You hear about supporting small businesses in Detroit, new and old. But how about supporting the area’s playwrights, directors and actors?
It’s an interesting idea that director Sara Catheryn Wolf threw out there for discussion when we were talking about the new play she’s helping create called “Good Men and True,” which opens March 6 at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant.
If we support Small Business Saturday, the “Shop Small” or “Shop Local” movements and the like, then there is something to be said for supporting local theaters. They’re small businesses, after all. And they’re run by independent contractors of every kind – they have to create their own marketing, advertising and pretty much everything else that comes with running a business.
Local playwrights, local actors and local theaters are doing things that are new and fascinating, Wolf said. And they need local support in terms of us audiences filling the seats to ensure their collective future. Without us applauding their efforts literally and figuratively, there is no theater in Detroit, Hamtramck or elsewhere.
“It’s such a thrill to thumb my nose at the idea that the only good, worthwhile things are coming out of New York. When we do something like this, it’s powerful. It’s not only as someone who is putting this piece together, but it’s about putting this together as part of the theater community here,” Wolf said.
Wolf is proud of those Michigan actors who have made it big on Broadway, New York and beyond. Of course she is. But she’s one of the many talented folks who chose to work day in and day out in the Detroit region, putting on plays time and again. Creating shows that delight and inspire. And they’re talking it up with little help from the larger world, getting the work and getting it out there as best they can as a collective group.
“We chose to stay and to create a vibrant artistic community. There are so many little theaters like (Planet Ant) – we’re tough as nails and put out good work. That feels very Detroit to me. You can knock us down but you can’t keep us down. And we get stronger every time. … Our theater community very connected and we have so much talent.”
To that end, Wolf is rightly proud of the work she’s doing with Planet Ant on its newest effort, “Good Men and True.” The play, which explores gender, identity and language through three of Shakespeare’s most memorable female characters, continues through March 28 with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.; there also are 2 p.m. Sunday matinees March 15 and 22.
As a seasoned actress and Shakespeare aficionado, Wolf appreciates the mashup of three beloved plays by local playwrights Marty Shea and Ian Bonner. The all-local production features Wolf from St. Clair Shores, Jaclynn Cherry (Rochester Hills), DeAnnah Kleitz-Singleton (Hamtramck), Kez Settle (Detroit), and Jackie Strez (Dearborn) with stage management by Nicholas Pobutsky (Detroit).
Background on the plot: A violent tempest rages while occupants of a storm-weary boat debate their forthcoming fate. When a member of the crew suggests that a woman hiding aboard has angered King Neptune, causing him to create such a storm, the passengers begin to question each other, themselves and the roles they play in society.
Background on Planet Ant: The Hamtramck theater is a non-profit professional theatre founded on “the principle of artistic freedom and experimentation, leading to the growth of community, artistic fulfillment and success,” organizers said. It also is home to Metro Detroit’s longest-running improv comedy show as well as some of the area’s best scripted productions.
Having such a rich work to direct is thrilling for Wolf, and she hopes audiences will feel the same way about “Good Men and True.”
“There’s nothing more natural to a human being than iambic pentameter – it’s your heartbeat. It hits you – it’s where are those feelings come from,” Wolf said.
And if you think Shakespeare isn’t relatable…Well, you’re not thinking about it in the right way. Hamlet may be a prince, but he’s also a messed up guy like the rest of us.
“You may not be a prince, but you can relate to having lost a parent, or a hasty remarriage by a stepparent that you do not get along with or a broken relationship. You can relate to what the core of what these characters goes through. Their status might be higher but not their problems or what they do through,” Wolf said.
The play aims to be a treat for those who love Shakespeare and yet completely accessible to those who are new to the Bard, Shea said.
“Between Ian and me, Ian is much more versed in Shakespeare. Although I certainly am familiar with a lot of the plays, I tried to take the role of the outsider and say what will the average person going to get out of this scene. And in each point of the play, there’s a basic human story going on. There’s a conflict and it’s something simple and accessible form there we can swirl in all of the references, language and plot twists that Shakespeare is known for as a great storyteller.”
Having such a place to tell such a story is important for Detroit, Hamtramck and beyond for a bevy of reasons, Shea added. One of the most important is that people who are creative, who start businesses, who love urban life want a variety of entertainment options. Without places like Planet Ant, these folks might get bored and look elsewhere.
“People underestimate how important it is to have great culture here. If you’ve brought your great intellect and your business here, you want there to be cool stuff to see and do,” Shea said.
For Wolf, “The Merchant of Venice” is one of the most intriguing plays because it has Shylock, a man she considers to be one of Shakespeare’s most well-rounded characters.
“‘Merchant’ deals with heroes who are not necessarily good people. In a way that’s what makes it interesting – it’s in the sense of the time that it was written, the fact that you’re meant to side with Shylock. He has the most beautiful speeches. Yet the people who win are highly flawed and cruel people,” Wolf said. “Having played Portia long ago, I had to wrestle with those ideas and concepts. You know who Shylock is… he is the most complete. But you don’t know who Portia is. … It tweaks your interest and makes you thirst for more.”
The performance schedule for “Good Men And True” is as follows:
Tickets are $20 unless otherwise noted.
2357 Caniff Ave, Hamtramck, MI 48212
Friday, March 6 @ 8 p.m. (Opening weekend tickets: $10)
Saturday, March 7 @ 8 p.m. (Opening weekend tickets: $10)
Friday, March 13 @ 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 14 @ 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 15 @ 2:00p.m.
Friday, March 20 @ 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 21 @ 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 22 @ 2 p.m.
Friday, March 27 @ 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 28 @ 8 p.m.