Oh, What a Beautiful Production: Encore Theatre gives "Oklahoma" a magical infusion of youth

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's production of Oklahoma.

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

The Encore Theatre’s artistic director and co-founder Daniel Cooney takes the helm of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s game-changing and beloved musical Oklahoma and has given it a youth infusion.

Just down the road from Dexter is the University of Michigan’s School of Music and Theatre with some of the most talented young performers anywhere, many of them bound for Broadway and Hollywood. The Encore has a group of excellent actors who perform at the highest level. Put them together and the result is magical.

From the moment a swaggering Curly greets Aunt Eller with the rousing declaration, "Oh, what beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day" we get the idea that we will be given a jolt of boundless energy. The electricity never flags.

Oklahoma opened on Broadway in 1943. It was the first of an unprecedented run of hit musicals. Rodgers' music and Hammerstein’s book and lyrics dominated Broadway for the next 20 years. Hammerstein stepped in to write the book and lyrics after Rodger’s long-time lyricist, the brilliant but troubled Lorenz Hart, declined to participate and suggested Hammerstein as a replacement. 

Cultures collide in Theatre Nova’s production of "Death of a Driver"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Actors Jalen Wilson-Nelem and Sarah Stevens and chugging beer on stage.

Jalen Wilson-Nelem and Sarah Stevens do their best to communicate across the complicated landscape that is post-colonial Africa in the Michigan premiere of Will Snider's Death of a Driver. Photograph by Sean Carter Photography.

An ambitious, idealistic young American woman with an engineering degree comes to Kenya with a dream of building a four-lane highway and helping Kenyans move forward. She has financial support and encouragement from the Kenyan government but this is her first time in Africa and she has a lot to learn.

She’s hired a young Kenyan man to drive her and they quickly develop a friendship. She values his knowledge and he is offered a rare opportunity to be involved in the project.

This is the plot of Will Snider’s play Death of a Driver, an examination of just how complicated it is to communicate across the historic, cultural, and fiercely political landscape of post-colonial Africa. 

Theatre Nova is presenting the Michigan premiere of Snider’s one-act play through June 9. 

The engineer and her driver form a close bond. They like each other, they are attracted to each other but they are from two different worlds. Snider tells the story in a series for vignettes across 18 years from 2002 to 2020. 

PTD Productions takes the challenge With David Mamet's language-rich “Glengarry Glen Ross”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Jacob Williams-Justin and Rick Sperling wear suits and sit at a table in PTD Productions' "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Jacob Williams-Justin and Rick Sperling perform as John Williamson and Shelley Levene in PTD Productions' Glengarry Glen Ross at Ypsilanti's Riverside Arts Center. Photo taken from PTD Productions' Facebook page.

David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross is about double-dealing, backstabbing, power plays, American striving, and the rage of real estate salesmen in a heartless Chicago, circa 1980s. 

It’s also about language—Mamet’s sharp, snappy, multi-layered, and riveting symphony of words. They call it “Mamet-speak,” a mastery of street language, the language of the locker room, the real estate office, the street, and a perfect voice for the raging anger and dashed hopes of his characters.

It’s not an easy language to master. PTD Productions has taken the challenge in a lively production of Glengarry Glen Ross under the direction of Liz Greaves-Hoxsie. 

The first act is set in a Chinese restaurant near the real estate office. It’s a set of three one-sided dialogues each fueled by alcohol and grievance. 

Puddle Jumpers: A visit to the Debuck’s Family Farm Tulip Festival

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Combine slide at Debuck's Family Farm

Combine slide at Debuck's Family Farm. Photo by Sherlonya Zobel.

Our trip to Debuck’s Family Farm Tulip Festival started online. I had seen a gorgeous photo of vibrantly colored tulips as I mindlessly scrolled on my phone in what I like to think of as bedtime vacation. I wondered where these tulips were, and found that they were in Belleville.

“Our Belleville?” I thought.

After checking the family calendar and the weather forecast, we landed on Sunday at 11 am and purchased our timed ticket. At the point of sale, the forecast for Sunday was a warm and sunny day, closer to 80 than 70 degrees. When we loaded into the car, it was 63 degrees outside and the sky was decidedly gray.

I had prepped our four-year-old son for an adventure the day before, asking him if he wanted to see some colorful flowers. When I asked him whether he wanted me to tell him what kind of flowers we were going to see, or if he wanted to be surprised, he replied, “I want to go to an aquarium of flowers.”

Maybe he willed the rain upon us.

Fundamental Defiance: Clements Library's “The Art of Resistance in Early America” exhibit

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Lewis W. Eaton, stencils, [mid-nineteenth century] Auburn, New York: Lewis W. Eaton Collection.

Lewis W. Eaton, stencils, mid-19th century, Auburn, New York: Lewis W. Eaton Collection.

