Hilberry has a ball with a zany Restoration comedy

By John Monaghan, Special to the Detroit Free Press. Read the full article on the Free Press website, here.

From left: Sarah Hawkins Moan, Annie Keris, Santino Craven and Bevin Bell-Hall in Hilberry Theatre’s production of “The Way of the World.” (Photo: Bruce Giffin)

From left: Sarah Hawkins Moan, Annie Keris, Santino Craven and Bevin Bell-Hall in Hilberry Theatre’s production of “The Way of the World.”
(Photo: Bruce Giffin)

With so many local theater companies adopting a less-is-more policy of doing shows that call for just one or two actors and minimal sets, it’s a treat to take in Hilberry Theatre’s production of “The Way of the World.” The Restoration-era comedy by William Congreve, first performed in 1700, offers lavish settings, two intermissions and enough witty banter to fill another three plays.

With that said, the play can be a bit of a challenge, especially when keeping track of the complicated plot. At its core, “World” is about putting one over on vain dowager Lady Wishfort (Bevin Bell-Hall), whose blessing is required if Mirabell (Kyle Mitchell Johnson) and Millamant (Annie Keris), her niece, are going to marry. They are linked by an unconventional (you might even say unromantic) view of romance.

What follows is an elaborate scheme that involves friends, relatives and servants whose names are nearly as absurd as their characters. Some, like the servants Foible and Waitwell (Devri Chism and Michael Phillip Thomas), are in on the plan, while others have private agendas.

Read the full article on the Free Press website, here.

Contact John Monaghan: madjohn@earthlink.net

‘The Way of the World’

Three stars

out of four stars

In repertory through March 7

Hilberry Theatre

4743 Cass, Detroit




Production will be recorded for posterity

Despite its standing as a textbook example of Restoration comedy, “The Way of the World” has no recorded representation at the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive in New York City. That will be corrected when cameras roll during one of the final performances of the Hilberry production in early March.

“I can’t remember if we contacted them or they contacted us,” says Maxwell Bolton, marketing manager at the Hilberry, Wayne State University’s graduate theater program. “But they didn’t have the play in their collection, probably because it is so rarely performed.”

Bolton says a three-camera setup will be used to capture the William Congreve comedy. Once it’s edited, the production will be available for viewing by appointment at the archive in Lincoln Center. The program, a part of the New York Public Library, has been recording significant theatrical works, including full performances and artist interviews, since 1970.

“We’re obviously proud of the show,” says Bolton, “and even more proud that it will soon be a part of theater history.”


REVIEW: Lively ‘Marriage,’ a match made at The Hilberry

Reviewed by Samantha White, The Oakland Press

Click HERE to read the review on the The Oakland Press website.

Check out the Marriage photo album join the Facebook event!

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2013

Once upon a time there lived a Russian matchmaker named Fiokla, played by standout actress Sarah Hawkins Moan in Marriage, by Nikolai Gogol playing at Wayne State’s Hilberry Theatre.

Sarah Hawkins Moan (Fiokla), Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin)Photo: Kevin Replinger

Sarah Hawkins Moan (Fiokla), Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin)
Photo: Kevin Replinger

It’s hard not to watch her even when she is simply eating an apple and not saying a word.

The drama of this season’s “The Bachelor” on ABC has nothing on the antics of Marriage. Sean and Tierra’s relationship woes don’t compare to Podkoliosin and Agafya — the play’s two tentative lovebirds.

FYI:“Marriage” is playing in repertory now through April 6. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays, March 7 and 21; 8 p.m. Fridays, March 8 and 22; 8 p.m. Saturdays, March 9 and 30; and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $12 to $30. Visit www.hilberry.com or call 313-577-2972.

Fiokla’s mission is to find love for the extremely hesitant bachelor and civil servant Podkoliosin. Her choice for him is the sweet Agafya Tikhonovna.

Although classical, this isn’t your typical romantic comedy. In fact, there is no happily ever after in sight as the play’s main character sheepishly courts Agafya through a series of awkward and silly moments.

Fiokla also presents three other bachelors to Agafya as potential husbands — Poach’Tegg, played by the versatile Chris Call, Anuchkin, played by the humorous Miles Boucher, and Zhevakin, played by the wonderful Topher Payne.

