We had a ball performing as part of Theatre Nova’s Michigan Playwrights Festival Night 2: Hollywood Lies. Thank you, Jackie Sue Salter for the fun words and zippy characters, Brian Cox for the loving friendship and expert direction, and Carla Milarch for your nuanced facilitation and gracious leadership. Hope I get to work with this talented cast again: Colleen Gentry, Ellen Finch, Robert Schorr, and my giggle buddy Laurie Atwood. Thank you to sweet friends Kim Elizabeth Johnson, Sue Nelson, Rebecca Winder, Eric Winder, Mary Newton, and Toby Tieger for your gracious support (and photos) and for taking time from your busy lives to attend. Such a perfect night of theatre community 🎭 ❤️
And, yes, Kim Kelly and Julaine DeMink LeDuc, I recycled my Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor “Red Shoe Affair” footwear.
“Hollywood Lies” by Jackie Sue Salter
Thursday, July 26, 2018, 8:00 pm
A story of friendship amidst the Hollywood blacklist, Hollywood Lies presents 1948 Hollywood where a just-past-her-prime actress attempts to revive her stalled career.
Well, the 2017 Wilde Awards Ceremony is in the history books. And a truly special night celebrating the best of Michigan theatre is over … for another 365 days.
As a kid, I was obsessed with game shows and awards ceremonies, so to suggest that co-hosting last night with EncoreMichigan’s David Kiley was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream is no hyperbole. And more than a little dorky. If only I had Wink Martindale’s career.
I was humbled to be amongst such theatrical and critical talent last night, and to see so many personal friends receive well-deserved recognition last night affirmed that good people who work hard do earn the spoils. And my buddies still spoke to me after the show was over. #winning
Full list of winners and additional coverage here.
K. Edmonds and Melissa Beckwith; Diane Hill in foreground. [Photo from Theatre Nova’s Facebook page.]
“Sigh. Gasp. Retort. Sometimes I say them, instead of doing them.” – The Revolutionists’ Marie Antoinette (a sparkling, scene-stealing anarchic aristocrat in the delightfully daffy hands of Melissa Beckwith)
In a genius bit of cross-promotion, the Huron Valley Humane Society (which is as much animal advocacy organization as top rate animal shelter) partnered with Theatre Nova to hold (on August 24) a benefit preview of Theatre Nova’s latest offering The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson – a play as much about finding your voice in collaboration and commiseration with like-minded individuals facing the same wall of apathy, antipathy, and alienation as it is a time-bound period piece exploring the exigencies of the French Revolution.
(Needless to say, the packed house of Greater Ann Arbor animal advocates left the theatre fired up, galvanized, and inspired.)
Yours truly, Penny Yohn, and Kim Elizabeth Johnson enjoying the pre-show reception
Like Clutter, another entry this season at Theatre Nova, The Revolutionists is both memory play and call-to-action with a nice slathering of meta-absurdity across its surface. Playwright Gunderson brings together four women (some historical figures, some composites) in one small room at the height of France’s Reign of Terror to discuss their truths, their narratives, their plights as free-thinking women in a society that seeks revolution and equity but not when it comes to the distaff side of society. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Literally. (Bernie Bros, anyone? Too soon?)
The aforementioned Marie Antoinette, Caribbean revolutionary Marianne Angelle (a grounded, heartbreaking, and damn funny K. Edmonds), and Jean-Paul Marat’s assassin Charlotte Corday (a fiery, spiky, compelling Sara Rose) find themselves in the chambers of playwright Olympe De Gouges (a fabulously neurotic Diane Hill … channeling just a hint of Hillary’s steely resolve?), seeking a writer to help them finish their stories. It is unlikely that these women would have ever interacted IRL (“in real life,” as the kids say), but Gunderson has great fun imagining what might have transpired. For example, she rehabilitates and humanizes Antoinette as a 1% victim of misunderstood and misrepresented intention (the heroine of Stephen Schwartz’ classic ditty “Meadowlark” if played by Carol Kane), never quite letting her off the hook for her tone-deaf excess. It’s a marvelous hat trick, aided and abetted by Beckwith’s revelatory performance.
Director David Wolber has stacked the deck with a to-die-for cast (in fact, most of them do meet the guillotine at some point – or multiple points – during the show), and he wisely let’s them run like hell with their roles, shaping and pacing the narrative for maximum funny and maximum heartache.
