Theatre Nova's "the ripple, the wave that carried me home" explores how a family deals with a long fight for social justice

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Bryana Hall in “the ripple, the wave that carried me home" by Christina Anderson, directed by Lynch Travis at Theatre NOVA. Photograph by Sean Carter Photography.

Bryana Hall in the ripple, the wave that carried me home by Christina Anderson, directed by Lynch Travis at Theatre NOVA. Photograph by Sean Carter Photography.

A social change agent who’s also a parent lives inside a paradox: Though they’re often driven by hopes of making the world a better place for their child, they must necessarily invest a vast amount of time and passion (that might otherwise be spent on the child) into their cause to even have a chance at moving the needle—and that child’s resentment can all-too-easily take root and grow.

This is one of the primary conflicts at the heart of Christina Anderson’s play the ripple, the wave that carried me home, now on stage at Theatre Nova. The 90-minute drama focuses on Janice (Bryana Hall), a woman living with her husband and sons in Ohio in 1992 as the L.A. riots—sparked by acquittals for the police officers who brutally beat Rodney King—unfold on television.

A Devilish New Comedy: David MacGregor's "The Antichrist Cometh" debuts at The Purple Rose Theatre

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The cast of The Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh.

The cast of The Purple Rose's The Antichrist Cometh, clockwise from upper left: Ryan Carlson, Hope Shangle, Ryan Patrick Welsh, and Ashley Wickett. Photos courtesy of The Purple Rose.

David MacGregor's plays have been performed in 15 countries, including India, Israel, South Korea, and Tasmania. 

But the Michigan-born artist develops most of his world premieres right here at home.

Among the works the resident playwright for The Purple Rose Theatre Company debuted on the Chelsea stage are his Sherlock Holmes trilogy, Vino VeritasGravityConsider the Oyster, The Late Great Henry Boyle, and his latest play, the hilarious The Antichrist Cometh, which begins previews there on March 22 and opens March 29.

John, an advertising exec, hasn’t seen Duncan, his old college roommate, for years. John and his wife, Lili, have Duncan and his fiancée, Fiona, for dinner. Fiona is devoutly religious and notices things that bring her to a startling conclusion:

John is the Antichrist!  

“The basic idea for this play occurred to me a long time ago," MacGregor says. "I’m not personally religious, but I’ve read the Bible and Koran because they’re such important and influential texts. The Book of Revelations says the Antichrist will arrive on Earth."

MacGregor named his protagonist John, referencing the Book of John and the letters of John, but says, “John is a regular everyday guy who gradually realizes he might be the Antichrist.” 

Through the Grisly Maze: "Elizabeth Cree" is a puzzle-filled operatic mystery

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

An excerpt from the promotional poster for Elizabeth Cree. It shows the silhouettes of a man and a woman, with the moon overhead and an outline of the London skyline.

An excerpt from the promotional poster for the Unversity of Michigan Department of Voice and Opera's production of Elizabeth Cree.

As the opera begins, Elizabeth is hung for the murder of her husband, the playwright John Cree. 

Is she guilty of poisoning him?  

John is a serial killer, in the fashion of Jack the Ripper.  

Or is he? 

You’ll have about an hour and a half to solve the puzzles in Elizabeth Cree, which unravel in 29 scenes and over four timelines and include plays and vaudeville within an opera. 

“It’s an interesting and complicated piece,” says Gregory Keller, who directs Unversity of Michigan opera students in this one-act chamber opera, sung in English, that runs March 21-24 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Likening it to a hedge maze, he says, “We’re presenting it as a theatrical puzzle, a house of mirrors that the audience gets lost in and, maybe, found in. Each time you go into the maze, you make another connection.”

It’s so much so that conductor Kirk A. Severtson, who coordinates opera at U-M, says audiences who see it twice will delight in discovering Easter eggs, once they know what happened. “You have to see it more than once to get all the nuances,” he says. 

But those who see it once will have a chance to figure out just what is happening, after observing three gruesome murders almost in front of their eyes: Keller opted to stylize the crimes, presenting them as Victorian shadow plays.  

