The American Scream: Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" at The Purple Rose Theatre

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

All My Sons

Ryan Black, David Bendena, Caitlin Cavannaugh star in The Purple Rose Theatre Company's production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

Written and taking place in 1947, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is steeped in the emotional fallout of World War II. One might question the relevance of mounting a new production of the show today: What remains to be gleaned from this 70-plus-year-old work? However, Miller’s observations on the nature of generational sin remain as shattering and relevant as ever -- particularly when staged with the intelligence and sensitivity of The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s new production, running through June 1.

All My Sons takes place on the Keller family’s front lawn in Kokomo, Indiana, lovingly recreated with an artificial lawn, antique furniture, and a rope swing hanging from the rafters of The Purple Rose’s intimate space. Kate (Michelle Mountain) has spent three years in denial since her son Larry, a pilot, went missing in action during World War II. Her husband Joe (Richard McWilliams) and son Chris (Ryan Black) have long accepted Larry’s death and grudgingly tolerated Kate’s insistence on his survival. But their tenuous existence is upended by the arrival of Larry’s ex-girlfriend Ann (Caitlin Cavannaugh), whom Chris has secretly planned to marry after carrying on a romantic correspondence with her.

The plot thickens as details arise about Joe’s business partnership with Ann’s father, Steve, who went to prison for knowingly selling defective aircraft to the Air Force. Joe has maintained his innocence in that situation in the intervening years and has gotten off scot-free. But as damning new information comes to light, the fragile assumptions on which all the characters have built their lives threaten to crumble.

U-M takes on Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd," a musical challenge and a macabre story

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sweeney Todd

Artwork from the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd.

The musical theater students at the University of Michigan will take a walk on the dark side when they present their production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Power Center, April 18-21.

Sweeney Todd is an unusual show, combining dark humor, odd characters, a bit of the music hall, a bit of the opera and quite a lot of blood. 

Stephen Sondheim, the master of modern musical theater, has often taken on unorthodox musical theatre material from a survey of presidential assassins to a grim take on fairy tales to a bittersweet reworking of an Ingmar Bergman film.

But Sweeney Todd goes a few steps further into a grim story of revenge that balances horror with some deliciously off-kilter humor and some complex and compelling music.  

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s “Mad As A Hatter” Is A Tea Party Reunion With Old Friends

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Roustabout Theatre's Mad As a Hatter

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Whether we’ve read Lewis Carroll's books or not, most of us are familiar with the character Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. One of the more iconic figures is the Mad Hatter with his tea party and nonsense riddles. Alice was based on a real person, Alice Liddell, but what about the Mad Hatter? Playwright Michael Alan Herman has proposed that he was, one Theophilus Carter, a well-known (at the time) furniture salesman and inventor who, according to Herman and others, bears a striking resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations of the Mad Hatter. 

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s Mad As a Hatter -- directed by Joey Albright -- imagines Carter (Russ Schwartz) and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym) as school friends who grew up together then grew apart after Dodgson published his less than flattering portrayal of his good friend in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the play, Carter is haunted by his literary alter-ego the Mad Hatter, who not only comes to life but also bears a striking resemblance to Dodgson (both Dodgson and the Mad Hatter are played by Jeffrey Miller). 

Ballet Preljocaj's "La Fresque" at the Power Center was arduous, ambitious, and alluring

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Ballet Preljocaj by Constance Guisset Studio

Ballet Preljocaj by Constance Guisset Studio.

French dance company Ballet Preljocaj performed its new full-length contemporary ballet, La Fresque, at the Power Center on March 26 and 27. Ballet Preljocaj, presented by UMS, was in Ann Arbor for the fourth time and as usual, the company did not disappoint. (I was at the March 27 performance.)

La Fresque is based on the Chinese myth of a man who is drawn into a painting of young women. The man falls in love with and marries one of the women but is thrown out of the alternative universe by the woman’s guardians. The ballet ends with him looking at the painting again. Nothing has changed except the hair of one of the subjects, which is now up in a bun, with a flower in place to symbolize their marriage. 

The Rainbow Connection: Randy Rainbow Live Strikes A Welcome Chord at the Michigan Theater

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Randy Rainbow

Robert Mueller opened for Randy Rainbow at the Michigan Theater on Friday night.

Well, that may not be exactly accurate. What really happened was that after sitting transfixed in front of our TVs as news broke that Mueller had finished his report, many of headed out to see the fabulous satirist perform.  Some of us weren’t feeling very good. We had just learned there would be no more indictments, a blow to those who would like to see the Trump family behind bars. But Rainbow knew how to lift our spirits and save the country: He threw paper towels into the house. 

And the very funny entertainer took a moment to be serious. “There aren’t going to be any more indictments,” Rainbow said solemnly. “So let’s enjoy the ones we already have.”

Theatre Nova’s "Mazel Tov, John Lennon" engages with an odd couple true story

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mazel Tov, John Lennon

Forrest Hejkal stars as John Lennon in Theatre Nova's world premiere of David Wells’ Mazel Tov, John Lennon.

In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sought help from an immigration lawyer to extend their visas by six months so that Ono could continue to make her case in custody proceedings for her 8-year-old daughter.

They were put in touch with a mild-mannered, admittedly “square” immigration lawyer who had never heard of John Lennon, though he did know a little about The Beatles. Leon Wildes would find himself drawn into the muck and mire of the Nixon administration, a landmark immigration case, and a friendship with the mercurial, brilliant, and troubled rock star, cultural icon, and political activist.

Theatre Nova is presenting the world premiere of Mazel Tov, John Lennon, David Wells’ engaging take on this true story of an odd couple who became friends in a fight against government oppression.

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

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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 

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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.