At the start of Theatre Nova’s production of Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale, the four-person cast enters in a line, stomping and breathing deeply in unison, mimicking the movements of an elephant.
For that’s what Mlima is.
The old Kenyan “big tusker,” named after the Swahili word for “mountain,” lumbers onto the stage, at which point actor Mike Sandusky (who stands in for Mlima’s tusks, and spirit, through the rest of the play) speaks: of listening to the winds, and the love he feels for his mate, his family.
But it’s not long before Mlima—despite living within a preserve in Kenya—is felled by a poacher’s poison arrow. The animal’s enormous tusks simply garner too much money in the underground ivory trade to be resisted.
Yet getting that money, because poaching is illegal, is a fraught process, so Mlima’s physical death is followed by a fairly predictable chain of interactions between corrupt authorities, smugglers, ship captains, shady art-world dealers and creators, and rich collectors who can’t be bothered with origin stories of “how the ivory gets made,” so to speak.
Previous critics have noted that a point of inspiration for Mlima’s Tale, which premiered in New York in 2018, is Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which chronicles a linked series of sexual encounters across class boundaries. In Nottage’s piece, we follow the tusks, personified by the ever-looming Sandusky, as they change hands and enrich each person who briefly possesses them.
The Encore Musical Theatre Company is serving up a feast of fun, a musical time trip to 1960, and a charming story about an odd plant who develops a taste for human blood.
Little Shop of Horrors is not your typical musical, and it wasn’t your typical horror movie when B-movie master Roger Corman directed the screwball movie that inspired a hilarious and oddly lovable musical.
Little Shop of Horrors opened off-Broadway in 1982, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken while Ashman also directed. The team went on to help rescue Disney animation with hit songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, and Aladdin. Little Shop won raves off-Broadway and moved to Broadway for more acclaim. That led to another movie, the musical version.
The setting is 1960. A nebbish named Seymour Krelborn is laboring under slave conditions at Mushnick’s Florist at starvation wages and few prospects. He is hopelessly in love with Audrey, who also works at Mushnick’s, and is beginning to feel something for sweet, kind Seymour. But she’s currently going with a sadistic biker/dentist, a deadly combo.
Closet of Secrets: PTD Productions' "Perfect Arrangement" opens the door to address homophobia in 1950s America
Would you be willing to hide who you are in exchange for being more accepted by society? Or would the lies and facade crush you?
Perfect Arrangement, written by Topher Payne and set in the 1950s, follows two married couples that are trying to live the life they want while showing the world the life that is expected and accepted. PTD Productions is staging the play at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.
Bob Martindale (Gary Lehman) is a government employee who works in a unit to find communist sympathizers hiding within the U.S. government. His wife, Millie (Rebecca Lane), is a homemaker and poetry writer. They are best friends with the couple that lives next door, the Baxters, but everything is not as it seems.
Norma Baxter (Skye Earl) works as Bob’s secretary for the government unit and has to deal with all the accusations and confidential files that come across his desk. Her husband, Jimmy Baxter (Andrew Packard), is a school teacher. Both couples seem happy and in love but we quickly learn that it is all a hoax. Bob and Jimmy are the ones who are together and madly in love, as are Millie and Norma. They have created this elaborate scheme to protect themselves from society’s extreme scrutiny and fear of homosexuality.
It might seem like this arrangement is drastic, but Norma and Bob find themselves in danger at work when they are told to sniff out any employees that could make the government look bad. This includes any “loose women,” deviants, and anyone thought to be a homosexual. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they must fire their gay coworkers while still pretending not to be like them to keep their own jobs.
If you’re drawn to the idea of outdoor theater and goofy jukebox musicals that combine elements of Shakespeare and Star Trek—well, Scotty, the Penny Seats Theatre Company is currently staging a show in Ann Arbor's Burns Park that will likely beam you right up.
Return to the Forbidden Planet, by Bob Carlton, first hit London stages in the 1980s, and the show comically reimagines The Tempest with an assist from pop songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s, as well as the campy sci-fi film classic Forbidden Planet (1956).
Captain Tempest, played by a Shatner-esque Cordell Smith, has just launched with his crew (and the audience, otherwise known as the ship’s “passengers”) when the ship, the Albatross, finds itself in a meteor shower—thus cueing up “Great Balls of Fire,” naturally—and then drawn to the planet D’Illyria. There, a long-marooned father and daughter, Doctor Prospero (Will Myers) and Miranda (Ella Ledbetter-Newton), come aboard, as does their robot assistant, Ariel (Allison Megroet). Prospero tells his back story while pleading/singing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Soon, a huge, tentacled monster attacks the ship; past relationships come to light; schemes are hatched; a love triangle develops; and a grand sacrifice is made—conveyed via cardboard cutouts on sticks, in a kind of whimsical puppet show.
