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







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The Sunday Punch

Very rarely does a play reside solely in the dramatic or the comedic realm; our world — the one upon which playwrights base their staged realities — is never so binary. In The Sunday Punch, playwright Linda Ramsay-Detherage pours dramatic heft into a comedic premise, establishing a goofy story about one man’s crisis of masculinity and then veering into a deeper meditation on parenting and growing up. In the world premiere production at Planet Ant Theatre, director Nancy Kammer attempts the daunting task of merging these contradictory approaches, and the result shakily straddles the different worlds as it unearths successes in unexpected places.

The play begins with a scene that would be right at home in a sitcom: Gordon (Eric Bloch) hopefully pops an erectile dysfunction–correcting pill at the urging of his anxious wife, Claire (Sonja Marquis), with farcical PG results. They discuss his problem the next day with Gordon’s swaggering brother, Max (Sean Paraventi), and encouraging sister-in-law, Sarah (Wendy Katz Hiller), while packing for a weekend visit with Gordon and Max’s parents; like budding Freuds, the group traces Gordon’s lament to his perpetually negative father. Max recounts the day he clocked Dad in the face and his own berating ceased, and by the transitive property of comic setups, Gordon seizes on the punch as the one thing that will course correct everything miserable in his life. Soon, everyone in the family is clued in to his intention (as sucker-punching infirm old Dad is out of the question, as is violence during the Sabbath). Radiating cartoon villainy to cement his antagonism, the cantankerous septuagenarian Arthur (Clement Valentine) refuses to take the hit lying down, and so the punch becomes a fight, with the bout set for Sunday morning.

Bloch takes his time in the opening scenes to sound out the logic and decide on Gordon’s destiny; alas, his subsequent portrayal is essentially dormant, loitering at A as he waits to reach the predetermined B. Fortunately, the script offers rich opportunities to explore developments and relationships outside the main conflict. Marquis empathetically plays beats of frustration and inadequacy without beating down Claire’s stalwart character. As the men’s mother, Dominique Lowell enacts one of the most rewarding scenes of the production, a confrontation between mother- and daughter-in-law in which real affection and respect is demonstrated through the lens of a domineering personality. Darting amicably about, Paraventi’s Max stays allied with everyone by maintaining a trace disconnect, making a superficial-seeming character into something tantalizingly intricate. Hiller similarly remains affable even as she sets up key developments, whether playing up Max’s incredible virility at inopportune times or breezily being the perfect daughter-in-law. Kammer demonstrates a keen understanding of how this world must develop and soften as its dramatic intrigue grows, and as passing references to the family’s Judaism (and Claire’s Catholicism) snowball into plot points and major intellectual deliberations. The transformation is best evinced by Valentine’s performance, which moves from sneering obviousness to a more conflicted and finally vulnerable place, when the actor delivers a devastating climactic monologue with steely commitment. However, after building to a satisfying resolution, the script greedily overreaches in a too-quick coda that muddies more than it clarifies.

The characterizations are well served by Sarah Lucas’s costume design, in particular the athletic wear that subtly elevates spry Max and Arthur above inadequate Gordon. Set design by Tommy LeRoy and lighting by Michael Williams portray a few Philadelphia interiors before arriving at a front porch facing the Jersey shore, through which one visible interior room is a splendid touch. Kate Peckham’s blatantly unsubtle soundtrack is a hoot to listen to, although the divide between its tone and that of the play grows perceptibly over time.

Much as it wants to, The Sunday Punch cannot concurrently maintain its comic and dramatic influences; they’re just too disparate. Even so, it’s absorbing to witness how Ramsay-Detherage spins a simplistic comedy premise into a deceptively thoughtful, compassionate exploration of parenting, respect, and rites of passage. Moreover, Kammer and company’s understanding of the unique needs of this zig-zagging script translates to a largely strong and surprisingly poignant production. Viewers ready to widen their expectations beyond narrow categorizations of comedy, drama, seriocomedy, or dramedy may be intrigued by the directions this story boldly takes.

The Sunday Punch is no longer playing.
For the latest from Planet Ant Theatre, click here.