Our Current 2018-2019 Season:

Our Current 2018-2019 Season:

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Keeping It Gay: Director Michael Smith Leads “Bees”

Cast and crew of As Bees in Honey Drown, with director Michael Smith (front row, second from left)

In your typical romantic comedy, the usual storyline is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and then realizing the error of his ways, boy regains girl just in time for a happy, sappy ending.  By contrast, As Bees In Honey Drown (coming to the Farmington Players February 8-23) is not your typical rom-com. As director Michael Smith explains, “It’s more boy tastes fame, boy gets screwed by fame, and boy accepts that fame is not what he really wants! It’s topical and will seem very current given the thirst Americans have for social media and twitter hits and Instagram followers. As one character says, ‘the new becomes old before we find a newer new.’”

As the director of Bees, Michael definitely relates to the play’s themes and characters: “This play includes several well-written gay characters which — as a gay man and a writer — I find particularly gratifying. The main character — Evan Wyler — is both a writer and gay, and is in a particular place in his development as a gay man that every gay man will recognize: the ‘sleep around’ phase. It happens to all of us. You come out, you accept who you are (at some level or another) and you play the field. Every gay man does it and, if they don’t, they will not develop properly in my view. It’s a required release of sorts. Most move on from there into healthy relationships.” 

When we first meet Evan, he has shelved his romantic side in favor of his art — his writing. Michael explains the importance of this: “When Evan finally tastes fame — the buzz, the hype — it seduces him. Fame in this case is played by Alexa, the femme fatale. So the gay man is seduced by a woman, then loses his identity completely. When he finds it again, he is changed and ready to accept who he is.”  In his own life, Michael can relate to Evan’s decisions “to a point. I’ve been with my husband Frank for 28 years, and embarked on a writing career about seven years ago. I did not put my relationship on hold — rather, I embraced and cherished it. … I chose my romantic life over my artistic life and I did so with zero regrets.”

In directing Bees, Michael focuses on character development, saying, “this script is incredibly well-written: funny, engaging and with multi-layered characters. It’s often easy for an actor to play the character on the surface — what he does, his emotions — but it takes a real actor to play that AND the subtext beneath it. Every character — every person — has subtext to what they do. … Douglass Carter Beane, the playwright, infused many of these characters with deep subtext. Fortunately, we have the actors to play them!”

“The single most gratifying thing about doing this show is knowing that I have a huge pool of screamingly talented people to help me. That is the benefit of working with the Farmington Players. You have a vision, you put the vision out there, and everyone embraces it and makes it happen. It’s a lot of work, but the finished product will be tremendous — and totally impossible to accomplish without everyone who helped!”

Michael grew up in ultra-conservative Midland, Michigan, which he calls “a great place to go to public school but you want to get the heck out of there once you graduate. It’s no place to be gay. I studied graphic design at Western Michigan, so I learned to be collaborative on projects early. It’s a skill that makes directing easier and much more rewarding.”  Seven years ago, he quit his design career to focus on writing: “I discovered that I have an affinity for it. I love creating anything, and forming characters, situations — even whole worlds — from nothing has been the greatest challenge of my life.”

As Bees in Honey Drown has three remaining performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 21 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Don’t Let Hosanna Phillips Con You: It’s Good to Be Bad

