REVIEW: First Date

“The One.” Everyone is on the lookout for their soulmate to settle down with. That special someone may not be who you are expecting or are used to however. First Date was a light, funny, and awkward musical exploring a blind date that has the potential to go somewhere.

Aaron’s (Drew Benson) nervousness and Casey’s (Sarah Mazurek) hostility were apparent in their initial interactions — and if first impressions were bought, that would’ve been the end of this first date. However, the date lives on as Casey ignores her hilariously flamboyant best friend Reggie’s bailout calls, and they gradually move past the small talk and delve into talks about religion, passion, and the future.

At each and every turn, they each imagine their own voice of reason and doubt in the form of best friend Gabe and sister Lauren. From imaginary (or real?) babies to bad boy exes, every aspect of the future and the past is brought to the present throughout this first date. The dangers of the world wide web were brought alive through the manifestation of Google and every single post that can never be erased. There was sass and attitude in their conversations, and this first date was truly a journey of blunders and embarrassment.

Through the laughter, there were still scenes of sensitive topics among the musical numbers. Aaron remembers the tragic love of his passed mother and seeks closure with his ex-fiance through a rocking cathartic song. Casey engages in an honest introspective reflection about her personality and the inner walls she’s put up in order to protect herself. The vulnerability they express brings them closer as they reveal more of their true selves, despite the initial odds of their personalities clicking being against them.

Sarah Mazurek and Drew Benson’s vocals were beautiful and complemented each other perfectly, and everyone else provided great backup or solo numbers about, for instance, food. This nine person cast fully embodied every quirky character they turned into, and the dynamics between everyone were truly entertaining.

As Casey and Aaron ignored the voices that followed them throughout the entire night and decided to take the leap, the last scene is one that is highly predictable, but heartwarming nonetheless (in addition to a surprise potential relationship forming right before the end). A2CT’s production of First Date was a feel-good play riddled with amusing quirks, brutal honesty, and enlightening humor.

PREVIEW: First Date

We’ve all been there — first dates. The first date that brings dread or butterflies to your stomach. The first date that is either endless torture or an instant click. The first date that has you already setting up your next blind date or planning your wedding. And then there’s the first date that is perfectly average and leaves the future completely uncertain.

Meet Aaron and Casey, chronic singles meeting for their arranged blind date. Featuring characters such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, this original comedy musical set in the modern technological age explores the possibilities of love and chemistry at a certain point in life between two people and all the doubting voices carried along the way. Do the sparks fly? Is love in the air?

A2CT is putting this production on at the Arthur Miller Theatre March 8-11 with showtimes at 7:30pm on Thursday, 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and 2pm on Sunday. Student tickets are $14 and can be bought online at www.a2ct.org or at the door. This event is also FREE with a Passport to the Arts voucher!

REVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Have you ever had your stomach hurt from laughing so hard one second and then holding your breath, trying not to cry the next second? That was me Friday night as I sat in the Arthur Miller Theatre, a room completely tense and enraptured as it awaited the judgment on Judas Iscariot — a traitor, a follower, a son, an enemy, a friend, a betrayer, a human.

I read The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in my creative writing class last semester, so I already knew how good this play was. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s ability to craft a work that is simultaneously light and heavy is a marvel in of itself, and one I greatly appreciated when I studied it.

However, I was not prepared for SMTD’s production of this play. This 18-person cast found itself waddling through a script as dense as osmium and managed to give the theater a collective headache that was frequently alleviated with the hearty laughter that this play relies on to carry its extremely deep message.

As a contemporary play, the updated references from 2005 in the script, as well as the wardrobe and music choices, brought a fresh take on this still-relevant work that is religious in every aspect and completely more than religion at the same time.

Everyone put their heart, mind, and soul into their character, and their dominant presence on the stage made the stage disappear and brought these characters to life. They nailed every monologue (and boy, were those some monologues!) and beat and intricate detail of a personality that made each character unique.

In purgatory, we catch glimpses of complex souls and the competing narratives of stories and the duality of humanity. The dynamic between the short-tempered judge struggling to find his truth and the incompetent and innocent bailiff struggling to find an acceptable case for the judge was hilariously captured by Ben Ahlers and Josh Strobl as Strobl ran around trying to appease the demands being barked at him.

The courtroom atmosphere was enhanced by the questioning that the condescending, flirtatious El-Fayoumy and the cold, determined Cunningham intensely fired back and forth. Alexander Sherwin made me comically uncomfortable with his over-the-top approach to law and flattery, and Kat Ward’s command of the courtroom in his presence was a victory for all women. Speaking of women — Mikaela Secada completely dominated the fierce and sassy Saint Monica, and her scene is a beautiful example of the complexity of the nature of emotions an individual can harbor, her nagging attitude and honest compassion making her monologue surprisingly and ultimately human.

The penultimate scene with Judas and Jesus is heartwrenching. As Liam Allen and Mason Reeves explored the depths of despair in a plea just imploring for love and forgiveness, I felt my heart stop and time froze as the pure emotions being displayed on the stage was too much and too real. Allen and Reeves completely nailed this powerful moment, and their sincerity and intensity made this play that much harder to watch and grapple with — which is a testimony to the entire cast’s talent and ability.

