Friday, December 7, 2007


November 19th? Really? That was the last time I made an entry and here we are on Dec. 7.

My apologies to those who read here. I really will get back on schedule. Right now I've been in a push to get a book to the printer in order to get into the bookstores before winter semester starts. We just did a page count and it turns out that I've added 140 pages of new content to the book.

So I've seen little except the inside of my office recently.

The exceptions were:
  • Doubt at Detroit Reparatory Theatre--and I AM going to write more about that one.
  • Social Security Scandals at Lansing Civic Players
And I think that's been it since Thanksgiving. No wonder I'm feeling out of sorts--that's not much theater at all. I'm hoping to turn some of that around this weekend by getting out to see Moonlight and Magnolias at BoarsHead, Macbeth at LCC, Rumpelstiltskin at Riverwalk, and Sunny Jazz and Holiday Memories at the Ruhala Performing Arts Center.

Then next weekend we're going to take a family trip to see The Nutcracker by the Greater Lansing Ballet Theatre (which I've had listed in my column schedule as GLBT Nutcracker. It makes me look twice every single time).

So I'm hoping that next week I'll start to get back into the swing of posting. I'll at least have time to think about posting which is more than I'm able to do right now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Catching up

The symposium was fantastic--at least, I really enjoyed it and the audience seemed engaged as well. I'd love to do things like that more often.

In fact, there's chance that I might be doing something like that on a larger scale. I'm in the early stages of planning a reunion for the NEA critics. After talking with the director of the USC program on Saturday, it's a reunion we'll probably open up to all of the years and to the Institutes for dance and music critics as well. We're looking at doing it mid-April, which means I need to get a proposal off to the NEA as quickly as possible.

It's something that could be pretty exciting for the community. We'd be bringing in critics from all around the country and taking them to visit local theater organizations and see three to four performances. We will probably also invite the instructors from the Institutes, which means inviting critics from some of the country's largest newspapers.

However, more on that as it gets closer.

I've enjoyed many of the productions that I've gone to for the past few weeks and regret that I've been so swamped with work that I've had little time to write about them.

Amy's Wish at Starlight Dinner Theater was very sweet. Linda Granger really has found a niche that works. Her shows are well-attended not because they are edgy and modern, but because she knows her target audience and concentrates on delivery solid shows that her audience wants to see.

I sometimes think the groups that are the most successful are the ones that have the greatest respect for their audiences and deliver what those audiences want to see--whether it is the newest shows, musicals, old favorites, a mix, or what have you. There really is room in the theatrical market for all of those and all of them have something different to say.

Arts or Crafts was a fascinating show that gives its audience a lot to talk about afterward. It's a show you almost want to see more than once because it's hard to remember all the vignettes the first time through. It's a show that evolved quite a bit from the script that I originally read. I'm hoping that after I catch up on work (how did I end up with three book projects all at the same time?) I can pull out the script and write more about this fascinating show. The technical aspects were also superb and highly creative.

La Cerentola was a very different opera from the two that I saw last year. I almost think I prefer having the surtitles, at least until my ear becomes trained to hear the words when they are sung in operatic style. A friend that I took with me made an interesting observation. He said that in theater, everything is compressed. The playwright, ideally, tries to pack maximum meaning into each word. In opera, time is expanded and things which normally take only a few seconds to say are expanded into minutes with the music.

Little Shop of Horrors was done by Waverly High School. It was a fun show and far more entertaining than their "On the Town" was last year. There are some wonderfully talented singers in that school. They also looked to be having a great deal of fun.

I am My Own Wife was outstanding. The acting was superb and the technical part of the shows were of a quality that easily matched any professional production. It was beautifully staged and performed.

More later--or if I don't get back, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

When I get back, I plan to write about the Detroit Reparatory's Doubt.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Arts or Crafts Critics Symposium

I'm pretty geeked about tonight. Nervous, but geeked.

After tonight's performance of the world premiere of Arts or Crafts, there's going to be a critic's symposium. Last I heard, there was going to be four City Pulse critics and me.

I've not been to one of the Theatre Department's symposiums, so I don't know how long they last or how open-ended they are in terms of questions. I do think the topic is a fascinating one and I think the discussion could get quite lively and potentially intense. I'm guessing that the five of us will have very different answers and approaches to many of the questions that could be raised. It's one of the joys of talking to fellow critics: reveling in the diversity of opinions. It's one of the things that stands out for me about the NEA Fellowship--how 25 of us were able to talk about theater and criticism non-stop for 10 days.

Because I've been feeling woefully unprepared for this, I've been going back over my notes from the fellowship. I'm glad I took a lot of notes, because I'm really enjoying some of these tidbits again:

From one of the artists at The Theatre at Boston Court:

We’re sometimes more grateful for mixed reviews. We read you. We may know you better than yourself. We’ve analyzed your writing and we know which of you are soft touches who like everything and which of you have agendas and axes to grind. We want to engage in a meaningful dialogue.

From Dan Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Theater is an ecosystem and public critics are the middlemen of culture. They create the commentary around culture. If you bring real art to people, you open a doorway. The art does the work. Art makes people meet and create a common ground. We’re so divided. Let’s create a conversation around things that are positive.

From Ben Cameron, Program Director, Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

Things have changed. We have to get rid of the hierarchy in theater. It used to be that if you were the biggest budget theater, you won. Now it is an ecosystem. Everyone needs each other. The non-profit can’t survive without the commercial which can’t survive without the community theaters. 90 percent of theaters operate with $1 million or less; 70% with less than $500,000.

Reviews should be a form of engagement rather than judgment. It should be a conversation between people. Critics must love the art form and know their values.

Dominic Papatola,Chief Theater Critic of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and President of the American Theater Critics Association

Art critics have to be as good as any other writer, teacher, and philosopher. Art is organic, it’s part of life. Write reviews that engage, entertain, and provoke your readers. Once they find you in your paper, don’t make it harder for them by the way you write. The first sentence has got to make them read. Put the good stuff at the top.

Be journalists. You can’t just engage theater in the auditorium. You have to connect it to the world. What is happening in business, politics, neighborhoods, pop culture. Find stories that connect theater to the community.

The devils of writing are:
  1. Loving the sound of your own voice.
  2. Ivy towerism.
  3. Lack of agility to hop on something that’s a story.
  4. Lack of engagement; lack of participation.
  5. Not writing to your length. If you can't, give the editor optional cuts.

Michael Phillips,former theater critic of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribute, currently a film critic

Be specific. The phrase “colorful costumes” is meaningless. It’s not good enough to say “dull” or “boring.” We can do better than that. Find better ways to express your itchiness. That’s just the beginning.

Be specific and be brave.

Honor and explore without making readers guess what you feel. Don’t deliver the verdict in the first paragraph. Leak and make them guess where you’re going so they’ll stay with you.

Screw completist thinking. You don’t have to cover all bases in the same way. You don’t have to talk about every actor and every technical aspect.

Use the outside world. Live in the world of the theater and the wider world. Theater is our calling. We belong on the other side of the fence, but there is no border patrol. We’re double agents.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

We interrupt this program...

Lots to talk about in the theater world (is that ever not true?), but I've been swamped with work.

So, let me interrupt with a short commercial. In addition to reviewing theater, I review a lot of books for sites such as and Book Help Web (I'm the publisher of the latter). Book Help Web is one of the sponsors of an online book fair called "Love of Reading" which is a ton of fun.

One of the events there is an hourly giveaway of books. There is a wonderful selection. Of the books they're giving away, I can personally recommend:
So if you're waiting for me to weigh in on the shows I saw this weekend (I Am My Own Wife and Fantastical Friends) or to talk about this week's Arts or Crafts symposium, dally at Love of Reading until I can catch up and post again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Weekend events, Nov. 8-11

I'll be spending most of this weekend at the MSU Arena theater watching Fantastical Friends, a new production by the MSU Family/Community Theatre. It's an organization started by Bill Gordon. Actually, he started it last year with Lansing Civic Players and they put on such shows as Orphan Train and others.

That was a mating that didn't last. The official version is that LCP wished to go in a different direction and all the rest is gossip.

The show that they're doing is one in which the Book Mistress takes a young boy who doesn't like to read on a tour of several great literary classics. Embedded in the performance of the play are glimpses of Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Dracula, and The Monkey's Paw.

