Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


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.

Of the three mainstage offerings, Dutchman, the ambitious season opener, was the weakest. Amiri Baraka's exploration of the black/white racial divide in the 1960s was fortified by outstanding production values, innovative sound design, and a wordless supporting cast that told a story all its own. Director LoriGoe Nowak's production was not lacking for ideas, but it faltered in presenting an over-stylized core relationship: the visual and communicative discord between potential head case Lula and her surroundings was too great for the viewer to bridge. Following each performance with a talkback was well in keeping with the mission of the company and gave the audience time and opportunity to deconstruct the play's shocking conclusion, but such discussion shouldn't be what elucidates the show's conceptual vision.

The remaining two productions of the season were similar only in that both were directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates, whose gift for coaxing a fitting, enveloping tone out of a script is remarkable. The polar-opposite timelines of the musical The Last Five Years somehow felt utterly natural, made real by the superior musical and emotional performances of Kevin Young and Anne Marie Damman. Jason Robert Brown's autobiographical material even-handedly infused both Jamie and Cathy with charms and flaws: one tried too hard, the other not hard enough. Creative lighting and staging kept the perspectives clear and helped to underline the one time the lovers existed on the same plane — the interdependently happiest and saddest moment of a complex production. Completing the season was Bert V. Royal's Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, which also marked the theater's move from Detroit's Furniture Factory to 1515 Broadway, where it will continue its residence through next season. The latter's crowded black-box space presents many of the same unconventional challenges as the former, but with more of a makeshift feel, which was put to good use for an unofficially Peanuts-inspired play with multiple settings and a comic-book starkness. Often funny, the large cast of young talents was also unafraid to treat the familiar characters with deadly seriousness, reveling in a particular face-burning brand of mortification unique to adolescence. Was high school really this awful, this bleak, this dangerous? Dog Sees God argued yes, persuasively.

MGT's focus on Michigan-based playwrights for its second festival of staged readings was certainly in keeping with its eagerness to support local artists. Although geographically limited in its submissions, the festival had no shortage of product: the company took over the Abreact performance space for a marathon weekend, Friday night to Sunday afternoon, offering nearly eighteen hours' worth of content ranging from a grievous fiction of two desperately misunderstood suburban black teens to a hilarious Chekovian exercise in absurdity. Yes, the format all but guarantees a viewer will miss an offering, but what an energizing celebration of the depth and range of Michigan talent.

In expanding from one to three productions and consistently striving to challenge and ask difficult questions, MGT has shown an enviable momentum in its first complete season. Time and further growth will undoubtedly lead to changes in future choices and practices, but the company's affinity for daring works could be indicative of a long period of creative infancy.


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