Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


Had I been given a choice of shows to see a second time, The Smell of the Kill would have made the short list, so I was giddy for another viewing of this co-production, now at the Tipping Point Theatre. I found myself initially preoccupied with the demands of re-review: Were my thoughts too harsh? Was I noticing the wrong things? Could I make valid assessments without simply comparing the current performance with the prior one? Turns out there was nothing to fear: after very little time reunited with Nicky, Debra, and Molly, I was hooked. Again. Those three wives and their devilishly indecorous story hooked me twice.

The busy first beats seem to rattle in the space as the women handle dishes, leftovers, and exposition. Their never-seen husbands yuk it up while setting up a game of golf in the dining room and are an occasional harmless nuisance, but the gossip the women trade in Nicky's kitchen tells a more nefarious tale: these are deeply unhappy women, whose chief source of unhappiness is their husbands. Playwright Michele Lowe quickly gets to the meat (so to speak) of the plot: when the husbands are discovered to be trapped in the walk-in basement freezer, a darkly comic immorality surfaces when one wife stops her rescue efforts to muse, "How long does it take to make ice?"


Because much of the content of Late Nite Catechism is concerned with Catholic doctrine, Sister asks at the top of the show who in the audience attended Catholic school. From my vantage point near the back of the Andiamo Novi theater, I was surprised by the impressive show of hands. However, given the laughs that welled up from the entire house, neither Catholic schooling, a background in the church, nor working knowledge of the Bible is a prerequisite to enjoy this winning one-nun comedy.

I had heard of this popular show before, but never seen it. My hand was not among those raised; Sister refers to my kind as "the publics," although I was brought up Catholic and knew the answers to questions on topics such as the Immaculate Conception and stigmata. In fact, for most of the two-hour performance, I found myself resisting the urge to chime in — Sister, I was sent to public school because my mother attended twelve years of Catholic school and vowed to never subject her own children to it — for the same reason as a number of my fellow audience members: to see what actor Mary Beth Burns would say. A clear veteran of this show, Burns takes the building blocks of a catechism curriculum and turns it into an interactive standup experience done utterly in character, and wearing a habit to boot.


Meadow Brook Theatre's Enchanted April requires some clarification: the word enchantment can refer to magic, but also describes the human quality of charm. In fact, the mystical enchantment touched on in Matthew Barber's script (based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim) turns out to look suspiciously like the real-life magic of a good vacation. The most supernatural effect of the production is that of scenic designer Kristen Gribbin and the stage crew, who deserve accolades for the transition from an intentionally drab, close London interior to the lush, spacious Italian seaside.

The plot is easily distilled: In 1922, four English women are in need of a change, go on holiday, and feel better for it. Vacations are great; this is not new. (It wasn't new in 1922, for that matter.) What makes this show endearing is its funny, warm, revealing, touching interactions. There is relatively little serious conflict; among a group of fundamentally likable characters, it's not surprising that they would all basically like each other. Even in troubling moments, the play's more than two hours are kept moving by the promise of impending pleasantness — and it abounds.


The mission of Matrix Theatre Company cites building community and fostering social justice among its goals, and both are inherent in its production of Vanished. Comprehensive immigration policy reform holds particular immediacy for the Mexicantown neighborhood in which the company does business, as deportation is a fearsome reality for some undocumented immigrants — and their children. Accordingly, the play was written by a group of area youth enrolled in the Matrix playwriting program, and their passion shines through in the script, as does their fiercely damning view of the present policy and its irrevocable effects.

The collaborative efforts of the teen writers (facilitated by Robert Wotypka and director Laura Perez, with input from local experts) result in a simply told story that avoids out-and-out preaching, despite its clear point of view. The play is about one nuclear family: teenage Gabi and Jesus (Megan Smith and Justino Solis) and their parents, Carina and Hector (Maria Guadalupe Ayala and Benny Cruz). The children are documented; their parents are not. Their fear of government interference alienates Gabi during a class discussion of immigration policy and keeps Carina from seeking medical care for her worsening diabetes. When their parents are apprehended and Hector is deported, Gabi and Jesus are left alone for weeks to fend for themselves and panic about their family's uncertain future. Naturalized US citizens may struggle to comprehend this despondent and bleak reality, but the honesty and relatability of these characters brings sympathy to a population whose illegal status (and the repercussions of revealing it) prevents them from openly engaging in the debate over US immigration.


Bert V. Royal's Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead is more than an unauthorized riff on the work of Charles M. Schulz. Distilling the story into "It's like Peanuts, but older," suggests applying more mature problems to the exact traits of the characters we know. Instead, the adolescents in this Magenta Giraffe Theatre production may be have a familiar back story, but that's ancient history. We don't know these people any better than they know themselves: quite simply, and terrifyingly, they're teenagers.

