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.   

Morag Myerscough creates welcoming worlds that make us reconsider our own

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Morag Myerscough, Temple of Agape

Temple of Agape by Morag Myerscough (left) and Luke Morgan. Installation photo by Gareth Gardner.

A sucker for colors, I was persuaded solely by the image on the Penny Stamps Speaker Series calendar to see Morag Myerscough speak at the Michigan Theater on September 20 on the theme of  “belonging."

Myerscough is a visual artist in London who "explores the theme of 'belonging' in her work, using it to transform public spaces by creating welcoming, engaging experiences for everyone." The Stamps website photo of Myerscough’s structure Temple of Agape, built in partnership with Luke Morgan for London's 2014 Festival of Love, is covered with vibrant hues, visually busy interacting shapes, and positive words that combine for a psychedelic carnival vibe.

At the Michigan, Myerscough took the stage wearing all black and white. Her shirt reminded me of Picasso’s stripes. Her jumpsuit made me wish I looked better in them. Her sheer, long, flowing top layer completed the look. And then there was a surprise, a pop of color: bright Chuck Taylor sneakers.

“Morag’s visual vocabulary is inclusive by nature.” --Elaine Sims

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. 

From the Ancient to the Future: Osborne Macharia and Blinky Bill on Afrofuturism

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Osborne Macharia and Blinky Bill

Penny Stamps of Approval: Kenyan artists Osborne Macharia (left) and Blinky Bill explored Afrofuturism at the Michigan Theater.

I love the energy of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, where one can go to the Michigan Theater, join a multi-aged crowd, then sit back and hear the perspective of a creator who has been selected to create a dynamic learning experience for the audience members.

But I hate that idea of Afrofuturism confounds me.

I once had a friend who was into Afrofuturism and I could never quite understand what he was talking about. I’ve been to some Afrofuturism-themed exhibits, I’ve listened to a speaker or two, and I’ve seen a movie about it. I tried to get into it but remained confounded.

Kenyan photographer Osborne Macharia stood on the stage of the Michigan Theater on September 13 and said he hoped the audience would have a better understanding of the Afrofuturism concept by the end of the evening. Mancharia’s website describes Afrofuturism as “an artistic repurpose of the post-colonial African narrative through integrating historical elements, present culture and future aspirations of people of colo[u]r by using narrative, fantasy, and fiction to highlight African identity.”

At the Michigan Theater, I felt the same as I once did as a math student before my algebra breakthrough: I’d give it a try but didn’t feel confident that I would leave the session with any grand revelations.

But I came with an open mind.

Exploring the Ritual and Routine: Ann Arbor Art Center's "Rinse/Repeat"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Jan Bogart's Prop 8

Jan Bogart, Prop 8, bronze casts

The Ann Arbor Art Center’s most recent juried exhibition asks: “When does action transcend habit to become something more meaningful? RINSE/REPEAT explores concepts of ritual or routine in creative practice, where the experience is intentional, sacred -- not solely focused on the product or outcome, but on the set of actions.”

The Art Center frequently hosts exhibitions curated by guest jurors, and like many of its recent exhibits, the show continues to bring a variety of multi-media works by contemporary artists, both local and non-local. The exhibition as a whole has a strong emphasis on fiber arts and less traditional “fine art” media.

Juror Marlee Grace conceptualized RINSE/REPEAT, which addresses artists’ processes, and has selected a group of pieces that, in different ways, address the often intense, repeated processes behind the finalized works. Grace is most known for her Instagram account “Personal Practice,” where she posts videos of herself exploring movement, and many works in the show comment on movement and motion, approaching the subject of repetition literally.

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.

Faraway, So Close: Freddy Cole at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC REVIEW

Freddy Cole

There’s an interesting look that Freddy Cole sometimes gets when he’s playing. It’s not a faraway look, exactly, but it’s as if he’s not fully present, not completely in the moment. Sitting behind the keyboard, he stares off into the audience, looking at them but not really seeing them. His hands move across the piano keys seemingly with a mind of their own, coaxing out chords and picking out melodies. It’s like he’s somewhere else.

At least that’s the impression I got last Thursday at Kerrytown Concert House, where the Freddy Cole Quartet gave a pair of evening performances. Made up by Cole on piano and vocals, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums, the quartet offered a refreshing and skillful taste of straight-ahead classic jazz. 

Out of Many, One Voice: Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark

MUSIC REVIEW

Matt Watroba

The crowd for the third annual Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark on August 16 was not large -- maybe 50, 60 people -- which was perfect. It allowed Watroba to invite us all to bring our chairs to the flat area in front of the stage and form a large circle. It also allowed him to ignore the microphone that had been set up on the stage and instead move around inside that circle, and lead us in singing without using any amplification. 

He didn’t need it.

Roots in Tree Town: Nashbash showcased terrific country-tinged music

MUSIC REVIEW

Annika Bennett

Nashville's Annika Bennett was this year's Nashbash special guest.

Every August for the last 12 years, a bit of Nashville has visited Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown District Association’s Nashbash music festival.

Thursday’s edition of the event coped with extensive road construction around its location at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, along with threatening weather for much of the day. But by the time the festival kicked off, the weather was flawless, the fans dodged the construction barrels, and the smell of barbecue filled the air.