Six-Pack of Shorts: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre tackles David Ives' comedy anthology "All in the Timing"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's All in the Timing

Denyse Clayton, Julie Post, and Ellen Finch star in the "Words, Words, Words” section of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's All in the Timing. Photo by Tom Mann.

When Bruce Morey was looking for a play to direct for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, he wanted a comedy that would engage a large cast and that wouldn’t be too time-consuming for cast members. Instead of one play, Morey found six plays in one package, David Ives’ All in the Timing.

“I wanted to do a comedy that didn’t have any heavy issues about it, just fun,” he said. “All in the Timing is a series of 10-minute plays and I wanted to explore 10-minute plays, which I think is great for community players because you can put a lot of people into these plays if you do it right. They’re shorter, so for people who work full time and have lives outside of theater, this is a great experience for them because they can come in and do a 10-minute play or a 15-minute play and maybe it’s their first experience with it. It’s self-contained and ideal for community players.”

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will present Ives’ six-pack of short comedies, March 14-17 at the Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor.

Director Morey and producer Nicole Arruda are working together on producing and directing.

A Jill of All Trades: Julia Garlotte takes the helm of The Penny Seats Theatre Company

THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

A headshot of Julia Garlotte.

Photo courtesy of Julia Garlotte.

A theater's artistic director has to oversee everything on stage. She also has to check in with financial managers so the production stays on budget, and she has to understand acting, directing, and design—the whole deal.

Julia Garlotte, the new artistic director (AD) of The Penny Seats Theatre Company, is the whole deal.

Garlotte has acted for The Purple Rose in Chelsea, The Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter, and Penny Seats in Ann Arbor as well as at some of the town's lost theaters: The Performance Network, The Blackbird, and The New Theatre Project. Audiences have seen her at other theaters throughout Southeast and Central Michigan, too. 

She has also designed sound for several theaters, recorded audiobooks, and recently she’s been directing.

Oh, and Garlotte managed the box office at The Purple Rose for 12 years.

The “sheer volume of her professional experiences” is one of the things that impresses Penny Seat’s outgoing AD, Joseph Zettelmaier. 

In addition to working with Penny Seats as an actor, she's also been a sound designer, sound engineer, assistant director, and director for the company.

Encore Theatre's take on Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale mashup "Into the Woods" is filled with powerhouse vocals

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Into the Woods

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

It’s fitting that I watched Encore Musical Theatre Company’s new production of Into the Woods with my 12-year-old daughter.

Not just because the girl can sing every word of the show’s patter song (“Your Fault”)—she used to fall asleep listening to the show’s cast recording each night—but also because she now lives in that interstitial, fog-laden forest known as middle school, where preteens blindly fumble their way out of childhood.

And frankly, if I had to name one show that’s about the terrifyingly fraught and difficult process of growing up, it would be Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

A fairy-tale mashup that premiered on Broadway in 1987—long before the word “mashup” became such a regular part of our lexicon—Woods interweaves the stories of Cinderella (Ash Moran), Rapunzel (Lucia Flowers), Little Red Riding Hood (Sienna Berkseth), and Jack (Tsumari Patterson) and the Beanstalk

How? By way of a cursed baker (Marcus Jordan) and his wife (Jessica Grové), who can’t have children until they gather the four items requested by the old witch next door (Jennifer Horne). But even when the couple succeeds, and everyone—fairy-tale protagonists included—gets what they want, in its darker second act Woods dares to venture beyond “happily ever after” and ask, “OK, now what?”

Insulation Versus Isolation: U-M's production of “Arbor Falls” holds a mirror to society's divisions

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Arbor Falls promotional poster detail.

Arbor Falls promotional poster detail.

Caridad Svich’s play Arbor Falls is set in a small, landlocked, tree-lined town of that name. We know little about the town, save that it is near another place where something terrible happened, and the people of Arbor Falls want to feel safe. We know, too, that it is home to a church with a dwindling congregation and a preacher unsure of his faith. 

In one scene, the preacher says they don’t think about what to say in their sermon but what to leave out. In this play, much is left out, too. Only one character is named other than by title (Preacher, Lover, Owner), and none have specific genders; pronouns are gender neutral. The dialogue—short lyrical lines, lacking in detail—also leaves a lot for the actors and director to imagine. 

