By John Quinn
Review: ‘Living With The Sevinsens’
Improv Colony at Planet Ant – At Sixes and Sevens with the Sevinsen Siblings
Never let it be said that this column is not educational.
In order to prepare you for your future as informed theater patrons, a little background is in order. So gather round, children, and your wicked Uncle John will impart some insider information. Just don’t issue a “sell” order at $60.00 a shareÉ
The arts community in Detroit is twice blessed. There are first-rate theater programs at our universities and formidable resources in the training program of The Second City Company. We therefore have more than our fair share of extremely talented actors equipped to handle the rigors of improvisational theater. Performances in this genre can be divided roughly into two types – exemplified, for you couch potatoes, by the game play of “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” and the sketch comedy of “Saturday Night Live.”
In either case, you are watching artists work with self-created material, and productions are labors of love.
Those artists are not about to sit around and wait for audition notices in “Variety,” however; no, in Garland-Rooney tradition, their rallying cry is, “Let’s put on a show!” And thus “Living With The Sevinsens,” a production of the Improv Colony at Planet Ant in Hamtramck, joins the ranks of home grown comedies.
The play opens in a hospital waiting room, where the seven Sevinsen (“seven” – get it?) children gather out of concern for their father, shoe tycoon Dante Sevinsen, who has collapsed. We never meet the old man in person, but only through the rather quirky characters of his children: Meet daughter Merit, the icy MBA running Sevinsen Soles; say hello to Nap, the family Peter (“I Won’t Grow Up”) Pan; or warm up to Jade, the bulimic lesbian cop; and then there’s 17 year old Verdi, who thinks she’s a saxophone.
Did I say quirky? Dyed in the wool nut cases is more like it.
The meeting at the hospital is only a frame on which to hang scenes that skewer the siblings’ oddities, and suggest how they got that way. Each piece features one or more of the Sevinsen characters, fleshed out by other cast members assuming temporary roles. You’ll be wise to remind yourself that there’s only seven actors; kudos to director Dave Davies, who was dragooned to ride herd on this wild bunch. The staging is sharp, balanced and terribly funny.
As unfair as it is to single out performers in a tight ensemble like this one, I found the scene in which Merit (Mollie Platt) plans her merger -er, marriage with Mr. Wilkinson (Tim Heyden), assisted by their corporate lawyers, to be especially memorable. Patti Taylor, in her turn as Venus, lunchroom lady from hell, is the anchor of a clever subplot, as Nick Smith’s undercover cop relentlessly dogs her. But this company can boast of quality work all around.
“Living With The Sevinsens” Presented Friday through Sunday at Planet Ant, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck, through March 28. Tickets: $15. 313-365-4948. www.planetant.com.
The Bottom Line: Family – can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em; you’ll empathize.
Review: ‘First Night’
Romantic comedy is a good ‘night’
So here it is, the middle of March, and time to ask, “How am I doing with my New Year’s resolutions?” Not well, you say? Join the many of us who lost our will sometime around January 3.
In our culture, the urge for reflection and reform seems to crystallize around that one night of the year, now frequently called First Night. We remember old friends and flames, missed opportunities and paths not taken. No wonder so many of us drink too much! The optimists, though, are toasting better days ahead.
The “First Night” in question is a sweet little romantic comedy by Jack Neary. It’s the new production by Detroit Ensemble Theatre, winner in the category of “Theater with the Most Unlikely Location.” Detroit Ensemble is tucked behind the Thai restaurant at the Dinover Mall in Roseville. The intimate theater is well suited to small shows like this one.
The plot concerns the homecoming of Meredith O’Conner, who left town to enter a convent at thirteen. She pulls a surprise visit on grade school classmate Danny Flemming in the waning hours of the old year. Danny never seemed to get started with his life and is clerk at a video store, the scene of our reunion. Danny has the privilege to address us directly, filling us in on some history and his inner turmoil.
Turmoil indeed! Meredith had been the heart and soul of young Danny’s blossoming attraction to the opposite sex, and he took hard the loss of the girl with “major “P” – that is, “potential.” His soliloquies allow him to tell us, without letting on to Meredith, that she’s the only girl he ever loved. And now Sister Meredith Louise walks into his video store after twenty years – a dream come true or just another cruel twist of fate?
It’s no coincidence that the video playing on the store’s monitor in Act I, Scene 1 is a copy of “The Honeymooners.” As Danny Flemming, Craig S. Martin seems to be channeling Jackie Gleason. His blustering, flustered portrayal highlights the cowardly lover beneath. Christine Kapusky, as Meredith, is convincing in her role as a gentle nun, but she’s not quite Audrey Meadows to Martin’s Gleason. There is an imbalance between the performances; Martin is delivering a fairly broad comic reading, while Kapusky’s character, very tender and endearing, is considerably subtler. Is this bothersome? Not too much. Some teeth, though, some more fire in Meredith’s repartee would add a dash of spice to some already funny dialogue.
But Christine! Lose the brimmed hat for the curtain call! We can’t see those beautiful eyes!
All in all, “First Night” is a diverting little piece, and may mark a New Year’s “resolution” in vision for Detroit Ensemble Theatre.
“First Night” Presented Friday through Sunday by the Detroit Ensemble Theatre, 25213A Gratiot Ave., Roseville, through March 21. Tickets: $12. 586-790-5666.
The Bottom Line: “First Night” is a pleasant little reminder that “Auld acquaintance should NOT be forgot.”