Civic Theatre’s "Vanya" finds humor in sibling rivalry and Chekhov

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2CT's production on Vanya

John Harrison as Spike, Denyse Clayton as Masha, Ellen Finsh as Sonia, and Thom Johnson as Vanya. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Siblings always have issues.

Sometimes the older they get the testier they become, especially when their paths diverge. 

This idea became the inspiration for Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy about sibling resentments that takes some inspiration from Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov.

Cassie Mann, who is directing a production of Vanya for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, March 14-17, said she fell in love with the play when she read it.

Axis of Strategery: "Dispatches From the Dumb Decade" takes on the 2000s with song and humor

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Dispatches From the Dumb Decade

Craig VanKempen plays the Sean Hannity-type talk-shot host George O’Bannon in Neighborhood Theatre Group's original musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade. Photo by Crysta Coburn.

People sometimes struggle with how to refer to the first 10 years of the 21st century. The zeros? The aughts? Ypsilanti playwright A.M. Dean has put forth his own nickname for these transformative years in our nation’s history: The Dumb Decade.

Neighborhood Theatre Group’s original pop/rock musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade follows its characters as they come of age in the age of 9/11, George W., Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Axis of Evil, "strategery," and the birth of fake news. All these things that I had put behind me were brought alive again through music and song. We were so innocent back then. 

Theatre Nova’s Playwrights Festival lets the audience help writers find their voice 

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Michigan Playwrights Festival 2019

Playwrights begin with an idea. They imagine a setting, develop a cast of characters, and write a script. But that’s just the beginning. A director and actors will breathe life into the writer’s words. Only then can a writer get a feel for whether his or her play hits its mark.

That’s where the semi-annual Michigan Playwrights Festival at Theatre Nova provides an important service to playwrights and a great opportunity for theatergoers to see an original play in its infancy.

“Playwrights tell us how valuable it is to hear their play read out loud by professional actors in front of an audience,” said Diane Hill, producing artistic director of Theatre Nova, in an email interview. “They can see if what they thought was funny actually receives laughs or if what they thought might be a poignant moment falls flat. They also listen to the audience discussion that follows the reading concerning its positives and negatives which can sometimes lead to script alterations.”

Five new plays by Michigan playwrights will be presented March 6-10 in staged readings at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor.

Explosive Comedy: PTD Productions celebrates its silver anniversary with "The Miss Firecracker Contest"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

PTD Productions' Miss Firecracker Contest

Tessie (Cindy Franklin), Carnelle (Stacy Buck), and Elain (Mary Hopper) are a few of the explosively funny characters in PTD Productions' season debut production of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest.

Twenty-fifth anniversaries are usually celebrated with silver. 

But PTD Productions is feteing its 25th with firecrackers.

The Ypsilanti-based community theater group kicks off its silver season with Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest, a successful long-run Off-Broadway comedy that takes place in a small Mississippi town.

U-M Musical Theatre offers hard-hitting drama "The Exonerated"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

University of Michigan's production of The Exonerated

The acting students at the University of Michigan’s Department of Musical Theatre will be shifting gears to perform in The Exonerated, a docudrama that reveals serious problems in the United States criminal system.

The Exonerated by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen tells the true stories of six wrongfully accused convicted survivors of death row in their own words. The script was prepared from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files, and the public record.

Theatre Nova’s "The How and the Why" explores radical and exciting ideas

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's production of The How and the Why

L to R: Diane Hill as Zelda and Sayre Fox as Rachel in The How and the Why by Sarah Treem at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

It’s a beautiful thing when a play not only passes the Bechdel test with flying colors but offers an intellectually satisfying evening of theater, too.

For Theatre Nova’s production of Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why focuses entirely on the charged conversations between two women: tenured evolutionary biologist Zelda Kahn (Diane Hill) and the daughter she gave up for adoption, post-doc student Rachel Hardemann (Sayre Fox). 

