Thursday, November 29, 2012

SVSU's "Christmas by the Fireside" radio show really charmed

A scene from "Christmas by the Fireside"

review by Janet I. Martineau

A sound effects man bleating like a lamb. A thin Santa Claus dressed in a snazzy black suit and with jet black hair. An angel with the devil in her body English.

Gosh these old-time radio shows presented by the Saginaw Valley State University Theater Department are such great fun -- and this year’s installment in the series was the funnest. Sadly it opened last night and ends tonight.

The first two were old warhorses -- “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” as adapted and co-directed by SVSU professors Richard  B. Roberts and David Rzeszutek. This one, titled “Christmas by the Fireside: A 1940’s Radio Show,” was all theirs -- set in Christmas Eve 1943, the combing of four short stories, snippets of probably a dozen Christmas carols, commercials paying tribute to Saginaw’s Potter Street Station, Savoy Grill, Morley’s Department store, Heavenrich’s, Provenzano’s....and.....

...And... the recorded voice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself delivering a wartime fireside chat that still speaks to today's America.

Oh, and there was that hilarious ad (more like an ode) for Spam and its many uses.

What was not to love about a trip down memory lane like that, and to hear stories read to us just like when we were kids.

The stories? One I have never heard about the wandering lamb who kept newborn Jesus warm on the night he was born (and which brought tears to this animal lover). “The Toymaker and the Elf.” The true story about the Christmas night in 1914 Belgium when the German troops and the Brits declared a truce, sang “Silent Night” in German and English, and even exchanged gifts (that one also hit home since my dad fought in World War I and often told the story although he was not there). And how ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” came to be written by an overworked father (appealing to the poetry fan in me).

As usual with these productions, the cast members play roles within roles -- their off-microphone radio show actors milling about the stage before the show begins and then as the characters they play in the four stories being told. Great fun to watch, and to see four theater department “adults” acting alongside their 20 students in this one.

The costumes were also a trip down 1943’s memory lane and made for a colorful montage. And those sound effects people are always a hoot to watch. If there is a complaint, it is that the sound was a little too hot on the ears with the spoken words.

All of which adds up to the realization these old-time radio shows -- in a world when other than the studio audiences the rest of the nation only heard and never saw -- lead to Technicolor creations often more vibrant than the the more traditional live theater productions. More vibrant and almost too much to take in when it comes to the many layers of  action.

At the end “announcers” Roberts and Rzeszutek told their radio audience that next year’s old-time radio show will be “Miracle on 34th Street.” It will indeed take a miracle to top this year’s “Fireside Chat.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Six homes spiffing up for Saginaw Bay Symphony Holiday Housewalk

Saginaw Township home with salt water fish/coral tank

story and photos by Janet I. Martineau

A Bay City home with Prohibition era secrets. A mother and daughter living next to each other in Freeland, their homes dramatically different colorwise,  inside and out. And a Saginaw Township home with a salt water tank containing 25 kinds of coral and 10 fish varieties.

They are among the six private homes showcased on Thursday, Dec. 6, during the annual Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra Holiday Housewalk -- a major fundraiser for orchestra operations.

“And this year, our patrons won’t have to be driving as much as some years to see all the houses on the tour,” says Patricia Shaheen, the housewalk chair. “The two in Freeland are indeed side by side. The two in Bay City within a mile of each other on Center Ave and a side street. And the two in Saginaw Township are just off both sides of Gratiot near the Saginaw Country Club.”

As is traditional with the holiday housewalk, says Shaheen, each home will shine with Christmas decorations, and each will feature live music performances much if not all of the day -- running 10:30am to 8pm. Volunteers will give the low down on each of the homes as visitors walk through.

Bay City home with Prohibition secret
The ages of the homes vary -- from being built in 1869, with 19 rooms and eight fireplaces, to brand new in  2011 but filled with antique furniture and collectibles. 

And that Prohibition era one, built in 1923 by a wealthy scrap metal businessman, has a hidden party room and bar in the basement as well as an elegant Italian-made dining room chandelier and leaded glass in all the cabinetry.

For those who prefer to leave the driving to someone else for the day, a bus ride to all the homes, as well as a stop for lunch at either the Bay City Country Club or the Saginaw Country Club, is available for $20. Space is limited. Call the orchestra office at 755-6471 to reserve a seat.

