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.

Gift of Character: David Pratt launches "Wallaçonia" at Common Language


David Pratt

David Pratt's latest novel, Wallaçonia, is about honesty and perserverance.

We all feel isolated during adolescence. But Jim Wallace, the main character in Ann Arbor-based author David Pratt’s new book, Wallaçonia, does something about it.

Feeling alienated from his own world, Jim imagines his parents’ yard and woods as his private country -- the titular Wallaçonia. But as we all must do, Jim grows up and realizes he has to leave behind not only his secret place but certain assumptions he made about himself.

Bookseller Pat Baxter asks Jim to work at his store with him over Christmas break. Jim at first feels conflicted about working for the openly gay Baxter. But when Jim’s father makes fun of Baxter, Jim takes a stand by working for him. He feels he should stand by this man and be an ally to Baxter. Through the course of the book, Jim realizes that is more than an ally -- he is gay himself.

“The book is more about the 'how' than the 'what,'” Pratt said. “Jim has some of the same insecurities as Pat and it was important to me to have a setting where they could talk and get to know each other.”

Choro-scuro: Danilo Brito brings Brazil's soul to Kerrytown Concert House


"Heitor Villa-Lobos said that choro represents the soul of Brazilian people," said Danilo Brito, a mandolinist from São Paulo who plays this form of music that Brazil's legendary composer so beloved.

The 32-year-old Brito has been playing choro -- a high-spirited, waltz- and polka-influenced music that dominated Brazilian popular music from the late 19th century and well into the 20th -- since he was a child. At age 10, he would go to music shops that hosted choro jams and would sit in with much older players, and at 19 he won the Prêmio Visa de Música Popular Brasileira, a prestigious competition that was held in São Paulo between 1998 and 2006.

As one of the leading exponents of choro, Brito is dedicated to exploring the genre's history and expanding on its compositional template, which typically includes three sections, all in different keys. "Choro continues to be played, composed, and is a living rich genre," he said.

Brito and his band -- Carlos Moura (7-string guitar), Guilherme Girardi (6-string guitar), and Lucas Arantes (cavaquinho, a small 4-string guitar) -- will demonstrate choro's lifeforce with a show at Kerrytown Concert House on Saturday, April 1. We talked with the mandolinist about his musical background and what makes choro the heart of all Brazilian popular music.

Lullabies & "Lullaboy": Broadway star Jessica Grové sings to benefit Encore Theater



Come to the cabaret, old chums, to hear Jessica Grové belt out some tunes. Photo by Justin Patterson.

At this point in her career, actress/singer Jessica Grové -- whose Broadway credits include A Little Night Music (with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch), Sunday in the Park with George, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Les Miserables -- is ready to venture into new, more personal territory: a cabaret show titled I Have Found: A Journey Through Song with Jessica Grove, which she’ll premiere this weekend at Dexter’s Encore Theater. (Friday’s performance is concert-only, while Saturday’s is Encore’s gala fundraiser.)

“I’ve done concerts before -- like, an hour-long concert of songs -- but cabaret is a whole different art form,” said Grové. “You have to tie them together in a meaningful way, and have a climax, and have a realization and a summation. Those are writer things, and I’ve never considered myself a writer, but I’ve really enjoyed the process.”

Author Events: April 2017


April 2017 Author Events

Photo by Nino Carè/Pixabay

What does having an amazing university, a plethora of fantastic local independent bookstores, and a pretty slam-bang public library system (if we do say so ourselves) bring to a town?

Authors. Lots and lots of authors.

Authors big and small, renowned writers and first-time novelists, crafters of poetry, prose, fiction, and nonfiction often grace the Ann Arbor region with lectures, discussions, readings, and book signings. The fact that so many awesome authors want to come speak here and meet their southeast Michigan readers is a testament to how voraciously we devour books here in Washtenaw County.

In fact, so many authors pass through the area that sometimes it can be hard to keep track of who is speaking and when and where. To help guide you, Pulp curated a highlights list of April 2017 author events.

All the Way In: Diving into the Ann Arbor Film Festival for the first time


hashtag by Sherlonya Turner

Confession: Despite living in the greater Ann Arbor area for nearly 20 years, I have never attended any part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The poster caught my attention. I’m a sucker for bright colors.

Seduced by the orange, pink, and yellow in this year's AAFF poster, I thought, "Wouldn’t it be funny if I watched as many episodes of Dallas as I can before the film festival and then went to the screening of Hotel Dallas?," which documents Romania's strange fascination with the TV show that ran from 1978 to 1991.

An experience was born, but instead of diving into Dallas, I decided to steep myself in the Ann Arbor Film Festival experience.

First, I had to learn about the thing, so I did some light research on the festival’s founder, George Manupelli. I stumbled upon a memorial blog for him and read the whole thing click-after-click on my phone. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to create for myself the experience that this man would have appreciated.

I like to imagine that he’d approve of my plan to jump right in.

Personal Jams: Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers celebrate new LP at The Blind Pig


Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers visit Pluto on their new album.