My son is performing in it and I'm looking forward to seeing him play a rather fun role. I enjoy watching a show repeatedly and seeing how the actors grow over the course of it. I am, however, going to have to miss at least one of his performances because next weekend is already packed full and two of the shows that open this weekend don't have Sunday performances next weekend.

Other shows opening this weekend include:
  • Peppermint Creek's "I Am My Own Wife"
  • Starlight Dinner Theatre's "Amy's Wish"
And while I'm still trying to figure out how to get to the Detroit Rep's Doubt, it may have to be Thanksgiving weekend. Next week will be:
  • MSU's Arts and Crafts on Thursday
  • Amy's Wish on Friday
  • Rossini's Cinderella an opera at MSU on Saturday
  • Waverly's Little Shop of Horrors on Sunday

Monday, November 5, 2007


I'm not sure if this is starting to be a trend, but Richard and I actually got to see another show together--this time at Lansing Community College.

They're performing a modern version of Oscar Wilde's Salome and what a performance it was. I hardly would have recognized it as a Wilde, so intense was Director Lela Ivey's vision of the show, a vision that was very different from Wilde's. She had a story to tell and everything about this production was committed to that story.

Abby Murphy as Salome was amazing. At one point, my mouth was literally gaping at her agility and I more than once smiled at her vocal range in which even her whispers were as clear as her shouts. I didn't always agree with the character choices that were made, but they were consistent with the show's overall theme. Perhaps that is what was most impressive about Murphy's performance--her absolute commitment to the role and the choices made by the director. I never doubted that Murhpy had an intimate understanding of her character and of the story that they were trying to tell.

Salome is a highly demanding role and perhaps one of the most thankless ones in the play. While other characters were able to indulge in fun bits and business, the part of Salome is constantly intense and constantly out of step with the mood and obsessions of the other characters. She is in her own world even while the rest of her world is aggressively going in a different direction. She cannot see past her own desires and has a streak of cruelty that underlies her manipulation of all those around her.

Murphy gave us a narcissistic Salome who could switch from alluring to demanding to pouty to triumphant in breathtaking seconds. It was a stellar performance that she can and should be proud of.

Dana Brazil as Herodias, Salome's mother, was instantly identifiable as a professional. The role is a fun part and Brazil played it to its fullest. Every movement, every word was deliberate, contributing to the story without ever crossing the line into self-indulgence (something some of the less experienced performers were guilty of).

Brian DeVries was equally at home on the stage, creating a jealous and superstitious Herod frustratingly buffeted by forces and desires that he couldn't control. His impotence gave him an appeal and his longing for Salome was achingly powerful. He and Brazil were a perfect team, moving about the stage almost as if they were counterweights, creating stage pictures that added to the tensions of their relationship.

Director Ivey and her three main actors also did a fantastic job of building the tension. There were moments of levity early on with Herod and various party guests contributed to that atmosphere while being strange enough to keep anyone from getting comfortable. Brazil and deVries worked on several emotional levels so that the conflict built without playing out too soon.

The final bloody scene was intense and exhilarating in its horror.

I would not call Salome a perfect production despite the incredible performances from the leads. There were some disjointed moments and flaws that reminded the audience that this was a student production with a wide range of ability and talent amongst its actors.

Murphy, de Vries, Brazil, and Marianne Chan were all perfectly at home with the heightened language, making it believable and natural. Some of the other actors did not have the same comfort level and failed to excise the starchness from their delivery.

In the opening scenes there was a disco dance piece that looked poorly rehearsed. If the disjointedness and inability to move together was a choice--a choice that could have been valid given the story and its themes--it wasn't an obvious enough choice. Instead, it simply looked accidental. Perhaps that's something that will be more precise during their second weekend.

After the recorded curtain speech, the director chose to play a full song (I believe by The Cure, but don't quote me on that). Yes, the song may have been meant to prepare the audience for the themes of the show, but it was ineffective. Most of the audience, once they realized the play wasn't starting, resumed talking to one another until the lights went out again. It's difficult to keep an audience's attention with a pre-recorded song when it has come for a live performance. At least, it was in this instance.

Nicolas Gamboa as Jokanaan (more popularly known as John the Baptist) had good physicality and movement, but that was about it. His vocal work was poor, especially when contrasted with Murphy's flexibility. Gamboa declaimed rather than spoke. He was neither believable nor desirable. He was especially difficult to understand when his voice was projected as prophecies through the sound system.

I'm still of mixed mind about Ben Green's set. It was certainly wonderfully constructed and imposing. What it meant and how it fit in with the story was slightly more obscure and I'm still deciding whether it was a set for a set's sake or whether it did contribute to the story.

Those criticisms aside, it's still a show I would recommend seeing for the fortissimo performances of Murphy, Brazil, and deVries.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Doubt review

Three entries in one day?

This is a short one.

I've posted my review of BoarsHead's Doubt at


Tonight I'm going to see Icarus Falling's Valparaiso. I have to confess that I felt more than a little guilt about not seeing it on their opening weekend. What kind of a wife tells her husband that she's too busy seeing other plays to come see his opening weekend? Thankfully, he understands and wasn't at all bothered by it, especially since he knew that I was already struggling to figure out which play I was going to have to miss.

I am looking forward to seeing Valparaiso for a number of reasons--first and foremost being that I love to watch my husband perform. OK, I love to watch him period, but I'll spare you more mushy talk this week, I indulged in enough of that with the Camelot blogging.

Richard is playing the role of Teddy, a talk show host who doesn't come out until the second half. Ever since he heard Icarus Falling was reviving the show (they first performed it during their second season in 2002), Teddy was the role he was interested in. The City Pulse reviewer said that he and Amy Winchell as Delfina had the two juiciest roles as they got to not only chew the scenery, but to spit it back out at an audience that begged for more.

Second, I'm interested in seeing them perform in their new space. It's not a space that has ever done theater before. I'm curious to see how a space designed for musicians is able to adapt to the needs of the theater. From the outside it may seem like the needs are similar, but they really do have very different demands. A band has very little need for multiple exits and entrances, something crucial for most theater productions.

I was also surprised to see that not only did they not get into the space until the day before they opened, but neither were they able to have their brush-up there. I've heard many groups complain that they get only a week in the space--a week that is barely enough time for the actors to make the necessary adjustments in where they move and how their voice bounces off the walls of the space. Nor does it give much time for setting up lights or any of the tech necessary to pull off the necessary theatrical magic.

Did they succeed in doing so despite the lack of time in the space? I don't know. From all accounts it was a bit rocky, but they managed. I'll find out tonight, though whether I'll blog about it or not, I don't know.

I do hope that they'll get bigger audiences than the dozen they got on Saturday night. The show is quirky, but it's a good one--one that gives you lots to think about and discuss after the show. For those of you who go, I would throw out this suggestion. Think about the second half of the play: Does it occur in reality? If it doesn't, where is it taking place? Why do the repetitions occur that are there?

That's a discussion I'd love to have once the show is over and there is no longer a concern about spoiling it for anyone.

Getting Traffic

In a meeting earlier this week, there was a discussion on how to drive traffic to your blog. The advice was to be topical and to take a stance--especially if it could be a slightly controversial stance.

While the discussion wasn't referring to this blog, I did think about that philosophy in the context of this blog. I also realized that I became immediately uncomfortable about the idea. It would be easy to do and probably would increase traffic. There are all sorts of juicy bits of gossip flying around the theater community and many of them would be a lot of fun to write about.

So why, for the most part, don't I?

I suppose for two reasons. One, I have always made it my policy to not write anything on the Internet/Web that I wouldn't also say if I were face-to-face with my audience (and on the Web, I don't get to choose who my audience is). If I can't say what I have to say politely and with at least some degree of kindness, then I need to question whether I'm hiding behind the anonymity of the printed word in a cowardly fashion.

Two, I have enough of a journalistic training to remember that there is more than one side to any story. Bloggers are not bound by the strictures of journalism (which is why there is still overall a far greater credibility to what appears in the newspaper than what appears on blogs--but that's another discussion and one in which I fall firmly in the middle rather than on either side), but I do not easily shed those strictures. I still find myself applying the tests of libel to what I write here. I ask myself whether I could feel comfortable proving what I have to say if I'm offering more than an opinion. I also feel uncomfortable blogging about anything that isn't said to me "on the record" even though that's rarely a test applied to the world of blogging. I still want my sources to be able to trust me when I talk to them for my column, so I don't want to break that trust here--which means not repeating casual conversations or those bits of gossip that I pick up as I chat with people in the community.

