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







« 35MM | Main | The Constant Wife »

A Thousand Circlets

At its heart, A Thousand Circlets is a story of dementia. Playwright Theroun D’Arcy Patterson’s ambitious work also seeks to examine the ripple effects felt throughout the lives touched by the disease. True to this phenomenon referenced in the title, the Midwest-premiere production by Detroit Repertory Theatre, under director Leah Smith, is profoundly affecting at its sensory epicenter, with emotional resonance that regresses as it radiates choppily outward.

It starts with something innocuous: Earl (Harold Hogan), a celebrated architect, stares in the mirror, unable to remember the series of movements that will let him tie his necktie. His wife, Liz (Connie Cowper), downplays and masks the occurrence with panicked dismissals that are at least as telling as his confusion. Something is clearly wrong with Earl — even as he approaches the ultimate career milestone, a commissioned skyscraper design, his mind and memory are becoming increasingly unreliable, which is brought into stark relief by Burr Huntington’s instructively dissonant sound design. Together with slippery light cues by designer Thomas Schraeder, the concept patterns past and present stories at cross purposes with a deliberate randomness that conveys the confusion and helplessness of the encroaching malady with blatant efficacy. Rather than merely watch Earl deteriorate, the viewer is pointed directly through his obscured and distorted lens, a palpable force that proves to be the production’s greatest strength.

Yet even before the full truth and gravity of Earl’s diagnosis comes fully to light, repercussions begin to undulate through the family, shaping and upsetting the other stories in its orbit — specifically, those of his wife and their three collective children from previous marriages. Cowper brings sympathy and strength to Liz, who, having put in her time with an ailing spouse, understands her own shortcomings; together, she and Hogan radiate a certain kind of remorseful acceptance that cements their bond even as it threatens their partnership. The child closest to the action is Earl’s son and business associate, Caleb (Charlie Newhart), an image-conscious go-getter whose own rocky marriage takes a back seat to the empire he has helped his father build, and the success so close within his grasp. With the design’s gala unveiling drawing closer, the other children dutifully fly home to support and celebrate the achievement: Earl’s daughter (Jenaya Jones Reynolds), a daring journalist going through a rough patch, and Liz’s son (Stephen Brown), himself an architect, who used to work with Earl and Caleb but now identifies as the black sheep. Whereas Newhart brings intense humor to his character’s drive and high-strung outbursts, Reynolds and Brown follow a more treacherous path, carefully unraveling the hidden reasons why they avoid the family, and intrepidly exploring the prickly attachment that draws them helplessly back.

This is a highly educated, highly privileged, highly moneyed family, as reflected in the easy opulence of Judy Dery’s costume design and the clear architectural influences of Harry Wetzel’s custom-built natural wood setting. The world of the play informs this both by context and by engaging all its characters in high-level discourse, letting them agitate and profess all with a poet’s ear; although the phrasing is lovely, it also lends some interactions a too-perfect feel that approaches proselytizing. Thus, despite acute direction by Smith pushing the risky themes of legacy, duty, and self-denial, the reckonings of the second act still pale in comparison to the stark immersion of the first. Even as attentions are divided, secrets discovered, and repercussions looming, nothing seems as vital or affecting as Hogan’s quietly frantic concentration and resigned conviction; it’s a performance come by honestly, one that anchors the urgency of everything surrounding it, but at the same time overshadows it.

The play lays out an ambitious range of story arcs and relationships; impressively, by balling them up and releasing them all concurrently in a late mega-confrontation, it does so in under two hours. Ultimately, however, although A Thousand Circlets takes a valiant stab at the broad-based melodramas of a family affected by its patriarch’s disease, the production’s best material is also the script’s best. By ringing the knells of present and future deterioration, the show provides a fascinating, frightening window into the reality of irreversible decline, a dominant cause whose magnitude supersedes any of its far-reaching effects.

A Thousand Circlets is no longer playing.
For the latest from Detroit Repertory Theatre, click here.