We make our own choices. And those choices inherently include sins. What we do with those sins — the emotional acceptance necessary of our actions — is also up to us. If anything is to come afterward, we must first be able to forgive ourselves and believe in ourselves before we can look around for forgiveness from others and believe in others.

I could go on and on about this production and the cast and crew, but I recommend you go see it for yourself. This authentically raw performance by SMTD is one that will forever be stuck in my heart as I continue to wrestle with the moral, philosophical, theological, and psychological problems this humorous and dramatic masterpiece poses and this cast so wonderfully performed .

PREVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Anyone familiar with the Bible, and even those who aren’t, know the tale of Judas Iscariot, or are at least familiar with this name that has gone down in infamy. The Great Traitor. The ultimate betrayal. Beware of a Judas kiss.

But what if his story isn’t as simple as we thought? What if there’s a lot more to it? What if he’s not the sinner the Bible paints him to be?

Stephen Adly Guirgis unravels the life behind this character — this person — who is so commonly villainized and possibly misunderstood. With special appearances from St. Matthew, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Satan himself, the story of this court case questions exactly what it means to be guilty and what it means to achieve redemption.

SMTD is putting on a student production of this play that delves deep into the flaws of humanity and the decisions that are made. Come to the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 15-18 to watch Judas’s ultimate fate be determined. Showtimes are at 7:30pm, 8pm, or 2pm with tickets at $12 with a student ID or $20 for general admission that can be purchased at http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/ or at the Michigan League Ticket Office.

 

REVIEW: They, Themself, and Schmerm

Like performer Becca Blackwell, it’s hard to define They, Themself, and Schmerm as a specific “type” of performance. Like a stand up comedy special, it’s funny, observational and at times, oddly insightful; but, unlike a regular gig, Blackwell’s narrative highlights scenes from their entire life, like a cohesive, revealing, well-told memoir.

Blackwell’s performance is an attempt to connect the dots in their sexual identity, both for themselves and their audience. They questioned the origins of their queerness (“I wasn’t aware I was a girl between ages 0 to 3” “What makes a man? I acted like a boy, I looked like one, the only thing I didn’t have was a penis.” ). They prodded at their impressions of binary gendered people (“before I took testosterone, men were just shades of grey, obstacles that got in the way of women”). They broke down their insecurities in public life (“I hated the men’s room- there were all these unfamiliar sounds and sights–I had to turn my feet this way and that to pretend I was peeing standing up”). And they shared their various roles in other people’s lives, like when Blackwell was cornered into a mother figure for a niece because the rest of the men “blanked out.”

Blackwell’s delivery is raw and honest. One of my favorite parts of the show was Blackwell’s use of “Blerrgghh” (while jutting out their head and wiggling their fingers) to refer to her femininity. It’s an honest portrayal of the interwoven confusion, annoyance, lust, unpredictability, and fear of the vagina and female hormones. It’s also a metaphor for the confusion that comes with figuring out who we are, who we love/lust, and why we love.

After a dive into their engaging stories, I came out with a better sense of the complexity of gender identity as well as its salience, in the form of socially awkward and even dangerous moments, for people who don’t conform to the binary standard. And it’s resonant, not only with people who are involved in the LGBTQ+ community or remotely identify themselves as such, but also with those who claim to be part of the more mainstream identities. The innocent questions that were brought up in Schmerm were definitely in my head at some point of my life, but I didn’t have enough of the curiosity nor the courage to follow it up even further. And I’m certainly not alone in this. Schmerm is a call to acknowledge, appreciate, and question without fear, the uniqueness of our own identities.

“A schmerm is a schmear of gender. It is basically the sound that people make as they try to figure my gender out.”- Blackwell in a short opening video.

REVIEW: Violet

Looking for something to do to help you forget about the stress of exams and assignments this weekend?  Violet is the perfect musical to do just that!  The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance brought to life this story that has hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking moments interwoven in.  Even on a Thursday night, the audience was completely standing at the end after being left speechless.

Violet is about a young woman (Natalie Duncan) whose face was disfigured when her dad (Jamie Colburn) accidentally hit her with an axe.  She grew up her whole life with people staring at her scar, or even worse, refusing to look her in the face.  She finally decides to travel to meet a television preacher (Ben Ahlers) who she hopes will heal her scar.  Along the way she meets Flick (Justin Showell) and Monty (Charlie Patterson), two soldiers on the road.

Natalie’s voice couldn’t have been any more fitting for the role of Violet.  One must have a decent Southern accent and some killer vocal chords to captivate the audience; and she did just that.  The audience was laughing while she was singing “All to Pieces”, about how she wants her physical features changed up like those of celebrities.  They got chills during the strong performance of “On My Way” done by the cast.  And they sobbed during Violet’s solo of “Look at Me”.

I typically recommend shows here and there to see, but this one cannot be missed.  It is such a beautiful story with a cast who did not disappoint.  The expected, but still shocking, amount of talent in this show blew the audience away.

There are still three shows left at the Arthur Miller Theatre: 12/9 at 2pm and 8pm, and 12/10 at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for General Admission and $12 for Students with ID.  More information can be found at http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/single/EventDetail.aspx?p=3355.