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By | 2006-06-15T09:00:00-04:00 June 15th, 2006|Uncategorized|

Review: ‘The Aboriginal Treatment Center’

Life and theater isn’t always black and white – or is it?

There’s something both comforting and vexing that occurs during the closing moments of “The Aboriginal Treatment Center,” an intriguing new Ron Allen play that debuted last weekend at the theater formerly known as the Furniture Factory on the fringe of Detroit’s Cultural Center.
“This is just a dream,” the cast of five tells us while holding up large head shots of themselves, referring to the hour-plus onslaught of words and actions that have just been sledge hammered into the hearts and minds of the audience.
If that’s the case, it’s reasonable to assume, then everything we’ve experienced is ephemeral; that is, fleeting and not worthy of much consideration.
But like real dreams, there’s always a serious message buried deep within the metaphors, similes and poetry Ron Allen uses to build his plays. And what’s frustrating is that his work will keep gnawing at you until that message eventually works its way to the surface – and leaves you with even MORE questions that might never be resolved.
Which is why it’s always a challenge to both experience a Ron Allen play – and to review one. For dressed in a slick, powerful and very engaging package are deep, serious and very significant thoughts, the likes of which are rarely addressed on a local stage; yet amidst the beauty and complexity of Allen’s words, the underlying meaning is often lost or obfuscated.
And that often leaves the audience scratching their heads and wondering what the hell that play was all about.
Such is the case with “The Aboriginal Treatment Center.”
Purportedly “an examination of an archetypical black man’s mind” that “seeks to uncover, through language and percussive imagery, the layers of consciousness and roles that approximate the black male experience in America,” Allen presents his thoughts through the character of a janitor named Tyrone Smith who finds himself before a white judge in a surreal spot called the Physical Cafe. The black-robed judge, sitting and observing from high above on a rather large, black chair, accuses Tyrone of being “too typical” – and “carrying a bucket through life.”
“But I’m a janitor,” Tyrone earnestly protests, unsure of whether he’s hallucinating or not. (He’s been in recovery for five years and frets he could be having a flashback.)
The accused, then, experiences a metaphysical journey through which his guilt (“of the yes” and “of the lie”) can be ascertained.
What the judge, Tyrone and the playwright conclude won’t be revealed. (Partly because I’m not sure WHAT the conclusion is, quite honestly.)
However, Allen seems to be throwing down the gauntlet by challenging black men who seem satisfied living up (or down, depending on who’s doing the looking) to the expectations placed on them by the white community. He also takes to task the black women who emasculate their men – and the men who allow that to happen.
At least that COULD explain the unusual decision of having a woman – Walonda Lewis – play the role of Tyrone. Although it’s rather confusing for the audience to process during the early parts of the show – could Tyrone really be a dyke? Or transgendered, I kept asking myself – the concept makes total sense as the play progresses – and if my assumption is true.
And that’s why I always make it a point to review a Ron Allen play. For although I’m often clueless about the specifics behind the author’s words, it’s the challenge of digging through his beautiful poetry to find the kernel of truth that I find fascinating. And fun.
Plus, it’s always an evening of innovative theater.
Director Sandra D. Hines has captured the power behind Allen’s thoughts and thrusts it in our faces with a fast-paced and totally focused production.
And the difficult task of speaking his words is very ably handled by Bryan Singer as the Judge and ensemble players Terese Blanco and David Syfax.
But it’s Lewis and Madelyn Porter who ring the most truth out of Allen’s discourse and deliver it with a brutally honest and believable punch that never misses its target – even if you don’t understand its ultimate meaning.
Then again – as the characters repeatedly say towards the end of the play – maybe it’s a black and white thing. Which, of course, can also be appreciated on many different levels!
Just like a Ron Allen play.
“The Aboriginal Treatment Center” by The Thick Knot Rhythm Ensemble plays every Fri.-Sat. at the former Furniture Factory, 4126 Third St., Detroit, through July 2. Tickets: $20. For information: 734-576-9547.
The Bottom Line: The poetry and wisdom of Ron Allen get vivid staging, but what exactly his message is may not become clear right away – if at all.


