Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fore! A sweet spot in Tipping Point's season

After three weeks away from all things theater - retirement makes it quite easy to slip away and do other things, I've discovered - I found myself with a change of plans for last night. Although there were several shows running that I wanted to see - and I had already turned down tickets for one of them when I thought I had other arrangements for the evening - one stood out above the others: "The Foursome" at Tipping Point Theatre.

Why that was is easy to explain:

  1. It's directed by Dave Davies, who in my opinion is one of the finest comedic actors and funniest improvisers working in the industry today (and one of the nicest, too);
  2. It features Patrick O'Connor Cronin, whose work I've been a fan of since his college days (and who's also one heck of a nice guy);
  3. And since Tipping Point is among the handful of theaters in the market that consistently produces work of the highest quality, I knew I'd be in for an enjoyable night at the theater.
And it certainly was!

Jenn McKee's review for pretty much says it all; there's little I could quibble about (except I found playwright Norm Foster's ending more satisfying than she did). So you can read it here for all the details.

Here's what I'll add, though:

What impressed me most about the production was how finely tuned and in-sync the actors were from start to finish; Brandon Grantz, Patrick Loos, Andrew Papa and the aforementioned Cronin were thoroughly believable as college buddies who get together the day after their 15-year reunion to play 18 holes of golf. Each took his character as written by Foster and crafted a unique personality that never wavered. Especially notable were the facial expressions - some of which were almost imperceptible, but were still very revealing - and each man's body language spoke volumes about what each was thinking.

And the well-thought-out bits of business director Davies gave them added much to Foster's words.

In short, because the actors were having so much fun playing off one another, we in the audience were also having fun - and the vocal response from the sold-out crowd proved it.

(As an aside, I was a bit concerned that the last open seat I was given placed me in the front row, where my shiny pate would draw attention to the fact that I was in the house. I've been told numerous times over the years that my presence makes actors nervous, even on those occasions when I'm not there on official critic business - and I've seen it play out onstage over the years with noticeable results. So I generally prefer to sit back a row or two. Yesterday's visit didn't seem to phase them at all!) 

As Jenn points out, all of the technical elements are quite strong. But Monika Essen's set - with video projections that move us from hole to hole - is one of the most original concepts I've seen in ages.

Unfortunately, there are only two performances left. So if you'd like to see this highly entertaining "male tale" (the opposite of a "chick flick," you see) - and if there are tickets still available - click here for details!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Your help is needed

As most readers of my blog already know, Ann Arbor's Performance Network has had financial struggles for quite some time - culminating in May 2014 with the dismissal of its staff once the board learned just how deep the debts really were. (Initially, the debt was thought to be approximately $250,000; the amount turned out to be substantially higher, I've since been told.)

New management was brought in, shows were produced under tight budget constraints, and programming was expanded to include different genres in order to attract a broader and more diverse audience.

Unfortunately, many regular patrons felt burned by the board and previous management - tickets and season subscriptions were bought and paid for, for example, for a show that was canceled midstream and a season that wouldn't be produced - and so many stayed away from the newly re-opened theater. And worse, donations - the lifeblood of every theater - dropped dangerously low.

But as management proved its sincerity and produced quality work, seats began to fill up. But donations have not returned to levels that are required to sustain the theater.

And so Performance Network is in danger of closing. Again.

Personally, I hate that there's a chance we could lose one of our state's most honored theaters. Its loss would be a major blow to Metro Detroit's arts and culture scene and a significant loss to the employees and artists who work there.

I've said this both publicly and privately many times this past year: that if anyone can return Performance Network to financial and artistic health, its the management team of John Manfredi and Suzi Regan. Not only do they have the necessary skills to accomplish the near-impossible, their efforts have been assisted by numerous friends and theater lovers who believe in them and their mission.

As a result, countless hours (and sleepless nights) have been spent tirelessly trying to save this important institution - and now it's time for others to step up and help.

Here's the plea I received today from John and Suzi. Please read it - and then consider helping with whatever donation you can afford. The arts have the power to help change the world - and my readers now have the power to help make that happen in the tiny corner we share of it.

I thank you in advance for your consideration - and I'm sure John and Suzi do as well...


UPDATE: For a complete look at this situation, read JENN MCKEE's story in today's Ann Arbor News

* * * * * * * * *

Friends and supporters of the Performance Network: we need your help. Due to immediate cash flow constraints, we are sadly in danger of closing. On the heels of a truly tremendous start to our 2015-2016 season, earning public and critically acclaimed artistic success, this is not a flag we want to wave. Yet, wave it we must.
We need the community's affirmation, support and financial help. Like all nonprofits, Performance
Network needs donations to thrive. Absent your generous donation today, it might be curtains for the Network.

Under a new executive and creative leadership team, the new Network has offered 250+ performance days, partnerships with the Ann Arbor Film Festival, University of Michigan Penny Stamps School of Art and Design, a Youth Summer Camp recently featured on PBS, nominations for Industry Awards in the State of Michigan, and generated over $250,000, farm to table, right here in our local economy.

As a revered cultural icon, we hope that the Network means as much to this community as Ann Arbor means to us. Countless supporters have attended shows and given to recent campaigns for donations.  Even so, our challenge is that donations at the Network are down 2/3 this year. The Network needs donations to survive. Cultural institutions rarely, if ever, exist on ticket revenue alone.

We hope to continue to offer you the professional, high-quality theater that closely rivals any Broadway production right here in your backyard. We will endeavor to ensure the Network’s vitality by continuing to offer readings of new works, musical events, film festivals, and holiday shows in addition to a full theatre season. Our 2015-2016 season opened to rave reviews with Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Will you join us? Performance Network needs to generate $50,000 in the next 45 days.  If having a local company continue to produce and create jobs in Michigan is important to you, act now. There is no better time to help. Please go to to make a donation today or call us at 734.663.0681.

Yours in the Arts,

John Manfredi, Executive Director
Suzi Regan, Artistic Director