Arts & Culture » Stage

Acting out

In contemporary theater, there are few playwrights who really know how to mess with audiences’ minds by dramatizing touchy ideas. A couple of names that come up are Alan Ball, writer of the Academy Award-winning film American Beauty and creator of HBO’s Six Feet Under, and Craig Lucas, author of The Secret Lives of Dentists, whose work deals openly with deeply troubled relationships.

These are precisely the provocative theatrical sources tapped by young artistic co-directors Kate Binkow and Marc Paskin for their first venture into commercial theater: With seven cohorts — each of them 20-year-old students at the University of Michigan — they are opening this Sunday evening as Fat City Theatre Company. For Binkow, the group’s name means “lucrative, cutting edge, innovative,” and if that’s not enough, she adds “interesting and eye-catching.” Fat City hits the boards at Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House this Sunday with a collection of short plays called Eat Our Shorts.

There are two plays from Alan Ball, one called The M Word and the other Made for a Woman. The controversial playwright Neil LaBute’s contribution is Bench Seat. The collection also features Craig Lucas’ What I Meant Was, which deals with alternative sexuality, David Ives’s Time Flies and the perennially quixotic Christopher Durang’s The Hardy Boys and The Mystery of Where Babies Come From. Binkow says, “All the shows are funny and address social issues — dating, marriage, masculinity, femininity.”

But theater is more than the title on the marquee, so Fat City is looking to bring more to the audience. Paskin, Fat City’s other artistic co-director, believes that even if younger generations are growing less interested in live theater, the experience can be amped up for them. Fat City wants to create theater that’s accessible to everyone. Paskin says that, during the shows, the fourth wall — that invisible barrier between the audience and the actors — will be breached. In the small Kerrytown Concert House (about 50 seats), actors’ entrances and exits to and from the stage may occur through the seating area, and characters can intimately interact with the audience.

Paskin says that the company, founded earlier this year, is “run like a group theater where everyone gets heard.” The members of Fat City are involved with U-M Department of Theatre and Drama, but hail from such cities as Atlanta, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C. The troupe’s actors are also allowed to direct.

Upstarts like Fat City have been important to American theater, spawning playwrights (David Mamet, for one, a native Chicagoan whose early works drew heavily from his Midwestern sensibilities), important actors (John Malkovich and Gary Sinise from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company) and shows (including The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which began in regional venues and went on to Broadway). The stakes are high, but Fat City is aiming high. There may be a general decline in theater attendance lately, but Ann Arbor now supports two professional theater companies — Performance Network and the Blackbird Theatre — and, perhaps, after Sunday evening, a third.

 

Eat Our Shorts runs 8 p.m. Sunday-Monday, Jan. 15-16, at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-769-2999.

Michael H. Margolin writes about the performing arts because his brief career as a performer caused him (and others) major stage fright. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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