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 new/original plays (100)


The Real Housewives of the North Pole

If you crave sincerity and the warmth of human kindness this time of year, look elsewhere. This joint effort of Who Wants Cake? and Sweetlove Productions is hardly even a Christmas story, but rather a loosely plotted comedy that happens to be set at the North Pole. However, if your idea of a happy holiday is spewing hot toddy through your nose from laughter, be sure to stay up late for The Real Housewives of the North Pole.

The original script, by director Marke Sobolewski and cast member Cara Trautman, draws inspiration from the Bravo network's Real Housewives series. Supposedly, behind every great man is a great woman, so here we look into the lives of Mrs. Claus, Mrs. Kringle, the mayor's wife, an uninhibited divorcee, and the new woman in town, whose contractor husband was hired to save the struggling Pole. The writers draw on the reality-TV framework with sparing use of "confessional" interview scenes, but aren't afraid to stray from the source material and let the simple story tell itself. The women are at their best in group scenes as they drink, fight, give advice, go on excursions, suspect and spy on each other, and throw a fundraiser. Although you don't have to like the Real Housewives franchise to enjoy this play, fans of "Tardy For the Party" should also be satisfied by the included spoofs.

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Christmas Carol'd

It's hardly exaggeration to claim that A Christmas Carol is the juggernaut of holiday theater. Just about everything else is an also-ran, described as "an [adjective] alternative" to the gold standard, hence the popularity in film and theater in seeking out new and different adaptations for the well-worn story. In this reviewer's estimation, the Performance Network's premiere of Christmas Carol'd, by local artist Joseph Zettelmaier, takes its place at the top of the heap.

The other plays I had seen by Zettelmaier followed a pretty traditional structure, but here I was thrilled at his ear for narrative and easy shifts in time and place. In a cast of five, with one actor exclusively playing Scrooge (John Seibert), the other four "carolers" play all of the supporting characters and tackle the narration, which is primarily lifted straight out of Dickens's novella. The result retains the familiar dialogue, but steeps it in the author's rich and crackling prose, and Zettelmaier experiments with tag-team descriptions and overlap that only enhance its cadence and humor. In fact, the most disappointing moments in this production were when the narration was rushed, muffled, or drowned out by other sounds.


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Like a little kid who saw The Phantom Menace before Star Wars, the Purple Rose Theatre Company's final installment in the Escanaba trilogy was the first I had seen. Unlike that little kid, I wasn't disappointed, and, from the murmurs and chuckles of the audience, nor were the die-hard Escanaba fans.

The story of Jeff Daniels's Escanaba predates both Escanaba in Da Moonlight and Escanaba in Love, chronicling the very moment at which the Soady family history and traditions began: patriarch Alphonse Soady (Tom Whalen) completes the cabin at the deer camp. It's pretty unrealistic that every single tradition had its roots in just over an hour's time (including when Soady met Negamanee), but what legend was ever believable? The events are best taken in with the same skepticism one would use to interpret annals of ancient history — probably not how it really happened, but as close as we'll ever get.

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Causa Mortis or The Medical Student

Playwright Jacob M. Appel, in his program notes for Causa Mortis or The Medical Student, suggests that his plays are defined by "strong female characters." I disagree. At the Detroit Repertory Theatre's world-premiere production, what I saw was shrill female characters.

The script is undoubtedly funny; it is madcap, full of jokes. I could envision a version of this show that attempted to bring out the humor through character and relationship, although there is only one relationship of note here. In the absence of a grounded approach, as in this production's larger-than-life presentation, an ensemble needs to perfect its timing and polish every joke in order to keep the audience laughing every instant. Once again, what I saw came up short; instead, the thinly sketched, stressed-out characters barked at each other for occasional laughs. 

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The Blank Page

The writing process is difficult to translate into theater, because so much of it is deeply private and not easily put into words. Kitty Dubin's The Blank Page, in its world premiere at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, uses a writer's professional and personal relationships to give the audience a better view, and very nearly triumphs.

Novelist Amy Kaplan, played here by a guarded Sarab Kamoo, is facing a three-month deadline for her second novel. The play covers those three months and ends on the deadline day. Meanwhile, her rabbi husband appears to give little more than lip service in supporting her, and a headstrong, youthful graduate student serves as a walking reminder of the vigor Amy had when she wrote her first, bestselling novel. Despite the play's title, there is a book in place at the beginning of the play; Dubin avoids clichés like writer's block, instead showing the audience a professional, disciplined scribe and her attendant insecurities.

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