A reader recently told me that she reads all my reviews, but she can’t keep track of which company is which. For her and others, I’ve built this index of theater groups in the Ann Arbor area.
Ann Arbor Civic Theater: A community theater with a loooong history – we’re talking 80 years and counting, folks – that stages both musicals and straight plays at Washtenaw Community College and U-M (Mendelssohn and Arthur Miller Theaters). The fare ranges from classic to contemporary, but the really edgy stuff is generally more likely to show up in A2CT’s Studio Series of staged readings. Best production I’ve seen: “Cabaret.” www.a2ct.org.
Blackbird Theater: A professional, non-Equity theater in an unconventional space – children’s center by day, theater by night – that likes to take artistic risks and push the envelope. The company occasionally stages classics, but it also presents original works, edgy contemporary plays, and new spins on canonical fare (an original translation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” an all-female stage version of Wilde’s novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with an all-black cast, etc.). Not everything works, of course, but the fare is almost never boring. Best production I’ve seen: “The View from the Bridge.” www.blackbirdtheatre.org.
Eastern Michigan University’s theater program: OK, it’s not a company, per se, but EMU features students performing in plays and musicals – with one or two specifically geared to young people – each year. Impressively, the department recently staged both parts of Tony Kushner’s epic “Angels in America” in quick succession in repertory (the same actors in the same roles) — a feat not for the faint of heart. Best production I’ve seen: Director Gillian Eaton’s “Twelfth Night,” and “The Robber Bride” – though the recently staged “Reefer Madness” was awfully fun, too. www.emu.edu/emutheatre.
Encore Theatre: Michigan native and Broadway veteran Daniel Cooney founded this Dexter theater, which stages musicals in an intimate space and pairs highly-polished professionals, often from New York’s theater world, with talented local amateurs. Best production I’ve seen so far: “Little Shop of Horrors.” www.theencoretheatre.org.
P.T.D. Productions: P.T.D. stands for Petie the Dog, the Little Rascals’ canine mascot, and that’s fitting for this “let’s put on a show” amateur group. Around now for 15 years, the group offers a full season of straight plays at The Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti, and while the line-up usually has some classics, the group also often takes on some little-known contemporary titles that otherwise don’t get much play. Best production I’ve seen: “Present Laughter.” www.ptdproductions.com.
Performance Network: Ann Arbor’s acclaimed professional theater has been around for 27 years now, though its origins were quite modest. Founded in a warehouse space that had a pole in the middle of the stage, the company offered its stage for use by different local performance groups (hence the company name). Ten years ago, the company moved to its current space at 120 E. Huron St., and it consistently offers some of the best productions, from top to bottom, available in Southeast Michigan, using a mix of Equity and non-Equity talent. Best production I’ve seen: tough call, but among my favorites are “Amadeus,” “Dirty Blonde,” and “Summer and Smoke.” www.performancenetwork.org.