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!



DETROIT – The Hilberry Theatre Company is pleased to present the final production of its 52nd season. The 39 Steps, running April 10th – 25th, takes a well-known story immortalized on film by Alfred Hitchcock and adds comedic, suspenseful, and fast-paced twists. The play is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and the movie by Alfred Hitchcock.

Michael Manocchio, photo by Ian Wolfe and Sandra Turner

Michael Manocchio, photo by Ian Wolfe and Sandra Turner

This hilarious spoof of the 1935 Hitchcock thriller blends frenzied performances and wildly inventive stagecraft with spies, murder, and some good old-fashioned romance!  A two-time Tony and Drama Desk award winner, The 39 Steps is a serious spy story turned madcap comedy, full of biting wit and hilarious character changes, as well as allusions to and puns on other Hitchcock classic stories.

The Hilberry welcomes guest director Russell Treyz, who has a wide range of production credits across the country. Treyz describes the play as “great fun for audience and actors alike. Newbies to Hitchcock and Hitchcock addicts will both revel in the fun and suspense of the story and its references. The original creators of this theater piece built it from shot to shot references to Hitchcock’s original film, but it has also grown to include much more for fans of classic suspense cinema.”

Tickets for The 39 Steps range from $10–$31 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 at the corner of Hancock Street.

The Hilberry’s recently unveiled 2015-16 season promises a delightful array of comedy and drama. The season will kick off with the Southeast Michigan premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors, a recent Broadway hit. Next up will be a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, running both on the mainstage and in special student group matinees. Appearing just in time for the holidays will be Inspecting Carol, a backstage holiday comedy. Early 2016 brings William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, followed by the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Clybourne Park, addressing gentrification in 21st century urban America. The season will conclude in April 2016 with David Ives’ hysterical version of the French farce, A Flea in Her Ear.

Calendar Information

Wednesday 2 p.m.          April 15 (Post show Talkback)
Thursday 8 p.m.                April 16 (Preshow Discussion), April 23
Friday 8 p.m.                      April 10 (Opening Night), April 17, April 24
Saturday 2 p.m.                April 11, April 25
Saturday 8 p.m.                April 11, April 18, April 25

Cast (in alphabetical order):

Bevin Bell-Hall (Woman), Devri Chism (Stage Hand), Julian David Colletta (Stage Hand), Santino Craven (Stage Hand), Michael Manocchio (Richard Hannay), Brandy Joe Plambeck (Clown), Michael Phillip Thomas (Clown)

Production Team:

Russell Treyz (Director), Lyndee Hallahan (Stage Manager), Allison Baker (Assistant Stage Manager), Tonae Mitsuhashi (Set Designer), Mary Gietzen (Costume Designer), Eric Haugen (Lighting Designer), Amy M. Schneider (Sound Designer), Stephanie Baugher (Properties Master), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Mario Raymond (Master Electrician), Dale Dorlin (Publicist), JP Hitesman (Assistant Publicist).

About the Hilberry Theatre Company

Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance serves students as a nexus of performance, production, and research in the fields of dance, theatre, and performance studies.  It provides a wide variety of degree programs that allow students the flexibility to study these disciplines broadly or to concentrate more specifically in performance, design, or management.  The Hilberry Theatre hosts a professional theatre company that is staffed by graduate students and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, graduate students receive assistantships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees.  The company performs and produces an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students.

The Hilberry Theatre Announces its 2015-16 Season

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DETROIT – The Hilberry Theatre announced its 2015-16 Season Friday during the opening night festivities for Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama, An Enemy of the People. Season tickets are on sale now.

This season promises to offer a dazzling array of productions. The Hilberry will kick off the season in October with the Southeast Michigan premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors, a recent Broadway hit. The season will feature classic and contemporary comedies and dramas, including Inspecting Carol, a backstage holiday comedy, and the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Clybourne Park, addressing gentrification in 21st century urban America.

A new stage adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby will play to general audiences in the fall and additional educational groups throughout the season. The Hilberry will continue its longstanding commitment to Shakespeare with Love’s Labour’s Lost. Following last season’s comedic hit All In The Timing, the Hilberry will close the season in April 2016 with David Ives’ hysterical version of the French farce, A Flea in Her Ear.

This season will also mark the debut of the Hilberry’s new Stage Door series, inviting theatregoers in their 20s and 30s to meet the Hilberry company members at a nearby restaurant following the performance. Subscriptions to this series are now available, with an introductory event scheduled for after the Saturday, April 18 performance of The 39 Steps.

