It doesn’t take a genius—or a grand performance on stage—to reveal how people will do anything for money.
On February 25 and 26, Basement Arts, a U-M student theater organization, gathered at the Newman Studio in the Walgreen Drama Center and performed Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit, which shows how far people will go.
First published in 1956, The Visit tells the tale of millionaire Claire Zachanassian who returns to Güllen, the small town where she grew up. Excited by her visit, the townspeople decide to take this opportunity to better their town and their lives as they’ve fallen on hard times. But Zachanassian has a different plan in mind: In exchange for a one billion dollar donation to Güllen, she wants the townspeople to kill Alfred, the man who she became pregnant with, then jilted her.
Sam White, founder of Shakespere in Detroit, guest directed the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance’s recent production of Antigone (February 17-20). She felt the weight of the pandemic while conceiving of the staging and decided that rather than putting on a play written in 441 BCE as some sort of separate escapism from our current world, the two can interact and help one another.
The curtains opened and revealed a dark stage. It was silent, and over the course of a few minutes, lights started to show the audience fragments of what was on stage while keeping the illumination dim enough that you had to squint to see there were people with instruments tucked in the left corner of the stage.
Eventually, the light, though still low, revealed everyone on stage: Sharif Sehnaou on guitar, Hala Omran with a microphone, Aya Metwalli with a guitar, Simona Abdallah on drums, and above them all, Ali Chahrour lay on top of the speakers, one arm dangling and the other with a bouquet of dead flowers in his hand.
This is the entry to Layl (Night) by Ali Chahrour, presented at the Power Center in Ann Arbor on February 12.
In Transition: Jeffry Chastang's “Under Ceege” explores tension, change, and stasis between a son, a mother, and her community
In June 2021, after the brutal murder of George Floyd and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, many theater artists began to wonder if they had done enough to combat inequality. American Theatre published responses of a sampling of theaters across the country, and the magazine’s editor, Rob Weinert-Kendt, wrote that artists “must not let this moment of potential for change … pass us by.”
The Purple Rose Theatre Company felt the call of the times, too. While founder Jeff Daniels was on Broadway as Atticus Finch, a white lawyer who defended victims of prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird, he wrote to the theater’s supporters expressing pride in the Rose’s diversity record: 30% of productions featured a person of color, Daniels reported. Seven productions centered on a diverse community, and four were written by playwrights of color. “But it’s not enough,” Daniels added.
So, the artistic director at the time, Guy Sanville, launched an initiative to seek out artists who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color. The theater started holding acting auditions in Detroit as well as at its home in the mostly white city of Chelsea. Sanville appointed Lynch Travis, an African-American actor and director who had been part of the Rose company, to be the chief diversity enrichment advisor.
“When I was engaged by the Purple Rose to find more diverse voices to put on their stage, we invited 12 local playwrights,” says Travis. After Daniels and Sanville selected Jeffry Chastang’s Under Ceege, they asked Travis—who had been one of the first people to read the play—to direct it.
Under Seege started previews on January 20, fully opens on January 28, and runs through March 12.
This is the fifth year we've compiled Ann Arbor District Library staff picks, featuring tons of recommendations for books, films, TV shows, video games, websites, apps, and more.
The picks are always an epic compilation of good taste, and last year's post was more than 35,000 words—incinerating phone data plans and overheating computers as the massive page loaded.
In a sincere effort to keep your electronics from catching fire, we've split up the hundreds of selections into four categories:
And since we've saved your phones and laptops from the flames, tell us what you enjoyed this past year in the comments section below—doesn't need to be something that came out in 2021, just some kind of art, culture, or entertainment that you experienced over the prior 12 months.
Giving 'Em Hell: Fred Grandy captures the complex character of Harry Truman in a one-man play at Encore
Fred Grandy served four terms as a Republican congressman from Iowa. Grandy is an actor who quit his role as Gopher Smith on the popular television series Love Boat to enter the partisan and always contentious world of politics (and sometimes governance?).
In these particularly partisan times, Grandy is touring in the one-man play Give ‘Em Hell Harry as that most Democrat of presidents Harry Truman.
Encore Theater is taking a break from musicals to present this surprisingly relevant look back at Truman’s crucial and politically charged presidency in his own words.
