Review: 'Philadelphia, Here I Come'
By Donald V. Calamia
Originally printed 12/4/2003 (Issue 1149 - Between The Lines News)
Peakes era at BoarsHead closes with theatrical love letter
LANSING - To paraphrase the final line in the BoarsHead's current production, "Philadelphia, Here I Come" - Does he have to leave? After 38 years and more than 400 productions, co-founder and Artistic Director John Peakes has decided it's time to pack his bags and move to Philadelphia.
Coincidentally - actually it's not, since Peakes chose this play as his grand finale - that's also the basic plot of playwright Brian Friel's bittersweet family drama that's now appearing at the Lansing theater.
It doesn't take much of an imagination to visualize Peakes struggling with his inner self much like 25-year-old Gareth O'Donnell does throughout the play. Should he leave the comfort of home - in O'Donnell's case, Ballybeg, Ireland - and go to Philadelphia where he faces an uncertain future? Or should he stay home surrounded by friends and family?
Peakes, of course, is leaving Lansing with an impressive career behind him - and has already established himself as an actor in the City of Brotherly Love.
O'Donnell, on the other hand, has few basic skills and barely knows the aunt and uncle who are sponsoring his emigration to America - and who have found for him an entry-level job at a local hotel.
What's more, O'Donnell is leaving home with the belief that his father - who he refers to as "Screwballs" throughout the play - doesn't really love him. His mother, who was considerably young than his father, died a few days after childbirth, and the two have shared a quiet, unemotional life together ever since - except for one brief fishing trip many years earlier, a trip that haunts him to this very day.
Peakes is leaving Lansing as a much respected and beloved Lansing "institution" who will genuinely be missed by the community; O'Donnell's departure might barely be noticed.
Playwright Friel allows the audience to get into O'Donnell's head by splitting the character in two: a "public" O'Donnell and a "private" one. It's the private persona (played with great insight and sensitivity by Ian Merrill Peakes, John's son) who reveals the deeply held feelings and secrets that the public person (portrayed with equal skill by Jim Wisniewski) usually hides with great care.
All-in-all, "Philadelphia, Here I Come" is a beautifully staged love letter not only from the outgoing BoarsHead leadership to its patrons, but from the theater community to the Peakes, as well. Several of the company's longtime favorite actors eagerly joined the cast of this farewell production, and the overall quality of the acting is a reflection of the work the BoarsHead is known for staging.
Two-time Wilde Award nominee Carmen Decker, who plays the O'Donnell's housekeeper, is - as always - superb.
And Peakes? Although he's playing the role of the elder O'Donnell in a wheelchair due to an accident he suffered recently in - where else? - Philadelphia, his portrayal of the stoic father is wonderfully subtle. It would be tough to leave on a higher note!
The only downside to the production - and it's minor - is act two. The otherwise slick production seemed to struggle and sputter a little last Saturday night with the arrival of Gareth's friends to say their goodbyes.
Direction by Judith Peakes - who is likewise retiring and moving with her husband to Philadelphia - and all technical aspects of the show are top notch.
The ending of "Philadelphia, Here I Come" is open to interpretation; there IS one thing, however, that's totally clear: This IS the end of the John and Judith Peakes era at the BoarsHead, and they WILL be missed!
"Philadelphia Here I Come" Presented Wednesday through Sunday at the BoarsHead Theatre, 425 S. Grand, Lansing, through Dec. 21. Tickets: $19 - $29. 517-484-7805. www.boarshead.org.
The Bottom Line: It's never easy to say goodbye - but the Peakes do it with style!
Review: 'You Sank My Christmas'
Kidnapping and deranged Santa set stage for original holiday comedy
DETROIT - One of the signs that a city is "cool" - or that a city is attracting the much sought after "creative class" - is the rise of the small, storefront theater. Such venues provide an outlet for creative souls to conceive and nurture new and innovative works that reflect a much broader world view than that found in the more mainstream theaters.
One of the latest such groups to open in Detroit is 7th Heaven, a troupe made up of 20-somethings, all of whom live on the seventh floor of a Detroit hotel long known as a haven for members of the theater and music communities. This energetic group is a welcome addition to Detroit's ever-changing theater scene, and although the Abreact Performance Space where they are staging "You Sank My Christmas" might not be easy to find - it's on the second floor of a building near the Greektown Casino Garage - it IS one of the friendliest and "coolest" places around to experience intimate live theater.
"You Sank My Christmas" tells the story of Steven Stevens, a fatherless boy who gets more than he bargained for when he visits a department store Santa at the Midland Mall - and asks for a new dad. Santa takes pity on the poor boy...and promptly kidnaps him. The demented Santa, it seems, has delusions of fatherhood - and his actions will now give him a son, and the boy a loving father.
What follows is tough to briefly describe, but what I CAN tell you about this original comedy is this: Based upon audience reaction on opening night, "You Sank My Christmas" is hysterically funny to some, but only mildly amusing to others.
Comedy, you see, is always in the eyes of the beholder!
Created and written through improvisation under the direction of Jeff Fritz, "You Sank My Christmas" is a somewhat non-linear story that jumps back and forth between its main plot and the back-stories of its many characters. Some do nothing to move the story forward; Only a few add insight into the characters' motivations.
What's more, it's not always immediately clear when an actor drops one role and takes on yet another in a later scene. The director and actors both need to understand that characterization is more than just a slightly different costume piece: Voices and mannerisms need to change, too - and distinctive enough to be immediately discernable!
One thing that DID bother me, however, was the repeated use of the word "faggot" in one of the skits. I sure didn't find that funny, but frighteningly, many in the audience did!
Kudos to Mike Ishaq and Matthias Schneider for fine performances. Also in the cast are Sean McGettigan, Mike Mcgettigan and Lauren Bickers. All technical elements of the production are well done. A live band performs following the performance. How cool is that?
"You Sank My Christmas" Staged Friday and Saturday by 7th Heaven at the Abreact Performance Space, 442 E. Lafayette (between Brush and Beaubien), Detroit, through Dec. 20. Suggested donation $7 - $8. 313-575-6628.
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