Minimalesque: “Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane: Burgeoning” at Kerrytown Concert House

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Deborah Campell's Divergent and Topography; Lois Kane's Sathonii

Left and upper right: Deborah Campell's Divergent (fiber) and Topography (1) (fiber, crochet). Lower right: Lois Kane's Sathonii (ink drawing).

There’s minimalist art and there’s art on the edge of being minimal. This distinction may seem paradoxical, but it is one way of describing the Burgeoning exhibit at Kerrytown Concert House by local artists Deborah Campbell and Lois Kane.

Deborah Campbell's art is minimal -- and it's bountiful for it. Where a less talented artist might overpower her work with excess, Campbell strategically stitches her fiber art with just enough effort to convey her articulation. Every stitch counts.

Lois Kane's draftsmanship functions in a similar fashion as Campbell's stitching. Where Campbell’s touch is serene, Kane’s line is vigorous, or memorably spare, and is always on point. 

PTD presents a timely staging of "The Crucible"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

PTD Productions' cast of The Crucible

Photo courtesy PTD Productions.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible began with a class in America history when Miller was a student at the University of Michigan. The class included a segment on the Salem witch trials and Miller saw rich material for a drama that combined political, religious, and deeply personal conflicts.

He returned to the subject in the early 1950s, using the witch trials as a way to comment on the anti-Communist hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. It was also an opportunity to show his rage at his friend and director Elia Kazan, who volunteered to name names of those who had any association with the Communist Party.

It’s a complex play dealing with a particular place and time while also exploring the broader view that we are not so far removed from the fanatics of Salem. Every few years offers up new examples of intolerance and repression, and an opportunity for theater groups to bring back Miller’s eloquent warning.

Get Away With She: Nellie McKay wants to escape from it all

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nellie McKay

Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Nellie McKay often seems like she’s at a loss for words.

During our phone conversation to promote the pianist-singer-songwriter’s show at The Ark on May 13, her answers were often preceded by a swarm of ums, uhs, I means, and various other utterances. And when McKay did get to the answers, it wasn’t necessarily in response to my questions, instead offering long vignettes about politics and the stark realities of being a full-time musician. 

On stage, McKay has a similarly discursive way of speaking, mixing funny anecdotes, political pleas, and stammering self-effacement.

But once McKay strikes a piano key, everything flows. Words stream from her gorgeous voice with confidence and warmth. The quirkiness that defines her conversations gives way to sass and power, and listeners get invited into her world -- which is not of this era.

Hilarity at the Heidelberg: Tony Klee's Something to Do Comedy Night at Club Above

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Something to Do Comedy night at Heidelberg's Club Above

I found out about Something to Do Comedy Night at the Heidelberg's Club Above when its organizer, Tony Klee, bought me a shot of tequila last summer and I joked about doing the show one day.

Recently, Klee put out a call for comics, especially women comics, and when I asked him if I could go up, he said yes.

I had about five days to come up with a five-minute set.

I needed to write some jokes.

Pluto-cracy: Dr. Alan Stern & Dr. David Grinspoon's "Chasing New Horizons"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon

They chased new horizons with New Horizons: Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon. Photo by Henry Throop.

When the NASA spacecraft New Horizons did a Pluto driveby at 32,000 MPH on July 14, 2015, it was the first close-up view we had of our solar system’s most distant planet.

And yes, it's a full-blown planet, despite what you may have heard on Aug. 24, 2006, when Pluto was reclassified by astronomers as a “dwarf planet.”

Please do not try to tell planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern otherwise.

“What the astronomers did was really a travesty; planetary scientists don’t buy that b.s.,” said Stern, whose new book, Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, recounts the spacecraft mission he led, which provided unprecedented photos and information about the Milky Way's tiny trouper. (He will be at AADL’s downtown branch on Thursday, May 10, at 7 pm.)

“We know what planets are, and if you go to planetary science meetings, Pluto is called a planet every single day,” Stern said. “Don’t follow what the astronomers do any more than if I tried to classify black holes as a non-expert. But the journalists who lapped it up in 2006, if that would have happened in the ‘90s, there would have never been a mission.”

