“You Want a Child from Africa, but You Do Not Want Africa”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Lots of people adopt children and for lots of reasons. For some it’s to complete a “family”, for others because natural attempts have failed, and for still others a sense of duty may motivate the decision. Such is the crux of Tanya Barfield’s The Call, which opened Friday at the University of Michigan-Flint.

Multiple issues emerge in this story. Foremost is the matter of adoption. Annie (Farrell Tatum) and Peter (Lucas Moquin) are a white middle class couple. They have tried for years to have a child of their own. Nearing middle age, they have come to the decision to adopt an infant and have found a pregnant mother looking for adoptive parents for her unborn baby.

Tatum brings a wonderful fullness of angst and concern to this role. She is able to swing from elation to worry to irritation and back to calm. The tension that builds between her and Moquin is palpable.

They first reveal their intentions to adopt to their best friends, a black lesbian married couple played wonderfully by Rusharra Euwing as Rebecca and Alexis Harvey as Drea. These two have just returned from a trip to Africa and the conversation about their adventures is both comical and unsettling to Annie.

Before long, Annie is expressing her second thoughts about taking a baby “from her mother’s arms”, and the idea of adopting a motherless child from Africa takes over. This is “the call” – to become a biracial family, to rescue a child from poverty, to do a good thing.

Soon, their African neighbor, an American educated engineer named Alemu (Kenyatta DeEtt) learns of their decision and begins to offer help and friendship – much to Annie’s dismay. DeEtt is charming and affable in this role, but this disturbs his neighbor.

Things begin to unravel when they discover that the child they have been granted is not an infant. Described as two and a half years old, she appears to be closer to four in the picture provided by the agency. Tatun and Moquin grow and change masterfully through this piece as their initial ease and ambiance with each other develops a slowly growing rift.

As for Euwing and Harvey, they are a likeable duo, clearly content with their union and their life. Things only get testy when their good friends begin to change and even alienate their efforts to stay involved with the adoption process.

Director Andrew Morton has taken on an interesting challenge with The Call. It raises issues of race relations, gay marriage, and insidiously, white privilege. It explores the definition of marriage from a variety of viewpoints considering such aspects as just what constitutes a marriage and its completeness.

To add to the uniqueness Morton has placed the audience right on stage for this production. We felt like we were in Annie and Peter’s well-appointed apartment – and we nearly were. This proximity all but destroyed the fourth wall; we were involved, not simply watching.

Ultimately, Annie and Peter explore and consider every reason for canceling the adoption. Some of their issues will be unexpected, but all will be enlightening. And the ending may surprise you.

The Call continues at UM-Flint Theatre January 30 and February 5-6 at 7:30 pm, and January 31 and February 7 at 2:00 pm. Space is limited so call for tickets at 810-237-6520. More information is available online at umflint.edu/theatredance

 

 

 

 

 

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FCP’s “Almost, Maine”is Electric Fun

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

In keeping with the wintry season, Flint Community Players opened their first production of the New Year Thursday with John Cariani’s curiously endearing play, Almost, Maine. Although lacking a conventional plot, a series of vignettes depicting the goings-on one chilly night at 9 o’clock in a remote Maine town more than compensates. There is comedy (lots of that), pathos, and just enough wacky weirdness to make this one of the most memorable shows you’ll see this year.

Director Sarah E. Jarrett’s young cast performs all but one of the scenes as duets but never with the same person. Nine players take all of the roles beginning and ending with Pete (George Lieber) and Ginette (Brittany Reed) as two shy kids experimenting with the romantic idea that distance brings them closer.

The next bit, titled “Her Heart”, finds East (Patrick Munley) discovering Glory (Tomoko Miller) camping out in his yard to await the northern lights. Miller is terrific as she seeks to heal her heart broken by the death of her estranged husband.   East is unsure of this interloper at first but ultimately offers to mend her heart. This piece sets an overall theme linked to the northern lights which are said to generate a temporary electrical excitement in both the atmosphere and maybe also in people.

In “Sad and Glad” Lieber plays the long-suffering  Jimmy who sits in the local tavern drowning his sorrows alone. Suddenly he encounters the object of his bemoaned affection, Sandrine (Layla Meillier). His hopes are raised, but soon dashed again. Then, intriguingly, things begin to look up when fate arrives in the guise of the high-spirited waitress (Reed).

