Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

Contact: Email | Facebook
RSS: All | Reviews only | Rogue's Gallery

Search R|C
Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« A Body of Water | Main | Burying the Bones »

A Bright Room Called Day

The depth of playwright Tony Kushner’s kitchen-sink epic A Bright Room Called Day is matched only by its breadth. With a cast of ten, a frequently used historical narrative, a contemporary tie-in, and a penchant for venturing into the mysterious, director Joe Bailey has his work cut out for him. This Who Wants Cake? production is accordingly impressive in scope, and although the final product wants for a single unifying thread, its component parts are sufficiently intriguing and moving to prompt serious reflection and analysis.

The largest story revolves around Agnes Eggling (Jamie Warrow), a film actress living in early-1930s Berlin. From her apartment, the gathering place of choice for her friends, Agnes works with the Communist party — specifically, a duo of representatives (Michael Lopetrone and Matthew Turner Shelton) whose contentious bickering makes them a comic odd couple — against rapidly growing support of Hitler’s National Socialist party. In contrast to the ingénue Pulinka (Christa Coulter), whose opportunism is charmingly innocuous as she floats to those in power for the sake of her career, the initially fervent Agnes has confidence that the political climate will improve, rejects that things could get any worse, and must ultimately contend with her own wavering fortitude as opposition becomes tantamount to death. Warrow constantly and clearly processes Agnes’s evolving personal and political convictions, both alone and in the context of her friends’ actions — from her emigrant lover (Jon Ager), who recognizes the threat to undesirables based on prior experience, to a friend who gives herself over fully to activism (Melissa Beckwith). Costumer Vince Kelley is largely responsible for evoking the period; the lines and tones are exquisite, with not a hint of costume-y artificiality.

Hefty narration, via slide projections on an upstage screen (by Joe Plambeck), guides the viewer through the days and months of the creeping descent into Nazi totalitarianism. Yet the most captivating parts of this production fall between these editorialized historical bullet points: lives go on, even through extreme political strife. Many of these characters could be considered members of the majority, and their collected stories combine into a suspenseful but honest portrayal of building panic and helplessness that can surround a person without actually touching him. This is best exemplified by a scene in which the gay, and therefore threatened, Baz (Richard Payton) is presented with an unprecedented opportunity to change history for the better, but at a critical price; Payton’s eminently sympathetic anguish and defensiveness bring home the point with perfect clarity. These recurring conflicts, between personal sacrifice for the greater good and having the right to an ordinary life exclusive of whatever flawed system surrounds it, challenge what we understand of our own times and how much of ourselves is owed to changing them.

Moreover, the play is curiously set in the contemporary era, the world of the dissident expatriate Zillah (Lisa Melinn), who expresses in a series of monologues her disgust with George W. Bush’s and Sarah Palin’s America and believes that the right way forward is to look back. These parallel protagonists are bound by their shared apartment: cozy set design by Warrow places seating high up for easy visibility in the black-box Ringwald space (although characters loll around at floor level for entire scenes, tacit encouragement for patrons to arrive early and sit close). Prefacing the cosmic link between Zillah and her predecessor are the off-kilter midnight scenes in which Agnes confronts a harmless, hungry intruder (Connie Cowper); notes of derangement and pathos in Cowper’s performance push the atmosphere to a place of effectual unease. Plunging further into the inexplicable-fantastical, one character rather randomly summons the frightening Gottfried Swetts (Rob Pantano), in an act-ending scene that effectively titillates without plainly spelling out its ultimate purpose. Pantano’s simmering command is exploded by Plambeck’s lighting design and Bailey and Plambeck’s sound, both of which pervade even ordinary interactions with sensations of something being amiss.

If the above isn’t sufficient indication, A Bright Room Called Day covers a lot of ground. This makes for an admittedly long play (stretching to two and a half hours, including one intermission), and one seemingly unconcerned with thematic and stylistic continuity — to wit, if Kushner has a particular point to make, that’s not conveyed transparently, turning a lyrical finale abruptly preachy. In taking the short view, Bailey and company turn in a show whose every element is strong and carefully composed, but whose intention falls adrift in the underlying disconnect. Still, for viewers who like their plays complete with food for thought, this thoughtful reflection on self-determination in the face of untenable political change is a veritable smorgasbord.

A Bright Room Called Day is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre (formerly Who Wants Cake?), click here.