Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s “Mad As A Hatter” Is A Tea Party Reunion With Old Friends

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Roustabout Theatre's Mad As a Hatter

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Whether we’ve read Lewis Carroll's books or not, most of us are familiar with the character Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. One of the more iconic figures is the Mad Hatter with his tea party and nonsense riddles. Alice was based on a real person, Alice Liddell, but what about the Mad Hatter? Playwright Michael Alan Herman has proposed that he was, one Theophilus Carter, a well-known (at the time) furniture salesman and inventor who, according to Herman and others, bears a striking resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations of the Mad Hatter. 

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s Mad As a Hatter -- directed by Joey Albright -- imagines Carter (Russ Schwartz) and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym) as school friends who grew up together then grew apart after Dodgson published his less than flattering portrayal of his good friend in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the play, Carter is haunted by his literary alter-ego the Mad Hatter, who not only comes to life but also bears a striking resemblance to Dodgson (both Dodgson and the Mad Hatter are played by Jeffrey Miller). 

The State of the Art of Surveillance: "Blind House: Utopia and Dystopia in the Age of Radical Transparency"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Blind House

The Institute for Humanities Gallery is currently housing "Blind House: Utopia and Dystopia in the Age of Radical Transparency," a collaborative installation by artists Paloma Muñoz and Walter Martin. Along the walls are digitally altered photographs of the architectural exteriors of houses and in the center of the room a miniature glass house. There is a school desk in the center of the glass house, on top of which sits a red typewriter.

Visitors are free to enter the space, grab a blank sheet of paper from under the chair, and try to create their own utopia on paper. On the desk there are instructions for the visitor in English and Spanish: “1. Read and throw the existing utopia in the garbage. 2. Write your own utopia and leave it on the typewriter for the next participant. Please feel free to look through the garbage.”

In front of the desk, there is a trash can, which was filled with crumpled up, discarded utopias, demonstrating the past participation of gallery visitors in the work. 

This Woman's Work: Camille Noe Pagan’s "I’m Fine and Neither Are You" tracks the troubles and radical honesty of a working mom

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Camille Noe Pagan and her book I'm Fine and Neither Are You

Author photo by Myra Klarman

The opening chapters of Camille Noe Pagan’s fifth book, I’m Fine and Neither Are You, communicate the struggles of the modern-day working mother. Penelope Ruiz-Kar is in it up to her eyeballs, “which is pretty much every woman I know these days," says the Ann Arbor-based Pagan.

The book follows Penelope as she juggles a full-time job, an underemployed husband, and rambunctious children as well as day-to-day adulting. Meantime, Penelope’s best friend Jenny seems to have the perfect life -- a wealthy husband, an enviable marriage, the luxury of not having to work, one child who always behaved impeccably. Jenny appears to have it all, have it made. But everything is not what it seems.

Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers rocked their weekend residency at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

When Pulp talked to Joe Hertler in March 2017, he explained that for him and his group, The Rainbow Seekers, “Every show is a celebration in human connection. We are honored to cultivate an experience where people can have fun and be themselves.” 

Two years later, the connection still remains.

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers played at The Blind Pig on both March 30 and 31, their second two-night stop in Ann Arbor this academic year. Before the March 31 show even began, people were hollering at the band from the floor and taking pictures of flower-strewn stage. 

Everything flows at Argus Museum's photography exhibit “Water Is Life”

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Beutler's photo Fogged In

Frederick J. Beutler's Fogged In

Leave it to a museum in a city nestled in a state surrounded in three directions by water to appreciate that Water Is Life. For water is most definitely the topic in display in this expansive photographic exhibit winding its way through the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Argus Museum gallery space.

As curator Cheryl Chidester’s exhibit statement pithily tells us, “Five artists from the Ann Arbor Women Artists used their cameras to capture images that show the diversity, beauty and wonder of water” -- and do they ever.

Local photographers Frederick J. Beutler, Travis Erby, Daniela Gobetti, Sophie Grillet, and Sally Silvennoinen bring a special proficiency to their work at the Argus Museum. By way of professional expression and expertise, each of these talented photographers crafts artistry that’s as unique as a visual fingerprint marking their work as uniquely his or hers.

Harping Through Life: Peter Madcat Ruth celebrates his 70th birthday at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Peter Madcat Ruth

A breathtakingly brilliant harmonica player who’s been an essential part of the Ann Arbor music scene for decades, Peter Madcat Ruth will officially celebrate his 70th birthday on Tuesday, April 2. But his big birthday bash will happen two days later at The Ark on Thursday, April 4, when he’ll be joined by an impressive number of special guests for a roof-raising celebration. Joining Madcat at The Ark will be Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Joshua Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel, and Joel Brown, with the proceedings emceed by WEMU-FM music host Michael Jewett. 

