Curtain Calls

By |2005-09-22T09:00:00-04:00September 22nd, 2005|Entertainment|
Review: ‘Two Men in a Box’
Characters get boxed in at Planet Ant

“What is the purpose of life in a box?”
That’s the burning question these days at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre where Daniel Roth’s existential – or is it absurdist? – comedy, “Two Men in a Box,” builds to a conclusion that – in the grand tradition of both styles of theater – never really gets around to answering the questions it tosses out for our consideration.
As Roth and director Eric W. Maher must know, that’s both the beauty and the danger of working in a style of theater that exists mostly to question the big issues of the world – but not to solve them.
For if the playwright reaches into the souls of his audience and touches them with a thoughtful, philosophical discourse, they’ll respond by pondering long and hard on what they’ve seen and heard. And eventually they’ll come to their own conclusions.
But if the ticket-paying customers answer with a resounding “Who cares,” then the playwright and director are screwed – and not in the fun way!
“Two Men in a Box” is Roth’s dissertation on the purpose and merit of work, sleep and food to a person’s existence. In the first act, Roth’s characters – Ralph and Esteban -move about their everyday lives. They eat – but question whether or not it is permissible to eat the fruit they find. And when they discover wood, tools and nails, what should they build? And how?
The second act opens with Ralph and Esteban trapped inside the box they’ve constructed. Can two men go on living together for years in a box?
At first blush, “Two Men in a Box” – a funny, well-performed and energetically executed production – appears to fall into the “who cares” category. After all, if two men built themselves into a box – an absurdity, to be sure! – then it’s only logical to assume that they can find their way out of it, as well. (They don’t.) And it doesn’t help that the dialogue is often way too pretentious for its own good. (Dialogue that just begs for respect or attention should be avoided at all costs!)
Yet bubbling beneath its surface is a solid debate about human nature – particularly, what comes naturally to us and what does not. It’s a discussion that would surely make Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco proud.
What helps make the show enjoyable – despite it’s structural flaws – are the creative, often humorous, touches Roth and Maher inject into their production. The relationship between Ralph and Esteban (played with great gusto by Joe Colosi and Joel Mitchell) is reminiscent of such Vaudeville and film stars as Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis. And the musical underscore by Victorian era-clad pianist Michael Fiedler – the show’s much appreciated third, but silent character – totally compliments the action. Plus, the video graphics before, during and at the end of the show are a cool touch.
However, Roth – like his characters – must think a little more “outside the box” if he wants to totally conquer his audience.
“Two Men in a Box” plays Thu.-Sun. through Oct. 15 at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. $15. 313-365-4948.
The Bottom Line: It’s a funny, slickly staged season opener that succeeds at entertaining its audience, but not at clearly making its point.

Review: ‘Monky Business’
Holy Moley: StarBrite opens season with ‘heavenly’ musical comedy

Heaven forbid that nuns should have all the fun when it comes to Catholic-themed comedies. Now it’s time for a religious order of men to engage in some good-natured stage mayhem!
And what a devil of a time it is for the monks of St. Bernard’s Monastery as they strive to save their home in the musical comedy “Monkey Business.”
A developer has set his sights on the monastery and threatens to turn it into Bernie’s Casino Royale unless the monks come up with $250,000 to save the property. With only one day left until the deadline to raise the money expires – and only $15,000 in the coffers – the five cheerful monks stage a “radiothon” hoping for a miracle. The merry – but not very talented – monks sing, tell stories and do whatever they can to make the phones ring, but the pledges slowly trickle in. But at 9:05 – when their appeal’s much anticipated five-minute international broadcast is about to begin – the fundraiser quickly goes to hell in a hand basket. (Or, more precisely, to the porcelain potty, thanks to some sabotaged pie!) The only thing now that can save them is that miracle.
And guess what happens? (This IS a musical comedy, after all!)
There’s no business like the dinner theater business, apparently, as StarBrite Theatrical Productions is staging this divinely inspired production in its newly opened second location, Miles World Italian Restaurant in Fraser. (Its original space inside the 14th Street Pub in Madison Heights is undergoing major renovations. Once the upgrade is complete, StarBright will offer shows at both locations.) Artistic Director Randy Magner’s recipe for success seems to be working: Provide theatergoers with good food, an attractive price and a comedy that leaves them laughing – and the audience will come. Again and again!
Although the opening night performance was a little rough around the edges – a few actors repeatedly bobbled their lines, several of the nearly 100 light and sound cues were noticeably and uncomfortably late, and a few of the voiceovers were hard to hear or understand – it’s the script’s charm and the cast’s earnest zeal and appeal that kept the audience laughing and hoping the monks would succeed.
As a group, the actors’ singing voices sound angelic; individually, Dez Walker (Brother Lee Love) and Brian T. Moultrup (Brother Brooks) especially stand out.
But some of the evening’s best comedy comes from the wooden, yet expressive Andrew Carnegie Milhouse Dandelion III who plays Brother Andrew. (That’s not a slam, trust me: He’s a ventriloquist’s dummy, controlled by David Anthony Durham who plays Abbott Costello.)
“Monky Business” plays Fri. & Sat. through Nov. 19 by StarBrite Theatrical Productions at Miles World Italian Restaurant, 17689 Masonic, Fraser. $39.95, includes three-course dinner and the show. 586-415-4500.
The Bottom Line: Mix the “Nunsense” series of comedies with testosterone and the result is “Monky Business”!

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