By D. A. Blackburn
Here among the staff, there is near-constant discussion of all things theater. So it was no surprise last week when editor Donald V. Calamia brought up Planet Ant’s potent new drama, “Red Light Winter.”
His critique (seen in this space last week) was intriguing to me, specifically, because he mentioned that two of the show’s male leads would be switching roles on alternating nights. As I sat to take in “Red Light Winter” for myself, his words rang in my head. To paraphrase, he just couldn’t imagine Kevin Young and Jacob Hodgson switching roles, as they had been so perfectly cast in the format he’d seen.
Remarkably, having now seen the reverse casting, I can make much the same statement.
Young and Hodgson, to me, seemed ideally suited to their respective roles – both in physique and in disposition. Young, who, along with director Shannon Ferrante, was the driving force in bringing “Red Light Winter” to the Ant’s stage, is perfectly at ease as the brooding, introverted playwright Matt. And Hodgson’s taller build seems a natural fit to the role of Davis, an egomaniacal cad, as does the smarmy, self-assured quality he brings to the character.
Buzz around the theater is that the reversals in casting makes for two very different shows, and reading Calamia’s review, I’m inclined to believe they’re right. While I see and agree with many of Calamia’s criticisms of Adam Rapp’s script – underdeveloped characters and unnecessary elements, like a distracting second act character identity issue – I found this casting to be so engaging that the flaws were easily overlooked. Setting aside a few minor script issues, what emerges is a surprising, jarring drama.
One point of consistency, in Calamia’s evaluation, my own and other patrons I’ve discussed the show with, seems to be a tremendous admiration for actress Morgan Chard. Fine work with the script’s rich dialogue and a sultry, mysterious charm are the hallmarks of her Christina, and so perfectly executed, they further my belief that she is one of the most talented up-and-comers on the local scene right now.
Sales for “Red Light Winter” appear to be brisk, and the house Saturday night was at capacity. Whispers of extending the show’s run are already cropping up, and it’s little surprise, as it’s a production well-worth seeing twice. I may yet, myself, make it back to the Ant to see the alternate casting, because I just can’t wrap my head around the switch. This is an exceptional cast – talented for both their fine performances, and their abilities to morph from role to role.
Following “Red Light Winter,” the Ant has mounted a witty nightcap in its late night slot. “The Sex Lives of Circus Freaks,” though tamer than the title may imply, is a warm and funny work by playwright Jacquelyn Priskorn about the romantic pitfalls of clowning as a vocation.
Directed by Patrick Moltane, the brief – slightly over 20 minute – play finds clowns Kathleen and Rebecca lamenting the big-top life, its lack of romantic opportunity and the desire to run away from the circus. The work centers around Alysia Kolascz’s Kathleen, but the production truly belongs to Linda Rabin Hammell, whose brooding, bitter Rebecca delivers dark laughs en masse, like clowns tumbling out of a compact car.
“Sex Lives,” while sincerely funny, fails to meet the bar as a stand-alone production, but only for reason of its brevity. While alone it’s probably not worth a trip to Planet Ant, it’s a fine way to round out an evening of engaging theater.
‘Red Light Winter’ & ‘The Sex Lives of Circus Freaks’
Both shows Friday-Saturday, through March 21, plus Sunday, March 15 for “Red Light.” Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck. Tickets: $15/$5. 313-365-4948 or http://www.planetant.com