Mitten State culture, men make for big laughs

By |2009-05-07T09:00:00-04:00May 7th, 2009|Entertainment|

By D. A. Blackburn

Our lives are profoundly shaped by the men who inhabit them, and the regional culture in which we grow up. The Planet Ant Theatre’s newest late night production, “Sirs,” which opened to a capacity crowd Friday night, pays a warm tribute to these influences, garnering big laughs with a decidedly Michigan accent.
“Sirs” is the product of the improv team – or “rumble pack” – The Verdict and director Lauren Bickers. Writing the script was a wholly collaborative effort, and each member has brought their own senses of humor and shades of their fathers to the play. The result is a sharply funny script, with rich, lovable and familiar characters.
A young Chicago native, Alan Reynolds (Michael Hovitch), has just relocated to his new wife’s hometown of Tanglewood Lake, Michigan. When he meets his new neighbors, a gang of three 50-something curmudgeons, the culture shock of his move is readily apparent. Over the course of this rapid-fire comedic romp, the four learn to live and laugh together, but the journey is a rocky ride through the heart of small-town life in the wolverine state.
The “sirs” that Alan encounters are led by Bill Schlepke (Bryan Lark), neighborhood association president, multiple heart attack survivor and the former owner of his new house – which, along with his old hot tub, grill and pontoon boat, Schlepke refuses to leave. Flanked by his two best friends, Dennis Broyles (Garrett Fuller) and Ben Mills (Jamen Spitzer), Schlepke sets out to make their newest neighbor miserable with a list of preposterous neighborhood code violations, but it’s ultimately Alan who gets the last laugh.
This well-acquainted team of performers has an excellent chemistry throughout the play, but the charm of “Sirs” is much more than just a strong showing for the ensemble. Each player has developed a deep, unique, nuanced persona – each hilarious in his own way and right. As the leader of the pack, Lark is superb, having gone the extra mile for laughs – shaving a rectangle of chest hair for surgical patches and drinking ranch dressing straight from the bottle, among other comedic devices.

Spitzer and Hovitch also earn fits of laughter with their performances, but it’s Fuller who really stands out in this production. His ass-kicking, Strohs-swilling, good-old-boy character feels as familiar as a crazy uncle, but that said, it’s far from a generic caricature. And his ability to rock out awesome old guy dance moves to Bob Seger – surely influenced by director Bickers, best known for her original comedy “Timeless: The Danceical” – creates some of the play’s funniest moments.
“Sirs” is precisely the type of production that has defined programming at the Planet Ant over the years – devilishly funny, thoughtful and fresh. It may be a little rough around the edges in design elements, but that’s to be expected in the late night time slot.
And curtain time may be the biggest fault with regard to the production. “Sirs” is absolutely worthy of a prime time staging.

Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck. 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday through May 16. $5. 313-365-4948.

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