Five women directors strut their stuff

This week in Curtain Calls ONLINE at JET season revised and 'The Rat Pack' returns

'Box Fest 2006'
Staged every Thursday evening at 8 p.m. through Aug. 31 at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Tickets: $15. For information: (313) 365-4948 or {URL}

If it seems like Planet Ant Theatre is getting a lot of ink lately, there's a pretty good reason for it: Planet Ant has been the busiest theater in town this summer. Its latest project, which opened last Thursday night, is Box Fest 2006, a showcase of one-act plays staged by female directors.
It's a shame, really, that local professional women interested in directing feel the need to stage their own festival to prove their abilities. But a look at some cold, hard facts reveals why: Out of the 94 professional productions reviewed this past season by Curtain Calls, only 28 – or 30 percent – were directed by women. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, but for our up-and-coming women directors, this lack of opportunity must be frustrating. For every Janet Cleveland (who directed four shows this past season) and Barbara Busby (two), there are numerous others hoping for their first big break. Some create their own original productions, while others simply, patiently await a turn that may or may not ever arrive.
And then there's Box Fest 2006, produced this year by Shannon Ferrante.
The third annual event not only provides a stage for local women directors to utilize, test and sharpen their skills, it also raises much needed funds for women's organizations throughout Southeast Michigan. This year's charity is the Wayne County SAFE Program, and because all of the festival's participants are donating their time and talent, 90 percent of the box office revenue will be given to this worthwhile organization.
Hopefully that translates into plenty of cash, since the quality of entertainment found at Box Fest is well worth the cheap admission price.
For romantic comedy lovers there's "Bitches Be Shopping," a staged reading written and directed by Kelly Rossi that follows a blind date between Gail and Bradford from its rather odd beginning (a ballet during which two dancers get into a fight on stage) to its embarrassing conclusion. It's an enjoyable first effort by playwright/director Rossi, hindered only by the scripts in the hands of the actors.
(An entire festival of staged readings is cool, but squeezing one such work between four fully-staged plays is not; it pales by comparison!)
Drama is supplied by local playwright Joseph Zettelmaier, whose latest work, "August 13, 2004," is given life by director Ferrante. If that date sounds familiar, it should: That's when the power went out for several days across the eastern United
States, leaving – in Zettelmaier's script, at least – a young woman (played by Jackie Strez) trapped in an elevator with no food or water. Her screams for help attract the attention of a security guard (Patrick O'Connor Cronin), but he's unable to extract her. Given the woman's bitchiness and demeaning behavior, most men would have left her there to stew in her own juices, but the guard remains to keep her company. The result is a suspenseful and tension-filled ride in which the director and her actors hit all the right notes.
Anyone who's ever had a crappy day will empathize with "Creole," a one-woman character study directed by Jill Dion. It's Christmas Eve and Julie Smelser plays a woman whose boyfriend just left her, her dog was killed in a freak "squatting" accident and she can't get the string of Christmas tree lights untangled.
Director Jessica Lake delivers an unexpected twist with "The Role of Della." An actress out on an audition tangles with a demanding, obnoxious and totally unreasonable director. Or does she? Things are not always as they seem, as proved by the delightful performances of Marissa Thorndyke, Joann Brikho and Lake.
The evening's most challenging – yet most satisfying – segment, however, is David Mamet's "The Duck Variations." Often referred to as one of the playwright's "nothing plays" – because not much really happens except for a lot of talk about, well, nothing! – Mamet's absurdist comedy about two men sitting on a bench talking about ducks is one of his earliest works. Although written as a reflection on life by two philosophical old men, director Tamam Tayeh replaces the geezers with two much younger, apparently down-on-their-luck street people. It's a concept that works well, thanks to Tayeh's tight direction and the energetic performances of Patrick Loos and Chris Roady, both of whom have great fun playing with the words and phrases lent them by Mamet. But what works even better is splitting the script into three parts: "Duck" opens the show, picks up again after intermission and finally brings the night to its conclusion. Could it be that three slices of nothing are tastier than if served as a whole?