A Fair of Affairs: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's "The Real Thing" is all about the dangerous game of love


Actors sitting on a couch. Chris Grimm (Henry), Kara Williams (Charlotte), Manny Abascal Jr. (Max), and Sara Long (Annie) in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Real Thing.

Four scores: Chris Grimm (Henry), Kara Williams (Charlotte), Manny Abascal Jr. (Max), and Sara Long (Annie) tend to affairs of the heart in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Real Thing. Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

A typical Tom Stoppard play features a whole lot of words just to get to a basic point. It can be intellectually stimulating—or a wee bit draggy if you're looking for more action on stage.

But the high-energy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of Stoppard's The Real Thing that opened last Friday to a sold-out crowd flows at an excellent pace thanks to director David Widmayer and grips your attention throughout.

The play is set in 1980s London and focuses on two couples. Henry (Chris Grimm) is a playwright married to Charlotte (Kara Williams), an actress who frequently stars in Henry’s shows, including his current piece, House of Cards. They are good friends with Annie (Sara Long) and her husband Max (Manny Abascal Jr.), who is also an actor and starring in House of Cards with Charlotte. 

New Day Rising: Penny Seats' "Sunrise Coven" tackles the opioid epidemic and second chances


Jeannine Thompson (Hallie), Allison Megroet (Winter Moon), David Collins (Ethan) in Penny Seats' Sunrise Coven.

Jeannine Thompson (Hallie), Allison Megroet (Winter Moon), David Collins (Ethan) star in Penny Seats' Sunrise Coven. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats Theatre Company.

It’s no secret the United States has a drug problem, and painkillers are at the top of the list. The Penny Seats Theatre Company’s Sunrise Coven tackles that conversation and then some.

Written by Brendan Bourque-Sheil, the show takes place in Buckstop, Texas, a small town where everyone knows everyone else and all their business. We meet Hallie Heaton (Jeannine Thompson), a diabetic nurse practitioner who has wound up in the hospital because she overdosed on Oxycodone. The doctor taking care of her is Annie (Inchai Reed), who reveals she has based her entire career on Hallie and sees her as an idol.

Hallie gets the unfortunate news that due to her OD, she has lost her nursing license. On top of that, her eyesight is starting to go bad and she's having visions she can’t explain. 

The Folds of Space: EMU’s "A Wrinkle in Time" was a quick-paced journey for the whole family


EMU's production of A Wrinkle in Time.

Time travelers: Laney Bass (Mrs. Which), Josi Middaugh (Charles Wallace), Lydia Tucker (Happy Medium), Annabelle Rickert (Meg Murray), Chandler Graham (Calvin) starred in Eastern Michigan University's production of A Wrinkle in Time. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre.

Audiences at Eastern Michigan University’s Liberty Theatre traveled through time and hopped across realms over the weekend.

Tracy Young’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle, was a fast-paced family adventure that follows Meg Murry (Annabelle Rickert), an outcast at school who has trouble fitting in and making friends. The only people she’s close to are her mom (Amanda Bates) and her spunky younger brother, Charles Wallace (Josi Middaugh). Meg’s father (Jonathan Bias) has been missing for quite some time, and she’s still determined to figure out what happened to him.

One day, Charles Wallace convinces Meg they should check out the haunted house at the bottom of the hill. On the way they run into Calvin (Chandler Graham), who joins the siblings. At the house, they meet the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit (Brookelyn Hannah), Mrs. Who (Maura Doyle) who only talks in quotes, and the ominous voice of Mrs. Which (Laney Bass) whose presence is everywhere but isn’t seen by the kids. Turns out they are magical beings that can travel through space and time via a tesseract, a form of traveling by folding the fabric of space and time. 

My Deer Heart: Jeff Daniels' "Escanaba in Love" tracks love and laughter at an Upper Peninsula hunting camp


Jamie Lee as Albert Soady Jr. and Mark Bernstein as Albert Soady Sr. in PTD Productions' Escanaba in Love.

Jamie Lee as Albert Soady Jr. and Mark Bernstein as Albert Soady Sr. in PTD Productions' Escanaba in Love. Photo courtesy of PTD Productions.

