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







« Les Misérables | Main | Miles & Ellie »

Becky Shaw

If everybody else is selfish and self serving, then you should be, too. The world of Becky Shaw (by Gina Gionfriddo) is eminently jaded, full of people chasing their own best interests at the expense of others. For this ethically sticky summer production, Performance Network Theatre gamely turns up the heat: director Phil Powers delivers acid comedy and repellent intrigue throughout a rudderless moral sojourn.

The initial scene contains multitudes, with the inclusive feel of a short play. Months after her father’s death, graduate student Suzanna (Sarab Kamoo) is still listlessly mourning, when she isn’t condemning her infirm mother (Dorry Peltyn) for shamelessly cavorting with a much younger man. They’ve both been summoned to a New York City hotel by Max (David Wolber), Suzanna’s unofficial brother (it’s complicated). A rampantly successful financial manager, Max has taken stock of the family’s precarious financial position and needs to tighten the purse strings. The long and creeping scene allows contentiously bickering Kamoo and Wolber to establish their lifelong codependence and cement their voluntary bond in a development that has the sly feeling of something coming full circle.

It stands to reason, then, that everything that follows feels like so much fallout. Within a few months, Suzanna has met and married gentle, benevolent Andrew (Keith Kalinowski), and they decide to play matchmaker between Max and Andrew’s new coworker, Becky (Maggie Meyer). The intended double date is at least seven layers of wretched, which variously instigate a series of relationship detonations and questions of obligation to family, partners, and friends. Designer Monika Essen approaches the puzzle of hurtling locales and pairings with a puzzle of a configurable set, combining enormous swappable graphic backdrops with closely hewn anchors of tangible furnishings and properties. Her costumes subtly speak to status and presentation, clear outward manifestations of the personas the characters choose to project. Smooth scenic turnover is achieved under Mary Cole’s rigid lighting scheme, as interstitial music (by sound designer Carla Milarch) returns the emphasis to female perspectives, serving up overproduced savage lady-pop.

The proceedings are imbued with an acerbic tone that takes cynically comic form. Characters outside the family seem included merely to verify Max and Suzanna’s vileness, but even these begin to sour with time. The performances are bound by a common thread of blinding self interest, even though it takes different forms: Kalinowski’s savior impulses dovetailing with superiority; the maddening sorry-not-sorry of Peltyn’s disparaging aristocratic command; Meyer’s self-loathing anecdotes curdling into implications of a nefarious agenda. Even so, no unpleasantness holds a candle to the hurricane of foulness vividly wrought by Wolber and Kamoo; their willful rejection of filters or pleasantries invokes the worst reality-TV scoundrels who use “realness” as their prize defense for reprehensible behavior. In terms of this production, to suggest that the two absolutely deserve each other is as much a compliment as it is a condemnation.

The atmosphere of Becky Shaw certainly echoes other plays that plumb the festering underbelly of human behavior (think God of Carnage without the forced civility). This show’s greatest success lies in pushing the envelope with unwavering force, unconcerned with making its characters sympathetic — or even palatable. Admittedly, although Powers and company pursue clear themes through their winding story, the egregious displays of naked egotism overpower any efforts at thesis or a larger message, making a dubious question mark out of an already ambiguous conclusion. Yet for sheer boldness and adherence to tone, the production nevertheless leaves its mark on the viewer, with repulsive conniving that feels appallingly human and vicious humor that scars.

Becky Shaw is no longer playing.
For the latest from Performance Network Theatre, click here.