This Woman's Work: UMSTMD's "Nora" explores Ibsen's "A Doll's House" through three different eras

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Alyssa Melani, Ruby Sevcik, Ruby Pérez star in UMSMTD's Nora

Alyssa Melani, Ruby Sevcik, Ruby Pérez star as three generations of Nora in U-M's interpretation of Hendrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Photo courtesy of UMSTMD.

I felt guilty for stealing away, by myself, for a few hours on Sunday to see U-M’s Department of Theatre and Drama production of Stef Smith’s Nora: A Doll’s House, leaving my kids and spouse to fend for themselves.

Fittingly, this discomfort points to Nora’s raison d’être: no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, a woman’s role in the domestic sphere really hasn’t changed that much over the past century.

Using Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1879 play, A Doll’s House, as a blueprint, Smith retells the story of Nora—who scrambles to keep secret her method of keeping the family afloat during her husband’s past illness—as she would appear in three different time periods: 1918, 1968, and 2018.

The Gutman Gallery emerges for Artober with a new exhibition featuring rising artists

VISUAL ART

Bryan Wilson, Wonderful Beauty

Bryan Wilson, Wonderful Beauty

Artober is a celebration of arts, taking place October 9 and 10 along Fourth Avenue and into the Kerrytown Market. There will be around 75 selected fine artists, live entertainment, food trucks, craft beer, cider, and free admission.

The Guild of Artists & Artisans is kicking off its part of the Artober celebration with a new exhibition, Emerge, an all-media exhibition featuring work from young and rising artists in its Gutman Gallery.

Emerge, juried by local teaching artist Payton Cook, features 22 works from 15 talented artists ranging from middle school, high school, and college students as well as works from talented adult artists who are newish to the gallery scene. The exhibit represents a variety of styles and techniques, with a focus on exploration and experimentation, from sculpture and collage to photography and mixed media.

The Guild will also be hosting a socially distanced open-house-style reception on Friday, October 15, 4-6 pm. Artists, patrons, and community members are invited to experience the exhibition and meet some of the artists in a laid-back atmosphere. Visit Gutman Gallery’s Emerge Facebook Event for opening reception details, exhibition updates, and artist highlights.

Below are some more works featured in the exhibition:

Kim Fairley’s Memoir "Shooting Out the Lights" Tells the Story of Navigating Her First Year of Marriage and an Unwanted Guest

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kim Fairley and her book Shooting Out the Lights

Ann Arbor artist and writer Kim Fairley recalls the early days of her marriage to Vern Fairley and a visit from an unwelcome guest in her new memoir, Shooting Out the Lights. This fast-moving book focuses on what it was like to start a marriage amidst a big age gap, the aftermath of tragedy, and the contentious circumstances of an unrelated child who comes to stay with the couple. Fairley tells the story with humor and tenderness. 

While Fairley quickly becomes pregnant at 25 after they married in 1982, the memories of Ben, Vern’s son who died in an accidental shooting, haunt them. Vern agrees to take in Stanislaus, an 11-year-old son of a friend, and their newlywed days are interrupted. The unwanted responsibility forces the couple to face what happened in the past and look ahead to their growing family. 

A relic of the past is Ben’s bedroom, which had remained largely the same since his death. Fairley considers cleaning out the room in preparation for the new baby. She reflects on the task and its larger implications:

Does it matter to leave a legacy? My mother, jokingly, always said she wanted her endless pile of laundry done before she died. My father wanted to be missed by my mother. Maybe all that mattered was the here and now. Nobody two hundred years in the future would care a whit about any of us. It was the reality of Vern’s age and the recognition that he wouldn’t live forever that was getting to me. 

Fairley is forced to confront change and mortality amidst the joy of starting a family, and she looks back with the clarity of time. She adds, “Vern had contradictory impulses, as we all do, about whether to hang on or let go, preserve or move forward.” The dilemma is relatable, but it doesn’t make the choice any easier.  

Shooting Out the Lights is Fairley's second book. I interviewed her about what it was like to write this story. 

Friday Five: Rohn - Lederman, DJ Seance, G.B. Marian, Sean Curtis Patrick, Fred Thomas

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 10-01-2021

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

This week features electronica by Rohn - Lederman, a house mix courtesy of DJ Seance, dark ambient by G.B. Marian, two mixes via Sean Curtis Patrick, and demos from Fred Thomas.

 

George Frayne, who formed country-rockers Commander Cody in Ann Arbor, dies at 77

MUSIC

Commander Cody by Michael Ochs

Commander Cody photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

George Frayne, better known as country-rock pioneer Commander Cody, died in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Sunday, September 26, at age 77 as the result of cancer.

Best known for the Ann Arbor-spawned group Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Frayne was also a fine artist who graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's in design in 1966 and a master's in sculpture and painting in 1968. In between those two years is when he formed Commander Cody and the group became mainstays of the Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan music scenes, known for their marathon live shows that mixed country, rock, Western swing, and boogie-woogie.

