Jen Silverman’s absurdist dark comedy "Bonnets (how ladies of good breeding are induced to murder)" is a feisty feminist fable

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Bonnets cast in rehearsal. Photo by Pricilla Lindsay.

University of Michigan's Bonnets cast in rehearsal. Photo by Pricilla Lindsay.

Jen Silverman’s Bonnets (how ladies of good breeding are induced to murder) is so violent that it took a fight director and two assistants to choreograph it. Death by poison arrow, chainsaw, Ninja—it’s all there for your delight and horror. Even God, a character in the play who opens every scene, is powerless to stop it.

The chorus of one song in Bonnets goes like this:

Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop
We killed a man a-piece and we just couldn't stop!
Glug, glug, glug, glug, munch, munch,
Join me for tea-time, you might not live to lunch.

Will anyone survive in the dark comedy that runs February 16-19 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre?

Pricilla Lindsay, who directs University of Michigan theater students, says the play shifts between three eras. “Silverman picked three of the many times men have subjugated women—Salem in 1690, England in the 1890s, and France in the 1600’s, during the reign of Louis XIV. All three periods are not special but indicative of women being moved to the side. In our play, women wreak havoc and get revenge by actually murdering.”

These women don’t stop at killing their abusers.

“A young girl who is having an affair with a married man accuses his wife of being a witch,” Lindsay says. After his wife hangs, the man decides to leave for Boston—without his young paramour. ”You’re dead to me,” she declares.

In this play, that can only mean one thing.

Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works Brings The Cult Musical “Moby Dick” to the Children’s Creative Center

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The musical adaptation of "Moby Dick" aims to save an all-girls school from bankruptcy by staging the American classic in the school’s swimming pool.

The musical adaptation of Moby Dick aims to save an all-girls school from bankruptcy by staging the American classic in the school’s swimming pool. Photo taken from Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works' Facebook page.

What’s weirder than learning that there’s a stage musical adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Learning there are two, actually, one from 1990 and another from 2019.

And the Moby Dick adaptation that came first, which includes a book by Robert Longden along with music and lyrics by Longden and Hereward Kaye, is the one that local theater artist Ron Baumanis has been jonesing to stage via his company, Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works

“Whenever I see a show, whether it’s on Broadway or the West End, I always leave thinking, ‘Would I want to do it or not,’” said Baumanis, whose Moby Dick production begins its two-week run February 9 at The Children’s Creative Center.

“When I saw this in the West End, by intermission, I thought, ‘I’ve absolutely got to do this show someday.’ … I was drawn to the weird mix of the show’s all-out hilarious comedy with British pantomime and a lot of burlesque elements.”

Carnal Letters: UMS's No Safety Net series closed with two Rachel Mars plays that explore the expression of desire

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Rachel Mars of Our Carnal Hearts and Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters

Rachel Mars explores the concept of desire and how it's expressed in her two productions, Our Carnal Hearts and Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters. Photo taken from Rachel Mars' website.

If there’s one common thematic thread between British theater artist Rachel Mars’ two shows, Our Carnal Hearts and Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters, it’s desire and the ways in which it’s expressed.

Both shows wrapped up UMS’s No Safety Net event series with Our Carnal Hearts quickly assuming the feel of a darkly comedic, secular church service complete with a small choir on a bare stage. It takes envy as its focus and explores how our ego reflexively ties itself in knots when a peer or loved one succeeds.

Mars even has the audience say, in unison, “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!” in the same fake-enthusiastic tone we’ve all employed at one time or another in the interest of appearing like an adult instead of a petulant child.

Presented in the round, Our Carnal Hearts features a different singer—Rhiannon Armstrong, Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, Kelly Burke, and Louise Mothersole—seated in the middle front row of each side. It also combines cheeky musical asides composed and arranged by Mothersole, short audience interactions, and storytelling to plumb the question: why does another’s triumph inevitably make us feel small or less than?

Searching for the Right Words: Julia Cho's award-winning "The Language Archive" makes its Michigan debut at Theatre Nova

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A photo of Rick Sperling and Monica Spencer on stage for The Language Archive.

