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By |2006-04-13T09:00:00-04:00April 13th, 2006|Entertainment|

Review: ‘The Inspector General’

Take me out to…the theater?

By John Quinn
By the time you read this, my faithful fans, the first pitch has crossed the plate at Comerica Park, and the Tigers are off on an “adventuresome” season. Meanwhile, the season for that other “America’s Pastime,” by which of course I mean the American Theater (we wish), is beginning to show signs of winding down. The Hilberry just launched the last production of its repertory season, Nikolai Gogol’s immortal comedy, “The Inspector General.” Now for your vocabulary word of the week – “Repertory: A theater in which a resident company presents works from a specified repertoire, usually in alternation.”
So what do baseball and theater have in common? It’s that “resident company” of athletes or actors -“players” all.
Like an athletic team, some rep actors are heavy hitters; given a good role and an insightful director, they can knock one into the bleachers. Some, sadly, are as wooden as a Louisville Slugger. It is a satisfying treat to watch uncertain rookies become seasoned professionals over the course of the three seasons actors spend at the Hilberry.
Whether it’s frequent visits to the ballpark or attending an entire theater season the way a subscriber (or this theater critic) has done, you learn that the old saw, “You can’t tell the players without a program” is simply not true. Seasoned vets at Comerica aren’t going to mistake “Pudge” Rodriguez for anybody else on the field, and you’re not going to forget the stentorian tones of Michael Brian Ogden, no matter what floppy mustache makeup sticks on him. You can’t miss the awesome talent of a Carly Germany, last season’s Wilde Award winner for Best Actress. Likewise you’ll notice the versatility of a Jennifer McConnell, vengeful Grecian princess in “Electra” now pressed into a trouser role as one half of a team of Russian landowners best described as “Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.”
And the play that occasioned all this reflection? “The Inspector General” was first produced in 1836; Peter Raby’s adaptation makes it as fresh as the Abramoff scandals. In a backwater Russian village, The Powers That Be get a leak that an Inspector General is due to arrive from the capital to look into affairs. Now, in accord with Russian tradition, everybody has three names already, but “Greedy” could be the middle name of all these characters. When it’s noticed there’s a young man from St. Petersburg staying at the inn but not paying his bills, it’s assumed he’s the inspector incognito. So, naturally, the Mayor and Town Council, bribe-takers all, can’t throw money at him fast enough. The problem – he’s really only an office clerk stranded because he blew his traveling funds on a bad hand of cards. “The Inspector General” is a poke in the eye of government corruption, a dangerous move no matter where or when it’s launched.
There’s a certain delight in seeing actors seemingly throw caution to the winds and explore comedy to its limits. Director James Thomas kept his eye on the ball (I didn’t plan that allusion – it came strictly from left field. Somebody stop me.). He’s drawn fine performances all around, without allowing too many over-the-top shenanigans. What he gets is belly laughs from an appreciative audience.
Sean Ward, as the VIP who isn’t important, does a neat job in the role. He’s vain, boorish and totally clueless. (It’s mid-Act II before it dawns on him he’s been mistaken for someone else.) And to his credit, his portrayal fits the description of a “fly with its wings pulled off.”
However, it’s Jeff Thomakos, as the thoroughly corrupt Mayor who is drawing big laughs, not only for some of the meatier comedy in the script, but for his hyperbolic breakdown upon learning he’s been duped.
So if you’re in the mood to cheer Opening Day at the ballpark, remember: In sports and in art, tradition is good. The Hilberry has done a lot of traditional productions this season, and it’s been very good. Now if the Tigers have rounded up some traditional pitching, we might be in for an entertaining season of baseball.
“The Inspector General” plays in repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through May 13. Tickets: $15-$28. For information: 313-577-2972 or http://www.hilberry.com
The Bottom Line: A classic comedy skewering society’s baser motives, “The Inspector General” shows that human nature hasn’t changed in 170 years.


