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.

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

THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

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.

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.” 

Dual Struggles: Encore Theatre's "Big Fish" puts up a good fight

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Big Fish

David Moan as Edward Bloom, Emmi Bills as Sandra Bloom, and John Reed as Young Will in Encore Theatre's production of Big Fish. Photos by Michelle Anliker Photography.

A colleague of mine once observed that when you ask people about their mothers, you tend to hear stories and fond memories, but when you ask people about their fathers, tears flow within minutes. 

Why?

Perhaps because traditional, American modes of masculinity and emotional expression have stood at loggerheads for many generations, making father-child relationships highly complicated. Yet it’s precisely this dual struggle to connect that drives Big Fish, the novel-turned-movie-turned-stage-musical now playing at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

Discomfort Food: Chef Tunde Wey turns up the heat on racial inequities

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Tunde Wey by Deji Osinulu

Tunde Wey by Deji Osinulu.

“I was eager to be successful. I still am.”
--Tunde Wey

When I heard chef Tunde Wey would be hosting dinners and food trucks in Ann Arbor and Detroit designed to get people talking about race in America, I sought more information. 

The word that came up most was "provocative"; runner-up: "uncomfortable."

For late April and early May, Wey has brought his Saartj dining concept to Michigan, which is where the Nigerian chef came to study at age 16. This is also where he started to make his mark with (revolver), the pop-up restaurant in Hamtramck featuring a cast of rotating chefs.

The Saartj project calls attention to privilege. In one version of the project, white people were charged more than minorities for their food. In the Detroit version, diners fill out a questionnaire providing information about their race, education, and income mobility; the price of their dinner then increases according to their relative privilege.

Brass Tacks' "39 Steps" has giddy fun with the Hitchcock classic

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Brass Tacks Ensemble's The 39 Steps

Daniel Bizer-Cox, Dory Mead, Isaac Ellis, and Maegan Murphy make the most of their invisible car in Brass Tacks' minimalist take on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

The bare-bones thrust stage in a playroom at the Children’s Creative Center is the perfect setting for the Brass Tacks Ensemble’s production of Patrick Barlow’s playful The 39 Steps

Barlow turns Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller into an imaginative comic romp. While staying true to Hitchcock’s script, the play lets four actors engage is theatrical play as giddy as many days of child’s play at the Creative Center. 

"Gruesome Playground Injuries" continues Kickshaw's dedication to challenging theater

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Kickshaw Theatre's Gruesome Playground Injuries

Doug (Michael Lopetrone) and Kayleen (Dani Cochrane)flirt with romance and self-sabotage in Gruesome Playground Injuries. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Fittingly, Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, now being staged by Kickshaw Theatre at Ann Arbor’s trustArt Studios, starts in a parochial school’s infirmary, where a deep, lasting friendship takes root between a girl and a boy who recognize in each other a common compulsion toward self-destruction.

The boy, Doug (Michael Lopetrone), is a reckless, thrill-seeking daredevil, while the girl, Kayleen (Dani Cochrane), suffers from stomach problems and later develops a serious cutting habit. The 80-minute play shows glimpses of these two characters at several different ages, between 8 and 38, but it jumps around in time, inviting us to piece together the puzzle of Doug and Kayleen’s intense connection by shifting from childhood to adulthood and back again.

Art and science come together in Civic Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Civic Theatre's Arcadia cast

L-R: Kate Umstatter as Hannah Jarvis, Laura Lilly Cotten as Thomasina Coverly, Chris Grimm as Septimus Hodge, and Russ Schwartz as Valentine Coverly in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Photo by Lisa Gavan | Gavan Photo.

Melissa Freilich loves Tom Stoppard’s plays.

“Tom Stoppard always asks you to think and feel as well,” she said.

Freilich is directing the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of Stoppard’s Arcadia, opening April 19 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

It’s a play that combines entertainment with thought-provoking discussions of everything from poetry and mathematics to thermodynamics.

Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither: UMGASS delights with "Iolanthe"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Fairy Chorus and Iolanthe Herself

The Fairy Chorus of Iolanthe at the Mendelssohn Theater.

This weekend, the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society (UMGASS) stages Iolanthe, bringing Thirsty Fairies, Peer Pressure, and one long strange trip of a dream sequence to the Mendelssohn Theater. Iolanthe is the seventh of Gilbert & Sullivan's 14 comic operettas, steeped in the class divisions and political satire of the day, with a hearty dollop of supernatural weirdness.

Directed by Greg Hassold and featuring an extremely solid pit orchestra led by Thomas Burton, this wonderfully busy production has a lot going on in every scene and is just dripping with the talent of fresh-faced leads, seasoned supporting characters, and a chorus that is plainly having a wonderful time.