The show’s director, James Thomas, has created a lively and animated production complete with a large pink cake that serves as the backdrop.

When the show begins, Podkoliosin, played by Brent Griffith, his assistant Stepan, played by Alec Barbour, and his best friend, Kochkariev, played by Ty Mitchell, sing along with Bobby Darin to “Dream Lover.” It’s a great way to start the show — it engaged the audience, igniting contagious handclapping and a sing-along on opening weekend.

Griffith has Matthew Broderick’s sweetness and charm, and a Stan Laurel goofiness that make him a joy to watch. His timing and energy never wavered — quite impressive when one has to play a nervous, sweating mess of a man for two hours.

Annie Keris is great as Agafya. She has a range that is funny, smart, timid and delicate — the perfect ingénue.

Joshua Blake Rippy plays Agafya’s very, very tall aunt, Arina. Watching him prance around in a corset and a black braided wig is reason enough to go see this show.

“Marriage” is the lighter slice of the Hilberry season, which includes William Shakespeare’s dramatically heavy “Othello.”

Samantha White is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Contact her at sammie427@gmail.com.

REVIEW: ‘Marriage’ Madness at the Hilberry

Reviewed by Sue Suchyta, Dearborn Times-Herald

Click HERE to read the review on the Times-Herald website.

Posted: Mar. 5, 2013

Gogol’s Marriage, adapted by Barbara Field, is a comic romp and satire of the rituals that lead up to marriage and the awkwardness of attraction.

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin), Ty Mitchell (Kochkariev), Annie Keris (Agafya)Photo: Kevin Replinger

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin), Ty Mitchell (Kochkariev), Annie Keris (Agafya)
Photo: Kevin Replinger

The show runs in rotating repertory through April 6 at the Hilberry Theatre, 3424 Woodward in Detroit. For tickets call 313-577-2972 or go to www.hilberry.com.

Set in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the 1840s, but surprisingly modern in its portrayal of human idiosyncrasies, Marriage focuses on Podkoliosin, a minor court official and a bachelor, who feels pressured to marry.

Soon, a matchmaker, and an unhappily married friend jump into the fray to find him a wife who will enrich his life monetarily and will accept the reluctant bachelor; however, other reluctant grooms have the same agenda, and soon the loony bin is full of silly suitors.

Michael Wilkki’s colorful set, a giant garish wedding cake flanked by two gigantic cupcakes, calls to mind a technicolor Seuss story come to life with whimsical details and enthusiastic excess.

Likewise, Clare Hungate-Hawk’s costumes evoke thoughts of Alice’s madcap romp in Wonderland with a brace of suitors with exaggerated character flaws in their comic costumes highlighted with bright splashes of unabashed color.

Set against the cartoonish colors and stage magic, the cast completes the comic characterization with entertaining earnestness. Brent Griffith, as Podkoliosin, the anxious and procrastinating bachelor, plays the character with laughable nervous energy as he tries to conform to society’s demands and still clings to the safety net of procrastination.

Ty Mitchell as Kochkariev, Podkoliosin’s unhappily wed wingman, is energetically motivated to engage his best bud. Kochkariev pushes, prods and plays his pal like a piano to lead him to the altar.

Annie Keris is a wide-eyed delight as Agafya, the overwhelmed potential bride trying valiantly to follow society’s courtship rituals while discretely trying to sort the toads from the potential princes as she faces an onslaught of beaus more interested in her dowry than in her.

Joshua Blake Rippy, a physically imposing man in drag, is funny as her Aunt Arina, reminding one of a similar device often used to invoke laughter in Oscar Wilde’s plays.

The three main suitor rivals – Chris Call as Poach’Tegg, Miles Boucher as Anuchkin and Topher Payne as Zhevakin – have fun and make the most of their characters’ eccentricities.

Between scenes, karaoke takes center stage as the cast sings and dances along to pop tunes associated with falling in and out of love, much to the amusement of the house.

As characters bounce on and off stage, looking for love in all the wrong ways and places, audiences laugh and breathe a mental sigh of relief that they are  not stuck in the middle of the engagement games.

