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







« Twelfth Night | Main | 2011 Rogue's Gallery nominations »

Season In Review — The Abreact

Even with a decade of experience behind it, a show at the Abreact remains an encounter unlike any other. This season’s landmark tenth anniversary marked the theater’s second year at a new location, as always in the heart of Detroit, but nobody would mistake the shift as a step toward the mainstream. Now, patrons are buzzed into the Lafayette Lofts building only to discover that the theater space actually spans two apartments: one a black-box studio whose seating is peppered with accumulated armchairs and couches, the other a small lobby, stocked with liquid refreshments, that doubles as a private residence. And just as the company invites viewers into its figurative and literal home, with a characteristic blend of offbeat modern classics, obscure titles, and new works, this season it invited viewers into its many worlds for as close a look as they could stand.

”Season X” was bookended by shows dominated by a pair of male leads. First, Sam Shepard’s True West pitted softened conformist Chris Korte against devilish outlaw Eric Maher in a no-holds-barred war between brothers. Supporting appearances by Joel Mitchell and Linda Rabin Hammell provided the only respite in a liberally dangerous atmosphere of contention, which reached into physical danger in the form of smashed toasters and flying typewriter parts. Subtle direction by Charles Reynolds inched a dire and subtext-rich standoff toward its zero-sum conclusion to devastating effect. Closing the season was a dynamic and woefully funny production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, featuring Stephen Blackwell and David Schoen as the central societally shunned devotees. Directors Adam Barnowski and Andrea Smith carefully shaped the many beats of this long play, including enlightening interludes featuring Dave Davies, Lance Alan, and Sarah Galloway, but Blackwell and Schoen’s generously funny exchanges and gently sad sameness were the highlight of this classic.

Also venturing into humor and danger — and traversing the line between them — was the genital quadrille of La Ronde, directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates. Playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s ten tête-à-têtes stayed ever-new and different in the hands of Kirsten Knisely, Caroline L. Price, Stephen Blackwell, and Matthew Turner Shelton, and Shepherd-Bates’s Benny Hill–silly sound design steered the randy subject matter away from the pornographic, turning intimacy into an incredible punchline.

The Abreact’s support for new works and the long arm of catharsis combined in the Halloween-themed sequel The Hot Mess Chronicles 2, a continuing backlash against their falling out with a Musical That Must Not Be Named; its four short plays were solicited in collaboration with Planet Ant Theatre. Under Mike McGettigan’s direction, the varied thriller-comedy-parody-suspense of playwrights Josh Campos and Brian Papandrea, Stephen Blackwell, Andy Orscheln, and McGettigan represented a hodgepodge of moods and devices with varying success. Alternative non-kitsch Halloween songs and ethereally mesmerizing introductions by hostess Katie Galazka unified an evening of demented snippets brought to life by Brian Papandrea, Josh Campos, Sarah Galloway, James Nanys, and Dyan Bailey.

As one would expect, a company dedicated to providing free (donations-only) theater is short on resources, but the other side of the coin — and the delight of the Abreact — is the theater’s unparalleled freedom and resourcefulness. In Godot, Eric Maher’s set and lighting design turned the space’s physical limitations into advantages and made a brilliant argument against lighting fades; set designer Alan Batkiewicz similarly immersed La Ronde into the bombed-out grandeur of a different corner of the room, letting the architecture speak for itself. Having dominion over its space also allows the Abreact to pile on added content and programming as it sees fit; in addition to its long history of integrating the work of local artists into its lobby and gallery space, this year’s events included a holiday gift marketplace stocked by local crafters and a Moth-inspired fundraiser, the WTF Summer Story Slam.

From the tiny huddle of intermission smokers clustered under the building’s awning to the veteran patron guiding a newcomer through a winding hall to the restroom, anonymity is verboten at the Abreact. Not only do the lines between audience and performers blur when both parties are at eye level, but the atmosphere is that of a convivial community. There is something to be said for an approach so blatantly unconventional that, well after curtain time has passed, one of the two directors of the performance space will glance about a thrumming lobby and venture, “Shall we get started?” Clearly, this is a company that honors no one’s expectations but its own; given what this season had to offer, those expectations remain as commercially unconcerned as they are artistically lofty. It’s truly a strange and wonderful way to be drawn into the world of theater, putting an eccentrically accessible face onto starkly challenging fare.