Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The 1980s were such magical times, with pop fads to spare and frightening, untrustworthy, Medusa-like woman creatures grabbing for and holding power in the workplace like never before. Ancient Greece was also probably magical. Playwrights Alana McNair and Kate Wilkinson prove these are two great tastes that taste great together in Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy, the inaugural production of Who Wants Cake? now returning to celebrate a full run at the Ringwald four years later. Directed by and starring Joe Bailey, the current offering skirts the line between straight-faced parody and cheeky, winking camp that keeps the laughs rolling.

Most people know the basic story of the bunny-boiler film upon which the play is based: a man has a brief fling that comes back to haunt him in the most nefarious of ways. The play doesn’t bother with movie character names, instead identifying the players as we know them best: suave protagonist Michael Douglas (Jon Ager), cloying wife Anne Archer (Melissa Beckwith), child most gently described as homely and slow Ellen Hamilton Latzen (Tim Kay), and indomitable home-wrecking force of nature Glenn Close (Bailey). Also contributing to the proceedings is a Greek chorus of four (Suzan M. Jacokes, Richard Payton, Joe Plambeck, and Dyan Bailey) whose heavy-handed intoning damns the man who steps out on his wife and family. Skipping ahead to the most memorable scenes and crucial plot points, the play smartly flies by at eighty minutes, just enough to satisfy without wearying of its premise. From the meteoric career rise of the protagonist that cannot go unpunished to the bloody bathtub showdown, the play works as both a rough-and-tumble spoof of the film and as a goof on the implausible, severe cautionary tales of Greek tragedy.


Playwright Peter Shaffer’s Equus, the storied 1973 epic about a heinous crime and a troubled child psychiatrist’s investigation into the deeply disturbed mind of the young perpetrator, seems tailor-made for the Blackbird Theatre’s gritty, challenging raison d’être. It’s a show designed to be difficult in both performing and viewing, famous for stripping one of the main characters nude onstage, but also featuring extensive scenes of immersive psychotherapy techniques and bouts of unsettling sexual and violent behavior. Readers should note that the performance I attended was the final preview, and changes have likely been implemented since; to the credit of this intense production and director Sarah Lucas, the work in progress showed little need for improvement, already well within the vicinity of enthralling.

The main thrust of the story belongs to young Alan Strang (Evan Mann), already convicted by the play’s start of savagely blinding six horses, and sentenced to the psychiatric ward of a hospital in lieu of imprisonment. The ensuing plot developments almost entirely concern his treatment by Dr. Martin Dysart (Lee Stille), who seeks to investigate what motivated Alan’s crime as a means to rehabilitate and heal him. What he learns about the young man’s fanatic devotion to horses, and his conflation of religious doctrine and burgeoning sexuality with respect to the beasts, is as disturbing as it is comprehensible. Mann’s work as Alan shows a believable opening up to treatment, beginning with (and reverting to) a murderous catatonia that falls away with growing trust. The pair works together splendidly, with keen pacing and an underlying camaraderie that helps their trajectories to dangerously merge; Stille’s exploration of his character is a perfect stand-in for the comprehending and connecting audience as he fights the dangers of career fatigue and complacency, feeling belittled in the face of Alan’s vibrant —albeit demented — life and beliefs.

Go Comedy!’s latest Thursday-night offering, Menllenium, was originally a product of the Second City improvisation conservatory, and its ingrained sketch-comedy feel is well suited for the quirky and fast-moving Thursday grab bag of scripted and improvised shows. This reimagined production, now directed by Tommy LeRoy, doesn’t seek to do anything groundbreaking with subject matter or form; instead, it relies on keen writing and a strong ensemble to unearth a well of comedy in the rise and fall of a circa-2000 boy band. The one-hour Behind The Music–style show hits all the familiar beats, but shines with a hardworking team of writer/improvisers that works with the medium to showcase its own strengths.

Our heroes’ story follows the mold of so many popular artists’ biographies: a humble quartet of high school football teammates is discovered by the music biz, gets rocketed to superstardom, mishandles newfound fame and unchecked egos, and parts ways after seemingly petty differences turn irreconcilable. Written by the ensemble, the scenes are a selective bunch of representative vignettes that establish the characters of Marcus (Tommy Simon), Kevin (Andrew Seiler), JaySon (Micah Caldwell), and Justin Dance (Clint Lohman) and allow them to react to new situations. Happily, although each character has an identifying type (playboy, narcissist, rebel, and gay), most don’t live exclusively within these descriptors, making the scenes feel playful and inventive instead of formulaic. An absolute highlight of these sketches finds the boys discussing contract negotiations with football coach turned manager Sarge (Ryan Parmenter), establishing the game of the scene and then methodically piling on to absurd heights of humor. The ensemble members are sharply attuned to one another, and it shows in the writing: jokes of all stripes and sensibilities are laid down in rapid succession, too numerous and varied to be the product of a single mind.