The laughs came fast and furious in “This Hurts”. Shane McNicol and Lauren Kondrat play Steve and Marvalyn, two renters who meet in the laundry room. Supposedly Steve cannot feel pain, and even carries two notebooks to keep track of things to fear and things that hurt. The action starts when an overwrought Marvalyn clocks him with an ironing board, and he doesn’t react at all! These two are wonderful in their portrayals of these two oddly unsure people.

Can love be stored and then returned? Gayle (Miller) thinks so in “Getting It Back” as she hauls in large fluffy bags to return the “love” given her by Lendall (Ryan Fuhst). She thinks eleven years of dating is long enough and wants all the love she gave him returned as well.  When he does agree to return her love, everything changes. Sweet and funny.

“They Fell” had the audience howling Thursday as Chad (Fuhst) and Randy (Munley) first tried to outdo each other with dating horror stories (can you really break someone’s face?) only to find they’d fallen for each other – quite literally! These two are terrific!

Phil and Marci (Kyle Clark & Meillier) return from the ice skating pond, but the air is tense. Marci seems unduly rattled over losing her shoe, and then we find that Phil forgot their anniversary in “Where It Went”. Meillier and Clark have one of the best (and loudest) arguments we’ve seen, but it’s not going anywhere, at least until the other shoe drops!

Possibly the saddest story follows in “Story of Hope” when Hope (Reed) returns to accept a long ago tendered marriage proposal from Daniel (McNicol) and then fails to recognize him when she arrives.

Finally, Kondrat and Clark were a riot in “Seeing The Thing” as Rhonda and Dave, two co-workers who find they’re more than just buddies. Kondrat exudes guarded enthusiasm and is a hoot when she finally “sees”!

Jarrett’s troupe handled these stories with perfect timing, grace and style. Set pieces glided smoothly on and off with a little help from cast members, and the beautiful starry backdrop set the mood nicely.

Almost, Maine is one of those shows you will remember for a long time. Be sure to see it! It runs January 15, 16, 22, 23 at 7:30 pm and January 17 & 24 at 2:30 pm. For more information and/or tickets contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Clio Cast & Crew Holds a Spelling Bee

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins

Clio Cast and Crew opened the 2016 portion of their season with a joyful little treat – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

The energetic cast got it started with the title song and kept going from there.

The simple set was well used from all exits and featured a delightfully painted rolling bleacher section that housed the Bee spelling contestants.

A crowd favorite was the selection of “random” audience members pulled up on stage to participate in the spell down. Of course they were the first to be ejected – leading to the amusing song “Good-bye” as they were escorted off and given a juice box.

The featured players were from all walks of life – from the lonely to the geeky to the Boy Scout, the loudmouth the shy one and the smarty-pants. Everyone created/grew their characters very well from their speeches and songs to the costumes and tics including a magic foot!

Some of the notable performances came from Steve Yerian as William Barfee with strong vocals and wonderful characterization. Also strong vocally were Samantha Campbell as Marcy Park and Tarah Smith as Olive Ostrovsky. Others had strong moments Rachael Hildreth as Logainne Schwartzandgrubinierre and Griffin Grabowski as Leaf Coneybear. The cast was at its strongest as an ensemble.

Non- singing (except for the ensemble) roles were filled by Judie Santo as Rona Lisa Peretti; the host Timothy Ruwart as Vice Principal Douglas Panch presented a very strong character with an excellent backstory and just the right amount of bluster as the spelling master; Duane Dunckel played Mitch Mahoney – the contestant comforter that lead players off with his beefy tattooed arms – coveted by Rona; Dennis Spence Jr. made several appearances – most notably as Jesus.

The first act was filled with energy and zipped right along. The second act started strong with “My Erection”, flagged a bit in the middle, but finished strong. The songs were all zippy and entertaining. One could tell the cast was truly committed to this show.

Now for some pet peeves. The curtain was set for 7:00 p.m. but delayed until about 7:12. This is becoming quite the slippery slope. A venue – whether cinema or theatre owes it to the customers that arrive on time to get the show started on time. The survival of civilization demands this.

Additionally – I’m not a big fan of microphoning a stage. Clio is small and intimate and everyone showed the ability to produce volume. I believe microphones overwhelm some, cause technical difficulties and become a crutch for performers. One such performer – I won’t name names – lost all volume and understanding even while standing at the center microphone. I wondered if it was even on.

