Dearborn talent takes center stage

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Courtney Zimmer (left) as Jill, Katie Terpstra as Megan, Lisa Lauren Smith as Haley and Lulu Dahl as Cheryl presented Maddee Sommers’ “Mean Girls” at Stout Middle School Feb. 3 to share its anti-bullying message along with coping strategies. The program is sponsored by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s Youth Education Services.

Dearborn youth will take center stage in the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy’s presentation of the Webber and Rice musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

The musical, which runs Feb. 23 to 26, features Dearborn residents Falon Simpson of Ladywood High School as Mrs. Pontiphar, Michael Suchyta of U of D Jesuit as Pharaoh and Natalie Diehl of Mercy High School as one of the wives. Zachary Barnes of U of D Jesuit, a resident of the west side Warrendale neighborhood of Detroit, plays Gad, one of Joseph’s brothers.

The youth chorus features Dearborn residents Amy Golembiewski, Maddie Kaplan and Jack Lopez.

The show is directed by Divine Child High School alumna and active Players Guild of Dearborn member Nancy Donovan Valentini, a Livonia resident.

The musical will be performed at the Thurston High School Auditorium, 26255 Schoolcraft Road in Redford.

Tickets are $13 in advance, and $15 at the door. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee.

To order tickets, call 313-862-5400, Ext. 2673, or go to

Dearborn actress Kirsten Knisely shines in the side-splitting satirical comedy “Burn the Red Banner: Or, Let the Rebels Have Their Fun” by Michigan playwright Franco Vitella at the Abreact Performance Space at 1301 W. Lafayette in Detroit.

The show is a rapid-paced, physical comedy with a Cold War twist that also features the talents of Steve Xander Carson of Detroit, Jonathan Davidson of Ferndale and Keith Kalinowski of Ann Arbor.

The show is directed by the talented Frannie Shepherd-Bates, who is also the artistic director of the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company. The performance runs without intermission and contains about 45 fast-paced scenes, which mix the physical and satirical comedy of shows like “Saturday Night Live” with Soviet bloc cold war fatalistic satirical humor.

The talented ensemble brings the show to life, and will have you grinning and laughing throughout the show. It’s one of those things that you just have to experience to appreciate, because you are up close to the actors in the small performance space where much of the laughter is generated by their physical antics, expressiveness and company chemistry.

Imagine a suicidal man interrupted by a persistent plumber, or a comrade bartering for toilet paper in a dry goods store. Another scene features a stubborn man trying to stare down a cat, followed shortly by a pair of cosmonauts mimicking the G-forces of a space launch. The humor is visual and dark, but not too serious – the Soviets are fatalists but not to the point of extinction.

Chekhov is an odd but endearing reoccurring theme – substitute Masha for the Brady Bunch’s Marcia and you get the idea of just one of the many threads they tug to tickle your funny bone.

The cast uses flexible wooden cubes (like giant building blocks) and a side table of props to move rapidly from one scene to another, adding hats and scarves and the occasional odd items, noises and lighting.

Clever sound efforts add to the imagination the actors so ably employ.

The comedy is both sophisticated and down to earth; it moves quickly, and relies on wit as much as physicality. It is very funny, and it is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Two cast cats also move randomly throughout the audience, oblivious to the noise on stage and amenable to petting, so if you are allergic to cats be forewarned. They are friendly, though: one rubbed up against my pant legs enough to make my own cat smell enough of a foreign feline on me to make her act as though I had been cheating on her.

The remaining performances of “Raise the Red Banner” are at 8 p.m. on Feb. 17, 18, 24 and 25, with a 4 p.m. Feb. 19 matinee.

The Abreact Performance Space’s mission is to be a platform for up and coming Detroit area actors, directors and designers, and offers “an off-Broadway approach to contemporary theater.”

For more information, call 313-454-1542 or visit

The Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s Youth Education Services brought Maddie Sommers’ one-act play “Mean Girls” and its anti-bullying message to Stout Middle School on Feb. 3, capturing the attention of its middle school female audience. The play is both different and unrelated to the popular movie by the same name.

The male middle school students say a performance of “Word” with a similar bullying theme in the school gym.

Dearborn’s Bryant Middle School is scheduled for performances in early April.

Director Harold Jurkiewicz said that today cyber bullying is an even bigger threat than physical bullying for girls. He explained that a talk-back session after the show with the students and the staff help middle school students identify manipulative and hurtful behavior and how to cope with it and stop it.

The talented cast includes Katie Terpstra of Zeeland as Megan, a queen bee; Courtney Zimmer of Orchard Lake as Jill and Lulu Dahl of Detroit as Cheryl, bystanders and victims; and Lisa Lauren Smith of Detroit as Haley, who plays the banker or secret-keeper.

The four young women in the ensemble, who are all in their early to mid 20s, convincingly portray teen girls with their physical energy, strong grasp of teen idiom and inflection, and their personification of teen impatience, insecurity and the pressure to please one’s peers.

Jurkiewicz said that in the past some audience members found the cast so believable they had difficulty recognizing that the women were really actors playing roles.

He added that the feedback session after “Mean Girls” not only identifies the bully-behaviors for its middle school audiences, it gives the students recognition tools and verbal coping mechanisms.

For more information about the JET’s youth education services, contact outreach coordinator Mary Davis at 248-788-2900 or at, or go to