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Civic's 'Museum' Offers Fund In An Unfunny Space

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Civic's 'Museum' offers fun in an unfunny space



Tina Howe’s “Museum” is fun, short, occasionally fluffy and occasionally wicked — in short, ideal light summer entertainment. The Ann Arbor Civic Theater ebulliently and deftly romps through the show with proper aplomb and panache (that latter word will provoke a hearty chuckle after you’ve seen the show), in no small part due to Frances Martone’s careful pacing and direction.

There’s just one small problem: This dandy light summer entertainment in being performed in the worst barn of a performance space in town.

“Museum” depicts the last day in an exhibit by a trio of young artists, titled “The Broken Silence.” The gallery is besieged by a full complement of fans, flakes, wealthy patrons, stuffed shirts, nerds, people who “love" the artist’s work but can’t get his name straight, and a few folks who stumble in to make fun of the show.

Working hard against the efforts of the cast (many of whom play at least two roles) is Ann Arbor Civic’s Main Street Stage. An oblong room with silo-like acoustics, it has disadvantages that would make even a silo preferable. It is an ordeal in cacophony when several members of the cast start to shriek (as the show occasionally requires) , but quiet dialogue is lost in the sound of the squeakiest floorboards installed this side of the year 1900.

The show begins with a news announcement that a man fired 18 shots into Botticelli’s “Venus,” ending with the deadpan observation that “it is believed to be the most violent attack ever against a Renaissance painting.” One character observes “there’s something so alienating about shooting a painting,” and we’re off.

The constant in the parade of loons which follows is The Guard (Isaac-Jacobein Campbell), prepared to be as officious as necessary to stem even the most determined onslaught of the curious. He has no defense against what actually turns up.

There is a pair of women who begin discussing fabrics, while a married couple in his and hers leisure suits play guide tapes through their personal stereos. Meanwhile, three “Lavern and Shirley” types confront the four identical white paintings along one wall and argue derisively over which one is the best, while two other women hold the same discussion - quite seriously - over which painting would go in which room of their homes.

A large, bearded man is led around the exhibit, only to settle in front of a bunch of dummies hung on a clothesline and murmur “cloth and rope . . . highly erotic” over and over. And one woman who claims to be a friend of one of the artists walks around stroking and kissing the bone and animal fur sculptures.

Eschewing the traditional machinery of entrance and exit, most of the cues require one segment of the floor’s conversation to rise up and naturally obscure another. This, plus the cast’s multiple roles, makes it very hard to pick standouts.

Essentially plotless, “Museum” functions very well as a comprehensive, though disjointed, though entertaining, tour of the complete gallery of the modern art fancier. Although some of the characterizations are pure cliche and some arcane, the writing and the performances leave a great aftertaste. If only they had a decent theater to perform it in.


Ann Arbor Civic Theater's Main Street Productions presents a play by Tina Howe.

Frances Martone, director; Lynn M. Knoedler, assistant director; Thomas Martone, set and graphic design; Peter Greenquist, sound recording; Faith Duede, lighting design; Eugene S. Mercario, sound technician; Angie Smith, light board operator.

Cast includes Isaac-Jacobein Campbell. Jeffery Pickell, Aydin M. Bengisu, Lisa Hicks, Sara Gibb, Rebecca Smouse. Theresa Traverse, Wendy Wright, Melissa Green, Ann R. Burns, Lynn M. Knoedler, Richard J. Rutledge, Kim Mackenzie, Anne Walker, Stephen D. Pollack, Paul Vender Roest, Alex Krueger, Frances Martone.

Performances continue at the Main Street Stage. 338 S. Main St., tonight and Saturday, with additional performances July 17-19 and 24-26. All shows at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5. Call 662-7282 for information.