And all patrons can present their ticket booklets that day for a buffet lunch at the Bay City Country Club, 7255 S. Three Mile Road, as well as buffet lunch or dinner at the Saginaw Country Club, 4465 Gratiot. Lunch hour at both sites is 11:30am to 2:30pm at a cost of $15. Dinner at the Saginaw site is from 5-9pm off the menu, and reservations are advised.

One of the Freeland homes also will serve as the spot for the Rudolph’s Raffle part of the event, with raffle tickets $1 each or six for $5 for the chance to win prizes donated by more than 30 area stores, restaurants and spas.

Home tour guidelines include: no picture taking, no children under 10, and the wearing of provided booties at each stop.

Advance housewalk ticket booklets are $17, and rise to $20 at the homes the day of the event.

Advance sales are at all Wildfire Credit Union branches as well as more than 20 other outlets, including Satow Drugs in Frankenmuth; Riverside Family Restaurant in Freeland; Smith’s Flowers and Gifts in Midland; Begick’s, My Secret Garden and Sweet Boutique in Bay City, and Crumbs, Horizons, The Loft/Antique Warehouse, West Side Decorating and McDonald’s Nursery in Saginaw.

Holiday Housewalk 2012 is sponsored by Meijer.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SVSU's "Buried Child" an edgy piece with an outstanding performance

Isaac Wood as Dodge in "Buried Child"

review by Janet I. Martineau

Macabre, the definition of: “gruesome, ghastly, grim; suggesting the horror of death and decay.”

Yep, that sums up Sam Shepard’s play “Buried Child,” playing through Sunday at Saginaw Valley State University in its year of presenting classics that are, well, chilling views of dysfunctional American families.

To talk much about its storyline is not a good idea since all is revealed slowly. Suffice it to say it takes place on an Illinois farm, 1977, with a cast of characters that includes a dying and depressed dad, a chattering mom who one quickly wishes would SHUT UP, and two adult sons with issues.

Something horrible happened several years ago that has rendered this family totally dysfunctional -- a couple of things actually -- and we will spend two fascinating and intriguing hours learning what. And there actually some laughs along the way too.

‘Nuf said -- other than to further say Shepard’s subtext is a look at the decay/death of the American dream (things were grim economically in the 1970s and societal norms also were in transition). Or more precisely, it challenges the American myth about family perhaps,

“Buried Child” will not be everyone’s cup of tea, despite the act it won a Pulitzer Prize. But how lucky we are to live in a area where edgy theater is an option.

And what it serves up is a dynamic performance by Isaac Wood as Dodge -- the family patriarch who is couch-bound most of the play,  drinking booze from a bottle hiden under the cushions and hacking with a death-rattle cough. Old codger Dodge is at once charming and loathsome.

Dodge is around 70; in horrible health. Wood is a college freshman and presumably healthy. Director David Rzeszutek has chosen to minimally age Wood with makeup. Instead, every fiber of his being is an old man in decay -- yet, with a voice that projects and enunciates the clearest of the cast.  He is so feeble we expect him to die any minute. It is an astounding performance.

Dakotah Myers is a son-come-home, around age 40. Myers’ performance as Tilden also is stellar -- a zombie-like man-child who walks haltingly, speaks in sentences containing only three or four words, given to hauling in corn and carrots he says he harvested in a garden that does not exist. What the heck happened to him, since there are references he was not always this way.

Mykaela Hopps is the family matriarch Halie, around age 60. She yells most of her lines from upstairs, barely seen; leaves early in the first act and then does not return until right at the end. Good thing. She is a first class bully/bitch -- and Hopps plays her very very well. Too well. I could feel my blood pressure rising,

And by play’s end, our opinion of all three will shift!

Jordan Stafford is cast as Tilden’s son Vince, Lexee Longwell as Vince’s girlfriend Shelly, Keith Schnabel as the couple second weirdo son, and Blake Mazur in a tiny tiny role as a soiled man of the cloth.

They are incidental characters really. Stafford at dress rehearsal was not yet settled into his role. Schnabel needs to work on his enunciation (he was better in the second act). And Longwell, the only sane person in the storyline, needs to stretch just a bit more in her reactions. Mazuer’s role is but a flash.

