Dec. 30 2015 09:45 AM

Local theater ranged from light romance to heavy history in 2015

The theater companies of the Greater Lansing area produce a tremendous number of quality theatrical productions each year. And while City Pulse’s Pulsar awards are a sincere way to honor the best of the best in local theater, it is also rewarding when a show gets recognition beyond our borders. Lansing Community College’s production of “Never Swim Alone” is headed to the Kennedy Center’s Region Three American College Theater Festival next month, competing for a chance to perform at the Kennedy Center’s national arts festival in Washington.

Directed by Deb Keller, the play is a fast and furious dissection of the destructive nature of competitiveness. Heath Sartorius and Connor Kelly play polished, buttoned-down businessmen whose flashy smiles mask a dark secret from their adolescence that sparks a lifelong game of chicken. Monica Tanner plays the referee who calls out the battles and announces the winner at each stage.

The play relies heavily on Keller’s creative choreography to increase the intensity of the battles, culminating in perhaps the most skillful fight scene to grace a Lansing stage. The slow-motion fisticuffs require more athleticism than one might think and must be seen to be fully appreciated. Fortunately, those who missed the play during its run have one last chance to see it. The cast and crew will present a free, open to the public final dress rehearsal to prepare for the festival 4 p.m. Sunday in LCC’s Dart Auditorium. It is a rare treat to have a second chance to catch such a first-rate production.

Williamston Theatre closed out its 2014-2015 season in May and June with the touching and funny “Outside Mullingar.” John Lepard and Suzi Regan starred as Anthony and Rosemary, lifelong neighbors approaching middle-age who are fated to be together — eventually. Rosemary has known since she was a child that she would marry Anthony, and at a young age she executes a complicated real estate scheme that ensures that Anthony will have to rely upon her someday.

In the meantime, Anthony’s father, Tony (Arthur J. Beer), discourages a relationship because Anthony has inherited some personality quirks from his mother’s side of the family. The outcome is never in question — this is, after all, a romantic comedy — but it is charming all the same. The rural Irish setting adds to this charm, and the cast never faltered in their accents and small-town mannerisms. The only unrealistic plot point was that Anthony could avoid and resist the fiery and beautiful Rosemary for so long.

But not all plays can be fanciful distractions from the real world. We also need serious plays that comment on our history, in hopes that future generations of audience members can learn from the past in a more visceral way than through textbooks or documentaries. “The Diary of Anne Frank,” produced this season by Riverwalk Theatre, is one of those pieces. The play recreates the claustrophobia and anxiety endured by the Franks and their friends as they hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944.

The script is based on Anne Frank’s diary and puts the experiences that she wrote about into context. Director Janet Colson chose an excellent cast and choreographed their movements throughout the tiny attic in such a way as to build tension as their discovery nears. Tom Ferris’ excellent set design was complemented by Ray Kurtis and Melody Teodoro-Kurtis’s meticulous prop work, right down to the accuracy of Frank’s red checkerboard diary. The professionalism of the production made this painful story all the more poignant.

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