K. Edmonds and Sara Rose [Photo from Theatre Nova’s Facebook page]
The challenges facing these women in 1793 aren’t terribly different from those facing women in 2017, and that’s a damn shame. The language is purposefully anachronistic, and Wolber’s staging – coupled with the dreamlike design of Daniel C. Walker (lighting), Carla Milarch (sound … seriously, download right now the equally anachronistic, breathtaking pop songs by French group L.E.J. which are used interstitially and at intermission), and Forrest Hejkal (set, costumes, props, hair) – smartly positions the play as an allegorical comic nightmare, cautioning us that history sure as hell repeats itself. As Cordray warns her compatriots at a moment when they seem to be sliding into fearful ambivalence and losing their collective moral compass, “It’s called the Reign of Terror, not the Reign of Agree-to-Disagree.” Touché.
The Revolutionists runs at Theatre Nova through September 17. Don’t miss it. Tickets at www.TheatreNOVA.org
Yup. This is actually happening. And I haven’t been removed from the program. Yet. From David Francis Kiley: “Tomorrow night [August 28] my buddy Roy Sexton and I will be co-hosting the Wilde Awards (Michigan Tony Awards) and we will have David Moan, Marlene Inman, Jamey Grisham, cast members from Assassins, Shawn Handlon and his Detroit: The Musical troupe, Amanda Rae Evans, cast members from Bridges of Madison County and more. If you have not bought your advanced tickets, please do so today. It helps us. It’s open to the public.” More: http://www.encoremichigan.com/2017/08/tickets-now-sale-16th-annual-wilde-awards/ … Hope to see you there!
Thanks to Dani Tippman from the Whitley County Historical Society for this coverage of the Blue Bell Lofts Grand Opening! Dani was unable to attend the ribbon-cutting, but watched and enjoyed my mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s speech on video. Dani wanted to include this story in the Whitley County Historial Bulletin. That is really a special treat, as my mom wrote a piece in 1987 on the history of the facility that also appeared in The Bulletin and was used extensively in Commonwealth’s research for this transformative project – you can read that piece here.
My mom did want to note that in the excitement of the day there were a couple of items she misstated and would like to correct: “The corrections would be 50 layers of denim which I had mis-stated….and that the plant was called Blue Bell in 1943 after several name changes. When in another building behind the bowling alley, it was called Globe-Superior…becoming Blue Bell-Globe when Globe-Superior was bought out. From 1936, it was called Blue Bell-Globe until just the Blue Bell name in ’43. At one point down south after Big Ben and Blue Bell merged the company was called Blue Bell Overall Company from 1930 until 1936, when it became Blue Bell-Globe and, finally – as I wrote – in 1943, BLUE BELL, INC. Thus, Blue Bell affiliation provided the final lasting name change to simply Blue Bell one year after my dad Roy Duncan arrived. First big acquisition after the name change was CASEY JONES!” Enjoy!
BONUS: From 1987, The Post and Mail’s coverage of Susie’s original Blue Bell article in The Bulletin
And so closes #Drood. What a week! So grateful to this show and its exceptional cast and crew and our dynamite director Ron Baumanis … you helped me reclaim my theatre mojo. Thank you!
Thanks to those friends and family who showed their support and attended a performance through the run: John Mola, Don and Susie Sexton, Benjamin and Jane Kang, Aaron Latham, Rob Zannini, Nikki Bagdady Horn, Jackie Jenkins, Kim Elizabeth Johnson, Penny Yohn, Sharon Karaboyas, Diana Zentz Hegedus, Michele Woolems Gale, Julia Spanja Hoffert, Sue Booth, Brian Cox, Kelly Little, Edmond Reynolds, Ann Little, Jeff Steinhauer, Michele Walters Szczypka, Mary Philips Letters, Rich and Susan Geary and co., Bonnie Torti, Melynee Weber-Lynch and Jim Lynch, Bridget and Don and friends, Kristy Smith and Chris, Laurie Rorrer Armstrong, Eric and Rebecca Dale Winder, Heather LaDuke and Sienna and Ariel, Dan Morrison, Steve DeBruyne, Matthew G Tomich, Anne Bauman, Christine Dotson Blossom, Sue Nelson, Josh and Sarah Maday and darling Olivia, Evelyn and Kevin DiCola, Mitch Holdwick and Anya Dale, Rachel Green and co., Bridget and Nondus Carr, Jaclyn Klein, Samantha Fletcher-Garbutt, Donna Kallio Wolbers and Jason Wolbers, Jason Karas and Claire Elizabeth, Samantha Gordon, Linda Pawlowski Hemphill, Lisa Harrell, Jon Woods and Brian Goins, Eric Walkuski and Jasmine, Beth Kennedy, Kevin Kaminski, Jeff Weisserman, Breeda Kelly Miller, Michelle MacDonald McAllister, Tom McAllister, Rebecca Biber, Matthew Pecek, Amy Sundback, Henry Kiley, David Francis Kiley, Sheri Chisholm, Scott Chisholm, Don Blumenthal, Brent Stansfield and Evelyn, Michelle Clark and Alex, Laura Sagolla.
