New Monitor Review: Hilarious Farce at Hilberry

MOON 8Hilarious farce at Hilberry

By Robert Delaney

Posted: Feb. 27, 2014 at 9:52 a.m.

The failing fortunes of a husband-and-wife acting team has brought them and their small troupe to Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953, when an unexpected chance to revive their fading careers presents itself, in Ken Ludwig’s riotously funny “Moon Over Buffalo,” now at the Hilberry Theatre on the Wayne State University campus.

True to the tradition of the stage farce, the show is full of secret relationships, mistaken identities, and doors – through which people keep entering and exiting at the most inopportune moments.

First produced in 1995, this hilarious farce served as the vehicle for Carol Burnett’s triumphant return to Broadway after several decades’ absence.

This production directed by Blair Anderson pays homage to that aspect of the play in the delightful performance of Bevin Bell-Hall as Charlotte Hay – which evokes reminiscences of the great comedienne.

We find Charlotte and George Hay (Brent Griffith) and their company drawing only modest audiences to their performances of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” and Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” during their current national tour’s stop in Buffalo.

The money’s running out; their daughter, Rosalind (Danielle Cochrane), has left the company to lead a “normal” life and marry a local Buffalo TV weatherman (Brandon Grantz); Charlotte’s nearly deaf mother, Ethel (Megan Barbour), is increasingly annoying; and something’s wrong with Eileen (Sarah Hawkins Moan), an actress in the small company.

The situation is further complicated by Paul (Miles Boucher), who doubles as an actor and the company’s business manager, and Richard (Brandy Joe Plambeck), the Hays’ high-powered show business attorney in headier times, who now wants Charlotte to dump George and run away with him.

This is a funny, funny show; one that is sure to delight those who go see it. Scenic designer Max Amitin has provided a set that is perfect for this sort of play, and John D. Woodland has done a splendid job of costuming the show. My only problem is with Griffith’s portrayal of George: He needs to be more actor-ly, if you know what I mean (think John Barrymore in “On the Twentieth Century”).

It was, of course, a major thrust of theater training for the past hundred years or so to promote a more natural style of acting, purging the art of the stentorian tones and exaggerated vocal and physical flourishes of the past. But in portraying an actor in the 1950s, who has spent most of his life on the stage – and is sufficiently vain to get called a “ham” even by those in his own company – surely some of those old faults should figure in. To play George as naturally as Griffith does strikes me as somewhat unnatural.

 

SHOW DETAILS: “Moon Over Buffalo” continues through April 5 at the Hilberry Theatre, at Cass and West Hancock on the WSU campus in Detroit’s Midtown area. For performance and ticket information, call 313-577-2972 or go to www.wsushows.com.

HILBERRY’S “BIG LOVE” IS A FAST-PACED AND FUN BATTLE OF THE SEXES

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Sarah Hawkins Moan (left) as Lydia, Megan Barbour as Olympia and Danielle Cochrane as Thyona portray three reluctant brides fleeing from their prospective grooms in “Big Love” now through Dec. 7 at the Hilberry Theatre on the Wayne State University campus in Detroit. 

By SUE SUCHYTA

  Wherever you are in time and space, as long as there are men and women, the battle of the sexes will continue unabated. Sometimes funny, and sometimes sad, we can all take away lessons from the comedies and dramas that play out on local stages.
On the Wayne State University campus, the graduate level Hilberry Theatre presents Charles Mee’s, “Big Love,” a dark comedy based on one of the world’s oldest plays, “The Suppliant Women” by Aeschylus. You if you think an adaptation is destined to be dull, think again.
Set in the present day, brides in arranged marriages flee their country, pursued by their arranged grooms. Funny and terse in turn, the play explores human rights abuses, gender politics, domestic violence and love.
  The show is vibrant, fast-paced and well acted, with sophisticated tech, and brings out many sides of a story of reluctant brides running from persistent grooms.
“Big Love” plays at the Hilberry, Wayne State University’s graduate-level theatre now through Dec. 7, with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows and 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday matinees.

The Hilberry’s ‘Big Love’ tackles the timeless battle of the sexes

The boys of Big Love doing acrobatics

The boys of Big Love

Review by Patty Nolan of Examiner.com
Rating: 4/5 stars
October 31, 2013

The Hilberry Theatre has a new take on an old theme.

Big Love,” the dark comedy by Charles L. Mee, is an unexpected but irresistible collage of modern and classical situations. Billed as a contemporary reimagining of “The Suppliant Women,” written around 470 B.C. by Aeschylus, this show deals with the big themes embraced by those 5th century B.C. theatre fans – freedom and democracy, love and hate, misogyny and misogamy, marriage and murder.

