Pith Helmets & Pithy Plays: A2 Civic Theatre's “The Explorer's Club"

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Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Explorer's Club

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's The Explorer's Club is set in a long-ago time but relevant to today. Photo by Lisa Gavan | Gavan Photo.

Once you learn that someone has an “adventure tiki room” in his own home -- well, let’s just say it’s not so surprising to learn this same person was inspired to direct an Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of Nell Benjamin’s comedy The Explorers Club.

“(My adventure tiki room) is very empty right now,” said Brodie Brockie. “Pretty much everything is on the stage.”

The Arthur Miller Theatre’s stage, to be exact, where this weekend audiences will be transported to an exotic gathering spot for male adventurers in 1879 London. The Explorers Club, which had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013, tells the story of what happens when a gutsy female explorer, Phyllida Spotte-Hume, crashes the club, with a non-English-speaking tribesman from a “lost city” in tow.

It's De-Lovely: "Anything Goes" at Encore Theatre

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Anything Goes at Encore Theatre

Diggers of gold: Despite Encore’s space limitations, the choreography in Anything Goes winks at the grand spectacles of Busby Berkeley.

“Tap Your Troubles Away” isn’t one of the songs featured in the screwball musical comedy Anything Goes, but it’s nonetheless what popped into my head upon leaving Dexter’s Encore Theatre on Sunday.

Why? Because this silly confection of a Depression Era, vaudeville-infused musical, jam-packed with wordplay and witty Cole Porter tunes, offers a pleasurable, two and a half hour escape from our increasingly stressful world.

Down by Law: David Wells' "Resisting" world premieres at Theatre Nova

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Resisting at Theatre Nova

Brutal truths: David Wells' Resisting explores justice and systemic racism.

“Resist” is not only a rallying cry of our political times; it was the seed of Ann Arbor-based playwright David Wells (“Irrational,” “Brill”) latest world premiere play at [https://www.facebook.com/theatrenova|Theatre Nova].

[https://www.theatrenova.org/link-to-artfully|Resisting], which runs Oct. 27-Nov. 19, grew out of a news story Wells read about what’s called “broken windows policing.” Born in New York City in the ‘90s, “It’s essentially a zero-tolerance approach, that was combined with ‘stop and frisk,’” said Wells. “(Broken Windows) started with a scholarly paper that suggested that ... if one window in a building is broken, and it’s not fixed immediately, all of them will be broken. ... So the police were compelled to start ticketing or arresting people for every little infraction, no matter how small -- whether it’s jumping a turnstile, or jaywalking, or spitting in public. This led to a more antagonistic relationship between the police and the citizens they were supposed to serve. And these policies also only seemed to be applied in low-income neighborhoods.”

Scary Rituals: U-M's Halloween concert has haunted for 4 decades

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U-M Halloween Concert

Conductor Kenneth Kiesler will direct a bunch of li'l monsters -- and maybe a [http://www.annarbor.com/assets_c/2009/10/HalloweenThingsToDo-thumb-537x…|banana-clad cellist] -- at U-M's annual Halloween concert.

Sunday’s 40th annual Halloween concert at Hill Auditorium -- which combines the Campus Symphony Orchestra with the Campus Philharmonia Orchestra -- will mark conductor [http://www.kennethkiesler.com|Kenneth Kiesler]’s 23rd time on the podium while in costume. (What he’ll be dressed in this year is under wraps.)

But what you might not know is that he and the student musicians get one chance each year to raid the theater department’s costumes.

“They have a huge warehouse,” said Kiesler. “You could get just about anything you want.”

Cognitive Overload: NY Times' Charles Blow talked truth & Trump at Rackham

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Charles Blow

"A free, fearless, adversarial, in-your-face press is the best friend a democracy can have," said Charles Blow at U-M on Friday. Photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times.

Reading a long list of sponsors doesn’t usually prompt a standing ovation; but because celebrated New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow couldn’t hear, while backstage at Rackham Auditorium on Friday evening, what was being said while waiting to make his entrance, he gamely emerged before his official introduction had even gotten underway.

Not that the adoring, full-capacity crowd minded the miscue in the least. Presenting the keynote speech of a Humility in the Age of Self-Promotion Colloquium at U-M, Blow spoke for 40 minutes on the topic of Trump, arrogance, and democracy, and answered audience questions for an additional half hour.

Mythological Duty: "Welcome to Night Vale" creators visit Ann Arbor

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Jen Mann

It Devours is the new novel by Welcome to Night Vale podcast creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Photo by Nina Subin.

One article about the popular, fiercely beloved [http://www.welcometonightvale.com|Welcome to Night Vale] podcast begins with the line, “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of” the show.

But until I’d received a copy of the novel [http://www.aadl.org/catalog/record/1516068|It Devours!] written by the podcast's creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and researched Night Vale in preparation for a recent phone interview with Cranor, I’d been one such under-the-rock dweller.