To subscribe, call (313) 577-2972 or visit the Wayne State University Theatre and Dance Box Office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street. Subscribers are an integral part of the Hilberry community and enjoy discounted prices, priority seating, exchange privileges, lost ticket insurance, free coffee, a free subscription to the theatre’s newsletter, and an invitation to the annual Subscriber Party and Open House, which will take place on March 30, 2015.

One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean
October 2 – 17, 2015
Francis, who is easily confused, finds himself employed by both a local gangster and his upper-class criminal rival. He tries to keep his two jobs straight, despite a bad case of mistaken identity.

Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Adapted for the stage by Simon Levy
October 30, 2015 – January 9, 2016
The thrill, glamour and decadence of the Jazz Age is exemplified in this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece about a world of obsession, danger, and extravagance.

Inspecting Carol
By Daniel Sullivan and Seattle Repertory Theatre
December 4 – 19, 2015
An uproarious backstage comedy that highlights the joy, trials, and unpredictability of producing theatre. Calamaties surround a distressed theatre company’s catastrophic rendition of A Christmas Carol.

Love’s Labour’s Lost
By William Shakespeare
January 29 – March 12, 2016
The King of Navarre and his companions vow chastity while they complete their studies – until they meet the Princess of Aquitaine and her ladies. A gentle joust of courtly love ensues.

Clybourne Park
By Bruce Norris
February 26 – April 2, 2016
Racial tensions erupted as a black family attempts to move into Clybourne Park in the 1950’s. Fifty years later, the now all-black neighborhood is trying to hold its ground in the face of gentrification.

A Flea in Her Ear
By Georges Feydeau, adapted by David Ives
April 22 – May 7, 2016
A jealous wife is on the hunt to catch her husband in the act, after noticing a halt in his sexual appetite and receiving a pair of his suspenders in the mail from an unknown sender.

2015 – 16 at the Bonstelle Theatre:

Packages for the Bonstelle Theatre are available now at a discount for Hilberry Subscribers. The Bonstelle Theatre 2015-16 Season has a wide variety of entertaining performances, including enticing comedy and drama, superb dance performances, and a Golden Age musical. Package options are a 6-pack that includes all 6 performances, a Theatre Pack that includes three plays and the musical, and a Dance Pack that includes the two seasonal dance concerts.

By Aristophanes
October 9 – 18, 2015
The men are at war. Their wives have had enough and offer an ultimatum: war or sex. The women of Greece must help their husbands rise to a decision.

James and the Giant Peach
By Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
November 13 – 22, 2015
Follow young James into a land of spiders, earthworms, and one giant peach on an adventure for the whole family.

December Dance Concert
December 11 – 12, 2015
Contemporary masters, including guest artists, Wayne State dance faculty, and student choreographers, come together for one weekend only.

A Raisin in the Sun
By Lorraine Hansberry
February 12 – 21, 2016
A black family struggles to retain their dignity as they face racism in light of moving to an all-white neighborhood. Clybourne Park, appearing at the Hilberry, was written in response to A Raisin in the Sun and follows a 50 year journey of the home the family purchases.

Spring Dance Concert
March 3 – 4, 2016
The pinnacle of dance in Midtown, receiving acclaim from the national stage; highlighting international and national works from a diverse mix of artists.

Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics & Book by Oscar Hammerstein II
April 15 – 24, 2016
A handsome cowboy competes with an ill-tempered ranch-hand for the affection of a lovely young farm girl in this ideal American Golden Age musical.

About Theatre and Dance at Wayne

Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance serves students as a nexus of performance, production and research in the fields of dance, theatre, and performance studies. It provides a wide choice of degree programs that allow students the flexibility to study these disciplines broadly or to concentrate more specifically in performance or management. The dance program is one of the longest-running in the U.S., tracing its beginning to Ruth Lovell Murray’s founding of the Dance Workshop in 1928. The theatre program is internationally recognized as a training ground for theatre professionals. The Hilberry Theatre is the nation’s longest-running graduate repertory company. The two programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance and the National Association of Schools of Theatre, respectively.

‘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.

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

Oscar Wilde is on trial at the Hilberry Theatre

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

Gross Indecency - Hilberry - Production Shots (3)

by Patty Nolan
Detroit Theatre Examiner
January 11, 2014

Before playwright Moisés Kaufman developed his well-know “The Laramie Project,” he explored the institutionalized hypocrisy and bigotry that led to Oscar Wilde’s ultimate incarceration (and a sentence of two year’s hard labor) for the crime of homosexuality. The Hilberry Theatre’s production of Kaufman’s, “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” uses nine actors playing multiple roles to offer a gripping historical account of the trials that brought Wilde’s career (and in short order, his life) to an abrupt end.

