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?
Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 comic opera "Patience" skewers a popular art movement of the day—and the satire still stings
When Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Patience opened on April 23, 1881, London’s Savoy Theatre had another hit from the popular duo. Patience had another witty and stinging libretto from W.S. Gilbert and a witty and lush score from Arthur Sullivan.
Gilbert and Sullivan once again tapped into the latest fad by lampooning the aesthetic movement of the 1880s and '90s. The art-for-arts-sake approach to the arts, including theater, was itself a critique of art with a message or political manifestos. Though the movement preceded Oscar Wilde, he is often cited as an example of the aesthetic approach.
Over time, Patience has not been performed as frequently as Gilbert and Sullivan’s other comic operas, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado.
Cameron Graham is directing the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society production of Patience, which runs April 13-16 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, and believes it has a lot to say about our own self-involved times as it did when it first wowed the London audiences.
Is everything in life due to random chance or does everything really happen for a reason?
When it’s your time to leave this life, what do you hope to bring with you to the grave?
These are just a few of the introspective questions tackled in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play Everybody, on stage at the Arthur Miller Theatre through April 9. The show is adapted from the play Everyman, which was first printed by an unknown playwright in 1530.
This semi-interactive show begins before you even enter the theater.
Office Space: EMU’s “9 to 5: The Musical” Pays Homage to the Comedy Film and Celebrates Female Empowerment
The era of landline phones, typewriters, and carbon copies returns for Eastern Michigan University’s Department of Communication, Media & Theatre Arts production of 9 to 5: The Musical at the Legacy Theatre, March 31 to April 16.
The 9 to 5: The Musical made its Broadway debut in 2009. It’s based on the 1980 comedy film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Dabney Coleman, where the three women, fed up with their terrible boss, plot to take him down.
“A lot of those iconic moments that are in the movie,” such as the women’s revenge fantasies and taking their boss hostage, “we’re making sure that we represent them in the show, sort of how people of a certain age might remember them,” said Ryan Lewis, the production’s musical director and an EMU Department of Communication, Media & Theatre Arts lecturer and musical theater accompanist.
“It’s the vibe and feel of the movie, and the script is really great at paying homage to that. A lot of the characters are expanded and developed more, and I feel like the script is fantastic at doing that. We get to understand their frustration a little bit more than you do in the movie.
“Our set designer Jeromy Hopgood is great with those period pieces and so much of it is in an office in the ‘70s. What does that look like? What does that feel like?
“But then the office has to have a change when the ladies start taking over and start making those big changes. They’re subtle, but they’re significant changes. What are those and how do we make it a brighter place? And a more friendly workplace?”
In 9 to 5: The Musical, Violet Newstand (Leah Saunders), Doralee Rhodes (Brookelyn Hannah), and Judy Bernly (Abby Siegel) struggle with being women in a male-dominated workplace at Consolidated Industries. Newstand can’t get promoted, Rhodes has been objectified, and Bernly has been jilted.
Color, music, and PUPPETS, oh my!
Waking Up! at Eastern Michigan University's Sponberg Theatre is a family-friendly devised show full of wonder, audience interaction, and play. It is perfect for audiences 8 and up and encourages booing, cheering, clapping, and laughing.
Senior MFA student Cameron Prevatte created and directed this piece of devised theatre—a collaborative production where an ensemble comes together to create something from scratch, without the aid of a set script. There usually aren’t traditional design elements either. For Waking Up!, nine students make up the ensemble: Jujuan Adams, William Clapp, Sebastian Dahlgren, Wesley Foster, Sarah Kucharek, Cameron Prevatte, Annabelle Rickert, Cassie Paige, and Ember Seth.
Prevatte comes from a background in puppetry and the show is filled with them. Some are huge, some are tiny, but all are interactive and play major roles in the stories.
The One-Woman Show “All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” Tries to Humanize the Late Supreme Justice
At a 2021 family funeral, one of my aunts, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, immediately guessed which car in the lot was mine: “I saw something with Ruth Bader Ginsburg on it hanging from the rearview, and I said, ‘Dollars to doughnuts, that’s Jennifer’s car.’” (Guilty!)
So, when I arrived at the Michigan Theater on March 14 to see the touring one-woman show All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Rupert Holmes, the deck was already stacked.
But let’s be honest: I was hardly the only fan at the show’s packed Ann Arbor performance. As a feminist icon who arguably did more than anyone to advance women’s legal rights in the 20th century, RBG long ago achieved progressive, secular sainthood.
This ultimately poses a challenge for Holmes and his show, which stars Michelle Azar and is directed by Laley Lippard. How do you bring such a lofty figure down to earth and make her human?
Because frankly, despite Holmes structuring the play as an intimate talk between RBG and a couple of her granddaughter’s young friends in the justice’s chambers, it’s hard to not feel as if we’re prostrating ourselves at the altar of this powerhouse legal mind’s legacy.
Three years ago, The Ark was set to be the venue for the Midwest premiere of The Fourth Messenger, a musical with a modern perspective on the life and teachings of the Buddha. Then the pandemic hit and the musical was canceled.
Now, almost three years to the day, The Fourth Messenger, with book and lyrics by Tanya Shaffer and music and additional lyrics by Vienna Teng, will finally get its Midwest premiere at The Ark on March 18. The concert-style performance will be a benefit for The Ark, Ann Arbor’s popular home for folk, jazz, and alt-country.
In an interview with Shaffer in 2020, she described what inspired the musical while she was on a spiritual retreat.
“The idea came to me on a nine-day silent retreat when I was supposed to be clearing my mind,” she said. “I was thinking about the story of Buddha’s enlightenment, where he was found under a tree and vowed not to get up until he found enlightenment. Then for many days and nights, all the temptations of the world are trying to get him up. And it came to me that it would be cool as a song and dance, the temptations standing under a tree and then thinking the whole story would be a musical because it has that scale of a hero’s quest, and so I got excited on the retreat and for many hours forgot about my breath and I thought about the musical.”
Shaffer didn’t pursue the idea for another five years. She said she had trouble deciding how to handle the story about the historical Buddha and his teachings.
“I started to think how would people view this story if it was a woman, and I wanted to update it and make it feel very relevant and contemporary,” Shaffer said. “So it took me five years to find my way into it and then many years to workshop.”
The Fourth Messenger premiered at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley, California, in 2013 and was presented at the New York Musical Festival in 2017.