Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan: Guilty of Laughter

This Sunday night I went to the Power Center (my favorite campus venue) to see the Druid and Atlantic Theater Company production of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. It was crazy funny! We laughed so hard at the dry Irish humor. The actors were so talented. No matter how much we laughed or what crazy things they did on stage, not a one of them ever broke character. And they did some pretty ridiculous things, including breaking eggs on heads, being incredibly boring to the point of laughter, and beating on each other.

The play is set on the small island of Inishmaan in 1934. There is nothing of interest happening on the island, so the people are forced to consider things such as sheep being born without ears to be interesting. Also in this category of things that should be reported; Cripple Billy is staring at cows again, a goose bit a cat, the egg man’s eggs didn’t lay today, and, what’s this? A team of Hollywood moviemakers are on the next island filming a movie? This really is big news! In fact, it’s the biggest news that the town gossip/self-proclaimed news carrier John Patine Mike has ever had. So big that a group of townspeople are sailing over to the island to see the filming and hopefully get a chance at acting in it. Billy Claven, called Cripple Billy by most on account of his severe deformities, is one interested in going. After winning the heart of the boatman with a doctor’s note reporting his eminent death, he sails with the group. Fortune smiles on him and Billy go’s to America for the chance of starring in a film about a cripple in Ireland. What a chance!

Throughout the production, constant jokes, insults, and egg throwing keeps the audience laughing and saying “I can’t believe they just said that!” Constantly people praise their homeland with the phrase “Ireland must not be such a bad place if dentists/Frenchmen/colored fellas/earless sheep/Americans want to come here.” The younger brother of the love interest, Helen McCormick, constantly talks of sweeties from America and his obsession with telescopes. Helen chucks eggs, swears like a sailor, and is the village slut that no one knows about (in order to maintain the name of the actual one and to avoid competition). The aunts that adopted Billy both have their quirks. One eats the sweets of their shop when stressed, the other talks to rocks when she’s worried. John Patine Mike has tried and failed to kill his mother for 65 years by giving her constant alcohol. There is so much comedy and brilliant writing in this production that it’s hard not to laugh, even when the setting makes the word “Cripple” a joke. You sort of feel guilty laughing when the characters, even his loving aunts, make fun of Billy’s disabilities. But then you remember the setting and realize it is realistic; what would have actually happened, and it’s okay to laugh.

The play was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon and I would thoroughly enjoy it if the Druid and Atlantic Theater Company returned to the Power Center in the future. It takes an open mind and a taste for dry humor to understand the comedy of this play. It also takes a sensitive character to understand the sadness, emotion, and tragic life that Cripple Billy leads. I would strongly advise going to plays like this. Everyone can learn and laugh a little from such a production and I am very happy to have attended.

As always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer

REVIEW: Five Bowls of Oatmeal

On November 22, the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater was filled with existentialist romance novels, epic pinky swears, unicorns, samurai ducks, and, of course, oatmeal.  Thanks to U of M’s MFA Creative Writing Program and 826michigan, as well as several other sponsors, students from schools all around the area got to see their plays come to life on stage.  The evening consisted of four one-act plays, each incorporating a bowl of oatmeal in some way (the last one contained two), and three playwrights’ studios.  Joe Morton, a second-year grad student in the MFA program, hosted discussions with several of the authors – the youngest was 8, and the oldest was 15.  It was a nice spotlight moment for the kids, and a wonderful insight into their active imaginations for those of us in the audience.

Seven professional actors, directed by Jacqui Robbins, portrayed the various characters in the plays.  They were reading scripts (which I thought was a bit odd, since this had been planned for several weeks), but they still did a good job of creating the different personalities on stage.   I’m sure it was exciting for the authors to see their work performed by seasoned professionals.  Personally, though, I wish the plays had been performed by fellow students – while young kids may not have been as technically good as the trained actors, I think the authors’ peers would’ve been even more charming and energetic in those roles.  Even so, the authors’ splendid imaginations and senses of humor were evident in a big way – I was laughing the whole evening.

Much like any other 826michigan fundraiser, this event was creative, off-the-wall, and a lot of fun.  If it happens again, make sure you see it!

PREVIEW: Five Bowls of Oatmeal

Tonight, at 7:30 pm in the Mendelssohn Theater, you can witness what is probably the most adorable thing to have hit this stage:  five one-act plays written by 11-to-15-year olds, all somehow involving a bowl of oatmeal.  It’s cohosted by the University Department of English Language and Literature and 826michigan, a nonprofit literacy organization for kids ranging from 6 to 18 years of age.  They provide tutoring and writing opportunities for children, and profits from your ticket ($15 for general admission) will benefit these programs.  So come!  Watch the kids!  And bask in the glory of knowing you’re helping them in more ways than one.

Review: The Elixir of I’M in Love!!!

Bravo! Bravo! Bravisimo! That is what everyone has been exclaiming all weekend as they left the Power Center. The Elixir of Love, presented by the ever-brilliant School of Music, Theater, and Dance, is the first of two operas that are performed this academic year, and let me just say it was a huge success! The opera was so funny; both within the plot and the body acting of the performers. And the music…Oh the music! Italian opera is perhaps the most beautiful song form in the world.

Most people I know have never seen an opera (aside from the movie Phantom of the Opera, which doesn’t count). So when I told them I was going they were completed shocked that UofM even had operas. “Isn’t it all in Italian?” they said. Yes it is, but it doesn’t really matter. They give you a synopsis of what will be happening, character names, and even subtitles above the stage. It isn’t difficult to understand at all. Plus, with Italian opera phrases are repeated endlessly in different runs and notes, so you only need to read about a third of the show. The rest you can just listen and watch.

