Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


Something in The Two Gentlemen of Verona compelled director Barton Bund to play it in the vein of a Judd Apatow movie: the story of hapless losers and their shortcomings as they bumble through adulthood and responsibility. The resulting Water Works Theatre production contains much evidence in support of the notion, although whether the entirety of the play is ready for this take is less clear. However, from the silly song and dance numbers to the fluorescent design that blazes in the fading sunlight of Royal Oak's Starr Jaycee Park, the show's two and a half hours deliver a familiar flavor of contemporary humor via an unlikely channel.

Quite like the "bro" comedies that inspired it, this production finds riches in its wacky supporting characters. As the Duchess, Linda Rabin Hammell is hilariously eccentric in voice and mannerism, conducting one of the play's funniest scenes in which she catches a young troublemaker about to steal away with her daughter. Jaime Weeder and Tommy Simon are highly emphasized in their roles as conniving servants; Simon in particular has a multifaceted humor that belies uncanny control and awareness. Stephen Blackwell carefully renders man-of-few-words Thurio duller than furniture, which in itself becomes an effective punchline. Sean Paraventi plays a handful of small roles to keep the cast compact, doing his best work as secretive Eglamour. A real, live dog gets surprising stage time as Crab the Dog and reaffirms that having an animal onstage is never not funny.


Sex, danger, and dangerous sex: the original adaptation The Spring Awakening Project makes for an intense 90 minutes. The inaugural production of The New Theatre Project, directed by founder and Artistic Director Keith Paul Medelis, uses the rigidly repressed and uninformed adolescents of Frank Wedekind's century-old script to examine the intangible threshold between childhood and adulthood.

The play moves fast, combining elements of song, dance, fantasy, and unlikely narration with more straightforward two-person scenes; although the cadence and immediacy of the tone can feel initially prohibitive, it took me little time to catch up with the characters and sort out each of their stories. Viewers like me, who have never seen the original Spring Awakening or its popular musical adaptation, will be well assisted by a quick Wikipedia overview of the major players and plot points. Most of the plot developments are lifted from the source material, although a few surprises emerge, including the appearance of a delightfully bonkers deus ex machina that makes total sense in the context of the project. True to a young perspective, it seems as though none of these young people has any agency over the the situations that change — and sometimes end — their lives; all the characters can manage is to feel and react and despair.


We think of love as such a complicated thing, when the recipe is simple: one man, one woman, one waiter. So argues Williamston Theatre's Five Course Love, in a bawdy production that repeatedly defies expectations. Directed by Tom Woldt, the one-act musical sprawls and meanders, but just when it appears to be no more than a series of barely linked vignettes about the marriage of sex and international cuisine, playwright/composer Gregg Coffin ties it all together handsomely.

To be fair, love remains hidden for most of the 90-minute production. Instead, the first scenes are more concerned with aspects of passion and lust: four increasingly rowdy demonstrations that perversion knows no nationality. Performers Laura Croff, Matthew Gwynn, and Aaron T. Moore each play five different characters, changing costumes and hair as sharply as they change their accents. In the absence of a clear plot line, the production relies heavily on its jokes — big comedy founded in euphemisms, sight gags, and over-the-top characterization, giving much of the show a musical-sketch-comedy feel. However, it's the ending that really sparks: it's clever, it justifies everything that precedes it, and I never saw it coming.


Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, but that's only part of the mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world that is Sordid Lives: It's a Drag! The Who Wants Cake? production of Del Shores's Sordid Lives swaps genders across the board, with female roles played by men and male roles played by women, but whether it's even possible to further skew the already distorted and tawdry proceedings of one small Texas town is up for debate.

In a community where everybody knows everybody's business, the nightmare of losing a parent becomes even worse in light of the embarrassing details of her demise. Yes, sister, mother, grandmother, and scandalously uninhibited of late Peggy Ingram has suffered a truly saucy, lusty death, which sets off shock waves through her family and friends that forces them together and allows them to right longstanding wrongs. To explain the relationships among the dozen characters would require a flow chart which, if attempted, would probably buckle under its own weight and implode. However, Shores uses careful, corroborating exposition and liberal amounts of gossip to bring the viewer up to speed; in the moment, what needs to be understood comes across well.


Part of the reason why my most recent Thursday at Go Comedy! seemed to pass at a quicker clip (despite its similar running time) is the presentation of two shows instead of three. More of the reason is that the second of the two offerings is a film. Although I don't plan to migrate into film criticism, this review is entitled "Thursdays at Go Comedy!," so here goes.

The 8 PM time slot belongs to the original comedy Space Fight. Written and directed by Pete Jacokes and Jen Hansen, the 40-minute sketch production presents a skewed view of the Star Wars narrative. The show opens with video of a subtitled toddler babbling her lopsided understanding of the story, and scene changes feature projected images of children's drawings of characters and scenes from the films. While cute and amusing, the through-a-child's-eyes take doesn't completely gel with the story lines of the live sketches: the conventionally heroic Rebel forces being composed of local yokels, Darth Vader attempting a softer leadership style, and workaday slackers musing about the Empire from the apolitical outskirts of the conflict. The plot of the original trilogy is merely alluded to from the periphery of the action, a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to Star Wars's Hamlet. As with most spoof productions, it appears the better the viewer knows the source material, the more there is to appreciate.


To briefly summarize the accomplishments of Matrix Theatre Company is a challenge, given the organization's far-reaching scope and multifaceted goals. Crucial to its mission is the symbiosis of community and place — not only striving to enroll neighborhood residents as performers and audiences, but tailoring its material to address the issues most important to them. The company's exhaustive approach to making art that reflects on its surroundings belies its conviction to foster social justice. The trade-off is that sometimes, performance quality must take a back seat.


There's two people having breakfast and there's a bomb under the table. If it explodes, that's a surprise. But if it doesn't... —concept attributed to Alfred Hitchcock

Boeing-Boeing is a comedy, and a very good one, but it also gets mileage from Hitchcock's perspective on suspense. A woman's decision whether to eat at home or go out for dinner plays totally different when the audience knows there's another woman behind the bedroom door — and that neither is aware of the other's existence. It's taxing to worry every instant that one character could walk in the wrong door, doubly disconcerting when another might come out. In its production of this 1960s Marc Camoletti script (adapted from the original French by Beverly Cross), the Purple Rose Theatre Company has crafted a riotous flavor of thriller: five doors, three fiancees, and two hours spent wondering when the truth will detonate.