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







« White Buffalo | Main | The Usual: A Musical Love Story »

Dead and Buried

Director Harry Wetzel takes an intriguing fractured approach to playwright James McLindon’s Dead and Buried. Now in its world premiere at Detroit Repertory Theatre, this story of a team of graveyard caretakers pushes its tones to the brink. Yes, that’s tones, plural: Wetzel gambles on the strength of the show’s disparate scenes, rather than aiming for a single mood unfocused enough to unify them. Sure enough, by making each interaction the best it can be, the unorthodox approach pays off in a show that is as hysterically funny as it is weightily dramatic as it is spookily supernatural.

The story begins with seventeen-year-old Perdue (Lulu Dahl), a solitary newcomer to a New England town who pursues the first available job she finds: gravedigger. As the scowling young upstart, Dahl resonates with world-weary independence and spits daggers of cynicism, bitterly resisting the best efforts of employer Bid (Charlotte Leisinger) and coworker Robbie (Benjamin J. Williams) to befriend and earn trust. Yet these are long hours to pass in the respectful company of the dead, and McLindon gently uses instruction as a byway to interaction in Perdue’s workplace scenes. Indeed, Wetzel’s set design includes a large expanse of cemetery, a wonderful hilly abstraction that gives the illusion of size and slope. The place becomes different things at different times: sometimes a quiet refuge for reflection and comfort, sometimes a piece of land to be cultivated, and sometimes (in concert with overstated lighting and sound design by Thomas Schraeder and Burr Huntington, respectively) a macabre emptiness of shivering fear.

Yet however fraught, the spooky inferences are just as quickly abandoned, to be replaced with another mood altogether; in Robbie’s case, this is often awkward, plaintive comedy. A hardworking protégé to Bid and a bumbling suitor to Perdue, his extreme nerdy enthusiasm and lovestruck cluelessness earns Williams generous laughter. Thoughtful costume design by Judy Dery also finds its quirkiest moments in Robbie, who wears not only his heart on his sleeve, but his tastes and proclivities as well. Importantly, Dahl and Williams’s pairing uses power and negotiation to navigate professional and personal relationships to great effect. Even when adversarial, the actors are entirely in step, hitting the comic moments hard but also tending something deeper: when they are testy with each other, the disaffection is palpable, but moments of support and kinship feel equally true.

As a counterweight to the painfully distilled angst of the younger characters, no-nonsense US veteran Bid serves as an emotional rock, providing a necessary grounding presence as well as character intrigue of her own. Leisinger takes on the task with subtle affect, wielding patience to sift through Perdue’s evident lies and feeling out how to help the girl, even as she guards her own hopes and wounds. Bid can manage Robbie — even matching him with her own clipped humor — and doesn’t suffer interlopers, which makes the cautious, incremental discoveries of the two women’s growing understanding all the more rewarding. Together, Leisinger and Dahl laboriously navigate the painful mystery of Perdue’s absent mother, unearthing a wellspring of insight about the obligations of a parent and the struggle to attain closure. Such redemptive scenes, in which each of the characters finds opportunities to shine, are attacked as fiercely as the riotously comic and aggressively eerie beats that intriguingly combine into this dramatic patchwork of a show.

The success of this Dead and Buried lies in identifying the best atmosphere for each scene and taking it to extremes. Without aspiring to cohesion, comic, tragic, and scary influences are played to the hilt, amassing into a collection of highly refined moments that don’t always coexist, but do easily give way, one to another. Rather than diluting the various elements into an inferior blend, the resulting production makes the most of its disjointedness, giving the viewer a little creepy overload, a helping of belly laughs, and a touching exploration of our transgressions and weaknesses that never stay buried.

Dead and Buried is no longer playing.
For the latest from Detroit Repertory Theatre, click here.