Michiganders know the opening day of deer season is essentially a holiday for many folks, and that's definitely the case in Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Love, which PTD Productions is staging at the Riverside Art Center in Ypsilanti.

In this prequel to Daniels' hit show Escanaba in Da Moonlight, the audience is transported to the small Western Upper Peninsula town where the infamous Soady Deer Camp resides. It's 1944 and multiple generations of Soady men have been coming to this cabin in the woods to hunt. 

Family patriarch Alphonse Soady (Larry Rusinsky) is convinced he shot the biggest buck to ever walk the woods even as Albert Soady Sr. (Mark Bernstein) is certain Alphonse is losing his mind.

In comes "Salty" Jim Negamanee (Gary Lehman), who walks with a gimp due to a supposed boat accident and an alcohol problem. They all talk about the excitement of opening day and who will get the big buck this year.

EMU’s touring production of "Hare and Tortoise" is racing to a school near you


Four members of the Tortoise and the Hare crew inside the touring van.

After EMU's production of Hare and Tortoise tour to several Ann Arbor schools in a 16-person passenger van, it will perform two public shows at the Sponberg Theatre. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre's Facebook page.

The Eastern Michigan Department of Theatre is doing a special tour of the beloved Aesop fable Hare and Tortoise. Adapted by Brendan Murray, and directed by Emily Levickas, the show is meant for kids around 3-8 years old, but anyone is welcome to come join the fun.

“We are touring to 10 different local elementary schools and libraries. We'll stop at four Ann Arbor elementary schools, including Abbot, Eberwhite, Haisley, and Wines. We also have two public performances at Eastern Michigan University in the Sponberg Theatre on Friday, November 10 at 7 pm and Saturday, November 11 at 10 am,” said Levickas.

The Tortoise and the Hare are involved in a race. The Hare, being the obvious favorite to win, is arrogant and mocks his competitor, the Tortoise. While the Tortoise knows that hard work and determination are enough to be a winner. In Aesop’s version, the Hare takes a nap during the race, underestimating his opponent, and awakes to the Tortoise crossing the finish line. We get the popular saying “slow and steady wins the race” from this tale. 

With this particular adaptation, Levickas said, “The show is based on the classic Aesop fable, but this adaptation by Brendan Murray explores themes of friendship, opposites, and the passage of time. In the introduction to the adaptation, Murray says "I hit on the idea of letting go and particularly letting go of comfortable, predictable certainties in favor of dangerous, but ultimately more fertile uncertainties. That is to say, a play about the terror and excitement of growing up.”

Greetings From Hell: The devil is in the details in the University of Michigan’s "Orpheus in the Underworld"


Alexander Nick as Orpheus and Goitsemang Lehobye as Eurydice in the University of Michigan's production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

Alexander Nick as Orpheus and Goitsemang Lehobye as Eurydice in the University of Michigan's production of Orpheus in the Underworld. Photo courtesy of U-M Department of Voice.

The classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is everywhere in the performing arts right now. The play Eurydice, written by award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl, is being performed on stages all over the U.S. and was adapted into an opera by the same name, and the Broadway smash hit musical Hadestown, which won eight Tony awards including Best Musical, is still going strong in New York City, has a thriving national tour, and is opening on the West End in 2024. 

But before all of that, French composer Jaques Offenbach created Orphée Aux Enfers, or Orpheus in the Underworld, in 1858, and U-M's Department of Voice has put a whole new twist on it. (I went to the Thursday evening performance, and the actors I mention here may be different than those seen by others due to the double casting of the lead roles.)

Beauty and the Bard: Concordia University’s "Shakespeare in Love" is a tale of love, poetry, and laughs 


Shakespeare in Love at Concordia University

Abby Lupescu as the quarter soprano in Shakespeare in Love. Photo by Sydney Deutsch.

Everyone knows Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet. But how did that play come to fruition and what was Shakespeare’s inspiration for the tragic tale?

Concordia University's production of Shakespeare in Love, a play adapted by Lee Hall and based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, takes us back to the days when William Shakespeare was a struggling poet and bard. 

