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).

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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







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A Stone Carver

William Mastrosimone’s comedy A Stone Carver is as brashly funny as it is affectionately warm and sometimes genuinely exasperating, qualities that are hardly guaranteed to play nice together in a single play. Happily, director Rhiannon Ragland goes into the Purple Rose Theatre Company’s production swinging, balancing a light, humorous tone with growing stakes and no shortage of tender reflection on preserving what we treasure.

The play’s single act is confined to the home of Agostino (Guy Sanville), an Italian-accented widower who lives alone and works in his kitchen: a mostly retired stone carver, his current project for the church is nearly complete. His work is interrupted by the surprise appearance of son Raff (Matthew David), which instinctively triggers a curmudgeonly defensiveness in the father; in fact, both parties approach their visit with distrustful preemption that only exacerbates their frosty familiarity. But the surprises don’t end there: Raff has brought a woman to meet his father, and by the way, they’re engaged. The pert, polished Janice (Charlyn Swarthout) clearly suits Raff’s chosen identity as a successful businessman and aspiring public servant, which is to say, she’s not an instant favorite in this house. Armed with a militia’s store of tactics, Raff angles and angles for some point of concession, but even his ace in the hole — asking his father to do the stone work on the house the couple is building together — proves vulnerable to derision. However, all the nicety and cajoling merely serve to tiptoe around the primary conflict: the only remaining residence for blocks, Agostino is resisting eminent domain, and this is Raff’s last opportunity to peacefully extract his father from his childhood home.

Yet however lamentable the situation, the proceedings are quite humorous, guided by a sharp cast that pays particular attention to the various dynamics of each pair and the morphing allegiances of all three together. Swarthout is amusingly awkward as a woman clearly used to winning over a partner’s parents, persistently genuine as she is knocked off her footing and comes back for more. Charmingly, the actor’s discomfort crosses over into the physical, aided by costume designer Shelby Newport’s overdressed aesthetic. In the comparative straight-man role, David deftly traverses a slippery slope of gently taking charge, insistently playing defense, and maddeningly succumbing to the petulant, childish self that parents so easily bring out. As the focal point of the play, the inherently discouraging Agostino is given the most opportunities for laughter, and Sanville connects solidly with each one. It’s a marvelously written role — as disparaging as he is protective, aping aloofness despite knowing how extremely funny, and hurtful, his remarks can be — and the performance is simply flawless.

Every detail of the property has been thought out and brought into being by a fine design team. Daniel C. Walker’s set is the quintessential home of a longtime resident blind to its growing state of outdated disrepair. A layer of set dressing deliberately crowds the room with essential miscellany — a lifetime’s worth of this random thing whose home is that random box — meticulously cataloged by properties designer Danna Segrest. The entire space is bathed in Dana White’s golden, wistful October light. Quintessa Gallinat’s sound design contributes both ambient and pointed dimension, especially as the action extends to the yard beyond the back door.

Of the production’s cohesively strong qualities, however, the best may be how exceptionally dear it feels. Ragland handily recreates the unwinnable power struggle between an adult child and an aging parent; the stakes are believably high, and the conflict palpable, but the underlying tone is one of loyalty and the ties of history. When Agostino begrudgingly reveals why it’s vital he stay in the house, his reasons are hardly unexpected, but the rich ground work already laid gives them reverent resonance. The visit dredges up memories and rituals that fill in father and son’s acidic history, building to a climactic battle that feels simultaneously funny and dangerous, coming full circle while also promising to break new ground. It’s an approach that permits acerbic humor, frustrated anger, and petty rivalries all to delight.

The greatest achievement of A Stone Carver is in never feeling like a comic production of a tender play, nor a tender production of a comic play. Instead, this is a conscientiously and compactly packaged ninety-minute visit that finds precious harmony among all its varied tones and themes.

A Stone Carver is no longer playing.
For the latest from Purple Rose Theatre Co., click here.