Professional Theater News:

Compiled by Donald V. Calamia

Elvis tribute opens Mason Street Warehouse 2006 season

SAUGATUCK – Mason Street Warehouse, an uptown theatre in downtown Saugatuck, is pleased to launch the first show of its 2006 season. The MSW tradition of presenting new and unique plays and musicals continues as it opens on June 23 with “Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love, an Elvis Presley Musical Tribute.” This concert revue of the King’s music is a celebration, NOT an imitation of the large volume of work that made Presley a star and a celebrated musician of almost every style of music.
Director Kurt Stamm said, “For those of you that are fans of Elvis’ music, this is a wonderful tribute to ‘The King’. And for those of you that think you are not fans of Elvis’ music, you will be pleasantly surprised. Not only did he sing rock and roll, he sang just about every other type of music, including blues, country and gospel, and we cover it all in this production.”
The show’s cast, from New York and Nashville, includes: Jamey Garner, a 2003 finalist in the USA Network and Sony Music’s Nashville Star; Tom LoSchiavo, a young new arrival to the New York theatre scene who has been seen in the soap opera “As The World Turns,” performed in the Bon Jovi music video “Have A Nice Day” and was in the original off-Broadway production of “Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love”; and Shelley Thomas who starred on Broadway in “Brooklyn: The Musical,” off-Broadway in “Zanna, Don’t!” and sang back up for Vanessa Williams.
Mason Street Warehouse, founded in 2002, is a professional Equity, non-profit 501(c) 3 theatre.
Tickets to all 2006 Mason Street Warehouse productions are $33 for Friday and Saturday night shows; $29.50 for performances on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday Evening; and $22 for Sunday Bargain Matinees. Group, student and senior rates are also available.
Tickets are available at the MSW box office or by calling 269-857-4898. For more information, visit http://www.masonstreetwarehouse.org.

‘We Are Not Good Girls’ at City Theatre

DETROIT – Get your backstage pass to Kate Hart’s latest musical stage play featuring Detroit Women, a real-life, award-winning blues group from the Motor City.
“We Are Not Good Girls” reveals what goes on behind the velvet curtain, luring audiences into the dressing room and the lives of eight feisty, funny blues divas as they prepare for the final show of a grueling summer tour in a third-rate St. Regis, Montana theatre. Eavesdrop on these saucy women’s backstage banter as tempers flare, secrets are revealed, passions ignite and the fun begins. Get swept up and blown away by these tough yet tender women as they belt their blues and share their pain.
“We Are Not Good Girls,” presented by Streetlamp Studios, will run June 16, 17 and 18 at City Theatre, 2301 Woodward Avenue, Detroit (inside Hockey Town).
Tickets are $30.
For tickets and information call the City Theatre box office at 313-965-2222.

Vincent J. Cardinal to teach Playwriting Intensive for Heartlande Theatre

ROCHESTER – Vincent J. Cardinal, chairman of the University of Miami Theatre Arts Department, will be teaching a Playwriting Intensive for Heartlande Theatre Company beginning June 17 at Meadow Brook Theatre.
As part of the Playwriting Intensive, 11 Michigan playwrights will be creating original short scripts over the course of five days. These newly created plays will then receive a public reading by an ensemble of actors on Thursday, June 22 at 8 p.m. in the Studio Theatre in Varner Hall on the Rochester campus of Oakland University. This reading is open to the public and will be followed by a facilitated audience talk-back. There is a $5 suggested donation.
Local writers who will be participating in the workshop include: John Ardussi, Donna Keegan, Barbara Schmitt, Liz Brent, Mary Lou Britton, Linda Curatolo, Carin Krishnan, M.V. Patton, Jere Stormer, Janet Torreano Pound and Kathleen Sugamosto.
M.V. Patton’s short film “Shooters” was adapted into a screenplay from a short play of the same title, which was written as part of the Playwriting Intensive taught by Milan Stitt in 2004. The film will premiere locally this summer before hitting the film festival circuit. For information on the production, visit http://www.shootersfilm.net.
Auditors are welcome.
For more information, visit http://www.heartlande.com.

