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'Richest Dead Man Alive' brims with Grottesco specialties

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'Richest Dead Man Alive' brims with Grottesco specialties



Let’s hear it for missed connections.

Last night’s performance of Theater Grottesco’s “The Richest Dead Man Alive" was hardly crippled by the fact that the play’s entire cast of 15, the sets and costumes were stranded at O’Hare Airport. The company’s plucky stagehands made it to town and decided to go, as they say, on with the show.

The four “stagehands” (really John Flax, Paul Herwig, Malcolm Tulip and Elizabeth Wiseman) jumped in with glee. Grottesco’s latest offering in its series of farcical looks at American life is a non-stop sensory pinball machine that pops and zings but never tilts.

“Dead Man” uses just about every theatrical trick in the book — all four actors are highly trained in circus work, mask work, mime, Greek tragedy, bouffon and commedia dell’arte. But this play paints its characters with a much broader, spoof-colored brush. Eyes roll, arms flail, walks and runs tell much about inner life. And every step, fast or slow, adds to a journey brimming with high mirth and intelligence.

“Dead Man’s” plot is simple. William Walden dies. His wife Marge gets the insurance check. When fresh flowers, to which he is extremely allergic, are put on his coffin, William sneezes himself back to life. Marge makes William feign death (to the point of being buried alive) in order to keep the money. She digs him up, he kicks it again. He revives, and so begins a tale of deepest, darkest insurance fraud.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about a Grottesco show is that the actors’ processes are so clearly on view. Their productions are collectively written and staged; each scene — and there are many — is a tightly crafted whole. Often, we sense the immediacy of the moment, that the actor is continuing to explore before us; we can share in the discovery and that makes thrilling, satisfying theater, theater that mirrors life.

You can’t talk about Theater Grottesco without mentioning the movement; the stage buzzes non-stop, with hurtling actors, flying props, magic tricks and — even when things are calm — with the energy that pours freely from actors who know and use their power.

True, there are moments that don’t work as well as others, some few seconds of confusion and puzzlement, but for sheer entertainment, cultural enlightenment and the ecstasy of seeing something new and different, you can’t beat this troupe.


Theater Grottesco presents The Richest Dead Man Alive' tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 ($6 for students and seniors.) Any Ann Arbor Public Schools student pays $2. if accompanied by a paying adult. The Performance Network is located at 408 W. Washington St For reservations call 663-0681.