The concept of resistance to power has always been part of the American story, and an online exhibit at the University of Michigan Clements Library demonstrates some of the many ways that truth has played out.

The Art of Resistance in Early America effectively illustrates the many ways that early Americans used creativity to resist things like British colonial rule, slavery, and efforts to silence their voices.

The exhibit grew out of the fall 2023 Arts and Resistance-themed semester at U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and it highlights priceless works from the nation’s past that helped forge its future. (An in-person version of the exhibit has closed.)

U-M Presents a Swirling, Perfect Staging of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Cole Newburg as Fredrik Egerman and Audrey Graves as Anne Egerman in the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's production of "A Little Night Music." Theatre "A Little Night Music" at

Cole Newburg as Fredrik Egerman and Audrey Graves as Anne Egerman in the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's production of A Little Night Music. Photo taken from University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook page.

It always amazes me. 

Every year, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance is a magnet for the best, most talented musical theater stars on the horizon. 

This weekend, all that training and dedication pays off in a swirling, funny, poignant, and smoothly executed production of A Little Night Music, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. Here, a large cast can show their innate talent and what they’ve learned on their way to future stardom at the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

Director Telly Leung, music director and conductor Catherine A. Walker, and choreographer and student Davey Burton Midkiff bring it all together. 

A Little Night Music is, as a note says, “suggested by a film by Ingmar Bergman.” In U-M’s production, Wheeler keeps the main characters and the late 1800s Swedish setting. It’s mid-summer when the days run long, and a yearning for love is in the air. Wheeler makes room for Sondheim’s excellent music and razor-sharp lyrics, but also makes subtle changes that bend Bergman’s film in complex ways.

Staff Picks: Caring for Your Home

REVIEWS REVIEW

Now that spring is here, taking care of one’s home beyond just a general spring cleaning may be of interest. Here are a few books in our collection that will help in fixing or simply improving areas of your home or take a dive into home decorating and organizing.

How Your House Works by Charles Wing | Request Now
The copy of How Your House Works by Charles Wing In How Your House Works, you will find dozens of illustrations of sink drains, septic tanks, and every type of wiring in this handy book illustrated by Charlie Wing, a world-renowned home remodeling expert and founder of two house-building schools. You’ll never have to think, “What’s this and what does it do?” when working on your home, and you’ll get tips on how to keep things working.

 

 

 

 

 

Visual Handbook of Building and Remodeling by Charles Wing | Request Now
The cover of Visual Handbook of Building and Remodeling by Charles WingIn the Visual Handbook, Wing illustrates precise schematics and illustrations for bathroom renovations, building stairs and even advises on how to ensure your home is accessible to those with disabilities. Wing leaves no stone unturned in educating homeowners on how to build a home that works for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirty Guide to a Clean Home by Melissa Pateras | Request Now
The cover of Dirty Guide to a Clean Home by Melissa PaterasEverything you need to know about laundry, cleaning, and basic home repairs—from the TikTok star who made bluing a thing, showed you how to fold a fitted sheet, and taught you to properly use your (caulk) gun. This is a great book for those seeking practical and humorous advice on housekeeping and home maintenance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s a Homeowner to do? by Stephen Fanuka | Request Now
The cover of What’s a Homeowner to do? by Stephen FanukaContractor to the stars and host of HGTV’s Million Dollar Contractor series, Fanuka presents solid, easy to follow solutions for complex things like putting up a ceiling fan or installing a window a/c unit to simple stuff like staining wood and weatherizing doors and windows. He also provides tips on negotiating with a contractor if the job is too difficult to do yourself.  

 

 

 

 

 

Safe and Sound: a Renter-Friendly Guide to Home Repair by Mercury Stardust | Request Now
The cover of Safe and Sound: a Renter-Friendly Guide to Home Repair by Mercury StardustMercury Stardust AKA The Trans Handy Ma’am, has created this much needed guide for anyone who’s ever been worried about opening their home up to strangers for maintenance. It’s a book aimed at renters (and great for homeowners too!) chock full of instructions on how to complete a variety of common home repairs and projects with guidance for over 50 simple home maintenance projects, such as replacing your showerhead and troubleshooting a faulty garbage disposal. Chapters cover basic and handy repairs for your plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and safety needs too. The advice is tailored to renters to minimize permanent changes. There are helpful illustrations and QR code links to videos to help you on your journey.