William Shakespeare (Corey Flanders) has a bad case of writer’s block. It’s even more dire that he owes two producers a script for a new show, so the pressure is on. His best friend and fellow bard, Kit Marlowe (Caleb Gross), has agreed to help him find some inspiration and has even helped edit a few of his lines. In this day and age, more people are seeing and loving shows written by Marlowe rather than Shakespeare. 

Slowly but surely Shakespeare starts building the script for his famous Romeo and Juliet. He prematurely tells the producers he’s got something in the works and they run with it, holding auditions. At this time in history, women were not allowed to act on stage and all female roles were played by men in drag.

EMU’s "Sweet Charity" is fun and unique but needs just a little more sugar


Isabella McQuigg stars as "Sweet" Charity Hope Valentine in EMU's production of the Broadway classic.

Isabella McQuigg stars as "Sweet" Charity Hope Valentine in EMU's production of the Broadway classic. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre's Facebook page.

All is fair in love and dancing in Eastern Michigan University's production of Sweet Charity, running this weekend at the Legacy Theatre.

This beloved musical, which always pulls the heartstrings of hopeless romantics, was created by some of Broadway’s greatest: Cy Coleman (music), Dorothy Fields (lyrics), and Neil Simon (book), with the original Broadway show directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. 

Set in 1966, the show follows Charity Hope Valentine (Isabella McQuigg), a hostess for the Fandango Ballroom in New York City, who wants more for herself. At the top of the show she is dating Charlie (Levi Greunke), and while she sees the relationship as perfect, it’s one-sided and he’s using her for her money. He even pushes Charity into the Central Park lake and steals all the money out of her purse. 

The Monster Within: Penny Seat’s "The Man Beast" exposes the demons inside us all


The Penny Seats' production of The Man Beast.

Jean Chastel (Jonathan Davidson) and Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell) wrestle with personal demons during Penny Seats' The Man Beast. Photo via The Penny Seats' Facebook.

On a rainy and ominous Friday night, The Penny Seats Theatre Company launched the fifth installation of its Penny Dreadful series with The Man Beast—a scandalous tale of greed, monsters, lust, and the human connection—at Ann Arbor's Stone Chalet Event Center. 

Set in the Gévaudan province of France in 1767, Joseph Zettelmaier's play opens with famed hunter Jean Chastel (played by the brooding Jonathan Davidson) stumbling into a cottage, arm bloodied and clearly in pain. The cabin belongs to Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell), a rumored witch of the woods. 

Chastel claims to have been bitten by The Man Beast, a mysterious creature that has murdered over 100 people in the last three years. Virginie cleans his wound, gives him stitches, and tries to convince him to stay for a little while. While they both live secluded in the woods, they rarely cross paths and Virginie admits to being lonely. 

Through cups of wine and conversation, we learn that Virginie is a widow and a talented taxidermist. Her cabin is full of animal pelts and her creations, including a bear mounted on the wall. 

Diasporic Distillations: "We are here because you were there" at A2AC explores works by Asian American / Asian artists


Laura Kina, She Walks Amongst the Ruins — RIP Red Chador. Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 18". Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Laura Kina, She Walks Amongst the Ruins — RIP Red Chador. Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 18". Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

The new exhibit at Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC), We are here because you were there, highlights issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) diaspora living in a post-colonial world.

Curated by Chien-An Yuan, a multi-disciplinary artist in his own right, the exhibit features the work of Asian American / Asian artists Kim Jackson DeBordLaura KinaLarry LeeCori Nakamura LinOkyoung Noh, and Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe. It is formally presented by the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission. 

“I reached out to Chien about co-curating a show revolving around the concept of displacement/DREAMERS/living between various cultures,” said A2AC gallery director Thea Eck about the exhibit, which runs through October 22. “As a gallery director, I saw a chance for myself to lean out and for him to lean in. It felt more natural for me to support his ideas as they became more focused and honed in. This is part of allyship and part of the A2AC Exhibition program's vision: To recognize when it's best to play support to someone who is in a specific community. We can be the loudspeaker to amplify and give space, time, and a budget to.”