Broadway Wold Interview: Brent Griffith Talks MARRIAGE at Hilberry Theatre

Katie Laban of BroadwayWorld.com caught up with second year MFA Actor Brent Griffith about his leading role in Marriage. Here’s what Brent had to say about his experience working on the show.

Click HERE to read the interview on Boradway World’s website.

Join the Marriage Facebook Event!

Thursday, February 21, 2013; 10:02 PM – by 

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin)Photo: Kevin Replinger

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin)
Photo: Kevin Replinger

The comedy Marriage opens this weekend at the Hilberry Theatre and actor Brent Griffith is excited to perform the lead role of Podkoliosin the bachelor although he did not do any extreme preparations for the role. “I am not married and have never been engaged,” he says, “and I didn’t go out and do either to gain experience for the role.”

Griffith, native to the Seattle area and a graduate of Central Washington University, is a second year graduate student who enjoys being part of the Hilberry company. “So far my favorite role has been (Adolphus) Cusins in Major Barbara last season,” he says. “I also had a lot of fun learning the ropes of tour life during my undergrad with the touring children’s show Fool the World.” With the role of Podkolionsin, Griffith gets to play a very indecisive character. “He is a guy that has reached a point in his life where he knows he should be married, but doesn’t know if it’s right for him. He’s very sort of wishy-washy. He will be all one way, then all in the other way. He also lets himself be affected by outside forces more so than his own and what he really wants I think,” he says. “He realizes being married is a good thing, but at the same time I don’t think he really wants it.”

Marriage is by Nikolai Gogal and was originally published in 1842. It is consider to the classic Russian tale of arranged marriages. “The title says it all. My character decides that he wants to get married, but is undecided at the same time so he goes to a matchmaker to try and find a wife,” says Griffith. “Then my friend decides he can set me up better than the matchmaker can and tries to get rid of other suitors that are after this one single lady and set me up with her. It is really just a comedy about matchmaking and making the right match in marriage.”

An interesting aspect of this production is that while the play is by a Russian playwright, the director, James Thomas, choose to use a Russian method of Etude during the rehearsal process. “It was a different process than I was used to because I don’t think at any point we had our scripts in hand on stage while we were rehearsing,” says Griffith. “We would read through the scene twice, then we would say it in our words without the script in front of us, and finally we would go on stage and just sort of fudge through it in our own words.” The Etude Method is very popular in Russian theatre and Griffith found it unusual to never actually rehearse with the script in his hand on stage, but he felt it made more of a connection between the actors by using the method. “It forced us to really look at each other and go for what we wanted and get what we wanted instead of just reading along with our noses in the book,” he says.

The comedy is a lighthearted show that is strictly meant to be a fun time according to Griffith. “There is no deeper message we are trying to get across,” he says. “It’s just sort of a fun, breezy night at the theatre. You don’t have to think hard about it, you can just come in and enjoy what you are watching.”

Marriage opens February 22nd and run in repertory through April 6th at the Hilberry Theatre in Detroit. For more information or ticket, visit www.hilberry.com or LIKE the Hilberry Theatre on Facebook.

REVIEW: Hilberry Theatre makes the comedy of ‘Marriage’ larger than life

Reviewed by Patty Nolan, The Examiner

Click HERE to read the review on the Examiner’s website.

Posted: Feb. 23, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin), Ty Mitchell (Kochkariev)Photo: Kevin Replinger

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin), Ty Mitchell (Kochkariev)
Photo: Kevin Replinger

Few subjects lend themselves to universal mirth the way marriage does. The theatre canon would be slim indeed if we were to remove comedies about the attempts to woo and win a life partner. One of the classic comedies in this vein is “Marriage,” penned in 1842 by Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol. A new production opened last night at the Hilberry Theatre to an enthusiastic audience.

It’s one of Gogol’s most frequently performed plays, but it’s not exactly trending in the hashtag world of social media. So you might think it’s an odd choice for the fifth production in the Hilberry Theatre’s 50th season. And it would be, if we didn’t know that the Hilberry company has a wonderful habit of making each production its own.