As they meet for the first time, Zelda’s department is preparing to host an important conference. When Rachel reveals the radical theory she’s developed concerning the “why” of human female menstruation -- that it acts as a kind of physiological defense mechanism -- Zelda offers her the chance to present her ideas at the conference. When things don’t go well, Rachel’s left to wonder: Did Zelda set her up to fail out of professional jealousy? Or did Zelda just naively give Rachel an opportunity that she and her theory weren’t quite ready for?

Encore Theatre presents an emotionally taut staging of “Next to Normal”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Next to Normal

Bipolar disorder is not the usual musical fare. But the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal joins such recent topical musicals as Avenue Q, Rent, Dear Evan Hansen, and Hamilton as a forum for dealing with current issues using music and words to drive home tough lessons.

The Encore Theatre production of Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, will not send you home whistling a tune, but it will leave you with a better understanding of the pain, confusion, and challenges faced by those with bipolar disorder and the family and friends around them.

Chamber of Secrets: Purple Rose Theatre's "Never Not Once" pulls no punches as it explores a family's difficult history

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Never Not Once at Purple Rose Theatre

Michelle Mountain (Allison), Caitlin Cavannaugh (Eleanor), Jeremy Kucharek (Rob), and Casaundra Freeman (Nadine) star in Carey Crim’s grab-you-by-the-lapels drama Never Not Once. Photos by Sean Carter Photography.

We often hear that people shouldn’t be permanently defined by their worst decision or act. But on the other end of that equation, all too often, are men and women who are irrevocably shaped by the violence committed against them.

Carey Crim’s latest world premiere play at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre, Never Not Once, directed by Guy Sanville, treads rather boldly across this ethical minefield. 

When Rutgers student Eleanor (Caitlin Cavannaugh) comes home unannounced, with boyfriend Rob (Jeremy Kucharek) in tow, and announces to her two moms that she aims to track down her biological father, her birth mother, Allison (Michelle Mountain), balks, insisting that the one night stand that left her pregnant in college was so inconsequential that she never even learned the man’s name. But when Eleanor’s other mom, Nadine (Casaundra Freeman), secretly supplies Eleanor with a possible clue regarding her father’s identity, the search narrows, and Allison is forced to revisit a trauma from her past.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Never Not Once is an intense 90 minutes of live theater, despite some moments of levity in the early going. It tackles some tough stuff, and for the most part, it doesn’t pull its punches. But then, it can’t afford to. If you’re going to “go there,” as Crim has chosen to do, you’ve got to have the guts to go all in. So don’t go to the Rose expecting to passively sit back and be entertained by Never. It’s more a grab-you-by-the-lapels kind of show.

Pulp Bits: Matthew Dear, A2 Folk Festival, Washtenaw music clubs, AADL archives Twitter

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

Cast of Dionysus 1969

Two members of the cast of Dionysus in '69, the manager and assistant manager await fingerprinting and booking procedures in the Ann Arbor Police Headquarters. Credit: Ann Arbor News, January 27, 1969, via AADL archives' new Twitter feed.

A round-up of Washtenaw County arts and culture news.

Ann Arbor musician and Ghostly International co-founder Matthew Dear spent six years crafting his latest solo album, Bunny, which came out Oct. 12, 2018.

But for his contribution to FACTmagazine's "Against the Clock" series, Dear put together a song in 10 minutes.

Check out that Dear video below, plus the promo clip for the album single "Bunny's Dream," along with news on the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, the suddenly thriving Washtenaw County music club scene, and the AADL archives team recall a 1969 theatrical production that was accused of indecency.

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series Winter 2019 lineup

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series collage of winter 2019 events

U-M alumna Penny W. Stamps died from leukemia on Dec. 18, 2018, but her dedication to bringing arts and ideas to Ann Arbor community continues with the school and speaker series named in her honor.

The winter lineup of U-M Stamps School of Art & Design's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series was announced Jan. 11 with 12 events, primarily at the Michigan Theater and many in conjunction with other performances and events at the university and in the community.