Local theater revs up across metro region
Theater-lovers take heart!
The fall season in local theater is just revving up, with a provocative range of topics playing on stages all across the Detroit area.
Perhaps not surprisingly in this particular political moment, at least two theaters have lineups this year that are heavy on women and women’s issues, while another two have opening shows that focus squarely on race in America.
But it’s not all heavy — there’s also a good assortment of comedies to choose. As more than one theater director put it — this year, perhaps more than ever, we need a good laugh.
Starting in the western exurbs, the Purple Rose Theatre is hosting the world premiere of a new play by resident star Jeff Daniels, "Diva Royale," which runs through Dec. 29.
This comedy of errors, said Artistic Director Guy Sanville, “focuses on three stay-at-home Michigan moms who all share a passion for Celine Dion and ‘Titanic.’ When they hear she’s performing up close and intimate one night only in New York City, they pack up to go and see her, even though none of them has ever been to the city.”
As one might expect, mishaps and hilarity ensue.
“Yes, they come back to Michigan changed,” Sanville added. “Getting arrested will do that too you.”
“Diva” will be followed Jan. 17 by “Never Not Once,” by Carey Crim, which is another world premiere.
The Motor City's longtime theatrical grande dame, the Detroit Repertory Theatre, will present "Evidence of Things Unseen" Nov. 1-Dec. 23.
This drama by Katie Forgette, who also wrote “A Facility for Living” which played at the Rep several seasons ago, deals with two extremely different sisters, thrown together by crisis.
“One is an investigative journalist and devout atheist,” said Leah Smith, the Rep’s marketing and development director, “and the other is a born-again Christian. A tragedy has occurred, and the story touches on their differing responses to grief, revenge, redemption and faith.”
More by happenstance than outright planning, Smith added, women figure large in their 2018-2019 season.
“Every single play centers around very different, but very strong female characters,” she said. “And half of the plays are by female playwrights.”
Once “Evidence” closes, the Rep will mount “The House on Poe Street,” which also examines the relationship between two sisters — in this case, two English women whose mother has left them a spooky house in New York City.
“Poe,” which Smith called “a dark comedy with elements of horror, science fiction, the supernatural and fantasy,” will runs Jan. 10-Mar. 17.
Fantasy of a different sort forms the basis for native Detroiter Dominique Morisseau's "Pipeline" at the Detroit Public Theatre through Nov. 4.
Morisseau also wrote the hugely successful "Detroit '67," which played the Public in 2016.
“Dominique’s play,” said Sarah Winkler, one of the Public’s producing artistic directors, “is about the school-to-prison pipeline for young African-American men.”
To try to make sure her son doesn’t fall into that “Pipeline,” a black public schoolteacher sends him to an elite boarding school, hoping that this will inoculate him from trouble and keep him safe.
It goes without saying that things don’t turn out so well.
“It’s a beautiful and powerful play,” Winkler said. “But as with all Dominique’s shows, there’s still a huge amount of humor in it.”
Opening Nov. 15 at the Public will be Molly Smith Metzler’s “Cry It Out,” which premiered last year at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky.
“Cry” will run through Dec. 9.
"Pipeline" isn't the only play this fall touching on American race relations. At Detroit's Matrix Theatre Company, their main stage production this fall is "Well-Intentioned White People" by Rachel Lynett.
“Well-Intentioned” will run from Nov. 9-Dec. 2.
“The title is what first grabbed my attention,” admitted Matrix Artistic Director Megan Buckley-Ball. “And there certainly is a good amount of humor. But as with most social-justice plays,” which are Matrix’s focus, “it’s hard to find out-and-out comedies.”
“Lynett is an African-American playwright,” Buckley-Ball said. “And while not all of her shows deal with race, a few do.”
In this case, an attack on a black college professor leads to demands by her friends that she go public and use the episode as a teaching tool on diversity issues. The result proves that good intentions do not always yield good results.
Following “Well-Intentioned” will be “Reap the Grove” by Caity-Shea Violette, which will open Feb. 1.
If you need relief from the country's pressing social issues, head to gorgeous little Dexter and take in "A Little Night Music" at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through Oct. 14.
“It’s a musical about status and wealthy people behaving badly,” said Encore artistic director Dan Cooney. And who doesn’t love that?
“It’s also got some of (Stephen) Sondheim’s greatest hits,” he added — in particular the haunting, melancholy “Send in the Clowns.”
On the heels of “Night Music” comes everyone’s favorite Broadway classic, “Hello Dolly!,” which will play Nov. 15–Dec. 23.
Finally, curious what the Jewish Ensemble Theatre has going on?
In an exciting move, JET is moving into its own permanent new space, at 1124 W. Maple in Walled Lake. It will open with Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” this spring, dates to be announced.
Stagecrafters in Royal Oak has "Fool for Love" up through Oct. 14, followed by "Dorothy in Wonderland" Oct. 25-28. Go to stagecrafters.org for information and tickets.
In Rochester Hills, the Avon Players will put on "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" Nov. 23-Dec. 8. Opening Jan. 18 will be "Marvin's Room." Visit avonplayers.org.
Also in Rochester Hills, the Meadow Brook Theatre at Oakland University will host the classic "Arsenic and Old Lace" through Oct. 28, followed by "A Christmas Carol" Nov. 10 - Dec. 24. Go to mbtheatre.com.
At Wayne State University's Hilberry Theatre, "Avenue Q" runs through Oct. 7. Next is "Xtigone" Oct. 12-27, followed by "As You Like It" Oct. 26-Nov. 11. Visit theatreanddance.wayne.edu.
The Bonstelle Theatre at Wayne State will mount "A Christmas Carol" Nov. 30-Dec. 16. Go to theatreanddance.wayne.edu.
Finally, in Ann Arbor, the U-Mich School of Music, Theatre and Dance will present "Night and Day" through Oct. 14 at the Arthur Miller Theatre. Also at the Miller will be "Sweet Charity" Oct. 12–21. "Twelfth Night" will follow Dec. 6-9 at the Power Center. Visit smtd.umich.edu/performances.
Local theater 2018-2019 season
Detroit Public Theatre
Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit
Through Nov. 4
Detroit Repertory Theatre
13103 Woodrow Wilson, Detroit
"Evidence of Things Unseen"
Nov. 1 - Dec. 23
Encore Musical Theatre Company
3126 Broad, Dexter
"A Little Night Music"
Through Oct. 14
Matrix Theatre Company
2730 Bagley, Detroit
"Well-Intentioned White People"
Nov. 9 - Dec. 2
Purple Rose Theatre
137 Park St., Chelsea
Through Dec. 29