Friday Five: Tetra Music Project, Big Chemical, Cracked & Hooked, Brad Phillips, Calculated Beats collective

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Art for the albums and singles featured in this week's Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features meditative electronica by Tetra Music Project, folk-pop by Big Chemical, rock 'n' roll by Cracked & Hooked, a ballad by Brad Phillips, and a compilation from the Calculated Beats collective.

Jen Silverman’s absurdist dark comedy "Bonnets (how ladies of good breeding are induced to murder)" is a feisty feminist fable

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Bonnets cast in rehearsal. Photo by Pricilla Lindsay.

University of Michigan's Bonnets cast in rehearsal. Photo by Pricilla Lindsay.

Jen Silverman’s Bonnets (how ladies of good breeding are induced to murder) is so violent that it took a fight director and two assistants to choreograph it. Death by poison arrow, chainsaw, Ninja—it’s all there for your delight and horror. Even God, a character in the play who opens every scene, is powerless to stop it.

The chorus of one song in Bonnets goes like this:

Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop
We killed a man a-piece and we just couldn't stop!
Glug, glug, glug, glug, munch, munch,
Join me for tea-time, you might not live to lunch.

Will anyone survive in the dark comedy that runs February 16-19 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre?

Pricilla Lindsay, who directs University of Michigan theater students, says the play shifts between three eras. “Silverman picked three of the many times men have subjugated women—Salem in 1690, England in the 1890s, and France in the 1600’s, during the reign of Louis XIV. All three periods are not special but indicative of women being moved to the side. In our play, women wreak havoc and get revenge by actually murdering.”

These women don’t stop at killing their abusers.

“A young girl who is having an affair with a married man accuses his wife of being a witch,” Lindsay says. After his wife hangs, the man decides to leave for Boston—without his young paramour. ”You’re dead to me,” she declares.

In this play, that can only mean one thing.

Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works Brings The Cult Musical “Moby Dick” to the Children’s Creative Center

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The musical adaptation of "Moby Dick" aims to save an all-girls school from bankruptcy by staging the American classic in the school’s swimming pool.

The musical adaptation of Moby Dick aims to save an all-girls school from bankruptcy by staging the American classic in the school’s swimming pool. Photo taken from Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works' Facebook page.

What’s weirder than learning that there’s a stage musical adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Learning there are two, actually, one from 1990 and another from 2019.

And the Moby Dick adaptation that came first, which includes a book by Robert Longden along with music and lyrics by Longden and Hereward Kaye, is the one that local theater artist Ron Baumanis has been jonesing to stage via his company, Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works

“Whenever I see a show, whether it’s on Broadway or the West End, I always leave thinking, ‘Would I want to do it or not,’” said Baumanis, whose Moby Dick production begins its two-week run February 9 at The Children’s Creative Center.

“When I saw this in the West End, by intermission, I thought, ‘I’ve absolutely got to do this show someday.’ … I was drawn to the weird mix of the show’s all-out hilarious comedy with British pantomime and a lot of burlesque elements.”

Carnal Letters: UMS's No Safety Net series closed with two Rachel Mars plays that explore the expression of desire

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Rachel Mars of Our Carnal Hearts and Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters

Rachel Mars explores the concept of desire and how it's expressed in her two productions, Our Carnal Hearts and Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters. Photo taken from Rachel Mars' website.

If there’s one common thematic thread between British theater artist Rachel Mars’ two shows, Our Carnal Hearts and Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters, it’s desire and the ways in which it’s expressed.

Both shows wrapped up UMS’s No Safety Net event series with Our Carnal Hearts quickly assuming the feel of a darkly comedic, secular church service complete with a small choir on a bare stage. It takes envy as its focus and explores how our ego reflexively ties itself in knots when a peer or loved one succeeds.

Mars even has the audience say, in unison, “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!” in the same fake-enthusiastic tone we’ve all employed at one time or another in the interest of appearing like an adult instead of a petulant child.

Presented in the round, Our Carnal Hearts features a different singer—Rhiannon Armstrong, Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, Kelly Burke, and Louise Mothersole—seated in the middle front row of each side. It also combines cheeky musical asides composed and arranged by Mothersole, short audience interactions, and storytelling to plumb the question: why does another’s triumph inevitably make us feel small or less than?

It’s All Relative: Ann Arbor Author Jim Ottaviani Examines Albert Einstein’s Complexity in “Einstein” Graphic Biography

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

The "Einstein" graphic biography cover and author Jim Ottaviani

When longtime Ann Arborite Jim Ottaviani decided to write a graphic novel about Albert Einstein with artist Jerel Dye, his first concern was doing the research and trying not to drown in it.

“Deadlines are your pal in this regard, in that, there comes a time when I just have to start writing,” said Ottaviani, author of Einstein and a former nuclear engineer and librarian who previously worked at the University of Michigan.

“I cannot put it off one more day, one more minute. Now, this doesn’t stop me from sometimes thinking, ‘I should just read this one other thing.’ But then you quickly realize there’s a hundred more things you could read, too.”

Ottaviani speaks from experience, having already published similar graphic novels focused on science giants like Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman. The amount of content available on those icons initially gave him some pause, too, but the resulting books’ success made a convincing case for a project focused on Einstein.

“Everybody knows the name Einstein, and they know that he’s associated with relativity, but few people know why it’s important or what it is,” said Ottaviani. “The hope is that after reading this book, people will at least know what it is and why it’s important to physics. Yes, there are equations in the book, and they’re accurate, but they’re mostly there as set dressing.”