So, yes, that does make this blog more dull than it might otherwise be. But I hope that it also gives it a certain amount of credibility and trustworthiness. Of course, I've been known to fool myself before. :)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Standing Ovations

I admit it, I'm stingy when it comes to standing ovations.

I see a lot of theater. I see a lot of good theater. Rarely, though will I give something a standing ovation. This is something that often makes me uncomfortable because I'll remain sitting even when everyone around me is standing and I do sometimes worry that it sends the wrong signal--that the signal it sends is that I think the show is bad.

However, I'll usually swallow the uncomfortable feeling and remain in my seat because I want the standing ovation to mean something. I want it to mean that I thought the show was near perfect, that it moved me in such a way that I'll remember it for a long time to come.

I applaud enthusiastically for a show that is good. I try to be attentive and an audience member who helps create an environment for a good show--to give be a part of that difficult-to-describe energy that comes from having an audience who is paying attention to and reacting to a show.
But I won't stand just because the show was good.

Part of this is because I want to have something that I can do for those shows that do go above and beyond. I want to be able to show that extra level of appreciation for truly superior productions.

It's a topic I thought about during Camelot this past week. My husband and I were amongst the few people still in our seats (at least that we could see) when Lou Diamond Phillips took his bow. Richard said he might have stood if they'd left in Fie on Goodness, but I don't think I would have. But I did have to question why, when my face was wet with tears evoked by the emotionally strong ending, that I kept my seat.

The answer is that there were too many uneven moments in the production. I could see the actors and technicians moving around back stage, which tells me that not enough consideration was given to the sight lines at the far sides. I thought Matt Bogart's performance as Lancelot was lukewarm and lacking in any sort of sympathy. While Phillips and Rachel de Benedet provided subtle layers to their characters and showed incredible charisma, Lancelot had none.

It was a good show--the dancing was fun, the voices were mostly strong, the costumes outstanding, and the two lead actors were excellent. However, it isn't a show that five years from now I'll still be talking about the way I'll still talk about BoarsHead's Wit or Michigan Shakespeare Festival's Merchant of Venice.

So if you see me sitting during a standing ovation at your show, please don't jump to the conclusion that I didn't like it or thought it was poorly done. And if you see me stand, know that I thought the show ranks among the best theater I've seen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


My husband and I spend a lot of time in the theater and we spend a lot of time together, but we don't often spend time together at theaters. So it's been a real treat that the two of us have seen two shows together in three days time. Last night in particular was very much a date night as our friends volunteered to have our son spend the night at their place and we didn't have to worry about what time we got home.

It was September of 1985 when Richard and I had our first date. Had I known then that we would have ended up married, I'm not sure I would have predicted that 22 years later, we'd still get such a thrill out of each other's company. I caught myself last night feeling disappointed that we were almost home because I didn't want our date to end. It had been an evening of delightful conversation and laughter. I was struck again with how fortunate I am to so enjoy and long for the company of my husband. It's part of what makes life good.

And I say all this as a way of explaining that I'm a sucker for a good love story--which is what Camelot is.

By the end of the first act, I knew I would be in tears at the end of the musical--a prediction which was to prove true, despite the twists this particular revival made to the original. There was such chemistry between the Arthur and the Guinevere. Both of them grew up during the course of the musical and their love deepened even as Guinevere inexplicably fell for the caddish, callow Lancelot. This was one of the major flaws of this production--one that it shares with many of the Camelot retellings--why in the world would Guinevere ever fall in love with Lancelot when she's married to Arthur. The love between them is so strong and Arthur has the far greater attractive personality than Lancelot. This production doesn't even attempt to explain why she falls for Lancelot, she just does.

Richard and I also had long discussions about why the revival took out one of his favorite songs--Fie on Goodness. Yes, many people complained that the musical was too long, so perhaps they felt they needed to cut something. However, I guess that it was for a different reason than just length. They took it out because they wanted to change the thematic emphasis. They're telling a different story by taking that piece out. This Camelot is far more political than other versions. It really is an anti-war musical that cries out for more civilized behavior. It's also a production that shies away from the idea that virtue and virtuous behavior can have momentous affects on the world around us. It strives to be less judgmental and in the process, loses some of its strength.

Mordred is present in this production, but he is far less the antagonist than Lancelot. Camelot doesn't really fall because of his scheming, he's simply the tool that gets used in that moment. It's an unfortunate choice.

More later.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The highlight of my weekend came early--Friday night at the BoarsHead. It was truly an exhilarating night at the theater for a lot of different reasons. It was the opening night of Doubt and there was an atmosphere of excitement. People in the lobby were talking to one another and the BoarsHead staff were all mingling and greeting people with warmth and enthusiasm.

I don't know how much theaters talk about the experience they create in the lobby, but it's well worth talking about. It really can make a huge difference in whether someone wants to return to your theater--almost as much as the quality of the production itself. People who come to the theater aren't paying for a product and they aren't paying for a service--it's an experience that they want and that experience begins the moment they arrive.

Theaters in small towns like Lansing have an additional advantage: People are more likely to know each other. This provides an opportunity to make going to the theater a social occasion--something that grows ever more important in a world where we're more likely to communicate with someone electronically than face-to-face.

For me, the occasion was especially enjoyable because I had another chance to meet with and talk to Don Calamia of Between the Lines. He and I have spoken on the phone a few times and through our blogs. We'd only officially met, though, at the Oscar Wilde Awards, a night when he was extremely busy putting on a superior show.

Don's reputation had preceded him. I'd been hearing for the past two years about how passionate he was about theater and how we was really making a difference in the Detroit theater community. He was kind, devoted to the art, and easy to talk to. Having now met him, I can easily testify to all of those characteristics. He also has a delightful sense of humor.

Given that it was an opening night, the two of us weren't the only critics in the audience and we soon had a circle of our colleagues including Kate O'Neill from the Lansing State Journal (who as there as the official reviewer from the paper), Tom Helma from the City Pulse, and Jim Fordyce from Channel 56. After the show, Don introduced me to Marty Kohn from the Detroit Free Press. The NEA has warned us that theater critics are an endangered species, but you wouldn't have known it from our representation that night.

We also had chance to meet Patty Mallett, BoarsHead's new and outgoing communications director. She was hired part time a month or so ago and then had a full-time offer come in (one with benefits!) that she'll be taking in two weeks.

BoarsHead first did a reading of Doubt last season. It was easy to see then why it has quickly become the show whose rights are in such great demand. BoarsHead was able to get Amy Fitts to return and reprise the role she did in the reading. It also lured back Nancy Elizabeth-Kammer and Michael Joseph Mitchell. Together with Tiffany Denise Mitchenor and directed by Jonathan Courtmanche, this was a show that held great promise long before the lights first hit the stage last week. It's a show that delivered on its promise--despite the annoyance of a car alarm that began in the latter half of the show and was still going strong an hour after the show ended.

But I'm going to save the details of the show for the review that I'm hoping to have posted on Epinions by Thursday (out of courtesy, I will wait until after the State Journal review has been published, though I won't be reading it until my review is done). But you'll read more about Doubt in this space as well. On Sunday, I'll be going to the Detroit Repertory Theatre and seeing their production of Doubt. Don and I will then be comparing notes and productions through this blog and his, Confessions of a Cranky Critic.

So stay tuned!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Recent Tragic Events

I'm working my way backward through the weekend. Tomorrow I'll blog about BoarsHead's Doubt and maybe later in the week I'll actually finally get around to blogging about the shows I saw earlier this month before my grandfather died.

On Saturday night, I went with a friend to see Recent Tragic Events at Michigan State University's Arena Theatre. It was one of the second stage productions by the theatre department.

And right away I'm going to get myself in trouble because I don't have the program handy. So if you read this before I've had a chance to edit away my mistakes (and you'll know because I won't have deleted this paragraph yet), then please accept my apologies.

