Dude, Where's My Play?
Purple Rose and the Oyster Considered
by Sally Mitani
As the curtain rose on Consider the Oyster, on two men in football jerseys raptly watching a TV football broadcast, I was suddenly struck--in a way that made me want to cartoonishly smack myself on the forehead--by the notion that in the last decade, I may have spent more time watching sports on the Purple Rose stage than I've spent in a sports arena. Is the Purple Rose commissioning plays about sports? Flipping back through the program, which lists every play produced at Purple Rose over its twenty-year history, I remember that Honus and Me was about baseball, Bleeding Red about soccer. The setting of Guys on Ice was fishing; Duck Hunter Shoots Angel and the entire Escanaba trilogy were about hunting. Then there are the plays that are not about sports, but about guys, guns, and outlaws, like Panhandle Slim and, earlier this year, Corktown. We are now considering a sizable number of Purple Rose productions. But considering them for what?
Has Purple Rose, now in business for a stable twenty years, been intentionally and stealthily trying to cultivate an audience of men who might otherwise be spending the evening at Comerica Park or Ford Field? If so, Dude, that's effing genius niche marketing! Whether Jeff Daniels' and artistic director Guy Sanville's propensity for bro-drama, man theatre, or whatever you want to call it, is purposeful or an outgrowth of their personalities, it was more interesting to think about than about this particular play, so I'm afraid I've sacrificed some space to examine Purple Rose's larger strategy. But then, Consider the Oyster is not nearly as good as some of the more testosterone-themed pieces just listed.
Oyster, by returning playwright David MacGregor (Vino Veritas, Gravity), is not about football. That opening scene uses football fetishism just to establish that one of the characters, Gene, is a "typical" guy. Then, on still shakier ground, it establishes that Gene's girlfriend, Marisa, is a "typical" girl--by having her interpose herself
twixt man and television to show off her new Dolce & Gabbana jacket during the last, critical play of the Super Bowl. Shortly thereafter, a medical mishap turns Gene into a woman, and the play asks whether the relationship can survive.
If it sounds like a confusing mash-up of science fiction, romantic comedy, and mindless sitcom, it sure is. Through some alchemy (including, when I saw it, a lively and good-natured opening night audience) it rolls along anyway, gathering a critical mass of laughs and attentive sympathy, proving that a professional cast and crew can mold a forgettable script into an amusing if not memorable evening.
Purple Rose scripts are often hit or miss, since one of its missions is to produce original plays by regional playwrights. This one was a miss, but as Purple Rose completes its twentieth season, I'd say this year it batted about .500, way better than any of the Tigers.
[Originally published in August, 2011.]