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 Halloween (10)


Flowers Up Her Attic

Take a pulpy young-adult novel made famous for its taboo subject matter, and turn up the dial on the salacious stuff until it breaks. That’s the simple, winning recipe used by Marke Sobolewski and Joe Bailey to cook up Flowers Up Her Attic, a wickedly comic distillation of the similarly titled 1979 V.C. Andrews book. Now in its world premiere under Bailey’s direction, the Ringwald Theatre rocks with storybook scandal even as it keeps viewers rolling in the aisles.

In Flowers in the Attic, both the book and the 1987 movie adaptation, a group of siblings frantically languishes in the top room of their grandparents’ house, indefinitely trapped and neglected for unknown reasons, with inappropriately racy results. This show follows in the same melodramatic mold, from Traci Jo Rizzo’s forgotten storage-room set to Joe Plambeck’s Amityville-style devil lights and thriller score. Costumes by Vince Kelley double down on the horror show of circa-1980s fashions with a horror show of fakey-fake blond wigs as far as the eye can see. It’s just the right tone for the kind of campy homage that reveres its source material with feats of soaring irreverence.

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The Hot Mess Chronicles 3

Leave it to the Abreact to spin a turd into gold: a few Halloweens ago, a last-minute show was assembled to fill an unfortunate scheduling hole, and lo and behold, a series was born. This year’s installment, The Hot Mess Chronicles 3, sees the return of director Mike McGettigan to a new crop of fright-themed plays engineered to surprise and amuse, even as they retain the best of that thrown-together magic.

In true Hot Mess fashion, the episodic play is strung together with introductions by its host; this year, a uniquely outfitted and disembodied-voiced entity known as MR BABY presides from his spot catty-corner to the main stage. The placement, along with Kevin Barron’s lights and quietly creepy sound design by Mike Eshaq, provides enough distraction to let the scene changes feel unobtrusive and gives the production a nice flow. Quick changeovers are crucial for this installment, which has grown from four to eight short plays by a total of nine playwrights. This year’s selection features a number of scenes that deliver a quick one-two, just enough setup to enact a change-up ending: Ron Morelli’s “Yard Sale of the Damned” infuses an ominous tone into a humdrum transaction, Joe Becker’s “Player V Player” lies in the safety of two guys playing video games, and Dave Davies’s “A Family Feature” fires off a punchline in its suggestively grotesque resolution. A longer second-act piece, Bill McGettigan’s “The Wreck of the Minerva Witherspoon,” takes its time maneuvering toward a gruesome fate, giving its construction-worker characters a long leadup full of probably important but ultimately foggy details.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

In its Michigan premiere, Something Wicked This Way Comes is well suited for a Meadow Brook Theatre Halloween. Adapted for the stage by author Ray Bradbury from his novel of the same title, the story of two young men who encounter an otherworldly carnival has just enough surprise and intrigue to give the viewer an eerie jolt. However, as directed by Travis W. Walter, the spectacle is a mere catalyst for a recognizable coming-of-age story that is given capable depth by its pair of young leads.

The boys are Will Halloway (Ryan Lynch) and Jim Nightshade (Jacob Zeinski), next-door neighbors and polar-opposite best friends — whereas Will is on the straight and narrow, Jim has a daredevil streak and yearns to be older so his life will start in earnest. On the October approaching their fourteenth birthdays, a strange carnival is erected in town overnight and captures the fascination of the children, as well as the adults reminded of the carousing of their youth. A few nights of sneaking out, as boys are wont to do, unearth a dark underbelly of the carnival and its proprietor, Mr. Dark (Aaron H. Alpern), in particular a carousel that may have command over time itself. As creepy as the attraction is, what’s more troubling is Mr. Dark’s recruitment tactics; when he sets his sights on collaring the boys who have seen too much, they enlist Will’s sweetly doddering old father (Marty Smith) to aid them in their inevitable showdown.

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Returning production — Evil Dead: The Musical

As part of the Rogue Critic's evolving efforts to cover as much theater as possible within a large geographical area teeming with culture, this season will see the end of re-reviews. Co-productions among theaters will receive a single review, and revivals of past productions will also escape the sting of the critic's lash.

The very fact that a theater elects to revive a recent production for another run suggests a measure of commercial and critical success — in essence, such shows generally have something excellent to offer. In keeping with this logic, I will be disappointed not to take my seat at the twice-returning Evil Dead: The Musical, mounted by Who Wants Cake? and Olympia Entertainment at the City Theatre in Detroit. This site's archives already boast not one, but two reviews of Who Wants Cake?'s delectably messy slapstick-horror efforts: one from the 2010 production, also at the City Theatre, and another from the initial 2009 production at the Ringwald.

Readers should keep in mind that these are past reviews; some of the players have changed, and the show has a new director in Michelle LeRoy, who has previously designed lights and effects. (Also notable among the differences from last year's show is the price point: all tickets are general admission at a flat $22, so everything — including the heralded splatter zone — is first-come, first-serve.) But with the same venue and much of the same creative team, these reviews should give any potential viewer a sense of what can be expected in this year's production.

Evil Dead: The Musical is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre (formerly Who Wants Cake?), click here.
For the latest from City Theatre, click here.


The Hot Mess Chronicles 2

After last year's The Hot Mess Chronicles, a Viking funeral of sorts for its former Halloween mainstay, the Abreact comes back to the well this year with The Hot Mess Chronicles 2. This installment features four brand-new short plays, selected through a submissions process in collaboration with Planet Ant Theatre. The varied offerings are presented episodically by an ensemble cast of five, without a unifying theme or thread; this way, the show is able to be both harmlessly funny and soul-stirringly creepy, some to greater effect than others.

The production's first act is plainly its weakest, with two pieces full of quick, short scenes that require long, dark pauses to set up their sight gags and cutaways. "The ‘Screwed’ Tape Letters," an update of the adjacently named C.S. Lewis novel, concerns a minion new to Hell unable to claim the soul of a criminally boring human (Josh Campos and Brian Papandrea, respectively, who also penned the play). This interpretation doesn't add much perspective to the story, serving mostly as a vehicle for some running jokes and absurd-death gags; the highlight is James Nanys as a wasted, laid-back Satan, who’s somehow threatening even as he maintains a level of relaxation that rivals The Big Lebowski’s Dude. Next is "The Way to Win Over Annie" by Steven Blackwell, a romance told in flashbacks with a delicate Sarah Galloway as the title character, the seemingly heaven-sent girl. Whatever foreshadowing is inherent in the script is swallowed by extremely casual staging of the expository present-day scenes — the bleak and strangely funny ending is indeed a surprise, but sadly not of the should've-seen-it-coming variety. Director Mike McGettigan seems trapped in very literal staging for these two pieces; the lack of fluidity saps the scenes of polish and causes some unexpected drag.

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