This second stage show was part of a collaboration between the theater department and Williamston Theatre. Williamston's executive director, John Lepard, directed this show. It's a partnership that makes a lot of sense and one that they will hopefully do more of.

The script was rather a fascinating one. I was especially intrigued by the sock puppet representing Joyce Carol Oates--a puppet who argued that we all have free will, a position the play mostly argued against. In fact, I found myself watching carefully in the end scene as the "stage manager" called out each action. I was very curious whether the actor who slavishly follow the cues given by the manager or whether he would break in an indication that we are not all tied to fate. It was a scene that was very tightly done and great to watch.

Marring the show were some of the diction issues. I found myself frequently leaning forward so that I could try to figure out what the actors were saying. Too many people spoke too quickly and bit off the ends of their words, making it difficult to figure out what was being said. There's that line between being conversational and still being clear that can hurt a show when it's not observed.

That said, there was some delightful acting. The role of the "stage manager" was especially well performed.

Desperate Hours

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Desperate Hours at Lansing Civic Player. It was an intriguing show--one which I'd hate to put on any sort of simple label of "good" or "bad." Rather, I'm glad I went because it gave me a lot to think about.

There were some wonderful moments in it and I enjoyed the choices that they made with the lights. They were extremely well-executed and helped to create a particular film noir mood. They made use of spots that flashed on small spots such as a telephone. They also did fades that purposefully left characters speaking in darkness. It's not a technique you often see in this space.

Speaking of space, it was also impressive the use that the production made of the space that they have. Hannah Community Center's stage is cavernous and is often a disadvantage to the groups that perform there as actors must stride across sets that are way too big for what is needed. However, Director Michael Hays and Set Designer James Miner used the whole stage so that there was no need for lengthy scene changes. A little over half the stage was the two-level home that the escaped convicts invaded. The other part of the stage was the police station that later easily converted into the next-door attic. Lights were used to focus attention and actors frequently froze on stage while action was taking place in the other room--or they exited quickly during the lights down. It was a decision that kept up the pace of the show and helped contribute to the tension.

Speaking of pace, the first half was extremely long. Not having read the script, I assume that they did a break after the first two acts. It might have been better to find a place in the middle of Act 2 to hold the intermission as the first half was as long as some complete productions. Also, the actors seemed far more committed to and invested in the second half of the play than the first. It might have helped if that had been the longer half.

The play also definitely had dated elements to it. It's set in 1955 and the family felt like something out of a Leave it to Beaver episode. It was especially painful to see how the women were written, directed, and performed. The mother was little more than the stereotyped woman of the 50s--a woman that rarely existed outside of the pages of women's magazines and afternoon television shows.

While I often found myself asking what I would do if I were in the father's shoes (which was mostly what the playwright wanted you to ask), I never wondered what I would do in the mother's shoes despite that being the more obvious connection for me, a mother. But she wasn't someone I could relate to. She was given a role that was entirely passive--a role I couldn't see either of my grandmothers, both of whom were mothers in the 50s, being. She seemed like a woman who during childbirth would tell her husband that the pain was too bad and would he please have the baby for her. I mean, come on, no woman who has gone through childbirth would be so helpless and passionless when her children are in danger.

However, that is exactly the woman that the playwright created. Joseph Hayes gave the character only one moment to shine--the rest of the time she was merely whiny and incompetent (except her cooking, she was described as an excellent cook). Nor was it helped by the direction that had her wringing her hands when the elderly garbage man was threatened. Rather than have her appeal directly to the murderers, she paced back and forth, letting loose a long ramble of pleadings that were directed at the carpet. She was upset, but was making no real effort to convince the convicts to leave the old man alone.

Nor is the daughter anything but the stereotype of a redhead. The script gives her very little to work with. The one scene where she might have been afforded opportunity to stretch fell flat. There was little to no connection between her and her boyfriend and the scene lacked any sort of tension whatsoever.

The men in this production fared far better--in large part because they had more to work with. It was through them that the psychological drama of the story played out. They became the tableau on which the playwright painted portraits of evil and hope, nobility and despair.

Mark Boyd played the father, Dan Hilliard, as the archetype 50s father who was placed into an unbearable situation. It's immediately evident that he loves his family. His actions are never empty machoism or posing; rather they are the acts of a genuinely desperate man who wants his family to live. He was a hero not in the mold of a James Bond, but in the fashion of MacDuff in the Scottish play for whom the threat to his family is what motivates him to move against king and then to murder when his that family is harmed. Boyd was especially delightful to watch in the scene where his son's schoolteacher shows up at the house to find out why he wasn't in school (another dated element of the show). His antics were one of the few moments of comic relief in the drama.

Joe Dickson also did quite well as the evil Glenn Griffin. He was callous, unpredictable, and appropriately menacing. He was most creepy when he showed how amused he was at the suffering he was causing. I didn't care much for the speeches that he delivered to the audience, but neither was I particularly bothered by them. The speeches themselves didn't seem to really support it, but it didn't break the mood or the scene either.

Kevin Knights makes an excellent bully. He provided the muscle and the intimidation factor.

I find myself falling into the trap that I often got caught by when I was first writing reviews--that of trying to mention everyone and everything. That usually makes for pretty dull reading and that's probably exactly what is happening to this blog entry that just started out as a discussion of some of the things that intrigued me in the show. It wasn't meant to turn into anything comprehensive or into a review.

So instead, let me just wrap up by saying I also thought the police scenes were interesting, especially as the audience was able to see the internal struggles of the officers played by Jack Dowd and Rick Dethlefsen. Dethlefsen early on seemed a little too unconcerned, but much of that was scripted. Those scenes were also adjusting to a last-minute cast change, something that can often throw things off. However, they managed to maintain the tension and still do an excellent job.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Critics and the Theater

I had a young man from Great Britain ask me recently whether as a critic I'm ever able to enjoy the theater or whether I'm always critical of it. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Without getting defensive, I tried to explain that I'm a theater critic because I love the theater, not because I hate it.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that outside of the people who are actually creating theater, you won't find a group of people who are as passionate about theater as critics are. One of the amazing things about the NEA Fellowship that I attended last year was the fact that a group of 25 critics got to spend two solid weeks together from sunup to way past sundown. We never ran out of things to talk about and we instantly bonded because of the one thing that we had in common: We all loved and were passionate about theater.

It's not often you get to spend two solid weeks with people who attend theater two to three times a week and when they're not in the theater, are talking to and interviewing people who work in the theater.

I was impressed with all of them because there was such deep commitment to the art form. They wanted to find ways to get people talking about theater and to be able to engage it at an ever-deeper and more meaningful level. They weren't interested in just getting people to show up and toss out half-hearted praise. They wanted people to go to the theater and truly engage with the work that was done on stage.

Personally, I would rather go see a poorly performed or poorly written show than not go to the theater or simply watch television. There is a joy to seeing a show when I am able to engage my mind and truly analyze all aspects of a performance. This isn't a chore, it's one of the experiences that makes theater so amazing.

There may be stories of those few critics who claim that they hate the theater, but all the ones that I have met are critics because of their deep-seated passion for and love of the art form.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yana Levovna

Just a quick note--have you read any reviews recently by Yana Levovna at the Lansing City Pulse? I'm quite impressed with her writing. She's very thorough and intelligently analyzes the show she's seen. It's not just a review of "it's good" or "it's bad." Instead, she talks about individual elements that worked or didn't.

She's definitely a reviewer to read.

Miss one weekend...

Boy, miss one weekend of theater around this town and you'll have a devil of a time catching up. I've been juggling my calendar every which way trying to figure out how to get to see everything and I've finally come to the conclusion that I'm going to have to miss a show. Now it's just a matter of figuring out which one. Part of the issue is that Thursday isn't available because of other family commitments.

I'll also have to wait to see Valparaiso until it's second weekend. Not a big deal normally, except that my husband is in it and I do like to watch him perform--preferably more than once during a run. However, that won't happen this time around. So, those of you who do make it to see Valparaiso at Icarus Falling's new site, Michigan Homegrown Music, will you tell me what you thought of it?