Voices Carry: Annie Capps Shares Stories of Vulnerability and Courage on “How Can I Say This?” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Chelsea singer-songwriter Annie Capps

Annie Capps' latest album How Can I Say This? serves as a love letter to her younger self. Photo by Rod Capps.

Annie Capps doesn’t hesitate to reveal her authentic self—both past and present—on her latest album, How Can I Say This?

The Chelsea folk singer-songwriter embraces both vulnerability and courage across the album’s dozen reflective tracks, which revisit pivotal life lessons about forgiveness, family, and growth.

“I think we’re always vulnerable, and I don’t want to take anything away from people who aren’t willing to go where I went,” said Capps about her first solo release. (She usually writes, records, and performs with husband and longtime musical partner Rod Capps.)

“Just the act of standing up in front of people and singing a song, whether it’s your own or not, is a very vulnerable situation. That’s brave, and I commend anybody who does it or tries it.”

Collectively, those thoughts merge into an overarching love letter Capps writes to her younger self throughout How Can I Say This? Forthright lyrics and demonstrative Americana-folk-jazz instrumentation provide an emotive setting as she excavates deeply buried experiences.

Understorey Time: Ann Arbor’s Jess Merritt Celebrates Her 40th Birthday and a Return to the Stage at The Ark

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Jess Merritt will celebrate her 40th birthday with a show at The Ark on February 13.

Jess Merritt plans to celebrate her birthday with a new version of her band The Understorey at The Ark. Photo courtesy of Jess Merritt.

Some say reaching 40 is a milestone but that each decade lived should be celebrated.

Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Jess Merritt will take The Ark stage on February 13 to celebrate all of her decades as well as her 40th birthday, recent life changes, and what is yet to come. 

“I’m so grateful to be celebrating this new chapter of life with The Ark and that they were willing to put this on,” said Merritt who used to be known as Jess McCumons when she co-led the soul, rock, and blues band The Understorey. “It feels so great to be getting back to the stage after a few years away, and this is a really big way to kick things off at my favorite place to perform.” 

Friday Five: Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, Half Blue, J. Michael & The Heavy Burden, Lonelysaki, And Spiders

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Art for the albums and singles featured in this week's Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features fiddle-grunge by Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, laidback hip-hop by Half Blue, adult rock by J. Michael & The Heavy Burden, dream-pop electronica by Lonelysaki, and lo-fi alt-country by And Spiders.

 

EMU's "King Kong at Ninety: Visualization in the Art of Stop-Motion Animation" celebrates the creativity behind the film that helped launch the Creature Feature

VISUAL ART FILM & VIDEO REVIEW GALLERY

King Kong at Ninety exhibition image

While spending an hour-plus perusing Eastern Michigan University’s exhibit King Kong at Ninety: Visualization in the Art of Stop-Motion Animation, I was struck by how, in some ways, it’s probably harder for young film buffs to stumble upon the old classics.

Admittedly, nearly all movies that survived are available to us at any moment now, but that tsunami of choices also means viewers must specifically seek out a film like King Kong (1933) instead of merely tumbling out of bed before your parents get up on a Sunday morning, turning on the TV, and sampling that week’s “Creature Feature”—a genre largely spawned by the runaway blockbuster success of King Kong.

Even so, as demonstrated by King Kong at Ninety—on display at EMU's University Gallery through February 23—theatrical rereleases of the film served this same purpose for years, offering moviegoers multiple opportunities to experience what were, at the time, cutting edge, eye-popping visual effects. (It’s interesting to note how the poster art changed with each release, as well as how it was visually marketed in other countries.)

Plus, EMU’s exhibit offers up Depression-era magazine features dedicated to revealing how these cinematic images were achieved—though more of these articles trafficked in shoddy guesswork (i.e., an actor in a gorilla suit) than in accurate, researched reporting.

But even these misinformed attempts hint at the widespread sense of wonder and curiosity inspired by King Kong. So how did this seminal movie come to be made?

U-M Professor Kiley Reid’s Novel “Such a Fun Age” Is the 2023 Washtenaw Read Book

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Kiley Reid and the cover of her book, "Such a Fun Age"

The 2023 Washtenaw Read is Such a Fun Age by University of Michigan professor Kiley Reid, whose plot-driven novel details what happens and how people feel amidst misunderstandings and omissions around a recent run-in and past hurts. 

Reid is having a talk, reading, and Q&A session at the Downtown Library February 5 at 4 pm.

The lives of characters Emira Tucker and Alix Chamberlain very quickly intertwine in ways beyond their relationship as babysitter and mother of a toddler, respectively. From the description on the book jacket, readers know going into the book that Emira, who is a Black woman, is confronted for having Alix’s white child, Briar, at a food market late in the evening. This unexpected and unfair confrontation leads to connections, coincidences, and consequences that unfold throughout the rest of the book. The ensuing events are best experienced page by page as one reads. 

Reid develops each of the main characters with their own flaws. The characters’ actions raise dilemmas based on how much they know and what their position is in each situation. Perhaps one lesson is that one’s intentions do not always make things right. Mrs. Chamberlain illustrates this in an overbearing statement to Emira: 

“You might be too young to understand this right now, but we have always had your best interests at heart. Emira, we, we love you.” Mrs. Chamberlain threw her hands up in surrender as she said this, as if loving Emira was despite her family’s other best interests.