Everyone's a Critic
The Observer's culture blog
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
THEATER IN THE RAW AT PERFORMANCE NETWORK, by Sally Mitani
I sometimes miss those old, edgy days, though, when you'd walk out in the parking lot for a smoke at intermission and hear people hissing "What the hell is this about?"
The Fireside Festival of New Works, four nights of staged readings of new plays at the Performance Network, brings back a little of that nervous, raw energy. The plays are in what you'd call late-workshop stage--not entirely jelled. With no sets, and only minimal props and blocking, the actors work with scripts in hand. Equity regulations limit rehearsal time for staged readings to eight hours per play, and while the actors don't have the lines memorized, this is a good reminder of the remarkable bundle of skills professional actors possess. With only eight hours of work, they bring fully realized characters to the stage and use the scripts unobtrusively, only for prompting.
There's an optional second part to these evenings. In the talkback afterward, the struggles the playwrights have gone through trying to press the final flaws out of their scripts are teased out by the audience.
The first night, Joseph Zettelmaier's "Night Blooming" threaded Native American mysticism through a three-generation chain of strong women in the Southwest, exploring mother-daughter bonds and the ebb and flow of love and loss. It was a weeper all right. "Night Blooming"'s problem wasn't that it was unfinished. It was almost too finished--one of the audience early in the talkback nailed the problem, questioning whether the technical descriptions of medical procedures tipped it into "Movie of the Week" predictability.
The second night of the Fireside Festival was "Victoriana" by Jason Sebacher, a fantastically audacious and, in the first act, nearly perfect piece of absurdism. Think "The Aristocrats" as told by Ionesco. Once in the first act, and again in the second, "Victoriana" stopped my heart with the delicious sensation of "I can't believe I'm watching this on a stage." In the talkback, a woman in the audience began "I'm a trained sexologist..." and there wasn't anyone in the room who didn't want to hear how she was going to finish that sentence.
The Fireside Festival continues tonight (September 29) with "Thorstein the Staff-Struck: A Tale from the Icelandic Sagas," by Russ Schwartz, and September 30, "The War Since Eve," by Kim Carney. Pay what you can--suggested ticket price $10.
posted by John Hilton at 1:42 p.m. | 0 comments
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
FOOTBALL SATURDAY SILENCE, by Al Slote
Well, those days are gone forever. There was always a twofer in the construction of the corporate sky boxes: added revenue and keeping the crowd noise in the stadium to disrupt the timing of the play calling of the visiting teams. Michigan stadium had always been, unlike Ohio State's horseshoe, a neutral if not downright friendly environment for visiting teams. No longer. And it's less friendly for townies, too: no longer does the roar of the crowd and the music of the band mark another football Saturday in Ann Arbor for those not inside the walls.
posted by John Hilton at 7:05 p.m. | 2 comments
Monday, September 14, 2009
NAKED CAME THE MAYOR by Bruce Laidlaw
Jim Stephenson was much less an anti-drug zealot than a proud civic citizen, says John, a retired newspaper editor. "It was the image that had been cultivated as Ann Arbor as an all-American city, and suddenly it's the dope capital of the Midwest.
John and his brother Dan thought their attorney dad's life story interesting enough that they taped extensive interviews with him, then shaped his memories into the memoir Naked Came the Mayor, available at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Former city attorney Bruce Laidlaw's tenure overlapped Stephenson's. Here's his review of the book:
Naked came the Mayor is a moving chronicle of the life of James Stephenson. It documents the tumultuous Ann Arbor politics of the 60s and 70s when Stephenson was an Ann Arbor city council member and then mayor. It was an era when there were three political parties that elected council members. In Stephenson's bid for reelection as mayor he received the most "first-place" votes of the three candidates, but he was defeated because he did not receive enough "second-place" votes. It was Ann Arbor's one-time experiment with preferential voting, a complicated system of ranking first, second and third preferences for mayor.
The book provides a very readable description of Stephenson's remarkable eighty-three-year life. There were low points including the tragic suicide of Stephenson's mother and a first wife's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. We learn that Stephenson had a heart attack at age ten that did not keep him from an active sporting life including running the Dexter-Ann Arbor race in his 50s. There is even an amusing description of Buster the pet badger that lived with the Stephenson family when Stephenson was growing up in Iowa.
The description of Stephenson's successful career as a patent attorney includes a plain English lesson patent law--an easy-to-read introduction to that arcane world.
The book concludes with wonderful photographs from life in Iowa in the 1920s, Ann Arbor election campaigns and the "grampa years."
James E. Stephenson died on August 29, 2009.
posted by John Hilton at 6:05 p.m. | 0 comments
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
STADIUM VIEWS by Craig Ross
posted by John Hilton at 2:36 p.m. | 0 comments