."

Theater-goers in Southeast Michigan will soon have four chances to see a unique production of Tennessee Williams’ one-act play Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, the foundation of his later expanded work Camino Real. The National Theatre of Ghana -- aka Abibigroma, the Ghanaian name of the theater troupe -- will perform the one-act play at outdoor venues in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit in a performance style known as Ghanaian Concert Party.

David Kaplan, the production’s director and also the curator of the annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival in Massachusetts, said he “learned about Ghanaian Concert Party in 1997 from someone in the Peace Corps who had seen performances in Ghana. Concert Party is a form of outdoor theater that combines African stock characters, clowning, singing, and dance -- and social satire. I love clowning that delivers insight."

Kaplan "thought for years about a suitable text" to adapt for a Ghanaian Concert Party "and it seemed a perfect fit for performing Ten Blocks on the Camino Real. The American actor Greg McGoon, who had worked with Abibigroma, introduced me to the ensemble. It fit their mission, too, performing popular theater as a way to build community.”

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A2CT's “Seussical, the Musical” will transport viewers to a magic kingdom


Ann Arbor Civic Theatre presents Seussical, the Musical

Rob Roy and Eric VanWasshnova in SeussicalM, which takes aesthetic inspiration from a Disney Cruise restaurant. Photo: 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.”

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Heads Will Roll: Theatre Nova's "The Revolutionists" is equal parts comedy and tragedy


Theatre Nova's The Revolutionists

Hilarious freedom: Theatre Nova's The Revolutionists explores feminism and insurrection with quick wit.

The Revolutionists takes place in 1793, during the French Revolution and the start of the Reign of Terror. But Theatre Nova's production of Lauren Gunderson’s play is remarkably fresh and relevant today. The characters’ language and mannerisms are entirely present-day, and the four strong women the play portrays are fighting for freedoms that many women, racial minorities, and the disenfranchised still do not enjoy even today.

Even though The Revolutionists is set during one of the most horrifying periods in history, and it’s clear that not enough has changed about these issues since then, the play is far from a downer.

It is, in fact, mostly a comedy.

And what a premise for a comedy.

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PTD’s "Anatomy of a Murder" features iconic UP setting, still relevant themes


PTD Productions, Anatomy of a Murder

The stage version of "Anatomy of a Murder" differs from the more famous book and film versions -- and not always for the best.

John Voelker -- a defense lawyer, prosecuting attorney, and Michigan Supreme Court Justice -- brought legal credibility, unusual frankness, and a down-home Upper Peninsula sensibility to his landmark novel Anatomy of a Murder (under the pen name Robert Travers).

Director Otto Preminger and screenwriter Wendell Mayes brought those qualities to the 1959 film version, shot in and around Marquette. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards including best picture and best actor for James Stewart.

PTD Productions in Ypsilanti is presenting a later stage version by Elihu Winer. Winer’s plodding version eliminates some major characters and key plot points and makes little of the UP atmosphere that is a central feature in Voelker’s novel and Preminger’s stark black and white location photography. This is a wordy, condensed version, though still set in the deeply rural 1950s UP.

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Encore offers diverting, funny, and timely ‘9 to 5’


Purple Rose Theatre, Harvey

Photo courtesy of Michele Anliker Photography.

A video projection of Dolly Parton hovers over the Encore Theatre stage. The always charming country singer/songwriter plays host to Encore’s production of 9 to 5, a Broadway musical of the hit movie 1970s comedy starring Parton, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dabney Coleman.

Parton teases that what we are about to see took place in 1979, a time of disco music, no internet and less enlightened thinking.

Unfortunately, last year’s presidential campaign made it clear that issues of gender equality and sexual harassment are still alive and kicking. And 9 to still gets a lot of knowing laughter about a workplace culture skewed to male privilege.

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Brass Tacks' take on "Merchant of Venice" lets you decide who's a hero or villain


Brass Tacks Ensemble, The Merchant of Venice

The 2017 Brass Tacks ensemble is taking on three Shakespeare plays this season and stripping them down to their essence.

The Brass Tacks Ensemble has been performing shows in Ann Arbor since 1999. The company is known for stripping down its productions to the most basic elements of theater -- the text of a script and actors acting -- and eliminating as many distractions as possible so the audience's attention is focused on universal themes.

According to artistic director James Ingagiola, “The more you add to a production in terms of costumes, props, sets, etc., the more you lock it into a specific story about very specific people in a very specific time.” Put another way, Brass Tacks prides itself on being the antithesis of spectacle theater.

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However it’s made, Ellipsis Theatre's "Sausage" is good fun


The School for Sausage

Masked men and women: The School for Sausage is a commedia dell’arte filled with high-energy humor.

The raucous atmosphere of The School for Sausage is evident even before the play starts -- one of the characters plays ukulele in the middle of the stage, other characters prance about to warm up, and the director tells you that because this is commedia dell’arte and you will never see this exact play ever again.

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Backyard Dreaming: Penny Seats' "Peter and the Starcatcher"


Penny Seats, Peter and the Starcatcher

Rarely has an Ann Arbor stage been so uniquely suited to a play as West Park is to Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice’s Tony-winning prequel to Peter Pan, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.

West Park, which serves as the summer home of The Penny Seats Theatre Company, is versatile and adaptable to a wide variety of theatrical experiences. When I saw Peter and the Starcatcher last weekend, a friend turned to me at intermission and said, “This set looks like it would if I were a kid playing pirates and make-believe out in my backyard.” And it does. Many of the imaginatively used props consist of mismatched, cobbled-together items like grocery shopping carts, kitchen timers, a plastic pineapple, coconut shells, and more.

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Talent Show: "Shakespeare Unplugg’d" at The Ark

Ann Arbor theatergoers usually have to travel to Jackson to see performances by the critically acclaimed Michigan Shakespeare Festival (MSF). But on Monday, July 31, MSF company members will come to The Ark in Ann Arbor to perform. Granted, it's not a play; it's MSF's seventh annual Shakespeare Unplugg’d, a no-holds-barred variety show.

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Strike Up the Band and KissME: Swing dance fest jitterbugs back to Ann Arbor


KissME, Keep It Simple and Swing, Ann Arbor

From the ballroom to the Huron, KissMe's swing dancers are ready to wiggle it (just as little bit). Photos by Kenny Schabow.

Time to jump, jive, and wail at the 9th annual KissME (Keep It Simple and Swing) in Ann Arbor! The event brings "hundreds of people together for a weekend of music, fun, and dancing," says organizer Kenny Schabow.

While many folks enjoy jitterbugging about, they might not know swing dancing's storied history. When swing jazz took off in the 1920s, the style of dance we now call “swing” exploded right along with it. While the origins of jazz and swing dancing predate that era, its popularity began hitting the mainstream in the early decades of the 20th century. Dozens of styles were being flaunted in the dance halls with the most popular being the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, and the shag.

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