Local theater seasons always seem to include some well executed warhorses, unexpected gems and, unfortunately, a few duds. But 2015 included some especially memorable theatrical experiences from actors, and even some from firsttime thespians.
Arguably the most powerful production this season was “Telling: Lansing,” produced by Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. Featuring a cast of mostly non-actors telling personal stories related to their own or their family member’s military service, “Telling: Lansing” stood out for its honesty, depth and scope. The set and staging were sparse. A projection screen and occasional lighting and sound elements added some ambiance and atmosphere. But the stories were so personal and candid that the words themselves took the audience on a journey. “Telling: Lansing” not only served as a welcome contrast to glitzy Broadway productions, but also as a reminder that everyone has a story in them if we’re willing to ask and listen.
Moving from theatrical neophytes to aspiring actors, some of the strongest performances of 2015 came from Michigan State University. While MSU Department of Theatre’s productions of “Hair” and “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”cleaned up in City Pulse’s 2015 Pulsar awards, another play, “Bug,” was one of my favorites of 2015. In the play, outgoing master’s program students Jacqueline Wheeler and Zev Steinberg played two paranoid junkies who can’t escape their own creepy delusions. The realism in the production elements, from stained costumes to a fleabag motel interior designed by Melissa Hunter, helped create a grungy yet familiar world for the actors to explore. With a dynamic arc expertly directed by Rob Roznowski, the action in “Bug” starts at uncomfortable simmer before exploding into zealous paranoia. While student productions, even at the collegiate level, can sometimes feel like, well, student productions, “Bug” felt like a masterful demonstration of completed training.