PREVIEW: Stamps Undergraduate Juried Exhibition

This Friday is the opening of the 2019 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition for the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design.  The show will be featuring selected works from Art and Design students, and is sure to be an excellent showcase of the creative and innovative force found in our student body.


The show is on display at the Stamps Gallery on 201 S. Division through December 15th. Its opening reception will be from 6-8pm Friday. Saturday, students who have won awards for their work will be chatting about their work in the gallery from 2-4pm.


Go out and support students making excellent work!


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: WSG Gallery Autumn Salon

The WSG Gallery is currently running their Autumn Salon, a show true to the salon spirit with works stacked up to its ceilings. It’s a format I don’t see as much in museums and galleries, but one I think should still have its place in art display. While one doesn’t meditate quite as much on singular pieces, the collage of work displays both the variety and also the more general themes and techniques used by these local artists. This makes for a rich display of individual and community artistic sensibilities.


There was an interesting mix of art forms, especially seen in the abstract sculptures found in the window. In a gallery where two dimensional works tower over you, finding common ground with some three dimensional forms creates a more dynamic, engaging experience as one has moments to appreciate the translation of different artistic principles and elements (like color, shape, and form) to a completely different manifestation of creativity.


As I have a personal history of learning and preferring figure drawing and painting, the figural work on display consistently stood out to me. One artist that stands out is Nora Venturelli, a professor at the Stamps School of Art and Design. Their rhythmic, daring compositions and color schemes attracted my eye, and I found their work to be really engaging. I never get tired of playing with human contours and movement in my own work, so to see a take using bolder color and thoughtful paint application was really enjoyable for me.

pictured: Nora Venturelli, Vice Versa, no. 48


Lastly, Maria Ruggiero’s Hillside Houses, Tuscany stood out to me. What’s so interesting about this piece is the layering of different paint strokes and application patterns, and the way Ruggiero does so in a way that is evidently done with considerations to atmospheric perspective inso that these different techniques work together to create unity rather than falling apart. I’m not really a landscape person, but this work definitely takes the concept to a different place, offering playful technique and lively color that convinces viewers to linger just a little bit longer.


pictured: Maria Ruggiero, Hillside Houses, Tuscany


I encourage students and community members alike to go take a look at what’s being offered at the WSG Gallery and get a feel for some of the art being produced out of Ann Arbor and the surrounding area. The show closes November 23rd; go enjoy the last remnants of fall while you can!

REVIEW: La Bohème

La Bohème is an opera full of comedy, tragedy, and singing. A lot of singing. Though I suppose that’s what an opera is, it was still a new format for me and therefore made for a really interesting experience. Drama and plays have always been up my alley, but to see dialogue converted to a consistently musical form definitely changed the way I watched this piece.  This is all to say, it was pretty fantastic. The micless performers blew me away with their performances, not only rivalling the pit in volume but delivering line after line beautifully. I found the climactic moments of multiple characters singing their own verses layered over each other especially enjoyable and impressive.

Another point that simply has to be mentioned is the set design for this production. Three intricate sets were used, each necessitating an intermission. The world-building done with tall storefronts, moving trains, and falling snow was so engaging and really added to the different moods of each of the four acts. The way characters were able to truly inhabit the stage really allowed the audience to be transported across the Atlantic to a chilly Parisian winter.


A critique I have of this work is one that has been leveled before towards it since its inception; it’s quite fluffy. The story focuses on the lives of bohemians surviving off of their artistic creation and free thought moreso than actual food, but yet the story only uses this concept for bare-bones plot developments. The bohemian lifestyle is represented through this opera with a funny opening number of burning the pages of one’s play to stay warm and a character feeling guilty for his lover’s decline in health due to his limited means. The latter plot point has some value to it, but it’s outweighed by the melodramatic romance and fun (but kind of just fun) comedic moments between characters. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making an opera that has stellar performances and aesthetics with a more surface-level plot; I still found La Bohème to be a whole lot of fun and really a showcase of talent, but personally I’d rather see the time period of the piece used to its fullest potential thematically.


Ultimately, I’d love to go see more operatic performance through SMTD and I’d encourage anyone in the Ann Arbor area to make it out to a show. There’s a clear commitment to quality performance and theatrical design that makes these shows truly captivating.

