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 Williamston Theatre (20)


Home: Voices From Families of the Midwest

Although I can't say from experience, it seems like this final installment in the Williamston Theatre's Voices From the Midwest trilogy must be the broadest and the most diverse. From the concept by Artistic Director Tony Caselli, the previous shows explored the voices of women and then of men, but the notion of family — with its infinite variations in makeup and experience — is a challenge all its own. In Home: Voices From Families of the Midwest, writers Annie Martin and Suzi Regan (who also directs) draw from interviews and survey responses from a few dozen collaborators to present a mixed bag of styles and tones, swirling together the universal and the unique.

The show eases in with a handful of nuclear families taking part in classic activities: fighting over use of the bathroom, taking the dreaded family photo, tiptoeing around a painfully awkward sex talk. Many of the early scenes are notable for their complete dearth of cynicism; even the newly single mother on a cathartic drive to escape her former life sings with abundant positivity. Regan gives each of these disparate scenarios an energy fitting to its presentation, making scenes with a sketch-comedy sensibility feel at home next to the mournful stillness of a folk-inspired song. The overall composition of the two-hour production is exceptional, enveloping viewers in the sweetness and nostalgia they'll need to weather tougher times. As the focus radiates out into less-ubiquitous family units and highly specific characters and interactions, the emotions deepen, and the connection with the material intensifies. Elements of comedy and drama complement each other well, and the success of this script is in making both feel equally vital to the work.

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It Came from Mars

One of my chief rewards after publishing a review is to finally read how other reviewers regarded the same production — although when I'm the odd one out, I get to pondering whether I had it wrong. A quiet house, an off night, I could have reviewed a bad egg. (Critics: they have doubts!) Given my cooler assessment in discord with the thrills over It Came from Mars, I was glad to have another stab at this co-production, now at the Williamston Theatre.

Was I mistaken? Yes, to a great extent. The play's second act, in which the War of the Worlds freakout premise is entirely contained, is practically perfect. Celebrated local playwright Joseph Zettelmaier allows his six characters to carry out hoped-for developments as well as taking the narrative in unexpected directions, all the while weaving together a formidable number of stories. Director Tony Caselli begins the act with tightly packed counterpoint dialogue layered over the infamous 1938 Orson Welles broadcast, masterfully allowing crucial words to be heard while rapidly registering six separate reactions, a clear demonstration to the audience that things are about to move very fast. The second time around, I connected more with the actors' changing energies — focused, distracted, diffuse — and was more easily swept up in the swift-moving flow.

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The Smell of the Kill

Sometimes the phrase black comedy is used to describe a play that's sorta funny underneath it all — once you stop to think about it — beyond its dire circumstances. Not so at the Williamston Theatre, where The Smell of the Kill inspires peals of laughter because lives are on the line. Under the direction of Kristine Thatcher, this production is a wonder of a comedy that's also chillingly relatable.

The 90-minute play takes place in a suburban Chicago kitchen, itself a technical marvel. Not only are features like running water and working electrical outlets on display, but it was difficult to tell where set and lighting designer Daniel C. Walker's work ended and Lynn Lammers's scores of props began. No bones about it, this kitchen is better appointed, and possibly more livable, than my own. Remarkable sound design by Ken Faulk used numerous applications of offstage voices and noises that gave a clear impression of the house beyond what was visible. Stage manager Erin K. Snyder has her work cut out for her, gamely recreating the managed chaos of a real home.

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This Wonderful Life

In homage to the rapid-fire preamble of Williamston Theatre's This Wonderful Life — in which actor John Lepard traces the story arc of It's a Wonderful Life in less than a minute using sound bytes, like a gleeful parlor trick — I will attempt the same feat. Working alone, Lepard both shows and tells, plays all with distinction. Strong choices emphasize casual storytelling. Entire universe gives way to iconic staircase; twinkle-star angels, just like the movie! Labor deserving of a more daring script, yet satisfying. (How'd I do?)

First: John Lepard. The swell of one-man and one-woman productions this season should not diminish what a feat it is to energetically spin a compelling tale for seventy or eighty or ninety minutes straight. Lepard's task is to revive the classic film before the audience's eyes: in part to recreate dialogue, in part to narrate, and occasionally to provide commentary, all three of which he does with abundant sparkle and charm. The work this actor has put into the text is evident, from the consistent body language suggesting dozens of distinct individuals to the transitions between characters in mid-conversation. (Changing body and voice in an instant is no picnic in itself, to say nothing of adding a good Jimmy Stewart in heavy rotation.) A delight when he's clearly having fun, Lepard also summons a heartfelt and grave climactic scene bound to put a catch in one's throat.

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An Infinite Ache

Because construction traffic had kept me from seeing the first ten minutes of An Infinite Ache, I returned to the Williamston Theatre for the closing performance to get the whole experience. Interestingly, I found that "the whole experience" I had expected wasn't possible to get on the second try.

I expected a hilarious romp during the expository minutes, as mentioned by one reviewer; indeed, there were plenty of laughs from the start. However, because of the circuitous and unpredictable nature of the show's timeline, I found myself prematurely returning to my emotional state at the play's end. [The show has closed now; it's no longer a spoiler for this production if I reveal that the entire audience was reduced to snuffling and eye-wiping.] Even as I laughed along at the show's many funny moments — indeed, the larger crowd that joined me for my second viewing eagerly ate up the comedy — I felt like I was already at the closing, simply luxuriating in the memory of these lives, instead of living them along with the characters as I had the first time.

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