Frayne was born in Idaho but grew up in New York City and Long Island. He came to Michigan to go to college, and because Commander Cody's formative years were in Ann Arbor, many folks in town still associate the band with the city even though the group moved to Berkeley, California, in 1969 and didn't release its first album, Lost in the Ozone, until 1971.

Cody, who was never for a loss of words, was more ambivalent about his place in Ann Arbor's history.

Carmen Bugan's essay collection articulates how poetry is an instrument of resistance

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Carmen Bugan and her book "Poetry and the Language of Oppression"

Carmen Bugan wields writing to understand and push back against the oppression and repression that she suffered while growing up in Romania in the 1970s and '80s and observed in her life and research. In her new book, Poetry and the Language of Oppression: Essays on Politics and Poetics, she writes: 

This personal background experience gave me a first-hand knowledge of the power of language—how it can be used as an instrument of oppression and how it can be used as an instrument of resistance. That knowledge has shaped my voice as a writer.

Language is on the one hand very damaging and on the other very powerful. Bugan’s writing demonstrates her resilience and courage to nevertheless express herself when facing oppression. 

Systemic Pigeonholing: "Never Free to Rest" by Rashaun Rucker at U-M's LSA Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Rashaun Ruckers' Left at First Light and The Ascent

Left: Left at First Light by Rashaun Rucker is part of Never Free to Rest, a new exhibition on view until Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery.
Right: The Ascent by Rashaun Rucker is part of Never Free to Rest, a new exhibition on view until Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery.

Rashaun Rucker begins his artist statement for Never Free to Rest at U-M's Institute for the Humanities Gallery with a simple definition:

Pi.geon.hole (verb)
1. To assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive.
Synonyms: categorize, classify, label, typecast, ghettoize

In this exhibit, the Detroit-based artist examines the impact of pigeonholing Black men’s identities through a series of drawings and installations. Rucker's artist statement says he “compares the life and origins of the rock pigeon to the stereotypes and myths of the constructed identities of Black men in the United States of America.”

Encore Musical Theatre Company opens its new home and 13th season with "Smokey Joe’s Cafe"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Bryana Hall in Encore Theatre's Smokey Joe's Cafe

Bryana Hall is one of the singing stars of Encore Theatre's Smokey Joe's Cafe.

Live theater is back and the Encore Musical Theatre Company is celebrating the opening of its 13th season in its spectacular new space in Dexter and in the always rocking Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

Dan Cooney and company couldn’t have picked a better show to reignite live theater after the long pandemic drought than Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a revue tribute to the music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s not the traditional musical that Encore does so well but is instead 90 minutes of pure energy, one great song after another by talented performers who take us back to those early days of rock 'n' roll and rhythm 'n' blues. Leiber and Stoller were there at the creation.

The duo of New York songwriters could and did write hit songs in nearly every genre from folk and country to rhythm and blues to the edges of pop opera. They wrote for such dynamic groups as The Drifters and The Coasters as well as for the distinct voices of the roaring Big Mama Thornton and the early soul sound of Ben E. King to Elvis Presley. And the hits just kept coming as the duo embraced the new music while also giving it their own unique voice.

Smokey Joe's is a roadhouse, the subject of one of Leiber and Stoller’s songs, and an appropriate setting for their take on the ups and downs of life and love. Though there is no storyline, director Dan Cooney’s staging suggests a loose interaction between characters from song to song. A small combo is set up as the cafe’s house band providing a rock-steady beat and great sound.

Friday Five: Static, John Beltran, Jevon Alexander, dollyzoom:universe, Killing Pixies

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 09-24-2021

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

This week features punk-glam by Static, techno by John Beltran, hip-hop from Jevon Alexander, electronic weirdness by dollyzoom:universe, and pop-punk by Killing Pixies.

 

Erin A. Craig’s "Small Favors" conjures dark forces in a reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Erin A. Craig and her book Small Favors

Photo by Cyndi Whipkey

The cover of YA author Erin A. Craig’s new novel, Small Favors, looks deceptively bright with flowers, bees, and honey dripping off of the letters in the title. Yet what sounds too good to be true just might be, as character Ellerie Downing learns in this reimagining of the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin.

The setting of Amity Falls is a small, remote settlement in the Blackspire Mountains where neighbors rely on each other for their various skills, from carpentry to poultry farming. The Downing family are apiarists. They produce honey and also bake delectable honey cakes. 

This well-balanced community starts to fragment when people are killed on trips out of town, crops go bad, and accusations of wrongdoing multiply. Initially thought to be an issue with oversized wolves, it becomes clear that something more sinister is stirring and seeking to control the people, something that gives gifts in exchange for favors. 

Ellerie’s twin brother, Sam, describes an early encounter with the dark creatures to Ellerie: