Review: ‘Monday Nights @ Planet Ant’
Jam at the Ant on Monday nights
It has long been a tradition in the world of theater to leave Monday nights “dark.” That is, to have one night a week in which the curtain never rises and the actors stay home.
However, another tradition has popped up over the years – an almost cult-like gathering that meets every Monday night at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre.
No, it’s not the Moonies, or even the Jehovah’s Witnesses; rather, it’s Metro Detroit’s improvisers who pack The Ant each week for “Monday Night @ Planet Ant,” an evening of improv that attracts both the genre’s brightest stars and its hungry up-and-comers who are looking for their first big break.
And on a work night yet! Now that’s dedication!
It’s an interesting format that Margaret Edwartowski, artistic director of Planet Ant’s Improv Colony, and Dave Davies, its assistant artistic director, have established so far this year.
The evening opens with a 30-minute performance by a guest team of improvisers. (The roster changes every week.) After a brief intermission, The Home Team takes the stage for another 30-minute set. The evening concludes with “AntJam,” a 40-minute segment in which two teams of volunteer improvisers are chosen by random drawing to compete against each other.
The result – at least this past Monday night – was a laugh-filled night of improv with significantly far more hits than misses.
This week’s guest team was Galleria, a troupe consisting of six of the town’s best known and funniest female improvisers. The set opened with a line obtained from the audience, “Please measure the drapes,” with each subsequent scene beginning with the closing line of the previous one – but in a totally different direction. (That didn’t ALWAYS happen, here and later in the show, but what the heck.)
Watching these six work their magic was an absolute pleasure. Jaime Moyer and Edwartowski were especially delightful, as each created unique characters and gleefully tossed the other challenges she hoped the other couldn’t handle. But being the professionals that they are, they not only conquered the challenges, they reveled in them, too!
Cute and innocent-looking Tara Nida – who’s also very quick on her feet – also had several fine moments, as did Nancy Hayden, Jen Nischan and Anne Faba.
All but Faba returned after intermission with The Home Team, a group that also includes Shawn Handlon and Davies. In this segment, the games of choice were “Switch,” in which a scene is stopped and other actors take their place – in the exact positions, but now in a totally different scene; and “Commando,” scenes based on ideas solicited from the audience.
In “Vandalism,” Edwartowski, Handlon and Moyer got plenty of laughs as “taggers” – spray-paint artistes who bring their romantic entanglements into the group; in “Inheritance,” Nischan excelled as a creepy old woman who takes a shine to her granddaughter, in a scene full of twists that ended with Nida crying, “Nobody told me I was a girl!” (Given how the scene progressed, I wasn’t so sure, either.) Other highlights included Davies, Handlon and Edwartowski giving patient-doctor privilege a good thwacking, while Moyer, Hayden, Edwartowski, Nida and Nischan got plenty of mileage out of the word “Gulch.”
(As an aside, the Home Team’s name isn’t really its name; it has none. So each week, audience members are invited to submit a name for the group. The winner of the randomly-drawn name – this week it was “Left Hand Says Yes” – gets cool prizes.)
The final segment – and evidently the most anticipated by much of the audience – is “AntJam.”
Each of the two teams chosen at random is given the stage for 20 minutes to do whatever style of improv the members want. Although some of the improvisers have worked together, others have not – which makes this truly an improvisational – and potentially scary – experience.
And that’s what makes “AntJam” fascinating. For it’s a chance for improvisers unfamiliar with each other to test one’s mettle, and for newbies to gain experience in front of an audience while learning and practicing their craft. And it’s a chance for the more established performers to take their less experienced performers under their wing.
The result, then, is mishmash of talent and experience, all working their butts off to make the audience and their peers in the audience laugh.
And you know what? They pretty much did just that this past Monday night.
While some scenes were far more successful than others, Group One – filled with names and faces I don’t recall ever reviewing anywhere – worked well together crafting tales about a crime scene specialist with a degree in bludgeoning; a rivalry between a bunch of office workers named Bob and their enemies, the Jim’s; and Dr. Phil’s Tolerance Camp.
Group Two – with a few familiar faces – earned chuckles with Grandma’s Easter bonnet; two rivals who go a little overboard showing their affection towards a woman; and falling short of cash at the Dairy Queen.