Hosanna Phillips as the conniving Alexa Vere de Vere
works her charms on writer Evan Wyler (Joshua Lisiecki)
PHOTO: Jan Cartwright
Alexa Vere de Vere is a flashy con artist.  She seduces her victims with the prospect of fame and fortune, or as she puts it, “the hum, the buzz, the hype, the flash, the fame”. One Variety reviewer called her “the absolutely fabulous whirlwind who blows through the delightful, pointed comedy As Bees in Honey Drown…. Alexa is a smart and very funny vivisection of the greed for fame, glamour and the good life (or at least a new life).”
In the Farmington Players production of Bees, Hosanna Phillips plays Alexa, who she describes as “a fantastic character because, whether you want to hate her, love her, or pity her by the end of the show, she will have made you think about something. As an artist, that is all you can really hope for in a character.” Hosanna loves playing an antagonist character and discovering the real person inside, saying, “Almost always, you will find that they started off as a victim of something (even if their victim status is only in their own mind). Any well-developed character is in some way a relatable human being, and I love to discover what it is about a character that drives them to be how they are.” For example, Alexa justifies conning artists because she can’t respect an art world that values its creators only once they’re dead.  
Hosanna loves Bee’s theme of “fame and fortune vs. substance and how our culture often places image over achievement. It makes you think about what really has value in life, and why it is that we place value on the things we do. Many times, what is mainstream is not what is meaningful, yet it is so easy to get sucked into [the hype]. This show has challenged me as an artist to examine the things that I invest my time and money on. … While fame is not intrinsically bad, chasing only the limelight will often leave you empty.”
The show also examines the question of “What Is Art”?  Hosanna asks, “What makes something art? Is art for the consumer, or the creator? Is art eternal, or fleeting? What is the value of art (monetarily, and otherwise)? As an artist myself, this theme is especially relevant. Many of Alexa’s negative points about the art world are sadly valid: the industry can chew up and spit out its creators. Artists and critics can be cut-throat, critical and back-stabbing. … On the other hand, art is expression, it can be beautiful and healing. When you have the true drive to create, there is nothing that compares... Artists and their work will continue to be valued subjectively, but the more we open our eyes, the more we will see.”
Hosanna grew up in West Michigan and recently moved here with her husband. She previously worked at Zeeland Christian school where she cultivated her passion for working with youth.  In addition to theater, her loves include her two toy dogs, and learning crafts such as the knitting loom.  As Bees in Honey Drown is Hosanna’s first Barn experience: “I have been grateful to meet more people in the area since I haven’t been living here long, and the whole cast and crew have been amazing to work with. I am grateful to be able to stretch and use my acting muscles after neglecting them for so long, and I have been blessed with a great group to do so with.” 
As Bees in Honey Drown has nine performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 8 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

For Josh Lisiecki, It All Comes Back to Love

Joshua Lisiecki as Evan Wyler is tempted by femme fatale Alexa Vere de Vere (Hosanna Phillips)
PHOTO: Jan Cartwright

As Bees in Honey Drown is not your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back love story.  And it’s not your typical teenager-to-adult coming-of-age story.  Come to think of it, Bees is not typical at all!  It’s a social satire that breaks the mold of traditional comedies, focusing on the price of fame and just how far people will go to achieve their own version of success.

In the Farmington Players production (February 8 – 23 at the Barn Theater), Joshua Lisiecki plays protagonist Eric Wollenstein, a writer whose pen name is Evan Wyler. Evan has just published his first big hit book, which took him nine years to write.  As Josh says, “Evan is very confident in his abilities and has a vision of what his life should look like. After meeting Alexa Vere de Vere, fame incarnate, he is swept into the life he always knew he deserved to have. Fame, money, and things on the surface seem to drive him. However, underneath this shell, everything seems to come back to love for Evan. As the film Before Sunrise sums it up: ‘Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?’"

Josh sees Bees as a “coming of age story for Evan: the transformation of an idealistic fresh-out-of-college ideal, to a realization of what truly matters in life. When we are just out of college we are hungry for success. You have a need to truly be the best, make the most money, and be financially successful.”  However, that drive to succeed sometimes runs smack into an existential crisis as young adults begin to wonder "why am I here and what is my purpose."   Josh answers the “purpose” question as follows:  “I think when it comes down to it, everything comes back to love. Whether it be finding love, sharing, or even just expressing love. There is something magical about love in a relationship, with family and friends, or in a religious environment. There is a purpose in love. It is love that keeps your smile going in good times and bad.”  Josh observes that Evan finally figures out what truly makes him happy: “It is the connection to others. That is a feeling we can all relate to and that is why I connect so strongly to him has a character.”

Josh knows that audiences will enjoy Bees “because it keeps you on your toes. This is a fast paced show, there are quite a few twists and turns throughout, and you get to see growth from multiple characters. I always feel that a good show gets the audience truly invested in its characters and As Bees in Honey Drown does just that.”

