Oct. 4 2013 12:00 AM

Purple Rose revives Jeff Daniels show for 20th anniversary

\"The Vast Difference\" explores the changing view of American masculinity. Photo by Sean Carter Photography

Friday, Oct. 4 — “The Vast Difference,” written by Michigan native (and recent Emmy Award-winner) Jeff Daniels, has been resurrected as a 20th anniversary piece at Daniels’ Chelsea performance space, the Purple Rose Theatre. The title is a play on “vas deferens,” which is the small tube that carries sperm to its ultimate destination in the male reproductive system. But this is more than a stage play about sperm. It is a comedic romp through the existential journey of what it means to be a real man, in both the post-WWII-era of larger-than-life, John Wayne-like heroes and in the ever-changing male-female dynamics of the feminist empowerment era. 

Daniels has a knack for blending the sweet and the tart, utilizing crisp and compelling phrasings and expressions. When you combine that with the directing of Guy Sanville, who can move people around a stage in a tango-like dance, the evening unfolds as a sheer delight. And speaking of tangos, kudos to choreographer Angie Kane Ferrante for the dance between central character and his urologist.

David Bendena is the 40-something protagonist, George Noonan, a yearning lost soul. He tries to wrap his head around the idea that he is a male airline steward in a women’s world and the father of five daughters and no son. Bendena is all nervous movement on stage, eyes floating left and right and every which way, the bewildered man.

Richard McWilliams is George’s father Earl, an ever-present ghost on stage, a philosophical barber who represents that era when men were men and women were women and never the twain would meet. A vasectomy, demanded by George’s wife Rita, sets the stage for angst of a major magnitude.

A subplot that speaks to the larger issues of social change parodies the early emergence of a men’s movement in the late ‘70s, and features five actors playing multiple roles, each of them comedic in specific ways.

Daniels’ lifelong love affair with the Detroit Tigers comes to life with a spirit version of legendary Al Kaline, one of the last iconic males of yesteryear. There are recollected scenes of father and son at the baseball game that evoke everyman poignant memories — and a Daniels touch to the relationship that clutches at the heart.

This is a classic play, promoting even more reflection now than likely it did when it debuted in 1993. The Greatest Generation consisted of heroes that are no longer celebrated, but are made fun of. That golden ‘50s era of the man’s man, for better or worse, is now long gone.

"The Vast Difference" 

Through Saturday, Dec. 14

3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Wednesday & Saturday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday (no show on Thanksgiving)


The Purple Rose Theatre

137 Park St., Chelsea

(734) 433-7782