Yet because the podcast could be described as the David Lynch version of A Prairie Home Companion -- focusing on a fictional desert town in the American Southwest, where all conspiracy theories are true -- I asked Cranor if any of Night Vale’s residents also live under rocks.

“No, but one of the characters is a rock -- the dean of the Night Vale Community College, Sarah Sultan,” said Cranor without missing a beat, referring to a character who communicates via telepathy.

Well, then. At least I might have some company.

Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor will be with artist and illustrator Jessica Hayworth at U-M's Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on October 23 at 7 pm, [http://www.literatibookstore.com/event/literati-bookstore-presents-jose…|courtesy of Literati Bookstore]. The three will be interviewed by Detroit writer, actor, comedienne, and The Moth Storyslam Ann Arbor host Satori Shakoor, followed by an audience Q&A and signing.

Cranor answered questions for Pulp about Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours!.

Camus' leaden "L’Etat de siège" is a slog even for the great Théâtre de la Ville

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L’Etat de siège by Théâtre de la Ville

Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Théâtre de la Ville’s take on L’Etat de siège is a feast for the eyes, but not much can be done about Albert Camus’ ham-fisted postwar tale.

I once spent a summer reading just about everything Albert Camus wrote. Not exactly beach reading, I know -- I jokingly referred to it as “my crazy summer” -- but I’d been hired to write the preface of a book about the French writer’s work, so I dove in.

I hadn’t counted Camus' seldom-produced 1948 play L’Etat de siège (State of Siege) among my favorites of his writings, but I was intrigued that Théâtre de la Ville was staging it. Having seen previous Théâtre de la Ville productions courtesy of University Musical Society (UMS), including Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in 2012 and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in 2014, I was hopeful the Parisian company's past lavish renderings of absurdist classics would nonetheless find a way make Siege sing.

And yes, Theatre de la Ville’s take on Siege at the Power Center on Friday and Saturday looked slick and offered some truly inspired moments of stagecraft, but Camus’ heavy-handed political allegory still ended up feeling pretty leaden.

All Wrapped Up: Christo at the Michigan Theater

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Christo at the Michigan Theater by Adrian Deva

U-M Stamps School of Art & Design hosted mega-famous artist Christo at the Michigan Theater; he told the crowd, "All our projects are totally useless!" Photo by Adrian Deva.

On [https://stamps.umich.edu/stamps/detail/christo
|Thursday evening], world-renowned sculptor [http://christojeanneclaude.net|Christo], 82, told a huge crowd -- packed into the Michigan Theater to see him -- what might be the best, most succinct courtship story of all time.

Of his longtime partnership with Jeanne-Claude, with whom he collaborated on his massive art installations (and who died in 2009), Christo said, with a shrug, “I was very young, we make love, and we like each other. That’s all.” Moments later, he added, “She was very pretty.”

But Christo -- dressed in dark slacks, a collared white shirt, and a big-pocketed beige jacket that hung off his lean frame -- initially kicked off his Penny Stamps Speaker Series lecture with a few parameters: “I will answer all questions, but I will not talk about politics, religion, and certainly not about other artists. I talk about myself, my work, and anything that I can tell you about my work.”

Protect Your Neck: Author, throat puncher Jen Mann hosts a moms' night out at AADL

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Jen Mann

Jen Mann's publishing career began when a blog post about Elf on the Shelf mania went viral.

When you put the wrong date in your calendar for an interview with Jen Mann, the blogger/author behind [http://www.peopleiwanttopunchinthethroat.com|People I Want to Punch in the Throat], you kind of fear that you’ll be added to the list.

But Mann -- who will be coming to the downtown library for a [http://www.aadl.org/node/362580|moms’ night out event] on Wednesday, October 11 at 7 pm, as part of a book tour to promote her latest humorous essay collection, Working with People I Want to Punch in the Throat -- couldn’t have been more understanding, despite her famously feisty, tell-it-like-it-is persona.

Cantina Jams: A2SO plays the music of "Star Wars"

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A2SO Star Wars

Return of the Jedis: Last year's A2SO Star Wars concerts were sold-out affairs, so the symphony brought them back.

Not so long ago -- last year, to be precise -- in a venue that’s close, close by, the [http://www.a2so.com|Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra] (A2SO) played two sold-out concerts featuring John Williams’ music from the Harry Potter films. The audience response was so enthusiastic that A2SO immediately started making plans to perform two concerts featuring Star Wars music, and those concerts will happen Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (October 7-8) at the Michigan Theater.

“We were so overwhelmed (last year) ... and the audience, some of whom had never seen a live symphony concert before, told us that the music evoked powerful images for them, even though there was no visual component accompanying the music,” said A2SO conductor Arie Lipsky. “They also told us that they’d never thought that music had played such a vital role in the movies, and they thanked us for highlighting the music on its own. So many said, ‘Now we’re hooked on seeing live symphony orchestra shows,’ and we responded by investing in music from all the Star Wars movies.”