Our critics comment on festival productions
The annual Renegade Theatre Festival in Old Town provided a showcase for several new works. City Pulse critics Mary C. Cusack and Paul Wozniak were on-hand to cover the readings and performances; more reports from Renegade are online at www.lansingcitypulse.com.
“Dark Play, or Stories for Boys”:
Complete with polished performances and lighting cues, Carlos Murillo’s script was directed by Lela Ivey. “Stories” is a 90-minute freefall through a very dark, sick, funny and sad world, perfectly performed by Dana Brazil, Hazen Cuyler, Angela Mishler, Joe Quick and Brian De Vries. Internet chat rooms are clearly not the place to find love but they do make for “dangerous” theater, and this was edgy theater at its finest.
At times hard to swallow, “Stories” is nevertheless a tantalizing thriller that leaves permanent memories. (The show will repeat at 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at The Warehouse, 305 Beaver Street. Admission is free.) — Paul Wozniak
“Happy Holy Days”: “Days” is the story of the evolution of one woman’s spiritual belief system, told through non-linear vignettes which all take place on various holidays throughout her life. The original work, written and directed by Rob Roznowski, Michigan State University’s head of acting and directing, will be presented in January as a Second Stage production.
It will be interesting to see how it develops between now and then, and to see which performers from the Renegade cast make it into that production.
One keeper is lead actress Leslie Hull, who changed her voice and mannerisms effortlessly to portray lead character Sherrie at ages 6 through 68. She plays every stage of life — confused child, drunken college freshman, middle-aged cancer survivor, sentimental widow — with sincerity, humor, and gravitas.
The play breaks no new ground in the individual investigation of spirituality and the acceptance of the beliefs of others. Still, it is a warm rendering of that theme, saved from triteness by its humor. It may be one of the few times that it is completely appropriate to laugh at a line like “You are so lucky to be date-raped by Brandon!” (Think Halloween Hell House.) — Mary C. Cusack
“A Holiday Romance”: “Romance” was a hand-puppet show written and directed by Fred Engelgau. A character comedy in the style of “The Love Boat” and “An Affair to Remember,” “Romance” was pure escapist camp and a smashing good time. The show starred Emily Brett, J’esse Deardorff-Green, Brian DeVries, James Miner, Sam Mills, Abby Murphy, Jeffry Wilson, and City Pulse’s own James Sanford. Murphy and DeVries stole the show, of course, with their melodramatic affair as the captain and his long-lost love, Catherine, but they were ably supported by the rest of the crew, which helped this ship sail. — Wozniak
“Murder at Locker 069”: A production that surely hit home with the local audience, “Murder” is an original work by Rich Helder and Jane Falion based on the true story of a school shooting at Everett High School.
Drawn from the investigative work done by Susan Taylor Martin from the St. Petersburg Times, the work was presented like a reading with a Greek chorus.
In 1978, Everett student Roger Needham shot two fellow students in the hallway of Everett. One victim died, but the true tragedy lies with the survivor, who continued to be a victim until he succumbed to diabetes. Needham was successfully rehabilitated, becoming a respected computer scientist before disappearing from the public eye.
From the opening — a chilling piano version of the Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t like Mondays” — to the end, the work proves itself to be compelling enough to be developed further. Helder and Falion could take the work in one of several directions. By increasing the use of selected re-enactments of key events, "Murder" could become an intense black-box theater experience.
Laden with hot-button issues, the work provides a dialogue about parental and institutional responsibility that will hit home with any audience. — Cusack