Blog Archives

Inspecting…

It’s good to be sitting in the dark here in the Hilberry Theatre instead of sitting in the quiet at my house while the acting company puts the finishing touches on our current production, Inspecting Carol, before it enjoys Opening Night and a (total) three week run beginning Friday night.

This is somewhat keeping me away from focusing on end of the semester writing assignments, but that’s clearly par for the course at this point. If anything, it is pleasing to note that the tail end of the semester seems to be delivering more focus for me than at other times so far during this academic year. Perhaps there is something to be said for working under pressure and deadlines in a collaborative environment.

Continuing with my recent theme of “focusing in on the minutiae” I’d like to note an odd, but fun experience while driving into work this morning. As opposed to the aggression of eight days ago, which I noted in a corresponding blog post, this time I was much more “go with the flow”, although I had decided that today would be my weekly stop at the Tim Horton’s on the way into work. (I’ve come to treat it as a game of sorts to not go there every day.)

Not long after departing the Tim Horton’s (which was having a clusterfuck parking lot moment, so I’d parked in the adjacent lot), I flipped radio channels to my semi-regular station 93.9 and the song I’d thought and hoped might be playing was right there on the station!

Of course, this is as much a commentary on the station’s possible lack of variety as it is to my own keen intuition – a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts – but it still was a nice coincidence.

Yesterday's sunset from the office window

Yesterday’s sunset from the office window

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Theatregoing Quartet

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!

What does Romeo and Juliet mean to you?

(excerpt from an article in progress that will run in the program for The Hilberry Theatre‘s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet)

Romeo and Juliet. In fair Verona. Two star crossed lovers. In fair Verona where we set our scene. Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Two households both alike in dignity. A plague o’ both your houses! But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Is there a Shakespeare production that has greater iconic impact and resonance? This one occupies a special place in literary minds. But this fascination takes many forms.

Consider film. Older audiences recall, and younger audiences might be familiar with, the 1968 cinematic version by Franco Zefferelli, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey portraying the lovers. In the 1990’s, filmgoers were treated to the romance again, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes in the leads. Now, in 2014, that once modern portrayal is almost 20 years old and has begun to age. A more recent adaptation, with Douglas Booth and Hallee Steinfeld in the lead roles, was less well received following its choice to not incorporate all of Shakespeare’s traditional dialogue.

The story’s first true home is arguably right here in the theatre, and the play has been seen six times here at the Hilberry. With a play so familiar, we continue to look for ways to tell the story in a fresh and appealing way.

Director Blair Anderson itends for this version intends to be a postmodern approach to the classic, with an increased emphasis on the perspective of Juliet. In conceptualizing the story, Anderson notes that “different generations have different emotional contexts.”

Scenic Designer Tonae Mitsuhashi has fashioned a festival of light for this production, with many lines of string coming into center stage. The costumes will also take on the modern flair.

We hope this production will carry on the lovers’ story to new audiences through our ongoing student matinee series. Such a story can still find relevance in our frenetic modern world and cause audiences to pause to reflect on historical romance and the role of citizens and culture.

Boeing Boeing Boeing Boeing Boeing Boeing Boing

Detroit’s Hilberry Theatre, where I’m currently spending quite a bit of time, will complete its season opening run of Boeing Boeing this weekend. Their stage won’t be dark for very long as Romeo and Juliet waits in the wings to open three weeks from now.

So before Boeing flies away to another destination, I wanted to offer a few words of appreciation towards this particular production. I also forgot that I wrote a similarly reflective post after the second time I saw the show.

Of the now four times I’ve seen this show presented – in London, Walnut Creek, Wilmington and now here – this was the most humane version I’ve seen. None of the other productions gave me a sense of what the characters might be like offstage or what their wider story is like. None of the other productions suggested the complications of the air hostesses’ lives as they navigated their complex timetables and globe trotting jobs.

Granted, it’s unclear how much my knowing the actors and actresses might be playing into my impressions here, and how much the audience is intended to identify with each character — that latter detail is always a role of the dice — but the attention to character detail seems particularly notable in this Hilberry production. Not to forget that this version also changes the gender of a major character, with satisfying and memorable results.

So I’m sure that the show will ride off into the sunset on the jet stream of appreciation, and here’s hoping it has a cruising final quartet of performances up to Saturday evening.

Theatrical Throwback to a London Double – Bill in April 2007

In honor of the Hilberry Theatre‘s about-to-open production of Boeing Boeing, a look back at when I first saw the play:

The West End felt like a foreign land to me yesterday after nearly a week of commuting from the city to the country for filming. It was good to be back “in town”, even though I splurged a bit on food and theatre tickets for the day. Yesterday the British press was downright gleeful over the pound’s recent (Monday) cracking of the 1 pound=$2 barrier. I grimaced, but again, am grateful to be paid in the local currency.

Returned to the theatre scene after nearly a week’s gap for a double-bill of glitzy West End shows. First up was a new revival of Cabaret done in a socially conscious yet still very sexual and emotionalist style. The cast of the play has recently completely changed, which might have been a reason that their creative energy felt un-even to me. It probably didn’t help that the audience, at least in the stalls, was only ½ to 3/4 full and somewhat somber. In the second act, the ensemble built up to a powerful climax of the play that I didn’t remember having the same devastational feel when I saw the Hampshire version in 2004. Also, Honor Blackman, whose presence in the cast was the primary reason I went to see the show, gave a warm, thoughtful performance as Fraulein Schneider, and has an amazing amount of vitality. I waited outside the theatre in hopes of getting her to sign my program, but unfortunately she didn’t appear for the (short) break between matinee and evening performances. Will go back next week for another try, and if successful, I will have met 3 of the 4 Avengers leading ladies – and that’s important to me since that series was my first, endearing taste of Britain.

The second play, Boeing-Boeing, was the best comedy I have seen all year, and has attracted glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike since its February opening. The show is written as a French farce, and originally premiered in the West End in the mid-60’s. The slightly updated, but still dated-feeling plot concerns a bachelor who practices polygamy in Paris, juggling romantic lives with three different air hostesses who never intersect due to differences in their flight timetables. But when the man’s best friend comes for a visit and one by one, all three women’s work schedules get delayed, it creates a dramatic domino effect leading to a farcical, clever climax. Those type of plays can only really work if the cast members are “on” with energy and dramatic commitment, and that was clearly present with nearly all the actors here. Frances de la Tour (the female teacher in The History Boys, here playing the protagonist’s long-suffering maid in on the trick) and Mark Rylance (a British actor who used to direct the Globe Theatre, as the protagonist’s best friend) stood out amongst the six-actor ensemble. They were helped by an on-the-ball script, skilled comedic direction (from the same man who is now putting finishing touches on The Lord of The Rings: The Musical), opulent set design and a swinging sixties soundtrack that I wanted to buy in album form.