In another original reimagining, The New Theatre Project makes a respectful and inquisitve foray into the world of female sex workers in The Dance of the Seven Veils, written by company member Amanda Lyn Jungquist and directed by Artistic Director Keith Paul Medelis. A blend of first-person narrative, music, and dance, the production presents accounts of prostitutes and strippers culled from real-life sources, giving an emotionally wringing — but ultimately fair and unvarnished — voice to this societally shunned profession.

Jungquist’s sources include the text of Salome, a piece by open-source playwright Charles L. Mee, as well as numerous other online and social networking resources, some of which led to follow-up correspondence or interviews. Accordingly, the piece does betray an extensively researched feel at times; the pressure to be inclusive, to be exhaustive, sometimes manifests in heftily vague or meandering narration. The play functions as a triptych: each of three protagonists is billed as “Woman,” and three stories are told in succession, at times different and the same. One details the ongoing web of lies she maintains to keep her work separate from her regular life, whereas another describes overcoming verbal abuse from a client. Yet each Woman discusses her reasons for taking up sex work, each describes her first encounter, each reveals one or more instances in which she suffered physically or emotionally; moreover, each speaks frankly about the stigma of her profession and how it has changed her. This is probably the most pervasive and certainly the most personal theme of the production: that turning a basic human need into a business transaction, in addition to risking a permanent societal black mark, may irrevocably change a woman’s sense of femininity, her self-perception, her very identity.

In a conspiracy-hungry age of questioning authority, amateur journalism, and access to disparate opinions the world over, our relationship with the truth — whatever that means — is more tenuous than ever. Humankind is now predisposed to choose what reports to accept and reject; therefore, what beliefs we each dare to espouse, and why, helps define us to ourselves and others. Playwright Steven Dietz’s beguiling Yankee Tavern toys with this theme like a prism, shifting the little world inside a rundown New York City bar as if to see how the changing light alters the ensuing view. Accordingly, the Breathe Art Theatre Project production marking the play’s Michigan and Canadian premieres, running first at Detroit’s Furniture Factory and then at Windsor’s Mackenzie Hall, is enigmatically gripping.

The play’s first act quickly introduces all four of its characters: Adam (Kevin Young), a graduate student who inherited the watering hole of the title from his late father; Janet (Chelsea Sadler), Adam’s practical and understanding fiancé, but no fan of her intended’s birthright; Ray (Dan Jaroslaw), an avid conspiracy theorist and apparent professional barfly with a fondness for the ghosts around him; and Palmer (Joel Mitchell), an unknown loner who buys an extra beer for the empty seat next to him. Dietz works hard to generate a thought-provoking environment in which the characters compare and discuss the various theories about the 9/11 attacks (here only four years out, in the early 2006 of the play). However, it’s the accomplishment of director Michael Carnow and cast that the discourse feels mundane, an ultimately unresolvable curiosity that serves as an efficient means to establish characterizations and relationships. The stakes here are low, and the characters’ affection for each other shows even as they disagree; among these strong performances, Jaroslaw is the early standout, not only entertaining to watch for his considerable eccentric energy, but also a real and quite likable character.

Reunion: A Musical Epic in Miniature (by Jack Kyrieleison, Ron Holgate, and Michael O’Flaherty) has an unmistakable Ken Burns sensibility. From its stream of archival images to its reliance on firsthand accounts brought to life by understated recitation, the musical seeks to revisit and honor a conflict now one hundred fifty years old, letting the relics and recollections of the time speak for themselves without over-romanticizing. As directed by Travis W. Walter, the production at Meadow Brook Theatre is a multimedia accomplishment, two hours of stimuli and song that trace the progression of the Civil War as experienced by a handful of representative citizens of the Union.

In its historical-museum setting, designer Brian Kessler offers a visual smorgasboard, with myriad photos and exhibits lent additional veracity by targeted, reverently preservational lighting courtesy of Reid G. Johnson. This largely untouched, multi-level backdrop provides not only a fitting atmosphere to revive history, but an easy-flowing canvas on which to create dynamic stage pictures, of which there is no shortage here. Liz Moore’s costume design aims for historical accuracy and, to this untrained eye, appears to hit the mark. Above and behind the performers are a trio of projection screens, adding another perspective in the form of portraits, battlefield photographs, and newspaper headlines. There is something to take in onstage, from top to bottom, at all times, but careful pacing and precision cues by stage manager Terry W. Carpenter keep the flow of information smooth and manageable, never overwhelming.


