REVIEW: Hilberry scores a laugh-fest with “The 39 Steps”

By David Kiley for Encore Michigan. Read the full review here. Buy tickets here!

It isn’t often a reviewer gets to say “I laughed ’til I cried,” but that is exactly what happened at The Hilberry Theatre Company’s production of The 39 Steps. At one point, I almost had to leave my seat. But since I wasn’t alone in my break-down, it was all right.

39 Steps Blog Photo

This is the third time I have seen this farce produced, and I always wonder what percentage of the audience has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” film from the 1930s. The staging of the film’s story in British-farce style is extremely funny for anyone, but it is downright hilarious for anyone who is a fan of the Hitchcock film catalog and has seen “Steps” multiple times.

The play rolls out as if a drama teacher told a group of talented improv actors who had seen the film twenty or so times to stage the film using whatever happened to be in the costume and prop rooms.

It is a seven-member cast. Manocchio plays Hannay throughout with great flair and comedic timing, with his Errol Flynn-cool comedic timing and dash, and athletic maneuvering around the stage–including using the backstage ladder and catwalk as the Forth Bridge in Scotland. Bell-Hall plays multiple roles with several costume changes–from the spy to the seemingly innocent, but really very randy, farmer’s wife to Hannay’s love interest and cohort in the story. She carries a big load in the show, and is marvelous and sexy at every turn.

It is Brandy Joe Plambeck and Michael Phillip Thomas, though, billed as “clowns” who keep the audience in stitches. They do a dizzying number of character and costume changes in rapid fire, sometimes doing a scene requiring four people as they duck behind a steamer trunk and slide on a coat or beard to each play two characters, other times as when Thomas wears a trench coat half-on/half-off and just keeps turning side to side as he does a conversation between two characters both played by him. Sometimes, the changes happen so fast, it seems like a Houdini trick. It looks like an exhausting show for the two of them, but they could soar with these roles on any stage in the world, and the Hilberry is lucky to get them for this run. They do some turns in drag, and bring such gaiety to it, with touches of improved bits of business, that you’ll be laughing and tearing up the next day just thinking about it. It helps that the two of them have faces seemingly created by nature to do sketch comedy.

Three “stage-hands” are part of the on-stage ensemble–played by Devri Chism, Julian David Colletta and Santino Craven–who portray a couch, chair, a car, doors, sound effects, etc. Their presence throughout, moving set pieces around and then performing, as they do–for example, forming a car with their bodies and the steamer trunks, and then transitioning to sheep blocking the road–is all part of the wondrous cleverness of the show and excellent direction by Russel Treyz and company.

Read the full review here. Buy tickets here!

‘An Enemy of the People’ showcases breadth and depth of Hilberry talent

Originally posted by The Examiner and written by Patty Nolan. Read the full review here

An Enemy of the People at the Hilberry Theatre. Photo by Bruce Giffin

An Enemy of the People at the Hilberry Theatre.
Photo by Bruce Giffin

One of our favorite things about WSU’s Hilberry Theatre is the fearless range of theatrical productions the graduate students inevitably participate in over the course of a three-year MFA program. This is as true for the acting company as it is for those in production, design and theatre management courses. Loyal patrons get to go along for this extended sleigh ride through a performance landscape that takes in comedies, dramas, musicals and romances across the broad and timeless expanse of the Western canon. This weekend, the course took a dramatic turn for the opening of the fifth and penultimate show in the 2014-2015 season..

This Hilberry production of Henrik Ibsen’s powerhouse play “An Enemy of the People” uses the crisp adaption by Arthur Miller. (Fun fact – the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright began his literary career as a student at University of Michigan, where he majored in journalism and wrote for the student paper, the Michigan Daily.) With “An Enemy of the People,” Miller believed in the vitality of Ibsen’s message so much that he scrupulously adapted it for fidgety American audiences. This play – which retains its setting in a small Norwegian town – poses timeless questions about what happens when truth flies in the face of power, greed, and the selfish fears of “the people.” It’s the kind of play that offers any company the chance to show off their theatrical chops – and the Hilberry Company rises to the occasion.

The unlikely hero of the story is Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Brandy Joe Plambeck), an idealistic physician who discovers that the town’s “healing” hot springs are contaminated with deadly bacteria. He is quick to share the information with his brother, the town Mayor (Brandon Grantz), so that no more people will be made ill by the infested waters. What the pure-hearted doctor fails to consider, and what the Mayor is counting on, is that the community relies on the spa for tourist dollars. Flying in the face of scientific evidence, and goaded on by the mayor, the people assume an aggressive stance of denial –attributing a variety of selfish motives to the good Doctor’s actions. The Doctor takes a stand, but when his family’s welfare is also threatened, he must choose between sticking to his principles, joining the conspiracy to keep the springs’ reputation (if not the water itself) unsullied, or packing up his family and escaping to America.

Brandy Joe Plambeck finds the right balance between idealism and naivety. His Dr. Stockman is not a man given to bravado; rather, he is baffled, dumbstruck and hurt that the townsfolk he has loved could so quickly and easily betray their better nature. It is only when they declare him an “enemy of the people” that he understands the situation. If “the people” choose to follow an evil, destructive path that will most surely end in the illness and death of innocents, he must embrace that enmity in the name of truth.

When nobody wants to hear the truth

Originally posted by Encore Michigan and written by Martin F. Kohn. Read the full review here.

