Risky business: ‘Diva Royale’ review


"Diva Royale"

Through Dec. 29

Purple Rose Theatre

137 Park St, Chelsea, Michigan

(734) 433-7673


Click here to purchase tickets

Jeff Daniels is not just any man, nor is his artistic director Guy Sanville. Together, they have concocted a laughable romp through the secret lives of Midwestern homemakers, whose main claim to fame is that they’ve seen the movie “Titanic” several hundred times.

It’s a story that builds laugh upon laugh until, near the end, an uncontrollable wave of raucous applause.

Rhiannon Ragland, Kristen Shields and Kate Thomsen dance onto the Purple Rose stage in a hammy, but well- choreographed, scene: Singing and dancing to the song “My Heart Will Go On and On.”

This is interrupted by brief introductions of their characters, Helen, Mary and Lynette: Three heartland moms with a child in sixth grade and too little excitement in their lives.

Hopelessly Midwestern? Daniels has them point to the hand, to locate Middleton, Michigan, suspiciously close to the Mid-Michigan community of Chelsea.

Briefly, each of them describes a lack of luster in their love lives with their husbands, including one scene that is so graphically pathetic it is cringeworthy to imagine.

Thus, the scheme at the center of this play: A proposed trip to New York City to see Celine Dionne perform in person.

Those familiar with the stage play, “The Out-of-Towners,” or anyone from the Midwest who has consulted one of those “New York City for $50.00 a Day” books, can easily imagine what might come next.

A trio of rooms with a view of the Statue of Liberty becomes a single room with hardly a window at all, and the venue featuring Céline Dion turns out to be a strip joint with a male impersonator of the beloved Dion — played by Rusty Mewha — lip-synching like Mick Jagger on crack.

Mary leaps up onto the strip joint stage and reenacts a pivotal love scene from the movie, and later, while asleep, imagines herself as Rose, getting to meet and enact another scene with Jack — again played by Mewha.

Alas, disillusion descends into despair when Lynette’s phone gets stolen. A street hustler — yep, it’s Mewha — threatens to put a sex video that Lynette selfie-videoed with her husband on the Internet, unless he’s given a thousand dollars.

Thomsen does a hilarious take on an unpronounceable faux-disease — cell phone withdrawal — with accompanying spastic symptomatic movements.

Meanwhile, Helen is convinced that the trio’s small catastrophes are a sign that we are in the end times and ponders a dive into the polluted waters of the Hudson River.

She is talked out of it by a rabbinical student and lawyer — again Mewha.

Mewha plays a multiplicity of parts in this play: A Muslim cabbie, a seen-it-all hotel clerk, the male impersonator and Jack, in the fantasy scene with Rose. He polishes off these characterizations also as the street hustler assailant Willie who steals Lynette’s phone.

Confronting the assailant becomes a come-to-Jesus moment in the play, wherein Daniels digs deep to show that these women have a depth of resourcefulness beneath their deceptively naïve Midwestern innocent exteriors.

A slow-motion dance of staged fight combat, orchestrated by Sanville, with assistance from movement specialist Lauren Knox and choreographed by Ragland and Angie Kane, pits the three women against their street hustler assailant. This is an exquisite joy to behold and rocks the house with applause.

In the end, these women return to their everyday Michigan roots world-weary, but wiser with a story that will last a lifetime.


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