Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The Purple Rose Theatre Company rounds out its all-new, all-Michigan season with a champion comedy, David MacGregor’s Consider the Oyster. Like a fruity health drink whose sweetness masks the vegetables within, this abundantly wacky caper cleverly disguises its fascinating, elegantly ingrained themes. In this world-premiere production, director Guy Sanville lends plausible ordinariness to the playwright’s enjoyably unbelievable premise in a show that amuses and intrigues in equal measure.

MacGregor immediately asserts the infinite possibility of this world in a most overt and cheeky manner, with a Detroit Lions Superbowl win. (I mean . . . right?) Roommates Gene (Michael Brian Ogden) and Eliot (Matthew David) are celebrating at home in an appropriately manly fashion, when Gene doubles down on his exuberance and spontaneously proposes to girlfriend Marisa (Stacie Hadgikosti). Then, just as quickly, he reverts to horsing around, which inevitably ends in a trip to the hospital. The injury heals beautifully, but its inconceivable side effects threaten his livelihood, his impending marriage, and his very identity. And that’s where this reviewer gets vague, because to reveal more would be a detriment to a story so inventive and sublimely constructed as this. The cleanly simple plot blends elements of farce into a character-driven comedy that also touches on questions of love and selfhood with thoughtfulness and charm.


Never one to tiptoe into a new frontier, the Blackbird Theatre gallops onto the summer festival scene with Shakespeare West, a heady months-long celebration of the Bard. In its inaugural offering, The Tempest, the company plunges headlong into a new outdoor venue and, happily, takes the outside play as an invitation to play outside. With is lively, exploratory staging and focus on the passion of the text, this self-described "Shakespeariment" takes the reflection and wisdom of the playwright's final work and layers on a youthful surge of innovation.

The playing space is a permanent structure in Ann Arbor’s newly restored West Park, with a carefully landscaped marshy expanse separating the band shell from the gently sloping seating area, and a second playing space between (probably used as a dance floor in other applications). Under the direction of Lynch Travis, the two divided planes are envisioned as a massive natural playground, with the actors pushing through thigh-high grasses and climbing atop stones as characters navigate the hostile-seeming, untamed island where banished Prospero (Barton Bund) has orchestrated revenge upon the men who usurped his dukedom a dozen years hence.


The opening scene of Performance Network’s Next Fall, by Geoffrey Naufft, feels like eavesdropping on strangers in crisis. With molecules of exposition buried in swiftly unfolding context, the viewer may feel both unease and relief at being removed from what sounds like the aftermath of a terrible accident. However, under the direction of Ray Schultz, the show quickly dispels both these sensations, and the multifaceted, ethically sticky conflict becomes all-encompassing — however much the audience is challenged to ponder and empathize with this unwinnable scenario, they are made to feel it just as gravely.

Key to the emotional grounding of the production is the charming, enduring romance between unlikely partners Adam (Andrew Huff) and Luke (Kevin Young). At opposite ends of an ideological divide, Luke takes comfort in his devout Christianity, whereas Adam pokes holes in the flawed logic of the Rapture and has no patience for a God who punishes people — especially for the supposed sin of being homosexual. Together, Huff and Young navigate the complexities of their partnership with overwhelming respect and affection, easily showing the viewer a couple that strives to manage its differences and reaps the rewards. Agreeing to disagree about their stance on the afterlife, their one sticking point is a more practical one: Luke is unable to come out to his parents and younger brother, and circumstances drive Adam to be complicit in the omission. But even as they struggle against forces that could pull them apart, these touching core performances always make the relationship feel like one to fight for.


Planet Ant Theatre’s late-night series, a haven for the new and experimental, also reserves a place of honor for one director of BoxFest Detroit. Andrea Scobie, the audience-chosen winner of the 2010 festival, now contributes to the edgy and trailblazing series with the world premiere of Sean Paraventi’s Endangered. A culturally charged, topical piece of whimsy, this one-act play is eager to condemn the sensationalist quality vacuum of reality TV, but does so in a way that gives equal — and unexpected — consideration to the rarely defended television landscape as we know it.

The show’s forty-five minutes concern the events of an unusual holdup by an equally unusual gunman. Joe (Josh Campos) is so distraught at the recent programming decisions of the fictitious basic-cable American Education Channel, he storms the station headquarters and takes hostages Arnie (Dan Jaroslaw), vice president of programming, Leigh (Kristen Wagner), star of the mega-popular reality show about her twenty-kid family, and Brad (Eric Niece), Arnie’s assistant. Confined to the office reception area for the duration of the play, the characters participate in a talky, academic screed against the lowest-common-denominator schlock that masquerades as educational TV. The greatest accomplishment of Paraventi’s script is in assigning to the gun-wielding maniac the opinions most likely shared by the viewer: however disturbed, Joe is eminently relatable, because these arguments against the trashiness of reality TV have long been tent poles in popular discourse about what’s destroying America. Heck, even the people putting this tripe on the air don’t seem to like what they’re doing. Yet by holding these representatives of reality TV hostage (and, by extension, the medium itself), the playwright forces the viewer to respond to them as defensive victims, which shows incredible potential to take the conversation in a new direction.


A play about cancer, a play about unbelievable fortitude, a play about unique family bonds — none of these in itself is rare. What is exceptional, and on full display in Detroit Repertory Theatre’s Looking for the Pony, is a production whose every component works harmoniously in service of a singular, remarkable vision.

The play’s premise is laid bare in its unusual title: sisters Lauren (Lisa Lauren Smith) and Oisie (Yana Levovna) are the kind of people who, given a mountain of horse crap, see nothing but equine promise, and they’re ever-ready to get their hands dirty in search of the prize. Here, the excrement of the fable takes the form of Lauren’s breast cancer, which emerges abruptly and is fought aggressively, with surprising mirth and no shortage of loving support. Yet it’s a credit to this show, and to director Charlotte Leisinger, that cancer hardly feels like the sole fact of the play; rather, it’s an unfortunate but reliable way of marking the passage of time in their already-full lives, be it Oisie’s graduate writing program across the country or Lauren’s full-time social work, passionate fundraising, and role as Supermom. Even when energies flag or the outlook is dire, these women have vigor and pluck to spare, and the tender, cherished relationship they share provides reason enough to keep fighting.


Thanks to all who participated in the SPOT THE ROGUE contest. In all, I've counted 29 entries from 23 readers — meaning half a dozen people were ambitious and eagle-eyed enough to enter twice. From clandestine camera flashes to ridiculous poses to bonus rounds to people who just pointed at me and yelled "SPOTTED," you all warmed the chambers of my fiendish Rogue heart.

The collected entries are on view at this link for all to view and enjoy. If you played SPOT THE ROGUE, take a minute to confirm that your picture is posted and attributed to you — if not, you aren't currently entered. Please email me if there's a problem with your entry.

In accordance with the contest rules, I'll be holding an impartial drawing tomorrow, June 3, with the help of a Rogue assistant. Then the winner will be declared and the prize awarded.

Thanks again for playing!
The Rogue