Let the plays begin 

There’s a chill in the air. The sweaters are coming out; the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon has come and gone; the kids are back in school, already trying to figure out how to sell magazines and wrapping paper. No more lazy afternoons sweating on the porch, all the summer fun has ended. But playtime isn’t over — it’s only just begun. The metro Detroit theater season is just kicking into gear, so don’t let the hustle and bustle of impending fall madness keep you from viewing the goods on stage. Make sure to treat yourself to a little emotional voyeurism; if you need help, here are some suggestions:

For two nights only, on Oct. 26 and 27 at the Power Center in Ann Arbor, the University Musical Society presents Tartuffe, Moliere’s most popular theatrical classic. In this work, originally entitled The Hypocrite, the scoundrel Tartuffe poses as a poor holy man and is taken in by the wealthy Orgon to morally uplift his household. Instead, Orgon pulls the spiritual rug out from under the good family’s reality through his self-serving villainy. Though the play’s usually performed as a farce, this production is directed to reflect Moliere’s artistic struggle, and his dealings with religious and political hypocrisy in the mid-17th century. Tartuffe will be performed by Theatre de la Jeune Lune (Theater of the New Moon), a troupe influenced by styles “from circus and classical farce to commedia dell’arte and vaudeville.”

Nov. 28-Dec. 31, West Bloomfield’s Jewish Ensemble Theatre takes on Talley’s Folly written by that master of emotional sparring on a dialogical cliff edge, Lanford Wilson. Matt and Sally, two single, middle-aged opposites in Lebanon, Mo., are attracted to each other, but are wound in a romantic tangle of fear and facades.

At the Detroit Repertory Theatre, the premiere of Missizzy and The Angel Tree by Daniel Du Plantis runs Nov. 1-Dec. 30. Black angels and white bigots permeate this Southern-based dramedy about a Klan-loving undertaker tormented by his slightly insane wife, whose best friend is a man of color. Like other Detroit Rep productions, this one is sure to sock it to ya.

Or is it the charming heartbreakers you go for? Arlene Hutton’s The Last Train To Nibroc rolls Nov. 16-Dec. 2, presented by The Theatre Company at the University of Detroit Mercy. Prevailingly solid in its dramatic endeavors, the company continues to pass on tricks and talents from acting generation to generation, giving university theater students the opportunity to work with seasoned pros. This time the setting is America just after the beginning of World War II. May, a recently jilted Appalachian woman fresh out of bible college, meets Raleigh, an aspiring writer and epileptic who’s been kicked out of the Army. They ride from LA to Chicago on a train carrying the corpses of authors Nathaniel West and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the baggage car. In the midst of naiveté, death and the drastic change of life as they know it, a romance begins and the war continues.

If you don’t want to limit yourself strictly to human beings for entertainment and enlightenment, check out PuppetART, at Detroit Puppet Theater on Grand River near the old Hudson’s building hole. Every Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., wood, metal and fabric vivify and breathe life into far-off and fantastic worlds with stories to tell, such as Crane Maiden (throughout October). In this ancient operatic Japanese tale, a beautiful crane (the spirit of love) and a crow (the spirit of greed) fight over a poor man’s soul in a ghostly atmosphere of interfering spirits, marionettes and live actors. And watch out for their first adult-geared show on Saturday nights in November: Journey to Asamando, Land of the Dead portrays a West African legend of philosophical struggle between love, life and death, performed in PuppetART’s unconventional theatrical style of synthesis and animation.

A play about a play may not be that unusual, but throw Orson Welles into the mix and see egos hit the fan in a tsunami-sized battle of theatrical power. It’s All True by Jason Sherman swallows the stage at The Performance Network in Ann Arbor Oct. 19-Nov. 18. Just a year before Welles’ “War of the Worlds” Halloween hoax, he was causing mayhem on stage with his infamous production of the anti-capitalist worker’s opera, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein. Sherman’s account brings the colossal personalities of Welles and producer John Houseman down to earth in a laugh-ridden, chaotic obstacle course winding around the musicians’ union, the actors’ union, romance, the U.S. government and the politics of drama.

“Yo, Tony, you goin’ dancin’ tonight or what?” Oct. 30-Nov. 18, the Masonic Temple Theatre welcomes you to a sea of shiny polyester, power-packed, blood-pumping lighting, and the music of those male divas of disco, the Bee Gees, in the musical stage version of Saturday Night Fever. You got it — they’ve taken that ’70s film sensation, cut out some of that bothersome storytelling and filled it to dancing, dancing, dancing capacity with Tony Manero wiggling and rollin’ to the popular score that gave disco a kick-start.

As for the capacity-challenged theaters, the Zeitgeist has some big hats to fill, taking on Becket’s existential slapstick-strewn road to nowhere, Waiting for Godot, Sept. 14-Oct. 20. And the infamous Planet Ant in Hamtramck is taking a break from heart-heavy dysfunctional dramas by vacationing in cloud cuckoo land with Aristophanes’ The Birds, playing now through Sept. 30.

In the next few months you have the opportunity to travel anywhere from ancient Japan to a ’70s Manhattan dance club to a bird world in the clouds. Don’t miss out.

Return to the Fall Guide home page for more features and choice events.

Anita Schmaltz writes about theater and performance for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]

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