Josh grew up in Warren, Michigan and went to college near Boston at The College of the Holy Cross.  He works as a chemical engineer for Ford, and counts acting, board games, running, disc golf among his hobbies. He now lives in Ferndale with his love, Sarah Mertz, a fellow actor. This is Josh’s first experience at the Barn, and he finds his fellow cast members and crew to be “nothing short of amazing. People are so organized, care, and everyone really wants to put on a good show. This has been everything I hoped for and more. Director Mike Smith has been the director that I was waiting for. He came in with a vision and shared it with us day 1. He and A.D. Phil Hadley have been very flexible yet driven through this process. They come prepared and expect their actors to do the same, which is so hard to find. I cannot say how great they have made this experience for me as a first time Barn participant.” 

As Bees in Honey Drown has nine performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 8 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bonnie Fitch Ponders Price of Fame in Barn's "Bees"

Bonnie Fitch (far right) as one of her many crazy characters in "Bees"
PHOTO by Jan Cartwright
What is the price of fame?  In As Bees in Honey Drown, glamorous con artist Alexa Vere de Vere lures her many “marks” by appealing to their greed for fame, glamour and the good life.   But she does so with such flair and style, it’s hard to know whether to despise or admire her. 

In the Farmington Players production (February 8 – 23 at the Barn Theater), Bonnie Fitch plays several supporting roles, including two of Alexa’s victims, Denise and Illya:  Denise is Alexa’s new mark.  Bonnie sees Denise as “a bit naive and totally enthralled by Alexa’s charismatic tales of fame and fortune that she promises for Denise.”  Illya is one of Alexa’s former marks, who is “quite a successful dancer and has Alexa to thank for it even though she was ‘taken’ by Alexa.” Bonnie thinks Bees is about “the absurdity of Hollywood and the ‘price’, literally, people will pay for the chance at stardom.  The funny thing is, that in real life, we all strive in our careers or life for a chance to be recognized or accomplished.  And perhaps we all need a little ‘Alexa’ in our lives.” 

Bonnie describes her other characters: Waiter who is “very interested in the conversation at the table she is waiting on;” Backup Singer whose character is “fun to play in a wacky classic rock and roll costume;” Carla, a producer or agent type who “knows of Alexa’s reputation as a con artist, but knows her marks usually have successful careers after falling for Alexa’s shenanigans;” Newsstand Woman, who is “quite bothered by having to actually look for a magazine for Evan;” and Muse, who is “a variation of Alexa conning her marks.”

With so many roles to play, Bonnie relies on costumes, wigs, and different voices and mannerisms to develop her different characters.  As she says, “I have played multiple roles before in other shows, but this show is one of the more difficult I have played, especially Illya.  Her dialogue is not conversational and she isn’t really reacting to others on stage with her.  It is as if she is part of a ‘Greek Chorus’.”  Bonnie considers Bees “a sophisticated comedy that is a little different than your usual run of the mill comedy.  The audience is in for quite a treat if we do it right.  The con artist sets up a successful con upon a new mark like she has done many times before.  But this time the ‘conned’ writer tries to get back at her.  And the old adage ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’ comes to light.”

Bonnie grew up in Southfield, and now works as a municipal city attorney for the City of Southfield.  As Bees in Honey Drown has nine performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 8 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Multi-Faceted Kimme Suchyta Sparkles in Bees

You talkin' to me?  Kimme Suchyta (far left) plays multiple roles in this crazy cast of characters.
PHOTO by Jan Cartwright

In the fast-paced caper As Bees in Honey Drown, modern society’s thirst for fame is in the spotlight.  As a reviewer of the original 1997 Off-Broadway production wrote in Variety, Bees is a “smart and very funny vivisection of the greed for fame, glamour and the good life (or at least a new life)…. [The] ultramodern morality tale charts the rise and fall of first-time novelist Evan Wyler, the literary world’s latest up-and-comer,” who gets duped by the glamorous Alexa Vere de Vere.  Alexa promises to make him famous if he’ll write her life story, and whisks him away to observe her outrageous lifestyle. But when Evan realizes that he’s been had, he rounds up Alexa’s many victims to execute the ultimate revenge.

In the Farmington Players production (February 8 – 23 at the Barn Theater), Kimme Suchyta plays five distinct characters, including Amber, Secretary, Bethany Vance, Ginny, and a singer.  Kimme believes that “only 10% of communication is verbal, and the same can be said for acting.” She distinguishes her characters in a number of ways: “from the way you walk on stage, carry yourself, to speaking your lines. My favorite character is the spacey, air-headed, ditzy 'dancer,' Amber in the very first scene, which sets the tone for the entire show.”