Although a winner for each group of AntJammers is drawn at random, my night’s nominee is Brian Lark who brought energy and confidence to every scene in which he appeared. (And the fact that each character he played was totally distinct from every other was a major factor, as well.)
If there’s one word of caution I must issue, however, it’s this: Despite the fact that I had one heck of an entertaining night at the Ant, there’s no guarantee each and every Monday night will be equally as fun. But that’s the nature and challenge of improv. And that’s why I’ll be back for more!
“Monday Night @ Planet Ant” is staged every Monday night beginning at 8 p.m. at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Tickets: $5. For information: 313-365-4948 or www.planetant.com.
The Bottom Line: If you’re bored and looking for laughs on a Monday night, there’s no better place than “Monday Night @ Planet Ant.”
Professional Theater News from Around Town:
Mosaic names Samuel Pollak managing director
DETROIT – Mosaic Youth Theatre, a cultural treasure for Detroit specializing in youth development through the performing arts, announced it has named Samuel Pollak, former general manger of Detroit’s renowned Attic Theatre, as its new managing director effective immediately.
This hire marks the reunion of Pollak with Rick Sperling, founder and CEO of Mosaic, who, 13 years ago, prior to staring the organization, served as Education Outreach Coordinator at the Attic.
“I remember when Mosaic was just a glint in Rick’s eye,” said Pollak. “To see how far he has brought this company over the last thirteen years is thrilling. I feel honored to play whatever part I can in furthering his vision.”
As managing director, Pollak will deliver the strategic objectives for finance, business planning and development, HR policy, internal communications and building management. In association with the artistic director and the CEO, he will also be responsible for providing direction and leadership in all aspects of Mosaic’s work, tasks for which he is well-suited given his extensive background in theatre — as an onstage performer, director and technician as well as general manager.
Sperling says of Pollak, “He not only has the track record and the management experience we were looking for, but he also shares our vision for Mosaic. That kind of harmony is invaluable to this organization.”
Pollak formerly served as account manager at TRIO Communications, handling budgeting and internal project management as well as supplier management and invoicing for the company’s Buick Motor Division account. Most recently, Pollak has been keeping in touch with his theatrical roots, performing for the Warren Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Repertory Theatre and Jewish Ensemble Theatre. Presently, as managing director of Mosaic, he is able to enjoy the perfect marriage of his two passions, management and theatre.
For information regarding Mosaic, visit mosaicdetroit.org or call 313-872-6910.
The Acting Company presents ‘The Three Musketeers’
CLINTON TWP. – The TONYT honored Acting Company presents Alexander Dumas’ popular romantic, swashbuckling adventure “The Three Musketeers” in this entertaining new stage adaptation on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township. This classic coming of age tale follows the brave young d’Artagnan as he changes from country boy to daring hero.
Not only does d’Artagnan rescue the kidnapped Constance, but he also preserves the honor of the Queen herself. Athos, Porthos and Aramis – famously known as the Three Musketeers – enable young d’Artagnan’s journey towards maturity. The story not only traces the brave deeds of its heroes, it also chronicles the conflict between two historic periods. This clash of history is played out on an international stage chock full of swordfights, romance and heartbreak.
The most respected and praised touring repertory theater in America, The Acting Company was founded in 1972 by John Houseman and current Producing Artistic Director, Margot Harley. It has performed 122 productions for more than two million people across the country and abroad. The Acting Company has won the Obie, Audelco and Los Angeles Critics Awards and is a 2003 TONYd Honoree for Excellence in Theater.
Ticket prices for “The Three Musketeers” range from $30-$34 with discounts available for students, senior citizens and for groups of 20 or more.
For information and tickets contact the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts ticket office at 586-286-2222, on the web at www.MacombCenter.com, through Star Tickets PLUS at 800-585-3737 and at all Michigan Meijer stores.
From Our Hallowed Halls of Learning:
A peek inside the doors of ‘The Museum of Life and Death’
ANN ARBOR – Composer and veteran performance artist, Andy Kirshner, is slated to soon bring his much anticipated multimedia music-theatre performance to the stage.
An original sci-fi adaptation of the medieval play, “Everyman, The Museum of Life and Death” takes a long look backward on the mortal (and moral) predicament of early 21st-century humans – from the perspective of an immortal, “post-human,” God.
