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 Usual: A Musical Love Story

The boy-meets-girl story is as old as the guy-walks-into-a-bar joke; to keep the listener’s attention, either one had better deliver an unexpected wallop. Enter The Usual: A Musical Love Story, a modern boy-walks-into-a-bar-meets-girl caper with book and lyrics by Alan Gordon and music by Mark Sutton-Smith. In the world-premiere production at Williamston Theatre, director Tony Caselli takes the most shopworn chestnut in the world and plunges into two acts of off-the-wall digression celebrating the latest trends in romance, technology, recreation, and other curios of human behavior.

The scene is a drastically underpopulated watering hole, the perfect place for self-proclaimed nerd king Kip (Joseph Zettelmaier) and frustrated serial Internet dater Valerie (Emily Sutton-Smith) to meet cute. Under the knowing gaze of textbook proprietor-bartender Sam (Leslie Hull), the two hurtle straight into the friend zone, despite showing compatibility that may be visible from space. For this pair, it’s less a matter of whether they will get together than when and how; thus, with self-imposed arbitrary obstacles firmly in place, the plot is free to veer and wind into strange and amazing territory while the realtionship, shall we say, ferments.

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M 5

Planet Ant Theatre’s commitment to new works was never in question: its monthly Ant Farm staged reading series has previously shepherded new scripts to successful full productions. However, M 5 marks the first time the company’s late-night series has been specifically earmarked to showcase favorite Ant Farm selections. Helmed by director Sara Wolf Molnar and with a capable quartet of comic performances, this original show feels like an ode to the short play — that is to say, something rich and strange.

All five scripts (“Mile High,” by Leah Darany; “The Little Things” and “Homeland Security,” both by Audra Lord; “Mother,” by Jacquie Priskorn; and “Bloody iPhone,” by Marty Shea and Ian Bonner) are brief enough to tuck into a single act, barely skimming an hour’s running time. Each bears the brand of preposterousness that serves as the quirky signature of a short-form comedy, although the devices and executions vary. Against the elaborate setup leading to a swift roundhouse punchline, for example, is a slow-burning monologue of increasing perturbation. Whereas one play roots into the comic possibilities of forced conversation amid sustained discomfort, another gets its framework out of the way in a staccato of short establishing scenes. Strengths and weaknesses show in the writing for each, but the end product amasses into a kaleidoscope of the form’s overall potential.

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Elizabeth the Beautiful

Honoring the eightieth anniversary of the venerated Elizabeth Taylor’s birth, the Ringwald Theatre has concocted a two-production repertory package enthusiastically entitled LIZ-A-PALOOZA! Whereas one of the plays is old, the other is brand new: playwright Kim Carney’s Elizabeth the Beautiful, a one-act flight of biographical fancy. Featuring Joe Bailey in the title role and with direction by Bryan Lark, this world-premiere satire takes the form of an acrimonious skewering, a taunting walk of shame followed by an eleventh-hour scrabble for redemption.

The Elizabeth Taylor of this play is not the striking doe-eyed ingénue of the mid-twentieth century; rather, 1978’s incessantly divorced scandal maker is holed up in restorative seclusion, her relevance reduced to being cruelly mocked on TV. Bailey lays Elizabeth’s vitriol on thick, portraying a woman so far down that from her vantage point, her life seems like the lonely, worthless worst. Yet intervention arrives in the form of a bit of pastry in the windpipe — clearly, fate or something has conspired to teach her a lesson. Thrust into an ambiguous netherworld, Elizabeth the obstinate is greeted by her twice-husband Richard Burton (Mike McGettigan), an upright fall-down drunk and here a spirit guide of sorts through the many disappointing scenes of her romantic history.

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Joe Hingelberg and Travis Pelto rain down characters onto the Go Comedy! stage in the improv duo’s original production Wirelessless. Written by Pelto and Hingelberg with direction by Bryan Lark, this late-night Thursday offering takes away the web as we’ve come to know it, and in its place follows the smaller, conspicuously tighter web of one peculiar technology-addicted society.

Unrestrained wireless internet access is what put Webbland on the map, so when the signal goes down for four consecutive days, the city finds itself in the throes of fiscal and identity crises. The risible mayor and a team of experts scrambles to reconnect with the manned Webbland satellite, a slight but curious mystery of lost and found web access that serves as the backbone of the plot. However, the meat of the play is found in the larger effects on the town and its people: the city’s downtown tollbooth suffers decreasing traffic and revenues, stores are all but abandoned, and disillusioned residents grumble about defecting to the rival community of Neighborton. Hingelberg and Pelto portray at least a dozen characters each, a revolving door of diverse personalities, opinions, and motives hardly limited to the crisis at hand. The scenes hop capriciously from place to place, aided by Lark and Peter Jacokes’s thrumming sound design (including great contributions by Jaws That Bite). But here, pausing is more exception than rule: character transitions are frequently instantaneous, often specified by a single accessory, which banishes mere two-person scenes in favor of filling each locale with activity and humorous content.

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After a well-received run in 2010, playwright Margaret Edwartowski returns Snowbound to the Planet Ant stage, now expanded to span two full acts. A story of plight, persistence, and regret buried in an unforgiving Colorado winter, the latest version retains all the sting of its snappy viciousness while tacking on intrigue and dimension of changing characters in changing circumstances. Director Kate Peckham takes the action to the brink, brutalizing protagonists and audience alike with sky-high stakes and unrelenting outcomes.

What little remains of the Adler family fits into a meager mountain cabin, situated a treacherous crossing away from the paltry descriptor “remote.” Of the four survivors, siblings John (Stephen Blackwell) and Sara (Jaclyn Strez) are the only two capable of toil, forced to provide enough for themselves as well as their mentally and physically debilitated grandmother, Evaline (Nancy Arnfield), and the infant whose arrival rendered John a widower. With a dearth of able bodies and fewer provisions than ever, the impending winter of 1873 promises to be the end of them. Yet muleheaded John is icy with grief and grim determination; Blackwell’s gruffly inscrutable character suggests that he either doesn’t believe the so-called Adler curse (the death and disaster that has followed Evaline since she left her refined Boston family to marry a common pioneer), or he’s hell-bent on seeing it through — possibly both. One last appeal to reason comes in the form of family friend Wil (Jon Ager), a gentle and unassuming farmer who has a personal stake in their survival. Sara and Wil secretly agree that they must leave the cabin in order to escape certain death; it’s not all they agree on, as their fondest hopes intersect in a perfectly enchanting stolen scene. Arnfield’s endlessly rambling, sometimes ranting Evaline provides comic decompression, but also drives a critical wedge between the escapist needs of a hopelessly isolated seventeen-year-old woman and the crippling accountability weighing down a man who feels he’s already lost everything.

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