U-M's "Night and Day" recasts ancient Roman and Greek stories with a modern multi-media production

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Night & Day poster

Though the title Night and Day initially calls to mind a famous Cole Porter tune, U-M’s new production of the same name -- consisting of a pair of playwright Charles Mee’s myth-inspired “dance/theatre works” -- bears absolutely no relation to the song.

Well, unless director Malcolm Tulip and his artistic collaborators decide it does, that is.

How could a theatrical presentation be so malleable? That’s both the allure and challenge of Mee’s work. Dubbed the “public domain playwright,” Mee draws on old stories, re-tells them with new text, and offers them up freely online by way of his (re)making project. Built on the idea that “there is no such thing as an original play,” (re)making invites artists to use Mee’s plays as the creative starting point more than a blueprint.

“It’s this incredible mixture of working with text, but then devising a whole new piece, too, because of the liberty he gives you to alter it and to remake his work,” said Tulip. “For me, the approach was discovering what all the parts meant, and what the skeleton of what he amassed looks like. Because even he’s bringing together elements from other sources, making a kind of collage. So you end up talking about and determining what you keep, what the thrust of each section is, and how you remake or rewrite them.”

Titanic Comedy: Jeff Daniels’ "Diva Royale" keeps audiences laughing

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Diva Royale at The Purple Rose Theatre

Kate Thomsen, Kristin Shields, Rhiannon Ragland star in Jeff Daniel's latest play, Diva Royale, at The Purple Rose Theatre. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

You can’t typecast Jeff Daniels. He’s played someone dumb (and dumber), a highly intelligent newsman, and lots of other characters with assorted traits, interests, and careers. 

He’s got roots in the theater, and he’s equally comfortable on the big and little screen. He also writes and performs folk songs. As founder of The Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, he’s produced plays. 

Jeff Daniels writes plays, too.  

Of course, you can’t expect Daniels to limit himself to one style or subject. His 17 plays, all presented at the Rose, include a searing look at friendships between people with different incomes that mixed realism with farcical elements, a political drama that showed the way the tragic situation in Flint has impacted relationships, and a comedy about hunting set in the U.P.  He’s written in the style of Samuel Beckett and Neil Simon with equal ease.

And the Daniels play that’s on the boards at the Purple Rose now, Diva Royale, is a lively slapstick comedy that feels very much like a musical comedy. The opening night audience responded to the musicality of the show, clapping after scenes the way spectators at musicals usually clap after musical numbers.   

From India With Love: The second Rasa Festival closes this weekend with a multi-arts showcase

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

Sanchayita Bhattacharjee

Sanchayita Bhattacharjee presents East Side Stories, a one-woman solo theater piece, at the Rasa Festival on October 6.

The annual Rasa Festival is a unique India-themed multi-arts festival in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, produced by our multi-arts organization, Akshara which I co-founded a few years ago. Now in its second year, I conceived of and started this festival in 2017 as an exciting month-long celebration of the arts in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas. The Rasa Festival features the arts, from and inspired by the rich cultural heritage of India. Partnering with local arts organizations, it presents several unique and exciting, traditional and innovative programs in performing, visual, literary, films, wellness, and culinary arts.

I feel that more than ever before, it is important for our communities to discover, appreciate, and embrace the richness of cultural diversity, and for us to open ourselves to influences from all over the world. The arts offer a beautiful window to experience and rejoice in the richness of cultures, both far and near. 

On Friday, October 5 and Saturday, October 6, the Rasa Festival will conclude the 2018 programming with a grand performing arts event at Washtenaw Community College's Towsley Auditorium in Ypsilanti. This year’s performing arts offering is exciting because it includes dance, music, and theater. In curating the two-day program, I wanted to bring a range of art forms and artists from India and other parts of the US as well as from Michigan.

Alec Baldwin coming to Ann Arbor for a collaboration on "Death of a Salesman"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Alec Baldwin

It’s not unusual for well-known performers to speak to students at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Just last year, Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons both stopped at the school.

Alec Baldwin’s visit this week is a little extra special, however: He’ll take part in a full reading of Death of a Salesman that involves students, faculty, and members of the community, presented by the University Musical Society along with the SMTD.

UMS President Matthew VanBesien came to town from the New York Philharmonic, which has worked with Baldwin in the past. Word got around that Baldwin was interested in working with students, he heard that Salesman author Arthur Miller was a U-M graduate, and everything fell into place. 

“We wanted to use a combination of faculty, students, and guest artists,” said Daniel Cantor, an associate professor of theater and drama who is directing the play. “All those things came together in this reading.”

Encore’s "A Little Night Music" takes a rueful look at love

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's A Little Night Music

Sebastian Gerstner stars as the obnoxious Carl-Magnus and Leah Fox is his exasperated wife, Countess Charlotte, in Encore Theatre's production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Encore Musical Theatre continues its love affair with Stephen Sondheim with A Little Night Music, Sondheim’s wistful and rueful look at love.

