Wednesday, May 22, 2013

SVSU's "All in the Timing" a don't miss play

Amanda Moths and Isaac Wood in "Variations on the Death of Trotsky"

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Three chimpanzees writing “Hamlet.” Leon Trotsky with an axe sticking out of his head as he replays his assassination in eight variations. And Philadelphia, where if you want one thing you ask for its exact opposite.

And to say nothing of hearing a totally made up language.

Opening tonight (May 22) and running through Friday is “All in the Timing,” Saginaw Valley State University’s first show of the summer season in its intimate Black Box Theater.  And it is a hilarious DO NO MISS if you love word play, cultural references, romantic pick up lines and and just plain silly nonsense.

Five short one-act plays all penned by David Ives, wrapped up in less than 90 minutes with no intermission, nicely acted by a cast of  seven with most of them playing two or three roles, solid direction by David Rzeszutek, and an eye-pleasing set of time pieces.

And a NIGHTMARE for its cast as it ticks along at a rapid pace. Indeed all in the timing, which they have down pat. But worse, a dialogue nightmare in four of its five segments.

Dave Ryan, Erica Coleman, Jordan Stafford in "The Philadelphia"
“The Universal Language,” acted by Isaac Wood and Mykaela Hopps, deals with the Wood character having formed a new universal language and introducing it to stuttering student Hopps  -- one with just enough English in it that the audience actually begins to understand it, but the bulk of it new non words combined  with German and Romance language words or cultural references. 

Like rrongplatz meaning wrong place; Joe DiMaggio spoken for that’s too bad.  I

magine memorizing that and pulling it off as if it is real.

In “The  Philadelphia,” Dave Ryan encounters an unreal realm called “a Philadelphia” when he enters a restaurant where Jordan Stafford is sitting and learns that whatever you want you ask for its opposite -- which he puts to the test with waitress Erica Coleman, to which she responds in a fast repartee.  Like if you want fries, you order a baked potato.

Again, much concentration from the actors as the mind struggles to go against the grain.

In both “Sure Thing” and “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” it is keeping focus in where you are at in the script since in both ...well, you just have to see them. The dialogue is layered, each segment with repetition or resetting  that only slightly varies and in doing so inches closer and closer to the finale.

Hopps and Stafford are in “Sure Thing,” cast  as two people meeting by chance in a cafe and carefully connecting by resetting their conversation. They are dizzying in pulling it off. And Wood and Amanda Moths are the Russian revolutionary Trotsky and his wife offering variations on how he died -- with a mountain-climber’s axe protruding from his head throughout, a canned laugh track like the television comedies sport,  and a bell sound separating each variation.

As for the fifth segment, “Words, Words, Words,” it requires much physicality as Wood, Coleman and Lexee Longwell play three increasingly angry and frustrated caged experimental chimps assigned to write “Hamlet.”

The two women in particular crouch and move swingy like chimps -- Coleman emitting the loud shreek of a chimp and Longwell the more chirplike sound of a chimp (and also playing with a banana and in general stealing the segment). 

Listen, too, to their first names -- all literary characters. 

And for sure listen to the playwright’s lines throughout -- its references to Shakespeare, “The Honeymooners,” Monty Python and so much more.

Wood is particularly superb in all three of his roles, with Trotsky our favorite. But, as noted, the entire cast is right on -- all in the timing for sure, as well as totally in character, keeping focus on the lines, speaking clearly, maintaining the driving pace.

Great summertime theater selection.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saginaw Choral Society rocks the roof with Rutter Gloria

Review by Janet I. Martineau

A week ago the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra blew the roof off the top of the Temple Theater with a hallmark performance of Stravinksy's The Rite of Spring.

On Saturday night, not to be outdone, the Saginaw Choral Society did the same with Rutter's Gloria, accompanied by a brass ensemble and percussion.

Put the two pieces in a playoff and we are not sure who would win, although the Stravinksy is a long orchestral piece and the Rutter a short choral work so they are very different. Whatever the case, we have not heard the choral society sound this dynamic and powerful and passionate perhaps ever. Right on the piece totally with a breathtaking precision.

The brass helped deliver the sound that filled the hall, yes, of course. But so too did the chorale, with solo parts layered on in the second movement by Darlene Mikoleizik, Peggy Knutson and Deanna Patton.

But then the whole night, the season finale, was a goodie ... titled Blaze of Glory, with the stage bathed in an attractive easy orange hue and elegant draping hanging overhead.

