By Daniel Skora
Whenever I reminisce about the most memorable shows I’ve seen over the years, one from way back when Planet Ant was still young and finding its place in the theatrical universe comes readily to mind. It was a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”, a play that when done right and properly cast is a powerful piece of theatre.
Planet Ant’s presentation of the Edward Albee classic was certainly one to remember. Mark Rademacher played the part of George in what was an unforgettable performance. Sitting in the first row of the close quarters of the Planet’s intimate staging area, it was more like being a part of the show than merely a spectator. Rademacher prowled the stage in stunning dramatic form, often only a few feet away from the audience.
Early on, Planet Ant, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, made a serious commitment to comedy. During any given theatrical season, you’d be just as apt to find traditional stage plays mixed with shorter works that have their roots in improvisational comedy.
Their current season began with “Really Really”, a full-scale dramatic presentation about relationships among the younger set. “The Fall” was improv loosely pieced together in a plot about dating in the digital age. Their current presentation, “Annamals”, again goes to the sketch comedy well.
The plot for this Planet Ant original is farfetched and complicated and would do well to have the many places it goes called out in the program. The storyline goes something like this. A lonely girl in an orphanage finds a kind of ersatz friendship with the characters she draws in her pictures. One day, one of the pictures is brought to life by Anna, a young lady with seemingly magical powers. From there, the story gets bizarre and more than a little murky, moving at a madcap pace from the perilous streets of New York to the snow-capped ski-hills of California.
The cast of six plays a stream of quirky and unusual characters. There’s a storm trooper with the ability to quickly eliminate anyone with just a twist of their neck. A young woman anticipating her first acid trip surrounds herself with Jack Kerouac books. There are some running gags, like the hairy guy who bears a squeaky-thin resemblance to Paul Ryan. Exotic characters come and go, and if you lose continuity at any time during the show’s 50 or so fast-moving minutes, not to worry. The individual skits are really the only thing that matters.
The cast members are Tony Augusty, Jaclynn Cherry, Annelyse Miller, Maggie O’Reilly, Jim Rimmel, and Dan Tice. The performance that this review is based on was not an opening night, which is usually comprised of a very enthused audience of friends and well-wishers. But even during this second week of its run, there was a much enthused group of comedy fans who provided the show with a raucous laugh track and much applause. Without a doubt, Planet Ant has a fan base of hardcore followers who love nothing more than seeing their favorite performers in all manner of amusing situations. And the fact that Planet Ant allows the import of libations to its performances doesn’t hurt either. Though serious-minded theatre-goers may find it uncultivated to carry along a six-pack to a stage performance, they may find that, in some cases, it might actually help.
Shows such as “Annamals” take their creative inspiration from both cast and director, Dave Davies doing that honor here, and are excellent training grounds for young actors to develop their stage and comedic skills. The show runs through April 15th. Tickets are available online at www.planetant.com or in person at the theatre on the night of the performance based on availability. Planet Ant is located at 2357 Caniff in Hamtramck.