Mind the Gap's dark comedy "Happy Birthday Dear Alice" focuses on flawed folks who mean well

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mind the Gap's cast for its production of Happy Birthday Dear Alice

Sometimes when I’m standing in line at the drugstore feeling tired and angry that the cashier is a moron, I decide to get my revenge on life by impulse-buying a Baby Ruth bar. Mainly because it’s there and I don’t like Baby Ruth bars.

My decision to go to see Happy Birthday Dear Alice was exactly like that. I made up my mind to go 15 minutes before it started because I was feeling crabby and it was happening, and I figured maybe it wouldn’t be completely terrible. I arrived late. The audience was small. I assumed my revenge had succeeded -- this was clearly the Baby Ruth of theater.

Except that it isn’t. Happy Birthday Dear Alice is good.

It’s so good, if I can manage to find the time, I will go back to see it again. If I had the time (I won’t), I would go see it for a third round. It’s that good.

If you like theater at all, I strongly recommend that you go see this show.

Neighborhood Theatre Group's original comedy "Can I Help You?" romps through customer service

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Neighborhood Theatre Group's cast for Can I Help You?

Anyone who has worked in the customer service industry can agree that it’s a tough business. Everyone has a story about that one customer who is too outrageous to be believed, which may not be so funny in the moment but is hilarious when recounted later. 

When a situation is difficult, you need comedy to help get you through, and Ypsilanti’s Neighborhood Theatre Group (NTG) is closing its third season with Can I Help You?, a play that will help you laugh your way out of troubles.

“I've worked in customer service for over 15 years," said NTG cofounder and director Kristin Danko, "and I've been wanting to do a show about the service industry for a while. A sketch comedy show seemed like the perfect outlet.” 

They're Bringing "Camelbak": Scissor Now!'s latest video visits tiny houses in Atlanta

MUSIC REVIEW

The quirky, punk-funk threesome Scissor Now! released its most recent album, Now That's What I Call Scissor Now!, nearly three years ago. But the Ann Arbor trio of Jessica Bratus (vocals/saxophone), Kevin Sanchez (drums), and Jef Porkins (bass/vocals) keeps mining treasure from its avant-grooves by producing music videos, including the brand new "Camelbak," the fifth vid made in support of the LP.

Scissor Now! describes the song on its Bandcamp page thusly: "A lot of people seem to move from Ann Arbor to Portland, OR. Thankfully, most of them move back."

But the video for "Camelbak" has nothing to do with The City of Roses. Instead, it follows TinyDoorsATL artist and former Ann Arbor-ite Karen Anderson, who places 6-inch-tall doors in creative places throughout Atlanta.

If you dig Scissor Now!'s brand of fried jazz, below are the band's other four videos from Now That's What I Call Scissor Now! as a well as a performance from the 2017 Water Hill Music Fest.

Rescue 'Net: Common Language Bookstore might have been saved by a web post

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Common Language bookstore co-owner Keith Orr with store pup Duke

Common Language Bookstore co-owner Keith Orr hanging out with the store's pup, Duke. Photo by Kevin Sharp.

The internet shows us the good, the bad, and the horrific of human nature.

You can find every kind of hate group imaginable, people telling other people to kill themselves, tweets that destroy your soul. It can be easy to forget that most people are good; it sometimes makes you want to throw your computer into the Huron River, rip the router out of the cabinet, and live under a tinfoil hat. 

But every now and then something phenomenal happens. 

Something like the thing that happened to Ann Arbor's Common Language Bookstore this past month.

Story of a Lifetime: Irene Butter shares her tale so people will never forget

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Irene Butter and her book Shores Beyond Shores

Dr. Irene Butter’s entire life has been dedicated to caring for others -- as a professor, a humanitarian, a storyteller. While serving as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Butter spent 30 years visiting schoolchildren to tell them her tale.

"I found out that the way students relate to me is that they have experiences in their own lives when they lost a parent or grandparent or their parents divorced or suffered illnesses … they really identify with my stories and that is what is rewarding to me."

And what a story it is, now in print: Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story. (Butter will be at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on May 8.)