My Between the Lines story about Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s decision to move forward with ‘Midsummer’ production, set in a gay bar

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Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

At a Slipstream Theatre Company rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” earlier last week – following emotional conversations about Sunday morning’s massacre inside an Orlando gay nightclub – a cast member pointed out that seeing actors lying on the floor with their eyes closed might be too resonant and disturbing.

Why? Because the Ferndale-based Slipstream, about a year ago, had planned to set their all-male production of Shakespeare’s comedy in a gay nightclub.

“There’s this moment when all the lovers are sleeping on the ground,” said Slipstream artistic director/actor Bailey Boudreau. ” … And it was pointed out to us by this kid in the cast – he’d pulled someone aside and said, ‘It kind of looks like they’re dead when they’re on the ground.’ It was the scariest thing.”

That moment ended up being one of a handful of staging choices that needed to be carefully re-evaluated, discussed and tweaked by Boudreau, director Luna Alexander and the cast in the week leading up to “Midsummer”‘s opening.

“In the play, of course, our characters are fortunate enough to get up, with a fairy’s blessing,” said Alexander. “Remembering what’s happened, we hope that maybe we can help with the healing.” READ THE REST HERE

My EncoreMichigan.com review of the Purple Rose Theatre’s ‘Morning’s at Seven’

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The cast of the Purple Rose Theatre production of “Morning’s at Seven.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

As an exquisitely elegant prologue for the Purple Rose Theatre’s production of Paul Osborn’s Morning’s at Seven, actor Richard McWilliams strolls onto the stage and sits on one of the set’s porches to polish a pair of shoes, followed by fellow cast member Laural Merlington, who seats herself in a nearby chair to knit. The two exchange warm smiles, but they don’t say a word. Sharing a few moments of quiet together is enough.

Soon, the two actors stand and walk into the house, and then a Purple Rose apprentice appears in another part of the theater and asks us all to turn off our cell phones.

The irony isn’t lost on me, and I suspect that director Michelle Mountain pointedly intends for us to note that while we’re all now constantly overwhelmed by texts and alerts and messages – not to mention our own compulsive social media habits – the world of Morning moves at a slower pace. The play’s prologue helps transition us, in a sense, from hyperventilating to deep, full breaths. It tells us, “Like those two actors, we’re all just going to be here together for a while.”

Osborn’s family drama, set in a small Midwestern town in 1938 (the play premiered on Broadway in 1939), focuses on four sisters entering their twilight years: Esther (Susan Craves), who’s married to rigid intellectual David (Tom Whalen); Cora (Ruth Crawford), who’s married to Thor (McWilliams), and who’s housed the youngest, never-married sister, Arry (Merlington), in her home for decades; and Ida (Franette Liebow), who’s married to Carl (Hugh Maguire), and who has a 40 year old son, Homer (Rusty Mewha), still living at home.

The appropriately-named Homer is, in fact, what sets Morning’s plot in motion. When he finally brings his long-time fiancee Myrtle (Rhiannon Ragland) home to meet the family, Carl has one of his “spells” – a kind of existential un-spooling, wherein he walls himself off and questions the path he chose for his life; meanwhile, the nearby house that Carl built for Homer and Myrtle, which has been ready and empty for five years and counting, becomes the site of Cora’s hopes for living her last years with only her husband. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of Penny Seats Theatre’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’

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The cast of Penny Seats Theatre’s “The Canterbury Tales,” being staged at the West Park band shell.

We’re all pilgrims, in a sense, finding our way around the hairpin twists and bumps in our life’s path. Maybe this is why Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century writings about a group of pilgrims traveling to Sir Thomas Becket’s shrine still endure.

Or it could just be because The Canterbury Tales – adapted for the stage by Lindsay Price, and now being staged (outdoors) by Ann Arbor’s Penny Seats Theatre Company – are often laugh-out-loud funny, and demonstrate that hundreds of years ago, people had many of the same desires and fears that we have have now.

One basic human drive was, and remains, storytelling, which Chaucer’s pilgrims employ as a means of distracting themselves during the journey. For Price’s stage version of  Canterbury, the pilgrims have been distilled down from about thirty, in the original Middle English text, to seven: the Pardoner (Brian Baylor), the Miller (Matt Cameron), the Franklin (Dale Dobson), the Cook (Jenna Hinton), the Prioress (Tina Paraventi), the Wife of Bath (Debbie Secord), and the Reeve (Jeff Stringer) – plus an inn’s hostess (Jennifer Sulkowski), who tags along and suggests that the pilgrims compete in a storytelling contest. READ THE REST HERE

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week: see Bruce Hornsby, Mayer Hawthorne, fireworks and more

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Neo-soul star and Ann Arbor native Mayer Hawthorne will play at the Power Center as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage series. (Photo by Jake Michaels)

There are some great ongoing theater productions the area right now, so before we get into events scheduled this week, I’d also recommend checking out Purple Rose Theatre’s phenomenal production of “Morning’s At Seven” (see my review here); Encore Theatre’s terrific staging of my all-time favorite Sondheim musical, “Assassins” (my review); Theatre Nova’s impressive world premiere drama “Spin” (my review); and Penny Seats Theatre’s outdoor production of “The Canterbury Tales” finishes up its run at West Park this weekend (my review).

