Thursday, November 6, 2008

"All Childish Things" and "Leaving Iowa"

This weekend is the final opportunity to catch both "All Childish Things" at BoarsHead and "Leaving Iowa" at Williamston. Both are shows well worth seeing. If you want to read some reviews on them, there have been several:

All Childish Things:
  • Ken Glickman's review in the Lansing State Journal
  • Don Calamia's review at Encore Michigan (scroll down a ways) (This is also the review in which I most frequently found myself nodding in agreement. Perhaps because we went on the same night.)
  • Len Kluge's review at the City Pulse
  • Jim Fordyce's review at Michigan Entertainment
Leaving Iowa
  • Kate O'Neill's review in the Lansing State Journal
  • Robert Bethune's review at Encore Michigan (scroll down)
  • Yana Levovna's review in the City Pulse
  • Jim Fordyce's review at Michigan Entertainment
So with links to all the reviews of my professional colleagues out of the way, I'm going to write a little about some of the things that struck me with each show.

All Childish Things

There was so much about this show to love. Yes, it helps that I was a child of the 70s and 80s and remember the thrill of these shows coming out. The four characters on stage are my contemporaries and it is easy to relate to them and to their passions (even though I never was a collector, believing that toys were for playing with).

I know I just compared the last BoarsHead show (Permanent Collection) to this musical, but bear with me as I do the same to this play. I was reminded (for a different reason) of Avenue
again, even though the what is a major theme in the musical is a secondary one in All Childish Things. In both productions, the characters are wondering what has happened to their lost idealism and whether there is anything but cynicism in their future.

All Childish Things is a very funny play, but it is also a very touching one. I was especially impressed how playwright Joseph Zettelmaier was able to use the Star Wars series on multiple levels. There was the overt, obvious way in which it was in all of the dialog, the plot, and the set. But there were also thematic and structural echoes with moments of predictability being used the same way they appeared in the films. It made for a brilliant script that was filled with secretive winks and invitations to listen even more closely.

I had a blast at the show. Yes, there was fine acting in it. Yes, Aral Gribble was at the top of his game and Jason Richards, Brian Thibault, Molly Thomas and Keith Allan Kalinowski also turned in excellent performances. Yes, the set was a perfect basement that brought smiles to geeks everywhere. But it was ultimately the fact that I was moved to feel hope and optimism, that I felt the playwright was able to reveal what mattered most in a materialistic and sometimes shallow world, that made the evening one I am grateful for. There were moments during the climax that made my eyes water because of how perfectly the play captured the importance of friendship, loyalty, and holding on to dreams.

Leaving Iowa

Leaving Iowa was in many ways in the same vein as All Childish Things. It was also one of those plays in which you are constantly laughing--until it is time to cry. Unlike the BoarsHead show, though, this is a show I would recommend taking the entire family to. Yes, there is some minor language, but it is relatively rare and is more than made up for by the delightful family themes and interactions throughout the play.

I suppose it had particular poignancy for us this year because of both my grandfather's and my father-in-law's deaths this past year. It was a short trip to the reminiscences of past family vacations and on the drive home from Williamston after seeing the show, our son was regaled with tales from both of his parents of what family car vacations were like. Richard talked about how organized his father was with the AAA triptychs and every portion of the trip planned out. He was part of a large family and they would often sprawl out in the back of the station wagon on longer trips (this was in the days before children wore seatbelts). I recollected how we called every round haystack a "Snuffleofagous" and how my brother loved to count overpasses--especially when I was trying to read.

It was the beauty of "Leaving Iowa" that it brought out memories and gave our family something to share beyond what was seen on the stage. And for days afterward, our son would burst out with one quote or other from the play.

For the actors playing the two children, John Lepard and Teri Clark Linden, it was a return to a show they had done years ago at Purple Rose. Linden very nearly stole the show, she was so very animated and delightful to watch. She easily had the role that was the most fun.

Another powerful aspect of the show was the relationship between the father (Hugh Maguire) and Don (Lepard). Rarely did they speak directly to one another, but there was a bond of love, guilt, and affection that was almost visible. In scenes where Lepard's character spoke to his father's ashes, Director Tony Caselli placed Maguire on stage, silently watching and actively listening. It created a powerful, compelling mood.

Like all Williamston shows, this one paid attention to detail. The set was sparse, but it was the sparseness that made it rich in the imagination of the audience and allowed for them to create multiple locations with only a few chairs.

Leaving Iowa is very definitely a feel-good show, the kind that reminds you that good family theater extends beyond fairy tales and musicals.


Tony Caselli said...

Glad you enjoyed "Leaving Iowa"! Thanks for your kind words!
-Tony Caselli

Bridgette Redman said...

You're welcome. Thank you for doing such a beautiful job directing it and giving our family such a delightful evening.

Anonymous said...

A fine show indeed and well worth it. Totally agree on Linden's delightful performance!

Bridgette Redman said...

She almost stole the show, she was such a delight to watch. Yet, she managed the role in such a way that it didn't become all about the sister, but stayed in the realm of being all about the sister's relationship to the brother.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful words, Bridgette. ACT was a joy to do again, and I'm glad to hear that joy may have been contagious.

-Joe Zettelmaier

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words, Bridgette. ACT was a real joy to do (Again) and I'm glad to hear that joy was kinda contagious.

-Joe Zettelmaier

Bridgette Redman said...

And thank you for stopping by and commenting. I heard a rumor that you're working on the two plays that will turn ACT into a trilogy (and will there be a prequel trilogy as well?). I look forward to them coming to a stage nearby.