This classic Russian tale of arranged marriages has as its hero a youngish bachelor who gets cold feet whenever confronted with the chilly reality of marriage. He has been proposed by the official matchmaker as a suitor for an eligible young lady in town. The bachelor’s best friend, who has an ax to grind with the matchmaker, decides to usurp her duties and arrange the marriage himself. Of course, there are three other suitors who have their own ideas about how things should be arranged. And the would-be bride is terrified of the whole situation.

The translated dialog is clever, but most of Gogol’s laughs are visual and situational. And that’s where director James Thomas takes everything to the next level … and deliberately over the top. It’s brilliant.

It starts with an outrageous set design by Michael Wilkki that features a giant pink wedding cake through which the actors make their entrances and exits. The suitors’ costumes, by Clare Hungate-Hawk, are also larger than life, with shocking colors, giant buttons and hats that are a few inches taller and wider than you’d expect to find in 1840’s Russia. The inventive use of props, including graphic signs that pop up like thought bubbles behind the actors, add to the levity.

And then there’s the music. We’re pretty sure that Gogol didn’t open his show with a choreographed lip-sync to Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover.” But he missed a bet. This was a fun, funny way to kick off the show, signaling to the audience that this is a thoroughly contemporary production and that the laughs will keep on coming. So do the musical numbers – not frequently, but enough to give this show a distinctive, upbeat pacing.

Of course, none of this would work without an ensemble cast that understands the fundamental ridiculousness of Gogol’s characters and their situations. They are wonderfully funny in the best way possible – which is to say, they play silly characters who take themselves very seriously.

Brent Griffith, as the hesitant bachelor, has a few hilarious scenes that work largely because we can see, in his facial expressions and body language, the quickly changing notions running through his head. He swings from confidant swagger to horrified terror in the span of a few swift heart beats. Ty Mitchell, as his manic best friend, brings crazy energy and a certain grace to the role that seems appropriate in one who is essentially a con man. Annie Keris, as the bride-to-be, is lovely and dainty and catches everyone off guard when she occasionally drops her perky ingénue babble to deadpan the key lines that express what she’s really thinking.

The matchmaker is played by Sarah Hawkins Moan, who serves up the suitors as if they are choice cuts of cured beef. The bride’s overbearing Aunt Arina is played with all the sincerity of a bludgeon by Joshua Blake Rippy. He earned laughs with every flounce of his lovely, man-sized gown, and clearly enjoyed intimidating the suitors. The suitors – played by Chris Call, Miles Boucher and Topher Payne – each have fun moments in the spotlight that underscore the unrealistic expectations the men have regarding marriage.

Even the servants have fun in this play. Alec Barbour, as the valet, responds to his master’s elaborate requests with clipped, belligerent answers. And Chelsea Ortuno, as the maid, brings a trippy otherness to a role that adds a charming silliness to all of her scenes.

Director James Thomas is supported in this production by: Michelle Brock (Choreographer), Dana Gamarra (Stage Manager), Michael Wilkki (Scenic Designer), Leah McCall (Lighting Designer), Clare Hungate-Hawk (Costume Designer), Heather DeFauw (Sound Designer), Leazah Behrens (Property Master), Maz Amitin (Technical Director), Curtis Green (Asst. Technical Director), Kimbra Essex (Paint Charge), Kevin Replinger (Publicity Manager), and Max Bolton (Publicity Design).

There’s much to enjoy in this unique production of “Marriage,” which runs in rotating repertory through Saturday, April 6, with the dark comedy “Detroit” by Lisa D’Amour and the comedic Shakespearean reimagining “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Check the website for dates. Tickets for “Marriage” range from $12–$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock.

REVIEW: Happily never after

Reviewed by John Quinn, Encore Michigan

Click HERE to read the review on the Encore Michigan’s website.

Posted: Feb. 23, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin), Ty Mitchell (Kochkariev)Photo: Kevin Replinger

Brent Griffith (Podkoliosin), Ty Mitchell (Kochkariev)
Photo: Kevin Replinger

My mother’s first response upon hearing that I was seeing a Russian comedy was, “There are Russian comedies?” Yakov Smirnoff would answer, “Many people are surprised to hear that we have comedians in Russia, but they are there. They are dead, but they are there.” The Russians are stereotypically a dour people, but that has more to do with their weather and political science than innate disposition. The Russians indeed have comedies, and some of the best were penned by Ukrainian-born Nikolai Gogol, who, with rapier-sharp wit, skewered the social conventions of tsarist Russia. The Hilberry Theatre dips yet again into the funny fountain with “Marriage,” a sly, satirical farce that raps the “popular institution” upside the head.

