Williamston Theatre amazes: A dead guy’s wonderful life and shoes, sings the usual understudy of Tuna

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Williamston Theatre (WT for short) in downtown Williamston, Mich., amazes.  Throughout six seasons, this wonderful professional theater has charmed and inspired its patrons.

Patrons turn into fans. Fans, then, keep on growing this theatre; because WT fans find this intimate cultural experience — once they discover it — irresistible. I’m one of those patrons and fans. I’ve loved writing about this place, its plays, and its founding foursome for the past four seasons. It’s been an adventure.

It’s in the spirit of my “fan-ship” that I decided to have a little bit of fun (in mid-season) with the 2011-2012 show titles.  Because to a WT fan, the shows can seem to blend into one dreamtime sort of memory; and dreams can be downright quirky. Plus, they’re real to you when you’re in the middle of them.

Hence:  A dead guy’s wonderful life and shoes, sings the usual understudy of Tuna.

A theatre critic I’m not. I’m an ordinary writer, who knows one simple truth about theatre — William Shakespeare was right, after all.  It bothers me not one whit, to toss off, loudly and often, that now- considered- cliché-nugget- of-wisdom: “All the world’s a stage; and all the men and women merely players.”

How do I know?

Playing at Williamston Theatre in Williamston MI March 22-April 22

Take this season’s lineup in the WT wonderland:

The Dead Guy; This Wonderful Life; Dead Man’s Shoes; The Usual – A Musical Love Story; The Understudy; Red, White and Tuna

Not only does production at WT involve a small crew of actors who get to be on stage playing several characters, but also, we in the audience get to vicariously “play” these roles in our minds – up close and personal – as if we were on stage ourselves.

I hadn’t frequented the professional theatre scene, so it took me awhile to become accustomed to WT coziness.  Feeling this sense of participation within the story was a new phenomenon to me.

Often, I’m mind boggled—yet, never surprised — by what they creatively craft and choreograph in that space.  Then, when I visit a huge auditorium production, I turn back into the observer mode – distancing myself from the performers on stage.

The joy of discovery is realizing that you like that connection of sharing the story with the actors, which the WT venue offers.  Although, during that wild, raucous western Dead Man’s Shoes,  my husband found himself  holding his knees very still, down there front-row-center, when actor Paul Hopper slid dying down the theatre pole next to his seat.

You may go to the Williamston Theatre website home page for a season overview, and there find the Shows column with play notes and production info, as well as links for the various theatre critics’ reviews. But, here’s my take, so far.

The Dead Guy by Eric Coble, a spoof on reality TV shows, was over-the-top in spoof. I loved the ingenious tech set. The actors were great: Eric Ellersen, Chris Korte, Robin Lewis-Bedz, Ian Page, Chris Purchis (WT Managing Director); Michelle Serje.  The bizarre twist at the end in this play (directed by Tony Caselli, WT Artistic Director) – as in “does America have the stomach for this much reality?” – left us walking out of the theatre, about how I remember walking out of the movie No Country for Old Men. Shuddering.  Obviously, it hit its intended mark.

This Wonderful Life by Steve Murray emerged in the season line-up for an encore run. I couldn’t have been happier, as I knew – when enjoying WT Director John Lepard’s one-man telling of the movie classic, It’s a Wonderful Life (Christmas 2009) – that the theatre had a gem of a classic in this retelling.

Of course, I had to retell about the retelling: John Lepard’s ‘wonderful life’ resumes: The actor energizes Williamston Theatre stage in encore performance of a magical Christmas classic I love that George Bailey. I love the magic of that story.  I love it that America has embraced it as a Christmas classic.

Dead Man’s Shoes by Joseph Zettelmaier  (Directed by David Wolber of Performance Network Theatre) premiered at WT this winter (through Feb. 26).  As we often do, we attended the first night’s performance and figured Zettelmaier had another award-winning hit with this show. We’d seen his other WT plays ­­ — And the Creek Don’t Rise, It Came From Mars, Flyover, USA: Voices from Men of the Midwest. So we were prepared for another unique theatre experience.