The Jerry Dennis set is jarring -- the edge of the walls jagged and looking like they have been burned, with visible (and symbolic; lots of symbolism in thos show) rain falling the entire first act (along with thunder via the sound crew). The interior of the home has definitely seen better days, along with the ill-garbed family.

And the intermission music is just plain creepy.

Director Rzeszutek, his crew and most of the cast create an atmosphere that chills the bones like that rain. Shepard’s story slowly evolves -- and sadly, by today’s world, is not all that horrific given recent headline. But at the end we realize how a chain of events from within and outside of a family can turn the American dream into a nightmare.

Loved the open-ended ending too. Can put our own spin on is real or surreal, real or symbolic, and if real what happens next.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Saginaw's own origami artist featured during Riverside Saginaw Film Festival

story and photos by janet i. martineau

For nearly half a century now, Saginaw native Mark DeWolf-Ott has excelled at folding paper.

Big deal, you say...we ALL fold paper.
Mark DeWolf-Ott and the 1,000 Cranes origami piece

Well, not like DeWolf-Ott. 

He is, he says, at the complex level in the world of origami -- the Japanese art of paper folding which avoids the use of tape. scissors and staples in the creation of 3-D geometric designs, animal figures and flowers; some small enough to hold in the palm of a hand and others large enough to trick people into thinking an origami T-rex skeleton is real.

“And origami is still evolving, getting more and more complex,” says DeWolf-Ott, 55. “It goes from simple, to intermediate, to complex, and I can do some of the complex ones at this point because  I began doing origami when I was 11 or 12.

“It’s just that I don’t do the complex ones a lot because they take too much time! I can make a moose with antlers, but it takes four hours and I don’t want to do that.”

As a part of the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival, running Nov. 8-11 at five venues, the award-winning documentary “Between the Folds” is playing -- at 6pm Thursday, Nov. 8, and Friday, Nov. 9, at First Congregational Church, 403 S. Jefferson Ave.

Running 58 minutes, “Beyond the Folds” has played 45 film festivals around the world and won a Peabody Award as its shows how origami is practiced not only by artists but also scientists. And, with the advent of computer design software, how it has gotten more and more complex.

Following both showings, DeWolf-Ott will assist those attending in making two simple pieces to take home, will make more complicated ones as they watch, and will bring along a collection for viewing.

The showing of “Between the Folds” is sponsored by Glastender Inc. of Saginaw, and the company also is paying for the origami paper in the take-home project.

 A collection of DeWolf-Ott creations
DeWolf-Ott, the director of Saginaw’s Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, says he was introduced to origami when a childhood neighbor, whose husband worked for Dow Chemical, showed him an origami book Japanese visitors to Dow had given them.

“The couple didn’t really want it so they gave it to me. I think I was intrigued because I have always loved math, and geometric design, and those skills are used in origami.”

Whatever the case, he was hooked -- although he took a brief hiatus in high school “when the kids made fun of me.”

Now he attends origami conventions and meetings around the nation, and says he has met all of the people who are interviewed in “Between the Folds.” 

“When I started it was hard to learn just through books, especially when they were written in Japanese. I had to go over to the tea house and have people help me with the translations.

“Now with the Internet, and (You Tube) videos, I can interact with origami people all over  the world -- from Japan to Argentina.”

Origami purists, he says, would contend a “true” piece of origami is folded from one piece of paper. But, he continues, modules  of 30, 60 or 90 units can now be folded and then assembled into one linked piece.

What he will showcase at the film showings is an assemblage called 1,000 Cranes -- a gift from Saginaw’s sister city of Tokushima. It features 10 strands  with 100 cranes on each strand, and is about 36 inches long. “It is symbolic that its owner will have a long life with many wishes granted.”

Close-up of a DeWolf-Ott geometric piece
As for the use of origami in the world of science ... its concept was used in the creation of stents in the heart that are inserted and then blown up to enlarge, DeWolf-Ott says,  and in the invention of a telescope that was stored in a small tube in the spacecraft taking it into space where it, too, was enlarged once up there and launched.

Nearly 30 independent and foreign films, documentaries, and short subject films will play during the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival. Passes are $40 and single admissions $6. For more information and a schedule:

 Passes are on sale by calling (989) 776-9425 and on the web site through Paypal.