Left to Right: Julian David Colettta, Michael Phillip Thomas, Brandy Joe Plambeck Photo by Bruce Giffin

Left to Right: Julian David Collettta, Michael Phillip Thomas, Brandy Joe Plambeck
Photo by Bruce Giffin

In Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” a dedicated physician discovers that his town’s healthful mineral baths, its big tourist draw, are dangerously polluted. The town doesn’t want to hear about it.

If it hadn’t been written in 1882, you might suspect the play was an allegory about today’s science deniers, those people who won’t acknowledge the perils of climate change, proclaiming disingenuously: “We’re not scientists, we can’t judge.”

That’s precisely what somebody says in “An Enemy of the People.” And they do judge. And what the dedicated physician learns is that the truth, which is supposed to set you free, will do nothing of the sort if it’s bad for business.

The production at the Hilberry Theatre is Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen’s play. You’re forgiven if you assumed (as I did) that Miller wrote his update in the present century, in his final years; in fact, it premiered in 1950. There’s a temptation to call it “An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen as told to Arthur Miller,” but Ibsen couldn’t have told Miller anything: he died in 1906, Miller was born in 1915.

But Ibsen certainly speaks to Miller, and both of them speak to today. It has points to make, but “An Enemy of the People” remains a human drama as well.

At first, Dr. Thomas Stockmann thinks the townsfolk will hail him as a hero for his discovery that could save many lives. But the whole town, with one or two exceptions, turns against him, led by his brother, the mayor. Even the local newspaper, self-proclaimed champion of free speech, refuses to publish the doctor’s findings.

Read the full review here.

“AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE” COMING TO THE HILBERRY

Here’s another great preview piece on An Enemy of the People, this time from our friend Patrick Chism at Opportunity Detroit. Read the full article here.

An Enemy of the People at the Hilberry Theatre Photo by Bruce Giffin

An Enemy of the People at the Hilberry Theatre
Photo by Bruce Giffin

Before you take that next trip to the spa, have the water tested and check out the Hilberry Theatre Company’s production of “An Enemy of the People,” opening February 20 in Midtown. Adapted from a play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and written by Arthur Miller, “An Enemy of the People” is the dramatic tale of a Norwegian town with a single economical resource: a spa that is bubbling with medicinal properties. But when Doctor Thomas Stockmann discovers there are lethal diseases spreading through these healing waters, he runs to his brother, the mayor of the town, in hopes to shut the spa down. Mayor Peter Stockmann, however, knows that removing the spa would financially cripple the town, so he attempts to hide this information, going as far as to turn the town against his brother.

Surrounded by mystery and scandal, “An Enemy of the People” asks its audience to consider the ways in which leaders are perceived by their communities and how the public’s opinion can be easily swayed. Brandy Joe Plambeck, who plays the uncompromising Doctor Stockmann, explains that there’s a disconnect in the play between what’s real and what the public believes to be real. “You’ve got a tragic hero who knows the truth,” says Plambeck, “but because of certain situations, it becomes more difficult than he thought for the truth to be known.” The doctor’s goal is to make the public aware of the poisonous waters, but he is idealistic to a fault, thinking about the safety of the people without considering the town’s fatal attachment to their own prosperity. The mayor represents the other side of the spectrum, focusing on the good of the town without considering the health of its citizens. Plambeck suggests that both of the men have genuine goals to a point, “but the real enemy of the people is pride.”

This manipulation of the public opinion is a common theme throughout “Enemy of the People,” which is why Brandon Grantz, who plays Mayor Stockmann, believes that this show is still relevant today. “Like a mayor who talks to the people in public one way, but then he talks to his brother in another way behind closed doors. This happens today. And it gives insight on the difficult decisions these leaders have to make.”

Read the full article here.

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Ibsen’s ‘Enemy’ retains relevance in modern world

Reposted from Patrick Dunn at The Detroit News. Read the full article here.

Left to Right: Brandy Joe Plambeck and Brandon Grantz. Photo by Bruce Giffin

Left to Right: Brandy Joe Plambeck and Brandon Grantz. Photo by Bruce Giffin

Environmental political dramas may seem a relatively recent phenomenon, but Dr. Thomas Stockmann was a whistle-blower over a century before Erin Brockovich made it cool.

Stockmann is the protagonist of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play “An Enemy of the People,” which the Hilberry Theatre Company will perform in repertory beginning Friday. When Stockmann discovers that the popular public baths in his town are contaminated, he comes into conflict with his brother Peter, the town’s mayor. With a vested financial interest in keeping the baths open, Peter works to turn the local press — and the community at large — against Thomas.

Blair Anderson, director of the Hilberry production, says Ibsen has long been on his directorial “wish list” because the Norwegian playwright’s work still has “tremendous resonance to our contemporary society.” He says “Enemy” confronts the idea that majority rule is always best.

“There are times when the solitary voice is ignored,” Anderson says in an email exchange. “Whistle-blowers are ostracized as much today as they were in the 1880s. It may not be as shocking today as it was on the cusp of the 20th century, but if one does stop and think, it can still be upsetting to really see how political, economic and educational decisions are made today.”

Anderson observes that while Ibsen is most often noted for his controversial social commentaries, the truly memorable characters in his plays are often overlooked.

Read the full article here.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

‘An Enemy of the People’

2 p.m. Feb. 21, Feb. 25 and March 28;

8 p.m. Feb. 20-21, Feb. 26-28 and March 26-28

Hilberry Theatre

4743 Cass Ave., Detroit

Tickets $10-$30

(313) 577-2972

wsushows.com