Yes, not much has changed in 2,500 years. And so Mee’s “Big Love” doesn’t have to stretch too hard to keep it relevant.

It’s the story of fifty Greek sisters who are being forced, by legal contract, to marry their fifty cousins. Taking their father’s boat, the brides seek a country that will offer them refuge. While 47 of the sisters remain on the boat, three make their way to an Italian villa, where they are eventually offered asylum. Their respite is brief. The grooms follow in pursuit, and the comedy takes a more sinister tone as the grooms’ preoccupation with their legal rights leaves them oblivious to the women’s personal right to choose if and whom they will marry. With the women serving as their own chorus, and appealing directly to the audience, we watch as physical and philosophical battles over human rights abuses, gender politics, domestic violence, and, ultimately, love are waged on the Hilberry stage.

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REVIEW: Hilberry gives us polished ‘Marat/Sade’

Reviewed by Robert Delaney, The New Monitor

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The Lunatics have arrived. Left to Right - Back row: Ty Mithcell, David Sterritt, Vanessa Sawson Middle row: Rahbi Hammond, Megan Dobbertin, Brandon Grantz Front row: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Maggie Beson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Sarah Hawkins Moan Credit: Kevin Replinger

The Lunatics have are waiting for you.
Left to Right – Back row: Ty Mithcell, David Sterritt, Vanessa Sawson
Middle row: Rahbi Hammond, Megan Dobbertin, Brandon Grantz
Front row: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Maggie Beson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Sarah Hawkins Moan
Credit: Kevin Replinger

The death of one of the men responsible for the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution is the subject of a play-within-a-play performed by inmates of an insane asylum, in Peter Weiss’ “Marat/Sade,” the latest production of the current season at Wayne State’s Hilberry Theatre. Weiss pretends the play being acted out by the inmates has been written by the infamous marquis who gave his name to sadism, and the long version of the play’s title is “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade” — perhaps the longest title ever given to a play.

Set in 1808, after the French Revolution has been supplanted by the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, the inmates act out a play by their fellow inmate, the Marquis de Sade, who did indeed write plays for his fellow inmates to perform.

This play tells the story of the 1793 assassination of Marat, who was a supporter of Robespierre’s draconian campaign of executing anyone perceived as an enemy of the
revolution.

Weiss drew on the theatrical theories of Bertolt Brecht in his crafting of 1963 play, and although written a few years before the full fl owering of farleft political action that was to mark the later ‘60s, this avant garde work presents the vicious Marat in a sympathetic light (pretty much saying, even if he was a bit mad, later events proved him right).

It’s not a play to my taste, but I nevertheless found this Hilberry production — directed (and choreographed) by Matthew Earnest — quite impressive. Outstanding performances are given by Edmund Alyn Jones as Marat, Vanessa Sawson as Charlotte Corday (his assassin), Joe Plambeck as de Sade and Topher Payne as the Herald.

I had thought Jones would pretty well just be coasting to the end of his third year at the Hilberry after his stellar performance as Othello, yet here he is giving
another truly memorable performance.

And Sawson’s Corday (or more precisely, her inmate pressed into service to play Corday) may well be the best thing she has done in her Hilberry career. But  absolutely every member of the cast is very good, and this is a thoroughly well done production in every aspect.

Also of the highest quality are the scenic design by Pegi Marshall-Amundsen and the costumes by Mary Leyendecker.

“Marat/Sade” continues through May 11 at the Hilberry Theatre, at Cass and West Hancock on the WSU campus in Detroit’s Midtown area. For performance and ticket information, call the WSU Theatre box offi ce (313) 577-2972 or go to http://www.wsushows.com.

REVIEW: ‘Marat/Sade’ crowns the Hilberry Theatre’s 50th season

Reviewed by Patty Nolan, The Examiner

Read the review on the Examiner Website.

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The Lunatics have arrived. Left to Right - Back row: Ty Mithcell, David Sterritt, Vanessa Sawson Middle row: Rahbi Hammond, Megan Dobbertin, Brandon Grantz Front row: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Maggie Beson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Sarah Hawkins Moan Credit: Kevin Replinger

The Lunatics have arrived.
Left to Right – Back row: Ty Mitchell, David Sterritt, Vanessa Sawson
Middle row: Rahbi Hammond, Megan Dobbertin, Brandon Grantz
Front row: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Maggie Beson, Edmund Alyn Jones, Sarah Hawkins Moan
Credit: Kevin Replinger

In its final production of the milestone 50th season, the Hilberry Theatre is currently staging the extraordinary Tony Award-winning play, “Marat/Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade)” by Peter Weiss. Although this show is decidedly NOT a musical, it deploys dance and a fetching score by Richard Peaslee to more fully explore Weiss’s complex themes of revolution and individual nonconformity, mob hysteria and personal demons.