The ubiquitous cartoon is populated by protagonist Charlie Brown and his sister, Sally, siblings Linus and Lucy van Pelt, Peppermint Patty (short for Patricia) and her sycophant Marcie, tiny-piano prodigy Schroeder, and unhygenic Pigpen. Royal skates the limits of fair use, so his universe entails CB and CB's Sister, Van and Van's Sister, BFFs Tricia (short for Patricia) and Marcy, piano enthusiast Beethoven, and nickname-eschewing Matt. It's an ingenious concept: the characters are granted depth because their pasts are ubiquitous, carefully laid out over decades of national exposure, and sympathy is ingrained in an audience based on that recognition. Royal is therefore free to explore the lonely, angry world of adolescence through characters we are predisposed to like, and he does not disappoint — these kids curse mightily, smoke cigarettes, take drugs, drink to oblivion, have sex, and, worst of all, tear each other down without mercy. Under the direction of Frannie Shepherd-Bates, what starts out as a laugh-out-loud parody grows savagely, realistically brutal, and rings sadly true to the teenage experience.


News flash: Some people actually love Detroit so much, they're willing to sing about it. That's the kind of misplaced astonishment we're used to reading in the national media, the disbelief that anybody would willingly live in Detroit, and it makes some locals' blood boil. In that same defiant spirit, the Planet Ant original musical Detroit Be Dammed: A Beaver's Tale addresses both the history and the heart of the city, embracing them in an infectious surge of passion.

Written by Mikey Brown and Shawn Handlon and directed by the latter, the show evades the traditional mold of setup, song, setup, song. Musical numbers are used sparingly, leaving plenty of room to unfold numerous stories and even more jokes. The first act is a sweeping retelling of defining moments in the history of Detroit, each told through the lens of the LeMerde family. (For readers not versed in French expletives, a nice way of translating the name would be the poop. LeMerdes through the years are accordingly bumbling and hapless, but all are likable and never moronic.) Most of the progression is chronological, leading from French rule to British to American, briefly back to British, and then to American again. The city's role in the Underground Railroad is addressed, and Augustus B. Woodward and Henry Ford make appearances. The three men in the cast each play different men of the LeMerde ancestry, which is helpfully made clear by the use of a projection screen. Projected images also remind viewers of the year, provide visual aids, and feature a line-drawn cartoon beaver that belts brief synopses and exposition to a bluesy refrain.


Here's an apt and timely analogy to baseball's spring training: Watching the motions of an athlete's practice is not everyone's cup of tea, but for the devoted, just observing the mechanics of the craft can be well worth the trip. Similarly, in the Hilberry production of Good, the best parts of the show offer the audience a fine opportunity to watch skilled actors follow through on a complicated premise. For me, that was more than enough for a rewarding experience.

John Halder (Erman Jones) is a German author and professor of literature who is actively recruited during the 1930s to consult with the National Socialist party on their practices and ensure that their actions are humane. Thus, his novel that delicately concludes with the mercy killing of an infirm old woman leads to a commissioned academic paper in which he definitively argues in favor of euthanasia (little does he know to how many populations the Nazis extend this conclusion). Later, a reasoned discussion of cultivating a calming patient experience to the last moments becomes a clear precursor to gas chambers. Having the benefit of neither perspective nor hindsight, Halder progresses through the war with only a loose ambition to be "good," with no idea — or at least no will to contemplate — the devastating consequences of his self-serving actions.


Pop quiz: When the Martians land, what do you do? A: Ensure the safety of your family. B: Hunker down and barricade the door. C: Search for conspiracies. D: Profess your love before it's too late. E: Laugh, because you're the only one who realizes it's an ingenious hoax. In Joseph Zettelmaier's latest play, It Came From Mars, the answer is the audience, that is. Directed by Tony Caselli, this world premiere at the Performance Network plays with a delightful concept, finding humor in the scenario and the relationships alike.

On the evening of October 30, 1938, a group of performers gathers to rehearse at WHQN New York, terrified this may be the eve of their final broadcast. The first act is full of palpable strife about job security and the future of the radio drama medium, as the characters encounter creative and personal differences — a last-minute replacement actress who demands her ex-husband director grovel before she will take the role, a roiling distrust between a wounded veteran and the German-born sound effects artist. However, 10/30/38 has more significance than simply providing Great Depression and pre–World War II context: this is the date of the famous Orson Welles The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, and the ensuing, even more famous hysteria of a listening public that believed an alien invasion was upon them. At the end of the first act, when the six characters tune in to the broadcast in progress, they, too, believe it completely. In every subsequent action they take to save their own lives, the audience is in on the joke.