Theatre Nova co-founder Carla Milarch has hopped through every level of theatrical life

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Carla Milarch in a black Theatre Nova T-shirt.

Photo courtesy of Carla Milarch.

When Ann Arbor audiences think about Carla Milarch—co-founder of Theatre Nova and former artistic/executive director of the Performance Network Theatre (PNT)—they may recall a performance she gave, a production she directed, a theater she ran, or more recently, a play she wrote.

Chances are, they will not imagine her changing a litter box—for rabbits.

Milarch and her husband, actor/director Phil Powers, share a home on Ann Arbor’s West side with their son, William Tyrone Powers, a senior at Skyline High, and four rabbits. The family had tried adopting kittens, but William broke out in hives, and they had to give them up. They tested him for dog allergies. No dice.

Now there are rabbits—four of them.

”Rabbits are misunderstood pets,” says Milarch, who at first kept them in cages. Now they are free to roam the house. She finds them similar to other pets: like cats, they sometimes want to be left alone (and can be litter-trained); like dogs, they sometimes demand attention. Sometimes high maintenance, one rabbit with poor balance required a ramp to get onto the bed and watch TV with her. Milarch built one. 

As it happens, Milarch was trying to create an environmentally friendly landscape for her home and was studying permaculture, a mix of urban planning, gardening, and homesteading, when the pet crisis occurred. Rabbits made a lot of sense. “We grow things in a regenerative way, using compost. I like being outside a lot. It must be in my blood,” she reflects. “I grew up on a farm.”

Not that she wanted to spend her life on the farm. 

Can An Actress Teach a Robot to Feel? “Doctor Moloch” grapples with the question at Theatre Nova  

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

An impressionistic drawing of a robot hand and a human hand reaching out to touch, set against a blue background.

Detail from Theatre Nova's poster for Doctor Moloch.

In May of 2023, a group of researchers, engineers, and corporate executives at the Center for AI Safety warned of the existential danger of artificial intelligence (AI): “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” they wrote

Later that year, the Screen Actors Guild negotiated a new contract. In addition to wage issues, the actors were concerned that background roles would be created through AI and fewer actors would be employed. Most of the union’s demands were met, but the producers won the battle over keeping AI as an option.

Carla Milarch, whose play Doctor Moloch opens July 12 at Theatre Nova, absorbed all of this.  She also read articles by those who thought AI would enrich our lives and by people who believe there are pros and cons. [Read Pulp's profile of Milarch here.]

She couldn’t get the question out of her mind: Is AI a friend or foe? She thought about it while gardening. She thought about it while doing dishes. And a play began to take shape. “I have an idea bubbling, and characters, and then it takes on a life of its own,” she says of her writing process. 

That’s how her title character—a doctor created by artificial intelligence—was born.

Slapstick Shenanigans: Purple Rose Theatre finds the funny side of friendship in "What Springs Forth"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Purple Rose's What Springs Forth. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Dwandra Nickole, Sarab Kamoo, Sonja Marquis, and Suzi Regan wrestle with physical comedy in Purple Rose's What Springs Forth. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Playwright Carey Crim has conjured up a rollicking, raunchy and, at times, revealing comedy about summer, friendship and the perils of Michigan outdoors.

The Purple Rose Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Crim’s What Springs Forth

Director Kate Thomsen and her four-women cast serve up a comedy that combines more than a bit of raunch, expertly executed physical comedy, some quiet reflection on unfulfilled dreams, and most importantly, the strength of female bonding.

As the play begins, two women are driving up to meet their other bestie who has invited them to enjoy Michigan outdoors. Sallie Ben and Robyn are imagining a posh spa, invigorating massages, and quiet walks on a summer evening. 

That would be a great weekend away from Robyn’s rambunctious boys and Sallie’s troubled daughter. 

Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.

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. 

"Marvin’s Room" walks a thin line between comedy and drama at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Marvin's Room

Bryan Shane (Dr. Wally) and Laura Chodoroff (Bessie) rehearse for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's staging of Marvin's Room. Photo by Tom Steppe.

When the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre had to find a substitute for a previously announced play, Cassie Mann stepped in as director and suggested staging Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, a play that walks that thin line between comedy and drama.

Two sisters have taken different paths in life. Bessie, now in her early 40s, left Ohio for Florida to be a caregiver for the last 20 years for her chronically ill father and an aunt confined to a wheelchair. She accepts her burden lightly but knows she’s missed a lot. Her sister Lee stayed in Ohio 20 years ago and never looked back. She is now the single mother of two teenage sons.

Bessie receives bad news from her doctor. She has leukemia and needs a bone marrow donor. Lee has to come to Florida to help her sister.

Sound heavy?

Cassie Mann calls it “one of the funniest plays about a serious subject I’ve encountered.”

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.

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.”