Closet of Secrets: PTD Productions' "Perfect Arrangement" opens the door to address homophobia in 1950s America
Would you be willing to hide who you are in exchange for being more accepted by society? Or would the lies and facade crush you?
Perfect Arrangement, written by Topher Payne and set in the 1950s, follows two married couples that are trying to live the life they want while showing the world the life that is expected and accepted. PTD Productions is staging the play at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.
Bob Martindale (Gary Lehman) is a government employee who works in a unit to find communist sympathizers hiding within the U.S. government. His wife, Millie (Rebecca Lane), is a homemaker and poetry writer. They are best friends with the couple that lives next door, the Baxters, but everything is not as it seems.
Norma Baxter (Skye Earl) works as Bob’s secretary for the government unit and has to deal with all the accusations and confidential files that come across his desk. Her husband, Jimmy Baxter (Andrew Packard), is a school teacher. Both couples seem happy and in love but we quickly learn that it is all a hoax. Bob and Jimmy are the ones who are together and madly in love, as are Millie and Norma. They have created this elaborate scheme to protect themselves from society’s extreme scrutiny and fear of homosexuality.
It might seem like this arrangement is drastic, but Norma and Bob find themselves in danger at work when they are told to sniff out any employees that could make the government look bad. This includes any “loose women,” deviants, and anyone thought to be a homosexual. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they must fire their gay coworkers while still pretending not to be like them to keep their own jobs.
If you’re drawn to the idea of outdoor theater and goofy jukebox musicals that combine elements of Shakespeare and Star Trek—well, Scotty, the Penny Seats Theatre Company is currently staging a show in Ann Arbor's Burns Park that will likely beam you right up.
Return to the Forbidden Planet, by Bob Carlton, first hit London stages in the 1980s, and the show comically reimagines The Tempest with an assist from pop songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s, as well as the campy sci-fi film classic Forbidden Planet (1956).
Captain Tempest, played by a Shatner-esque Cordell Smith, has just launched with his crew (and the audience, otherwise known as the ship’s “passengers”) when the ship, the Albatross, finds itself in a meteor shower—thus cueing up “Great Balls of Fire,” naturally—and then drawn to the planet D’Illyria. There, a long-marooned father and daughter, Doctor Prospero (Will Myers) and Miranda (Ella Ledbetter-Newton), come aboard, as does their robot assistant, Ariel (Allison Megroet). Prospero tells his back story while pleading/singing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Soon, a huge, tentacled monster attacks the ship; past relationships come to light; schemes are hatched; a love triangle develops; and a grand sacrifice is made—conveyed via cardboard cutouts on sticks, in a kind of whimsical puppet show.
Golden Years: Purple Rose Theatre's "Jukebox for the Algonquin" focuses on seniors living and loving
Billed as “a serious comedy about sex, drugs, and rocking chairs,” Paul Stroili’s Jukebox for the Algonquin transpires at Placid Pines, a senior living community in the Adirondack region of New York, circa 2003.
This Purple Rose Theatre Company world premiere, which runs July 7-September 2, features characters who hail from the boroughs of New York City. They now find themselves removed from their usual surroundings and the people they loved, but they are ready to accept new challenges—even to create them.
Audiences may recognize playwright Stroili from his first-rate performances on the Rose stage—God of Carnage, Welcome to Paradise, and Watson in David MacGregor’s Sherlock Holmes series—or from TV appearances on Empire, Chicago P.D., Undercover Bridesmaid, and more.
Stroili says his venture into playwriting was “born of adversity.” He was booking roles in Los Angeles only sporadically and decided to write something for himself. Straight Up With a Twist enjoyed more than 1,000 performances nationwide and culminated in a twice-extended Off-Broadway run.
The Encore Theatre’s production of 42nd Street is a great burst of energy, a thunderous display of tap dancing and a funny, charming, nostalgic return to another place and time.
When the curtain rises, the intimate Encore stage is full of rigorously syncopated dancers rehearsing in a frenzy. The bright colors, lights, and energetic tap dancing that open the show display the special mix of Depression-era anxiety and the joy of putting on a musical.
In 1980, Broadway producer David Merrick gambled that the 1933 hit movie musical 42nd Street would find a new audience on Broadway. Under the direction and choreography of Gower Champion, the show struck gold.
The 1933 movie had been a big hit, coming as it did in the midst of the Great Depression, and it acknowledged the hard times while promoting the idea that things will get better—and in the meantime, let’s have some fun. Based on a novel, the musical introduced the classic story of the chorus girl who becomes a star.
The STEM of the Problem: "Digging Up Dessa" follows a young female archeologist grappling with sexism in the science world
Getting Dirty: Digging Up Dessa at EMU unearths the truths of both past and present
Digging Up Dessa gives women all the credit.
Presented by the EMU Department of Theatre, the play seeks to restore credit to the female scientists whose discoveries were claimed by their male colleagues.