As usual, music director Glen Thomas Rideout went for the unusual. He opened the evening singing solo in his own arrangement of a Brazilian  Benedictine  chant as one by one the choir came out and joined his voice until all were there.

Another piece had the singers assembled in a circle all the way around him as he conducted in the middle. With the fun "Jabberwocky" by Pottle the singers added to its magic with a variety of noisemakers. And "Magnificent Horses" by Jing Ling Tam had the choir sounding like, well, horses yet also human with the accompaniment of Deanna Popielarz on flute.

There were a couple of other "Gloria" pieces (excerpts from) on the program by other composers and some fine solo work, a chance for the audience to sing at one point, two a cappella pieces in the second half that beautifully showcased the virtuosity of the singers, a little poetry at the outset from Rideout (who is an excellent actor as well as musician).....all of them excellent programmatic choices, sung or spoken superbly, and with A1 clarity of diction.

But we can't get our mind off that Rutter Gloria  and its total magnificence ...its true blaze of glory.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Roethke "birthday party" to include a poetry slam champion, poet who created 28 imaginary people

by janet i. martineau

It’s time to celebrate Theodore Roethke’s 105th birthday!

The Friends of Theodore Roethke, who own and operate the Pulitizer-winning poet’s boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot in Saginaw, annually celebrate his May 25 birth day with special events.

This year they take place on two days, Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18.

On May 17 the offerings, free except for the evening dinner, are: 

-- Afternoon school visits by invited poets to share their poetry with Saginaw students.

Arra Lynn Ross
-- 2-4pm, “Reading Roethke” at Roethke’s childhood home, 1805 Gratiot. Poet Rosie King, a Saginaw native now living in California, will oversee the reading of works from Roethke’s collected that deal with his childhood, nature, his struggles and the family’s greenhouse business.

-- 4:30-5:30pm, “Reading Roethke” continues at Roethke’s grave, Oakwood Cemetery, Gratiot at Midland Roads.

-- 6pm, Group dinner at Sullivan’s.  Individual checks.

On Saturday, May 18, Roethke poet-in-residence Arra Lynn Ross will offer a writing workshop from 10am-noon at the Roethke House. The cost is $12.  Reservations are required by calling  989-928-0430 or

Ross is a Saginaw Valley State University creative writing  professor and an author.

She grew up on a communal farm in Minnesota and received her doctorate degree in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Her work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Hayden's Ferry, Beloit Poetry Journal and Alimentum. Ross's poems have also been featured on Verse Daily and the Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day. “Seedlip and Sweet Apple” is her first book. 

The rest of Saturday’s  events take place at the  Andersen Enrichment Center, 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw, and are free unless otherwise noted.

Jamaal May
-- 2-4pm, invited poets Jamaal May, Cindy Morgan Hunter and Stephanie  M. Glazier read from their works, with Roethke poems read in between each poet  by members of the River Junction Poets. 

May, who lives in Detroit, has been a finalist at several national and international poetry slams,  is a three-time Rustbelt Regional Slam champion and has been a member of six national poetry slam teams.

His 2013 book “Hum” won the Beatrice Hawley Award and his poems have been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Blackbird, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, The Believer and New England Review.

Hunter lives in East Lansing and teaches creative writing at Michigan State University. Her chapbook “The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker,” featuring  28 imaginary people, won The Ledge Press 2011 Poetry Chapbook Award. And her  “Apple Season,” dealing with her relationship with her grandmother and a place they shared,  won the Midwest Writing Center's 2012 Chapbook Contest.
Cindy Morgan Hunter

Other Hunter poems have appear in A cappella Zoo, Bateau, The Christian Science Monitor, Sugar House Review, Weave and West Branch. 

Glazier is the acting director for Michigan State University’s  Center for Poetry, where she coordinates poetry events on campus and in East Lansing schools.

May and Hunter will have their books and chapbooks on sale.

-- 2-5pm, display of student art illustrations of Roethke’s “Dirty Dinky and Other Creatures.”  Ice cream and cake on sale for $1.05 to match Roethke’s years.

-- 4:30pm, interpretations of Roethke’s “ Saginaw Song.” 

-- 5-5:30pm, cocktail party. Cash bar with limited beer and wine selections.

-- 5:30-5:45pm,  Friends of Theodore Roethke annual membership meeting (open to public).