Other shows going on this weekend:
  • My name is Rachel Corrie, Sunsets with Shakespeare at Woldumar Barn
  • Desperate Hours, Lansing Civic Players at Hannah Community Center
  • Doubt, BoarsHead at BoarsHead
  • Recent Tragic Events, Michigan State University at the Arena Theatre
There is also a Lansing Symphony Orchestra performance that sounds like it's going to be fantastic.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Catching up

I apologize to those of you who are faithful readers that my posting has been rather irregular of late. Life has thrown several curve balls my way lately, primarily the death of my grandfather, but also the death of our 16-year-old family cat and someone hacking into our checking account and emptying it out (including the insurance check which was supposed to go to the roofer).

As soon as I can get caught up again, though, there is lots to write about, including:

  • A trip to see Pillowman at Breathe Art Theatre in Detroit
  • Pygmalion at MSU
  • High School Musical at Wharton
  • Guys on Ice at Williamston
In case I'm not able to post again, there are three shows going on this weekend:

  • "My Name is Rachel Corrie" at Woldumar Nature Center by Sunsets with Shakespeare
  • "The Best Man" at Riverwalk
  • "Desperate Hours" at Lansing Civic Players

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Guys on Ice and Grandfathers

Earlier this evening, I went out to Williamston for the opening night of Guys on Ice.

You'll be able to read my review of it on Thursday, so for now I'll be self-indulgent.

I couldn't help tonight but think of my Grandpa as I watched B.J. Love play Lloyd. Sure, they weren't clones, but so many things reminded me of him, from appearance to facial expressions to the man's passions.

See, my grandpa is a fisherman. It's one of the things that I remember the most about him. He was convinced that since we lived in the paradise that is Michigan, it was foolish to ever vacation anywhere else. So every summer, we'd go Up North to Indian Lake near Manistique in the Upper Peninsula. It was my Dad and my Grandpa who taught me how to fish. I learned how to bait my own hook and would watch fascinated in the cleaning house afterward as all the men would clean the fish with a whole slew of fascinating tools.

Walleye were the preferred catch primarily for the sport of it, but Grandpa liked eating perch the most. If we had a good year of fishing, we'd have two fish fries during the week, but we'd always have at least one on Friday.

A few years after my Grandmother died at age 58, Grandpa retired. He moved to Colon, buying a cottage on a lake. Even more importantly, he bought a boat, so he could go out fishing as often as he liked. He loved taking the grandkids and great-grandkids out fishing. He and my cousin became fishing buddies and spent a lot of time out on the water. Grandpa got a lot of use out of the boat before his health declined so that he couldn't go boating anymore. Even then, he'd fish off the dock and simply enjoy the water from his porch. He enjoyed many more years of retirement than most men do (25 years, I believe), and it's safe to say that he truly enjoyed the leisurely life in which he could fish, boat, watch birds, and plant flowers and gardens.

Ten years ago, he had to choose between giving up beer (and other hard beverages) or giving up life. He chose life and Grandpa soon had a health and vitality that was unlike anything I'd seen him like.

While the men in Guys on Ice were Packers fans, Grandpa cheered for the Wolverines--the proud owner of season tickets for many, many years.

I can't envision my taciturn Grandpa singing and dancing like the men in the musical, but he would have enjoyed the sentiment and found much amusement in the songs about snowmobile coats, fishing, and the uncertainty of life.

I think he would have especially appreciated Your Last Day on Earth and The Beer int he Bucket. He isn't one to talk about feelings or the brevity of life, but the fishing metaphors would have amused him.

However, I won't be taking my 80-year-old Grandpa to see this show. Two hours ago--and merely three hours after the show ended--my Grandpa died.

I hope there's lots of fishing in Heaven.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mrs. Warren's Profession

This press release came out from BoarsHead. Good news all around:

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession” draws biggest BoarsHead audience in three years

Lansing, Mich.Some 3,228 people attended the BoarsHead Theater production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” last month, making the play the theater’s biggest draw in three years.

Tom Dudzick’s “Over the Tavern” attracted an audience of 3,334 in September 2004.

The crowd for “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” can be attributed to both the appeal of veteran actress Paula Prentiss, who played Mrs. Warren, and to the tenacity of BoarsHead theatergoers, said BoarsHead Managing Director Marlene Shelton.

“BoarsHead theatergoers are the sturdiest, most strong-minded audience members around,” Shelton said, noting that a late August tornado, the arrest of a suspected serial killer in early September and the appearance of a sinkhole at the intersection in front of the theater on September 6, the day before the show opened, would have deterred a less determined crowd.

“If I ever find myself in the trenches of war, I want them with me.”

BoarsHead’s next production – John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play “Doubt” – previews at the theater October 24 and 25 and opens October 26.

Friday, October 5, 2007


What with my ongoing health annoyances (nothing serious) and lack of Internet connection, I never ended up talking about Starlight Dinner Theater's Working. Nor do I have the program with me right now, which means I'd mutilate any names and get them mixed up if I tried.

However, they have only two shows left, so I want to say SOMETHING.

I've always liked Studs Terkel, though I'll confess I've not read his complete work. I was taken with his style when I was in college and liked reading all the different voices he was able to capture. I admire that even more now because I know how difficult it can be to translate oral histories to the page in a way that makes sense, captures the person's voice, and is readable.

The musical takes that even a step further--it tries to capture the authenticity of the voices and put them to music in a believable way. Given the number of composers involved in the project, I was a little surprised at how all of the music seemed close in genre.

There were many touching moments in the evening as well as some upbeat ones. I enjoyed the song by the millworker (again--no program, so I don't have the right song names) and the teacher.

I have mixed feelings about the song Fathers and Sons. I started out being really touched by it. It was a heart-rending piece about wanting a better world for one's son even while knowing that the son won't appreciate it during the father's lifetime. However, it was too long of a song to hold the same emotion. By the end of it, I was no longer relating to the singer. I needed some emotional relief or variety that the song really doesn't provide.

It's almost best to approach Working as more of a concert with dramatic monologues than a traditional musical. There isn't a storyline per se; nor is there the typical tension and resolution. Rather it is a portrait of working people, something most of us can relate to.

Delightful quote

I had the good fortune to do a short interview with Alan Alda about his book Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself for a feature that will eventually be posted at Book Help Web. My favorite quote of his is this:

I think all actors who were brought up on the stage have a special longing for it. There’s a kind of ecstasy to stage acting.

I'll let you know when the full interview is posted.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


I've already written in my column today what I thought about Peppermint Creek's Fiction. However, like most good plays, certain ideas from it have been teasing me ever since I saw it.

While I share a career with the two main characters, I didn't identify with them much. Now, this may be because my writing is primarily non-fiction. Mostly, though, it's because people's approaches to writing are as varied as the writers themselves. Michael talks about how he doesn't like writing, but he likes to "have written." He would rather be surrounded by people than engaged in the solitary act of writing.

My approach to writing is far closer to Alan Alda's approach to speaking, at least as he describes in his book Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. He describes time and again how he accepts invitations to speak to groups and then is terrified because he feels he isn't qualified to do it. I find writing terrifying. It's why I have to do it. It's much like the desire some have to ride roller coasters or jump out of helicopters. It's terrifying, but it is also compelling and demanding.

One thing I have liked about a blog is that it invites me to sit and write without a lot of the terror attached. I'm not worrying over every word or hyperventilating about getting started on a project that I'm convinced I'm not qualified to do.

The most difficult part of writing is getting started--not because I don't enjoy the task of writing, but because I've managed to convince myself that I don't have anything interesting to say; that I don't know how to manipulate words; that I'll never be able to get on paper the ideas that are brewing in my head. I'm fully convinced that I humiliate myself every time I let anyone else read what I've written and that people are simply too nice to tell me to find other work.

Then I write. And still I dislike what I've written. I can't remember ever being satisfied with anything that I've written upon first finishing it. I'll go back and re-read it and cringe over the numerous errors that I find. I'll rewrite and then be convinced that I've written all my initial passion and authenticity out of the piece. Finally, I make myself let it go, convinced that while it isn't good, at least it doesn't suck. If I'm able to re-read it 24 hours later, I'll decide that it's not bad. When I re-read it a year later, I think it's pretty good and catch myself wondering why I can't write like that anymore...

It all sounds tortuous, doesn't it? And yet, I'll tell people truthfully that I love what I do. I love it because it forces me to push myself all the time. It forces me to be vulnerable where I don't want to be vulnerable. It forces me to be open where I want to hide. It forces me to create and to look upon my creation rather than to wallow in insecurity and uncertainty. Sure, the vices are there, but they get channeled into something productive rather than being allowed to take me over.