This brilliantly performed production of Marat/Sade is directed and choreographed by Matthew Earnest, who returns to the Hilberry after directing last season’s innovative “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Marat/Sade famously recreates events that occurred late in the French Revolution, in which Jean-Paul Marat (played by the commanding Edmund Alyn Jones), a champion of the poor and proponent of the guillotine solution, is murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday (the versatile Vanessa Sawson) a country girl disillusioned by the unending bloodshed. But this is much more than a mere history lesson. Weiss chose to set this story as a play within a play, performed – as the formal title suggests – by the inmates of an asylum under the direction of theMarquis de Sade (Joe Plambeck, in his most challenging role yet). As a point of historical fact, Sade – yes, the libertine who gave us the term “sadist” – was interred at Charenton following the revolution, and was allowed to direct dramatizations with the inmates under the authority of the benign Dr. Coulmier.

Written by Weiss in the 1960s, the play serves as a commentary on the nature of revolution and the meaning of freedom in a world that suppresses individuality in the name of ‘the people.’ In the play, the aloof Marquis de Sade and the fanatical Marat debate their opposing views on power, politics and insurrection.

In the play, Sade sums up his feelings by remarking, ““To me, the only reality is imagination; the world inside myself. The revolution no longer interests me.”

And the naughty Marquis’ vision is all brought to life by inmates whose maladies range from narcolepsy to nymphomania.

“I don’t think Marat/Sade deals extensively with the French Revolution,” Earnest explains. “I believe that Peter Weiss is reframing events and people from the time of the French Revolution to discuss his own time – the Cold War and the brutal, oppressive era of the Berlin Wall … I think we still struggle with individual liberties and the common good. People really are in control of their own destinies, and that’s what this play is about. It’s not a history lesson on the French Revolution any more than Macbeth is a history lesson on Scottish politics.”

This compelling production commands, deserves and rewards the audience’s full attention. The entire Hilberry company is to be congratulated on a powerful show that effortlessly pulls the viewer into its undertow of political anarchy and polarized political thought.

The cast includes: Alec Barbour (Kokol), Maggie Beson (Inmate), Miles Boucher (Holy Sister), Christopher Call (Holy Sister), Danielle Cochrane (Rossignol), Mackenzie Conn (Inmate), Megan Dobbertin (Simonne Evrard), Nancy Florkowski (Inmate), Brandon Grantz (Dupperet), Brent Griffith (Male Nurse), Rahbi Hammond (Inmate), Edmund Alyn Jones (Marat), Annie Keris (Cocurucu), Joshua Miller (Polpoch), Ty Mitchell (Inmate), Sarah Hawkins Moan (Inmate), Chelsea Ortuno (Inmate), Topher Payne (Herald), Joe Plambeck (Sade), Joshua Blake Rippy (Coulmier), Vanessa Sawson (Corday), and David Sterritt (Roux).

The production team includes: Matthew Earnest (Director), Veronica Zahn (Stage Manager), Courtney Rasor (Assistant Stage Manager), Christopher Hall (Music Composer), Pegi Marshall-Amundsen (Scenic Designer), Samuel G. Byers (Lighting Designer), Mary Leyendecker (Costume Designer), Heather DeFauw (Sound Designer), Kimbra Essex (Property Master), Michael Wilkki (Technical Director), and Patrick Pozezinski (Publicity Design).

“Marat/Sade” runs at the Hilberry Theatre through May 11, 2013, with 8 p.m. performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. performances on April 24, May 4, and May 11. See the website for the performance calendar. Tickets range from $12–$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online at, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

REVIEW: Marat/Sade – ‘The Hilberry doing what it does best – educate’

Reviewed by John Quinn, Encore Michigan

Read the review on the Encore Michigan website.

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Simonne Evrard (Megan Dobbertin), Jean-Paul Marat (Edmund Alyn Jones) Credit: Kevin Replinger

Simonne Evrard (Megan Dobbertin), Jean-Paul Marat (Edmund Alyn Jones)
Credit: Kevin Replinger

The Hilberry Theatre closes its 50th season with an extraordinary challenge. “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade,” better known, I am grateful, simply as “Marat/Sade,” is still avante garde even at age 50. It’s more pageant than play: cruel, unrelenting and hard to like. It is also, thanks to its director, guest-artist Matthew Earnest, a compelling, visceral work, satisfying for its sheer theatricality. Earnest has gotten everything right by simply honoring the playwright’s intent.