Truman didn’t seek the presidency, it was thrust upon him. He had been plucked from his seat as a senator from Missouri to run with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was seeking his fourth term.
When Roosevelt died just four months into his new term, Truman took office while the United States was still at war. He had never been taken into Roosevelt’s confidence and he hadn’t been informed that an atomic bomb had been developed, and the decision on whether to use it or not fell on him.
Truman had a reputation as a blunt and honest man. As a senator, he led a committee to investigate waste and corruption in the war effort. He even challenged his president on several issues. But he was dedicated to the New Deal and Roosevelt’s transformative presidency. He was not FDR, but he brought a common sense, down-to-earth approach to an overwhelming position.
Harry Truman never minced words. He was blunt, uncensored, and proudly partisan. But this people’s president was also a good storyteller, slyly humorous, and tried with some success to work with those on the other side of the partisan divide, while also zinging them and their conservative views.
‘Tis the season to make jolly. ‘Tis also the season to be silly.
British music halls celebrate Christmastime with pantos (short for pantomime, but not really about mimes). A panto is a play based on a fairy tale that provides a framework for slapstick, satire, song parodies, dancing, clowning, a touch of bawdiness and lots of good cheer to see out the year.
Several years ago, Carla Milarch, founding director of Theatre Nova, and R. MacKenzie Lewis introduced the panto to Ann Arbor with An Almost British Christmas. Every Christmas season since (except for last year, of course) Nova has presented a new panto. This year Nova is reviving the original show, more or less, with some topical humor to fit this particular year.
But it’s really the silliness that counts.
William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the Bard’s most popular comedies and one of the most accessible for modern audiences.
And why not?
It has a little bit of everything for everybody.
There’s 16th-century style rom-com, fairies with magic spells and love potions, and a hilarious troupe of amateur thespians who are preparing a show for a royal wedding.
The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Dec. 2-5 in the Arthur Miller Theater, directed by Vincent Cardinal.
“Why I think it’s popular is that at its core it’s about love and about our impulses to find love and to find people to love and how complicated that is and how it works in the larger structure of our society as well as our personal lives,” Cardinal said. “So it’s examining issues that are core to what it is to be a human being.”
In Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street, investor Gordon Gekko sums up what capitalism is all about from his point of view: “Greed is good.”
Playwright Ayad Akhtar takes a more nuanced look at American finance in his play Junk: The Golden Age of Debt, a play about the increased investment in high-yield bonds—or junk bonds. Akhtar’s play is loosely based on the rise and fall of financier Michael Milken. In the 1980s, Milken changed Wall Street with his embrace of junk bonds, the idea that “debt is an asset,” and his acquisition of debt-troubled corporations.
In 1990 Milken pleaded guilty to six counts of securities and tax violations. He paid heavy fines and served a greatly reduced 22-month prison sentence. He went on to become a philanthropist, especially noted for his contributions to medical research. In February, outgoing President Donald Trump pardoned Milken.
The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama will present Ayad Akhtar’s Junk Dec. 2-5 at the Power Center, directed by Geoff Packard.
When searching around for a play to direct that would engage University of Michigan theater students and audiences, Packard chose Akhtar’s play for its provocative ideas but also for practical reasons.
The pandemic has had a big impact on the theater program with canceled performances and contact restrictions that have resulted in fewer performance opportunities for students,
“I was told to book a big play that would fill the Power Center,” Packard said. “So the first place I went was to a directory of all the plays that were done at [New York City’s] Vivian Beaumont since this is a similar footprint to the Power Center.”
In 1869, John Wesley Powell led a 10-man expedition to map and gather information on a large swath of the American West, from Wyoming to the Grand Canyon along the Green and Colorado rivers. Powell was a geologist, naturalist, anthropologist, and veteran officer of the Civil War.
Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus takes a satiric look at this famous manly journey into the unknown by casting her play Men on Boats with 10 women.
Emily Lyon, a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan, is directing a “non-man” cast in a U-M Department of Theatre and Drama presentation of Men on Boats, Nov. 11-14, at the Arthur Miller Theatre.
Lyon said she was intrigued by Backhaus’ idea of having women fill those positions that history had filled with men. She said she wants to fill that space and have her cast “become explorers and adventurers and stepping into that sense of bravado, letting 10 young women and non-binary actors own the stage in the way that men in the 1800s felt that they owned the land is a fun and bold project.”