Hilberry - Way of the World (4)

Brandy Joe Plambeck and Annie Keris. Photo by Bruce Giffin.

DETROIT – The Hilberry Theatre Company is delighted to announce that its critically–acclaimed production of William Congreve’s The Way of the World will be recorded for inclusion in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The Archive has been an integral part of theatre history and research since 1970, with a mandate to “preserve live theatrical productions and document the creative contributions of distinguished artists and legendary figures of the theatre.”

Theatre and Dance Chair John Wolf states, “The filming is an incredible opportunity for the Company to have its work preserved and available for future viewers to enjoy.”

The Way of the World is the pinnacle of Restoration Comedy,” states director Lavinia Hart, “and I am so privileged to have been given this opportunity and thrilled to have this production receive such appreciation from our audiences and from the press. Having this production accepted for inclusion in a prestigious national archive is beyond anything imagined. I am so very proud of what the Hilberry Theatre Company and I have accomplished together in bringing this beautiful production to life for Detroit, and now for generations to come, too.”

Michael Phillip Thomas and Bevin Bell-Hall. Photo by Bruce Giffin.

Michael Phillip Thomas and Bevin Bell-Hall.
Photo by Bruce Giffin

The Way of the World will return for four remaining performances at the Hilberry, March 5 through March 7. The production promises a delightful visual and literary feast, with period specific costuming and scenic design creating English homes and associated locations.

Local critics have praised the Hilberry’s production, with John Monagahan of the Detroit Free Press calling the production “an especially impressive undertaking for the Hilberry… a talented ensemble,” while Patty Nolan of the Examiner awarded the play five stars.

This comedy of manners is focused on social behavior, manipulation, and life in high society London households. The story skewers the stratified world of serving and aristocratic classes at the turn of the 18th century, with an emphasis on verbal wit and complicated romantic attractions. Such stories remain fascinating to our more democratic accessibilities, most notably witnessed in popular captivation with series including Downton Abbey.

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Bevin Bell-Hall (Lady Wishfort), Miles Boucher (Fainall), Devri Chism (Foible/Peg/Soloist), Julian David Colletta (Coachman/Footman/Messenger), Santino Craven (Sir Wilful Witwoud), Brandon Grantz (Coachman/Footman/Messenger), Logan Hart (Footman), Kyle Mitchell Johnson (Mirabell), Annie Keris (Mistress Millamant), Michael Manocchio (Witwoud), Sarah Hawkins Moan (Mistress Fainall), Taylor Morrow (Footwoman), Brandy Joe Plambeck (Petulant), Mary Sansone (Betty/Mincing), Anna Seibert (Footwoman), Mike Suchyta (Footman), Michael Phillip Thomas (Waitwell), Tiffany Michelle Thompson (Mistress Marwood).

Production Team:
Lavinia Hart (Director), Nira Pullin (Choreographer & Period Movement), Sarah Drum (Stage Manager), Lyndee Hallahan (Assistant Stage Manager), Sarah Pearline (Set Designer), Anne Suchyta (Costume Designer), Amy M. Schneider (Lighting Designer), Mario Raymond (Sound Designer), Tonae Mitsuhashi (Properties Master), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), JP Hitesman (Publicist), Felix Li (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.


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.”

Congratulations to Hilberry Director Lavinia Hart!

Best Directors In The Local Theater Scene In Detroit

Congratulations to Lavinia Hart on being selected as one of the best directors in the local theatre scene by CBS Detroit! We would also like to congratulate WSU alumni Frannie Shepherd-Bates of Magenta Giraffe Theatre and Jaclyn Sterz of Puppet ART for also making the list! We’re so proud of all of our WSU family!


Click HERE to read the entire list.

Lavinia Hart
The Hilberry Theatre

Lavinia Hart is the Associate Professor of Theatre at Wayne State University. She serves as head of the MFA Acting Program at Hilberry Theatre, at Wayne State University. Hart previously held the position of artistic director at the Attic Theatre. Hart has acted, directed and produced over 100 stage productions throughout her career. Hart has directed “The Servant of Two Masters,” “Detroit,” “Eurydice,” as well as “The Lusty and Comical History of Tom Jones.” Hart was co-director of “The Kentucky Cycle.”

Jaclyn Strez
PuppetArt Theater

Jaclyn Strez directs many short and one-act plays. Directing credits include “Fabula Rasa,” “This is the Play” and “Lambert Street.” She has been directing professionally for six years. Strez holds a BFA in Acting from Wayne State University and studied at the Moscow Art Theatre School. In 2008, she started puppeteering at the Detroit PuppetArt Theatre. In addition to her directing credits, Strez writes, produces and designs costumes for stage performances. She also performs as an actress and has received critical acclaim for the challenging roles she portrays.

