With election day looming next week, three local theater companies are rolling out politically-minded plays. While none of the productions were purposefully scheduled to line up with the political season, they might get Greater Lansing residents thinking hard about global issues as they head to the polls.
Nov. 4-13 >> “Serious Money.”
The Lansing Community College Theatre Program opens “Serious Money,” a rhyming-verse dark comedy about love, lust and capitalism, Friday night.
“This play starts out as a satire, morphs into a murder mystery and ends up as a very sardonic morality play,” said director Mary Job.
Centered on the deregulation of the financial markets in mid-1980s England, Caryl Churchill’s “Serious Money” examines the corrupting power of money. When her brother Jake (Ben Guenther) is murdered, trader Scilla Todd (Hannah Feuka) sets out to find the killer. Along the way she learns about her brother’s underground dealings and gets caught up in a world where everybody is fighting for their piece of the pie — or more.
“In America, we tend to revere the idea of capitalism as a moral virtue that is self-regulating. It’s not.” Job said. “Capitalism is enormously inventive and powerful, but it has no moral constraints. It must be harnessed to make sure it works to the benefit of most citizens, not just the accomplished few.”
Nov. 4-13 >> “Inherit the Wind.”
Owosso Community Players’ latest production, “Inherit the Wind,” wasn’t selected with the upcoming election in mind. But its themes of science vs. fundamentalism are echoed in today’s discussions of climate change and women’s health.
“It’s as timely today as it was in 1925,” said director Anna Owens.
The play is a fictionalized account of the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, of 1925. Substitute teacher John Scopes was brought to court for teaching evolution, which was illegal in state-funded schools. The two lawyers involved, former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow, stoked intense public interest in the trial.
Owosso Community Players’ production pits prosecutor Matthew Harrison Brady (Steve Shelton) against defense attorney Henry Drummond (John Liskey). While the names are different and some details are changed, the story largely follows the historical account. The play was written in 1955 as a criticism of the era’s McCarthy hearings and anti-communist frenzy.
“The theme is not necessarily evolution vs. the Bible, but the right of people to think,” Owens said. “It’s about the right of students to have information so that they can make a choice on what they want to believe.”
Nov. 3-13 >> “Disgraced.”
One of the most heated topics this campaign season has been the treatment of Muslims in the U.S. This subject is tackled by playwright Ayad Akhtar in his 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Disgraced,” which opens Thursday at Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.
The play centers on Amir Kapoor (Zuwaib Razzaq), a Pakistani-American lawyer and his wife, Emily (Sarah Lynn). Kapoor has distanced himself from his cultural heritage,trying to reach professional success, while his wife draws on Islamic designs in her work as an artist. When a recent controversy comes up in conversation at a dinner party, the couple is forced to confront uncomfortable prejudices.
Director Gabriel Francisco, who pitched “Disgraced” to Peppermint Creek, identified with the play because of an experience from his college days. A friend had asked him for help reserving a room for the Muslim Student Organization to pray in each morning.
“What followed was one of the most shocking — and frankly, horrifying —experiences I have ever had,” writes Francisco in his director’s notes. “The backlash from students, faculty (...) and parents was sickening.”
Community members accused Francisco of supporting terrorism, conflating Islam with the Taliban. After a long battle, the university president granted the request. Francisco still sees the same problems today.
“I actually did not choose this play because of the current election,” he said, “but it was an extremely fortunate circumstance that it fell so close, because the material is that much more relevant.”
LCC Theatre Program
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13
$15/$10 seniors and LCC faculty or staff/$5 students
Dart Auditorium 500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing
(517) 483-1488, lcc.edu/ showinfo
“Inherit the Wind”
Owosso Community Players
Nov. 4-13 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
$16.50/$15 seniors and students/$9 kids
Lebowsky Center 122 E. Main St., Owosso
(989) 723-4003, owossoplayers.com
Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.
Nov. 3-13 8 p.m. Thursday- Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday $15/$10 seniors and students
Miller Performing Arts Center 6025 Curry Lane, Lansing
(517) 927-3016, peppermintcreek.org