By John Quinn
Review: ‘Cycling Past The Matterhorn’
Mountains out of molehills: ‘Matterhorn’ tackles family ties
Director David Regal sure has a way with the ladies.
After directing last season’s graceful “Talking With É” at Meadow Brook Theatre, he’s gotten top-rate performances out of his actresses (and lone actor, too) in the U of D Mercy Theatre Company’s Michigan premiere, “Cycling Past The Matterhorn.”
Deborah Grimberg’s sweet script might be the true star here. It is witty and knowing, a deft handling of the eternal struggle between mothers and daughters.
Our story concerns Amy, a young and not-so-talented British psychic, who is just out from under the protective wing of her mother, Esther. Wrapped up in the joy of a job and new American boyfriend, life slaps her upside the head – Esther is going blind. Amy is caught in the bind between caring for her newly divorced mother and her new independence – possibly a marriage and move to America.
Not quite what you’d expect from a comedy, is it? But Grimberg finds winsome humor here, weaving it into the subtle dance between the generations.
This is something of a coming of age story for both mother and daughter. “I wanted to write a play about how we all can be guilty of shuffling through life with blinders on,” writes Grimberg.
“Carpe diem,” might be Esther’s motto, as she throws off the blinders and self-pity, embarking on a cycling tour of Switzerland.
The script is rich and complex, as multi-layered as the soft draperies that form the set. Actors are frequently in two separate scenes at one time, even directly addressing the audience in asides. The production flows seamlessly, without confusing the audience – a tribute to Mr. Regal’s insightful direction.
Sarah Shirkey, as Amy, carries the major potion of the production, and does it with flare. The plot twists, after all, hinge on her reaction to the tugging of career, love and duty. Her grounded performance brings the character live.
And what a firecracker we have in Esther! While I’m not willing to believe Stephanie L. Nichols is anywhere near old enough to be Shirkey’s mother, she brings believability to every scene she’s in.
As an affirmation of the ties that bind families together, “Cycling Past The Matterhorn” is a welcome addition to the local scene, especially as we approach the holidays. May it remind us that a little levity can help us stay sane!
“Cycling Past the Matterhorn” Staged Thursday through Sunday by the UDM Theatre Company, a mix of student and professional actors, at the Marygrove College Theatre, Detroit, through Dec. 5. Tickets: $14. 313-927-1563. http://theatre.udmercy.edu.
The Bottom Line: The timeless battle between the generations is delightfully addressed in this gentle, wry comedy.
Review: ‘Forbidden Christmas’
Holiday review proves satire is always in season
Although it’s much too early, the common culture is once again dragging me, kicking and screaming, into the “holiday season.” The signs are all here: oversized heads on Woodward Avenue – other than Detroit politicians – and turkeys É but no, I’m not going there. And, appearing as faithfully as my Aunt Dilly’s Pecan Log – and fully as nutty – is the holiday version of Gerard Alessandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway” franchise.
This musical review is a witty satire, in which familiar show tunes have their lyrics altered to comment on the state of the arts. “Forbidden Christmas,” now at the Century Theatre, pokes some seasonal fun at the productions and celebrities of Broadway, as well as some recognizable characters, past and present.
Returning to the stage this year is Kevin B. McGlynn, joined, in the production I attended, by Amy Barker, Janet Dickerson and Craig Laurie. They are ably abetted by musical director Mark Moultrup at the baby grand.
The performances are polished; the barbs are sharp. With reckless abandon, the cast throws themselves into the show’s cabaret style, taking on characters as varied as Andrews (Julie), Streisand (Barbra), Channing (Carol) and Cher (Cher).
While the production is equal-opportunity fun, it’ll be more appreciated by patrons of a “certain age” and sophistication. After all, parody is better if you know what the joke’s about. And if you’re too young to put last names to Steve and Edie, Frank or Ann-Margaret (ha! Gotcha!), you’re going to miss the point of, say, the “Vegas at Christmas” number.
On another note, while there has been an attempt to keep the show fresh, some of these numbers are getting long in the tooth. The first act finale, a heart-felt wish that “Les Miz” and “Phantom” and “Cats” were gone is real past tense. They ARE gone; the number isn’t.
Given the relatively small audience for theater in Detroit, the successful run of “Forbidden Christmas” year after year leads one to believe that a hearty band of wassailers have made it an anticipated tradition, like candles in the windows and carols at the spinet.
Or my Aunt Dilly’s Pecan Log. It’s time to get in on the tradition.
“Forbidden Christmas” Presented Tuesday through Sunday at the Century Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit, through Dec. 31. Tickets: $30.50 – $39.50. 313-963-9800. www.gemtheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: There’s no need to shake the package – you know what’s inside: This crisp musical review is a generous gift to the theater-savvy audience.