Frannie Shepherd-Bates
Magenta Giraffe Theatre

Frannie Shepherd-Bates has directed many stage productions. “Soul Mates,” “Rosmersholm” and “Last of the Boys” were all directed by Shepherd-Bates. She has also directed ”Dog Sees God,” “The Last Five Years,” “No Exit” and Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” She received a BFA in Theatre from Wayne State University. She currently serves as executive artistic director at Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, which was founded in 2008. In addition to her directing credits, she also acts and is a choreographer. She will be directing “The Maids” this spring.

Lisa D’Amour’s ‘Detroit’ reopens tonight at 8:00 p.m

Detroit by Lisa D’Amour is back on stage this weekend, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.! Following Saturday night’s performance, Susan Mosey, President of Midtown Detroit, Inc., will host a special talkback for audience members. We hope to see you there! You can check out Midtown Detroit, Inc. on Facebook Here: The Official Midtown Detroit – University Cultural Center Association, or visit their website.

Mark you calendars because there are only six performances left before Detroit closes Friday, April 5. Check out production photos form Detroit or join the Facebook event!

Left to right: Mary (Venessa Sawson), Ben (Joe Plambeck), Kenny (David Sterritt), and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane).Photo: Felix Li

Left to right: Mary (Venessa Sawson), Ben (Joe Plambeck), Kenny (David Sterritt), and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane).
Photo: Felix Li

Remaining Performances:

Thursday 8 p.m.         Mar. 28, Apr. 4
Friday 8 p.m.              Mar. 1, Apr. 5
Saturday 8 p.m.          Mar. 2, 23

REVIEW: ‘Detroit’ not the Detroit I know

Reviewed by Robert Delaney, Detroit New Monitor

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

Left to right: Mary (Venessa Sawson), Ben (Joe Plambeck), Kenny (David Sterritt), and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane).Photo: Felix Li

Left to right: Mary (Venessa Sawson), Ben (Joe Plambeck), Kenny (David Sterritt), and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane).
Photo: Felix Li

A middle class husband and wife find their life changing in unexpected ways after they reach out to the new couple that moves in next door in Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” which joined this season’s production at Wayne State’s Hilberry Theatre last month.

But don’t let the title mislead you into thinking this play has, well, anything to do with Detroit. While D’Amour did title it “Detroit,” it was apparently almost as an afterthought. Her indication of the setting was originally in a “first ring suburb” outside any mid-sized American city, according to the Hilberry’s press release. The Hilberry has changed this to: “The first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit.”

D’Amour herself has said about her choice of calling it “Detroit”: “Something about the way the name of tha city vibrates in the American imagination – that name evokes the kind of iconic anxiety around the crumbling American dream.”

First, I always thought we were a “big” city, not a “mid-sized” one. But be that as it may, I think a play entitled “Detroit” should actually have something to say about Detroit.

Back when I was a kid, I remember that Detroit was all but ignored on national television programs, and in the few cases when something was supposed to be taking place in Detroit, it was usually just shot on the studio’s back lot on a set that didn’t look anything like Detroit.

That was a half-century ago, but I remember thinking it was pretty crummy to treat the fifth-largest city in the country that way. We may no longer have that ranking, but Detroit is a real place that has its own character – and Detroit’s story deserves to be told.

One would think scenic designer Pegi Marshall Amundsen, at least, would have tried to make the set look Detroit-ish. I suppose she may have thought she was doing that by including the old Michigan Central Depot in the distant background, but what about making the two houses look something like the houses typical of some neighborhood – in the first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit”?

As to the plot, which sounds awfully reminiscent of Thomas Berger’s 1980 novel, “Neighbors,” which was made into a 1981 movie with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, I again fail to see much connection with Detroit.

None of this criticism, however, is meant to detract from the performance of the play. Director Lavinia Hart works with a fine group of grad-student actors in presenting the story.

Joe Plambeck and Venessa Sawson are Ben and Mary, the middle class couple. David Sterritt and Danielle Cochrane are Kenny and Sharon, the ever-stranger couple that moves in next door.

As the reckless wildness of Kenny and Sharon is released, Ben and Mary gradually succumb to the temptation to give in to their wilder urges. This doesn’t end well, and Edmund Alyn Jones comes in late in the play, as Frank, to deal with some of the consequences.

Amazingly, “Detroit” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, but then, I’m guessing the Pulitzer folks don’t know much about my city either.

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

Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, Feb. 7, 2013

REVIEW: ‘Detroit’ sizzles onstage

Reviewed by: Alana Walker, The South End

Click HERE to read the review on The South End website.

Ben (Joe Plambeck)Photo Credit: Felix Lee

Ben (Joe Plambeck)
Photo Credit: Felix Lee

Interacting with neighbors, especially new ones, can be a challenge for anyone. Add on the fact that the new neighbors, who claim to be newly released from drug rehab, seem to be a little strange and possibly hiding something, the task of being neighborly can be a daunting one.