Kaufman’s script is a brilliant arrangement of verbatim selections from the three different trials, embellished by the letters and writings Wilde composed in this time period, diaries and biographies written by friends and detractors, and newspaper headlines covering “the trial of the century.”

In the interest of full disclosure, we confess to being an unabashed Wilde fan who has made pilgrimages to informal shrines in Dublin and Paris that honor the great man. That said, this production should appeal to anyone who appreciates a finely paced courtroom drama. Modern audiences may learn something about the evolution of gay-identity issues and how Wilde’s highly publicized trial actually predated the use of the term “homosexual” as something one could “be” as opposed to something one “did.”

Most importantly, this play explores the themes that mattered most to Wilde, who championed the notion that an intellectual and spiritual appreciation of art has the power to elevate human beings above the muck and mire of our brutal natures. As he explained in the first trial, “In writing a play or a book, I am concerned entirely with literature—that is, with art. I aim not at doing good or evil, but in trying to make a thing that will have some quality of beauty.” The irony, of course, is that Wilde was a martyr to the cause of art for art’s sake, even while being condemned on charges of “gross indecency” by some of the grossest and most indecent rascals in London.

This compelling, well-paced Hilberry Theatre production is directed by Blair Anderson, PhD, and set entirely in London’s Old Bailey court room in 1895 (sharp scenic design by Sarah Pearline). As the play opens, Oscar Wilde (Topher Allen Payne) naively invites his own ruin by bringing a libel suit against the overbearing bully, the Marquess of Queensberry (Brent Griffith). Queensberry has accused Wilde of “posing as a sodomite” and corrupting Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas (David Sterritt). Lord Alfred (himself a real piece of nasty work) is adored by Wilde and urges him to use the court to attack the despised father. Things backfire when Wilde loses his suit and the Crown prosecutes him for “gross indecency,” the polite Victorian euphemism for the act that every public school boy of the time knew as “buggery.”

The Hilberry cast does a fine job with this piece, especially considering that it’s a drama in which the action is intellectual and emotional; it is all about delivering and deciphering the words.

Gross Indecency - Hilberry - Production Shots (4)Only Payne, as Oscar Wilde, plays the single role, which is refreshingly unaffected considering his subject. Sterritt, as Douglas, captures the young man’s self-absorbed nature while still letting us see how and why he could attract the great man’s affection. Griffith, as Queensberry, is convincing as the megalomaniacal Queensberry, and it’s fun to watch him leap into other roles, including one of the young men called to testify against Wilde.

Given the preponderance of male roles in this play, it is perhaps inevitable that the company should require its women to portray men. What is surprising is how well this comes off, with Annie Keris delivering a brilliantly thoughtful Sir Edward Clarke and Bevin Bell-Hall filled with gruff bluster as the judge.

The gifted cast of “Gross Indecency” includes: Alec Barbour (Carson, Narrator 5), Bevin Bell-Hall (Judge, Landlord, Mary Applegate, Mavor, Narrator 4, Queen Victoria, Speranza), Miles Boucher (Moises, Narrator 1, Price, Prostitute 44, Willi Wilde, Wood), Brandon Grantz (Antonio Migge, Auctioneer, Clerk of Arraigns, Parker, Harris, Narrator 3, Richards), Brent Griffith (Gill, Lockwood, Queensbury, Narrator 8), Annie Keris (Clarke, Constance Wilde, Ellen Grant, Hotel Manager, Narrator 6), Topher Payne (Oscar Wilde), Brandy Joe Plambeck (Atkins, George Frederick Claridge, Marvin Taylor, Jurry Foreman, Narrator 2, Wright, u/s: Oscar Wilde), David Sterritt (Lord Alfred Douglas, Narrator 7).

This is a commanding production that continues to provoke relevant conversation; don’t miss it. “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” runs through March 22, 2014 in rotation with “A Doctor in Spite of Himself.” See the theatre calendar for details. Tickets range from $12–$30 and are available online, by calling (313) 577-2972, or by visiting the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street.

Gross Ind BTL Ad 2On the evening of January 16th John Corvino, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Wayne State University, will take the stage at 7:15 p.m. for a discussion on themes central to the show. Corvino has written, debated, and lectured extensively on gay rights and believes that spirited dialogue is essential to convince the wider American public of both the merits of same-sex marriage and the moral acceptability of homosexuality.