Professional Theater News from Around Town:

Compiled by Donald V. Calamia

Target sponsors half-priced tickets for shows at Detroit Rep

DETROIT – Target, in partnership with the Detroit Repertory Theatre, will sponsor six half-price Thursdays beginning April 13 and running every Thursday for the rest of the run of the Repertory production, “Yemaya’s Belly” by Quiara Alegria Hudes. In addition, half-price Target Tickets are also available for two matinees, April 29 & May 13. Target Tickets for all designated performances are just $10 each.
Curtain time for all Target Thursdays is 8:30 p.m.; Target Matinees are at 3 p.m.
“Yemaya’s Belly” is an engaging story of a young Caribbean who dreams of going to the United States, drinking refrigerated coke and meeting the president. His life becomes more complicated when he attempts to turn the dream into reality and tries to cross “Yemaya’s Belly” to reach America.
The purpose for the Target Ticket Special is to encourage friends and families throughout the metropolitan area to visit one of Detroit’s oldest cultural jewels and experience the enriching excitement that the Rep provides. The program encourages friends and families of modest means to add intimate, live professional theatre at the Rep to their cultural life.
The Half Price Ticket Program at the Rep is part of the ongoing support Target provides to local communities throughout the country. Every week Target gives more than $2 million to strengthen families and communities across the nation, with a focus on education, the arts, social services and other vital community partnerships.
The Target/Repertory partnership dates back to 1987. The relationship has been sustained throughout many mutual transformations. The Rep is pleased to be a part of this year’s Target Sponsored Event.
“Yemaya’s Belly” runs every Thursday through Sunday (except Easter) until May 21. Advanced Tickets are $17; door sales are $20.
The Detroit Repertory Theatre is located in the geographic center of Detroit and is easily accessible by all major freeways.
For complete details or to reserve tickets, call the Repertory Box Office at 313-868-1347. For maps and detailed information visit the Rep’s Web site at http://www.detroitreptheatre.com

New Ford Center for Arts and Learning to open at Detroit Opera House

DETROIT – The Detroit Opera House is pleased to announce the grand opening of the Ford Center for Arts and Learning, an arts education resource for the entire community, on Thursday, April 27. The grand opening of the Ford Center for Arts and Learning coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the Detroit Opera House opening, and a special concert performance commemorating the occasion.
The Ford Center is located in the six-story Broadway Street office tower of the Detroit Opera House on Broadway Street in downtown Detroit. The facility, which has been vacant since the mid 1970s, has been renovated and transformed into a dedicated center for arts education and performance, featuring the Allesee Dance and Opera Resource Library, the Floy and Lee Barthel Costume Shop, the Marion and David Handleman Learning Studio, the Margo V. Cohen Center for Dance and the DaimlerChrysler Theater. The Center also includes an expanded ground-level retail space for the Michigan Opera Theatre Boutique.
“Opening the Ford Center for Arts and Learning is the realization of a dream some 35 years in the making,” said Dr. David DiChiera, founder and general director of Michigan Opera Theatre. “I’ve always believed that education and outreach are an essential component of our work at Michigan Opera Theatre, and this new facility will allow us to expand our offerings and touch even more lives with the arts.”
MOT, ranked among the nation’s 10 largest opera companies by audience and annual operating budget, was founded in 1971. The company started as an educational component of the Detroit Grand Opera Association, originally called Overture to Opera, which facilitated the Metropolitan Opera’s annual visits to Detroit. Firmly rooted in arts education, MOT and its award-winning Department of Community Programs, led by Karen VanderKloot DiChiera, have been an innovative industry leader in education and community outreach.
The new Ford Center for Arts and Learning was made possible by the completion of Michigan Opera Theatre’s New Century Fund capital campaign, The Crowning Achievement, which exceeded its $20 million goal in June, 2004. Funds from the campaign have also enabled MOT to construct a new parking center adjacent to the Detroit Opera House and to create an endowment fund for continued fiscal stability and growth.
MOT estimates the total construction cost of the new Ford Center for Arts and Learning at $9.5 million, bringing the overall cost of the Detroit Opera House (including the new Detroit Opera House Parking Center) to $79.5 million.
The Ford Center for Arts and Learning at the Detroit Opera House is named in recognition of a generous gift from the Ford Motor Company Fund.
An open house featuring tours of the new Center, light refreshments and demonstrative performances and learning activities will be held from 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27. The public is welcome.
In conjunction with the open house and the 10th anniversary of the Detroit Opera House, MOT will host a special 10th Anniversary Concert, celebrating a decade of divas, drama and dreams, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will feature artists from the company’s spring productions of “Aida” and “Cinderella,” singing a variety of opera’s biggest arias.
Tickets range from $10-$35, and are available at the Detroit Opera House ticket office and by phone at 313-237-7464. For directions and other information, log on to http://www.michiganopera.org


