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.
History From the Margins: UMS is bringing Druid Theatre's productions of Sean O’Casey’s "Dublin Trilogy" to the Power Center
“The whole world’s in a terrible state of chassis!”
Juno and the Paycock
In 1916 a large part of the world was in chaos and crisis. World War I was tearing Europe apart, and in Ireland, the leaders of anti-British forces saw an opportunity to rise against a pre-occupied British government and attempt to finally drive the British government from Ireland.
The deadly events of what is remembered as the Easter Rising were the beginning of a violent eight-year period that would in time free Ireland from British rule but at a high cost. Following the Rising, a war of independence began, ending with a treaty to give Ireland Free State status while still bonded to Britain. That treaty led to a civil war pitting defenders of the treaty against those who believed the treaty was a betrayal.
Playwright Sean O’Casey grew up in the tenements of Dublin. He was a self-taught reader, a laborer, a railway worker, and eventually, a writer with a keen ear for the language of his native city. In the 1920s, he created three plays that covered the period from the Easter Rising to the Civil War. Each play centers on the lives of tenement dwellers in the Irish capital who become caught up in the frenzy and frustration of the long-running domestic war. O’Casey’s plays are both comic and tragic as well as deeply humane.
The University Musical Society (UMS) is presenting the Druid Theatre’s production of O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy, under the direction of Druid founder and artistic director Garry Hynes, October 18-21. The Galway-based theater company is bringing the play to New York City and Ann Arbor only.
Hynes was artistic director for Druid Theatre from 1975 to 1991 and again from 1995 to the present. From 1991 to 1994, she was the artistic director of the famed Abbey Theatre, where many of O’Casey’s plays premiered.
In a telephone interview, Hynes said O’Casey’s trilogy is about the working people of Dublin living in the tenements.
Dress for Success: Costume designer Suzanne Young clothes actors for local, national, and international theater productions
It was 1981 when Suzanne Young, 21, moved to Boston from her native England.
“It was a bit of a culture shock,” she recalls. “Police came to the costume rental shop for Santa costumes. I wasn’t used to seeing people with guns on their hips or to hearing people tell me how much they loved my accent.”
She’s gotten used to this side of the pond, settling with her husband, Larry, in Dixboro, a village just outside Ann Arbor, and became a go-to costume designer for area theaters including the University of Michigan, Purple Rose, Wild Swan, Performance Network, and more.
The Youngs found their way here circuitously, with time spent in Europe and different states. But wherever they went, Suzanne created opportunities to work—from opening a school to teach English to French children to developing a wedding gown company.
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.
Golden Years: Purple Rose Theatre's "Jukebox for the Algonquin" focuses on seniors living and loving
Billed as “a serious comedy about sex, drugs, and rocking chairs,” Paul Stroili’s Jukebox for the Algonquin transpires at Placid Pines, a senior living community in the Adirondack region of New York, circa 2003.
This Purple Rose Theatre Company world premiere, which runs July 7-September 2, features characters who hail from the boroughs of New York City. They now find themselves removed from their usual surroundings and the people they loved, but they are ready to accept new challenges—even to create them.
Audiences may recognize playwright Stroili from his first-rate performances on the Rose stage—God of Carnage, Welcome to Paradise, and Watson in David MacGregor’s Sherlock Holmes series—or from TV appearances on Empire, Chicago P.D., Undercover Bridesmaid, and more.
Stroili says his venture into playwriting was “born of adversity.” He was booking roles in Los Angeles only sporadically and decided to write something for himself. Straight Up With a Twist enjoyed more than 1,000 performances nationwide and culminated in a twice-extended Off-Broadway run.
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.
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.