June 6 2012 12:00 AM

Michigan State University's summer theater season begins with kooky 'Macao' and a trilogy of folk tales


“It’s the nuttiest thing I’ve ever done,” Chad Badgero said of Christopher Durang’s “Adrift in Macao,” which he is directing for Michigan State University’s Summer Circle Theatre. Durang’s script, a send-up of the film-noir thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s in which a jaded Robert Mitchum or a brooding Robert Ryan pursued a sultry Rita Hayworth or an icily alluring Lizbeth Scott, is total goofiness from start to finish.

Much of the action unfolds in locations like the Macao Surf and Turf Nightclub Gambling Casino, where characters such as the drifter Mitch Boonton (“I’m an expatriate American, 38 to 45, very masculine, sure of myself and a little bored with life”) collide with lost souls and cryptic Asians. Take, for example, the arguably inscrutable Tempura, who claims to have been “battered by life” and sings, “Americans are violent/Americans are rowdy/Always knocking doors down/Always cracking heads/Why can’t you be peaceful?/Like lovely lotus leaf/Americans are nasty/They eat a lot of beef.”  

Quite a leap from “Blackbird,” “Ruined” and the other issue-oriented dramas typically presented by Badgero’s Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. Yet that’s exactly what Badgero is looking for.

“Typically, I have, about a week into rehearsal, a day where we talk about characters’ backstories and connections,” Badgero said. “We have done not exactly the opposite of that, but the time we would have spent on that is now spent entirely on finding the joke — and Christopher Durang is essentially the joke master.”

Badgero and his cast have also been looking at the movies that inspired Durang. “We see how dramatic they are, how they build in intensity,” Badgero said. “We want to get a sense of that period style.

“In most shows, you’re trying to make characters unique, distinct and believable, whereas with these characters we’re trying to make them as cliché and stock as possible.”

Badgero, a 2005 graduate of MSU, said he was “excited to get back to MSU and to do something for Summer Circle, which I had done a ton of stuff for when I was at State.” 

The madcap “Macao” — in which performers sing lyrics like, “Look out! There’s mambo up ahead!” — gives him a chance to revisit a familiar venue while trying something new.  “For me,” Badgero said, “this show is about flexing that comedic muscle, which I don’t ever do.”

‘Round the World Tales’

Next month, Wes Haskell will be moving to New York. But before then, he’ll be making a couple of world tours, courtesy of Summer Circle Theatre. 

First, Haskell is directing Edward O’Ryan, Eric Miller and Kate Busselle in “Round the World Tales,” a family-oriented piece that compiles three fables in a 35-minute show. “The Old Woman and the Tramp,” based on a Swedish folk tale, tells of a jovial wanderer with the power to turn a seemingly simple stew into a feast; young men must deal with magical abilities and irresistible temptations in “The Invisible Hunters,” adapted from a legend of the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua; and a short-tempered wife who mistreats her husband’s pet bird gets a surprising retribution in the Japanese entry, “The Tongue-Cut Sparrow.”

“They all focus on greed,” Haskell said of the stories. “Not just greed in terms of money, but also for fame and attention. Each teaches its own lesson. What’s fun about it is that we get to see that the human condition is universal; as we explore these folk tales from three different countries, we realize there’s something we have in common with people all over the world.” 

“Round the World Tales” has six performances during the Summer Circle season, but Haskell will not be spending the month entirely behind the scenes. He’s also in rehearsals for “Around the World in 80 Days,” in which he plays 19th-century Londoner Phileas Fogg, who makes a bet he can circle the globe in 11 and a half weeks. The Jules Verne adaptation opens June 20 on the Summer Circle stage.

“It’s a challenge,” Haskell said of directing one show while performing in another. “But I’ve done summer stock in the past in which I’ve worked in companies that were doing three shows at the same time, so I’m used to it. You learn to make quick choices.

“When you only have a few weeks of rehearsal to create something it seems like an enormous challenge, but it always seems to come together nicely.”

‘Adrift in Macao’

8 p.m. Wednesday, June 6 through Saturday, June 9

Michigan State University Summer Circle Theatre

Outdoor theater on the banks of the Red Cedar River, near the MSU Auditorium

‘Round the World Tales’

6 p.m. Friday, June 8, Saturday, June 9, June 15, 16, 22, and 23

Michigan State University Summer Circle Theatre

Outdoor theater on the banks of the Red Cedar River, near the MSU Auditorium