PREVIEW: A New Brain

As the semester wraps up, stop by the Arthur Miller Theatre tomorrow for the last performance of  A New Brain, SMTD’s production of the 1998 musical about a composer during a medical emergency. After collapsing into his lunch, composer Gordon wakes up in the hospital to find himself surrounded by friends, family, and a large green frog from the children’s show he is meant to be writing for. For just $13 with a student ID, don’t miss the matinee tomorrow at 2:00 PM.

REVIEW: Water by the Spoonful

SMTD’s production of Water by the Spoonful does not deal with light subjects. The play follows a family coping with death, a chatroom for recovering drug addicts, and the way these two groups intersect. Another key point is how Elliot, the son of the deceased Ginny, copes with PTSD resulting from his time spent in Iraq. Though the play finds itself confronting all these difficult situations, it leaves audiences with hope and a heightened sense of one’s priorities.


This was my first time at the Arthur Miller Theater. I found its layout really interesting, especially in the context of Water by the Spoonful. The theater is square with the stage at the center. Only a few rows of seats radiate from each of the three exposed sides, both on the ground level and balcony. The performance feels so immediate and three-dimensional when viewed in this way; I could see the smallest changes in an actor’s face, feel the movement of a fight scene, and watch the water fall as it is poured on the stage by the spoonful. When a sizable portion of the dialogue takes place in a chatroom, four different locations need to be created. By angling certain rooms towards different sections of the audience, the staging created this dual sense of dislocation and togetherness in a really interesting and effective way. The section of the stage farther back by the wings was also used in conjunction with an elevated balcony and the central space to explore some of the collage-like overlapping sections of the work. As characters inhabit all three spaces with various lines and music weaving in and out of the scene, the different spatial contexts allowed a type of visual overlapping to coincide with the aural and theatrical pastiches going on.


The use of space was intriguing in this work, but what is space if not filled with characters and lines and interaction? The performances in Water by the Spoonful gave life to a plethora of diverse and complex characters. Notable performances include Alyxandra Ciale Charfauros and Vincent Ford as Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders, respectively, as the two bring a realness to their characters that becomes amplified in their back-and-forth conversations. Kyle Prue’s performance as Fountainhead, a man with an addiction who can’t quite face his reality, was also one that I found highly immersive.


Ultimately, I found Water by the Spoonful to be a great performance. The material was used in really thoughtful ways in terms of both direction and performance, and I look forward to trekking to North Campus again to see more work in the Arthur Miller theater.

REVIEW: Water by the Spoonful

SMTD’s production of Water by the Spoonful soared beyond all expectations; it went beyond a simple examination of addiction, familial dysfunction, and the human burdens accompanying both, and instead quivered in an unwavering state of compassion, warming my heart in counterbalance. Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play proved to be as patiently restorative as the the metaphor in which its name is based upon – the title refers to a method of hydrating sick children, in which the caretaker must sustain the child with spoonful-sized dosages of water, spaced five minutes apart. If improperly executed, the results can be devastating; Hudes’ work carries an undercurrent of this metaphor throughout. The characters in the plot, be they recovering addicts, mourners, or both, must likewise learn to sustain their individual burdens within life’s fragile constraints, while recognizing the healing properties of interpersonal support and forgiveness.

I perceived the play to be pretty nonlinear; it was only after Yazmin’s monologue about the necessity of ‘dissonance’ that the scenes and characters gradually unveiled themselves to be far more interconnected than their initial, disparate origins. Indeed, the concept of dissonance through Yazmin’s terms clarified my understanding of the play; on the surface, the eccentric crack-addicts interacting within the support chatroom, Ginny’s death, and her two very different mourning relatives seemed dissonant, like chess pieces moving in no relation to one another. Yet it was about halfway through that I conceived of more than just a community death connecting each character’s stories. Rather, the addicts and the Ortiz family are practically interwoven, not only in narrative but also resolved in the sense of universal yearning, grief, and overall, a collective search for harmony.