In several spots players wandered out of their light and were lost to the audience. And a couple of times players laid or sat on the stage floor obscuring their sight from most of the audience.

The music was recorded – but I think it was too loud. At times it overwhelmed the players and should have been adjusted.

Overall, this was a fine night of community theatre. It was a joyful romp through our childhoods complete with all our insecurities and foibles.

Directed by Stevie Visser, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a special fund raiser for the Theatre and will run this week-end only. Find some time between sporting events to support local theater and enjoy this fine show.

Contact Theatre 57 at (810) 687-2588 for show times.

 

 

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FYT Sets Auditions For “Huck Finn”

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Flint Community Players extends “The Santaland Diaries”!

Due to overwhelming positive response to the first weekend of performances, The Flint Community Players is excited to continue “The Santaland Diaries”. Three additional dates have been added for this coming weekend, December 18-20.
This is David Sedaris’s antidote to schmaltzy Christmas cheer. Joe Mantello’s stage adaption is based on Sedaris’s essay about his real-life experience working as a Macy’s Christmas elf. As the holiday season wears on, the humiliation and cynicism build. This one-man show is intended for mature audiences.
“The Santaland Diaries” is presented as part of FCP’s alternative series. Shows in the alternative series are intended to broaden the offerings of Flint Community Players by presenting plays that may not fit in the main season.
It is intended for mature audiences. Tickets are $7 and are available online at http://www.flintcommunityplayers.com/box-office.html, over the phone at 810-441-9302, and at the door.
Friday, December 18, 7:30pm
Saturday, December 19, 7:30pm
Sunday, December 20, 2:30pm
Flint Community Players
2462 S. Ballenger Hwy.
Flint, MI 48507
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POWERFUL OPENING FOR “THE SANTALAND DIARIES” AT FCP

Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
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The Santaland Diaries, by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello, opened strong at Flint Community Players on Friday.

The Santaland Diaries is the story of a young man in New York who is broke, out of work and has been rejected by a number of places. He answers an ad looking for Elves at Macy’s with some serious misgivings. The process of becoming an elf at Macy’s is quite complicated even though it is only seasonal. All sorts of people answer the ad. There is a battery of tests, paperwork, and classes. The massive Elfin Rule book was a hoot. In the end, the young man is hired and his elf name is Crumpet.

Yes, The Santaland Diaries is for mature audiences, but there really was not a lot of “language”. The play does bring out the darker side of behavior during the holidays. None of it is offensive. Outrageous, but not offensive. Yes, he breaks the fourth Wall, but it fits right in with the play.

Mark A. Vukelich is the elf, Crumpet. This is a one-man show requiring a wide range of acting skills, and Mark is up to the task. He gives a superb performance as he moves in and out of various characters with ease and skill. And each character is clearly discernable. At the same time, he gives both sides of being an elf at Macy’s. He is a bit cynical and jaded, but you know that going in. The whole elf business terrifies him, but a job is a job, and he is well paid.

One-person shows are difficult because there is no one else to play off of or to get cues from. I commend Mark for his talent in this demanding show. He comes out dressed as a custodian and at some point changes into an elf costume, which then changes the play.

Many of us who have raised families have taken our young children to see Santa. We know that this is not always a joyful experience. His rendition of the photography part of the visit was priceless. The character spares no one. Mark handles these changing emotional aspects smoothly. He moves the play along and his performance lures you in.

I loved it when he acted the various types of Santas and Elves. Macy has a number of Santas and they all have a different approach. Crumpet illustrates the good and the bad. He shows how easy it is to fall into the negative, but in the end, one Santa Claus changes him. This was an excellent transition.

Mark used all of the set and seemed at home on it. The music and the announcer’s voice added to the performance, and the set had the feel of a real department store Santa Land.

It is curious that they didn’t give this show a two-week run. It is an excellent production. Tomoko Miller and Jesse Glenn, the production crew, are to be commended. Compliments also go to the Alternative Events Committee.

The Flint Community Players might have lost an opportunity to use this production as part of their regular schedule. It is certainly worthy.