David Auburn’s Proof concerns math and mathematicians, but is better described as a play about the complexities of passion and unfathomable intelligence. Here, math may stand in for any pursuit that's demanding and precise and beautifully rewarding for those who pursue it enough. The play is also, in no small part, about human interaction, obligation, ownership, and mental illness. Director Suzi Regan helms a production well worthy of this dense, masterfully efficient script in a hard-hitting two hours at Tipping Point Theatre.

Fittingly, the story begins with guarded Catherine (Kate Peckham) and her father, storied math legend and University of Chicago professor Robert (Hugh Maguire), gingerly talking about the trappings of sanity. The conversation heaps on layers of context when the characters quickly reveal that Robert has recently died, having grappled with career-ending insanity for years under Catherine’s watchful care; the questions this interaction raises about her own mental state are not lost on either of them. Also within Catherine’s orbit are the alive and present Hal (Chris Korte), a young member of the math faculty warily permitted to scour Robert’s notebooks, and Claire (Kelly Komlen), her take-charge, put-together sister who swoops in from New York to remove Catherine from the dilapidated house of their childhood. The first act progresses in a linear fashion, before and then after the funeral, exposition spread thick in this slice-of-life approach that begins to twine the three living characters’ lives together. It’s all building toward a reveal changes the game entirely with one jaw-dropping utterance.


The Late Nite Catechism series is a nineteen-year-old Chicago-born institution that has been adamantly adopted nationwide. Not only has the show employed and cultivated a formidable bullpen of actor/improvisers to bring Sister to the masses, but many Sisters can perform more than one of its several editions at will. To wit, fresh off her run in Sister's Christmas Catechism at the Century Theatre, Mary Zentmyer has taken up residence at the adjacent Gem Theatre for a romantically themed lesson in Maripat Donovan's 'Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3. That's some parlor trick, and the current production makes for a welcome extension of Zentmyer's stay in Detroit.

Ingeniously, this Sister manages to feel authentic without buying into the trope that nuns are comic by virtue of being humorless. The character is indeed strict, whipping out hankies to force modesty on female audience members and deftly coaching the audience to respond in unison with the proper obedience due a schoolteacher. Yet Zentmyer also delights in her work, getting a kick out of her own corny jokes and reacting generously when something funny occurs. Clearly an old hand at the scripted beats of the show, she's comfortable indulging in some small tangents, and viewers who watch closely may glimpse the split-second thought process in which she invents razor-sharp zingers about the strangest audience responses.

On the book-to-musical front, Little Women (book, Allan Knee; lyrics, Mindi Dickstein; music, Jason Howland) is an excellent candidate. With its epic scope, archetypal characters with heart, and place of honor in the children's literature canon, the Louisa May Alcott novel lends itself well to the conventions of musical theater. Now at the Encore Musical Theatre, as directed by Steve DeBruyne, is a production every bit as fulfilling and heartrending as its source.

The play is relatively faithful to the book, preserving cherished moments but taking some liberties with how and where they occur in order to streamline the plot. (Condensing a book of hundreds of pages into a two-and-three-quarter-hour production requires some sacrifices, and most of the adapters' choices are justifiable rather than frustrating.) Here is the ordinary yet magical Massachusetts upbringing of the four March girls: proper Meg (Thalia Schramm), tomboy Jo (Katie Hardy), saintly Beth (Cara AnnMarie), and petulant Amy (Madison Deadman). With their father away serving in the Civil War, the teenage girls are watched over by mother Marmee (Sonia Marquis), a morally steadfast woman who seems incapable of making a parenting mistake. These five performers have cultivated such a fond family dynamic, it's a pleasure to watch Deadman resent being put in her place, Schramm fall hard and fast in love, AnnMarie demurely resisting expectations of her life, and Marquis privately admitting to feelings of self-doubt. But the play's center ultimately lies where it should, with Jo, and Hardy's exuberant take on the ambitious, unconventional young writer with sky-high aspirations makes the story soar. This Jo is relatable and engaging even when she's being bull-headed or obtuse, and her songs reflect the conviction and energy that propels the character.


Despite the 1900 Vienna setting of Arthur Schnitzler’s century-old La Ronde, the play’s sexually frank subject matter easily connects with a contemporary audience. Infidelity, assault, one-night stands, manipulation, prostitution — stripped of nearly all other context, the human race was and is fairly teeming with dirty, dirty sex fiends. The strength of the production at the Abreact, directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates, is in revealing the risqué to be uncannily familiar: as a group, Schnitzler’s characters form a ring of unconscionable deviants, but dissected into individual components, the human mating dance appears universally bumbling, practically mundane, and likely reminiscent of a viewer’s own travails.

