Friday, March 23, 2018

What lured to me to the Ant: Bickers, Jacokes and Bailey (with a dab of Brown)

Not long ago I received a press release from Hamtramck's Planet Ant Theatre, and it served to remind me that I hadn't been there in quite some time. The Ant has long been a favorite of mine, having  reviewed 59 shows there over a 14-year period (more than at any other theater), and so I figured it was time to make a return visit to see what they've been up to in recent months.

What always appealed to me about the Ant was the wide variety of shows it offered. Not only did I critique classics such as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (the first show I ever reviewed there, way back in 2002), I was also treated to an amazing array of new works by local playwrights such as Joe Zettelmaier, Linda Ramsay-Detherage and Margaret Edwartowski (among others).

But what I particularly looked forward to were its slate of original comedies created by local improvisers. These were often the result of an improv troupe winning a highly competitive battle held once or twice a year at the Ant, with the winner earning a slot in the Ant's schedule supervised by an established pro at the helm as director. This offered the winning artists an opportunity to spread their wings and challenge themselves to create from the ground up an original one or two-act play.

As you can imagine, some shows were better than others. Several, however, remain memorable to this day.

Either way, it was always great fun to watch artists of various levels of training and experience sharpen and grow their skills - both as writers and as performers.

So when I received the press release for Who Run The World, an original comedy that runs through April 7, I saw its pedigree and immediately began to salivate. The show is directed and co-authored by one of the most creative artists I've had the pleasure to observe over the years, Lauren Bickers (an 11-time Wilde Awards nominee and three-time winner), and it features Detroit's Queen of Comedy, Suzan Jacokes (with 8 nominations and 2 wins) and teams her with another, more-recent favorite, Dyan Bailey (with 4 nominations and 1 win). That alone sold me on the show.

But it also stars three additional women and one man, whose writing and performance skills I was unfamiliar with - and that made me curious to check out how well they'd step up when working alongside two such well-known powerhouses.

I found out this past Saturday night.

Who Run The World envisions an America only a few decades from now when women run the country - and men have fled into their underground man caves. When an asteroid is discovered heading directly for Earth, will it destroy the world? Or will women find a way to save us all?

Ripping its plot from recent headlines, Bickers and her cast have come up with a unique take on the historic battle of the sexes while also poking fun at male and female stereotypes. (Yeah, mandatory dance breaks throughout the day wouldn't thrill me.) It's a mostly fun script, with plenty of sharp commentary to help move the story along. But a weaker-than-expected second-act opening had me worried that the steam had run out. I shouldn't have worried, however, as another twist soon came our way that wrapped the story up in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.

Just like the script varies, so too do the performances.

As expected, Jacokes (as Cabinet member Letitia McAllister, director of science) and Bailey (as Cabinet member Kameela Toriana, department of appearance and diplomacy) dominate the stage. Both are masters of comedy, and each puts her considerable skills to great use. Bailey is especially effective as the smiley-faced, double-crossing president whose number one goal is self preservation. (The two had the audience in stitches when a "bit" went awry and their finely tuned improv skills kicked in.)

Unfortunately, with the exception of strong and consistent performances by Scott Sanford (the story's sole male performer) and Caitlyn Shea as Jacokes' twin sister Tracee (director of unpacking), the other performers fade somewhat into the background when surrounded by scenery-chomping Jacokes and Bailey.

Even director Bickers gets into the act, with strong appearances on screen as a TV newswoman with creative ideas on how to spend her remaining hours on earth - which brings me to yet another reason why I've been a fan of the Ant's work: the integration of video into many of its shows.

And the video work by Bailey (with stage manager Mikey Brown, whose past video work I've raved about) is excellent, as are the costumes by Vince Kelley.

The Bottom Line: So how would I rank Who Run The World in comparison to past original comedies? How about "pretty much in middle of the pack." And louder than most. But I went home with a smile on my face, pleased that my return to the Ant turned into an entertaining visit with old friends, new acquaintances and filled with plenty of laughs.

For complete show details, CLICK HERE.

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