Plus, Ann Arbor Summer Festival/Top of the Park rolls along this week, with free outdoor movies at dusk on Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; and free concerts and retreats and kids’  activities starting at 5 p.m. at U-M’s Ingalls Mall, every night except Monday.

For even more event options for this week, keep reading, and thanks for visiting the site! (Plus, since I’ll be vacationing next week, happy 4th of July to you all!) Continue reading

Bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer to visit Ann Arbor to promote new novel, ‘Here I Am’

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 2.15.23 PMFrom a press release, issued by Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore:

Literati Bookstore presents Jonathan Safran Foer
In Conversation with Douglas Trevor
November 4th, 2016, 7pm. Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI
Tickets: http://literatipresentsjsf.bpt.me

Literati is thrilled to welcome Jonathan Safran Foer to Rackham Auditorium on the campus of The University of Michigan, in celebration of his most recent novel, Here I Am. Following a reading will be an in-conversation segment with Douglas Trevor, director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at The University of Michigan.

Unfolding over four tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington, D.C., Here I Am is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia Bloch and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict in the Middle East. At stake is the meaning of home and the fundamental question of how much aliveness one can bear.

Showcasing the same high-energy inventiveness, hilarious irreverence, and emotional urgency that readers loved in his earlier work, Here I Am is Foer’s most searching, hard-hitting, and grandly entertaining novel yet. It not only confirms Foer’s stature as a dazzling literary talent but reveals a novelist who has fully come into his own as one of our most important writers.

There are two ticket options: a $12 dollar general admission ticket, and a $32 dollar general admission and hardcover book bundle, available via Brown Paper Tickets (link above). Though both ticketing options provide general admission seating, book-bundle ticket holders will have first access to the signing line following the reading and conversation. Additional copies of Here I Am, as well as Jonathan Safran Foer’s other titles, will be available to purchase in the lobby. General admission ticket holders may also have books signed, and are asked to join the signing line after book-bundle ticket holders. Those wishing to have more than three previous Foer titles signed are asked to wait until the end of the signing. Books may be personalized.

My Pulp review of Theatre Nova’s world premiere production of ‘Spin’

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Jose Martinez and Matthew Webb in Emilio Rodriguez’s “Spin,” now having its world premiere at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova. 

Mila – a gay, black/hispanic teen in Emilio Rodriguez’s Spin, now having its world premiere at Theatre Nova – greets the enrichment programs at his homeless shelter, as well as the world outside, with measured skepticism.

“They try to get you with the root beer floats. Then you have to learn something,” he says.

Yet his new roommate, a more trusting Latino teen named Angelo (Jose Martinez), feels differently. “Poetry is dope,” he says weakly, like a little brother who’s been caught cuddling a teddy bear.

The young men vacillate between vulnerability and guardedness with each other throughout the show’s 80-minute run time, gingerly navigating a minefield of masculinity. Both spin self-defensive lies as well as rhymes: Angelo with his verses – which he presents to the audience between scenes, thus providing the play’s connective tissue – and Mila with rap.

But Rodriguez’s script also takes pains to remind you how young and naive these two characters are, despite their hard pasts and bluster. Mila explains, for instance, that if he ever has kids, of they were misbehaving, he’d simply tell them to knock it off. “They’ll stop, and they’ll be grateful I stayed,” he says. (This got a pretty big laugh on opening night.) And when Angelo explains that he has an alternate identity he adopts in moments of stress, Mila settles in to watch the transformation, as if expecting an act of magic to occur. In these moments, we know they’re just boys grown tall. READ THE REST HERE

My EncoreMichigan.com review of Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

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The cast of Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Literature’s most famous sprite, Puck, wearing nothing but metallic blue hot pants? Demetrius and Helena waking to mutual love via Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”? Rival beaus engaging in a push-up face-off on the dance floor?

This is (probably?) not your father’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, now playing at Ferndale’s Slipstream Theatre Initiative. Adapted by director Luna Alexander and her cast – I’d wager you’ll never hear “Dost thou even lift, bro?” in any other version of Shakespeare’s comedy – Slipstream’s all-male Midsummer runs a brisk 90 minutes and takes place in Athens, Ohio at a gay nightclub.

If that last detail gives you pause, you’re not alone. Slipstream’s ensemble, in the wake of last weekend’s massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub, struggled to determine how to proceed, if at all, with the production. (Alexander and artistic director Bailey Boudreau had hatched the concept for the show a year ago, aiming to time Midsummer with the celebration of Pride Month.) In the end, though, the company chose to move forward, making small adjustments in hopes of making the show defiantly fun and fierce instead of merely silly. READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press story about Shakespeare in Prison

Logo_K_JPG-750x424On a recent Tuesday night, 16 women gathered backstage and changed into costumes to play their roles in a production of Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

The space hummed with the giddy electricity of actors preparing to perform in front of an audience. The actress playing Iago, wearing brown slacks, a white shirt and a dark-red sash (which also holstered a foam sword), huddled up with Othello to do some last-minute line cramming.