Madcat is understandably best known for his virtuosic harmonica playing, but he’s also a gifted vocalist and just as impressive on ukulele, guitar, and a host of other instruments.

Recently I spoke to the laid-back, always friendly American roots music practitioner about his career, his upcoming birthday bash, and some of the top artists he’s worked with over the last 50 years or so.

Polly Rosenwaike's stories give an intimate glimpse into the contexts of motherhood

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Polly Rosenwaike and her book Look How Happy I'm Making You

Author photo by Michael Lionstar.

Women who want babies. Women who do not. Women who try hard for a baby, and women who easily become pregnant. Women who lose a baby, and women who have one. 

These women populate the stories in Look How Happy I’m Making You, the debut collection by Polly Rosenwaike. Efforts to conceive and be mothers -- and the effects of those efforts on these women -- engage them. 

Rosenwaike’s stories, however, do not only center on the processes and acts of conceiving, birthing, and parenting. This collection moreover illustrates the complexities of the feelings and relationships surrounding motherhood and the wish for it. 

Rosenwaike draws inspiration from her own experiences as a mother and often works from branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. A resident of Ann Arbor, she is the fiction editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, is widely published in literary magazines, reviews books, teaches at Eastern Michigan University, and has two daughters with her partner, poet Cody Walker. 

Rosenwaike will read and discuss Look How Happy I’m Making You at Literati Bookstore Wednesday, April 3, at 7 pm. She answered questions about life in Ann Arbor and her new collection. 

Ballet Preljocaj's "La Fresque" at the Power Center was arduous, ambitious, and alluring

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Ballet Preljocaj by Constance Guisset Studio

Ballet Preljocaj by Constance Guisset Studio.

French dance company Ballet Preljocaj performed its new full-length contemporary ballet, La Fresque, at the Power Center on March 26 and 27. Ballet Preljocaj, presented by UMS, was in Ann Arbor for the fourth time and as usual, the company did not disappoint. (I was at the March 27 performance.)

La Fresque is based on the Chinese myth of a man who is drawn into a painting of young women. The man falls in love with and marries one of the women but is thrown out of the alternative universe by the woman’s guardians. The ballet ends with him looking at the painting again. Nothing has changed except the hair of one of the subjects, which is now up in a bun, with a flower in place to symbolize their marriage. 

Down With Blue Jeans: Tim Sendra talks bubblegum pop and the effort to preserve his brother's legacy

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Blue Jeans' Adult Hits LP and Down's Critically Acclaimed LP

Sometimes you're just too close to a situation to write a clever lede.

Blue Jeans features the married couple Tim Sendra (guitar) and Heather Phares (bass) with David Serra (drums). The Ann Arbor indie-rock trio's second album, Adult Hits, was produced by Fred Thomas and released on his cassette via his Life Like label.

Down MF featured Scott Sendra, Tim's brother, and a cast of friends and family members who helped the late guitarist and singer bringing his singular vision of strong-song-based noise-rock to hiss-filled vinyl. Last year, Thomas assisted Tim in bringing together Down's 7-inch singles for a compilation LP, Critically Acclaimed, released on the Loch Alpine label, named after the Dexter subdivision where the Sendras grew up. (Read an interview about Down's history here.)

I've known the Sendra brothers for 33 years, performed in bands with both of them in the early '90s -- I played bass on the first two Down singles and was in Veronica Lake with Tim -- and have recorded with everybody named in the preceding paragraphs aside from Serra (though it seems inevitable). I grieved intensely when Scott died of brain cancer in 2017. I was deeply thankful for Tim and Fred's efforts to honor Scott's sui generis talent by compiling Critically Acclaimed. There is no journalistic distance between me and these humans. I love them and their art -- and you should, too. That's it.

Blue Jeans rarely perform live, but the group will shake off the rust on Saturday, March 30 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti to celebrate the release of Adult Hits, which is also coming out on vinyl via the Spanish label Bobo Integral. I talked to Tim Sendra about Blue Jeans' sound, Down MF, and the future of his Loch Alpine label.

Tell 'Em It’s a Party: An Evening of the blues with Sugaray Rayford at Club Above

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sugaray Rayford

With two Blues Music Award nominations and a new album, Sugaray Rayford has made 2019 his year -- and it isn’t even April yet.

As part of a concert series supporting this year's Ann Arbor Blues Festival (August 16-19), the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based Rayford and his band will be making their first visit to Ann Arbor, promising a fabulous night of blues at Club Above on Sunday, March 31, in support of their recently released album, Somebody Save Me (Forty Below Records).

The entire album is the perfect vehicle for Rayford’s incredibly authentic voice and charisma. The record grabs the listener by her collar and takes her across the Mississippi Delta, through Chicago, to West Coast Swing, down to Texas, and back again. Described as having an “old school vocal style” reminiscent of such musicians as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding. and Teddy Pendergrass, Rayford seems tailor-made for the songs that appear on the album.