Curtain Calls

By |2005-10-13T09:00:00-04:00October 13th, 2005|Entertainment|
Review: ‘The Heidelberg Project’
Two Detroit artists, one fascinating challenge

Art is a challenge, the audience is told in “The Heidelberg Project: Squatting in the Circle of the Elder Mind.” And so is watching – let alone reviewing – a Ron Allen play.
That’s because like a powerful piece of art hanging in a museum, Allen’s plays dare you to dig into the mind of the playwright in order to ascertain whatever lesson he’s trying to teach us. And although it might take time and considerable thought to even begin to comprehend the layers of complexity Allen builds into his work, most of us can eventually come to similar conclusions regarding his message. But the devil is always in the details, and it’s those details – as mesmerizing and evocative as they may be – that often leave you scratching your head in total puzzlement.
So while you might not totally “get” an Allen play, you’ll nonetheless be fascinated by the audial and visual delights he and long-time collaborator John Jakary dangle before you. If nothing else, there’s rarely a dull moment in an Allen play, and “The Heidelberg Project” – now playing at the Detroit theater formerly known as The Furniture Factory – is no exception.
Its topic is one that seems to be a perfect match for the playwright: Tyree Guyton and his world renowned, yet controversial Heidelberg Project.
Allen, of course, uses the power of words to paint his pictures. Guyton, however, uses everyday, discarded objects against a backdrop of urban life to illustrate his. Both artists reach far beyond the established boundaries with their art, and each leaves both confusion and enlightenment in his wake. Together, they make for some interesting theater!
The Heidelberg Project – the living exhibit, not the play – is Guyton’s personal and very public discussion on urban life, blight and decay. Not content to limit his expression through traditional means, Guyton’s east Detroit neighborhood is his canvas. Vacant homes, neighborhood trees and utility poles have all been called into duty: A one-time drug house now sports a colorful, attention-getting coat of paint; suitcases lined up in a row recall white flight from the city, while broken and battered baby dolls broach the subjects of child abuse and abortion. And everywhere you look you see splashy splats of paint – his polka-dots – that symbolize the coming together of the races.
Like Allen’s plays, not everyone understands Guyton’s work – and attempts have been made to bulldoze his neighborhood into conformity. But that doesn’t stop the internationally acclaimed artist from continuing his work.
Similarly, the traditions of theater don’t stop Allen from his craft, either. Characters don’t often have conversations, but instead, offer eloquent soliloquies. And metaphors are this playwright’s best friends.
But it’s Jakary and his 11 talented actors who take the playwrights words and concepts and shape them into a living, breathing and colorful canvas. Oliver Pookrum is especially powerful as Guyton. And fine performances are given by Sandra Hines, Madelyn Porter, Nelson Jones, Jr. and Frank Sawa.
“The Heidelberg Experience” Staged Fri.-Sat. through Oct. 29, plus Sun. Oct. 23 & 30 by the Thick Knot Rhythm Ensemble at the theater formerly known as The Furniture Factory, 4126 Third St., Detroit. Tickets: $20. 313-671-6096.
The Bottom Line: Art and the creative mind of the artist come alive in an energetic piece that will leave you both fascinated and perplexed.

Review: ‘Right on Maple, Left at the Altar
Love amongst straight guys comes under comedic microscope…maybe

Suppose you’re a straight guy left standing at the altar. And then suppose you’re holding tickets to your $6,000 honeymoon getaway at a fancy resort in Cancun. What would YOU do?
Why, take the advice of your best man, of course: Let’s grab our bags and get outta here!
That’s exactly what lifelong best friends Tommy and Billy do in the original late night comedy, “Right on Maple, Left at the Altar,” that opened last Thursday at The Second City in Novi.
It’s a plan with a few major flaws, however. For starters, there’s no time for best man Billy to go home and pack, so whatever is in the bride’s luggage will have to suffice. And because Tommy had booked the much-in-demand bridal suite, they have to pretend to be a newly married gay couple or risk being tossed from their accommodations.
Then there’s the fact that Tommy’s wounded heart is focused on Bridget and not on the trip – at least not initially. So for days he never leaves their room.
That doesn’t stop Billy from having the time of his life, however, and within hours he seemingly knows everyone in the place on a first name basis. But people are beginning to talk: Are the two having problems so soon after their marriage?
In actuality, the question is this: Can two straight guys pull off the scam of their lifetime? Or is one not as straight as he claims to be?
The answer, of course, depends on the performances of authors/actors Brett Guennel and Tim Robinson. Both are experienced improvisers who have proven time and again that they have the chops to create interesting, multi-faceted characters. And each knows how to mine their material for the biggest laughs.
Robinson, in particular – with his pliable face and body – is especially adept at conveying the most nuanced emotions. It’s a skill he puts to great use as Billy, a character who proclaims his heterosexuality while he drops plenty of subtle hints to the contrary. Or does he? Few actors could shade Billy with all of the conflicting signals as successfully as Robinson does without resorting to unnecessary stereotypes. It’s yet another fine job from this Wilde Award-nominated actor!
And if opposites truly attract, Guennel – the butch one, his character Tommy points in the play – is Robinson’s – and Billy’s – match.
Dare I say it? Guennel and Robinson are a marriage made in heaven!
“Right on Maple, Left at the Altar” A Second City Alternative Production staged late night every Thursday through Nov. 3 at The Second City, 42705 Grand River Ave., Novi. Tickets: $10. 248-348-4448. http://www.secondcity.com.
The Bottom Line: The Second City enters the late night market with a funny, LGBT-friendly look at love amongst straight guys.

About the Author: