Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's take on "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is a mystery that explores a spectrum of emotions and relationships

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Christopher (played by Drew Shaw) feeds his dog while sitting on a couch in the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Drew Shaw (along with Rosie the dog) stars as Christopher in the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo by Tom Steppe.

Cassie Mann was a fan of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and was excited when Simon Stephens' stage version became a hit in London and New York.

“I went to New York and saw the Broadway version and just loved it,” she said. “It’s got so many elements to it. It’s a family drama, it’s got humor, it’s a mystery, it’s got themes of perseverance and it’s a good character-driven play and yet it’s got a love of fun stuff that goes along with it.”

Mann wanted to direct a production for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and was all set to stage it in 2021, when the show was canceled because of the pandemic. This pause gave Mann a chance to delve a little deeper into the play and its unusual perspective.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time begins as a mystery. Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone discovers the corpse of a neighbor’s dog and sets out to discover who murdered the dog. Though never explicitly remarked on in Haddon’s novel or Stephens’ play, Christopher is on the autistic spectrum. The story of this mystery and what comes after is told from Christopher’s perspective as a sort of therapy suggested by his teacher, Siobhan.

The play is a family drama revolving around Christopher’s troubled relations with his parents. But it’s also a celebration of his determination, his wit, and his mathematical genius.

Mann read some books on autism and one book in particular influenced her approach to the play.

AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Homepage

AADL's 2022 staff picks

Don't ever write a year-in-review intro before you've had lunch. See below for reasons:

2022 is Pulp’s sixth year of compiling a delectable list of Ann Arbor District Library staff picks, featuring a smorgasbord of media to review and devour. With an insatiable hunger for books, films, TV shows, podcasts, music, and more, our AADL staffer suggestions will whet your appetite for anything you may have missed in 2022—or from previous years.

Because who can keep current with everything on the media menu these days?

The current media landscape is a 24-hour grocery store with everything everywhere available all at once. It’s decision paralysis at the deli counter, so consider us your Instacart shoppers for things to read, watch, play, listen to, and experience. (Apologies if we missed anything on your shopping list, and we hope our substituting a banana for that frozen pizza is OK.)
 
With more than 36,000 words to ingest in the 2022 Staff Picks, we’ve divided everything into four separate courses so you can enjoy each portion at your leisure:

➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Words
➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Screens
➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Audio
➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Pulp Life

If you feel inspired as you eat up our words, let us know in the comments sections what you sank your teeth into this year. Your tasty tips can be from 2022 or any other era; it just needs to encompass whatever art, culture, or entertainment you enjoyed over the past year.

Now, open up these posts and chow down.

We’re off to make some spaghetti.

Fraught reunions with old friends are at the core of Penny Seat's "First Snow"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of Penny Seats's First Snow sit on stage steps in front of the play's set.

Reunited and it feels so weird: Nora (Celah Convis), Bob (Jonathan Jones), Natalie (Patrice Linman), Lisa (Josie Eli Herman), and Evan (Michael Alan Herman) are old high school buddies who reunite after a long time apart in Joseph Zettelmaier’s new play, First Snow, produced by The Penny Seats Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats.

The prospect of seeing friends from high school, after a years-long separation, always feels fraught. Will it be awkward? Will they judge you? Will you judge them? What will you talk about? Will you somehow ruin perfectly contained, long-packed-away memories?

This anxiety’s at the core of Joseph Zettelmaier’s new play, First Snow, now having its world premiere production via The Penny Seats Theatre Company at The Stone Chalet Event Center in Ann Arbor.

Evan (Michael Alan Herman), a Chicago-based photographer, vanished from his small hometown shortly after his high school graduation, when both of his parents died in a car accident. In the 10-year interim, he’s eschewed all contact with his best high school band buddies Lisa (Josie Eli Herman) and Bob (Jonathan Jones).

But music teacher Lisa—with whom Evan was once romantically involved—finally tracks him down to invite him to a holiday party in her home, which she shares with her young daughter, Natalie (Patrice Linman); and because Evan is working on a photo series about holiday celebrations, the invitation dovetails with his work. What Evan doesn’t know, though, is that he and Bob—and Bob’s wide-eyed, former-popular-girl wife Nora (Celah Convis)—are the only ones on this party’s guest list.

Not that this is malevolently ominous. The three friends simply have things they need to say to each other in order to move forward.

