‘Welcome to the Moon’ – no cheese here

BTL Staff
By | 2011-01-27T09:00:00-04:00 January 27th, 2011|Entertainment|

By John Quinn

“Welcome to the Moon” continues through Feb. 5. Photo: Michigan Actors Studio

Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s name might not ring a bell, but you know his work. His script for the 1987 film “Moonstruck” (Yeah, guys Cher!) won Shanley the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. His collection of short sketches, “Welcome to the Moon,” is the opener for Michigan Actors Studio of Ferndale’s first professional theater season.
As usually happens in my stream of unconsciousness, sometimes words evoke strange associations. When I saw “moon” on my schedule, the lyrics of the Ella Fitzgerald classic burst into my brain:
{ITAL “Say, it’s only a paper moon/Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe/If you believed in me.”}
The song aptly describes the theater. Paper moons, cardboard seas, artificial lighting, it’s all part of the show. But the Michigan Actors Studio’s “Moon” is a lot more substantial.
The performance space is a drafty, black cube. The lobby, house and stage share the same space. So intimate is the setting that the sign on the outer door should read, “Latecomers will be left for the wolves.” There are three rows of not uncomfortable chairs curved around the arc of a tiny stage. There is no set. Lighting consists of six amber spots. There’s no paper moon or cardboard sea to be seen. This production strips away the trappings to showcase the fundamental basis for theater: the relationship between Actor and Audience.
I research the plays I see, usually looking for useful trivia while trying to avoid plagiarism. I went looking the year this one debuted (1982, trivia fans) and found the preface the playwright had attached to the program of the original production. He speaks of how personal these sketches are, inspired by his life experience. But the last line really caught my attention as it so elegantly sums up the theme. “All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.” That also sums up the acting experience.
The opening fragment, “The Red Coat,” proves that admitting love changes everything. The closer, a one-act also named “Welcome to the Moon,” says that with determination we really can go home again. In between are four more variations on a theme; some absurd, some downright philosophical. Although the performance runs only a little more than an hour, one leaves this upbeat little oddity rather pleased with the world.
So what do you need for theater? Three rows of audience and a dozen energized actors seem to fill the bill. Oh, I almost forgot – you need a skillful director. This show has two of those, actually: Rich Goteri and Rachel Bellack, the artistic director and managing director respectively. As for the ensemble, they reflect the fact that the Michigan Actors Studio is an active trade school and experience levels vary. The advanced actors have embraced their characters and sell the parts. The rawer talents have the delivery down pat, but have not yet risked the “deep breath and leap” to dive down into the character.
Acting is hard. Criticism is easy.

‘Welcome to the Moon’
Michigan Actors Studio, 648 E. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale. Friday-Sunday through Feb. 5. $15. 877-636-3320. http://www.michiganactorsstudio.com

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.