REVIEW: Constellations at Theatre Nova.

The observable universe is 13.77 billion years old, holding a galaxy spilt like light-year milk. And if there’s 7.6 billion people in the world, eras before us, great geological epochs – what do the astronomical numbers mean for the chances of two people meeting each other at a barbecue? What are the chances that they might even like each other?

Constellations is a kind of terribly neurotic, self-indulgent exposition for anyone who’s wondered what if? I think about how many times I’ve wished things were different. At any point where we must choose, decisions seem irreversible; we cannot go back. But Constellations allows us and its characters to explore the paths of the multitude of realities.

It’s ambitious – a play of multiverses and the grand loftiness of higher physics, but grounded by the two characters who are full of familiar, earthy things: of frustration, of anger, of loss, love and heartbreak. They talk through touch and intonation, just as they talk through timelines and quarks and other intangibles. Concepts of cosmology and bee-keeping are made into very beautiful, personal lines.

The story of Roland and Marianne ends depending on where you start. Maybe it’s at the ballroom dancing class, maybe it’s at the barbecue – each time they cross paths, a garden of possibilities bloom forth. Scenes are replayed with altered decisions, new futures, and there’s even moments where the same dialogue is given, word-for-word, the short lines repeated like a tape re-wound. But the mood is different. The words are spoken with different inflection, in a different setting, and the slight adjustments tip the whole reality into another.

Their story can start and end at the very place they meet. Or, it can continue, go towards somewhere sweet or somewhere devastating. And yet there’s the idea that they could’ve also had no story at all.

What their relationship ultimately is depends on the coincidence of choices, not only in that moment, but in all the previous seconds not shown to us, in all the ways they were brought here to each other. Conceptually, the play seems like a marvel, but it is actually much more down to earth. For every alternate universe, the actors are earnest, giving equal life to each reality and picking at the subtleties of a reset scene. Meghan VanArsdalen and Forrest Hejkal do a tremendous job of playing the funny, dynamic Marianne and the much more subdued, introverted Roland respectively, a universe of possibility resting on the shoulders of only two people.

It’s a study of a relationship in all its forms, intimate as a two-person play, without any great theatrics of set or costume, and the themes are universal and touching. At the very end – no matter how the story of Roland and Marianne concludes, no matter which of all the realities we might take to be true – there is no right one. Every decision, every cosmic happening is just as right as another.

Constellations runs until Feb 18th at Theatre Nova.

REVIEW: Call Me by Your Name.

“The usurper,” Elio calls Oliver from his upstairs window – the openings lines of the film.

We watch this infamous Oliver, an American graduate student, arrive at their summer home to aid Elio’s father in archaeological research. He’s keenly named usurper, as he takes Elio’s room and supplants life as they would know for the next six weeks. And in the languid landscapes of Northern Italy, the days bleeding into each other, six weeks seems like a paradise stretching on forever; as long as summer lives, so does their time together.

But in the end, Call Me by Your Name is about a moment of tangency. It’s about a complex relationship, detached from real life, simplified by the bubble of time it occupies. Luca Guadagnino carves immense detail from this solstice haze, a fervent intensity as the seventeen year old Elio explores a first love and Oliver reciprocates with passionate abandon. Moments of pleasure are impeded by their imminent departure, and in a scene where Oliver teases Elio with the threat of biting into an erogenous peach, the latter begins to cry as their relationship becomes deeper, and the transience of it more corporal.

Summer is the spine of them. Their growth, melded to green scenery, sunbathers, swims in the river – trees ripe with apricots, the sun hitting water – these are beautiful things, but they are not melodramatic things, not otherworldly nor terrific. Call Me by Your Name is not a perfect, cinematic love story, glossy with theatrics. But like the music sheets stuffed into Elio’s backpack, papers tucked away in books, the little notes slipped underneath doors – there’s something messy but sincere to Elio and Oliver.

Love is hard. Loss is pervasive; loneliness is a million miles deep. The summer days turn into snow, to scarves and candlelight, to a phone call, and maybe to the end of something good. But life goes on.

It’s only at the end of the film, when they exchange their names over the phone for the last time, that the revelation of the moment feels unfair. No longer wearing the rose-colored glasses of summer, reality hits like the winter and the viewers can feel the injustice of this unrequited love, the imbalance of Elio’s heartbreak. We remember that Elio is only seventeen when he asks his mother to pick him up from the train station, when he cries in the car, when he makes honest mistakes, a vulnerability that exists delicately.

Timothée Chalamet is a natural here, playing all the complexities of his precocious character: effortlessly talented but lacking awareness, knowledgeable but young, introverted but mischievous. In the last four minutes of the film, guided by Sufjan Stevens’ carefully crafted soundtrack, Timothée Chalamet does the remarkable job of holding an audience all the way through the credits and long after the movie ends.

Despite my only misgiving in that the turnover of their relationship was almost too quick, Call Me by Your Name is a lovely and detailed portrait of a relationship. It’s beautiful to watch even in a pure aesthetic sense, with gorgeous palettes of the Italian countryside, intimately filmed moments, and an incredible soundtrack – the backdrop to something both universally sweet and utterly heartbreaking. As Elio whispers “Elio, Elio, Elio,” waiting for the last time he hears Oliver, the film leaves you to reflect on all the moments, good or bad, in those six weeks – a summer usurped for a lifetime.

Watch Call Me by Your Name at the newly re-opened State Theatre! Tickets are $8.

REVIEW: 2017 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition.

Student galleries feel variegated, if there’s a single word for it. Like leaves that grow into different colours and shapes, it’s an exhibition that doesn’t know what it wants to be yet, a showcase that simply brings the best of undergraduate work into the spotlight.