Enjoy these photos by my loving parents and other friends from the past week, including a special message we received from Rupert Holmes, the musical’s creator!
God love people like John Mola and Susie Duncan Sexton and Kim Elizabeth Johnson. If it weren’t for folks like them, I’d have no social conscience at all. The former two (John and Susie) supply me with the information and the education on how poorly we treat this planet and all of its inhabitants, and the latter (Kim) keeps me informed about similarly-themed events here in Southeast Michigan (though I have been plenty remiss in availing myself of all the opportunities).
And all three set a fabulous example for sustainable living, kind diets, and compassionate hearts.
Last night, per Kim’s invitation, I went to Royal Oak’s Main Art Theatre for a special presentation (benefiting wonderful VegMichigan) of the film Cowspiracy. Yes, you read that title correctly. Cowspiracy. What is this documentary about? Well, in short, it’s about how willfully reckless we all are with this planet’s future in our rampant (some might say rabid) consumption of animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, etc.).
The documentary filmmakers posit that most of us could give one whit about the environmental impact the food we eat creates. We have been conditioned to see our food as simply a commodity – disassociated from its source (i.e. living beings like you and me) – by culture, family, big-ag industries, grocery stores, and even our own environmental action groups.
(Shame on you, Sierra Club! Bunch of well-scrubbed yuppies bedecked in Ralph Lauren plaids and denims who fancy themselves latter day Ansel Adamses for whom mountain ranges hold more appeal than living beings. Yeah, I said it. What strikes you in watching these talking heads is just how self-satisfied and out. of. touch. they really are.)
The film in its casual, loping, conversational style visits all quadrants of the food industry, from factory farming to lobbying groups, from so-called “humane” organic ranches to various environmental action groups. Cowspiracy‘s central thesis is that there is no sector – not energy, not manufacturing – that is having a larger negative impact on the environment (e.g. greenhouse gasses, pollution, global warming, deforestation) than meat/dairy/poultry/fish. Nor is there an industry more in denial – malicious or otherwise – about said impact.
Let me add that I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly four years now, and after seeing tonight’s film I’m likely to go full vegan. Yes, I love animals, and, yes, some of the aforementioned family members helped pave the way for me. However, the tipping point as captured in this film is that this “industry” is not only supplying us with a food product we don’t actually need (and is quite unhealthy for us) but is destroying the planet in the process.
The land and resources (and, yes, lives) gobbled up to create one (gross) Big Mac is mind-numbing. You, like some of the interviewees in this film, may chalk that up to some hippie dippy mentality. But if you give this film a chance, it gives a logical argument to why we all need to eat much differently…or we’ll find ourselves floating down the street in our useless leather-seated SUVs when the polar ice caps finally evaporate.
Limiting oneself to dairy or eggs or fish and eliminating red meat, pork, or poultry just doesn’t cut it. The carbon impact of these “foods” on the environment is, well, ridiculous. The amount of grains and beans produced to feed animals that we, in turn, consume is, as they say, a “false economy. ” The film is not a polemic. You won’t feel chastised watching it (unlike how you probably feel reading this review) but you will be entertained and enlightened, and, well, you’re gonna laugh … a lot.
What this film does so very well is humanize the impact that animal products have on our economy and our environment. Our guide in the film, Kip Andersen (also the film’s director and co-producer), looks like he took a left turn out of Ann Arbor’s SkatePark and, whoa, decided to make a moooovie, man. And he is perfect. Clearly a sensitive soul, Andersen has been deeply impacted by Al Gore’s seminal An Inconvenient Truth, but, through the course of Cowspiracy which builds on the foundation laid in Gore’s documentary, our eyes are opened as Andersen’s eyes are opened, discovering truths even too inconvenient for Mr. Gore.
Anyone who has ever watched a Frank Capra movie (or, hell, a Martin Scorsese one) knows that people don’t like change. Don’t mess with my family, my food, my culture … but when those life choices are destroying us all, a change is long overdue. That’s the epiphany Andersen has during the course of this film.
There is a very real and frightening issue bearing down on all of us, namely that our rampant consumption of meat is unsustainable. Yes, for animal lovers like myself that is a no-brainer. Eat more carrots. But the carbon footprint of meat production is destroying this planet. Cowspiracy does a beautiful job without being ham-handed (no pun intended) or overbearing, illustrating the very practical impracticality of turning all that grain into a nasty fast-food burger.
If you give this film a chance, you will be highly entertained. It’s a breezy 90-plus minutes, and the movie is making its way to festivals around the country and hopefully soon will be available on home video and via streaming. Dare we not ask the question, the intimate question, of how what we eat affects not only ourselves but the entire world around us?
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.