During the Fiction talkback, I thought about how much more difficult it is to share fantasy than to share fact. Michael is willing to let Linda believe that his fantasy is fact. I believe part of that is because it is less humiliating. It's far easier to share the details of one's life than it is to share what one fantasizes about. The former is a mixture of choices and events outside one's control. The latter is one's own imagination, one's own creation. It is the expression of a person's soul. It's far more difficult to accept a criticism or judgment of one's soul than it is of one's actions.

Friday, September 21, 2007

So, not only did I lose Internet connection at home, but I also became ill, leaving me completely cut off from the world for most of the week.

There's so much I'd like to catch up on, but I should first throw out the warning that with all the medicine I'm on right now, my brain is somewhat foggy. Earlier this week I was rather embarrassed that I didn't recognize someone that I just saw in The Full Monty, especially since I was particularly impressed with her performance.

The Full Monty

This is a show I recommend seeing--if there are still tickets to be had.

In fact, I really wish I weren't feeling so poorly and could write a genuine review of this show. Right now, I can hear the mocking echoes of my high school English teacher who would disparage any paper turned in that consisted of nothing more than "I liked it. It was good. I will tell my friends about it."

Instead, I'll just toss out a few general observations and make my apologies that I'm not bringing them together into a more coherent treatment:

  • All of the male voices were very strong. It was a pleasure to listen to them.
  • Ethan Link and Tony Sump were fantastic as Jerry and Dave. Given how animated Sump usually is on stage, it was fascinating to watch him play a droopy, depressed character who couldn't shake the weight off his shoulders for most of the story.
  • The interactions between Jeff and Jennifer English were also delightful. Jennifer played the wonderfully exuberant wife who is blissfully unaware of her devoted husband's distress.
  • Kari Surbrook was marvelous portraying the woman who was both the animated organizer of the Chippendale strip show and the wife who desperately wanted her husband's attention back.
  • I became teary-eyed in the reprise of "You Rule My World" when the wives finally show their husbands exactly what they're made of.
  • A pet peeve of mine: Yes, the music was very good, but given that it was synthesized, it might have been nice if they'd turned the volume down a notch or two so that the actors didn't have to strain so much to be heard. Or, at the very least, if the actor mikes could have been turned up during the musical numbers. There were moments when it was just too difficult for them to push above the music.
  • Overall, the musical was a fun way to spend an evening. It took the audience on a full range of emotions from tears to laughter to stomps of approval.
As Bees in Honey Drown

I had originally planned to go see this show on Tuesday, but I was too sick to make it (and I don't think they would have wanted an audience member with a hacking cough sitting through the performance). So I'll be going tonight instead.

Jane Falion went and recommends it. I'd offer to write about it tonight, but I still don't have Internet connection, so it could be awhile.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Posting delay

I'd meant to blog about Full Monty and other theater stuff over the weekend. However, we were supposed to have implemented an "upgrade" in our high-speed Internet connection (AT&T offered faster speed for less money--who would pass up that deal?). Instead, we lost connection. So I have no connection from home right now and it's busy at work, so I can't really do more than post this.

More as soon as we fix the problem.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Weekend shows

Want to see theater this weekend? Try one of these:

  • Scenes from an American Life, Ledges Playhouse, Thursday through Sunday
  • Plaza Suite, Lansing Civic Players, Friday through Sunday
  • The Full Monty, Riverwalk Theatre, Thursday through Sunday (and next weekend)
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession, BoarsHead, Wednesday through Sunday (through Sept. 30)
  • Streetcar Named Desire, Owosso Community Players, Friday and Saturday
Oops! I'd planned to go see Streetcar on Sunday, but I now see that they don't have a second Sunday show, only a first weekend Sunday show.

Tonight I'm going to go see The Full Monty.

On another note, thoughts have been brewing in my head about an entry on why a critic needs to be honest and the value in saying critical things. So I appreciate the link that was sent to me this morning to an article written by a Baltimore theater critic. He really does capture many elements of being a critic in a town where people know each other--because the theater community is pretty tight wherever you go.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Talking about my colleagues

My original goal for tonight was to write a little about Plaza Suite that I saw the Lansing Civic Players perform last Sunday. I'll do that, but not quite in the way I had planned. Instead, I want to talk about what some of my colleagues are saying about last weekend's shows.

Mary Cusak at the City Pulse reviewed Plaza Suite. It's the first time that I've read one of her reviews and I'm quite impressed. Regardless of whether I agree with her or not (and I do on many, though not all, points), I like the way she writes. It's an excellently constructed review that is both interesting and fair. She supports each point with details and puts the show in a context that is relevant to people outside the theater community.

I look forward to reading more reviews by her--I hope she writes often.

Jim Fordyce also does an excellent job of getting out to see most of the shows in town and on providing some commentary on them. This is no small task. I found myself respectfully disagreeing with his comments this week on Scenes from an American Life, specifically with his criticism of the script. He wrote: "While the scenes are loosely tied together, this play is a little disjointed and while some scenes are compelling and/or funny. Others are confusing and pointless. "

While I would agree that the show is purposefully disjointed and that it is a matter of personal opinion what is compelling or confusing, I disagree that any of the scenes are pointless. One of the things that I found particularly compelling about the show as a whole was the way each and every scene underlined the overall theme. It wasn't always apparent immediately how they fit into the theme, but by the end of the play you could step back and see that each individual puzzle piece did indeed form a full picture, one whose effectiveness relied on the audience not getting the pictures in order.

I'd be curious how others feel about this who are familiar with the work.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Scenes from an American Life

While most local theaters are starting their season in early September, the Ledges Playhouse is ending its season. They're doing A. R. Gurney's Scenes from American Life.

I've always been fascinated by Gurney's work--I like non-linear shows and Gurney has a wonderful way with satire. Nor does it hurt that I agree with most of his politics. Scenes is one of those non-linear, political plays. Granted, the politics are sometimes subtle, though if you miss the metaphor at the end, then you might be snoozing.

In fact, Gurney suspects that most of us are snoozing; it's a major theme in his play. He does, though, manage to avoid preaching with the same blunt instrument that he does in O Jerusalem. Of course, this is an earlier work. He might have had more faith in subtlety in the days when he wrote it.

One of the things that is interesting about this particular play is how quickly the scenes change. They change far faster than they did even in The Dining Room. It quickly becomes obvious that Gurney doesn't want you to connect with the characters as individual characters. He never gives you that much time. Rather, he's created a series of archetypes, each of which speaks to a certain message. They aren't real people; they're real ideas.

Perhaps I'm making the play sound heavier than it is. There are plenty of humorous moments in the show; I'd just be disinclined to call it a comedy. Yes, you're meant to laugh, but Gurney wants you to think as well.

In fact, if I had a criticism of the show, it would be that there were some moments where some of the actors chose funny instead of fear or horror.

However, those really were just moments and perhaps I shouldn't mention the one criticism before the greater amount of praise that I have for the show. In a production where actors had to switch characters more often than a campaigning politician changes positions, there was a lot of highly skillful acting taking place on the stage. It was especially interesting to watch actors play ages far removed from themselves and to change their ages by decades in a matter of seconds.

At this point I should make a disclaimer--my husband was in this show, so I'm not an impartial observer. And yes, if you ask, I do think he did a wonderful job. It was also enjoyable to watch him perform with actors he'd worked with in the past: Laura Croff (Macbeth at Michigan Shakespeare Festival, Truculentus at Icarus Falling), Marni Darr Holmes (Dearly Departed at Lansing Civic Players), and Kevin Knights (Twelve Angry Men at Bath Community Theatre Guild and others at BCTG that aren't coming to mind right now).

All of the faces on stage were familiar ones--in addition to those above there were also Ben Holzhausen (and I've done it again--I'm writing a blog entry without the program near by to check spelling), Tanya Canady Burnham, Jane and Mark Zussman, and Kevin Burnham.

I'm planning to catch this show again this coming weekend (though, gone are the days when I can catch every performance Richard has. I make it to each show, but there are too many other competing shows to be able to see every single performance of his shows). It's a thought-provoking show that is worth seeing more than once.