REVIEW: Parasite

Parasite is a film best seen going in with no prior background information; I’ll say that first. Once one does have the chance to experience this film,  it becomes very evident why it has garnered so many awards and positive reviews. 


This movie is a perfectly orchestrated descent into total class warfare. What begins as a sort of heist film with comedic points becomes a gruesome thriller, sucking in the audience into a shocking and layered story of privilege, identity, and sacrifice. The story is well-paced and original, showing the way a family from a lower-class background infiltrates and profits off of an unsuspecting upper-class family. So much is said about the way class functions, whether that’s through a metaphor like living in a basement versus a semi-basement versus a modern home or in a symbolic device of a club-like gift meant to bring about wealth. 

Image result for parasite movie

In terms of cinematography, the film aesthetically is simply beautiful to watch. There are some points where I found myself struck simply by the artistic style of Parasite. An especially jarring example for me was in the contrast of two sequences towards the end of the film: one being a family saving their personal belongings from their flooded home and thus spending the night in a shelter with other affected families, and the other sequence being a privileged young boy waking up in a sun-soaked, clean tent after deciding to camp out on his family’s perfectly manicured lawn for the evening. The thematic meaning of this juxtaposition was distinctly amplified due to the dutiful attention to light, composition, and color in these shots. The rest of the film has plenty of examples like this, where firstly one feels awe towards the beauty and complexity of the visual and then, due to the striking image, one finds meaning that goes beyond plot.


The performances in this film were crucial to adding dimensionality to the conflict and avoiding binary definitions of characters, their motives, and their actions. All the actors and actresses were extraordinary, but Song Kang-ho’s performance as Kim Ki-taek, the father of the Kim family, was especially powerful. There’s so much behind his character that comes through in his expressions and tone, especially when the film reaches its twist. In an emotional scene with Choi Woo-shik, who plays his son Kim Ki-woo, he speaks of the futility of planning anything in life. His performance here says so much implicitly about his character’s difficult life and what it means to persist in a world where one is perpetually marginalized, and it’s both amazing and devastating to watch.

Image result for parasite movie

This review may seem like simple praise, and that’s because it is. In a time where franchise films are finally getting critical attention outside Rotten Tomatoes praise, Parasite offers an excellent example of what films should be getting space in theaters. This film is not only technically executed with precision and style, but it is an important piece of work that speaks to today’s alarming social and economic disparities.

REVIEW: Rocky Horror Picture Show

This year marked my fourth year witnessing the Rocky Horror Picture show and my second time seeing the shadowcast at the Michigan Theater. The Leather Medusas, the group responsible for Ann Arbor’s contribution to the tradition of this cult classic, have again put on a great (sold out!) show that has gotten even louder and more rambunctious than before.


Beginning with an introduction from Penny Weiss (Janet’s cousin dressed in full Pennywise-chic drag, naturally), the show had energy through the roof. Doling out the rules, calling out the audience, and initiating the Rocky Horror Virgins in the most hilarious way, Penny Weiss was an undeniable icon that evening. She will be missed as it’s her last year performing, but she did go out with a wonderful performance as The Criminologist with a remarkable ensemble cast to match.


As soon as the curtains opened and the famous red lips appeared, people were not holding back with the call outs. At times there were so many people contributing to the cacophony that nothing was really heard but noise. It was amazing. Of course, where one sits determines the course of one’s night, and I had a pretty good spot. I was definitely getting a lot of noise, but every now and then a seasoned professional Rocky fan behind me would come out with some unexpected lines that caused the whole mezzanine to lose it. Central high points coming from the audience were the classics: an animated go at The Time Warp, a beautifully lit theater in There’s a Light (pictured), and plenty of playful oohs and cheers when the shadowcast got especially rowdy on stage.


Speaking of the actual stage work, the cast was fantastic. Sometimes I find it hard to not be mesmerized by Tim Curry’s amazing performance in the original, but throughout the movie I found myself watching and laughing at the little touches that made this student shadowcast special. Things like Eddie and Columbia’s impressive dance routine (complete with amazing, almost-gymnastic elements), Frankenfurter chasing Rocky up and down the theater aisles, and rampant, unabashed flossing brought something to the movie you just can’t get watching it on your laptop.



I highly encourage students to make Rocky a part of their Octobers next year (or next week– catch a showing that never fails to be hilarious at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak if you missed this one)!!!