The Hilberry is blessed with long-time patrons, many of whom will remember a previous Gogol romp, “The Inspector General” from 2006. The troupe moves from exposing government corruption to poking fun at an old-country practice, the arranged marriage.

While “Marriage” was published in 1843, Gogol had a 21st century cynicism about matrimonial traditions, and he didn’t have the Kardashians for role models. Bashful bachelor Ivan Kuzmich Podkolyosin (Brent Griffith) has hired Fiokla the Matchmaker (Sarah Hawkins-Moan) to find him a suitable bride. Her choice is an orphan with property, Agafya Tikhonovna (Annie Keris). The presence of the matchmaker alerts Kochkariev (Ty Mitchell), our swain’s best friend, that wedding bells might chime. Cursed with an unhappy marriage (courtesy of Fiokla), Kochkariev insists – nay, demands – that the hesitant Podkolyosin woo and win the maiden without delay. After all, misery loves company.

The duo are about to try an end-run around Fiolka and deprive her of her commission, so she finds three more unsuitable suitors for the dithering Agafya. They are Chris Call’s blustering bully, who’s only in it for the money; a foppish, intellectual poseur played by Miles Boucher, and a retired Navy lieutenant, Zhevakin (Topher Payne), a crashing bore. Can Kochkariev outwit Fiolka and her three stooges and unite the reluctant couple in wedded bliss?

Pardon me; this alphabet borscht has given my spell check indigestion. Gogol has great fun satirizing unusual Russian names – Chris Call’s character, in this adaptation by Barbara Field, is named Poach’Tegg (whisper that under your breath; you’ll get it). He also plays with the snobbish notion that to be sophisticated, one must speak French. But first and foremost, Gogol won’t let us forget that a marriage of convenience need not be a happy one.

James Thomas directs a tight ensemble in performing some pretty sophisticated material. The production hums when the scenes are played broadly for farce; less successful when the action goes a little over the top. Yet “Marriage” never falls into camp. Even the redoubtable Joshua Blake Rippy, who cross-dresses to play Aunt Arina, Agafya’s formidable guardian, delivers a thoughtful, measured performance.

As funny as the shtick can be, the play is at its very best in some quieter moments. Most memorable is a “getting to know you” scene starring Keris and Griffith, a gentle blend of uncomfortable silences, awkward conversation and Granny Smith apples. Even silence is golden; Payne’s Zhevakin resolutely squaring his shoulders on his exit is mute testimony that the rejected lieutenant is down but not out.

There are some puzzling choices in design. Michael Wilkki’s set is rather cartoonish, dominated by a giant pastel wedding cake that might have come from a confectionary in Wonderland. It oddly contrasts with a script that was at the forefront of the realism aesthetic of Russian theater. Cartoonish, too, are some, but not all, of Clare Hungate-Hawk’s costumes. The three suitors are decked in oversized hats and garish colors; the rest of the characters in suitable period clothing. One can only assume that the contrast is deliberate, sort of delineating the freaks from the geeks.

Gogol’s targets may be outdated, but the satirist’s ultimate goal is to expose pretentiousness and hypocrisy in any time. “Marriage” is an opportunity to reflect on our own foibles.

Or as Yakov Smirnoff might have said, “In Soviet Russia, Art criticizes YOU!”

SHOW DETAILS: “Marriage” continues in rotating repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through April 6. Running time: 2 hours. Tickets: $12-30. For information: 313-577-2972 or www.Hilberry.com.

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Performance Information

Show times

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Friday, March 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Harlem Shake (Hilberry Edition)

You may have seen on Detroit’s NBC Channel 4 that there’s a new viral dance video sweeping the internet called The Harlem Shake. While it may not make sense, it sure looked fun so we decided to join the party! Check out our video and let us know what you think!