Learning at the Opera House returns for 2006

DETROIT – Now in its tenth year, Learning at the Opera House returns with educational opportunities for young and old alike. Under the leadership of Karen VanderKloot DiChiera, founder and director of the Department of Community Programs, Michigan Opera Theatre has assembled a program of exceptional lectures, workshops, camps and courses on topics ranging from opera, vocal and instrumental music and stagecraft, to poetry, creative writing, video production and history.
This summer, the award-winning learning series will move to the new Ford Center for Arts and Learning at the Detroit Opera House. With a new, more spacious home, Learning at the Opera House has expanded, creating new educational opportunities for students of all ages. New for 2006, are courses including MOT Kidz TV, Adult Group Piano Workshop and Opera Reels.
MOT Kidz TV, facilitated by Brian Heath of Splash Media Group, will give young learners a hands-on look at film and video production. The course will teach writing, directing, filming, editing and post-production, and will culminate in a public screening of finished projects.
Adult Piano Group workshop is geared towards adults with no piano experience, though novices and intermediate pianists are also welcome. The course will teach fundamental skills, as well as some simple folk songs. It is a perfect opportunity for singers looking to improve their note reading skills and knowledge of music theory.
Opera Reels will give opera fans an opportunity to screen four films about opera, opera singers or opera scores with likeminded individuals. For 2006, the four films selected are “Aida,” featuring Sophia Loren (dubbed with the voice of soprano Renata Tebaldi) in Verdi’s masterpiece; “Alexander Nevsky,” a 1938 film Sergei Einstein with original score by Sergei Prokofiev; “Callas Forever: The Last Days of Maria Callas,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli, a close acquaintance of opera’s most recognized diva; and “a Night at the Opera,” a comic romp by the Marx Brothers.
Of course, Learning at the Opera House 2006 will also include popular favorites from previous years, including Opera Camp, Create and Perform, Operetta Workshop, Young Writer’s Workshop, Opera Lectures and Theater Production, among many others. All are facilitated by acknowledged experts, including M. L. Liebler, Candace de Lattre, Dr. Wallace Peace, Dina Soresi-Winters, Betty Lane and Christopher Richardson.
Many of the programs in Learning at the Opera House include a final performance component, allowing students to display their craft on the grand stage of the magnificent Detroit Opera House. All final performances are open to the public and are free to attend.
Convenient parking for Learning at the Opera House, and all performances, is available at the new Detroit Opera House Parking Center (1426 Broadway, Detroit, 48226), adjacent to the Detroit Opera House.
Learning at the Opera House is made possible by support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
A complete Learning at the Opera House catalogue is available at http://www.MichiganOpera.org.
To Register for Learning at the Opera House, call 313-237-3270 or log on to http://www.MichiganOpera.org.

{HEADER Water Works Theatre hosts “Double W” Backyard BBQ & Social
Fundraising event}
ROYAL OAK – Supporters of the arts in Royal Oak are invited to join long-time Water Works Theatre Company sponsors, Kay & Dick LaCombe, as they kick off the sixth year of Shakespeare in the Park in Royal Oak with the “Double W” Backyard BBQ & Social. It’s a great chance to mingle and have fun with the people who support Water Works Theatre Company. The party’s “Double W” theme comes from the double case of mistaken identities in this year’s production, “The Comedy of Errors Gold Rush Style,” and the double W’s in the Water Works name. In keeping with the 1849 Gold Rush, the party will also have a western flavor.
Supporters are invited to dress casual, or in classic western wear, and bring “what you will” as a financial donation. The suggested donation is $50, but everyone is welcome.
Water Works Theatre Company, Inc. is a non-profit professional theater company that provides professional caliber experience to the emerging professional theater artist.
For reservations and directions to the “Double W,” call 248-399-3727. For more information about Water Works Theatre, log on to http://www.waterworkstheatre.com.


For the Young and Young-at-Heart:

Follow the yellow brick road to the Hilberry Theatre

DETROIT – As summer gets underway, so does the children’s theatre production of “Oz” by Patrick Shanahan, presented at the Hilberry Theatre June 20 – July 8. The play is based upon the book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.
The play takes an imaginative trip with the character of Dot into the library of popular children’s books author L. Frank Baum, also a character in the play, for a magical journey that tells the story of what really happened before the twister hit that led to the creation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Together, the duo provides a fresh look at the inspiration behind the beloved tale, including the inventive creation of the familiar and lovable characters of The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion and what inspired their magical journey to the wonderful Emerald City of Oz. With the help of Baum’s housekeeper we meet a host of familiar childhood friends including Auntie Em, Glinda the Good Witch and even the Wizard of Oz himself. This magical production includes imaginative puppetry and is sure to delight children of all ages.
Making his Detroit directorial debut, Anthony Rhine leads this talented cast which includes Bonstelle Theatre graduates Keara Woods as Dot and Whitney Green as Bridgey the housekeeper, with third-year Hilberry Company member Brian Ogden as Baum.
Designers for “Oz” are Patrick Field (lighting), Lex van Blommestein (scenic), Lanny Birdsell (costume), Andrea Bear (assistant costume), Neil Koivu (sound) and Alan Batkiewicz (assistant props).
Oz plays June 20-23, 27-30 and July 5-8 with all performances at 10:30 a.m.
Tickets are $5 for children and groups of 10 or more and $8 for adults.
For tickets and further information, please call 313-577-2972.