Rick Sperling and Monica Spencer star in the Michigan premiere of The Language Archive, which is at Theatre Nova through February 26. Photo by Sean Carter.

When Julia Cho read about dying languages, she wondered if losing a language meant something larger—losing a whole way of looking at the world.

In her whimsical play The Language Archive, Cho explores the questions: Do languages that develop between people in a country (or a marriage) die when the participants die? Does the culture die when the language does?    

First produced in 2009 at The South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, California, and then in 2010 at the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City, The Language Archive makes its Michigan debut at Ann Arbor's Theatre Nova, February 3-26, directed by Carla Milarch. (The play won the 2010 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, awarded to a new English-language play by a woman.)

“There are sixty-nine hundred languages in the world. More than half are expected to die within the next century,” says George, a linguist and the play’s protagonist. In addition to his native English, George speaks eight languages including Greek, Cantonese, Esperanto, and Elloway—the last of which is a dying fictional tongue.

"Are we not drawn onward to new erA" Encourages Understanding the Climate Crisis From an Unconventional Perspective

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

UMS' "Are we not drawn onward to new erA" addresses the climate crisis in unconventional ways.

UMS' Are we not drawn onward to new erA examines the possibility of undoing the damage people have done to earth in one night. Photo taken from UMS's Facebook page.

A few people quietly left the UMS presentation of Are we not drawn onward to new erA mid-performance while many others stayed and took part in a spirited standing ovation.

Conceived and performed by Belgian theater collective Ontroerend Goed, it’s just one of those shows: an experimental, challenging piece of theatrical performance art that you either embrace or reject.

And your reaction likely depended on your capacity for patience and ambiguity, which was initially tested when deciding whether or not to purchase a ticket for the January 20 or January 21 performance.

By way of a vague show description, the UMS site reads, “You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t remake a shattered vase. Or undo the damage that humans have inflicted on the Earth. But what if you could—in just one night?” (When asking my husband if he wanted to accompany me to the show, he asked, “What is it about?” “Uh … repair, I guess?” He didn’t come.)

Selina Thompson's “salt: dispersed” is a powerful document of her monologue retracing the transatlantic slave route forced on her ancestors

FILM & VIDEO THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Writer and performer Selina Thompson sits on a stage in a white dress with a large rock of salt next to her.

Selina Thompson's monologue salt and its filmed adaptation salt: dispersed document her story of taking a cargo ship across the ocean to retrace the journey of her enslaved ancestors. Photo courtesy of UMS. 

In 2016, Selina Thompson, an interdisciplinary artist based in Birmingham, England, went on a journey to retrace the path of her ancestors. That path was that of the transatlantic slave trade.

The writer and performer recounts her trip in salt, a monologue she first performed in 2017, and now in salt: dispersed, the film adaptation of her stage presentation. UMS is streaming the film for free through February 13 as part of its Renegade Festival's No Safety Net series, which focuses on theater and art installations.

Thompson's mission started in the U.K., boarding a cargo ship with another Black female artist, and discovering a story so powerful it takes the air out of your lungs. 

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's take on "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is a mystery that explores a spectrum of emotions and relationships

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Christopher (played by Drew Shaw) feeds his dog while sitting on a couch in the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Drew Shaw (along with Rosie the dog) stars as Christopher in the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo by Tom Steppe.

Cassie Mann was a fan of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and was excited when Simon Stephens' stage version became a hit in London and New York.

“I went to New York and saw the Broadway version and just loved it,” she said. “It’s got so many elements to it. It’s a family drama, it’s got humor, it’s a mystery, it’s got themes of perseverance and it’s a good character-driven play and yet it’s got a love of fun stuff that goes along with it.”

Mann wanted to direct a production for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and was all set to stage it in 2021, when the show was canceled because of the pandemic. This pause gave Mann a chance to delve a little deeper into the play and its unusual perspective.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time begins as a mystery. Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone discovers the corpse of a neighbor’s dog and sets out to discover who murdered the dog. Though never explicitly remarked on in Haddon’s novel or Stephens’ play, Christopher is on the autistic spectrum. The story of this mystery and what comes after is told from Christopher’s perspective as a sort of therapy suggested by his teacher, Siobhan.

