By Michael H. Margolin, EncoreMichigan
The tiny Planet Ant Theatre, whose motto could very well be “Reach out and touch someone – likely to be an actor,” has in years past given me pleasure and enjoyment. Last night the 40-seat theater at 2357 Caniff in downtown Hamtramck was beyond capacity at nearly 60 for a show that continues through January 21.
I mention this, not to alert the fire marshal, but to remind the reader that opening nights at small venues are often heavily attended by friends. Or friends of friends.
In this case, friends of the actors and playwrights. Well, let me amend the word “playwright,” which means someone who creates a work, a play shaped by a dramatic structure in which themes and plot are integrated, rising to a moment of delicious imbalance, then tipping downward into resolution. That is a far cry from what happened in that spare space in front of us on opening night.
If you are bored by my exegesis, perhaps you feel something of what I felt that night.
The local improv team Subject to Change comprises three performers, Rebecca Concepcion, Mike Hoffer and Katie Saari, each of them ennobled by their listing in the program as “Ensemble, writer” (Should I object to the loosely distorted noun, ensemble, to refer to an individual rather than its collective meaning? Nah.)
The ensemble had earned the chance to create a one-act play by virtue of triumphing over other, similar groups in the summer 2011 ColonyFest Improv Festival. The result was not a play, but a series of blackout skits (I counted some 19 or 20) in which the performers wore many hats and several quite frightful wigs in about 50 minutes.
The story, such as it is, tells of Marvin, an ordinary man with an extraordinary destiny; I concur with the former but not the latter. He begins a journey when a treasure hunter steals a family heirloom – a ring – an artifact of an ancient Mayan civilization. He must track it down before a doomsday cult uses it to fulfill a prophecy and the world ends in December 2012.
If only it had been 2011, the entire question would have been resolved without the tedious journey. Or perhaps told as a parable about why the world did end in 2011. Now that’s a concept.
Along the way, Marvin crosses paths with cult leaders, mysterious waiters, lesbians and, inauspiciously, a woman in a black mobcap who proclaims herself to be a black woman. This declaration sent the white audience into paroxysms of laughter and was the first sign that I may be some years too old for the stereotypical reflections of the youngish adults who see themselves or their funny friends enacted before them with hyperbole.
As to the ring, each time one of the three described it, their forefinger and thumb made it a different size so Marvin’s chore became Herculean. And mine began to feel Sisyphean. This leads me to suggest that during the six months between winning and presenting, the trio could have learned some basic stagecraft about miming – honored even in that raucous art called improv.
Still, I was as attuned to the audience’s show of affection with laughter as I was aware of the sluggish direction of Shawn Handlon, the blackouts that ended not with a bang but a whimper and the self-satisfied, smug in-jokes about impregnation of virgins by a dark cult or the witless son who doesn’t know his mother is a lesbian and his father is gay. Was this “Saturday Night Light?” – certainly the promise of a tearful release was not fulfilled.
The audience laughed, knowingly, I think, as in “I get it”, sometimes even before the line had left the performer’s mouth. Is it true that audiences only want to see lame reflections of our dumbed-down culture on the big screen and the little stage?
But a good time was had by all. Well, maybe all but one.
For tickets and showtimes, visit EncoreMichigan.com.
Michael H. Margolin reviews local theater productions for www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.