The two-act play contains an even ten scenes and features a total of ten characters, ranging from gentry to starving artists. Put bluntly, what binds together these representatives of different classes and occupations is their genitals, and what they want to do with them. Each scene features two opposite-sex actors, one of whom spins off into the next two-person scene: imagine a lascivious game of “The Farmer in the Dell.” Lest I make it sound too gimmicky, Schnitzler’s masterful structure — in one fell swoop — provides commentary about the role of class and power in sex, gives each character dimension by use of often-contrasting scenarios, and wordlessly predates every health class lecture on the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Scenes take place in various public and private locales; designer Alan Batkiewicz’s pieced-together set elements and tattered backdrop evoke a seedy Victorian underworld, as well as a more thematic take with respect to airing dirty laundry, of which this show has plenty.


Molière’s The Misanthrope is a vicious comedy on every front. The superior title character shoots from the hip, letting fly with his every scathing criticism; even among the “polite” members of society, gossip and back-biting abounds. Yet the blithely two-faced practices of seventeenth-century French aristocracy are well tolerated by its practitioners: in a world where as many as four men can pursue the same woman simultaneously — in the same room, even — without batting an eye, certain social niceties do seem to be useful. In the Hilberry Theatre’s current production of the Timothy Mooney translation, directed by Jesse Merz, whether unflinching honesty or perpetual facetiousness is the better tactic is not definitively answered, but it’s quite obvious which side has more fun.

The misanthrope is Alceste, played here by Andrew Papa as a brilliant but sour boil on the derriere of his social circle. He’s a special breed of imperious boor who offends people so thoroughly, they sue him for the injury, as prompted by a delightful scene with foppish supplicant Oronte (Alan Ball). In fact, Alceste might willingly withdraw from humankind altogether, were it not for his inconvenient adoration of the coquettish, popular Célimène (Vanessa Sawson), who strings him along as readily as she does her numerous other suitors. The discourse among these players and their contemporaries is so artificial, they’re able to converse frankly about the role disingenuousness serves in social convention; it appears to be among their favorite pastimes after complimenting each other disingenuously. In contrast to the practiced airs and flourishes of the others, Papa’s Alceste sulks and frowns, sometimes enjoying lording his opinion over others, but more frequently miserable.

There’s little arguing with a good story told well.

Williamston Theatre’s new adaptation of the Sophocles classic Oedipus Rex is a mystery whose solution the audience already knows. The eighty minutes of Oedipus, simplified, concern an immediate problem (a plague in the city-state of Thebes, over which the title character reigns) and the hard-fought road to discovering its cause (the unfortunate intersection of a few foreboding prophecies, which leads to the ruination of all involved). Yet Tony Caselli and Annie Martin’s adaptation still approaches the investigation with desperate severity and an appreciation for the agonies of discovery; faithful to the original text, the meat of the drama lies not in emotional repercussions, but the human flaws that drive us both away from our fates and toward understanding and truth, whatever the cost. The language of the script varies between lofty and humble, but rarely passes on an opportunity to engage in word play that presciently toys with the parallels between knowledge and sight, opening up the myriad thematic possibilities of the tale. However, as directed by Caselli, the production’s greatest accomplishment is in getting the viewer caught up in the intrigue — in an age of spoiler alerts, it’s remarkable to be reminded that in the best of stories, how can trump who, what, and where combined.


With its astronomic stakes, operatic violence, and cinematic flourishes, Corktown is in essence a mob movie played out on the Purple Rose Theatre stage. Yet the world-premiere production of this Michael Brian Ogden script is notable for its complex and engaging performances as well as its innovative application of live-theater magic to the genre. Director Guy Sanville plays on viewers' familiarity with these brutal life-and-death stories while simultaneously reveling in the novelty of bringing an audience so close to something so dangerous and — in most cases — foreign.

The play is set in the Detroit apartment of Joey (Matthew David), an enforcer for the Irish mob. Set designer Bartley H. Bauer provides an ominous letterbox view of a remodeled-over domicile in a shabby building; even the water damage tainting its posh faux-finish paint job has a sinister quality. The tone is borne out in the terrible scope of Danna Segrest's properties, which quickly spell out Joey's exact role in the organization — in polite company, he might be called a "cleaner." In the disarming opening scene, Joey and longtime friend and colleague Laurence (Ogden) casually talk shop, quickly submerging the viewer into a world of unspeakable violence that's accepted as strictly business. The juxtaposition of their humdrum middle-management world view with the carnage in which they are steeped (further contrasted by the relatively pristine white coveralls of Christianne Myers's costume design) is a terrific entry point for a production insistent that gangland-style executions must coexist with basic human connection.