John Gutoskey’s vibrant “Cake & Flowers for My People” exhibit preserves ephemeral arrangements denied to LGBTQ+ marriages and events

PULP VISUAL ART REVIEW

John Gutoskey stands near his floral bouquet monoprints at 22 North.

John Gutoskey features colorful floral bouquet monoprints in his Cake & Flowers for My People exhibit at 22 North. Photo by Lori Stratton.

John Gutoskey’s vibrant, kaleidoscopic Cake & Flowers for My People exhibit honors LGBTQ+ community members who have been denied these celebratory arrangements due to bakers and florists citing religious objections to same-sex marriages and queer events.

“I make a lot of work about queerness because a lot of stuff is happening around it in our country. You see the whole pushback now,” said the Ann Arbor artist-designer-printmaker, whose exhibit runs through October 30 at Ypsilanti’s 22 North gallery. “I just hope anybody who sees it … feels seen and knows they’re not alone.”

The welcoming aesthetics of Gutoskey’s exhibit run throughout the eight mixed-media cake sculptures and 39 floral bouquet monoprints. An electrifying spectrum of color elicits feelings of empowerment, unity, and hope for all who experience Cake & Flowers for My People.

“People are kind of overwhelmed with how hard the world has become, so I just wanted to do something that was fun,” he said. “There’s enough stuff to be down about. Let’s celebrate it, honestly, while it’s still legal for [us] to do so.”

Mystery Train: Concordia Theatre takes the audience for a ride on the Orient Express

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Michele (Chole Haynes), who is standing and dressed in a train conductor's uniform, and Monsieur Bouc (Samuel Botzum), who is dressed in a suit and sitting, enlist the services of detective Hercule Poirot in Concordia Theatre's production of Ken Ludwig’s stage version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

Conductor Michele (Chole Haynes) and Monsieur Bouc (Samuel Botzum) enlist the services of detective Hercule Poirot in Concordia Theatre's production of Ken Ludwig’s stage version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Photo courtesy of Concordia Theatre.

On October 10, the intimate Black Box Theatre at Concordia University was a warehouse full of pianos for a used piano sale. By the end of the month, the 200-seat theater will transport an audience across a winter landscape from Istanbul to central Europe on the legendary Orient Express.

And murder is afoot.

Concordia’s theater department is presenting Ken Ludwig’s stage version of Agatha Christie’s ever-popular Murder on the Orient Express, October 27-30. Hercule Poirot, the eccentric Belgian private detective, will twirl his extravagant mustache and use his gray matter to solve a complex case of murder as the Orient Express makes its way west before being trapped in a blizzard. 

It’s a challenging case for Poirot with so many suspects and it’s a challenge for Concordia with the play's unusual setting, numerous European accents, and a large cast of potential murderers.

But Concordia’s theater director Amanda Williams is happy to accept the challenge of presenting a famous mystery and giving a tip of the hat to the woman who transformed the mystery genre, Agatha Christie.

Wynton Marsalis' "All Rise" stirred souls at Hill Auditorium—and his trumpet fired up The Big House crowd

MUSIC REVIEW

More than 200 musicians on stage at Hill Auditorium rehearsing Wynton Marsalis' "All Rise."

More than 200 musicians are shown rehearsing Wynton Marsalis' "All Rise" on stage at Hill Auditorium. Photo courtesy UMS. 

For nearly two decades, I've attended Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis concerts hosted by the University Music Society (UMS). The shows and attendant residency are an institution now in Ann Arbor, and under Marsalis' stewardship, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) is the current reigning G.O.A.T. of large ensembles.

But Marsalis' latest Ann Arbor production with the JLCO was the most ambitious undertaking of his 22-year association with UMS. 

You can always bank on Marsalis to deliver monumental projects like culturally and politically relevant recordings such as From the Plantation to the PenitentiaryThe Abyssinian Mass, and his 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Blood on the Fields. On Friday, October 14, at Hill Auditorium, Marsalis pulled off another massive undertaking: "All Rise (Symphony No. 1.) For Symphony Orchestra Jazz Orchestra, and Chorus." 