That playwright was Peter Weiss, born a Czech but a naturalized Swede. His work was heavily influenced by German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud, the French director who espoused the Theatre of Cruelty – as explored in “Marat/Sade,” meaning a violent determination to shatter false reality. Weiss has created a timeless work; he crafts a framework of societal dysfunction during the Napoleonic Empire, using techniques developed amidst the dysfunction of the Weimar Republic. His purpose was to explore the dysfunction of the Cold War, but his theme was eerily echoed this week in the streets of Boston. In a nut shell, “Marat/Sade” asks, “What needs to be altered in order to promote change? Is it society, or is it the individual?”

Weiss delved into history and chose as his debaters Jean-Paul Marat, firebrand journalist of the French Revolution, and the Marquis de Sade, whose sexual predilections gave us the term, “sadism.” While the characters were contemporaries, they had no historical conversation. “Marat/Sade” by intention is an unsettling work, and it all begins with the structure. The setting is Charenton Asylum; the date is July 13, 1808. Dr Coulmier (Joshua Blake Rippy), the “progressive” head of the institution, uses theater as therapy for his patients. He has encouraged his most notorious charge, the Marquis de Sade, to write and direct an account of the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat on the 15th anniversary of the event. He’s looking for a celebration of how successful the new regime is compared to the old. For his patients, and especially Sade, the difference is summed, “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.” Even the word “freedom” sets off the insane. Weiss has already set us up for layers of unreality. “Marat/Sade” is a play within a play in which the interior playwright may interact with his creations.

Historically, Marat was pushing for further bloodshed as the Revolution devolved to murderous infighting among factions. Charlotte Corday, representing a less violent faction, stabbed him to death in his bath in an effort to head off a civil war. The effort was in vain, and the Reign of Terror commenced.

We can dispense with the historical narrative, though; it’s not terribly relevant. Weiss put it, “Our play’s chief aim has been to take to bits great propositions and their opposites, see how they work, and let them fight it out.” The antagonists are Marat (Edmund Alyn Jones)and Sade (Joe Plambeck), polar opposites, representing anarchy and authoritarianism. Is there a winner? This is Brechtian theater; the resolution is left to each audience member.

This is edgy stuff. Ernest has toned down the violence and sex, but “Marat/Sade” still resonates on a primitive level. But as an educational experience for both artists and audience, it is unparalleled. Earnest’s notable achievement is his success in the Brechtian concept of “alienation.” Brecht, an ideologue to the bone, believed art was merely an educational tool. Thus “alienation” creates situations that interrupt the audiences’ imagination so that they can’t forget that it’s “only make-believe.”

The asylum residents are in mime makeup. Our narrator, “The Herald,” is the formidable Topher Payne, cross dressing in heels, a white slip, and red opera gloves. Overall, his remarkable performance is reminiscent of the Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret.” Evoking that account of the failing Weimar Republic would warm the cockles of Becht’s Marxist heart.

Two especially satisfying performances stand out; Vanessa Sawson as a narcoleptic playing Charlotte Corday, paired with Brandon Grantz as a grabby satyromaniac playing Duperret, one of her compatriots. Their downstage-center dialogues practically define alienation as the artists portray multiple layers of fantasy, destroying them as the go.

Ultimately, though, Edmund Alyn Jones and Joe Plambeck own this show. Jones is able to limn both Marat and the paranoid patient that plays him without leaving a bathtub – a tub on wheels, no less. He holds his own against Plambeck’s imposing stage presence and the Marquis’s more appealing philosophy, a sort of libertine libertarianism. Plambeck plays one of the most memorable scenes; Sade dispenses political musings while being lashed (in mime, faint of hearts) at his own request.

“Marat/Sade” is not a production for the easily offended. Nor is it likely to entertain patrons with rigid prejudices. It instead demands an intellectual, internal discussion in each member of a discerning audience. Once again our society is caught in a riptide of clashing forces: It’s the wise citizen who will be ready.

SHOW DETAILS: “Marat/Sade” continues at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, Thursday-Sunday through May 11, plus Wednesday, April 24. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Tickets: $12-30. For information: 313-577-2972 or www.Hilberry.com.

Seeing ‘Detroit’ by Lisa D’Amour was selected as the #1 Thing To Do in Detroit!

‘Detroit’ by Lisa D’Amour was recently selected as the #1  Thing To Do in Detroit by Crain’s Detroit Business. This show only has three performances left, so don’t miss your chance! Join us March 28, April 4, or April 5 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available online or at the Hilberry Theatre Box Office.

Check out the full list!

For more info, check out the Facebook Event.

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'Detroit' at the Hilberry Theatre

1. Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and is at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre for only a couple more weeks, so don’t miss your opportunity to see the story of a fledgling suburban friendship.