With whatever two cents I have on institutional theories of art and the artworld – I like these spaces, maybe more than museums because of the modernity, the messiness, the fact that I could probably say ten years down the line “oh yeah, I know that guy – we went to school together. I saw his early work way before he became famous.”

The Creative Body

This was the thought, the primary impression that reverberated while visiting the Stamps gallery downtown, the glowing letters looking sunny off South Division Street through the rain of an Ann Arbor November: this is the future of art right here, in progress, developing, new.

With expansive media use, the content of the artworks are even more diverse, with much of the form and the subject focused with a modern-day lens and astute freshness. Here, the exhibition highlights a kind of innovation in art by Stamps students, ideas shaped by a digital revolution and the shifting notation that this digitalization is beautiful. The interdisciplinary quality, refined by technology, is seen in Audio Reflection by Maddi Lelli, a sound installation coded in TouchDesigner that forms a hypnotic circle that moves with the inflection of a voice, and The Creative Body by Camille Johnson, a paper maché puppet that uses projections and soundscapes to tell its stories, exhibited before in Detroit and Ypsilanti events.

Glacial Archi-Structure

Glacial Archi-Structure by Juan Marco uses collections of data of topographical structures on glacial recession to create beautiful, geometric representations of information. And Lazy Susan by Rachel Krasnick is a laser-cut and digitally fabricated sculpture, forming a delicate spiral of plywood that doubles up as a turntable.

Glacial Archi-Structure

Many of the pieces also reflect current social climates and the stresses of a particular generation, including artworks such as Tortured Housewife by Beth Reeck, which digitally collages 50s advertisement-esque pictures to explore the constrictiveness of societal gender norms, and Finding Peace by Gillian Yerington, a landscape constructed out of recycled wrappers, so that the viewer is quite literally looking at nature that has been shaped by our waste.

Finding Peace

Conversely, much of the art also finds itself in organic expressions, universal sentiments. Others expand the limits of form and material. From Broken Compass by Kara Calvert, which opens up feelings of alienation and emptiness across a cotton fabric canvas of batik dye, to Fold and sew by Grace Guevara, folding and sewing copper metal like fabric, expanding the definition of what fiber could be.

Fold and sew

In the end, there’s a lot of interesting work in the exhibition by some incredible students (and many more not mentioned in the review) – innovative, smart, socially-conscious, or even terribly funny – variegated remains the only word I can think of to describe it, a gallery poised on the precipice of change, of what’s new and contemporary, of students still growing and creating. So be sure to check out the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition before December 16th!

PREVIEW: 2017 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition.

From November 10, 2017 to December 16, 2017 is Stamps’ annual Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, located at the new Stamps Gallery at 201 S. Division Street.

Featuring the exceptional work of Stamps students, jurors (Anne-Marie Kim, BFA 2004, Samara Pearlstein, BFA 2008, and Ron Watters, BFA 2001) have selected a showcase of the best works to be recognized. From sculpture honed with the eye of industrial design, to illustrations steeped in keen social commentary – the works present the possible beginnings of the next Picasso or Ansel Adams or Emily Carr (and so the list goes on). Go out there and support your fellow students; see the art of what’s happening now.

Free entry! Open from noon to 7pm, on Tuesdays to Saturdays.

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Michigan Theatre.

2016, freshman year: I, fresh-faced and a virgin to the world of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, emerged from Michigan Theatre as a slightly less virginal, still very impressionable, but a bit more cultured freshman. One year ago, I had the expectation that I was going to see a film with a great story line and amazing musical numbers.

If watching a calm, visually pleasant movie in an idle theatre is your kind of night, maybe a kind of film that’s musically show-stopping and rendered so beautifully that it’ll likely make you shed a tear or two – then I hear Once is a pretty good pick.

Because going to Rocky Horror is much less about seeing a magnificent film then it is going to experience a magnificent movement – a cult classic in all its chaotic vibrancy. This was immediately evident even in the line-up outside of Michigan Theatre as show time approached, with countless people floating by in a variety of costumes: pink wigs, fishnet tights, gold spandex.

2017, I’ve matured; I’m seasoned, having taken The Rocky Oath and done The Time-Warp before.

Introducing the show.

This year, I went into Rocky Horror not to watch a movie. Instead, I went for the callbacks, the sing-alongs, the endless amount cheering through the night. Perhaps it’s unusual within the realm of theatre-going, but audience interaction with the film is a significant part of the experience. With a repertoire of callbacks timed in sync with the movie script, (someone memorably shouting “Hey, what do you like to eat for breakfast?” just as an on-screen character replied “Come,” for example), each time the experience is new, different depending on the audience itself.

There are more corporal traditions, however, such as standing up and dancing to The Time Warp, snapping rubber gloves as Frank N. Furter does in the laboratory, yelling “Asshole” and “Slut” every time Brad and Janet are uttered. The clever, sometimes absurd traditions are my absolute favourite part of Rocky Horror, bringing a local culture into the theatre.

The lips.

With a shadow cast this year, another dimension was added to the film. A cast interpreted the plot playing on screen, acting out the script along with the movie. Sometimes the attention shifted off-screen entirely, the crowd cheering as the cast did something particularly funny or racy – even more so than what was happening on film. Something like this bridges the gap between film and audience even more. And unlike a lot of successful movies, Rocky Horror isn’t held in a pristine prestige; it’s steeped in and shaped by the layperson.

A generally good time, and an interesting cultural phenomenon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Michigan Theatre isn’t something to be missed. It only gets better year after year of attending, and I’m looking forward to the next Halloween weekend!