Community Theater Corner:

New Works Play Festival to be held at Baldwin Theatre

ROYAL OAK – Stagecrafters, a community theater group, will present the 2nd Annual New Works Play Festival on the Baldwin Theatre’s 2nd Stage on Saturday, June 17 from 12 to 5 p.m. Members of the community will have an opportunity to be the first to view productions of 10 short plays by playwrights from across the country. Two productions per hour are scheduled as follows:

Noon to 1 p.m.
Readers Digest Story, My Ass by Jim Gustafson from Wheaton, Illinois:
Janet Olsen was having a bad day. At bedtime, she thought she had put it all behind her until the intruder in her apartment woke her up. It was then Janet knew, “Enough is Enough.”
Directed by Dianne Sievers. Cast: Suzette Shuller, Eric Franz.

Balancing Act by Mark Amenta from Holland, Michigan:
In what starts out as a seemingly innocent conversation between two new friends becomes an indictment of the intolerance hidden in American society.
Directed by Jerry Haines. Cast: Pamela Johnson and Lesa Bydalek.

1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Ashes To Ashes by Norbert Hruby from Grand Rapids, Michigan:
A soldier in Iraq is about to come home on leave but trades places with another soldier who wants to go home to meet his newborn son. This act of self-sacrifice has ironic consequences: his own death and the collapse of his parents’ marriage.
Directed by Tom Krell. Cast:Tony Battle, Sally Savoie, Chris Gerlach, Ryan Moore.

Divine Monkeys by Franco Vitella from Shelby Township, Michigan:
A college professor is about to lose his job because of what he teaches – all the while at the mercy of a religious zealot who will stop at nothing to get his way.
Directed by Dave Hoff. Cast: Steve Roberts, Howard Baron.

2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Changing Rooms by William Borden from Rose City, Texas:
When Joanna and Brian meet for their weekly tryst in a motel, Joanna wonders if her husband might be having a tryst with Brian’s wife next door.
Directed by Jeannine Simpson. Cast: Kim Gebbie, Rick Gebbie.

Boulevard Blues by John Kosik from Southfield, Michigan:
Emotional crises intensify an already, complicated set of life circumstances for the main character who grapples with making a decision that may come at a great cost to her. A revealing glimpse at how persons with a serious, emotional disability struggle to overcome those life circumstances.
Directed by John Kosik. Cast: Julie Tillotson, John Fowler, Larry Webster.

3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Untitled #2 by Jim Gordon from East Norwalk, Connecticut:
“I’m right. You’re not.” Two art critics learn that things aren’t always what they seem.
Directed by Shar Douglas. Cast: Jerry Haines, Eric Henrickson, Gary Sekerak.

Ripples On The Water by Rose-Mary Harrington from Ashland, Oregon:
Sammy-Jo, a single, pregnant teen, escapes her nightmarish environment only to be confronted with the overwhelming responsibility and reality of motherhood. Can the circle of abuse and neglect be broken?
Directed by Kimberly A. Wallace. Cast: Sandi Glover, Laurane Walker.

4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Still Life by Gwendolyn Turnbull from Shelby Township, North Carolina:
Set at a funeral, “Still Life” is about the collision of perspectives. It’s a black comedy that plays with the subjective nature of life and death.
Directed by Steve Tadevic. Cast: Wendy Willis Thompson, Sandi Glover, Sofia Malynowsky, Dianne D’Agostino, Julie Tillotson, Howard Baron, Steve Roberts, Dave Hoff.

Double Solitaire by Ann Forsaith from Royal Oak, Michigan:
Max and Fay’s usual evening game of double solitaire is interrupted by the intrusion of the medical diagnosis given to Max earlier in the day. As each learns the other’s thoughts, quiet fears escalate to a point where neither can stop the impending eruption.
Directed by Sandy Krell. Cast: Deborah Silverman, Tom Krell.

There is no charge for admission. Seats are on a first come, first served basis. Parking is available in a garage across the street from the theatre as well as in a parking lot and structure, one block north on the west side of S. Lafayette across from the SMART bus station.

Stagecrafters is located at the beautiful Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette Ave, Royal Oak.
For more information, call 248-541-6430 or visit http://www.stagecrafters.org.


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