That said, it was a little disappointing to see so few people turn out. I didn't count, but it seemed like there were only 30 to 40 people in the audience. I hope there will be more this weekend because it really is an interesting and intriguing show. Last Saturday night's show was an appreciative audience--and very much a theater crowd. Many of the people in the audience have been on stage themselves at one time or another.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mrs. Warren's Profession

I always feel like I should start these entries with a disclaimer--I'm not reviewing, I'm rambling. Mind, I don't say "just" rambling, because I think rambling is one more facet of the conversation and has value in its own place. However, the rambling doesn't have the structure of a review or the in-depth insight of a critique.

That said, shall I start rambling about BoarsHead's production of Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw?

I went Friday night, their official opening. It was easily the best house of the shows I attended this weekend, with all of the middle sections well-sold. Many of the people you see in the Boarshead audience aren't people that you see anywhere else--they are very loyal, long-time patrons of this theater.

This production marks the third Shaw that has been done in recent months locally. Sunsets with Shakespeare did St. Joan and Lansing Community College did Back to Methuselah. All three productions are very different in tone and approach despite being the same playwright. Of course, that was part of Shaw's strength--his versatility.

I suppose it is also worth noting that the play contains two celebrities--names that would be known outside of Lansing. Playing the two lead roles are Paula Prentiss and Prentiss Benjamin. I'm not one who can talk much about movies or those who star in them. I didn't go see movies while growing up and as an adult I've been too busy seeing live theater to catch many movies. Nor do we have a television on which I could catch things on video. When I do go see movies, they tend to be on the geeky side. In fact, you could rightfully say I have pretty low taste in movies. :)

So I don't know much about Paula Prentiss can't tell you whether her stage acting compares favorably with the other work she's done. I can say that I enjoyed the dynamic of mother and daughter on stage. There also seemed to be more than a few winks over the scandal of the mother's profession.

Now, my ignorance must assuredly did not spread to the rest of the audience. When Paula Prentiss first made her entrance as Mrs. Warren, she did so to applause. Director James Glossman must have anticipated this because her first entry was an extremely long cross.

Generally speaking, there were a lot of long crosses in this show. It made the set seem huge as people had to tramp back and forth.

BoarsHead can be pleased with its opener--it's a solidly performed show that has been received warmly by its audiences. There is a great deal of charm and warmth between the mother-daughter team and the rest of the cast provides numerous comedic moments. The play was at its best when it was being comic. The dramatic moments were challenging because of their portrayal of mores that are mostly foreign to us now.

When you go, leave yourself a little extra time. Construction downtown makes the theater extremely difficult to get to. It's doable--but you need to give yourself time to make those extra turns to circle through the neighborhood. Consider it a pre-show adventure.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Promoting theater

Anyone who does anything to help promote local theater (especially those who write press releases), might want to check out Don Calamia's blog entry here.

2006-2007 Theater Season is open

There's no doubt about it. With Labor Day behind us, the theater season is officially open.

Four shows opened in the area this weekend:

  • Scenes from American Life at the Ledges Playhouse in Grand Ledge's Fitzgerald Park
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession at BoarsHead in downtown Lansing
  • Plaza Suite at Lansing Civic Players in the Hannah Community Center
  • Streetcar Named Desire at Owosso Community Players in...ooh. In one of the middle schools. I'll try to update with the exact location--especially since I want to get out there next weekend.
I saw the first three shows on the list this weekend--BoarsHead on Friday, Ledges on Saturday, and Plaza on Sunday. One of the things that was enjoyable about all three was seeing some of the same people each night. Theater really can be a wonderful social occasion in a world where we have fewer and fewer opportunities to connect with people on a social level. It's one reason I hope theater never fully does away with intermission. Intermission is a great time to talk to people and to form deeper connections with a community.

I'll plan to blog about each of these shows this week. Perhaps that will keep me motivated to make daily entries this week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Lansing Symphony Orchestra Day

The Lansing mayor declared today to be "Lansing Symphony Orchestra" Day. There was a dedication at City Hall in the morning and ensembles performed throughout the city during the lunch hour.

The LSO is another one of those organizations that really seems to be thriving. They have patrons who are genuinely excited about their performances. In fact, they're more than just patrons, they're advocates.

I've been working on a guest service chapter for a freelance book that has to be done by the end of the year. Two of the resource books for that have been Shaun Smith and Joe Wheeler's Managing the Customer Experience: Turning Customers into Advocates and Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore's The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. Reading both those books, I found myself frequently thinking about the local arts scene and why different organizations manage to thrive regardless of how they advertise.

The LSO is one of those organizations who have figured out how to create a memorable experience for their patrons and how to turn those patrons into advocates who will defend them and be passionate about their importance. They're also good about getting their message out.

There is a concert this Saturday night. It sounds like it is going to be a beautiful, moving concert with an incredible guest cellist.

Personally, I'm going to make it a priority this year to make it out to hear them.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

BoarsHead's open rehearsal

BoarsHead is doing something rather exciting and smart.

When I was in L.A. last winter, one of the critics pointed out that as a sports reporter, he was able to get into the lockerroom before and after each game, come to practices, and interview any player he wanted. With theater, on the other hand, he wasn't allowed to come to anything but a performance picked out by the theater company. He asked why theaters didn't have open rehearsals.

Well, BoarsHead is doing just that with their upcoming show, Mrs. Warren's Profession. A press release went out on Thursday saying that Friday's rehearsal would be open to BoarsHead subscribers and patrons. The open portion of the rehearsal is from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the rehearsal hall to the west of the lobby.

The show is being directed by James Glossman and is starring Paula Prentiss and Prentiss Benjamin. Other cast members include Ken Beachler (local, well-known star), Gary Huston (from Voice of Good Hope for which he received an Oscar Wilde Award nomination for best supporting actor), Jack Moran, and Paul Murphy.

It's a great idea--even if the notice about it is a little short for getting the word out. Many patrons have no idea what goes on in a rehearsal and will enjoy getting a chance to sit in on it.

Oscar Wilde Awards, post-party

We're back home--and what a fantastic time we had. The folks at Between the Lines really know how to put on a great party.

I've already blogged a little bit about the party here--talking about how this particular newspaper has chosen to define its responsibility for arts coverage and what the community response is. Here I'd like to focus a little more on the local and theater angles.

While this is an evening whose purpose is to give out awards, it's also something more than that. What Between the Lines has done is to create an event that is a big party to celebrate theater and theatrical artists. They do everything they can to make each night memorable--from the warm hospitality that includes delicious appetizers, a cash bar, pre-event chamber music, and plates of desserts to the entertainment throughout the awards night replete with live performances, pre-recorded videos, and an intimate setting in which 200-some people can celebrate together.

Publishers Susan Horowitz and Jan Stevenson said the attendance at the event has been doubling nearly every year. People come from all over the state. The majority of the people there seemed to be from the Detroit area, but there were also plenty of people from Ann Arbor, Jackson, and Lansing.

Faces people locally might recognize included BoarsHead's Kristine Thatcher, Jonathan Courtmanche, Katie Doyle and Andaye (oooh! I need to go look up spellings and fix them); Williamston's Tony Casselli, and such actors as Mark Gmazel, Jason Richards, Causandra Freeman, and Shariesse Hamilton. And I'm certain there are many that I'm forgetting.

On a personal note, one of the highlights of the evening for me was when it was announced that my husband, Richard Redman, had won the award for best supporting actor in a comedy or drama for his part as Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream. It was equally exciting watching Mark Gmazel take an award for that same play in the category of "best genderbending performance." Another award to a local group went to Carmen Decker for lead actress in Holiday Memories.

I'll post a link to the complete awards once they've posted them at Pride Source.

Overall, the night was a blast--in large part because people were there with the purpose of having fun and celebrating the amazing theatrical community we have in this state. Theater is alive, well, and extremely vibrant.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oscar Wilde awards

Wednesday night is the Oscar Wilde Awards at the Gem Theatre in Detroit. Richard and I are planning to attend while our little guy is off on a vacation with his grandparents.

I went to the ceremony last year where I met in person for the first time many of the BoarsHead folks and Tony Casselli from Williamston. Has it truly been only a year?

