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







Entries in Blackbird Theatre (13)


Twelfth Night

With its third comedy in as many months, the Blackbird Theatre’s Shakespeare West festival now bends Twelfth Night to its counterculture will. The show’s carefree decadence nestles intriguingly into the perspective of free love and rollicking social change, but palpable rough edges and pitfalls keep the story from reaching far-out heights. The drawbacks are most likely suggestive of time constraints on the part of director Barton Bund and company, a reminder that the young festival’s learning curve remains steep.

Disparity reigns in the play’s several plots, bridged by common characters but not often intersecting; the cast of twelve appears in small groups of limited permutation. Playing hub to these many spokes is Viola (Diviin Huff), washed ashore alone on the island of Illyria and forced to pass as a man out of self preservation. As “Cesario,” Viola enters the service of the duke Orsino (Sean Sabo) and is sent on his behalf to court the countess Olivia (Marisa Dluge); thanks to the gender reversal, the three form a perfect unrequited-love triangle. Huff’s intelligent and able Viola is a likable protagonist; opposite her, Sabo’s best work is not as a lover, but as a uncomprehending, patronizing confidante, and indulgent Dluge’s amazement at her own infatuation is quite fun. Olivia is also sought after by her humorlessly aspirational servant Malvolio (Bund), who becomes the target of a team of perpetually wasted ne’er-do-wells — Dan Johnson, Danny Friedland, and Qmara Peaches Black join forces in revelry to form a riotous peanut gallery. Elsewhere, Viola’s twin brother is less dead than his sister believes (and vice versa); he’s also markedly less identical than the plot requires.

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Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare West’s inaugural season continues with a stylishly contemporary Much Ado About Nothing. In keeping with the Blackbird Theatre’s penchant for pushing the limits of adaptations, this production, adapted and directed by Brian Carbine, plays with gender roles and musical showmanship to give a modern spin to a pair of comic love stories.

Among the primary conceits of this staging is the reverse-gender casting, most notably romantically pairing two women in Beatrice (Diviin Huff) and Benedick (Emily Patton-Levickas) and two men in Hero (Forrest Hejkal) and Claudio (Maxim Hunt). This is a full, pronoun-changing choice — not a woman in the guise of a man, but rather Lady Benedick and Lord Hero, in every respect addressed and considered as such. Carbine and his cast play the bulk of the story faithfully, making the same-sex relationships feel less like the entire point of the production and rather an unremarkable fact. In fact, just as interesting is the reverberating effect on the platonic and familial relationships surrounding the main couples: instead of the men and women conferring separately, only crossing the divide to pair off and marry, Hejkal and Huff are closest confidantes, and Patton-Levickas sufficiently justifies a female Benedick’s supposed revulsion of women by comfortably dude-ing it up with the guys. Occasionally, the text staunchly refuses to bend to the choice, or the staging gets mired in the device, but these are ultimately forgivable in the face of a well-propelled narrative and moments of sweet discovery.

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The Tempest

Never one to tiptoe into a new frontier, the Blackbird Theatre gallops onto the summer festival scene with Shakespeare West, a heady months-long celebration of the Bard. In its inaugural offering, The Tempest, the company plunges headlong into a new outdoor venue and, happily, takes the outside play as an invitation to play outside. With is lively, exploratory staging and focus on the passion of the text, this self-described "Shakespeariment" takes the reflection and wisdom of the playwright's final work and layers on a youthful surge of innovation.

The playing space is a permanent structure in Ann Arbor’s newly restored West Park, with a carefully landscaped marshy expanse separating the band shell from the gently sloping seating area, and a second playing space between (probably used as a dance floor in other applications). Under the direction of Lynch Travis, the two divided planes are envisioned as a massive natural playground, with the actors pushing through thigh-high grasses and climbing atop stones as characters navigate the hostile-seeming, untamed island where banished Prospero (Barton Bund) has orchestrated revenge upon the men who usurped his dukedom a dozen years hence.

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'Seascape': Conventional meets primordial, reproduced with permission from

Understanding and belonging are at the center of Edward Albee's fanciful Seascape: Specifically, comprehension breeds evolution, which comes at the price of comfort and constancy. As directed by Lynch Travis, the production at the Blackbird Theatre spins a confrontation that is rooted in fantasy, but whose potential consequences feel very real. In trying to reconcile the commonplace with the uncharted in the world of the play, the viewer is challenged to reflect on both the value and the cost of those social and emotional developments that we believe make humankind unique.

The play begins with the placid visage of vacationing couple Nancy (Linda Rabin Hamell) and Charlie (Joel Mitchell), harmlessly quibbling over their expectations and hopes for their golden years. The actors play as much in subtext as they do in text: Hamell's insatiably chatty take on Nancy reflects her wanderlust and strife to remain active and vital; Mitchell's exasperated stoicism belies his repeated invocations of rest and yearning to blend into the scenery in solitude. Albeit at cross purposes, the duo has a believable feel of togetherness and a practiced cadence that suits the tone of Albee's packed-full dialogue. Even in the summer-afternoon light by designer Emily Clarkson, the wind-petrified sand shapes of their secluded beach setting (by Barton Bund, who also layers on dreamy, beachy love songs over the surf din of his sound design) are far from tropical; as it turns out, the craggy, imposing oceanfront implied provides the perfect setting for two stunning and inexplicable sea creatures to make landfall – and contact.

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Playwright Peter Shaffer’s Equus, the storied 1973 epic about a heinous crime and a troubled child psychiatrist’s investigation into the deeply disturbed mind of the young perpetrator, seems tailor-made for the Blackbird Theatre’s gritty, challenging raison d’être. It’s a show designed to be difficult in both performing and viewing, famous for stripping one of the main characters nude onstage, but also featuring extensive scenes of immersive psychotherapy techniques and bouts of unsettling sexual and violent behavior. Readers should note that the performance I attended was the final preview, and changes have likely been implemented since; to the credit of this intense production and director Sarah Lucas, the work in progress showed little need for improvement, already well within the vicinity of enthralling.

The main thrust of the story belongs to young Alan Strang (Evan Mann), already convicted by the play’s start of savagely blinding six horses, and sentenced to the psychiatric ward of a hospital in lieu of imprisonment. The ensuing plot developments almost entirely concern his treatment by Dr. Martin Dysart (Lee Stille), who seeks to investigate what motivated Alan’s crime as a means to rehabilitate and heal him. What he learns about the young man’s fanatic devotion to horses, and his conflation of religious doctrine and burgeoning sexuality with respect to the beasts, is as disturbing as it is comprehensible. Mann’s work as Alan shows a believable opening up to treatment, beginning with (and reverting to) a murderous catatonia that falls away with growing trust. The pair works together splendidly, with keen pacing and an underlying camaraderie that helps their trajectories to dangerously merge; Stille’s exploration of his character is a perfect stand-in for the comprehending and connecting audience as he fights the dangers of career fatigue and complacency, feeling belittled in the face of Alan’s vibrant —albeit demented — life and beliefs.

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