Summer Solstice Arts Binge

I spontaneously yet purposefully structured this year’s Summer Solstice as an opportunity to focus on local culture and arts offerings. I felt that the harsh winter made Detroit – area culture rescind into the background for me more than I would have liked – though it was probably more a case of having to seek it out more directly – and so I am happy to see various cultural festivals and outdoor attractions now back in force. (Including my current project of working on The Penny Seats production of Elektra, due to open on July 10.)

First up was a drive to Detroit to check out this year’s edition of the River Days Festival. (I was in the city during last year’s festival, but did not attend for unknown reasons… I think that was the first time I went over to Windsor instead. Shows how times and priorities change!)

This festival is a great way for the city to turn its eye to the river, which seemed more blue and inviting than ever, and there was a similar festival apparently taking place on the other side in Windsor. Multiple ships were plowing the waters, some seeming to party more than others, and there was even a Tall Ship at dock, which had come down from a point in the Saginaw area. 

I don’t usually post travel-blog type photos here but I feel compelled to share a few highlights since it was such a scenic day:


As I enjoyed the sights, I couldn’t help recalling what the same vista had looked like just five months ago:


But it’s the wrong time of year to focus on a view like that 😀

I might have stayed longer in the city, but had made a decision earlier in the day to stop by Tipping Point Theatre in Northville to finally catch a production at that company. Their current production, The Red King’s Dream, will be running for one more week in its US premiere.

Written by a Canadian playwright, this script reminded me very much of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet, which my friends and colleagues The Penny Seats produced in their inaugural season three years ago, and later seemed to enjoy a brief revival of interest, with productions popping up in San Francisco and New York City, and probably a few other places. As for this show, I’m not sure if it will enjoy continued productions, but Tipping Point seems to appreciate it.

It follows the story of Steven, a classic loner type who works diligently in his crowded apartment to created indexes for an overbearing boss. The boss figure, a domineering woman, often visits him and clearly exerts a strong control over his actions and activities. He’s also often visited by a close friend who lives nearby, and his mother calls him, but there seem to be no other people in his life. One day, an attractive woman, Zoe, moves into his building and they meet by chance. Steven begins to feel an attraction to Zoe, but because he’s so socially inexperienced, he isn’t sure if he wants to reveal that attraction or not. Naturally, everyone’s relationships with Steven come to a head in a climactic dinner party scene. The script also includes some not well thought out (IMO) references to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland (hence the title) although that element does give a chance for the actresses to sport some great costumes in bookend-type scenes.

Sooo… this show struck me as something I’d usually refer to as a “crowd pleaser,” meaning that it can appeal to a wide audience but won’t necessarily end up on a critic’s top 10 list. All four actors deliver committed performances, although Zoe (Maggie Mayer) isn’t really given a chance to speak for herself until the final scene. The script often ventured a bit too readily into slapstick or “oh I can’t believe he said that” moments, and the awkwardness of the Steven character could have been easily suggested rather than so obviously spelled out.



On the other hand, the set design, as seen in the above image, could have been a character in itself, with a richly detailed checkerboard floor, hundreds of books carefully set in locations around the 3/4 thrust stage, and a hint of offstage activity as well.

Later in the day, back in Ann Arbor, I paid a visit to the unique Carriage House Theatre for the first time. This group shows an impressive commitment to challenging works. This summer they plan three productions, and their first one, Phedre, was enjoying a sold-out closing performance.

I tried not to compare the production too much to the filmed-theatre version I saw in 2009 with Helen Mirren in the lead role. This time the action was much more immediate, with just a small suggestion of a set and the actors doing their best to let the words speak louder than their actions. I don’t feel like I want to single out a particular moment in this production, but I was impressed with the actors capability and commitment. 

Attending the production gave me the stamina I was looking for to finally attend an installment of the State Theatre’s monthly midnight movie series. After noticing, wanting to attend, and ultimately not making it to screenings of films including 2001Fight Club and Wet Hot American Summer, this time the movie of the night was Serenity, which is now (gulp) nine years old but was met with much anticipation when it was released in late September 2005. Several friends from Hampshire College and I eagerly attended one of the first screenings at CInemark Hampshire Mall soon after it opened.

But despite that early anticipation, the movie’s box office returns disappointed, and no further sequels were made, though the film’s storyline leaves the possibility open.

And so in 2014 I was/am looking at the film in a historical context … would it be more successful if it was released today? (perhaps.) could Joss Whedon’s vastly increased celebrity and cache impact a future revival of this show? (probably.) did this show contribute to the now popular binge watching trend, where its predecessor Firefly TV series was under appreciated in initial airing but became hugely successful on DVD? (yes.) was the show and movie a launching pad for greater success for the actors involved? (mostly, from what I can tell.)

The State was at least 3/4 full for the screening, and the audience was more like a live audience at times, eagerly responding to twists and turns in the plot. Seeing the film again left me with an active looking-back feeling, where something I/you appreciated some time ago is right there in front of you, and so associated sensations and memories come back… but then it’s time to return to the present.



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