From Our Hallowed Halls of Learning:

Student-written and directed ‘Knick Knack’ at OU

ROCHESTER – Oakland University’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance presents the original, student-written and student-directed, “Knick Knack” on April 13 and 14 at 8 pm, and on April 15 at 2 pm and 8 pm in Varner Lab Theatre.
This is a quirky office comedy about a real pushover guy making extreme efforts to put a simple flower on his desk. The seemingly insurmountable red tape he encounters in order to get his flower is nothing compared to the oddball characters he meets on the job. These nameless office workers – and they remain nameless throughout the play – are played by actors Meghan Banks as Lady In Red, Stefan Mantyk as Boss, Craig Hemming as Man in Color and Adrienne Podjun as Au Naturale. The main character, Man In Suit, played by John Wencel, finds that the battles he must fight are not just within office walls, but within himself as well.
“Knick Knack” was student-written by Franco Vitella in Oakland University’s Advanced Playwriting class taught by Michigan playwright Kitty Dubin. It is also student-directed by senior theatre performance major Meghan Trudell. Lights, sets, props and costumes are also student-designed.
Tickets are $5 general and $3 student, and are only available at the door.
For more information, phone 248-370-3013 or log on to http://www2.oakland.edu/mtd

Bonstelle Theatre completes 2005/06 season with “Little Shop”

DETROIT – The historic Bonstelle Theatre completes its 2005-2006 season with the opening of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, based on the film by Roger Corman and the screenplay by Charles Griffith, on Friday, April 21 at 8 p.m.
“On the 23rd day of the month of September in an early year of a decade not too long before our own, the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence, and this terrifying enemy surfaced as such enemies often do in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places.” The musical tells the story of meek, mild-mannered, out-of-luck Seymour Krelbourn, who has just discovered an exotic little plant with an unusual appetite. The plant is growing remarkably fast – and so is Seymour’s love for Audrey, his co-worker at the flower shop. But she has a boyfriend, and the plant has a bloodthirsty appetite that threatens the entire planet. The feeding frenzy begins as Seymour becomes a local celebrity and the plant becomes a larger-than-life phenomenon.
Little Shop of Horrors is directed by Michael Barnes, with musical direction by Dr. Norah Duncan, assistant direction by Ph.D. candidate Aili Marie Smith, and stage management by Margo Beregszaszy.
The cast includes: Ashlee Armstrong, Anton Asuquo, Kevin Joseph Beltz, Laura Downes, Christopher Dybash, Angie Kane, Kenny Konaszewski, Jaazmine D’ Parker, Pete Podolski, John Nicholas Rattray, Cal M. Schwartz (Mushnik/Dearborn, MI), Victoria Rose Weatherspoon and Deborah Joy Winans.
A special voice appearance will be made by Oldies 104.3 WOMC radio personality Dick Purtan as the voice of the interviewer.
“Little Shop of Horrors” opens at the Bonstelle Theatre at 8 p.m., Friday, April 21, with performances on April 22, 28, and 29 at 8 p.m., and April 23 and 30 at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices range from $14 – $18, with discounts available for senior citizens, students, faculty and Alumni Association members.
Tickets for “Little Shop of Horrors” can be purchased in advance by calling the Wayne State University Theatre Box Office (located at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Cass and Hancock) at 313-577-2960 Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon until 6 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased at the door at the Bonstelle Theatre, located at 3424 Woodward, beginning one hour prior to each performance.
Performance information may also be obtained by visiting the theatre’s website at http://www.bonstelle.com

