Aug. 24 2011 12:00 AM

A weekend of free theater included some fine work

Last weekend’s Renegade Theatre Festival
in Old Town included contributions from more than a dozen local theater
companies and independent producers. Here are some quick impressions
from our theater critics. (Write-ups on other shows, such as Williamston
Theatre’s “Dead Man’s Shoes” and Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s  “Loving Alanis,” can be found at

Paul Bourne

“Fingerpaint,” directed by Paul Bourne:
An artist knows when he or she dips a brush into paint and sets it to
paper, a relationship has begun. At times, that may be joyous and
gratifying; however, that can turn into frustration as the creation
becomes unbearable, moving farther away from its original idea.

“Fingerpaint,” directed and penned by
Paul Bourne, explored the idea of personifying two abstract inanimate
objects. Actors Shane Schanski and Amelia Rogocka dialogued about
gaining and losing in a 30-minute vignette that included a white
“canvas,” buckets of paint and a “spatter section.” Certainly
actor-exercise-worthy, the show demonstrated the promise and potential
of its premise, vacillating between inspiration and leaving a mark —
figurative or real. This playlet held something for everyone. — Erin Buitendorp

Renegade NOW 

“To Be,” directed by Marianne Bacon and “Strange Bedfellows,” directed by Michael Hays.

“To Be” is about Jane, a young woman struggling with her gender and sexual identity. Is she a lesbian?  Well,
yes. Does she have the courage to live like one? Yes, finally. The
problem is that after six scenes (in Act I alone) of dated, banal,
humorless dialogue about all this, nobody cares. There can be great
power and humanity in sexual conflict story lines, but not in this case.  This script should go straight to rewrite. 

On the other hand, Andrew Black and
Patricia Milton’s rapid-fire comedy “Strange Bedfellows,” also dealing
in part with gay issues, was a wondrous ride through the conservative
landscape of California’s Orange County where an ever so openly gay and
liberal guy is running for the office of D.A. With its expert plot and
engaging characters, this play is a winner.

At the talk-back, director Michael Hays
said someone suggested to him that “Strange Bedfellows” was reminiscent
of Ben Hecht’s 1928 classic, “The Front Page.”  There are some similarities. At any rate, the audience voted this play to be worthy of a full production. — Ute von der Heyden

Lansing Community College

 “Crave,” directed by Deborah Keller: No one in Lansing area theater does experimental and abstract like Keller.  She infuses her shows with contemporary music, rich lighting and multimedia effects, and dramatic choreography. 

Keller staged “Crave” in the Message
Makers Warehouse, the white block providing the perfect backdrop for the
staging of the gritty script. The script is a stream of consciousness
set of four monologues that occasionally intersect, as do the cast
members and their stunning shadows, cast crisply on the warehouse wall.
Topics included love, sex, anger, rejection, insecurity, birth and death
— basically the entire human experience, covered in less than an hour. —
Mary C. Cusack

Michigan State University Theatre

“Good Boys and True,” directed by Rob Roznowski:
Six actors, half a dozen chairs and one videocassette — that’s about
all that appeared on the Chrome Cat stage in MSU’s production of Roberto
Aguirre Sacasa’s drama about a prep school scandal. But it was more
than enough to produce two hours of nerve-rattling theater. 

Set in 1989 (and complete with a “Less
Than Zero” joke), Sacasa’s story lays out the slow, sickening fall of
popular senior Brandon Hardy (Wes Haskell) after his football coach
(Edward O’Ryan) begins to suspect Brandon may be the unseen participant
in a sex tape that’s circulating around the campus. Brandon’s mom (Dana
Brazil) initially leaps to his defense, then begins to question both his
innocence and her own as more unsavory details emerge.  

Brazil, Haskell and O’Ryan’s electrifying
performances were complemented by beautifully drawn characterizations
from Leslie Hull (as Brandon’s wary aunt), Brandon Piper (as Brandon’s
closest friend) and Emily Young (as the lonely young woman whose
reputation is ruined by the revelations). Both an arresting mystery and a
heartwrenching family drama, “True” was as devastating as it was
fascinating, a testament to Roznowski’s marvelous direction and his
outstanding cast.  

The show gets a second staging at 7:30
p.m. Tuesday, at MSU’s Arena Theatre as a fundraiser for the theater
program; a $5 donation is suggested (and the show is worth every penny).
— James Sanford

Ruhala Performing Arts Center

“Once Upon a Psych Ward,” directed by Mark Ruhala and “The History lesson,” also directed by Ruhala:
In the Perspective 2 gallery, four young women ranging in age from 13
to 24 put together the semi-musical “Once Upon a Psych Ward,” in which
the oddness of adolescence was celebrated and validated. Lisa Buch, Emma
Fedorchuk, Keiley Putmon and Carmen Zavala were the co-creators and
stars of this tender play, aided and abetted by Jeff English as musical
director and Mark Ruhala as artistic director. 

But audiences that wandered back into Persepective 2 later
on Saturday night ran into the brick wall of “The History Lesson,”
written and directed by Ruhala. A preachy and self-indulgent piece of
inaccurate (some would say politically incorrect) rhetoric, “Lesson” was
neither good politics nor good theater.

Ruhala missed his opportunity to shine,
using the festival as an opportunity to whack both major political
parties with far-fetched paranoid libertarian freedom-speak.

Despite the limits of the play, Jeff English as a
beleaguered teen’s Vietnam vet father, and Eddy Lee, as his son, brought
passion to their roles. — Tom Helma