-- 5:45-7pm, catered dinner from Jakes. Cost $30. Reservations required: 989-928-0430 or

-- 7-7:15pm,  music performance by violinist Nathan Bieber of Heritage High School and keyboard player Carson Waites of Frankenmuth High School. (They also will provide music during dinner.)

-- 7:15pm, poetry reading by 2013 Roethke poet-in-residence Arra Lynn Ross.

Roethke was born in 1906 and is a graduate of Arthur Hill High School and the University of Michigan. His father and uncle operated a massive greenhouse business in back of their homes at 1759 and 1805 Gratiot.

At the time of his death in 1963, at age 55, Roethke was teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle -- one of many colleges where he taught during his career.

He won the Pulitzer in 1953 for “The Waking,” one of nine books he authored. Today his poems are in virtually every student textbook in the world as well as in countless poetry anthologies. In 2012 he was one of 10 American poets honored by a U.S. Postal Service stamp.

Colorful new book celebrates Z to A in Great Lakes Bay

The "P" page features the penguins at Saginaw's Children's Zoo

by janet i. martineau

Hot off the presses is a book that, just to be different, goes from  Z to A.

The 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch, glossy-print, 48-page publication also contains colorful images very familiar to folks living in Saginaw, Midland, Bay and Isabella counties.

Titled "Z to A in the Great Lakes Bay,”  it contains, for each letter of the alphabet, a stylized drawing taken from photos representing the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, CMU Marching Band in Mount Pleasant, Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Bay City Fireworks, Appledore Schooner, Castle Museum...and so on.

Priced at $12, it is a fund-raiser for the READ Association of Saginaw County in a partnership with Great Lakes Bay Publishing and the The Dow Chemical Company.

The cover of the book
“Last June READ asked families and individuals to select a letter of the alphabet and  submit their favorite place to visit or activity in the community that began with that letter,” says READ director Carol R. Lechel.

 “Many of  these submissions were selected by the creative committee as ssignments were made for each  letter of the alphabet.” 

Two retired elementary teachers -- Maryann Czolgosz ans Nancy Owens -- then wrote a  whimsical verse for each letter of the alphabet.

The back of the book features small photographs of some of the other favorite places nominees.

Its sales income replaces READ’s  Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program dollars that were eliminated in 2011 from the federal budget.  That money will allow  READ to continue to provide free books for children mentored in its program.  

“Z to A” is on sale online at, and at  The Children's Book Company located inside the Antique Warehouse, the Children's Zoo at Celebration Square, Mid-Michigan Children's Museum and the Castle Museum Historical Society of  Saginaw County. 

It also  will be available and featured at the 12th annual “DEAR at the Zoo - Drop Everything and READ”  event  on Wednesday, June 19, at the Children's Zoo at Celebration Square.     

 "The book is truly a labor of love and made possible by  many talented individuals who donated their time, talents and treasures in its making of this book,” says Lechel. “There are so many things to see and places to visit in the Great  Lakes Bay Region.”  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra hits a milestone with Stravinsky

review by janet i. martineau

"Russian Milestones" was the title of Saturday night's concert at the Temple Theatre.....but it was more like "Saginaw Milestones."

Quite simply the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra outdid itself, particularly in the performance of  Stravinsky's  "The Rite of Spring." Bet they could hear its rousing sounds over at TheDow where a football game was in progress.

Normally I listen to a SBSO concert with eyes closed, savoring the music more than the sight. 

Not on this night. 

Watching the orchestra, every section of it, put muscle in this piece about human sacrifice was captivating -- especially the hard-driving strings. 

Watching maestro Brett Mitchell swing and sway and sweat in conducting it made up for the missing dancers in this ballet piece celebrating its 100th birthday this month. 

And its percussive power somehow demanded it be watched.

One minute it was pulsating and pounding and then Mitchell stopped it cold, only to start up again quietly and heading again for full throttle. Sometimes it swayed. And remarkably, requiring great stamina, its 14 sections were played nonstop except for one pause.

At the end, after thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Mitchell held the score over his head in triumph to the stellar performance of it and, we assume, in homage to the work itself.

Opening the evening was another power piece -- Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major. The power here was less in the orchestra and more with the soloist, American-born Joan Kwuon. Her masterful skill in a piece that was for three years unplayed because it was deemed unplayable was so outstanding the audience gave her long and sustained applause after the first movement.

And she had two more movements to go! Ones which got even more difficult and well played -- with the solid orchestra all the way with her.

Neither of these pieces were well received when they premiered. Today, at least with this SBSO performance of them, they left us breathless and amazed.