Here’s a snippet from Roy’s Review of Inside Llewyn Davis: “I’ll tell you what I think. Inside Llewyn Davis is in keeping with a theme that shoots through much of the Coen Brothers work: frustration over the venom creative people spew at each other in their dogged competition for limited resources, attention, and fame. Actors and singers and writers and painters and dancers are all a bit broken, and they make their way into careers that are often doomed from the start, compounded by a cruelly competitive system that rewards the schemers and abandons the weak.”
I cannot tolerate a movie where animals are hurt or in peril. I knew going into Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest from the acerbic yet cynically humanistic writer/director team Joel and Ethan Coen, that a runaway cat is a central narrative element. Hell, the orange tabby is on the damn poster, clutched in the titular anti-hero’s arms as Llewyn saunters down a busy New York street.
Have you ever tried to hold a cat in one arm, a guitar in the other, while walking down a bustling thoroughfare?!? Exactly.
I will offer for my fellow animal advocates (spoiler alert!) that the cat is ok. Sort of.
A cat runs out a fire escape window and disappears. A cat reappears. A cat makes it home. A cat takes a road trip to Chicago. And a cat (or something) has a limp-inducing near miss with a car on a snowy road. Might be the same cat. Might not. I’m not sure what all these orange cats signify, but the Coen Brothers love their oddball metaphors, even if PETA (or yours truly) is inflamed in the process.
(As a side note, for viewers like me who, yes … of course! … worry about cinematic animal safety much more than that of human counterparts, there is a website for us. Thanks to Kim Elizabeth Johnson for alerting me to it.)
So, with that point made, how is the movie? Quite good actually. It is one of the Coens’ most sedate offerings, bleakly transporting viewers to grungy Greenwich Village in the 1960s where the folk music scene appears to be atrophying before the ascent of pop derivatives like Bob Dylan and his ilk.
Llewyn, played wonderfully by Oscar Isaac, is a failed troubadour, whose singing partner is long gone and who subsists on a steady diet of cigarettes, self-loathing, and couch-crashing at a succession of annoyed friends’ apartments. Isaac is a marvel, resisting every urge to make Llewyn one bit redeeming or likable. He is a wretched human (with a lovely voice) consumed by a toxic brew of pretension, insecurity, jealousy, bitterness, condescension, and holier than thou artsy-fartsiness.
(Oh, how I’ve known too many dudes like this fellow – folks who are so got by their own disappointments that they have to kick sand in the faces of any and everyone else with the tiniest shred of talent or even the slightest bit of creative happiness. Ah, that felt better.)
Often with a Coen Brothers film (in fact their best ones – like Barton Fink or the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men), you’re left wondering: what was their intention exactly? This film, like others in their oeuvre, offers their trademark circular non-ending ending, and, as we departed the theatre, I overheard a few folks asking, “What was that about?”
I’ll tell you what I think. Inside Llewyn Davis is in keeping with a theme that shoots through much of the Coen Brothers work: frustration over the venom creative people spew at each other in their dogged competition for limited resources, attention, and fame. Actors and singers and writers and painters and dancers are all a bit broken, and they make their way into careers that are often doomed from the start, compounded by a cruelly competitive system that rewards the schemers and abandons the weak.
With this acidic lens, the Coens turn their filmic gaze on folk music, one of the more self-satisfied forms of artistic expression. At surface, folk music has always been about gathering the tribe to celebrate our commonality; yet, in reality, it is usually a vehicle for some twee turtleneck-wearing phony to look down his or her nose at middle-class plebes who are scraping by with their staid corporate lives and suffocating mortgage payments.
The Coens dive right into the heart of that notion, and not with the campy satire of Christopher Guest’s similarly themed A Mighty Wind, but with the unsympathetic bruised heart of a Sidney Lumet or a John Cassavetes with just a smidge of their own asburdist twinkle.
The supporting cast is populated with assorted odd ducks stepping on the heads of their fellow “artists” in hopes of making a buck or two. Justin Timberlake is adequate in a throwaway role as an earnest folkie who writes a really godawful song with unsurprising populist appeal. John Goodman is sheer brilliance as a mean-as-a-rattlesnake jazz musician who shows his contempt for Llewyn and his chosen genre with a steady stream of vitriol, leveled at what he deems inane and amateurish musicianship. The normally exquisite Carey Mulligan struggles a bit with a one-note role (and equally bad wig) as an ambitious ladder-climbing folkie who may or may not be pregnant with Llewyn’s child.
Previously mentioned feline concerns aside, I recommend Inside Llewyn Davis to anyone who has found themselves lost in a creative bubble, not sure whom to trust or where to go. As they say, karma will get you, and perhaps that is the ultimate lesson we glean from Llewyn’s neglect of cats and people. What goes around comes around. And folk music is hateful stuff.