Night Music, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, was, as the Encore program notes “suggested by” one of Ingmar Bergman’s rare comedies, Smiles of a Summer’s Night. The setting is still Sweden at the turn of the 20th Century. A successful lawyer has recently married a much younger woman who has remained virginal during their eight months of marriage. She has developed a growing attraction to the lawyer’s seminarian son, who is wrestling with deep sexual conflicts of his own.

Things become complicated when the lawyer, Fredrik, comes home with tickets to see the noted stage actress Desiree Armfeldt, an old flame for whom the embers are still glowing. Desiree has started to grow weary of life as a touring actress and her affair with the obnoxious and married Count Carl-Magnus. Fredrik’s troubled married life and his love triangle with Desiree and Carl-Magnus eventually play out in the pastoral setting Desiree’s mother’s country house.

This might sound very serious, and it is, but it’s also serious comedy.

Through Molly’s Eyes: The Kickshaw Theatre Takes us to "Milvotchkee, Visconsin"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Kickshaw Theatre's Milvotchkee, Wisconsin

Talking Molly: Brenda Lane, Dave Davies, and Nancy Elizabeth Kammer are part of the six-person cast in "Milvotchkee, Visconsin." Photos by Sean Carter Photography

Molly has a hole in her head. Memories are escaping through it. Her doctor thinks that’s entirely possible. At least, that’s the way Molly hears what he says. 

Fred Smith, who built a statue park in Milvotchkee, Visconsin--Molly gave tours of the park for many years -- was struck by lightning. He lived for 12 years after that. What happened during those years? Molly is obsessed with this story, which may or may not have some relationship to reality. 

The Kickshaw Theatre’s current offering, Laura Jacqmin’s Milvotchkee, Visconsin, is set in various locations in Milvotchkee, a place you won’t find on any map, and in Molly’s mind as she descends into dementia. Molly encounters a variety of people in places that include a hospital, a movie theater, and her distorted memory. 

Fake Facts: Theatre Nova’s dark comedy "The Totalitarians" wades through a political swamp

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Theatre Nova's The Totalitarians

Connor Forrester as Ben (left) and Joe Zarrow as Jeffrey in The Totalitarians by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb at Theatre Nova. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

Theatre Nova’s September offering, The Totalitarians, centers on a campaign manager trying to help her candidate win an election in Nebraska. The candidate, Penelope Easter, is an earthy, compulsive woman whose tenuous relationship to facts seems, well, familiar. Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dark, witty comedy touches on politics, revolutions, and the twists, turns, and perils that come with both.

Pulp spoke with Diane Hill, who plays Penelope Easter, director Carla Milarch.

The Ann Arbor Russian Festival brings Northern Eurasian culture to Washtenaw

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Russian Festival

For the group that puts the Ann Arbor Russian Festival together every year, it’s about much more than simply having a fun time, it’s about sharing their culture.

“Nobody knows what is Orthodox church,” laughed Leta Nikulshina, the festival’s entertainment director. “People think, ‘Are you Catholic?’ ‘No, we’re not.’ Or, ‘Are you Jewish?’ ‘No, we’re not.’

“Its kind of the way to open up who we are and bring us closer to everyone else,” she said.

The festival’s beginnings also had a slight ulterior motive. 

Civic Theatre’s "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" plays the con game for laughs

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Civic Theatre's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

After directing seven serious dramas in a row, including Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of hell, No Exit, Glenn Bugala was ready for some laughs.

Bugala is directing the musical comedy version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.  Bugala, who has a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Purdue University, has performed and directed numerous productions at Civic since he became involved with the theater in 1997. His credits include directing Rent, Chess, Tommy, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Front Page.

Scoundrels, with book by Jeffrey Lane and music by David Yazbek, is based on the 1988 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as an odd couple of conmen engaged in fleecing rich women on the French Riviera. Caine played a smooth-talking gentleman who cons wealthy women to Martin’s rowdy, lowbrow who is happy snagging $20 from anyone he can.

“I think these days, with the news cycle, we could all use a comedy,” Bugala said. “I’ve known the movie since it came out, and I’ve kept a VHS tape of it since then.”

PTD finds the magic in "Humble Boy"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Humble Boy by PTD Productions review

Felix Humble is a troubled man. At 35, he’s made only small progress in academia as an astrophysicist; he’s overweight and stutters when under pressure; he’s worn out; and he’s very angry about the missing bees.

Charlotte Jones’ dramatic comedy Humble Boy opens with Felix searching with rising frustration for the colony of bees tended by his father, a gentle but distant biology teacher in the rural Cotswolds of England. It matters because Felix is home for his father’s funeral and the bees seemed to be everything to his father.

Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions presents a warm, gently funny and sometimes magical staging of Humble Boy at the Riverside Art Center.