Into Arbor Falls comes a stranger, a traveler nobody knows, who makes “odd” sounds when praying. Preacher offers them safe harbor and food. But who is this stranger? Can they be accepted here? 

“I’ve been really excited about the way the cast and production team have embraced the project,” says Tiffany Trent, chair of the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama and director of Arbor Falls, which makes Michigan premiere on February 15 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

For Trent, a major theme is insulation versus isolation.

Comic Duet: Theatre Nova's "Fortune" is a rom-com with expert timing

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Russ Schwartz and Josie Eli Herman star in Theatre Nova's Fortune. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Russ Schwartz and Josie Eli Herman star in Theatre Nova's Fortune. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

This has been a chilly, wet, slippery, snowy winter, so it’s a perfect time to warm up with a rom-com—especially with Valentine's Day around the corner.

For Theatre Nova's production of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Fortune, director Carla Milarch brings two talented actors together in a comical duet. It’s a good choice for Nova's tiny, sometimes cramped space. There are some lighting special effects, but most of the fireworks come from the actors who play two lonely people looking for love.

Madame Rosa is a fortune teller, like her mother. It’s a family business and a curse. Unlike other “fortune tellers,” Madame Rosa actually can look into the past and predict the future, but she'd rather be a secretary. 

When not being Madame Rosa, she’s a lonely young woman named Maude who is afraid of what she can do and afraid to give up the business and do something about her life.

One day, a desperate young man demands that Madame Rosa read his fortune. He’s an awkward young accountant who has been regularly striking out in his attempts to find love. He wants to know what his future holds and doesn’t want it sugar-coated. 

Memorialize and Remember: Grey Rose Grant's folk opera "Little Histories" explores the death ritual

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

Grey Rose Grant. Photo by Karl Otto/TheOttoLab.

Grey Rose Grant. Photo by Karl Otto/TheOttoLab.

Grey Rose Grant puts all of themself into projects. 

Their 2019 folk opera Michigan Trees came out of Grant's experience as a trans-femme person. The 2023 chamber-rock opera The Precipice was based on Grant's poems and songs along with the journals of Karl Ronneberg, their co-founder of Fifth Wall Performing Arts. Even Grant's new work, Little Histories, about a mortician looking back on the life events that made him turn to his profession even as they prepare to host a funeral for a former lover, has its roots in the composer, performer, and librettist's North Carolina childhood.

"Little Histories is deeply connected to personal experience," Grant says. "Back in the day I was surrounded by literary nerds and we went through an autofiction phase which has for sure affected how I want to tell stories within the medium of theater. Every little story told in Little Histories has some truth to it: memories of two of my grandparents' funerals; a memory of witnessing a bird fly into a window in high school; the pet cemetery we had in the woods behind my childhood home. That said, these memories are swirled together, misremembered, and injected with a healthy dose of retold mythologies, the story of the birth of the modern American funeral industry, and more. I enjoy beginning from the personal and moving outward from there."

Fifth Wall Performing Arts' production of Little Histories runs January 26-28 at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, and I asked Grant, a 2016 graduate from the University of Michigan who currently works at Ypsilanti's Riverside Arts Center, about their latest DIY folk opera.

AADL 2023 STAFF PICKS: HOMEPAGE

AADL 2023 Staff Picks — Homepage

People who work at the Ann Arbor District Library love to give recommendations.

Whether in person at one of the five branches, in the News and Reviews section of AADL's website, or right here at Pulp, highlighting our favorite books, films, TV shows, video games, websites, adventures, and more is just part of the gig.

Like you, we are passionate enjoyers of media and experiences.

This is our seventh year compiling Ann Arbor District Library staff picks—and with more than 40,000 words spread out over four posts, it is the longest edition yet.

To reiterate: We. Love. To. Give. Recommendations.

Here are the creative works and experiences we discovered in 2023 that moved us enough to share them with you. (Not that you needed to twist our arms.)

AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Words
AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Screens
AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Audio
AADL 2023 Staff Picks: Pulp Life