I strongly recommend The Santaland Diaries. You will laugh and enjoy the adventures of this hapless young man in the days before Christmas. You will have to hurry though, because The Santaland Diaries will only be performed today (12/12) at 7:30 pm and tomorrow (12/13) at 2:30 pm. Performances are held at Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 Ballenger Hwy, Flint MI 48507. Flint Community Players’ box office number is 810-441-9392 or find them online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com. They are also on Facebook.

 

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FYT Is Back On The Yellow Brick Road To Home

Reviewed by Kathleen KirbyOz

In keeping with this season’s theme of “Finding Home”, Flint Youth Theatre is taking us once again down that magical yellow brick road in search of The Wizard of Oz. Both young and old were enchanted Saturday by this colorful, joyful, sometimes scary but always hopeful, musical adventure.

It was just two years ago that FYT first produced this Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of the beloved Warner Bros. film version of L. Frank Baum’s enduring story. It was wonderful then, and this version is just as terrific, directed this time by guest director, Lynn Lammers. All the music sung and danced by these well-known characters will thrill young and old alike.

As for special effects, the “cyclone” transformation of Czerton Lim’s set from drab Kansas countryside to vibrant Oz with the flying cows and even the grouchy Miss Gulch flying by on her bicycle is also being reprised and gallantly.

Also, many of the original players are back to repeat their roles, but many are new faces in this large cast. One of those new faces is Dorothy, played by Chloe LaFave-Hale. Fresh, sweet, bubbly and indignant when necessary, she embodies Dorothy to a tee. Landing in Oz with Toto (Yodie, a Yorkshire Terrier, reprises this role), the adventure begins.

Glinda, the good witch, played once again by Elsa Harchick, arrives amidst clouds of bubbles to grant Dorothy the magic ruby slippers that will keep her safe, and also point her toward the Wizard to grant her wish to return home. One of the best song and dance combos of the show ensues as the Munchkins and Glinda first rejoice, “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead”, then direct Dorothy to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” to Oz.

You know the story – first Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow in need of a brain. His body is all straw it seems, and therefore very wiry and disjointed. Matt Coggins is superb in this role. Indeed, he needs to be careful not to steal the show. Wonderfully limber, his song and dance “If I Only Had A Brain” is a true show highlight.

He joins Dorothy to see the Wizard in search of a brain, and they soon come upon a frozen fellow made of tin. Seems he rusted solid quite some time ago, but Dorothy frees him with a nearby oilcan. LaTroy Childress is excellent as the Tinman with his robotic moves and wonderful “If I Only Had A Heart”. This quest causes him to also join in the trek to see the Wizard.

Entering a wood, the trio is suddenly frightened by a “ferocious” beast! Cathleen L. Arnold reprises her marvelous portrayal of the Cowardly Lion complete with a massive wig (mane) and tan overhauls. Arnold is perfection in this role. She is amazingly agile and hysterically funny, but powerful in singing her desire, “If I Only Had The Nerve”.

As for that pesky Wizard – Mark Gmazel is back to play both Professor Marvel and the Wizard. He brings that special bluster and tongue-in-cheek humor he does so well.

We must not forget the villain of the piece, the Wicked Witch of the West! Deirdre S. Baker returns in this amazing role! She brings a sense of foreboding and threat but is also visually glorious as she tries to reclaim the ruby slippers. She melts nicely, too!

Music is live and under the direction of Gary King on the piano and supported by six other musicians (Owen Ananich, Dan Gerics, Annadelle Kimber, Will Mintline, Britton Paige, Aaron Weeks). Aside from a couple slow tempos at the beginning Saturday, this group was a real asset to the singers who were nicely amplified as well.

Choreography by Melanie Schott is great and makes this stage full of kids look like pros as do the costumes by Amber Marisa Cook. Loved the return to grey shades at the end! A detailed touch.

Finally, there are a slew of youngsters involved in this show on stage. We cannot mention them all, but without their enthusiasm and unbridled joy flooding over the footlights, this show would be much less than it is.

If you missed it last time, make up for that this year. Take the family to this exceptional experience. We are so fortunate to have FYT here in Flint. It is unique and coveted by many larger cities, but it’s here, and is one of those very nice things we can say about Flint.

The Wizard of Oz continues weekends through December 20 at Bower Theatre. Evening performances are at 7:00 pm and matinees are at 2:00 pm. Please contact the box office for dates and school time performances at 810-237-1530 or online at FlintYouthTheatre.org

 

 

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