"Mummy" Issues: The Penny Seats Theatre Company's world premiere of "The Mummy Queen" wraps Ann Arbor in a spooky London tale

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Mummy Queen at The Penny Seats Theatre Company

Sergeant Daw (Tim Pollack), Margaret Trelawny (Allison Megroet), and Malcolm Ross (Jeffrey Miller) try to get to unravel the mystery of The Mummy Queen in The Penny Seats Theatre Company's world premiere of Michael Alan Herman's play. Photo by Josie Eli Herman.

There is a long list of plays and musicals that deal with monsters such as vampires, witches, and Frankenstein. Mummies, however, are scarcely represented on stage.

Michael Alan Herman's The Mummy Queen fills that void, and its world premiere run this month by The Penny Seats Theatre Company is quick, witty, and filled with great storytelling. It's perfect for the Halloween season, but it also tackles the ever-present issue of gender roles, and what (or who) men feel entitled to.

Set in Notting Hill, London, during the 1890s, the show opens with a lengthy monologue from Abel Trelawny—played by the captivating Matthew Cameron—an Egyptologist who has gone on a mission to find the long-lost resting place of Queen Tara. Trelawny tells the epic tale of how he found the queen, brought her back to London, and now has her coffin sitting in his study. While the speech is long, and all told from a past-tense narrative, Cameron does a wonderful job of keeping the audience engaged and wanting more. At the end of his diatribe, he goes to open the coffin and is attacked by an invisible force. He runs off stage, and now we are caught up to speed and in the present day. 

Friday Five: Night Office, Shells, Dr. Pete Larson, Benoît Pioulard, Kai West

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

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

This week features an ambient-autumn theme with Night Office, Shells, Dr. Pete Larson, Benoît Pioulard, and Kai West soundtracking fireside chats and haunted nights. Immerse yourself.

Jeff Daniels' “Pickleball” serves up intense characters and a faulty narrative

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Jonathan West and Kate Thomsen in Pickleball at The Purple Rose Theatre Company

Jonathan West and Kate Thomsen star in The Purple Rose Theatre Company's production of Jeff Daniels' Pickleball. Photo courtesy of The Purple Rose Theatre Company.

When I was 8, I performed at a dance recital with my tap classmates. As the girls around me on stage made a few mistakes, I glared at them (according to my amused parents), furious that they were ruining my moment.

This oft-repeated family story came back to me while watching Jeff Daniels’ Pickleball, now having its world premiere at The Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea.

Why?

Because the five absurdly intense, competitive adult characters in the play ultimately seemed like variations of my 8-year-old self, which is a bit problematic. But we’ll get to that shortly.

Myths and Legends: Guild Showcases Local Artists Through Folklore Exhibit at Ann Arbor’s Gutman Gallery

PULP VISUAL ART REVIEW

Marilynn Thomas shows her artwork during a Folklore exhibit pop-up session at Gutman Gallery.

Marilynn Thomas shows her artwork during a Folklore exhibit pop-up session at Gutman Gallery. Photo courtesy of Gutman Gallery.

Ann Arbor artist-photographer Marilynn Thomas interprets a migratory Baltimore oriole's transitory world in her layered watercolor painting called Oriole Unraveling the Universe.

She places the juvenile bird at the center of a tree while vivid red-orange hues and muted pastels color his mystical surroundings. Stenciled ferns and dragonflies provide momentary companionship as the oriole decides whether to stay or go.

Within his beak lies the familiar outline of the golden mean, which represents a magical portal that allows him to travel from one universe to the next.

“That’s his universe; that all belongs to him,” Thomas said. “I’ve done a lot of orioles simply because they only come through in spring and fall, and they’re kind of exciting. I like the migrant birds, and I’ve been painting birds for 20 years.”

U-M researcher Michelle Segar lays out “The Joy Choice” in her recent book on sensible eating and exercise plans

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Michelle Segar is next to her book cover The Joy Choice.

Exercise and eating both come down to our daily choices, and it does not have to be as hard as it seems, says author Michelle Segar, a lifestyle coach and researcher at the University of Michigan. 

In her recent book, The Joy Choice, Segar details a new way to make these decisions, including diagrams that show how to apply her research-based method. She writes: 

Our choice is our choice. It no longer represents overcoming perceived deficiencies, following someone else’s rules, or being selfish. We make room for the unanticipated while still meeting our own self-care needs, simultaneously renewing our energetic resources for the people, goals, and projects we care most about. 

