Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


It was in a moment of clarity that I came to appreciate the strongest element of local playwright Kelly Rossi's Calypso: a sly and successful misdirection that let the final plot developments hit me with full force. What made it less exciting was that I was in the car, halfway home from the Abreact, when it came to me. Far be it for me to criticize a play that encourages reflection after the fact, but in this case I wanted to go back and have the revelation in the moment, with time enough in the world of the show to let the realizations sink in.

The production is a whirlwind journey bent on immersing the viewer in its complex and guarded world, but with a running time of less than an hour, said immersion is almost akin to a dunk tank. Add to that the foreign subject matter — present-day witches and their influence and relation to the outside world — and Calypso can be a challenge to follow. Thus, from this capably acted and directed play, I emerged unclear on how much I had understood, and even less sure of how much I was intended to understand.

Engendering an atmosphere of curiosity and mystery, Rossi and director Lyndsay Michalik throw the audience into the scene: in a nondescript office, a man (David Schoen) interviews a woman (Connie Cowper), apparently for some publication, because she's exceptional at...something. The two spend generous amounts of time equivocating, keeping the other (and, by extension, the audience) from knowing the whole truth. Cowper's performance is haltingly low-key, but contains an assuredness that manifests as the story unfolds. Schoen is at first endearingly disarmed, then later cycles through power and helplessness in a foreboding world. It takes a lot of vague questions and non-answers before Schoen even utters the word witch, ramping up the tension but not the clarity — it makes sense that these mistrustful characters wouldn't suddenly tell everything they know, but the continued withholding of their motives started to take its toll on this distanced viewer.

There is an abrupt shift in tone in an interjected scene of unknown time and place, in which Cowper finds herself in the presence of an old acquaintance (Jaclyn Strez). In contrast to the earlier question marks, Cowper and Strez cut right to the heart of their differences, but both are so perfectly fluent in the themes and practices of their lifestyle that to explain it for the audience would just slow them down. It felt like eavesdropping on a private argument held in a secret twin language; the emotion was certainly clear, and the general idea of the plot was made apparent enough, but many of the rapidly exchanged details and possible foreshadowing were lost on me. In the briefest appearance of the three, Strez is the kind of confident young upstart to be feared, either unaware or too aware of her own power. The actor handles the character's emotional demands well, and with more consistency than the physical ones.

The production is lent playfully ominous support by Michalik's sound design and lighting by Phil Bolden. Rossi has created three interesting characters and a puzzling story that succeeded in surprising me by play's end; however, the final reveal was so carefully protected that much of the plot, and even this unfamiliar world, remained murky. Despite its hovering just outside the heart of the story for longer than it can withstand, this is a tightly wound show that sustains its intrigue and danger throughout. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it feel suggests that Calypso may improve with repeated viewings.


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