Playing at Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI March 8-April 8

The tale of outlaw Injun Bill Picote and his sidekick, Froggy, in 1880s Old West was some kind of tale. Only, it seems this tale was spun from a dark footnote of history – a grisly footnote about a dead man’s shoes. You have to see it to believe it (and by all means, read the reviews). And then, there’s the moody folk song: The Ballad of Injun Bill.  The haunting music follows you long after you leave the performance.

The reviews have been great; I’m glad to see that Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor will be carrying on Dead Man’s Shoes March 8-April 8, 2012. Cast: Aral Gribble (Froggy), Paul Hopper and Maggie Meyer (playing several roles), Drew Parker as Injun Bill.

Williamston Theatre and Performance Network Theatre are part of the Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance (META) of seven top regional Michigan professional theatres. The others are: Detroit Repertory Theatre, Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Meadowbrook Theatre, Plowshares Theatre Company and Tipping Point Theatre. You may sign up for emails, and catch up with all the plays on the META Facebook page.

With spring around the corner, WT fans look forward to Tony Caselli directing  actors Leslie Hull, Emily Sutton-Smith (WT Development Director) in another  world premiere.  The Usual, A Musical Love Story by Alan Gordon and Mark Sutton-Smith, runs March 22-April 22, 2012.

Program note description: “Take one lonely guy; add a shot of lonely girl and dash of spunky bartender, blend and serve!  Two strangers, each unhappy with their love lives, have a chance encounter in a bar where ‘the usual’ isn’t usual at all. Join Kip, Valerie and Sam as they navigate the treacherous waters of dating, romance and relationships. This modern musical journey through love and life will keep you coming back for more.”

You can follow the show’s progress via the blog Tony Caselli — Director, plus find the list of the 2012-2013 season selected shows. Here’s Caselli, in his own words about The Usual: This world premiere will be a lot of fun! Dating, romance, finding your place in the world, singing, dancing, computer games from the 80’s – and it takes place in a bar – I can’t wait!”

Caselli can’t wait for baseball season to start up, either. He’s passionate about baseball, but also is directing Ernie the Play in May/June/July 2012.

Playing at Williamston Theatre in Williamston MI May 17-June 17

Says Caselli: “In the spring of 2011 I directed the World Premiere of this new play, by Mitch Albom, all about legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell. It was wonderful to work on. It was also a huge hit with audiences, so it’s coming back and I’ll be directing the encore presentation in the spring of 2012!” Check it out at www.ernietheplay.com

May 17-Jun 17, 2012 brings Caselli back to WT – only this time as an actor – in The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Rob Roznowski, the play invites you to “take a trip behind the scenes as a trio of theatre professionals struggle to balance ego, art and commerce in this biting, thoughtful comedy that highlights the ridiculous and fleeting nature of fame.”

Caselli is joined by Michelle Held and Drew Parker (notorious outlaw Injun Bill Picote of Dead Man’s Shoes).

Playing at Williamston Theatre in Williamston MI July 12-August 19

Capping off the 2011-2012 season (July 12-August 19): Red, White and Tuna by Jason Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Cast: “The hilarious team of Aral Gribble and Wayne David Parker take us back to Tuna, Texas for the 4th of July Tuna High School Class Reunion, portraying the entire population of the town in this outrageous quick-change comedy!”

Williamston Theatre Executive Director John Lepard directs this show. Lepard is one of the founding members of the theatre, along with Tony Caselli, Chris Purchis and Emily Sutton-Smith.  The foursome opened Williamston Theatre in 2006.

The recently announced   WT  2012-2013 schedule of performances  begins Sept. 20-Oct.21 with Boom  by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb; Ebenezer  by Joe Zettelmaier (A World Premiere Nov. 15-Dec. 23); End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer (Jan. 24-Feb. 24, 2013); Shirley Valentine  by Willy Russell (March 21-April 21, 2013); 10:53  by Annie Martin (May 16-June 16, 2013); Tuna Does Vegas (July 11-August 18, 2013).

Hmmm… do  I detect some sort of apocalyptic thread embedded in it? Well, stay tuned.  If theatre is life and life is theatre, if all the world’s a stage and we are the players (or are they the players?), if life is art and art is life…

Then, we all have our exits and our entrances, and all of us in our time, play many parts. The performances at Williamston Theatre, and the stories told… the many exits and entrances… remind us, and mirror those of all of us. And that’s the treasure of this theatre community.


About Susan Parcheta 101 Articles
Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.