Today is #LoveTheatre day over on Twitter. So it’s a perfect time to recount my quartet of theatregoing experiences so far this week, and reiterate my satisfaction that the rest of the week will be spent working shows here at The Hilberry Theatre.
The majority of the show viewing has been right here on campus in midtown Detroit, and it’s a great treat to have so many options right here at my fingertips.
A Song for Coretta, which recently concluded its run at the Studio Theatre, offered a contemporary and fresh voice to the local theatre community. The play tracks the stories of five women who assemble at Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, drawn there by a large communal desire to pay their respects to the recently deceased Coretta Scott King. The play explores the variety of stories that each women possess and an eventual commonality they can all face.
Director Billicia Hines made her Wayne State theatre debut with this production, and she brought a sensitive precision to the staging of each sequence in the play, making a one-act piece have many more dimensions than one might expect at first glance. The capable and committed ensemble of women knew how to express their characters, most vividly seen in a climactic sequence expressing the stories of two of the women who had been hesitant to speak prior to that point.
A second Wayne State show, Peter Pan, concludes its run with three more performances this weekend at the Bonstelle Theatre. It was a pleasure to watch this show alongside an extremely energetic young audience. The script is a new adaptation by author Janet Allard, with a particular focus on the Peter – Wendy relationship and the timeless goal of “never growing up.”
Nearly all of Wayne State’s undergraduate theatre ensemble is given a chance to shine in this production, both in central and supporting roles. Actress Maggie Beson brings impish charm to the stage as Peter, paired with Luke Rose’s dual roguish ways as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. The set design skillfully morphs from nursery to water to forest over the span of an hour and twenty minutes. And several actors literally reach new heights through the magic of flying wire technology, moving up, down and around through the air.
A third Wayne State show, All In The Timing, will be opening on Friday night; I attended an early dress rehearsal. One look at Max Amitin’s schoolhouse funhouse set lets the viewer know they are in for a wild and fun ride, filled with David Ives’ trademark wit and humor. (you’ll just have to come see the show to find out more about it.)
Finally, our northern neighbor The Ringwald Theatre has debuted a fresh and notable contemporary work. The company is currently offering the Michigan premiere of Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner, billed appropriately as a contemporary riff on The Seagull. This play was the best thing I have seen at the Ringwald, with a notable and provocative focus on character, atmosphere and wordplay.
A tight ensemble, led by Jonathan Davidson as Con, proceeds to riff on Seagull in contemporary tones, and with occasional knowing asides to the audience. The playwright’s three act structure is also honored, which helped lend an intriguingly epic feel to the evening, with two intermissions and bitter cold and snow outside the storefront doors. Several moments in the play, particularly those that focus on Mash, played by Vanessa Sawson, incorporate winsome music and story through song. However, the story comes back around to dramatic heights, primarily thanks to Kelly Komlen as Emma, who lends imperious height to her maternal role. I hope the word gets out about this production and that it is seen as a major coup for the Ringwald!
Last night turned into a late night when I ventured up to Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre for their closing performance of Angels in America: Part II. I had seen Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater take on Part I in early summer, 2012, and am not sure why I didn’t go back when they also ran Part II that fall in a similar arrangement to what the Ringwald has done this year.
I also briefly met Tony Kushner himself almost exactly seven years ago (picture below) so the timing felt right to re-visit his most well – known work, especially since the play(s) have continued to be held in wide acclaim, but don’t seem to be performed too often.
This production deserved acclaim for mounting a large – scale play in the Ringwald’s intimate space, and the company seems to enjoy challenging itself in that way. I found it to be an inconsistent performance, with some aspects, such as Dennis Kleinsmith’s intense portrayal of closeted dying lawyer Roy Cohn, standing out amongst the ensemble work, while other design and acting choices, such as having a too consistent chorale underscore to many scenes, were problematic to my eye.
The production received local attention including, but not limited to, a review in the Detroit Free Press.
In spite of my mixed impressions, the Ringwald’s commitment to Kushner’s material is notable, and any honors the company receives for their staging of both parts of the Angels epic will surely be deserved. I hope the production team also feels a sense of accomplishment today as they reflect on a journey of many months and experiences.