“Dissonance is still a gateway to resolution.” – Quiara Alegría Hudes, Water by the Spoonful

Beyond the heartwarming characters and SMTD’s moving portrayals of them, I particularly enjoyed the production’s sound and set designs and the little details included in such that effectively highlighted the pure human emotionality running through the piece. Though Hudes writes Water by the Spoonful with dissonance and John Coltrane’s uninhibited jazz music in mind, the sound designers working on this production incorporated these musical concepts especially well in the play’s most emotionally charged moments – like Odessa’s overdose and the abrupt endings of multiple chatroom arguments. In addition, the set designers managed to transform the space from scene-to-scene into vastly different simulated environments, through multiple wheeled components, which I thought was consistently convincing and effective. After all, how does one spatially represent the cyberspace and how people would interact within a “chatroom”?

SMTD’s Water by the Spoonful will be on show at the Arthur Miller Theatre until November 17; I highly recommend going if you have the chance!

REVIEW: La Bohème

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of the opera La Bohème was certainly a treat. Featuring the University Opera Theatre and the University Symphony Orchestra, it was a chance to go to the opera without leaving campus!

Though La Bohème was first performed in 1896 (the music is by composer Giacomo Puccini, and the libretto, or words, is by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica), this performance was set in the post-war era. This allowed for more modern costuming and set design, and in my opinion, it also made the entire storyline seem more relatable, as the characters were not in the distant past. The addition of English captions over the stage was also a welcome addition, since the entire opera is in Italian (which, unfortunately, I am not fluent in).

If you know the musical Rent, the plot of La Bohème will be familiar, as the musical is a modern adaptation of the opera. However, though the storyline contains themes of youth, romance, poverty, and realities of the “Bohemian” existence, the plot seemed rather underdeveloped to me. In particular, the ending seemed abrupt, and I would have liked more closure (though perhaps this serves to further the opera’s themes).

That said, the simplicity of the plot allows the opera’s music to shine through. The University Symphony Orchestra performed the score spectacularly, and the leads and the chorus were also wonderful. I enjoyed the fact that the design of the Power Center allows the orchestra to be largely visible, rather than hidden under the stage. Sometimes, however, this was to my detriment, as I was watching the orchestra and listening to the music rather than watching the on-stage action and reading the captions!

In the area of set design, the opera production was also stunning. There was a short intermission between each of the opera’s four acts to allow time for elaborate set changes, and they were certainly worth the wait. I can only imagine the time and effort that goes into designing and constructing the sets. My personal favorite was the set for Act II, which took place in Paris’s Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve. Featuring a nearly full-scale two-story building façade, streetlamps, and Christmas wreaths and garlands, it was a work of art. On a separate note, this scene also featured members of the University of Michigan Marching Band, as well as the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale! I also enjoyed the set for Act III, which featured falling snow and a moving train.

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of La Bohème was an excellent opportunity to see a high-quality performance right here in Ann Arbor, and I am glad that I had the chance to attend!

REVIEW: The Pirates of Penzance

Probably the funniest, most talented by many standards performance from SMTD that I’ve seen in my time here, The Pirates of Penzance was full of absurdity, puns, and laughter, just as Gilbert and Sullivan intended.

From the very first second once the curtain rose, the bright and defined set, with its water and moving pirate ship, set the expectations high. And right away, Commodore C. Primous III’s appearance as the Pirate King exceeded those expectations. His facial expressions, body language, grand movements, and flippant words all felt eccentrically alive on that stage, instantly captivating everyone’s attention and love. Jacob Ryan Smith was a handsomely ignorant yet loyal Frederic, his lack of knowledge for what he desperately desired driving the show forward. However, the female cast members arguably carried the show. Both Nina White’s performance as Ruth and Lauryn Hobbs’s performance as Mabel gave me chills. Their vocal prowess, humorous delivery, and enticing acting truly left me in awe.

Each group of performers were magnificently fabulous with their own defining characteristics. The tough (with a soft spot for orphan) pirates; the beautiful, curious daughters; the incompetent, bumbling, yet extremely talented tap dancing police officers—they all shined on the stage, each individual cast member contributing an extra flavor of personality to the stage.

