By Dana Casadei
Before “The Algorithm” began on opening night, Planet Ant artistic director Shawn Handlon gave the old “turn your phones off” speech. But then he started talking about the show. He mentioned that the theater likes doing shows like this because it reminds them that Planet Ant isn’t “just a house of chuckles.” There may be a few moments throughout the show that will make you laugh, but Handlon’s right: Planet Ant is so much more than just a place good for a laugh. It’s a theater full of surprises.
Director Kennikki Jones – the winning director of BoxFest Detroit 2013 – and her husband Edmund Alyn Jones have created a show that may be short, but it sure packs one heck of a punch.
There’s no denying that technology has progressed an insane amount over the last few centuries. That very evolution has created enough power to form a stream of energy to capture Satan, portrayed by Josh Brown, Jelani Kamal Butler (Devil), and Emily Goodson (Lucifer). During the interrogation, three individuals, Napoleon (Anthony Head Jr., who gives a really strong performance), Evan (Michael Lopetrone) and Akin (Ramona Lucius, another standout), get to question the very person that’s been summoned. Only given a brief amount of time, they must figure out how the Devil is able to wreak havoc and chaos on us all. How does he instill fear? How can a person make sure to keep their brain and their soul intact? It’s time to find out if this group can outwit the Devil.
Each of the three devils brings their own personalities and distinctions to their character, further showing how the Devil could be in anyone. Butler is by far the most terrifying, though. He looks at you and it feels like he’s looking into your soul. His mannerisms and facial expressions give off a level of smugness only someone like the Devil could. He’s superb.
Jones’ direction utilizes the space so well. Characters are constantly speaking from seats among the audience and moving around the theater. In the wrong venue, this could be horribly distracting, but it works wonderfully here. Same goes for the audience interaction with the characters.
In the director’s note, Jones says that she wanted the show to be creepy while her husband hoped for it to be introspective and thought provoking. Well, it’s all three. It isn’t creepy in the way that a horror movie is; it’s creepy in a way that only a script this brutally honest can be. The words will seep into your soul. The show has an amazing voice, and brings awareness to so many things a lot of people don’t like to talk about. And if it doesn’t make you think, you may need to go see it again.
A few moments seem at first like they have a bit too much going on, but hold out: It will all make sense. The show gave me chills at least twice.
One woman during opening night’s talkback perfectly summed up the evening’s show: “It was so deep, we just have to marinate.” This show will leave you “marinating” for days to come. One thing the show isn’t is forgettable. The standing ovation didn’t hurt either.
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 16. 45 minutes; no intermission. $10. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com