On Feb. 10 and 11, “The Museum of Life and Death” will premiere at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The production then moves to Ann Arbor, Michigan from February 16 – 19 for four showings at the Duderstadt Center on the campus of the University of Michigan. The tour features performance artist Mark Anderson, along with a duo of dancer/actors, and featured choreography by Milwaukee Dance Theatre founder Isabelle Kralj. Rick Graham designed the set – a futuristic Natural history museum made of solid steel, glittering chrome, and rays of projected light.
Kirshner augments the basic human cast with a computer-generated android, 3D computer animation, virtual sets, and an immersive sound environment. The music, all penned by Kirshner, is scored for the unique combination of jazz quintet, electronics, and an eight-voice Early Music chorus. This mixed-media ensemble comes together to explore both the progression of science and technology and the evolution and immortality of man.
Kirshner’s previous music-theatre works include a jazz-theater piece inspired by the life and myth of Frank Sinatra, “An Evening with Tony Amore,” and “Who It Is,” a solo show of musical monologues about race and American identity. His work has been produced by Dance Theater Workshop and P.S. 122 New York City, by the Walk and Squawk Performance Project in Detroit and he has performed extensively in theaters, concert halls, and universities around the country.
The recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Mary Flagler Cary Trust, and the Michigan Council on the Arts and Cultural Affairs, among others, Kirshner is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, where he holds a joint appointment in the School of Music and the School of Art and Design. He holds a doctorate in Music Composition from the University of Michigan.
The performances are made possible with the support of the University of Michigan Office for the Vice President of Research, U-M School of Music, U-M School of Art and Design, the Rackham Graduate School, Artserve Michigan and the Duderstadt Center.
Tickets for the Duderstadt Center performances are free and available at the door. Show times are 8 p.m. on Feb. 16-18 and 3 p.m. on Feb. 19.
Tickets can be reserved by emailing your name, date of show and number of tickets to [email protected]
Oakland University presents ‘Blue Window’
ROCHESTER – Oakland University’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance presents “Blue Window,” from Feb. 9-19 in the Varner Studio Theatre on the campus in Rochester Hills.
Written by Craig Lucas and directed by Thomas Suda, “Blue Window” tells the story of a group of disparate characters who come together for a Manhattan dinner party where the humor is dry and the drama is bittersweet. Smart but seemingly-evasive party chatter reveals that life is random pieces of a puzzle that don’t quite fit as expected. The combination of humor and loneliness epitomizes the life of these dwellers of Manhattan.
Tickets are $12 general, $6 student and $6 for a 10 a.m. matinee.
For ticket information call the Varner Box Office at 248-370-3013.
Theater for Young Audiences:
Audiences discover hope while ‘Searching for David’s Heart’
FLINT – Flint Youth Theatre presents “Searching for David’s Heart,” the story of a young girl’s journey of self-discovery during a time of personal difficulty. This third offering in the 2005-2006 Signature Series is written by Cherie Bennett and directed by FYT Associate Artistic Director, Walter Hill.
Performances of “Searching for David’s Heart” are on Friday, Feb. 10, 17 and 24 and Saturday, Feb. 11, 18 and 25 at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on Saturday, Feb. 18 and 25 at 4:30 p.m. A conversation with cast members and guest speakers, including a local medical professional and a Gift of Life representative, will follow both matinees.
Darcy has a tough home life: Money is tight and her parents argue constantly. Her salvation is her older brother, David, who adores her, too. But when David meets his first girlfriend, he is blinded by love and stops paying attention to Darcy. And when an accident changes the life of Darcy and her family, she struggles to understand what has happened and why. She then realizes the answer might only be found after a long and tiring search. And so, with her best friend, Sam, a junior magician and would-be Houdini, she embarks on an epic quest to discover the answer she so desperately wants and, in the process, discovers herself.
The 13-person cast includes FYT Resident Artists Amber Marisa Cook, Jason Hurley and Michael K. Lane; FYT Guest Artists Ron Bailey, Marie L. Glenn and Willie Short; and FYT Apprentice Mitch Holaly.
“Searching for David’s Heart” is part of the 2005-2006 Liz Lerman Dance Exchange residency at the Flint Cultural Center exploring issues surrounding the human genome.
Performances will be at Elgood Theater, 1220 E. Kearsley St., Flint, MI. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children.
This production is recommended for all ages 10 and up.
For tickets and information, call 810-237-1530.