‘Playing for Real’ comedically portrays the realities of community theater


Ixion Ensemble Theatre’s production of “Playing for Real,” by Ron Asher, presents a play within a play as a theater troupe attempts to impress a visiting producer with its new Shakespeare-inspired show. Increasingly, the efforts to stage the show run amok or are thwarted by outside events. This piece of meta-theater comments on the battle between artistic integrity and financial success and the role of compromise in creating new productions.

The play harkens back to the great works and authors of post-World War II absurdist theater. The script directly references Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” two major works in the genre. The overall energy of the cast is superb, reminding me of an edgy and hip late-night comedy show. 

Jonathan Hamilton (Bernie/“Peter”) opens the show as an actor battling the light-board operator while performing the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet.” Unfortunately, opening-night nerves led him to mangle some key lines. Doubly unfortunately, he was performing in front of a critic who happened to know that speech much more intimately than the average theatergoer.

After the bumpiness of the opening, however, Hamilton went on to delight and entertain with style and skill. He brings a welcome breath of fresh energy to Lansing stages.

Following a solid showing as Billy Flynn in Evolve Theatrics’ production of “Chicago,” Ian Whipp (Danny/“Jerry”) continues his remarkable season with detailed and specific work here playing an idealistic actor. Whipp also handles his stage combat very well — he’s rapidly becoming a polished performer.

Molly Sullivan (Deborah/“Honey”) performs one of the most visceral and realistic “Romeo and Juliet” death scenes I’ve ever seen. Sullivan is an eye-catching performer with a sharp sense of humor and seems destined for big things in the future. 

Charles Hoogstraten is droll and compelling as playwright Mississippi Wells. Holly Sleight-Engler (Nicole Michaels) is robust, centered and believable. Samantha Hall-Leonhardt (Joan/“Martha”) could work on slowing down more with her lines, but she definitely improved as the show continued. Greg Pratt (Real Producer) is efficient and realistic, adding gravitas to his cameo role. Local legend Quinn Kelly (Sammy Needalender) continues to light up the stage wherever he goes, here as a humorous and painfully realistic producer. 

I must give Lansing stage veteran Tim Lewis (Intruder) a final kudos. Lewis is threatening and fevered in his portrayal of the outsider, speaking clearly, acting with clear objectives and earning laughs with his comic interpretations of the role.

“Playing for Real”

March 29-30

8 p.m. 

Stage One at Sycamore Creek Eastwood 

2200 Lake Lansing Road, Lansing 

(517) 775-4246



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