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

313-577-2972

www.hilberry.com

$21-$31

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.”

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Free Press Review of “Inishmaan”

‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ captures hard-knock life, with humor, in Ireland

By John Monaghan, Detroit Free Press Special Writer

For original article, click here.

Life is hard on Inishmaan, the middle of three craggy, windswept Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast. It is even tougher for the title character of Martin McDonagh’s play “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” Born with a withered hand and a club foot, he is addressed almost exclusively in these pre-PC days by his nickname Cripple Billy.

The verbal slings and arrows suffered by Cripple Billy (David Sterritt) become somewhat easier to bear (at least for us) when they are inflicted so musically by his neighbors, folks with monikers like Babbybobby (Christopher Ellis) and Johnnypateenmike (Brent Griffith).

One of the many highlights in the new production at the Hilberry Theatre, Wayne State University’s graduate theater program, is the way its young cast wraps its collective tongue around what can be a linguistically challenging script. If you haven’t seen one of McDonagh’s plays, this is a fine introduction.

The first in a trio of plays set on the islands, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is set in 1934, mostly in the shop behind which Cripple Billy and his aunties reside. Actually, they aren’t his relatives at all, but islanders who took the boy in when his parents died of mysterious circumstances not long after he was born.

The daily news comes from gossipy Johnnypateenmike, who hears that Hollywood documentarian Robert Flaherty is making a film, “The Man of Aran,” about the hardscrabble life on the islands. Cripple Billy says he wants to meet him, maybe even get a screen test, so he begs friend Babbybobby to take him along on a boat trip to the mainland.

Curtis Green’s set beautifully evokes the island with its backdrop of rough weathered stone. That’s not just any grouping of rocks above the stage, but a map of sorts in which tiny lights note where an individual scene is taking place.

The set serves as the interior for the island shop, where the aunts engage in random chatter interrupted only by Johnnypateenmike’s latest three pieces of news. Don’t ask him to tell the stories out of order or you may get nothing at all.

The gift of gab, what the Irish call craic, is at the heart of McDonagh’s award-winning plays. This love of language has obviously inspired Hilberry director Lavinia Hart and her young cast, all likely in their 20s, who successfully tackle characters ranging from teenagers to octogenarians.

Sterritt might be a little too cute to play Cripple Billy, but he captures the character’s relative wisdom and sadness as he attempts to woo the island’s resident spitfire Helen (Megan Dobbertin). Capped by a mane of flaming red hair, Helen has learned to kick anyone who even thinks they have the right to grope her.

Hart and company do right by the show’s offbeat humor, especially in scenes in which Helen’s addled younger brother Bartley (Joshua Blake Rippy) enters the shop looking for candy. His constant request for “sweeties” that the women don’t have becomes one of the show’s best running gags.

At nearly 2 1/2 hours (with intermission), “The Cripple of Inishmaan” can’t help but drag in parts. Count on it growing fleeter as the run continues and the actors (with the help of dialect coach Michael J. Barnes) add tempo to their already consistent Irish accents.