Rules be damned! Revised comedy merits second look – and it’s a winner!

By |2018-01-16T02:20:29-05:00December 9th, 2010|Entertainment|

By John Quinn

A revised “Detroit Be Dammed: A Beaver’s Tale” is now playing in the city of its origins – at the Park Bar in downtown Detroit. Photo: Planet Ant Theatre

Here’s one that almost got away. When Hamtramck-based Planet Ant Theatre announced it was re-mounting its comedy “Detroit Be Dammed: A Beaver’s Tale” in the performance space above the Park Bar, around here we thought it was the same old, same old – a show we’d already reviewed. This is not the case. Script and score were revised, a few roles were recast and a spacious stage downtown allowed for big changes. While your humble reviewer didn’t see the original production, he can say without qualification the new one provides an entertaining evening. It is a shot in the arm for Detroit’s image, and playwrights Shawn Handlon and Mikey Brown have done us proud.
Detroit’s history is relived in song, dance and audio visuals by an ensemble of five tireless actors who don multiple hats (not to mention wigs, mustaches and sketchy costumes) to flesh out dozens of characters. This breathless band of troupers includes Dawn Bartley, Sharon L. Brooks, Mikey Brown, Chris Korte and Dez Walker, set loose to work their magic by director Shawn Handlon. Between Brown’s rocked-out score and Jill Dion’s crisp choreography, the fun never stops. In addition, as a history buff, I can tell that the playwrights have done a remarkable job of research. The script is as entertaining for its history lessons as it is for its satire.
Jaques LeMerde stepped off the canoe at d’Etroit with Cadillac in 1701, much to the chagrin of the local Wyandotte. Three hundred years’ worth of LeMerdes participated in the building of the city, but never reached the prominence of the Woodward or Williams families. (What a coincidence! The theater sits at a cross street named for Elizabeth Williams, daughter of John R.) They just endured; through fire and wars, through revolutions in industry and economic catastrophes, there was always a LeMerde in Detroit. We’re led forward through generations of LeMerdes (sorry, I’ve fallen in love with that name), with some flash forwards to modern times. It would be impossible to sort out all these characters without the accompanying video, hosted by a friendly beaver. (This IS a Beaver’s Tale, you know.) Additions of video to Planet Ant productions are pretty standard; here it’s exceptionally well integrated.
The theater at the Park Bar appears a work in progress, but already holds a lot of potential. The atmosphere is kind of Shakespearian Industrial. The stage is well proportioned and much deeper than Planet Ant’s home base. “Detroit Be Dammed” must have been totally re-blocked to let it flow so naturally in a new venue. Be advised: The room is heated by a furnace too noisy to run during the show. It’s winter. It’s Detroit. Dress accordingly, since it can get a little nippy near the end of Act I. This is not the first theater I’ve encountered with this problem, and it’s only a minor inconvenience.
The performance space is all hard surfaces now, so acoustics are a problem. Mikey Brown’s sharp score and video work can be a little overwhelming, tending to drown the singers in ensemble numbers. This is no problem in solo numbers for the formidable voices of Dawn Bartley and Sharon L. Brooks.
There was a time in my miss-spent youth I was a lighting designer, and let me tell you those gaslights were a pain. So Rollo, technical director and designer, is justifiably proud of the state-of-the art, low wattage LED stage lighting. It is, however more flexible than flattering, casting a fish belly pallor on fair skinned cast members. It’ll take getting used to.
If we’re to take something away from “Detroit Be Dammed: A Beaver’s Tale,” we might sum it up so: Progress needs risk. Risk didn’t always work for the LeMerdes or for Detroit. Planet Ant Theatre takes risks; some successful, some not so successful. If this salute to a down-and-out hometown and the city it can become is any indication, we’re making progress!

‘Detroit Be Dammed: A Beaver’s Tale’
Planet Ant Theatre at the Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave., Detroit. Thursday-Saturday through Dec. 18. $25. 313-365-4948.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.