Dessa (Lauren Pride) is a young girl obsessed with fossils, archeology, and science. Her world has just been turned upside down due to the passing of her father. The entire family was involved in a freak car accident and he did not make it, leaving Dessa and her mom, Esther (Cassie Paige).
Ever since the accident, Dessa has seen visions of Mary Anning (Mollie Cardella), a scientist from the 1800s who made uncredited breakthroughs in archeology. Anning was a real person, and even though she discovered numerous creatures, including the first Ichthyosaur, she was not eligible to join the Geographical Society in London because she was a woman. No one else can hear or see Anning, and she helps Dessa deal with life as an aspiring female scientist.
A Ghost Story: Purple Rose’s world premiere of the humorous but serious "In Common" explores friends struggling with relationships, past and present
A young woman races about frantically trying on one dress after another. She’s going out to meet with friends who want to introduce her to a man. But she’s not sure she’s ready yet.
Melanie is haunted by a memory. Her friend, confidante, and soulmate was killed after an incident in a bar. She watched it happen and saw him taken away by police. Melanie is white, her friend Cyrus was black. Another case of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people.
Cyrus died, but to Melanie he’s still alive, still giving her advice, still making her laugh. Recreational drugs and prescribed drugs don’t relieve her sense of guilt. But now, with the help of her friends, she grasps for something new.
The Purple Rose Theatre is presenting the world premiere of playwright Quinn D. Eli’s In Common, a play that balances a caustic sense of humor with a serious look at complicated relationships in a complicated urban environment.
Director Rhiannon Ragland and her excellent cast get the balance just right. The setting is, as Eli notes, “American, urban, Brooklynesque” and the time is “two years after Obama.” Things are more than a little uneasy, but Melanie and her friends are working through it.
Action Pain-ing: The ghost of painter Jackson Pollock is a conflicted priest's confidant in Theatre NOVA's "SPLATTERED!"
Conventional wisdom teaches us that “art heals,” but not usually via advice from a long-dead painter who suddenly reappears near one of his most famous works.
Nonetheless, this exact situation stands at the heart of Theatre NOVA's world-premiere production of SPLATTERED! by Hal Davis and Carla Milarch, directed by Briana O’Neal.
Set inside New York’s Museum of Modern Art, priest-in-training Justin (Artun Kircali) has snuck away from a wedding reception, with a champagne bottle in hand, to try and pull himself together. He’s just presided over the wedding of his cousin and best friend, Astrid (Marie Muhammad), but we initially don’t know why he’s drinking, cursing, and frantically praying in this gallery while confronting Jackson Pollock’s splatter painting “One: Number 31, 1950.”
But he’s not alone for long: Astrid soon finds him and, eventually, Justin’s old flame Sylvie (Allison Megroet) does, too. Yet it’s the surprise appearance of Pollock’s ghost (Andrew Huff) that provides Justin with an opportunity to unpack the unwieldy emotional baggage he’s carrying, which makes him reconsider his life choices and future.
SPLATTERED! runs a little over an hour, and other than two very brief Sylvie flashbacks, it unfolds in real time and the audience must work hard to piece together what’s happened between these characters in the past. During one early moment of confusion, I had initially guessed that Justin had been hopelessly pining for Astrid. Despite those initial thoughts, this short play doesn’t feel as fleeting as one might expect.
MLive.com staff writer Samuel Dodge wrote a wonderful obituary for the beloved educator, director, wife, and mother:
Take a Leap: Fifth Wall's new abstract chamber-rock opera "The Precipice" debuts at Riverside Arts in Ypsilanti
Our lives are not static.
We go through changes, we ask questions.
What does leaving home involve? What's it like to move on from relationships? What does any life change entail?
Fifth Wall Performing Arts, a multidisciplinary troupe that does experimental musical theater, tackles questions like these in Karl Ronneburg‘s The Precipice.
Karl, who uses only his first name professionally, created a collage, woven from journal entries, poems, letters to friends, music, and voice memos—his own and those of Grey Rose Grant—to create the abstract chamber-rock opera.
Audiences at Riverside Arts in Ypsilanti on April 29 and 30 will witness the world premiere of The Precipice before the company brings the piece to New York City.
For me, it’s telling that the most moving moment of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of Rent on April 15 came via a curtain call reprise of the show’s iconic song, “Seasons of Love.”
Having taken their bows, the performers slowly clustered together in the middle of the stage, and you could palpably feel the camaraderie among them. That camaraderie didn’t radiate from their characters, but from their real-life experiences as college students, including graduating seniors, who’ve grown close while training and building on shows like this one. The warmth coming from that stage made my hair stand on end.
And in keeping with the program’s esteemed national reputation, the students had hit their marks and their notes (well, most of them) all evening. So why exactly did this polished production feel … well, too buttoned up and tame?