Brabantio tucked her long, dark-blond hair up inside a hat. Cassio smirked and held up a spare handkerchief, jokingly noting that this all-important prop went missing onstage during the previous week’s performance. And Desdemona pinched the sides of her white, long-sleeved, knee-length dress and girlishly skipped across the stage.

Even before they began speaking the Bard’s lines, Shakespeare had temporarily liberated these women from their circumstances by giving them a temporary excuse to wear clothes not stamped with the letters MDOC — for Michigan Department of Corrections. READ THE REST HERE

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week: see Gregory Porter, fun ‘Raiders’ fan-film event and more

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Michael Franti and Spearhead play an Ann Arbor Summer Festival main stage show this week.

Ann Arbor Summer Festival/Top of the Park is in full swing, with free outdoor concerts, retreats and more happening at Ingalls Mall every night but Monday, starting at 5 (and on Sundays, and Tuesdays-Thursdays, movies under the stars at dusk).

Plus, lots of theater productions continue their runs this week: “Morning’s at Seven” at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre; “Spin” at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova; “Assassins” at the Dexter’s Encore Theatre; Penny Seats Theatre Company’s “Canterbury Tales” at West Park; and Shakespeare in the Arb finishes its run of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” this weekend. But if you’re STILL looking for more great options, check out what else is happening.

UMS Choral Union’s 23rd Annual Summer Sings. All singers welcome to join this venerable local chorus for read-throughs of favorite choral works. Participants practice the more difficult parts of each night’s piece and, after a break, sing it in its entirety, with regional professionals singing the solos. No auditions required; music provided (or bring your own, if you have it). Refreshments. This time, University of Georgia choral activities director Daniel Bara conducts Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. Monday 7-9:30 p.m. at U-M Walgreen Drama Center’s Stamps Auditorium, 1226 Murfin in Ann Arbor. $5 at the door only. Registration begins at 6:30 p.m.

72nd Annual Manchester Community Fair. June 21-25. Midway rides, carnival games, concessions, tractor pulls, a rodeo (June 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.), an opening parade (June 21, 6:30 p.m.), livestock shows, live music by Dexter country-rock singer-songwriter KayLyn Pace (June 21, 7:30 p.m.), and more. For complete schedule, see manchesterfair.org. Tuesday from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. (June 21; rides open at 5 p.m.), Wednesday from 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (June 22; rides open at 3 p.m.), Thursday from 1:30-10 p.m. (June 23; rides open at 3 p.m.), Friday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (June 24; rides open at 1 p.m.), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. At Alumni Memorial Field, at Vernon and Wolverine in Manchester. $18 ride wristbands available. Continue reading

For Concentrate: How Ann Arbor Developed its Food Crush

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Zingerman’s Mail Order director Brad Hedeman has had a front row seat for Ann Arbor’s evolving food culture since 1994. (Photo by Doug Coombe)

Brad Hedeman, director of marketing and product selection for Zingerman’s Mail Order, arrived in Ann Arbor as a U-M freshman in 1994; and though he began his career that year with a job at Zingerman’s Deli, he also, a few years later, waited tables at West End Grill.

“At the time, there just weren’t a lot of restaurant options downtown,” says Hedeman. “If you couldn’t get in at West End, you probably went to the Chop House.”

There were other choices, of course: Real Seafood Company had been a Main St. mainstay since 1975; and Gratzi, Palio, and the Prickly Pear had all opened their doors by the early ’90s. But these eateries were once part of a relatively small grouping that has, in the last decade or so, exploded into a full-blown restaurant buffet in Ann Arbor, thus making the town a go-to destination for serious foodies.

There are many possible reasons for this evolution: the ethnic and cultural diversity of a college town; Ann Arbor’s “hippie” sensibilities, which translated – in gastronomic terms – into a relatively early embrace of vegetarian/vegan and farm-to-table cuisine; a longstanding, community-wide preference for local businesses and food suppliers; a population that regularly gets a sizable injection of new, creative young people every year; and a growing frenzy around the creation and consumption of food that’s swept not just Treetown, but the entire country – a la The Food Network and other media.

“Eating is no longer just about sustaining ourselves,” says Laura Berarducci, a self-described foodie (“Food rules my life,” she jokes) who’s also the marketing director for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s become an experience, and Ann Arbor has a long history of having a very rich food culture. … Washtenaw County provides this great balance between rural and urban, which really helps when the farm-to-table craze suddenly becomes a big deal. … Ann Arbor is kind of unique, in that it didn’t have to change who it was to meet the demands of the foodie traveler.” READ THE REST HERE