Macomb students present ‘Time Out For Ginger’ at Macomb Center

CLINTON TWP. – Become a member of a 1950’s sitcom audience for the Macomb Community College student drama production of the comedy “Time Out for Ginger” by Ronald Alexander.
Under the direction of adjunct professor Bill Quigley, performances will take place at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts Stage II on April 20-23. The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Members of the audience will be transformed into actual members of a 1950’s sitcom audience watching the “filming” of the play as it unfolds in sitcom form.
Written by Ronald Alexander in 1948, the three-act play was first produced by the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas. It was produced in New York by Shepard Traube and Gordon Pollock in association with Don Hershey at the Lyceum Theater in 1952.
A graduate of Eastern Michigan and Michigan State, director Bill Quigley calls Livonia home and currently teaches theater, geography and history at Macomb, Oakland and Wayne County Community Colleges. He has appeared in over 35 plays and musicals thus far, and aspires to continue pursuing a professional career in music and theater while teaching at the collegiate level.
The cast for Macomb’s production of Time Out for Ginger includes: James Villalpando, Danae DeWolf, Patrick L. Dear, Lawrence S. Dababneh, Edward Fields, Jarrod Henderson, Kayla M. Toth, Layla Naja, Sherry Burke, Kelly Owczarek and Nate Wrubel.
Advance ticket prices for Time Out For Ginger are $5 for students/senior citizens and $9 for adults. The day of the performance tickets are $8 for students/senior citizens and $11 for adults.
For tickets or information, contact the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts at 586-286-2222 or log on to http://www.MacombCenter.com


Fun for the Whole Family:

Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. returns to Macomb Center

CLINTON TWP. – Back by popular demand, the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. returns to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday April 22. Part of the LaSalle Bank Sunshine Series, shows are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Fred Garbo and Daielma Santos mesmerize audiences with imaginative imagery and artistic foolishness that may well be the funniest and most creative program that you ever see. Bursting with original, fantastic, pneumatic suits of all shapes and sizes, dexterous juggling, dance, hilarious visual comedy, mischief and even art, this two person international performance is a show for the whole family!
Garbo is a true entertainer who brings a gymnast’s timing and an actor’s presence to his Inflatable Theater Co. He was the acrobat inside Barkley the Dog on “Sesame Street.” He was the chief juggler in the musical “Barnum” on Broadway. He has toured Europe, Hong Kong and Australia with the high-flying, torch twirling, Obie Award-winning “Foolsfire.” He has tumbled with the New York Opera’s “Turandot” at Lincoln Center, danced with MOMIX in Brazil and trained with the Master of Illusion, Tony Montanaro. He has been inventing inflatables with artist/builder George York for over 16 years and teams with Daielma Santos in the Inflatable Theater Co. for presentations around the globe.
As a ballerina, Santos brings grace and fantasy with her whimsical dance and amazing rhythm, renewing your sense of wonder and exciting your imagination. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Santos has been the principal dancer with the Opera Paulista Company of Sao Paulo, and has performed with several companies including the Cisne-Negro Ballet Company. Her training includes studies at the Royal Academy of Dance of London, the University of Michigan and with director Tony Montanaro. Acclaimed as a talented choreographer and teacher, her performances span the Americas and Europe and she is a continuing guest artist with the Portland (Maine) Ballet Company. Her choreography combines world-class artistry and technical brilliance with theatrical humor.
Ticket prices for the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. are $10 general admission, based on availability.
For tickets or information, contact the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts at 586-286-2222 or log on to http://www.MacombCenter.com


About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.