A Ghost Story: Purple Rose’s world premiere of the humorous but serious "In Common" explores friends struggling with relationships, past and present

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of Purple Rose's In Common gather on a stage set up like a living room.

Hungry Ghosts: Cyrus (Dez Walker), Melanie (Caitlin Cavannaugh), Vivian (Olivia Miller), Hal (Rusty Mewha), and Blair (Rachel Keown) have a lot In Common at Purple Rose. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

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!"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Splattered!'s Andrew Huff as Pollock and Artun Kircali as Justin.

Andrew Huff (Jackson Pollock) and Artun Kircali (Justin) perform in Theatre Nova's SPLATTERED! Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

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. 

University of Michigan drama professor Kate Mendeloff passes away from cancer

THEATER & DANCE

Kate Mendeloff laughs while exploring The Arb in Ann Arbor where she directed the annual "Shakespeare in the Park" plays for two decades. Photo from El Kronox's Facebook page

Kate Mendeloff laughs while exploring The Arb in Ann Arbor where she directed the annual "Shakespeare in the Arb" plays for two decades. Photo from El Kronox's Facebook page.

Kate Mendeloff, a drama lecturer at the University of Michigan who directed the annual "Shakespeare in the Arb" plays for two decades, died on Saturday, April 15, from pancreatic cancer. She was 69.

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

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Grey Rose Grant and Karl Ronneburg rehearse their original abstract rock-opera The Precipice.

Grey Rose Grant and Karl Ronneburg rehearse their original abstract rock-opera The Precipice. Photo courtesy of Fifth Wall Performing Arts.

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. 

Turn Down for What?: U-M’s production of “Rent” brightened the corners of the play's darker edges

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of "Rent" performs April 13 at The Power Center in Ann Arbor.

The cast of Rent performs April 13 at The Power Center in Ann Arbor. Photo by Peter Smith.

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

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Detail from the program cover for the Savoy Theatre's 1881 production of Patience

Detail from the program cover for the Savoy Theatre's 1881 production of Patience.

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 PinaforeThe 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.

Luck of the Draw: "Everybody" bets on the lottery of life and explores the Big Questions

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast and crew of Everybody stands on stage after opening night.

The cast and crew of Everybody pose on stage at the Arthur Miller Theatre after the opening night performance. Photo by Peter Smith.

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

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Eastern Michigan University Theatre's show poster for 9 to 5: The Musical

EMU's production of 9 to 5: The Musical pays homage to the 1980 comedy film. Artwork courtesy of EMU's Department of Communication, Media & Theatre Arts.

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.

Rise and Shine: The puppet-filled "Waking Up!" at EMU is an all-ages feast for the eyes

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

A photo collage of the puppets featured in Waking Up!

Puppets and costumes featured in Waking Up! at Eastern Michigan University's Sponberg Theatre. Photos culled from the show's accompanying study guide (PDF).

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

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Michelle Azar and the production's show poster

Michelle Azar plays the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the one-woman show. Photo taken from The Michigan Theater's Facebook page.

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.