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Curtain Calls

By |2006-05-04T09:00:00-04:00May 4th, 2006|Entertainment|

Review: ‘Coming of Age’

Time marches on in JET world premiere

Let’s be honest about something: Getting older is a bitch. While some of us age gracefully and accept whatever mental and physical changes come our way, others fight the transition with all their might. (Back in the 1960s, my leather mini-skirt wearing 60-something grandmother was one of those latter types. Trust me: It wasn’t pretty!)
One sexagenarian who seems comfortable with her age is playwright Kitty Dubin who captures that duality quite well in her latest work, “Coming of Age,” that premiered this past weekend at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company. It’s a subject that certainly spoke volumes to the seasoned crowd that packed the theater on opening night.
In Dubin’s warmly humorous play, two close friends since college – Sarah and Holly – have vacationed together with their husbands for the past 12 years. This year’s get-together will be different, however: Holly’s husband Eric has died since their last visit.
Sarah, it becomes immediately clear, is obsessed with getting older. Still a beautiful woman, she hates the lines on her face and she’s unhappy about being in the “out crowd” at work where everyone else is half her age. However, much of her anger is directed towards Ben, who – unlike his wife – seems to accept his daily pills and mental lapses with nothing nastier than a good-natured laugh.
When Holly arrives at the cottage, she’s a total wreck – with nary a clue about how to move on with her life. But that changes the following year when she arrives at the cottage with Jake, a long-haired house painter-slash-artist 15 years her junior whom she met six months earlier. It was love at first sight – and their playfulness gets Sarah’s blood boiling. So much so, that her increasingly bitchy behavior nearly destroys not only her friendship with Holly, but her marriage, as well.
It’s a sympathetic, yet insightful look at human nature that Dubin offers, filled with delicious dialogue and intriguing twists and turns. (A few very brief moments in the second act seem a bit contrived to force the plot along, however.)
What’s more, it’s given an excellent first staging by director Gillian Eaton who seems totally in synch with the author’s vision.
Known as “an actor’s director,” Eaton has coaxed top-notch performances from her four actors. Mark Rademacher seems totally comfortable in Ben’s shoes, as does Thomas Hoagland as Jake. And Babs George – a Texan making her Michigan debut – perfectly captures Holly’s ever-changing emotional outlook.
But it’s Naz Edwards who, as Sarah, steals the show. Rather than lock onto the character’s shrewish nature, Edwards explores the many levels of Sarah’s pain and anger – a task lesser actors could never accomplish.
“Coming of Age” is staged every Wed., Thu., Sat. & Sun. by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company at the DeRoy Theatre on the campus of the Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple, West Bloomfield, through May 21. Tickets: $28-$37. For information: 248-788-2900 or http://www.jettheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: JET ends its season on a high-note with a finely staged comedy by Kitty Dubin.

From Our Hallowed Halls of Learning:

What a challenge: Hilberry students tackle real-world problem

It was a daunting task, but for the nine graduate students in Wayne State University’s theater management program, successfully planning and running the annual subscription campaign for the Hilberry and Bonstelle Theatres meant the difference between getting an “A” in the class or a possible “F.”
So with 60% of their grade at stake – and with subscriptions slowly dwindling since the 1990s – the nine eagerly accepted Professor Anthony Rhine’s challenge and set about to reverse the trend. The bigger the increase they generated, the students were told, the higher their grade would be.
“Normally, one person has that job,” project leader and second year student Eric Messing told Curtain Calls on the last day of the campaign. “But this year, Anthony opened it up to all nine of us to run as a marketing class. So what we did was brainstorm all the different areas we wanted to explore, and from there I broke it down into four teams.”
One group targeted restaurants, while another focused on forming partnerships with outside organizations. A third examined ways to draw more WSU students into the theaters, while the fourth tackled corporations and the theaters’ fundraising group, the Understudies.
With only three months to increase season ticket sales, the teams hit the ground running and never stopped. “I think we were over ambitious at the beginning, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Sarah Clare Meyer, a second year student. “It was a good motivator for us.”
“We did amazing things in the amount of time we had,” added third year student Nicole Gram.
Not every idea resulted in sales, of course. The restaurant promotion “didn’t turn out any numbers at all,” Gram noted. Also disappointing was the response from the Understudies.
And an idea to give new subscribers free parking vouchers for a nearby lot was also shelved. “I think we had an excellent proposal,” Sean M. Coughlin, another third year student, said, “but [the owner] wasn’t receptive to it.”
Besides attention-getting billboards that were placed throughout Metro Detroit, what generated the best response were those ideas that included a more personal touch. A recent open house brought more than 100 potential subscribers into the Hilberry for an afternoon of food and fun. And much to third year student Matthew Terry’s surprise, the old-fashioned curtain speech before each performance never failed to cause a rush to the lobby’s subscription table. “I thought it was a terrible idea at first,” Terry laughed. “But then, we got an amazing response to them. The numbers were just jumping.”
Although final results won’t be known till November, Rhine expects subscriptions to jump about 15%. And because the project was so successful, it will be repeated again next school year, this time led by current first-year students Tina S. Boykins and Greg Grobis. “I’ve been taking thousands of notes,” Boykins chuckled. “But we’ll be ready.”
For Part Two of this story, check out Curtain Calls ONLINE at https://www.pridesource.com.

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