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“Corktown” (review) – Purple Rose, Chelsea MI January 30, 2011

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Entertainment, Theatre.
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Your enjoyment of “Corktown” at Purple Rose Theater will be directly related to your enjoyment of a) sharp, thoughtful dialogue, b) gangster stories with lots of blood, and c) suspension of belief in the “reality” of this storyline.

Michael Brian Ogden has written dialogue that snaps, crackles, pops, and sometimes just lets things sit still for a moment of contemplation. Things aren’t all what they seem, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you off-kilter throughout the second act.

There are some plausibility problems — a woman who is next-to-dead suddenly wakes and is talking and cracking jokes moments later…some of the Detroit references work well, others not so much (there is a lovely piece of dialogue from Tom Whalen extolling the virtues of the abandoned Detroit train station that has a haunting charm). The entire play feels like it belongs in New Jersey, not Detroit, although the recent tv-series Detroit 1-8-7 also takes these liberties with its scripts. The production feels overly long, and I might have removed the intermission and just allowed the piece to play out to its twisty conclusion.

Without giving away too much (except to say that I vacillated between both liking and not-liking this play throughout the afternoon) the story concerns a hitman (“but nobody calls them that anymore”) who falls in love with one of his not-quite-dead victims. This sets into motion the meyhem of the (very bloody) second act. Now, before you are scared away by the (let me say it again, very bloody) second act, it’s partly serious, it’s partly funny, and it’s always entertaining. Don’t let it turn you off. Unless you are extraordinarily squeamish, there isn’t much to worry about here.

Overall, it’s a very fine production with terrific direction by Guy Sanville, a great set by Bartley Bauer, and otherwise very solid production design across the board.

The cast is uniformly fine. Michael Brian Ogden (Laurence) has a dual-role as both the shows author as well as playing one of its characters. It’s the type of thing that he did before with Bleeding Red at Purple Rose a few seasons ago. Here he plays second banana to main protagonist Matthew David (Joey). Into this mix add PR regulars Stacie Hadgikosti (Jenny), Tom Whalen (Cobb) and trainees Jonathan Hunt Sell (Brian) and Nicholas LaGrassa (Christy). The set and props really become the seventh character in the show, so I must mention the horrendous task of cleaning it all up afterwards each night that befalls Stage Manager Stephanie Buck and her crew. Yuck.

There are some very funny touches throughout here — although at it’s core, it’s a off-kilter love story and drama. Ogden’s dialogue is particularly good when he involves friendly banter between Laurence and Joey. It’s those moments that the script comes to life more than others. Their dialogue sizzles alone, together, in overlaps, and in the unspoken moments. Bravo.

I left the theater feeling better about the piece than I did halfway through the first act, so stick this one out. And DO NOT give away the ending to your friends. But if you are the type who prefers light romantic comedy, you better sit this one out.

To Michael Brian Ogden: bring on more. Keep writing. I can’t wait to see your next piece. Invite me to your next new script reading!. You are a tremendous local talent that we are all be proud of.

(Photo courtesy Purple Rose Theater from Program cover)


1. Jenn McKee - January 30, 2011

I totally agree about vacillating throughout – but I also agree that I’m very much looking forward to seeing more from Brian. I was a fan of “Bleeding Red”…

2. ronannarbor - January 30, 2011

I liked Bleeding Red very much — which had better general audience appeal and I thought was much funnier, especially when referenced against a sports-crazy town like Ann Arbor…Looking forward to seeing what he writes next!

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