A modern Marion takes the lead in U-M’s "The Heart of Robin Hood"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Heart of Robin Hood

Erik Dagoberg (Robin Hood) and Stefania Gonzalez (Marion) practice swashbuckling on a ramp during rehearsals for U-M's production of The Heart of Robin Hood. Photo by Chris Boyes.

The legend of Robin Hood has been told for centuries. In the usual version, he is a nobleman who has been forced from his estate. He gathers a band of “merry men” who are dedicated to robbing from the rich and giving to the desperately poor.

But in earlier versions of the story, told in verse and song, Robin robbed from the poor but didn’t give to the rich and didn’t have noble aspirations. Playwright David Farr has returned to that earlier version of Robin Hood and to a very different Maid Marion, who challenges the outlaw to be a better man.

The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama will present Farr’s The Heart of Robin Hood at the Power Center for the Arts, December 8-11.

Director Geoff Packard said that Farr takes a decidedly different view of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

U-M Gilbert and Sullivan Society celebrates its 75th anniversary with pirates, policemen, and paleontologists

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

UMGASS's 2022 production of The Pirates of Penzance

Left to right: Craig Rettew as The Pirate King and Matthew Grace as Major-General Stanley in costumes for UMGASS's 2022 production of The Pirates of Penzance. Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

With cat-like tread, a rollicking band of pirates will step upon the stage from December 8-11 as they have done about every four years since 1949 when the two-year-old University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society (UMGASS) gave its first performance of The Pirates of Penzance.

Sparkling tunes and lyrics replete with irony, wit, conflict, and romance make it no surprise that UMGASS would celebrate its 75th anniversary with a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s two-act comic operetta. Director David Andrews says, “It’s probably the best known and best loved of Gilbert and Sullivan’s pieces.” Andrews says the show doesn’t just have catchy melodies that people hum on the way out: “Some people are humming on the way in,” he says of the well-known show.  

Encore Theatre's “A Christmas Story: The Musical" sings the praises of the classic film

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The scene from A Christmas Story where the excited dad pulls the leg lamp out of the shipping box as the family looks on in confusion.

The musical version of A Christmas Story has a dogged loyalty to the 1983 movie’s script—but with good reason since it's a charming and funny childhood tale. Photo courtesy of Encore Theatre.

A stage musical based on a beloved film classic—like, say, A Christmas Story: The Musical, now being staged at Dexter’s Encore Theatre—can be a double-edged sword. 

Yes, it’s a known commodity, so people will often line up to see it without too much coaxing, but the show’s creators must delicately thread the needle of staying true enough to the original material to satisfy fans, while also providing enough surprises and new elements to remake the story in a new medium.

If anything, the musical adaptation of A Christmas Story—with a book by Joseph Robinette, and music and lyrics by University of Michigan alums Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (before they won Tonys for Dear Evan Hansen)—errs slightly on the side of dogged loyalty to the 1983 movie’s script, straining to check every classic-moment box. 

Yet the reason Story has so many such boxes is because it is a funny, charmingly rendered, nostalgic slice of American childhood, set in a small Indiana town in 1940. 

Drawn from radio stories told by humorist Jean Shepherd in the 1950s, Story focuses on the pre-Christmas trials and tribulations of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Gavin Cooney), who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun. The problem is, he can’t convince his parents (David Moan and Jessica Grové), his teacher (Alley Ellis), or even a department store Santa (Mitchell Hardy) that if he gets one, he won’t “shoot his eye out.”

But Ralphie keeps scheming while also dealing with bullies, theme papers, and a gruff father who’s chasing his own form of validation. 

First, let’s address the baby elephant in the room:

Group Swim: PTD Productions' "The Sweet Delilah Swim Club" makes a splash on the importance of friends

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

"The Sweet Delilah Swim Club" celebrates the friendship of five women over time.

The Sweet Delilah Swim Club celebrates the friendship of five women over time. Artwork courtesy of PTD Productions.

PTD Productions' The Sweet Delilah Swim Club is funny, heartwarming, and shows the beautiful bonds of five women just trying to get through life.

This comedy, written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, takes us to North Carolina and introduces us to a group of girlfriends who met swimming for their college swim team. Every year during the same weekend in August, they rent out the same beachside cottage in the Outer Banks and use that time to catch up with one another and have a yearly group swim. Time progresses rapidly in this show, with the first scene taking place 22 years after graduation and the characters in their early 40s. By the end of the show, another 33 years have passed and the ladies are in their 70s.