Most jam bands flaunting funky guitar riffs and soulful saxophone solos don’t feature lyrics featuring inward exploration and Joseph Campbell references. But Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers fill this hole in your musical palate you didn’t even know you had.

Producer and bassist Kevin Pritchard heard Hertler through Bigger Brush Media’s Quilted Attic session series in Lansing, where the singer lives. From there, the project took off. Their first album, 2011's On Being, features plenty of banjo and fingerpicking, resembling Hertler’s early solo EPs. It’s obvious the group was just getting its sea legs in terms of crafting the funk-pop sound they finally settled on.

On 2014’s Terra Incognita, the outfit solidified its acoustic-rooted, electric-accented, boogie-jam focus. Standout tracks like “The Garden” and “Future Talk” talk about the necessity of living in the moment and being devoted to those you care about. For the brand new Pluto, electronica has crept into the Rainbow Seekers' sound, but Hertler’s lyricism is still evident on the singles “Lonely” and “Crimson Line."

Hertler’s lyrics come across like Henry David Thoreau meets Passion Pit with their fusing of natural influences and pop rhythm and meter. “Crimson Line” from Pluto is a masterful display of Hertler’s profound connection to the Earth and doesn’t seem like it belongs in a synth-based track. The opening lines, “As staccato mountains rise to meet their morning form / Their peaks ignited while the sun reaches on overboard,” conveyed through Hertler’s soft but funky falsetto, could make a suburbanite worship the natural Earth.

Every Rainbow Seekers show is full of flowery sets, some form of outlandish costume -- multi-colored feather capes and grandpa sweaters -- and good vibes all around. The Rainbow Seekers also like to dip into energy-filled covers, with the Ghostbusters theme sneaking its way into a setlist every now and then.

The Rainbow Seekers will play back-to-back gigs at The Blind Pig Thursday, March 30 and Friday, March 31 to celebrate the release of Pluto.

In an email interview with Pulp, Hertler spoke about his songwriting process, Pluto, and who he would like to grab lunch with.

A Mess of Best: Stef Chura at The B-Side


Stef Chura

Pity in pink: Stef Chura's Messes LP is an emotional roller-coaster. Photo by Arvida Bystro.

Stef Chura's debut studio album, Messes, is a guided trip through her metamorphosis as an artist, from bedroom folkie to budding indie-rock star. Some tracks reflect the image of Chura recording her earlier lo-fi cassettes, while others cast you into a dimly-lit house show in Ypsi. But “Slow Motion” and “Faded Heart” are tighter and more powerful than her earlier works and have the potential to shoot Chura into bigger venues, such as her recently announced spot on Detroit’s Mo Pop Music Festival lineup at the end of July.

Messes, which came out January 27 on Urinal Cake Records, is a culmination of Chura’s best songs over many years of performing and writing, which is why it sounds so diverse. The LP’s album art -- a collage of liquid makeup, sprinkles, spiderwebs, and a waffle -- is testimony to the album’s capacity to switch from “fingerpicky” (an adjective Chura chose to tag her album on her Bandcamp page, such as the Joni Mitchell-goes-electric "Human Being," to uptempo alternative jams, such as "Spotted Gold."

Her emotive, slurring vocals and introspective lyrics reflect classic poetic influences infused with '90s punk movements such as Riot Grrl. Lines like “You'll be looking at a depression in the sand / At the silhouette of an unfolded hand” from “Slow Motion” sound as if they came from the pen of Walt Whitman, while “Spotted Gold” has a lyric -- “You've been reckless for so long / You've been reckless on a marathon / But if you wanted to walk away / You can do that” -- that evokes Bikini Kill.

Chura will be performing with her drummer at The B-Side in Ann Arbor on Saturday, April 1 and will be joined by Ypsilanti’s Wraith and The Present Company.

We talked to Chura about her LP, the influence of the Ann Arbor-Ypsi music scene on the now Detroit-based artist, getting kicked out of boarding school, and more. You can also stream Messes in its entirety.

Stimulation and Possibility: Dick Siegel's "Digital Manipulations" at Kerrytown Concert House



The singularity is near: We digitally combined Dick Siegel and his digital artwork Further.

Local award-winning singer-songwriter Dick Siegel’s return to the visual arts has been a long time in coming. But having found his chosen medium, his return is both assured and insightful.

In a recent interview at the Kerrytown Concert House, Siegel said both the visual arts and music were passions that run through his family experience. But as his personal interest was in music -- and a reasonable one at that considering his award as Best New Folk Artist at the 1991 Kerrville Folk Festival and multiple Detroit Art Awards -- it was only until the turn of the millennium when working with a computer and scanner that his visual arts creativity began to take hold.

As Siegel says in his artist statement for this exhibit, “Through digital manipulation of color, shape, and image I enter a world of enormous visual stimulation and possibility. In this realm I discover things to construct that move me, amuse me, and amaze me. I then work to bring them into physical reality with their vividness and vitality intact."