‘First Things First’ fills Players Guild with laughter; Hilberry hosts Michigan premier of ‘Detroit’

Lindel Salow (right) of Dearborn as Pete suddenly finds himself with two wives – the first of whom he thought had died – in the comedy “First Things First” at the Players Guild of Dearborn. Andrea Hoglen (left) of Plymouth plays Sarah, his second wife, while Kathleen McClaine of Detroit plays Jessica, his first wife.

From a British comedy to a Pulitzer prize-finalist drama, the Players Guild of Dearborn and Hilberry theaters launched the new year with some top-notch stage shows.

The Players Guild of Dearborn starts the new year with the Derek Benfield comedy, “First Things First.” Set in a London suburb, the story centers on the chaos that occurs when a man’s first wife, thought dead, returns to find her husband remarried and anxious to keep the information from his current wife.

The show continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 313-561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

Directed by Jeff Bartos, the play is entertaining and plausible enough to make us glad we are not in the characters’ shoes.

Leading the cast is veteran actor Lindel Salow as Pete, the doubly troubled husband with a current shrew of a mother-in-law. Paired with Matt Ripper as George, his twice-best man, the two have some of the funniest lines.

Andrea Hoglen is very likable as Sarah, Pete’s confused second wife. Newcomer Kathleen McClaine is outstanding as Jessica, Pete’s prodigal first wife. One hopes to see more of her at the Guild.

Rounding out the strong cast is Ross Grossman as Alan, a Frenchman, and Margaret Kinnell as Pete’s mother-in-law Margot.

Kirk Haas’ set design is superb for its sightlines and aesthetics, creating an elegant yet understated look in the living room set.

Shari Mayne’s costumes are simple yet elegant, and flattering to all the actors, especial the two wives.

The Hilberry Theatre opened the new year with the Michigan premiere of “Detroit,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist play by Lisa D’Amour. The show runs through April 5 in rotating repertory. For dates and show times, call 313-577-2972 or go to www.hilberry.com.

Set in the first ring of residential homes on the outskirts of downtown Detroit, the story unfolds as Ben and Mary invite their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny, to a backyard barbecue. As the couples get to know each other, we begin to see the stressors affecting their lives: under- and unemployment, personal shortcomings and relationship weaknesses.

The very talented cast includes Joe Plambeck as Ben, Vanessa Sawson as Mary, David Sterritt as Kenny and Danielle Cochrane as Sharon, with Edmund Alyn Jones making a cameo appearance as Frank.

The actors bring their characters to life so realistically you almost feel like you are eavesdropping on private conversations. As the rough edges of their personalities emerge, one begins to wonder which of the characters’ positive and negative personality traits will exert the most influence on the story’s outcome.

Kudos to Cochrane for the high level of energy she maintains in her portrayal of Sharon. Sawson, a third-year company member, continues to show why she is an audience favorite with her strong, believable performance and the wide range of emotions she so ably conveys. Plambeck and Sterritt capably create flawed yet sympathetic characters as well.

The technical design shines as well. Pegi Marshall-Amundsen’s scenic design incorporates a backdrop of “ruin porn” – monochromatic silhouettes of Detroit’s most recognizable urban decay. The actual set – a pair of backyards and single-family homes that take on a life of their own – are so remarkable that to reveal the vital role they play in the show would be a plot spoiler.

Samuel Byers’ sound design captures neighborhood nuances so well you initially wonder why you hear children’s voices in the theater, and whether the distant wail of sirens is real or recreated.

Heather DeFauw capably meets the show’s lighting design challenges, which, like the set design, would be a plot spoiler to reveal.

While you may not love the characters or even the storyline, the show’s production values are top-notch, from the superb acting to the strong technical design and execution. It mirrors our times and city, and if it makes audiences uncomfortable or makes them think, then it has achieved its goal.

Wayne State University presents “From the Mississippi Delta” at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday in the Studio Theatre, in the lower level of the Hilberry Theatre.

Winner of the Drama-Logue Theatre Award for playwriting, it tells of the courage of women during the Civil Rights Movement through storytelling and live music.
For more information, call 313-577-2972 or go to www.wsustudio.com.

Several Dearborn and Dearborn Heights high schools have announced their spring musicals.

Divine Child will do “Bye, Bye, Birdie” March 14 to 17, with Dearborn High School following March 21 to 24 with “Beauty and the Beast.”

Dearborn Edsel Ford High School will present “Babes in Arms” April 18 to 20, with Dearborn Heights Crestwood High School following April 26 to 27 and May 2 to 4 with “Hairspray.”

Auditions for PS Center Stage Players’ production of “The Cemetery Club” will take place Jan. 20 to 22 at First United Methodist Church, 72 Oak St. in Wyandotte. Call 734-285-8107 for an audition appointment. There are roles for four women and one man. For more information about the show, which runs April 18, 19, 25 and 26 go to www.pscsp.com.