I love going to the Power Center. I know I say that all the time, but I really do enjoy it. There is a fair amount of leg room, you’re close enough to the stage pretty much anywhere you sit, and the performers are always genuinely excited to be on the stage performing for you.

The show starts with the curtain going up and us seeing the set for the first time. It’s a classic Italian town. The chorus and the characters come on stage and begin the performance. And then it’s two hours of laughter, smiling, and my mouth hanging open in awe of the beautiful notes coming from the mouths of the singers. Absolutely astonishing. It is truly a joy to see something come to life like this. And if only wine could work the wonders it does in this show. Or maybe a dilluted effect. Instead of everyone falling falling in love with you and wanting to get married, maybe just a date on friday night? A cup of coffee or something? Wine sales would sky-rocket! (Disclaimer :WINE DOES NOT CAUSE SPONTANEOUS LOVE OR THE SUDDEN EXISTENCE OF DATES. DO NOT CONSUME FOR THESE PURPOSES UNLESS YOU WANT TO EMBARRASS YOURSELF)

Wine is great and all, but probably not what the topic of this review should be. I would like to end it with a shout out to all of the stars of the show who were all fantastic and for the chorus who made the show possible and entertaining.

Part of the Cast for November 11&13
Part of the Cast for November 11&13

November 11 & 13, 2010

Amy Petrongelli as Adina
Kyle Matthew Knapp as Nemorino
Steven Eddy as Belcore
Nicholas Ward as Dulcamara
Ariel Halt as Giannetta

November 12 & 14, 2010

Anne Jennifer Nash as Adina
Kyle Tomlin as Nemorino
Brian Rosenblum as Belcore
Benjamin Sieverding as Dulcamara
Kristen Seikaly as Giannetta

I left the show with a wonderful feeling of happiness and contentment, and maybe a little contact love tipsyness 🙂 I hope that I’ve left you with the same.

As always,
This is Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer.

Preview: Love in an Elixir? Can Such Things Be?

Could it really be that easy? Just drink and Bam! Love? I guess I’ll just have to see this Thursday night, won’t I? I’m very excited to see The Elixir of Love. This Italian Opera, L’elisir d’amore, is a comic opera in two acts, with music written by Gaetano Donizetti and the Libretto written by Felice Romani. For those who have never experienced an opera, I would especially suggest a visit to this one. The University opera productions are always fantastic and they include subtitles to make the show more accessible for those that have a hard time interpreting the music. I find that they really help you understand the drama and comedy of the show instead of just having an idea of what’s going on.

The music is going to be fabulous. I know this because I have three friends in the show and have heard bits and pieces. I also know this because Italian opera is one of the most beautiful song forms in the world. I would urge everyone on campus to buy tickets, mostly because I already bought mine and I already have my seats, so it is allowed to sell out. Student Rush tickets are only $10 and the seats are great. Details you ask? (or maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway. If you really don’t want to know than you can stop reading, but I know that you really want to go to the show and you won’t stop reading).

When: Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 PM
Friday, November 12 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, November 13 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, November 14 at 2:00 PM

Where: Power Center for the Performing Arts (My favorite Venue on campus)
How much: $10 Student Rush. $18 regular price (Available at League Box Office)
Who: School of Music, Theater, and Dance
Why: Do you really have to ask?

More info and Story Overview

As always,
This is a very excited Danny Fob: Artist and Art Reviewer

Review: Pentecost at the U!

It is such a pleasure to watch anything at the Arthur Miller Theatre as I feel that the stage there is very thoughtfully constructed. You can get a great view and it doesn’t feel cramped and the high ceiling there somehow makes the place look even more spacious than it is. And to top it all, you feel like you are at a private performance. I love that stage! And watching “Pentecost” there was very enjoyable indeed!

The play is about the status of politics and art in a fictitious post-Cold war European country.  It is a very cleverly written play.

For a summary, here goes: it all starts in an abandoned church. A museum curator brings in an English professor of art (who is a staunch proponent of restoration of art) to show him her discovery- a religious fresco that could very well change the history of  her country and thus help in proving that her country wasn’t alwasys this bad. And when news of this fresco spreads, the Catholic church, the Russian  Orthodox Church, another art professor- a  conservationist this time- and of course, the government all get involved.  To whom does the fresco belong? Should it stay in the church or be “restored”? Well, as this debate continues, a group of refugees storm into the church and hold the curator and the professors hostage. What happens to the fresco, the refugees and it all is what the play is about.

What I found most interesting was the clever way in which the large issues in politics and art came to the fore.  The characters seemed pretty isolated from one another  as if each was just alone and there wasn’t much depth to the characters. There wasn’t much of a human element in the crisis of the refugees and the theme was largely concentrated on the politics- of art, of religion and of course of politicans. But in the end,  instead of resigned depression, there is hope (with irony of course).

As for the use of the various languages, I was left with the impression that the playwright brought it in because it could be done. If the refugees had spoken in English, would it have made less of an impact to the theme? No- as the emotional  condition of the refugees by itself and hence their espression of it in whatsoever language  had very less to do in the play. Actually in the end, as the refugees are negotiating, the three protagonists figure out how the fresco might have come to be and so it appeared as if the point of the refugees was to just help illustrate a point.  So I felt that the introduction of these varied languages was more of a novelty and “it-would-be-cool-and-clever” rather than a “need-it” thing. And  how did anyone from Eastern Europe understand Sinhalese enough to interpret it? That was kind of weird.

As for this particular production by director Malcolm Tulip, it was a great performance by the actors.  The costume design was good and well-suited for the play. The set design was exceptional!  I loved the way they showed the details of discovering the fresco, the restoration and other such tiny details.  The lighting effects were great. And the actors had done a great job learning all those languages.

Overall, the play was worth it.