Segar’s Joy Choice strategy and decision tool were designed to assist you at the point when you and your eating or exercise plans run up against real-life interruptions. The genius of this tactic comes from working with, rather than against, the unanticipated challenges so you can keep making strides toward your target despite life’s unwelcome twists.  

One way that Segar helps address these “choice points”—the moments when you are faced with continuing to pursue your exact plan or changing course—is by identifying the ways that both internal and external issues could derail making your desired healthy choice. Segar calls these forces “decision disrupters.” An example of one of the four disruptors that she features is “accommodation,” about which Segar writes, “[T]here’s real science about the damage that can occur when our automatic and consistent go-to is giving other people’s needs priority over our own. As with most things in life, seeking balance and finding compromise is key.” While our decision disrupters may not be readily apparent, we can address them once we learn about them—and prevent them from upending our goals moving forward.

Segar calls “choice points” the “true place of power” because it is at these times when you can make a choice that aligns with your greater goals. Segar says:

When the exercise and eating goals we have selected (as opposed to those that have been imposed on us by society or others) align with our core values, needs, and priorities, they become integrated into and a natural affirming part of who we are. This in turn increases the value proposition for making choices that favor healthy eating and regular exercise. Because we no longer feel that we should make those choices, our internal conflicts with them are gone or greatly reduced, and so now we want to make them and make them more effortlessly. 

Making decisions that support your healthy behavior goals becomes enjoyably straightforward with Segar’s Joy Choice strategy. 

AADL hosted Segar for a reading on June 24, a video of which is included at the end of this post. This fall, I interviewed her about The Joy Choice

"North Country" Fare: The 40th-anniversary edition of Jay Stielstra's folk opera sails into The Ark

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rochelle Clark and Brad Phillips as the young couple Sari and Michael talk things over in front of David Menefee, who plays Old Man, as they rehearse for the 40th-anniversary production of Jay Stielstra's North Country Opera.

Rochelle Clark and Brad Phillips as the young couple Sari and Michael talk things over in front of David Menefee, who plays Old Man, during rehearsals for the 40th-anniversary production of Jay Stielstra's North Country Opera. Photo courtesy of North Country Opera.

Forty years ago, Jay Stielstra was playing his songs to enthusiastic listeners around Ann Arbor, mostly at Mr. Flood’s Party, a bar that once stood on 120 West Liberty. Bouyed by the response to his tunes, the folk singer decided to write some continuity and put them together in a play, North Country Opera

“The main thing that carries it are the songs,” Stielstra says. “I asked other musicians I knew in Ann Arbor if they wanted to be in a play, and they all said yes.”

Stielstra knew one of the founders of the Performance Network, the late David Bernstein, and brought the work to him. “David was very enthusiastic,” Stielstra says, and North Country Opera premiered in 1982 as the fledgling theater's second production.

The play was revived in 1992, 1993, and 2003 in Ann Arbor, and in 2022 it toured Northern Michigan, with the 89-year-old playwright along for the ride. North Country Opera returns to Ann Arbor for one night, October 18, at The Ark

U-M Department of Musical Theatre's "Sophisticated Ladies" is jumping with talent

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of U-M Department of Musical Theatre's "Sophisticated Ladies" gathers on the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre with signs for the Cotton Club, Savoy, and Apollo in Harlem circa the 1930s.

The cast "Sophisticated Ladies" gathers on the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Photo courtesy of of U-M Department of Musical Theatre.

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

And, man, is it swinging at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre during the University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre's sizzling production of Sophisticated Ladies. The musical revue is a tribute to Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington's ever-enduring music and the modern dance styles that it inspired.

Guest directors/choreographers Torya Beard and Ayodele Casel are dancers who realize the immense talent of U-M’s students and provided these future stars with the support and freedom they needed to excel. They also brought in dancer Mercedes Ellington to talk about her art form and to discuss her grandfather Duke and her father, band leader Mercer Ellington. The result is a production of almost nonstop energy, from the orchestra and the large company of dancers to the varied takes by several singers on Ellington’s beloved songs.

Under the musical direction of Maurice Draughn with Tyler Driskill at the piano, the orchestra is always on stage and performs in top form.