It’s hard to highlight some favorite moments of the show because of the extraordinary energy that carried through every moment. However, certain instances do stand out due to the extreme talent and sheer joy that they brought. The Major General’s show-stopping number, “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” elicited much delight from everyone. Wilson Plonk completely rocked that song, his precise and articulate rapid singing blowing everyone out of their seats. Once his daughters and the pirates joined in for some insanely fast and insanely in-sync choreography, I didn’t realize I was holding my breath through that entire sequence until there was a break in the dancing. Words can’t describe the admiration and amazement that grew in me during that number. The tap battle between the Pirate King and the Sergeant also deserves a notable mention. I felt so ridiculously giddy and happy watching their skills transform into our laughter, I truly felt all my troubles were washed away in those moments.

SMTD’s production of The Pirates of Penzance honestly blew me away, and I know that Gilbert and Sullivan would have been proud of each and every cast, crew, and orchestra member that made this performance beyond emotions and words.

REVIEW: Sense & Sensibility

As a tried and true fan of Jane Austen, I was thrilled to find out SMTD’s first theatre production of the year would be the famous Sense & Sensibility. I resonate with Austen’s work because there’s realness and rawness to her characters beneath layers of social conventions and eighteenth century polity. Beneath the postured spines seated on cushioned dinner chairs, beneath the kind and ordinary curtsy of a bonnet-clad woman, beneath the pleasant laughter, the polite greetings, the performative manners, there is a precisely calculated diplomacy. Austen knows how to make a domestic novel scintillate with political and social meaning– she knows how to write a powerful and flawed woman grapple with a society entrenched in performativity. 

My roommate, who is currently taking a class on Jane Austen, accompanied me to the play (or I accompanied them– it was an assignment on their part). I wasn’t familiar with the book, though I’ve heard it’s slightly less compelling than Pride & Prejudice, which I believe is difficult to surpass in mastery and drama as it is. Thus, there was an innocent blankness to my viewing the performance, which I sometimes prefer to an oversatured understanding of context and previous adaptations (re: my review on The Goldfinch here can explain how my loving a book too much ruined the movie). 

The performance opened a few minutes before the lights officially went down; the characters started dressing on stage, men and women together, chitchatting, gossipping, fixing each other’s hair, playing cards, tossing a birdie around. It felt extraordinarily Brechtian, the show before the show, the actors initially as equals to the audience. Then– the lights went low and a Black-Eyed Peas started playing! Our characters, clad fully in regency-era attire, began a coordinated hip-hip-ish dance routine, danced while they brought the dead Mr. Dashwood in his shroud to the stage. Lights down; the gossips starts speaking heatedly about the Dashwoods’ newfound poverty, and thus begins the play. 

The story follows reserved Eleanor Dashwood and her emotionally eccentric sister, Marianne Dashwood, through a marriage plot. The Dashwood family are now poor and trying to stay reputable after the death of Mr. Dashwood. Their marriages must be well-calculated. Initially, both girls have men of interest, but as the plot goes on, these relationships slowly reveal prior commitments, betrayal, and heartbreak. Though the story finally ends on a happy note, we are taken through an emotional ride between two sisters: one who is unnaturally stoic, and another who has unrestrained melodrama, pitching us between the highs and lows of love and romance in a constrained and classist society. 

I truly loved this play. Some of the creative liberties they took were marvellous as well as comical: the gossips impersonating animals (one had acting like a horse down to a T!), some of the lines stressed just perfectly, and a few of the most mundane moments were the ones I remember most: the surreal moment were music started playing when the dashing Willoughby walks into the room in classic rom-com style, when Eleanor and Marianne’s beds were propped up standing up to face the audience– all of these essentially get at the whimsy and wit in Austen’s world. Set against a beautiful pastel stage that immersed me in the blush-toned hues of rolling countrysides and polished China, pink berets and umpire waistlines, I felt transported and enchanted. SMTD has never failed me in one of their performances, but this was a treat to watch. As an avid Austen fan, this was perhaps one of my favorite renditions of her work.