Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The Planet Ant Theatre's almost-insane goal to produce all three plays of Joseph Zettelmaier's The All Childish Things Trilogy in repertory seems, on its face, like an answer to the summer blockbuster. Sure, the movie quotes, criminal activity, action, heroism, and sequel format may be familiar fare, but to pass off these productions as mimicry or parody is to undersell them. Any notion of big-budget fluff should be disabused from the start: director Shannon Ferrante and her workhorse cast and crew infuse this immense undertaking with an underdog sensibility that makes for one winning series.

On the Star Wars superfan end of the spectrum, ACT is stormtrooper approved. Not only are members of the Michigan chapter of the 501st Legion frequently in attendance, but Zettelmaier has been inducted as an honorary member of the premier fan-organized society, signs he must have done something right. Yet this epic adventure about childhood best friends grown up — and still growing up — is equally accessible to viewers whose familiarity with Star Wars is limited to its considerable cultural footprint. Take it from someone who has actually seen ACT Episode I more times than all but one of the George Lucas films: "Boba Fett is that one guy, with the...thing" is a perfectly acceptable entry point. Star Wars amateurs will likely understand the references better than they expect, and, more importantly, these characters' specific devotion translates to a more universal kind of passion that any audience can appreciate.


Against the oppressive heat of a Michigan summer, the Performance Network Theatre has conjured up a Dublin winter in Conor McPherson's The Seafarer. Under the direction of Malcolm Tulip, the production takes its misguided characters and toys with delivering at least one of them from his hellish fate.

The major story is bundled up tightly with a handful of smaller arcs, touching on themes of dependence and redemption. Recently blinded Richard (Hugh Maguire) is forced to rely on others to provide for him. He and his brother, Sharky (Aaron H. Alpern), eke by with the help of cash settlements they seek after getting drunk and injuring themselves on public property. Everyone has an alcohol dependency. Friend and occasional caretaker Ivan (Keith Allan Kalinowski) waits out Christmas Eve at Richard and Sharky's house after a row with his wife, waiting to find a way back into her good graces. Finally, fair-weather Nicky (Joel Mitchell) swings by to tell of his all-day bender financed by mysterious companion Mr. Lockhart (Richard McWilliams). This is when all the other stories become so much background din: unbeknownst to the others, Sharky discovers he is beholden to the devil for his soul, and his only hope rests on a friendly game of poker.


The first full season by Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. capitalized on its youth. As an emerging presence growing its audience, the company made the most of its low overhead and embraced the unorthodox. Under the framework of a titanic mission statement to "eliminate apathy, violence, prejudice, and barriers to education," the organization is young enough that its founders seem to still be burning through pet projects, fueled by unabated passion and absolute freedom to choose what inspires them. For the most part, they managed to balance the exhilaration of expression with the accessibility needed to keep viewers attuned.


Encore Musical Theatre Company has outdone itself with the setting for its Michigan premiere of Club Morocco — as I walked in, I truly didn't recognize the place. The proscenium stage has been ripped out to make way for a towering bandstand, designed by Daniel C. Walker, and the modified seating sets low pub tables adjacent to three sides of the dance floor. The attractive cast mills about before the play begins, chatting up the nearest audience members, giving dance step refreshers, and offering table service. Fortified by live music, drinks, and dancing, the line between the show Club Morocco and the Club Morocco experience is virtually nonexistent, just as intended by is co-creators, Jon Huffman and Barbara F. Cullen (who also serves as director and choreographer).

Within this format, the basic elements of musical theater are broken apart and compartmentalized. Yes, the dancers sometimes sing, and vice versa, but the emphasis on cabaret-style entertainment instead of storytelling allows the show to capitalize on its set list and showcase its performers' best. Viewers get the merest taste of plot in a pat little story, which delves no deeper than man, woman, betrayal, firearms. Film noir conventions are strewn about as hard-boiled Frank McCann (Paul Kerr) discusses the loss of his elusive and mysterious "swing" — repeated attempts to pull double entendres from the word fall flat, as does any pretense that these developments matter in the long run. Happily segregated, meted out in tiny vignettes and otherwise forgotten, the story is no match for this production's real draw: classic swing numbers that get many viewers on their feet.