Kimme describes her Secretary character as “the patriarchal southern-transplanted secretary and right hand woman of the high-powered executive Morris Kaden. The Secretary delivers the difficult news to Evan Wyler about his financial misfortune brought on by Alexa.”

Kimme calls Bethany Vance “a street-wise New Yorker; the most intense character I play in the show.  Bethany is alluded to be one Alexa's first marks and has a few interesting hobbies.”   Kimme also enjoys playing Ginny, “the innocent up and coming violinist,” and a back-up singer for “one of Alexa's (unknowing) marks, ready to party straight from London.”

Bees raises some interesting questions:  What is the price of distraction in modern society? How many scams could be prevented if people just paid more attention?  As Kimme observes, “plays are written to convey a story, enhance understanding and communicate themes to an audience. The theme I relate to is communication and its importance in life. Perhaps with more engaging listening and clear communication, individuals like Evan Wyler would be less common.”   Alexa takes advantage of her marks’ penchant for passive listening.  As Kimme says, “although Alexa is a gifted con-artist constantly spinning a new story to catch new prey in her web of lies, I believe a few of these discrepancies can be attributed to passively acknowledging and barely getting to know a person.”

Kimme says that being a part of this “unique production truly excited me.  Although not a traditional comedy, there is plenty to make you smile and even more to make you think about.”  Kimme is geologist who lives in downtown Detroit. She returns to the Barn stage after making her debut as a Laker Girl in Monty Python’s Spamalot.

As Bees in Honey Drown has nine performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from February 8 – 23.  The show is proudly sponsored by Ameritax Plus.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Shayla Curran Grows Through Motherhood Roles

Shayla Curran excels in dual roles.  Expectant mothers face different fears, whether birth mother (red-headed Lizzie) ...

... or adoptive mother Allie (with Jason Wilhoite as Kevin)
PHOTOS by Jim Kelly

If “necessity is the mother of invention,” then one actor inventing two very different mothers is a performance that needs to be seen. In Let Nothing You Dismay at the Farmington Players, (November 30 – December 15), Shayla Curran plays the dual roles of Allie, the adoptive mother, and Lizzie, the birth mother.  Shayla reflects on the challenges of playing these two opposite women:  “I realized that though they live very different lives, they would share similar fears about having a baby. Allie is a wife, a rocket scientist, has a high-achieving family, but unfortunately, can’t have children. Lizzie is young, poor, and got ‘knocked up by her Jet’s delivery man boyfriend.’ Adoption is very emotional for everyone involved; everyone feels some kind of fear. Is the birth mother going to change her mind? What if I wasn’t mean to be a parent? What if I regret giving this baby up? What if they don’t raise this baby the right way? Putting myself in the shoes of these two women, I wanted those different fears and emotions to tell them apart rather than their looks or lifestyles. It’s been challenging to flip between emotional mindsets rather than character traits, but it’s what makes them more relatable.” 

Growth is a major theme of Let Nothing You Dismay. Shayla observes, “Allie and Kevin are literally about to grow as a family while Lizzie and Leonard are about to grow emotionally as two people making a huge decision to give their baby up for adoption. Life is a road full of uncertainty, big decisions, and realizations that you might find from the most unexpected people.”  Shayla relates this to her own path to personal growth: “I see myself surrounded by my own set of kooky family members and friends that have stood by my side, even when I was being the biggest pain in the butt. Life will toss some hard situations at you, but you are never alone and growth is the doorway to happiness.” Shayla also equates leaping into her first-ever Farmington Players experience with her own growth as an actor: “Even though I’ve been involved in the theater community for most of my life, I actually had never set foot in the Barn before auditioning for this show. I was feeling an itch to try something new and meet people. I read the script and loved the challenge of playing multiple characters. I knew that this would be a fun opportunity to try something new.”  From the first day of auditions, Shayla knew she had made the right choice: “I remember being at auditions and thinking to myself ‘I’m having so much fun auditioning with these people, I could do this all day!’ I think that right there says it all.”