The play is a family drama revolving around Christopher’s troubled relations with his parents. But it’s also a celebration of his determination, his wit, and his mathematical genius.

Mann read some books on autism and one book in particular influenced her approach to the play.

AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Homepage

AADL's 2022 staff picks

Don't ever write a year-in-review intro before you've had lunch. See below for reasons:

2022 is Pulp’s sixth year of compiling a delectable list of Ann Arbor District Library staff picks, featuring a smorgasbord of media to review and devour. With an insatiable hunger for books, films, TV shows, podcasts, music, and more, our AADL staffer suggestions will whet your appetite for anything you may have missed in 2022—or from previous years.

Because who can keep current with everything on the media menu these days?

The current media landscape is a 24-hour grocery store with everything everywhere available all at once. It’s decision paralysis at the deli counter, so consider us your Instacart shoppers for things to read, watch, play, listen to, and experience. (Apologies if we missed anything on your shopping list, and we hope our substituting a banana for that frozen pizza is OK.)
 
With more than 36,000 words to ingest in the 2022 Staff Picks, we’ve divided everything into four separate courses so you can enjoy each portion at your leisure:

➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Words
➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Screens
➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Audio
➥ AADL 2022 Staff Picks: Pulp Life

If you feel inspired as you eat up our words, let us know in the comments sections what you sank your teeth into this year. Your tasty tips can be from 2022 or any other era; it just needs to encompass whatever art, culture, or entertainment you enjoyed over the past year.

Now, open up these posts and chow down.

We’re off to make some spaghetti.

Fraught reunions with old friends are at the core of Penny Seat's "First Snow"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of Penny Seats's First Snow sit on stage steps in front of the play's set.

Reunited and it feels so weird: Nora (Celah Convis), Bob (Jonathan Jones), Natalie (Patrice Linman), Lisa (Josie Eli Herman), and Evan (Michael Alan Herman) are old high school buddies who reunite after a long time apart in Joseph Zettelmaier’s new play, First Snow, produced by The Penny Seats Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats.

The prospect of seeing friends from high school, after a years-long separation, always feels fraught. Will it be awkward? Will they judge you? Will you judge them? What will you talk about? Will you somehow ruin perfectly contained, long-packed-away memories?

This anxiety’s at the core of Joseph Zettelmaier’s new play, First Snow, now having its world premiere production via The Penny Seats Theatre Company at The Stone Chalet Event Center in Ann Arbor.

Evan (Michael Alan Herman), a Chicago-based photographer, vanished from his small hometown shortly after his high school graduation, when both of his parents died in a car accident. In the 10-year interim, he’s eschewed all contact with his best high school band buddies Lisa (Josie Eli Herman) and Bob (Jonathan Jones).

But music teacher Lisa—with whom Evan was once romantically involved—finally tracks him down to invite him to a holiday party in her home, which she shares with her young daughter, Natalie (Patrice Linman); and because Evan is working on a photo series about holiday celebrations, the invitation dovetails with his work. What Evan doesn’t know, though, is that he and Bob—and Bob’s wide-eyed, former-popular-girl wife Nora (Celah Convis)—are the only ones on this party’s guest list.

Not that this is malevolently ominous. The three friends simply have things they need to say to each other in order to move forward.

A modern Marion takes the lead in U-M’s "The Heart of Robin Hood"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Heart of Robin Hood

Erik Dagoberg (Robin Hood) and Stefania Gonzalez (Marion) practice swashbuckling on a ramp during rehearsals for U-M's production of The Heart of Robin Hood. Photo by Chris Boyes.

The legend of Robin Hood has been told for centuries. In the usual version, he is a nobleman who has been forced from his estate. He gathers a band of “merry men” who are dedicated to robbing from the rich and giving to the desperately poor.

But in earlier versions of the story, told in verse and song, Robin robbed from the poor but didn’t give to the rich and didn’t have noble aspirations. Playwright David Farr has returned to that earlier version of Robin Hood and to a very different Maid Marion, who challenges the outlaw to be a better man.

The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama will present Farr’s The Heart of Robin Hood at the Power Center for the Arts, December 8-11.

Director Geoff Packard said that Farr takes a decidedly different view of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.