In Detroit by Lisa D’Amour, the lives of two unlikely couples become intertwined, allowing them to learn about themselves, their partners and the important things in life. The show, set in the first string of residential homes on Detroit’s outskirts, slowly reveals secrets as the two couples. Despite the title, the actual city of Detroit didn’t play a major role in the plot of the story. With only a few references to Detroit in the script, the play could be relatable to almost anyone.

In the beginning of the show, Ben (Joe Plambeck) and his wife Mary (Vanessa Sawson) seem to have it all together while new neighbors Kenny (David Sterritt) and Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), who are renting the house from Frank (Edmund Alyn Jones), seem to be the complete opposite. The clash in personalities resulted in tense serious moments as well as some hilariously awkward moments throughout the show.

While the pacing of the show can seem a tad slow at some points, the sizzling dialogue is more than enough to keep the audience engaged, and the script eventually intensifies, resulting in scorching chemistry between the actors.

The show’s lead characters each had distinct and strong personalities, which require equally strong actors. All of the actors’ portrayals were engaging, believable and well developed, but perhaps the most impressive performances came from the ladies. Sawson and Cochrane both delivered compelling performances, bringing complexity and charm to their characters; Mary being a put-together wife with a suppressed wild side and Sharon, the strong free spirit.

The men’s performances were a refreshing compliment to their female counterparts. Their characters were both pure and elaborate, but above all, genuine. The differentiation of age and social classes between these two neighbors was undeniably evident through the acting, costume design and scenic design.

The realistic set was equipped with two undeniably accurate homes viewed from their backyard on both far sides of the stage; one very conservatively decorated, the other desolate and empty. Perched between the two houses was the dark skyline of the city. One of the most impressive things about the technical aspects of the show was the fact that the actors actually cooked steak on stage — this absolutely blew my mind. It’s something I’ve never seen before, and the sizzle, smoke and smell from a grill is something that can’t easily be duplicated. Because of the importance of the backyard grill to the characters, I think actually grilling on stage for that brief amount of time was such a great decision.

For those planning to see the show, expect nothing less than a vivid dark comedy with genuine characters and an attention-grabbing stage. The play runs until April 5 at the Hilberry Theatre.

Join the Facebook event!

REVIEW: ‘Detroit’ at the Hilberry

Left to right: Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), Kenny (David Sterritt), Mary (Vanessa Sawson), & Ben (Joe Plambeck).Photo: Felix Li

Left to right: Sharon (Danielle Cochrane), Kenny (David Sterritt), Mary (Vanessa Sawson), & Ben (Joe Plambeck).
Photo: Felix Li

Reviewed by: Sue Suchyta, Deaborn Times-Herald

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

The Hilberry Theatre opened the new year with the Michigan premiere of Detroit, a Pulitzer Prize finalist play by Lisa D’Amour. The show runs through April 5 in rotating repertory. For dates and show times, call 313-577-2972 or go to http://www.hilberry.com.

Set in the first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit, the story unfolds as Ben and Mary invite their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny, to a backyard barbecue. As the couples get to know each other, we begin to see the stressors affecting their lives: under- and unemployment, personal shortcomings and relationship weaknesses.

The very talented cast includes Joe Plambeck as Ben, Vanessa Sawson as Mary, David Sterritt as Kenny and Danielle Cochrane as Sharon, with Edmund Alyn Jones making a cameo appearance as Frank.

The actors bring their characters to life so realistically you almost feel like you are eavesdropping on private conversations. As the rough edges of their personalities emerge, one begins to wonder which of the characters’ positive and negative personality traits will exert the most influence on the story’s outcome.

Kudos to Cochrane for the high level of energy she maintains in her portrayal of Sharon. Sawson, a third-year company member, continues to show why she is an audience favorite with her strong, believable performance and the wide range of emotions she so ably conveys. Plambeck and Sterritt capably create flawed yet sympathetic characters as well.

The technical design shines as well. Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s scenic design incorporates a backdrop of “ruin porn” – monochromatic silhouettes of Detroit’s most recognizable urban decay. The actual set – a pair of backyards and single-family homes that take on a life of their own – are so remarkable that to reveal the vital role they play in the show would be a plot spoiler.

Samuel Byers’ sound design captures neighborhood nuances so well you initially wonder why you hear children’s voices in the theater, and whether the distant wail of sirens is real or recreated.

Heather DeFauw capably meets the show’s lighting design challenges, which, like the set design, would be a plot spoiler to reveal.

While you may not love the characters or even the storyline, the show’s production values are top-notch, from the superb acting to the strong technical design and execution. It mirrors our times and city, and if it makes audiences uncomfortable or makes them think, then it has achieved its goal.