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New play by Kim Carney is ‘the berries’
“It’s okay to let go.”
But it’s never easy, playwright Kim Carney shows us in the world premiere of her comic-drama “Moonglow” at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre.
Carney’s powerful script is based on the true story of her own mother’s life in an Alzheimer’s facility. And as anyone who has ever lost a parent to this or any other debilitating fatal illness will tell you, the experience is an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved, parent and children alike.
“Am I a prisoner here?” asks a confused and very unhappy Maxine (Carmen Decker) after being moved into an assisted living facility. It’s not that daughter Diane (Kelly Pino) brought her there to be vindictive; rather, a kitchen fire Maxine accidentally set in her own home and an incident that injured her grandson while living with Diane left the family with little choice. And no amount of motherly guilt – expertly dished out by Maxine – will change that.
Maxine’s outlook begins to change, however, when she meets Joe (Will David Young), another elderly resident at the home. Although it’s not love at first sight, the two discover a mutual connection: Both used to dance at a popular Detroit ballroom in the early 1940s.
From that one spark a relationship develops. But through their disease-shrouded eyes, the two imagine it’s 1943 – when Maxine falls in love with her ex-husband Bob, and Joe pursues Theresa, the love of his life to whom he stays faithful throughout their 36 years of blissful marriage.
Their secret romance is revealed when Diane and Joe’s son, Greg (Loren Bass), arrive to take their respective parents home for Thanksgiving. Diane finds the situation hilarious; Greg, who is already having a hard time accepting his dad’s mental state, does not.
Despite its many humorous moments, Carney’s delicious script never cheats the audience by delivering a phony “happily ever after” conclusion. Instead, the playwright is totally – brutally? – honest in both her depiction of the disease and its inevitable results. And the full range of emotions her characters convey always rings true.
Equally impressive is Jim Posante’s direction. His seamless transitions from reality to fantasy are expertly weaved, and although his characters are often confused, we – the audience – are not.
Also noteworthy is Posante’s ability to get memorable performances out of his actors.
Nora Bonner and Steven O’Brien are delightful as the younger, more innocent and full-of-life versions of the Alzheimer’s patients, while past Wilde Award nominee Casaundra Freeman makes a grand debut at Performance Network as Benita, the woman who manages the health care facility.
As the play got under way opening night, Pino seemed somewhat out of sorts. She sizzled, however, throughout the second act, peaking with a climactic scene that reduced many in the audience to tears.
And, as always, Bass gives another fine performance.
But it’s the dynamite performances of the always excellent Decker and the talented Young that make “Moonglow” a must-see production.
Young fills Joe with a dignity that never waivers. It surely ranks among his best performances ever.
However, it’s Carmen Decker, a longtime BoarsHead favorite, who truly stands out. Decker mines every nuance of her character’s being and breathes amazing life into it.
And together, Decker and Young make beautiful music as they’re lost with each other in time and memory.
“Moonglow” a co-production of the BoarsHead Theatre and Performance Network Theatre, runs Thu.-Sun. at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through March 5. Tickets: $20-$36. For information: 734-663-0681 or http://www.performancenetwork.org
The Bottom Line: The home team of Carney and Posanti score another touchdown with “Moonglow.”
Preview: ‘The Melody Lingers On’
Gershwin, Porter and Kate Brennan served at Cuisine
It was a long and winding road songstress Kate Brennan traveled before opening her first cabaret show at Cuisine early last year.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in business. She spent nine years teaching kids how to act, play the piano and dance while working for Detroit’s Recreation Department. She volunteered at Orchestra Hall, and she opened her own advertising agency.
But it was a chance meeting 14 years ago that set her musical career path into motion. And since that time Brennan and Harvey Reed not only make beautiful music together on stage, they do so in their personal lives, as well.
“I met Harvey at a party,” Brennan recently recalled. “It was all people from some ballet company. I’m a very outgoing person and I kept going up and talking to people, but everyone ignored me. So I went over to the piano and started playing. Harvey walked over and said, ‘Why don’t you let me play that song and you sing along.'”
Despite the fact that Brennan hadn’t been on stage since college 26 years earlier – and she was initially put off by Reed’s arrogance – Reed invited her to sing at the Sunday jam sessions at Ann Arbor’s Bird of Paradise jazz club. Although she never accepted his offer, she eventually introduced Reed, then a dean at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, to The Whitney and its jazz series. “So I started performing with Harvey at the Whitney, and the rest is history.”
Already in her late forties, Brennan’s singing career blossomed. Then, when Paul Grosz decided to leave The Whitney to open Cuisine, Brennan had an idea. “He has this great upstairs room, and I thought it would be perfect for cabaret. Well, it took me two years to convince him, but he finally said, ‘Let’s try it.'”
Now, Brennan and Reed are set to open their fourth show at Cuisine, “The Melody Lingers On.” Besides a really good meal, Brennan said, patrons can expect to hear some of her favorite melodies, plus music from what she calls The Great American Songbook. “I’m even going to do a folk song. It’ll be a nice evening.”
“The Melody Lingers On” plays every Friday night through March 17 at Cuisine Restaurant, Detroit. Tickets: $45, includes three-course dinner and show. For reservations and information: 313-872-5110.