 

 

Remodelista: the Organized Home by Julie Carlson and Margot Guralnick | Request Now
Remodelista: the Low-Impact Home : a Sourcebook for Stylish, Eco-Conscious Living by Margot Guralnick and Fan Winston | Request Now
The cover of Remodelista: the Organized HomeThe cover of Remodelista: the Low-Impact Home : a Sourcebook for Stylish, Eco-Conscious Living by Margot Guralnick and Fan WinstonTwo practical guides to organizing and decorating your home utilizing the less is more philosophy from the founders of the design website Remodelista. The focus is on simple but stylish and environmentally sound ways to make efficient use of every room in your dwelling. From organizing pot lids in a drawer to hiding unsightly electrical cords, these books provide numerous simple, yet effective solutions to home décor and organizing that take minimal effort. Recommendations are provided in both for eco-friendly products to help with organizing as well as DIY suggestions for cleaning solutions and home décor.

 

 

Encore Theatre hosts "Love Boat" vets in engaging, thoughtful "I’m Not Rappaport"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Ted Lange and Fred Grandy in I'm Not Rappaport.

Former Love Boat stars Ted Lange and Fred Grandy in Encore Theatre's presentation of I'm Not Rappaport. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

You remember The Love Boat? Sure you do.

On Saturday nights from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s, the captain and his crew would help passengers find love, laughs, and life lessons.

Encore Theatre is taking a brief break from presenting musicals to showcase Herb Gardner’s I’m Not Rappaport, a funny, engaging, and thoughtful look at aging in the big city. It’s a perfect opportunity for a Love Boat reunion, bringing together Fred Grandy as the cruise ship purser Gopher; Ted Lange as Isaac Washington, the ship’s genial bartender; and Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the captain’s daughter.

Two old men share a park bench in New York’s Central Park. Midge Carter (Lange) claims the bench for himself, a place where he can read a newspaper and hide from his obligations as a building superintendent. Nat Moyer (Grandy), a lifelong political lefty, loves to talk and wants to share his endless stories with the wary Midge. They’re an odd couple, who learn just how much they need each other.

Director Vincent Cardinal draws excellent performances from his veteran stars. They bring years of experience and a real love for the play they’re presenting. Cardinal balances physical comedy with the snappy and telling conversations that are the real heart of the play.

U-M’s take on Anton Chekhov's "Cherry Orchard" balances an awkward blend of comedy and tragedy

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Overheard shot of the stage with the cast of The Cherry Orchard

Photo by Erin Kirkland/Michigan Photography.

Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

Anton Chekhov, master short story writer and playwright, believed he had written The Cherry Orchard as a comedy, taking a jab at a rapidly fading way of life in rural Russia. When director Constantin Stanislavski directed the play for the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904, he directed a tragedy about a social order soon to be eclipsed by a very different social order.

The University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama balances the two points of view with mixed results.

In his program notes director Daniel Cantor acknowledges the shifting tone that leaves room for very different points of view.

Cantor writes, “What’s fascinating to me about The Cherry Orchard is that it contains intense contradictions: contradictions in style, theme, and action, and highly contradictory characters. It fully occupies a tragicomic perspective that is always moving, shifting, turning on a dime—whipping from the profound to the farcical, the spiritual to the absurd. And sometimes both at once.”

Mary Gaitskill Reflects on Her Latest Works and Extensive Career During U-M's Zell Visiting Writers Series Event

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

A portrait of Mary Gaitskill wearing a gray sweater.

Mary Gaitskill. Photo courtesy of The Helen Zell Writers' Program.

According to writer and University of Michigan alumna Mary Gaitskill, almost nothing is unbelievable and people are weird. Her work often reflects this notion with morally ambiguous characters, a gritty detailing of misconduct, and a complete rejection of clean-cut, black-and-white narratives. 

Quin, the protagonist of her acclaimed 2019 novella, This Is Pleasure, is one of her weirdest characters. In Quin's mind, his flirtatious workplace actions weren’t all that bad. When women began coming forward about feeling violated, he became caught off guard. 

“There was a cultural landscape for a while at least where he existed—I’m not saying it would be acceptable to everybody,” Gaitskill explained about Quin. “I’m sure he did offend some people, but because of his position, I think he didn’t realize he was offending people.”

Gaitskill shared her latest works and extensive literary experience during a March 21 reading and Q&A at the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Helmut Stern Auditorium. Hosted by the Zell Visiting Writers Series, an annual showcase sponsored by The Helen Zell Writers’ Program, it brings fiction writers and poets to U-M’s campus to host public readings and lectures.

Initially published in The New YorkerThis Is Pleasure dominated literary circles due to its unlikely telling of a story of the “#MeToo” movement, a social campaign aimed at exposing people, especially those in positions of authority, involved in sexual misconduct. 

It offers a complex narrative about two characters, Quin and Margot, who find themselves entwined with the tendrils of a public sexual misconduct scandal. Quin—a husband, father, and New York book editor—loses his career once young women start coming forward about his wrongdoings. Margot is Quin’s former co-worker, and after rejecting his sexual advances early in their working relationship, the two became close friends in the industry. When Quin’s name hits the front pages of tabloids, the two navigate the complex intersections of power, guilt, and manipulation.