John Seibert and Joseph Seibert in the world premiere of "The Kings of Unionville" at Tipping Point Theatre. Photo: Steve Fecht Photography

Six 'Kings' Draw A Full House

By John Quinn

This has been a very good season for original works locally, and Tipping Point Theatre ends its "Lucky 7" season with another winner. "The Kings of Unionville" is the brainchild of the company's producing artistic director, James R. Kuhl.

The village of Unionville, Mich., "Gateway to the Thumb," was founded in the 1850s by a few stalwart fathers who formed a secret philanthropic society. Membership was passed down from father to son, but by 2014, membership has dwindled to six. Six, that is, until Bruce, the vice president of The Kings of Unionville dies, putting a crimp in the weekly, six-handed euchre game. The surviving members decide it's time to bring in Ed's boy, Will, an expectant father. But Ed stubbornly insists on using an arcane society ritual, the "voting council," for the event. His son's initiation will be "by the book."

But Ed and Will's relationship is already strained. The younger man is reluctant to follow in his father's footsteps, either in joining a fading secret society with no secrets, or taking over the family funeral parlor. "The Kings of Unionville" explores one of the great themes of the human condition: the generational struggle between tradition and self-identity.

That struggle is so much a part of life that it can be worked again and again without becoming repetitious. Playwright Kuhl traces the development of "The Kings of Unionville" to his time as an apprentice at The Purple Rose Theatre, a time that coincided with the film release of Jeff Daniels' "Escanaba in da Moonlight." The ability to compare and contrast two works with similar themes but divergent plots highlights just how fresh and original this play is. The comedy is a rollicking good time, but the confrontations between father and son ring so true. Given the summer season, it reminds me of strawberry shortcake - a sweet treat with a tart foundation.

To extend that metaphor past its breaking point, that shortcake's topping isn't Cool Whip. The Tipping Point has assembled the cream of the local theater scene, an assembly of male talent rarely gathered in one place. Ed and Will are played by John Seibert and his son, Joseph - one wonders what past emotional moments might have added to their thoroughly grounded, believable performances. It is not lost on an observer that, while Joseph S. in not a newcomer, his appearance with John S. and company parallels the plot. A "family" of brothers is welcoming a new generation, one that will eventually succeed them.

The second pairing is a couple of cut-ups: brothers Leroy and Guvy - Dave Davies and Phil Powers respectively - who turn in the most physical performances of the evening. Ed speculates: Are we kings in a castle? Are we boys in a treehouse? Davies and Powers would have us guessing a "treehouse," one built by 10 year olds.

The six-pack (another stretched metaphor, I fear; there's a lotta Leinenkugel to be found) is rounded out by Thomas D. Mahard as Lloyd, the club's oldest surviving member, and Quintin Hicks as Hoagie, president and presider over the initiation ritual. They play opposing forces in the outrageously funny scene when we find the "ancient" solemnity has all the overtones of a frat hazing. The nub of the second act comedy lies in the fact that layers of amendments to a 162-year-old charter can make for parliamentarian nightmares.

The crown among the kings should grace the brow of director Brain P. Sage, who created a formidable ensemble. He's been ably assisted by Bartley Bauer, who created the paneled, mid-century basement set; lighting designer Joel Klain's very tight, subtle approach; Colleen Ryan-Peter's vision in assembling the costumes (particularly Leroy and Guvy's "Tweedledum and Tweedledummer," matching mechanic's outfits). Brandon M. Newton adds a touch of Michigan verity through an impressive assemblage of props.

There's a bit of melancholy in "The Kings of Unionville." Will is the only one of his generation who is eligible for membership. The society will eventually die, but its members are not yet ready to let go. Let's hope the secret society isn't a metaphor for local theater.

REVIEW:

'The Kings of Unionville'

Tipping Point Theatre

361 E. Cady St., Northville

3 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13

7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7

8 p.m. Thursday, July 31, Aug. 14, 21

8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, 8, 15, 22

3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23

8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23

2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24

2 hours

$27-32

248-347-0003

http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com

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