Even though Let Nothing You Dismay is not well known (the Barn is staging its Midwest premiere), Shayla knows that audiences will love this show as much as she does: “Let Nothing You Dismay is hilarious. It’s warm and fuzzy. It’s relatable. Everyone in the show has put so much thought into the characters and relationships that the audience is going to be able to relate to one or more situations and get a good laugh in.” 

Michigan born and raised, Shayla describes herself as an “outdoor, animal loving girl who also enjoys working and exploring in Detroit.”  She recently bought and renovated her first house and has performed in theater since she was 10 years old, first playing Woodstock in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

Let Nothing You Dismay has 3 remaining performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from December 13, 14, 15.  The show is proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Tristan Seaver Is Seriously Silly in Warm-Hearted Holiday Farce

Tristan Seaver plays three diverse roles:  DENNIS, the banker (with Kristi Schwartz as Tawny) ...

JERRY, a merry and gay old soul (with Shayla Curran as Allie) ...

... and RICH (upper right), the brow-beaten husband of Angie (in scrubs, played by Ansley Barnard)
PHOTOS by Jim Kelly

In Let Nothing You Dismay at the Farmington Players (November 30 – December 15), 10 actors play 25 characters in a fast-paced yet sophisticated farce centering on the birth of a child on Christmas Day.  As adoptive parents await their baby’s arrival, their entire extended families descend on the hospital.  The stakes are raised when the birth mother flees after having second thoughts about giving up her baby.  Amid constant costume changes and hilarious one-liners, the action is fast and furious. And yet, despite all the hilarity, the play’s messages about family and forgiveness are heartfelt and sincere.   As Tristan Seaver says, Let Nothing You Dismay is “the perfect mix of silly and serious.”
Tristan plays three very distinct characters and he enjoys the challenge in their “variety, their different backgrounds, manners of speaking, slouching, relationships, and world views. Each character has their own voice, posture, and hairstyle.”  Dennis is a thrice-divorced banker who only understands financial motivations.  Tristan calls him “a somewhat emotionally stunted individual. He does have feelings, desires, dreams, and goals, but he often can't express them well with other people, and he's gotten far too used to using money to fix his problems. It takes a little while for him to get into the swing of regular family interaction.”
Tim and Jerry are a gay married couple that arrive in ugly Christmas sweaters and matching Santa hats.  Tristan plays Jerry, who he describes as “a very interested observer. He's along for the ride and loves every minute he can be a part of it. Whether it's the hide-and-seek of finding the birth mother Lizzie, the relationship talk and distraction he has with adoptive mother Allie, or the bit of drinking he attempts with Tawny, he's mildly intoxicated with the whirlwind experience he's involved with.”
Rich is the browbeaten husband of Angie, a successful neurosurgeon.  Tristan imagines an inventive back-story for him:  “Rich has been beaten by life. With no stated accomplishments of his own, I assume that he's a househusband. He'd thought he'd gotten a winner with a Jewish wife that's intelligent, determined, and accomplished, but such a woman easily took the reins on his life and has never let go. He can't even control his kids, because they know that he doesn't have the final word in anything. He's similar to Jerry in that he's along for the ride, but he's a VERY unwilling participant.”
I asked Tristan if he can relate personally to the crazy families portrayed in Let Nothing You Dismay.  His response: “On several occasions I know for certain that I've ruined family meetings. Or at least made them far more interesting for all involved parties. But every time it happened I believe I was trying to follow through on the maxim of providing my family with what I decided they needed.”
Tristan was drawn to Let Nothing You Dismay because “it hit a lot of positives for me. I like doing community theater, I like meeting new people, I like farces, and I like playing multiple characters in the same show. This is my first show at the Barn, but everyone has been warm, welcoming, and wonderful.”  Tristan was born and raised in the Detroit area, and he recently returned from China.  He has worked as a teacher, missionary, line worker, and plastic factory worker, and currently drives for Lyft.  As for hobbies, he says, “When I'm not involved in theater, I enjoy other forms of pretending, like playing video games, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and weight lifting.”
Let Nothing You Dismay has 10 performances at the Farmington Players Barn Theater from November 30 – December 15.  The show is proudly sponsored by Weinstein Jewelers.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.