Review: ‘Norma & Wanda’
New Jeff Daniels comedy is another sure-fire hit for the Purple Rose
“It’s not what it looks like” is a line heard often in “Norma & Wanda,” Jeff Daniels’ latest play that had its world premiere last week at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea. It’s also an excellent description of the production itself.
The very funny “Norma & Wanda” is purportedly a comedy about two very different – yet very devoted – sisters who find themselves in a rather bizarre predicament.
As yet another frequent line throughout the play says, “It IS, but it ISN’T.”
Sure, it’s a farce. But it’s also much, much more.
And yes, Norma and Wanda seem to be polar opposites. But when the peanut butter balls hit the fan – as well as the walls, the carpet and everyone on stage – their similarities quickly become obvious.
So what, then, IS “Norma & Wanda,” you might be asking yourself, thoroughly confused?
How about this: “Norma & Wanda” is a thoroughly delightful look at love, family relationships and forgiveness – while insightfully exploring the deep, dark secrets that exist within us all.
It’s Christmastime in the Midwest, and Norma, a happy, cheerful homemaker, is baking cookies for an upcoming event at church. Visiting is her sister, Wanda, who is still moaning over “walking in on the man of her dreams pumping all he’s got into the local slut bucket” five years earlier. However, it’s her most recent heartbreak that has Wanda REALLY ticked off!
After planning a romantic evening the night before with her boyfriend, Dutch, Wanda got stiffed – and not in the FUN sense of the word. Upset, Wanda wandered to a local watering hole where she recognized an old high school boyfriend, Paulie Perkins, sitting at the end of the bar. Recalling that he’s “hung like the State of Florida” – as well as a not-so-bright local thug – she joined him in the backseat of his car to rekindle old connections. Afterwards, she asked him “to give Dutch a message” for her.
“Do him,” she instructed.
“For five,” he responded.
And thus was set a grand misunderstanding that plays itself out in the living room of Norma’s tidy, comfortable home.
With this play – his ninth original script – Daniels proves how versatile his writing skills really are. Although early on it might seem as if “Norma & Wanda” is simply a modern-day episode of “I Love Lucy,” such notions are dashed once the playwright begins introducing a series of twists and turns that always leaves his audience surprised. And just when you think you have the plot or the characters figured out, Daniels switches gears yet again.
What’s most intriguing about the script, however, is this: There’s not a curve Daniels throws that doesn’t work well or make sense within the structure he’s created: No plot change seems forced; no character is unbelievable. It’s a dizzying – and totally satisfying – rollercoaster ride from start to finish!
Theater is a collaborative art, of course, and joining Daniels in this world premiere event is director Guy Sanville who previous staged all but one of the playwright’s efforts over the past decade. It’s a well-oiled and fruitful partnership, as evidenced by the production’s very energetic and laugh-filled staging.
Other major players on the team are PRTC resident artists and Purple Rose favorites – and past Wilde Award nominees – Michelle Mountain (Norma) and Sandra Birch (Wanda). Once again, each gives a flawless performance. (Are there any roles these two CAN’T do exceptionally well?)
Equally enchanting is PRTC resident artist Terry Heck who plays Mary Sue Thornberry, “the most annoying woman in town” who accidentally becomes part of the plot when she arrives supposedly to help Norma bake more cookies.
The men in the cast also give fine performances. Who knew Grant R. Krause could play a dim-bulb so charmingly and convincingly? Or that “he-is-everywhere-on-every-stage” Chris Korte could have so much fun as A Local Man?
But it’s past Wilde Award nominee Jim Porterfield who once again displays just how valuable a talent he is as Norma’s one-armed, sausage-making husband, Mel.
And as always, all technical aspects of the show are first-rate.
“Norma & Wanda” Presented Wednesday through Sunday at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea, through March 19. Tickets: $17.50 – $32.50. 734-433-7673. www.purplerosetheatre.org. Suggested for mature audiences.
The Bottom Line: The Purple Rose Theatre continues yet another season of excellence with Jeff Daniels’ latest comedy.
Tidbits: News from Around Town
A Love Affair; 24-hour improv; Mardi Gras fundraiser; Motoprism discounts
ITEM: Are you looking for a special way to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day? Then how about helping Elana Elyce raise funds for her Phases Theatre Company by attending “A Love Affair” on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the City Tavern located at 14316 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.
The evening includes a full dinner, a raffle, dancing, entertainment and plenty of fun for a worthy cause!
Tickets are $70 per couple or $40 per person. They can be purchased at the Truth Bookstore at Northland in Southfield or by calling 313-438-6096 or 313-598-8447.
ITEM: Although it’s short notice, those wishing to help victims of the recent Indian Ocean tsunami can attend a 24-hour improv marathon at Ann Arbor’s Improv Inferno this Friday (Feb. 4) beginning at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $10, and patrons will be asked to voluntarily donate $2 for every hour of the marathon they attend. Proceeds will go to the Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross for the Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund.
The Improv Inferno is located at 309 S. Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor.
Call 734-214-7080 for details.
ITEM: Take a walk on the wild side with a Mardi Gras fundraiser for Lansing’s Icarus Falling theater troupe.
The bead-slinging event is scheduled for Fat Tuesday, Feb. 8, at the Temple Club located at 500 E. Grand River in Lansing. The doors will open promptly at 8 p.m.
In addition to music and drink specials, the man and woman with the most beads at midnight will be crowned King and Queen of the Mardi Gras. Prizes from local sponsors will also be awarded.
Tickets are $10 at the door. Proceeds will be used towards IF’s goal of finding a permanent performance space in Lansing’s Old Town district.
For more information, call 517-290-4375.
ITEM: Ten dollars is a fairly low price to pay these days for a professional theatrical event, but Motoprism is now offering an even cheaper way to attend its Sunday night improv show, “The Reality Buffet,” at Detroit’s Matrix Theatre.
Patrons presenting a meal receipt from any Mexicantown or Corktown restaurant will receive a $2 discount off the regular admission charge.
“The Reality Buffet” is an interactive production that presents 25-30 plays, each of which lasts only two to three minutes.
Matrix Theatre is located at 2730 Bagley Ave., Detroit.
Curtain time is 8 p.m. each and every Sunday (except Super Bowl Sunday).
For more information, call 313-967-0999.