‘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.

PHOTO CALL: ‘Cinderella’ on Tour!

The inaugural Detroit Youth Theatre and Dance Journey
tours to select Detroit schools this month!

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The Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance has launched its inaugural Detroit Youth Theatre and Dance Journey with the children’s play Cinderella, or It’s OK to Be Different by Cynthia Mercati. Over the past two weeks, the cast and crew have toured to seven schools and one outdoor festival. The group continues on the road throughout the month but has seven performances at The Hilberry starting on the 20th of June.

In Cinderella, or It’s OK to be Different, a group of lively students discover that their familiar Cinderella story isn’t the only one – that there was a Cinderella in ancient Egypt and one among the Algonquin Indians and that there are hundreds of Cinderella tales all around the world! In an innovative, sophisticated, and theatrical style, this fast-paced, up-beat, multicultural show focuses on the universality of folk literature and finds that it’s okay to be different.
Performances of Cinderella, or It’s OK to be Different will play at the Hilberry Theatre on June 20, June 21, June 23, June 27, June 28 and June 30.  Individual Tickets are $5 for children and $8 for adults. There is a $5 per ticket price for groups of 10 or more. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 313-577-2972, online at http://www.wsushows.com, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Ave. on the corner of Cass Ave. and Hancock. The summer Box Office hours are Tuesday – Friday from 10 – 2 p.m. The box office will be open one hour prior to all performances. Performance information and tickets may also be obtained by visiting the Theatre’s websites at www.hilberry.com.

Make your reservations today as the performance at The Hilberry Theatre on June 27 at 10:30 a.m. is already sold out.

Calendar Information:

Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:30 a.m.
Friday, June 21, 2013 10:30 a.m.
Sunday, June 23, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, June 27, 2013 10:30 a.m. (SOLD OUT)
Thursday, June 27, 2013 1:00 p.m.
Friday, June 28, 2013 10:30 a.m.
Sunday, June 30, 2013 2:00 p.m.

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.