Curtain Calls

By | 2005-12-01T09:00:00-04:00 December 1st, 2005|Entertainment|

Preview: ‘Wassailfest’

The Queen commands: Eat, drink, make merry

The familiar cry of “All hail and wassail” will be heard once again this holiday season as The Players and the Renaissance Dance Company of Detroit present “Wassailfest” at the Historic Players’ Playhouse on Dec. 10. It continues an annual tradition that began in 1972 at the Detroit Institute of Arts where, for 29 years, revelers by the hundreds packed the Great Hall and enjoyed an evening of authentic, Renaissance-period holiday merriment.
“It was wonderful,” recalled the event’s longtime artistic director, Harriet Berg.
The event recreates the legendary Winter Court of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, played in all her glorious splendor by Berg, an internationally acclaimed choreographer, dancer and expert on 16th century dance. “Elizabeth was an amazing, complex woman,” Berg said. “She brought England into the modern world from the medieval world.”
This is the third year “Wassailfest” will be staged at the Playhouse on East Jefferson. Prior to that, Berg and her two dozen performers spent two seasons at Canterbury Village in Lake Orion. “But I really wanted it back in Detroit,” she said. “It was such an important Detroit tradition – a joyful holiday experience. So I met with members of The Players Club and they agreed to try it out.”
The Renaissance-style building, Berg said, is the perfect setting for a wassail feast. “It’s much more intimate because it is a smaller venue. But it has that same feeling of being in a Renaissance court – of being a part of the Queen’s court.”
The evening begins at 6:30 with drinks and hors d’oeuvres during which the performers will mix and mingle with the guests. A trumpet blast at 7:30 p.m. announces that dinner is to be served in the dining room. The Queen’s Court will then take their seats, after which the meal will be served – by serving wenches, of course.
“In between each course and throughout the evening there will be entertainment of authentic music, singing, dancing and different acts,” the Queen said, “ending with this marvelous juggler and mime who does an incredible grand finale.”
Just prior to dessert, the Queen will hold court. At that time, anyone with a complaint or grievance will be allowed to address Her Majesty. “Last year we even knighted a few people,” Berg laughed
However, there will be no beheadings, the queen promised. “Not even the woman who comes dressed every year as Mary Queen of Scots. We’ve become good friends. She has never been any threat to the throne.”
Many of Berg’s performers have been with her for a quarter of a century. One, Michael Burden (who plays Sir Francis Drake), has been with “Wassailfest” since the beginning.
“We’ve made every effort to make the evening authentic,” Berg concluded. “It’s a great way to go back in history to a very festive time.”
Join The Players and the Renaissance Dance Company of Detroit on Sat., Dec. 10 for “Wassailfest” at The Historic Players’ Playhouse, 3321 East Jefferson Avenue, Detroit. Tickets: $60, includes dinner and show. For information: 313-259-3385 or http://www.theplayers.info.

Review: ‘Sister’s Christmas Catechism’

It’s no mystery, it’s fun: Detroiters love a good nun

Have you ever wondered whatever happened to the legendary gifts the Three Wise Men brought the baby Jesus shortly after his birth?
The good Sister has, and she’s back to pack them into Detroit’s Century Theatre where her latest adult catechism class endeavors to answer a question that has confounded experts for centuries: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold.
Okay, so maybe it’s not the greatest mystery that’s ever baffled religious scholars, but Sister has a point: If the Holy Family came into some gold right after Jesus’ birth, why didn’t they upgrade to a better suite at the inn? The answer, she believes, is obvious: Someone at the nativity must’ve pilfered it. The question, then, is who had the motive, the opportunity and the proximity to successfully full off such a dastardly deed?
Sister, it seems, is a big fan of TV’s “Forensic Files,” and she fancies herself rather adept at solving crimes. So by applying the latest forensic techniques, Sister decides to get to the bottom of the millennia-old mystery by restaging the Nativity of Jesus – animals and all n on the stage of the Century Theatre.
How she does so in the program’s second act is part of the show’s charm. But be forewarned: Sister might make an ass out of you. But in a fun way, of course!
“Sister’s Christmas Catechism” is the latest in the “Late Night Catechism” series of one-nun shows that have been as popular in Metro Detroit as rosaries are at the Vatican. The set-up is basically the same as all the others: Sister is there to teach an adult catechism class. In reality, however, it’s playwright Maripat Donovan’s loving and laugh-filled tribute to the days of Catholic school education when tons of nuns roamed the hallways in their awe-inspiring habits and no one risked challenging their authority. After all, sister WAS a bride of Christ, so what she said HAD to be the Gospel truth, right?
For those of us who attended Catholic schools in the 1950s and 1960s, “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” is a fun-filled and nostalgic trip to the past; for the “publics” who never enjoyed – or is it endured? – that very rigid and ritualistic form of education, however, it’s a fascinating peek into a very ancient, Catholic mindset.
This year’s production features a new face in the habit, Tracy Ferrari. Like her predecessor, Ferrari fills the robes with warmth, charm and humor – and she plays the role with much respect and dignity. (She’s also channeling my eighth grade teacher, Sister David, but that’s another story.)
But what was missing from last Tuesday’s performance were some of Sister’s trademarked, impromptu zingers aimed at miscreant audience members. I suspect they’ll return once Ferrari becomes more comfortable with the show.
“Sister’s Christmas Catechism” plays every Tue.-Sun. at the Century Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit, through Dec. 31. Tickets: $34.50-$39.50. For information: 313-963-9800 or http://www.gemtheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: A Catholic-themed comedy that proves laughter is catholic – universal, that is!

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