Marie Jones plays Sheree, the former captain of the team and the group’s Type A organizer. She has a set schedule for each day and gets overwhelmed if the schedule doesn’t go according to plan. Sheree's weird health food disgusts her friends even though they all pretend to like it. Jones’ performance is endearing and honest as she navigates a character learning to give up some control.

Things to Do: Pulp Event Roundup for November

Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver reunite for a Nervous But Excited show at The Ark.

Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver reunite for a Nervous But Excited show at The Ark. Photo via The Ark's Facebook event.

To fill up your November calendar, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of arts-related events, exhibits, and more throughout Washtenaw County. Check out some local cool happenings in music, visual art, theater and dance, and written word and film.

MUSIC

Bill Edwards
November 11
Canterbury House, Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bill Edwards performs tracks from his new Americana album, Thirteen Stories. Throughout his latest release, Edwards pens sentimental stories from different perspectives, including a hall-of-fame baseball player, a seasoned songwriter, and a nostalgic boater. Read our preview and interview here.

Nervous But Excited
November 11
The Ark, Ann Arbor

Ten years after their sold-out finale at The Ark, the local folk duo of Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver reunite for one of their final Nervous But Excited performances. Their repertoire ranges from smart, introspective narratives to the tactfully political while interspersing songs of love and loss.

Olivia Van Goor
November 11
Blue Llama Jazz Club, Ann Arbor

The Milford jazz vocalist is influenced by swing and bebop jazz from the mid-20th century. Van Goor unearths and reshapes gems from the Great American Songbook and other jazz standards in a way that’s beyond replicating what has already been done before. Read our past interview with Van Goor here.

U-M's production of the musical tragedy "Bernarda Alba" mixes period costumes and an abstract set to confront contemporary issues facing women

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

UMich's production of Bernarda Alba

Scenic designer Jungah Han created an inventive set for U-M's production of Bernarda Alba, which had a drab look when it opened in New York City in 2006. Photo courtesy of Linda Goodrich.

Fredrico Garcia Lorca wrote The House of Bernarda Alba in 1936, shortly before he was murdered by a nationalist firing squad during the Spanish Civil War. Michael John LaChiusa shortened the title to Bernarda Alba when he set the play to music and added lyrics; he made some changes to the play while keeping the essential story: 

Bernarda Alba assumes the role of family head after her husband’s funeral. She orders her five unmarried daughters, ages 20-39, to mourn for eight years, as her mother did before her. It will be as though the house is bricked up; even crying is forbidden. One problem is that three of the sisters are enamored with the handsome Pepe el Romano—the eldest is engaged to him—and jealousy takes center stage. But what exactly can the sisters do under the circumstances? Turns out, some life-altering things.

When the musical tragedy opened at Lincoln Center in New York in 2006, the scenic design was drab, a realistic depiction of this closed and lonely home. 

For Linda Goodrich's production of LaChiusa's Bernarda Alba adaptation that's running November 10-13 at the University of Michigan, scenic designer Jungah Han dropped the drab for what Goodrich calls a “wildly inventive” set. The stark red floor is bordered by a black playing area, with a kind of ceiling that descends to oppress the characters. Actors step out of character and onto the rim at times to witness the action or to narrate. 

Fox on the Run: U-M Department of Voice's "The Cunning Little Vixen" was a feast for the eyes and ears

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

U-M's production of The Cunning Little Vixen.

Colleen Cole Beucher plays the Rooster-attacking Vixen as Cinderella Ksebati as the hen Chocholka worries in U-M's production of the opera The Cunning Little Vixen. Photo courtesy of U-M Department of Voice.

For the weekend of November 3-6, the Power Center at U-M was transformed into a magical, wooded wonderland for the Czech opera The Cunning Little Vixen. The U-M Department of Voice and the University Symphony Orchestra came together to present this whimsical tale composed by Leoš Janáček, with the reduced version arranged by Jonathan Dove. 

The original libretto was adapted from the 1920 serialized novella Liška Bystrouška by Rudolf Tésnohlídek and follows the story of a Vixen (female fox) and a Forester. While out in the woods, the Forester falls asleep and when a playful Frog wakes him up, he sees the Little Vixen, traps her, and takes her back to his farm. We move ahead in time and the Little Vixen has grown up, now referred to as simply the Vixen, and is treated as a pet at the Forester’s farm. There is conflict on the farm and she is tied up after defending herself against the Forester’s son and his friend.