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.

The play’s two acts are set in the cavernous common room of Eliot and Gene’s loft apartment, and their surroundings are given creative flair in Dennis G. Crawley’s incredible vision of repurposed Detroit architecture. The graffiti-enhanced space feels like an industrial playground by way of a dive bar that was formerly a loading dock after being a bus depot, a dream habitat for the adult male functional slacker. Properties designer Danna Segrest and costumer Sally L. Converse-Doucette match detail for detail with no shortage of abundance or surprise; the overall effect is of harmoniously busy verisimilitude. Tom Whalen’s sound design is exemplary between scenes, adding tone in the suggestion of a perpetually playing TV; lights by Reid G. Johnson complete the effect. The collective accomplishment of the production design is thoroughly immersive and, above all, tremendous fun.

Just as important, and just as enjoyable, are the performances inhabiting this extraordinary place. Odgen’s Gene is excellent in turmoil, responding to tremendous changes with affable terror, but the actor’s minute displays of evolution, upon reflection, are substantial and just as effective. In David’s hands, Eliot is a model best friend and story counterpart: always ready with information or advice, generous and earnest in his support, but not above good-natured laughter at his buddy’s expense. However, Gene’s primary foil is future mother-in-law Kay (Sarab Kamoo), a shark-like litigator and mustache-twirling villain in her own right. Kamoo is resplendently cunning in the role, her sardonic disapproval morphing into slickly opportunistic machination with perfect clarity. Marisa has little more to do than react to the larger personalities around her, but Hadgikosti gives the character steadfastness that pays dividends by the play’s end. Rhiannon Ragland tackles the character of A Woman with aplomb, delighting in a difficult role with equal parts frustration and astonishing discovery.

Mere explanations don’t do justice to Consider the Oyster, which must be seen to be believed. The script is fresh, curiously topical, and liberally funny, to say nothing of a production that complements the text with a spectacular environment, a grounded emotional undercurrent, sharp pacing, and even over-the-top, appreciably dangerous physical comedy. This accomplishment in storytelling has broad appeal for viewers in the mood for lighter entertainment as well as those craving a captivating, thought-provoking experience.


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