Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint Youth Theatre has once again teamed with University of Michigan-Flint’s Andrew Morton (now FYT Playwright-in-Residence) to produce another show with both its roots and its heart in Flint. The Most (Blank) City in America opened Saturday and invited its audience to contribute adjectives to describe this place we all call home. It was a decidedly intense and often profound exercise.
Audience members were given small cards listing the play’s title and an invitation was immediately extended to write an adjective on the blank line. Later in the performance, we were asked to write another descriptor on the flip side of the card. We suspect many of those second adjectives were more in-depth and emotionally inspired.
Tim McMath’s set design is quite impressive. An enormous and colorful reproduction of a Flint postcard takes up the entire backdrop. In front of it stands an almost life-sized version of the “Rock” emblazoned with “Flint Lives Matter” and surrounded by dirt, sand and scruffy plant life. And in front of that is a stream of flowing water representing the Flint River where the story begins.
Using life sized Indian puppets, each with two operators, a small fire is lit by striking stones together. Much of the beginning of this piece is without dialogue and makes for an interesting and personal interpretation of Flint’s early days.
Time moves forward propelled by sound effects and period music. Then a grandfather and his two grandchildren arrive to do some fishing. Alfred Bruce Bradley is wonderful in this paternal role as he sits amid his poles and tackle boxes telling his grandchildren stories of Flint. Masai Clayborne and Leah Dunlap are perfectly scrappy as Michael and Bettina slightly bored by this trip to the river with only one fishing pole amongst them.
When the two representatives of “Lily White” show up to enlist the aid of locals in redefining the city, we admit to being amused by Layla Meillier’s suit and wild blond wig, and by George Lieber’s frenetic attempts to chart “citizen” responses. While clearly a caustic look at outsider opinion, the interlude was loudly interrupted by Alazsha Donerson’s rage at the unfairness being portrayed.
Donerson’s frenzy was an emotional highlight that brought some audience members to tears as she railed against the injustice being foisted on her hometown. Her outpouring culminated in a call for fury that was roundly answered by the troupe.
Fast forwarding to the end we were once again treated to Grandfather fishing with his now grown granddaughter played this time by Alexis Harvey. She is a positive symbol through her ability to overcome adversity and hardship and emerge on top of things. But her guilt in wanting to leave Flint is something to which many can relate.
Mention must be made of the contribution music makes to this performance. Dan Gerics and Mark Gmazel infuse a rhythm and song into this ethereal story both with voice and various percussives. Enrique Vargas is also to be complimented on his final soliloquy from atop the “Rock”.
Director Jeremy Winchester’s troupe consists of folks from all over the area, but young people are prominent. The show draws inspiration from a number of local youth endeavor groups including Tapology, Raise It Up! Youth Arts and Awareness, Fly-town Puppet Theatre at Mott Middle College High School, and Alliance between FYT and UM-Flint Theatre.
We greatly enjoyed this production. It is a fitting cap on Andrew Morton’s previous FYT collaborations that also reference Flint – Bloom and 9XNourished. There is no doubt that most of Flint’s citizens experience a somewhat love/hate relationship with our town. Events here can make us very happy and then very sad, frightened, even angry. We would urge folks to go see this production. Decide what you will write on the card to describe Flint. What would you write on the “Rock” if you could? Here’s your chance.
The Most (Blank) City in America continues through May 1 for ten performances – Fridays at 7:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For more ticket information contact the box office at 810-237-1350. Tickets for all performances are also available online, http://tickets.thewhiting.com/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=6452, or at the door.