It’s no secret that to avoid being harsh, reviewers will sometimes focus their comments on set design, lighting or some other facet of the production. After seeing the opening night performance of Michigan State University Department of Theatre’s latest Theatre2Film project, “Stay With Me,” I must say the set was fantastic.
The sizeable Fairchild Theatre stage was filled with an impressive two-story, five-room framed structure, complete with a vaulted roof, designed by Lex Van Blommestein. An authentic kitchen with ‘50sera appliances, a furnished living room and a dining room occupied the first level. A lengthy stairway led to two upper bedrooms. A real screen door creaked when it opened. Thanks to props master Peter Verhaeghe, the entire farmhouse had homey details and embellishments.
Shannon Schweitzer cleverly designed the lighting, including effective backlighting, a projected moon and extensive interior and exterior lights. Jason Painter Price created the sounds, ranging from a babbling river and wind to vehicle sounds to the mewing of tiny kitties.
It was what happened to those kitties, among other things, that made me not want to stay with “Stay With Me.”
There were also some pauses I found bothersome. Long, silent pauses. Pauses that felt long enough to assemble a sandwich, eat it and then digest it. “Stay With Me” had lots of yelling, too. LOTS AND LOTS OF YELLING!
There was also a ghost, one who could handle objects and touch people, but only two characters could see or touch it. I had a hard time with that. Sometimes the ghost was seemingly solid yet other times seemed sometimes incapable of exerting its presence. The ghost once handed a jelly jar to a “seeing” character in front of a “non-seeing” character who never reacted. Maybe the jar was a ghost, too.
What started as a “gonna lose the family farm” story turned into more of a teen-slasher-movie but without any hints of gore. The play’s violent murders were more comical than brutal. Some of the biggest laughs from the small, mostly college-age crowd came during the killings. The lack of blood or visible wounds to accompany the exaggerated screams made it hard to take the murders seriously.
Save for the dying scenes, the cast cannot be faulted for incompetent acting. The family at the center of the story — Mark Colson as the father, Megan Cochrane as the mother and Nicole Tini and Shelby Antel as the sisters — were all portrayed with professional-grade performances. Lukas Jacob was convincing as Brody and Keana Sade was a credible Caitlyn. Minor players like Janette Angelini, as Liz, and even the ensemble members never gave perfunctory performances.
But that doesn’t absolve the cast and director John Lepard from all blame. They all share some responsibility for a troublesome script.
The “Stay With Me” story is credited to Colson and C.J. Valle, but six other writers joined them in three “teams” to help complete the story. In the program notes by Colson, the MSU media acting professor explained how the goal of the play, the third installment of the Theatre2Film project, is to create a collaborative stage show that will be made into a film. His students, cast, and director were part of that process, which began in May of 2016.
Maybe I’ll enjoy it more if it comes out as a movie with lots of extraordinary special effects and some even more fantastic sets.
Theater2Film: “Stay With Me”
MSU Department of Theatre
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22-Thursday, Feb. 23; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26 $
17/$15 seniors and faculty/$12 students
542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing
(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com