By John Quinn, EncoreMichigan
The “etude” in music is an instrumental composition, usually short; usually, but not necessarily, complex. The word means “study” in French, and they are generally practice pieces for the novice performer. They also serve as inspiration to the composer or a quick warm-up for the seasoned musician. They weren’t intended for public performance, but the best of them have made it into the common repertoire.
Wouldn’t you know the sketchmeisters at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre would come up with a theatrical equivalent?
Each month Planet Ant hosts the Ant Farm, a series of staged readings of original works by local playwrights. Some of the best of those scripts are making it into full production, as the company presents the first Best of the Ant Farm Late Night. “M 5″ features five vignettes from last season’s readings, presented in one act.
In “Mile High,” written by Leah Darany, Brian (Patrick O’Connor Cronin) is inflicted with the worst seat companion ever on his trans-Atlantic flight. Through doggish persistence, fueled by generous shots of Southern Comfort, Winnie (Jaclyn Strez) coaxes intimate details from the reluctant Brian, only to leave him empty.
Audra Lord has two works in “M 5,” a monologue, “The Little Things,” and the raucous “Homeland Security.” Robyn Lipnicki Mewha plays a comfortable housewife who reflects on the “hate” at the heart of every love relationship. One moment Carla is warm and gentle, the next she’s a torrent of torrid hatred. Could this schizo be homicidal? How fortunate we’re only her audience! Or – are we?
“Homeland Security’ finds the hapless Jorge (Chris Korte), who holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, at the mercy of a Canadian border guard with a private agenda and an axe to grind. Jorge’s increasing frustration only stokes the authoritarian fires as the guard ramps up his attack. Be prepared for a great punch line.
Rounding out “M 5″ are two thoroughly absurdist pieces: Jacquie Priskorn’s “Mother” and “Bloody iPhone” by Marty Shea and Ian Bonner. “Mother” finds diaper-clad Korte as an unborn babe interviewing Mewha for the job of his mother. A cautionary tale for communication addicts, “iPhone” warns that washing your cell phone may limit the warranty and lead to demonic possession.
There are three successful elements worthy of special note. Director Sara Wolf Molnar has artfully created each playwright’s individual intent. Each scene is absolutely unique, yet they blend into a cohesive whole. Her actors are veterans all, but they still do a remarkable job in delineation of character. The use of body language is wonderful. Stage managers rarely get the credit due them, but Emily Pierce and her crew are outstanding. Set changes at Planet Ant are always pretty slick; here, the four changes are downright elegant.
There’s no need to pick winners and losers among the vignettes – that’s been done that for us. This is very solid material. Like cream rises to the top of milk, these scripts rose above the rest of the Ant Farm readings. It does make me wonder what bits of buttery goodness were left, as it were, in the whey. Together they form a wonderfully cohesive whole, and “M5,” too short but very sweet, is a seriously funny experience.
One note for Ant patrons who make a habit of arriving fashionably late – and you know you are: Seating for “M5″ has the audience facing the front door. Arrive 10 minutes late and you’ll probably have to sneak in the back. In addition, you’ll miss three quarters of “Mile High,” which would be a sin and a shame. Finally, WE will know who you are!