The ceremony was a great deal of fun--it was an evening filled with vigorous laughter. The PrideSource people really know how to put on a great party. They make an evening out of it with a cocktail reception beforehand and a dessert bar afterward.

It's also a great way to spotlight Detroit theater. I learned about many groups I'd never heard about, making me wish that I had time to get to see theater downstate. While I've managed to make it to Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Jackson to theater, I haven't gotten any further east than Ann Arbor, despite having grown up in the Detroit area and despite still having family there.

It should be a fun evening. I'll try to write about it, but not tomorrow night for certain. Perhaps by Thursday.

Pleasant View Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts

In these days of No Child Left Behind and the tyranny of standardized testing, many schools have responded by cutting everything from recess to their arts program. It seems irrelevant that research has validated how important both of those things are to learning and achievement (even on standardized tests). They don't help the students earn tax or other dollars for the schools, so they land on the chopping board.

(And yes, I realize I'm oversimplifying and that the educational choices are actually far more complex than that.)

So I find what Lansing School Districts are doing with the magnet schools to be refreshing and a cause for rejoicing. In particular, I'm excited about Pleasant View Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts. Last night I listened to the principal describe the educational program they have in place. How's this for exciting?

The morning is primarily a two-hour literacy block working on reading, writing, and spelling. The rest of the day also includes math, science, and social studies. Then in the afternoon, all children have the following classes:

  • Music twice a week
  • Dance once a week
  • Art once a week
  • Drama once a week
  • Gym once a week
  • Library once a week
  • Computer once a week (or more for older kids)
In third grade, students learn to play the recorder. In fifth and sixth grade, students can start to take band or orchestra (and all instruments are provided by the school). Starting in fourth grade, students enter the "arts academy." This means that they pick one of the arts to specialize in. They'll get two additional classes per week with more intensive instruction in that area.

They also have a resource teacher that works with the art and classroom teachers to help integrate art into the entire curriculum. The examples given were that multiplication facts are set to rap and math concepts to other songs; when fourth graders study Michigan history, they design and then sculpt lighthouses out of clay.

The children also have numerous opportunities to perform throughout the year, including a holiday program in December and an all-school spring dance production.

This year they have more than 580 students enrolled in the K-8 program. Think of that--580 students getting daily education in the arts. I get goosebumps just thinking about the positive force something like that can have on our community. That's a world I want to live in.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Great quote

Mike Boehm, an arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a faithful reader and insightful commentator over at Flyover, left the following comment on a post that is worthy of repeating here:
Critics who can be consistently provocative and informative, while communicating their love for an art and avoiding excessive cruelty and arrogance, are among the wonders of the world. I don't think there's any dishonor for those who make an honest try and get it partly right.
It's a lofty goal he establishes and one well worth pursuing.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dark Nights & I Hate Hamlet

It's Friday already, is it?

This weekend marks something relatively rare in Lansing. It's a dark weekend. Originally Williamston was going to be showing Flap, but they went with a slightly shorter run. So there are no performances on area stages this weekend.

Of course, there are still things going on, mostly rehearsals and auditions. Peppermint Creek is holding auditions on Sunday and Monday and Williamston is auditioning for Art on Monday. Word is also starting to leak out about casting for the upcoming season.

I'm looking forward to getting in the theater habit again. It's been a strange summer in that I haven't spent as much time in the theater as I did during the rest of the year (well, unless you count catching 8 of the showings of Macbeth and 6 of the Henrys). However, a little down time is useful. It can be a chance to recharge and to come at shows with a fresh mind and heart again.

I Hate Hamlet

One of the shows I did manage to see recently was Riverwalk's production of Paul Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet. What a delightful script! There's so many wonderful things in it, and it is unapologetically about acting, theater, and art. It really tackles the whole subject of commercialism and art. Rudnick asks whether actors are acting for the sake of the art or simply for money. The end result, he says, will be very different.

No one is going to become a millionaire playing Shakespeare upon the stage. For that, you need to produce a movie or television show that may or may not have artistic value. While there is financial reward to the latter, he points out that there is another cost that is paid--the cost of one's soul and life.

It's a message that was made especially poignant by the performance of John Barrymore's first act speech by Bruce Bennett. Bennett did an amazing job with the monologue and made the audience feel exactly what he had sacrificed by leaving the stage. Justin Hein's Andrew Rally underlines the theme at the end with an equally strong monologue where he describes what would motivate him to turn his back on money.

Rudnick's women in this play are little more than stereotypes. They're meant to be foils and provide Andrew Rally and John Barrymore with motivations, but there aren't a lot of places that they can go. Kelley Peters has little opportunity for the girlfriend to show herself to be all that Hein's character describes her as.

There was also some excellent sword play and fighting. It was fight choreography that told a story, not one simply put on to dazzle the audience. This made it fun to watch and exhilarating.

All in all, it was an entertaining show and one which provided meat to chew on while laughing at the comedy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Updo for Oscar Wilde awards

OK, Amy, I'm posting this as if it were a year ago so that my regular readers won't wonder why the heck I'm suddenly posting photos of myself. :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Changes to archives

I've made a few changes to my archived entries. I've removed all pictures of my son as well as his name.

Someone at Flyover has taken great exception to the fact that I choose to say positive things about Lansing. His latest e-mail showed an obsession with the abuse of young boys. His previous communications have glorified violence.

It's a simple matter to cleanse my blog here and curtail future statements that could put him in jeopardy.

For now, I have a column to write and a day's work to do. Perhaps this evening, I'll blog about I Hate Hamlet. Rain and scheduling kept me from being able to see Julius Caesar.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


My original intent with this blog was to ruminate on theatrical matters as well as talk about individual shows and local events.

I've mostly been sidetracked from that mission because most of my theatrical ruminations have been taking place on the blog that I write with three of my colleagues from the NEA fellowship I attended last February. It's a blog that we wrote for sometime before moving it to Arts Journal. We started out as and then when we moved, we changed our name to "Flyover: Art in the American Outback." I've been astounded at the readership the blog has gained at Arts Journal. We get picked up by all sorts of media outlets including the PBS Culture blog in San Diego, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Orlando Sentinel, and numerous other blogs.

It's also been fascinating to me because of the sheer brilliance of my fellow writers. I'm constantly learning from them and challenged to consider new perspectives. They remind me of how far I still have to go in my talents and open up new horizons to explore.

That said, I would like to get back to more philosophical entries here. Even if it means linking to conversations I've already had there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Back home

Despite being on a mini-family vacation, I couldn't quite pull myself away from theater last weekend.

The Foreigner
We delayed leaving until Friday so that I could go see The Foreigner at the Ledges Playhouse. It's a Larry Shue script that was directed by Bob Gras. All in all, it was an entertaining show with a crowd far too small (though it was Thursday and a little rainy, so perhaps the audience grew larger over the weekend).

There were a lot of familiar faces on the stage--in fact, all of them were pretty familiar. The lead was played by Rick Dethlefsen with his wife Leanne playing the female lead. They were joined by Marilyn Steegstra, Joe Dixon, Micheal Hayes, Terry Benbow (I think that last name is correct) and James Houska. (Please forgive the spellings. I don't have the program with me right now, but I'll check them later and fix this entry.)

It's a show that is pretty demanding of accents and these actors did a fine job with them. I was especially entertained by the physical and verbal mirroring scene between Rick and Joe. It was pure comedy and delightfully performed.

Thunder Bay Theatre

Nor did I leave theater behind me after we left town. We were vacationing in Alpena, so Saturday morning I stopped by Thunder Bay Theatre and talked to the artistic director. He was going to be holding auditions for the non-paid roles in their next two shows. He let me look around the space a little bit.

Thunder Bay Theatre is advertised as being the only professional theater in Northern Michigan (I haven't checked, but I have no reason to doubt their word). They aren't an Equity house, but they do pay their company actors and provide housing.

The building in which they perform is a converted candy store. It seats 180 people and the lobby is decorated with photo montages of past productions.

One thing I found somewhat odd was that in the local tourist brochures and the hotel directory, few mentioned the theater. The hotel directory listed the Alpena Civic Players, but not the professional theater. That was true of many other brochures as well.

It made me wonder what the hotel brochures in the Lansing area have. Do any of them mention theater? If so, which ones do they list? Perhaps there is an opportunity here for some partnerships.