Curtain Calls

By |2006-05-18T09:00:00-04:00May 18th, 2006|Entertainment|

CCO Teaser [note – replace CCO logo with Wilde Carde logo]: Join us at this week’s Wilde Carde event: “Uncoupled” at Ann Arbor’s Improv Inferno on Friday, May 19 at 8.p.m.

CC1a Life_3L5670(2).jpg: David Wolber and Loren Bass play two generations of actors in a small repertory company in “A Life in the Theatre” at Performance Network Theatre. Photo: Peter Smith

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CC1b Life_6L5456(2).jpg: David Wolber and Loren Bass play two generations of actors in a small repertory company in “A Life in the Theatre” at Performance Network Theatre. Photo: Peter Smith

Review: ‘A Life in the Theatre’

Actors get ‘life’ at Performance Network

Two actors, some lines and an audience – that’s all that’s needed to put on a play, says Robert, an older, experienced actor who shares his wealth of knowledge with his much younger co-star in the comedy “A Life in the Theatre” at Performance Network Theatre.
And to some extent that’s true. However, if you have bad actors and a lousy script, whatever play you might have will be an unsuccessful one, since negative press and bad word-of-mouth will likely keep that very important third component – the audience – far, far away.
But when you have two actors like Loren Bass and David Wolber breathing life into David Mamet’s sparse but powerful dialogue, magic does indeed happen on stage. And that’s certainly the case with this John Seibert-directed production.
Mamet’s 26-scene, 90-minute comedy is an intimate “look behind the scenes” at pretty much every small theater company that’s ever existed. There’s back-biting and there’s bitchiness, but there’s also a deep and passionate love for the art that trumps everything else. And there’s always that one seasoned veteran who believes it’s his sacred responsibility to pass along the traditions of the business to the next generation – whether they want to hear it or not.
That’s Robert – played exquisitely by Bass. As the play begins, we find Robert and John (Wolber) in the theater’s dressing room on opening night of the new season. A camaraderie already seems to be developing between the two, with Robert as the mentor/father-figure and John – a young actor at the start of his career – as the eager student/son. But over the course of the season, that changes, as Robert’s advice becomes irritating intrusions and John’s career advances. And the magic that worked so well both on stage and in the dressing room falters.
One of Mamet’s earliest plays, director Seibert gives “Life” a vigorous staging – and with his actors, he plumbs the script for every emotional detail. It’s the little things that stand out – particularly the use of mirrors. Although there aren’t any, you’ll believe there are because of the precise actions and reactions of his actors.
That also holds true for Bass’s deft and sympathetic performance, as it’s the subtle, yet precise expressions and the simple gestures Bass uses that give color to this fussy, precise, superstitious and lonely older man.
Wolber – in a role with a ton of one-word lines and far less meat on its bones – paints John with a far broader brush that perfectly suits his character’s age.
And together? It looks like they are having a blast on stage!
Two others – Meaghan Shelly and Jesse Miller – provide whatever extraneous characters are needed, and they quickly and quietly change Monika Essen’s creative backstage/onstage/cutaway set.
“A Life in the Theatre” runs Thu.-Sun. at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through June 11. Tickets: $20-$34.50. For information: 734-663-0681 or http://www.performancenetwork.org.
The Bottom Line: A fine evening of theater – and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t so!

Review: ‘Birds 0f a Feather’

Highs and lows of family are lovingly treated in new play

By John Quinn
In one of those happy coincidences, Flanders Theatre Company launched the world premiere of Janet Torreano Pound’s family comedy, “Birds of a Feather” Mother’s Day weekend. The holiday is one of the sanctioned opportunities to acknowledge the influence of our relatives on our lives. And if, as Ms. Pound writes, families are “strangers who are thrown together for eternity,” then dealing with family can lead both to great humor and great sorrow. “Birds of a Feather” is a kinder, gentler take on relatives than I usually take: “Family – can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em and get away with it.”
The story highlights events in the lives of three generations of the Belanger family, a look both at “Where have we come from?” and “How did we get here?” Our guide is young Oliver Belanger, aspiring stand-up comedian, who is dealing with the incapacitation of his maternal grandmother and best friend, Olivia. The scenes flash backwards and forwards through the lives of the “middle” generation, Oliver’s Mom and Dad, as we see the passing of the torch down through the generations.
Director Lavinia Moyer Hart, as usual, pays attention to the details – right down to the now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t wedding rings that disappear for the flashbacks. That special attention is apparent in the effortless line readings and natural blocking of the cast.
And speaking of the cast, Chris Roady (as Oliver), Lisa Betz (as his mother, Karen) and Aaron T. Moore (as dad, Dan), seasoned Hilberry alums all, bring dead-on portrayals to the stage. It’s Henrietta Hermelin who is likely to steal the show, however; Grandma’s got some of the best lines.
Pound is already aware she needs to do some editing — it’s amazing how easy eavesdropping is in a small theater. Editing ISN’T easy, and I can sympathize. For the word limits imposed by the print edition of “BTL,” I have to take a machete to my deathless prose, hacking and tearing at the body to serve up bloody gobbets of mangled paragraphs to my faithful readers. The online edition, on the other hand, allows me to ramble on in endless digressions. But playwrights have no such options. If the “through line,” to follow the production’s clever reference to stand-up comedy, is relationships within the family, then the focus is sharpened by cutting out extraneous material, regardless of how good it is. And the script will be all the stronger for it.
“Birds of a Feather” by Flanders Theatre Company runs Fri.-Sat. at Trinity House Theater, Livonia, through May 28. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-538-5739 or http://www.trinityhouse.org.
The Bottom Line: A thoughtful and engaging treatment of family, “Birds of a Feather” shows real potential.

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