Chief among the problems with playwright Richard Kalinoski's new My Soldiers is that it wants to be a movie. This alone isn't unforgivable; plays can successfully emulate or borrow from film in many respects. The problem with this particular vision is that it calls for split-second transitions to flashbacks and simultaneously requires a level of visual detail that makes it impossible for the performers to execute those transitions in real time. Demanding that the main character change her clothes and appearance from a maladjusted veteran to her green-haired, pierced teenage self (and back again) is asking too much of a stage production. In practice, the Detroit Repertory Theatre professional world premiere plunged repeatedly into silent half-darkness to watch yet another fumbling, back-turned costume change. Under the direction of Hank Bennett, much of the two-and-a-half-hour play buckles under the strain of unavoidably clunky pacing.

The viewer is promised an eye-opening study of an Army medic dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, but most of the story concerns Angi (Lisa Lauren Smith) unequivocally failing to recognize, let alone deal with, her obvious PTSD. She's simply discharged and sent home, where her father (Cornell Markham) and best friend (Lulu Nicolette Dahl) act as though nothing has changed, and apparently not one person has ever considered the mental toll of war or can otherwise cogently identify that something is wrong with this suffering, insufferable individual. The audience, in contrast, is spoon-fed plentiful evidence, ranging from expository scenes of a confident pre-war Angi to mysterious flashbacks of panting in the desert to her unhealthy attachment to a stuffed camel, which, if it could speak, would bray out I am a symptom! For the entirety of the first act and part of the second, no one heeds the camel.

Writer, composer, and director Barton Bund has me convinced: the story of Patty Hearst is best told as a musical. The genre adds passion and energy to a grisly, infamous tale, without a whisper of camp. A song is the perfect vehicle for allowing characters to expound on their fiercely lionized radical convictions — of which there is no shortage in the Symbionese Liberation Army. Musicals are also given a pass for shallow or incomplete plot points, which Bund capitalizes upon by gently sidestepping the most dangerous and controversial aspects of Hearst's initial confinement. Nevertheless, the Blackbird Theatre's production of Patty Hearst: The New Musical is miles away from safe, challenging the viewer to look with fresh eyes at this story of a kidnapped heiress reborn as an urban guerilla.

The titular Patty (Jamie Weeder) is central to the proceedings, but is neither antihero nor protagonist. More often than not, the perspective is utterly neutral: Bund is careful not to take sides, sticking close to his source material of video and audio tapes and a handful of contradictory testimonies. This is not to say that the production is clinical or dry in tone; rather, the actors infuse their characters with urgency and purpose but leave their true motives to interpretation, leaving the bulk of the analysis to the viewer. Patty's first-act evolution — when she speaks or sings, or, even more telling, when she doesn't — is both bold and effective, and also allows the SLA characters ample space to develop as individuals. With no one to actively root for, the prevailing sense is that of careful observation as the events unfold, in a vain attempt to better understand them. (The viewer may benefit from reviewing the facts of the Hearst case, which are faithfully adhered to; knowing the story in advance allows one to focus on the performances.)


Code Foxy: Man Down had life before the Ringwald: this 45-minute late-night show premiered at the Planet Ant Theatre two years ago. Now picked up by Sweetlove Productions and featuring the same performers (the members of the improv troupe Tiger Ride, who also penned the original script), the current iteration feels more like a reunion than a full revival.

In the vein of Charlie's Angels, the five women of Tiger Ride make up the Foxy Tiger Detective Agency. Chassy Tiger (Cara Trautman) is the reformed car expert, Dr. Raven Tiger (Kathryn Trepkowski) is the degree-laden bird whisperer, Summer-Winter Tiger (Anne Faba) is the CIA-trained ditz extraordinaire, and Pam Tiger (Suzan Jacokes) is the retired cop granddaughter of the agency's benefactor, Baron Rex (voiced by David Herbst). Rex's violent end summons the return of his other granddaughter, musician playgirl Sugar Tiger (Lauren Bickers), who announces he was murdered, enlists the group to solve the case, and immediately rekindles her rivalry with sister Pam. True to the source material, the characters appear to be costumed more with overstatement than with actual fabric.