Review: ‘Untitled 1 & 2: The Architect & The Storyteller’
Original drama combines film and theater to tell tale of self-doubt
It’s no secret to longtime readers of this column that I love theaters that take risks.
Everyone has a story to tell, and Metro Detroit is blessed to have many small theaters that provide a forum to the creative community for expressing themselves through the performing arts.
One such venue is Planet Ant Theatre, a crown jewel of Metro Detroit’s performing arts community. If there’s one theater in town that’s known for regularly giving new voices a place to be heard, it’s the Ant – and for that, people like me who love such opportunities are truly grateful!
The Ant’s latest production, “Untitled 1 & 2: The Architect & The Storyteller,” is the latest in a season filled with original works. Written and directed by the Ant’s Executive Director Eric M. Maher, “Untitled” combines classic Greek tragedy with modern-day storytelling techniques to present the tale of a young architect who has lost his way in life.
It’s an existential, angst-filled story that works on many levels, but not on others. Or at least that’s how it seems 16 hours after leaving last Saturday night’s performance.
The architect, played with both great emotion and quiet subtlety by Darrell Glasgow, is suffering from a crisis of faith in himself. (Or was it a mental breakdown?) A decision to abandon the artist within and pursue a “safe” career with a guaranteed paycheck seems to be the cause of his conflict. But now he struggles with what path his life should take from this point forward – if any.
Therein enter the three robed muses who debate whether it’s their role to help the architect. Is madness his fate, they ponder?
The three eventually reveal themselves as manifestations of significant women from the architect’s past. They are there not to solve his problem, but to get him to “tell his story.” That, they assure him, will help him “find the language of his purpose” – and possibly lead him to the answers he seeks. As death is the only ending of every story – and he’s obviously quite alive – there’s still a story for him to tell!
Yes, there IS a story to tell – but one that’s not always clear in this production.
Much of the architect’s story is revealed through self narration. We don’t SEE what happened in the past – he tells us about it. And because much of the story is told through allegory – parts of which constantly change – what’s fact and what’s not is hard to distinguish. Or follow.
More importantly, however, as a 50-year-old who has experienced life’s ups and downs, I can’t identify with stories about angst-filled 20-somethings who see no future for themselves. (Wait till you see what curves life tosses your way in your 30s, 40s and 50s, I chuckled to myself!)
That doesn’t mean, of course, that I can’t appreciate the hard work Maher, Glasgow and the others put into the project; on the contrary, “Untitled” is a slickly produced effort by all involved.
Especially interesting is the creative use of cinematography by Mikey Brown, lighting by Michelle DiDominico and music by Rollo.
So while the story of “Untitled” might not be MY cup of tea, it’s a production still worth supporting. For what I fail to appreciate might be the muse that helps others understand their own demons within!
“Untitled 1 & 2: The Architect & the Storyteller” Presented Thursday through Sunday at Planet Ant, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck, through Feb. 20. Tickets: $10 – $15. 313-365-4948. www.planetant.com.
The Bottom Line: A slickly produced, well-acted and creative production with a theme younger people might appreciate more than some of us “old geezers”!
Review: ‘Door to Door’
Family affairs come calling in JET production
By John Quinn
The words from a Hebrew prayer are actually “L’dor v’dor” – “from generation to generation.” But young Deborah’s corruption “door to door” is a fitting metaphor for a play about life passages. Chicago playwright James Sherman’s comic-drama, enjoying a run at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, is a diverting slice of life about three generations of women in one family.
Representing the “Sandwich Generation” is Mary, played by Susan Marie Berg. A child of FDR’s administration, she’s the daughter of Bessie, who fled Tsarist Russia for a new life in Chicago. She’s also the mother of the above-mentioned Deborah (Michelle Messmer), child of the JFK administration. The play follows the family through some 60 years, from immigrants to Americans – assimilated but still aware of tradition.
Do you need to be Jewish to appreciate the situation? No. Once again art transcends the specifics of culture to tell a story common to our nation of immigrants. “Door to Door” is about the contrary pull between old ways and new ways. Listening to Bessie recall her childhood immediately touched the memories of my own Irish immigrant grandmother who also came to America in those years. Russian Jew and Irish Catholic were one in being “strangers in a strange land.”
Humor walks a fine line between familiar characters and situations that delight us in their truth – and stereotypes injected just for laughs. Sherman’s script wavers back and forth. Director Yolanda Fleischer and her cast manage to rein in the worst and make it work better than written. In this regard, a special note must be made of Evelyn Orbach’s Bessie, as she shows us character with out caricature.
Now for a disclaimer: I tend to ignore technical glitches for purposes of review, because the chances of them recurring in the performance my faithful readers see is almost nil. But the gremlins of the theater were at work at the performance I attended, and a fried lighting control system (a.k.a. “the dimmer board”) forced the production to be played in full stage light. That meant no directing of attention, no mood lighting and – worst of all – no blackouts between scenes. So why bring it up? Because I got to see a show you won’t see. I saw three actresses so on top of their game that they created the needed transitions on the fly and made it look like they rehearsed it that way all along. They dealt with adversity with grace and style; professionals to the end.
‘Door to Door’ Presented Wednesday through Sunday by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company at the Aaron DeRoy Theatre, 6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield, through Feb. 13. Tickets: $25 – $37. 248-788-2900. www.jettheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: A pleasant variation on the theme of generational interaction, “Door to Door” makes for a good “Women’s Night Out.”