It was homecoming night on Friday at this year's Fuzz Fest.
Except there were no fancy dresses or ill-fitting suits at this party and the regalia was a little less formal for this annual celebration of scuzzy hard rock and psychedelia.
Fuzz Fest 8 ran August 3-5 at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, and while the opening and closing days had numerous fab bands with local connections, the most surprising homemade ingredients inside this rock 'n' roll sandwich were on Friday.
The nervy 1980s Ann Arbor post-punk band Nønfiction reunited with twins Laurence and Benjamin Miller; 1990s A2 noise-punks Barbed Wire Playpen got the gang together one more time; and Easy Action—essentially the hard-rock version of Detroit hardcore legends Negative Approach—returned to the venue of its first-ever concert. (It was also the first time Easy Action singer John Brannon, who lived in Ann Arbor during his days with Laughing Hyneas in the late '80s and early '90s, was back inside the Pig since he was kicked out of the club for some reason long ago.)
But the big get on the menu was Deniz Tek returning to play in the city where he was born and raised before moving to Australia and becoming a key proto-punk architect as the guitarist and primary songwriter in Radio Birdman.
Because at its core, Fuzz Fest is a townie party with feedback, always held in August before the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University students repopulate the area, and geared toward the year-round headbangers who fight through the endless warm-weather road closures every freakin' summer.
The Encore Theatre’s production of 42nd Street is a great burst of energy, a thunderous display of tap dancing and a funny, charming, nostalgic return to another place and time.
When the curtain rises, the intimate Encore stage is full of rigorously syncopated dancers rehearsing in a frenzy. The bright colors, lights, and energetic tap dancing that open the show display the special mix of Depression-era anxiety and the joy of putting on a musical.
In 1980, Broadway producer David Merrick gambled that the 1933 hit movie musical 42nd Street would find a new audience on Broadway. Under the direction and choreography of Gower Champion, the show struck gold.
The 1933 movie had been a big hit, coming as it did in the midst of the Great Depression, and it acknowledged the hard times while promoting the idea that things will get better—and in the meantime, let’s have some fun. Based on a novel, the musical introduced the classic story of the chorus girl who becomes a star.
The STEM of the Problem: "Digging Up Dessa" follows a young female archeologist grappling with sexism in the science world
Getting Dirty: Digging Up Dessa at EMU unearths the truths of both past and present
Digging Up Dessa gives women all the credit.
Presented by the EMU Department of Theatre, the play seeks to restore credit to the female scientists whose discoveries were claimed by their male colleagues.
Dessa (Lauren Pride) is a young girl obsessed with fossils, archeology, and science. Her world has just been turned upside down due to the passing of her father. The entire family was involved in a freak car accident and he did not make it, leaving Dessa and her mom, Esther (Cassie Paige).
Ever since the accident, Dessa has seen visions of Mary Anning (Mollie Cardella), a scientist from the 1800s who made uncredited breakthroughs in archeology. Anning was a real person, and even though she discovered numerous creatures, including the first Ichthyosaur, she was not eligible to join the Geographical Society in London because she was a woman. No one else can hear or see Anning, and she helps Dessa deal with life as an aspiring female scientist.
Each year, I look forward to the summer solstice. There’s something magical about the longest day of the year and the maximum amount of daylight that it brings.
But by June 20, 2020, at the age of 44, my outlook on the summer solstice changed unexpectedly. I awoke early that morning to sunlight streaming through my windows and felt excited about the day ahead.
My husband Brian and I were getting ready to visit my in-laws and celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with the rest of the family. We were just about the leave the house when we heard an expected knock on our door at 8 am.
I opened the door and saw my father on the front porch looking ragged and exhausted. There was an unrecognizable sadness on his face when he said, “L, Your mother passed away last night.”
Those words punched me right in the gut, and it took me a moment to process what he had just said. My father explained that my mother had a heart attack the night before; she had collapsed instantly and then died.
He tried to revive her before the paramedics came, but it was too late. I was surprised that a heart attack had taken my mother’s life at 75 instead of Alzheimer’s. She had been battling that disease for nearly a decade, and I had prepared myself for that outcome gradually.
A Ghost Story: Purple Rose’s world premiere of the humorous but serious "In Common" explores friends struggling with relationships, past and present
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!"
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.