JET plays bring anti-bullying message to local students

Photo by Sue Suchyta. The Jewish Ensemble Theatre presents “Word,” one of three anti-bullying plays presented at schools across southeast Michigan, with Chris Jakob (left) of Detroit as Stanley, Michael Suchyta of Dearborn as Phil, and Katie Cassell of Woodhaven as Erica. For more information about JET's educational outreach, call 248-788-2900 or go to

Photo by Sue Suchyta. The Jewish Ensemble Theatre presents “Word,” one of three anti-bullying plays presented at schools across southeast Michigan, with Chris Jakob (left) of Detroit as Stanley, Michael Suchyta of Dearborn as Phil, and Katie Cassell of Woodhaven as Erica. For more information about JET’s educational outreach, call 248-788-2900 or go to


More than a half million students in southeast Michigan elementary, middle, and high schools have experienced the anti-bullying message of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s Youth Education Services since 1998 when they first took their shows on the road.

JET offers three traveling plays that build on the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support programs of many schools by reinforcing positive social behavior in children.

“I Was Just Kidding,” by Marshall Zweig, aimed at elementary students, tells the story of three friends whose words can wound, even if they are “just kidding.”

“Mean Girls,” by Maddee Sommers, targets upper elementary and middle school girls, and looks at girl bullies, cliques, and the cost of popularity.

“Word,” by David Anderson and Gabe Burnstein, takes an incident of bullying and examines it from three perspectives – the victim, the bully, and a bystander.

Harold Jurkiewicz of JET said schools are required to address bullying, an issue that has taken on increased importance recently.

He said the performances have a real impact on students, and he has seen some moved to tears.

“It helps them to talk about the issues going on in school or their home life,” Jurkiewicz said.

Bullies and victims recognize their behavior, and raise their hands identifying themselves as a bully, victim or bystander during talk-back sessions with the actors, Jurkiewicz said.

“The problem with the bullying (is it) sometimes starts at home,” Jurkiewicz said. “So there’s a cycle where sometimes the victims become the bully.”
In “Word,” a father bullies his son, who then bullies a fellow student.

Delivering a message through live theater has a strong impact on students, Jurkiewicz said.

“A lot of people don’t have access to something like this,” Jurkiewicz said. “It helps them if they see it live, presented in front of them.”

He said talk back sessions with the cast following performances allow students to discuss the situations presented in the plays.

“It’s a very rewarding thing, of anything I have done, and for the actors, too, to get the response, and see the reaction to them,” Jurkiewicz said.

The shows are double- and triple cast, to allow for scheduling flexibility.

Company members include Shardai Davis and Michael Suchyta of Dearborn, and Scott Wilding of Dearborn Heights.

Other ensemble members include Detroit residents Kalyse Edmonson, Cecily Gooden, Marcellus Hogan, Chris Jakob and Diona Roberson; Meredith Deighton of Ferndale; Emilio Rodriguez of Hamtramck; Jan Cartwright of Novi; Connie Cowper of Rochester Hills; Brittany Chanel of Shelby Township; Ricky Lanae McCallister of Westland; Katherine Kujala of of Wixom; Katie Cassell of Woodhaven; and JET intern Kiki Thompson of Atlanta, Ga.

The cost to book a performance is $595, with limited grants available to bring shows to schools unable to cover the cost.

For more information, or to book a performance, contact Christopher Bremer, JET executive director, at 248-788-2900 or


The Open Book Theatre Company’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s romantic comedy “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is entertainingly funny while reminding us about our unhealthy obsession with our electronic life lines.

The show continues its run at the Open Book Theatre Company, located inside Penelope’s Venue, 12219 Dix Toledo Road in Southgate, at 8 p.m. Nov. 19 to 21, and 2 p.m. Nov. 15.

For tickets, call 734-288-7753 or go to

Directed by the talented Topher Payne, the story begins when Jean, played by Dani Cochrane of Ferndale, breaks down and answers the repeatedly ringing but unanswered cell phone of an inexplicably still man across the cafe from her.

When Jean discovers that the cell phone’s owner has answered his last call, she begins to answer it. She not only breaks the news to his family and colleagues, she begins to create comforting stories to rewrite his dysfunctional relationship with his wife, mother, brother and mistress.

Cochrane, a Hilberry alum, is delightful as Jean, whether spinning a flattering tale about the late Gordon on the fly, or engaging in physical comedy, from a lipstick duel with the mistress, to her shared embossed paper fetish with the brother.

We meet Gordon, the dead man, played by Ryan Earnst of Waterford Township, in flashbacks and a parallel universe, not quite heaven nor hell, unless the thought of washing the clothes you died in, in the buff, in an otherworldly laundromat is one’s definition of Hades. (No, the audience does not experience laundry day.) Earnst easily captures the self-absorbed, rationalizing jerk that Gordon, a black market organ broker, embodies.

Kaitlyn Valor of Dearborn is entertaining as the over-the-top opportunistic mistress ready to take over Gordon’s business, who will stop at nothing to get the contacts from the cell phone Jean has commandeered with more altruistic intentions.

Connie Cowper of Rochester Hills has fun with the role of Mrs. Gottleib, Gordon’s mother, a well-off, shallow, and self-absorbed poster mom for dysfunction.

Melissa Beckwith of Ferndale as Hermia, Gordon’s widow, nails a fascinating drunk scene where she tells a mortified Jean about her guilt over fantasizing about being her late husband’s mistress when they made love, and Cochrane is equally inventive conveying Jean’s quickly concocted fiction to console the guilt-plagued widow.

Richard Payton of Ferndale is likable as Dwight, the late Gordon’s comparatively dull brother, who falls in love with Jean. The two make a real connection, ironically, over embossed, high-quality paper, the antithesis of the electronic tether that brought them together. He reminds one of the earnest appeal of John Lithgow without the over-the-top manic energy.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is filled with unexpected humor, witty lines, and surprise plot twists. Payne brings out the best in his talented cast, and uses some very inventive and original blocking along the way, which evokes additional laughter.


The Players Guild of Dearborn will hold auditions for the non-musical version of “Cheaper by the Dozen” Nov. 16 and 17 at the theater, 21730 Madison in Dearborn.

Registration begins at 6:30 p.m., with 7:30 p.m. auditions. An audition form and a conflict calendar are available for download on the Guild’s website,

The show runs at 8 p.m. Jan. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23, and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 10, 17 and 24.

Directed by Phil Booth of Dearborn, the show follows the Gilbreths, whose parents are efficiency experts who apply their methods to raising their 12 children.

The parents are in their late 40s to mid 50s. The children include Anne, 17, Ernestine, 15, Frank, 16, and Martha, 14. Bill, Lillian, Fred, Dan, and Jackie range in age from 5 to 13.

Other roles include Mrs. Fitzgerald, the housekeeper, age 50 to 70; Dr. Burton, age 40 to 60; Joe Scales, 17, a short, loud character; Miss Brill, age 35 to 50, an unlikable teacher; and Larry, 17, Anne’s beau.


The Downriver Actors Guild announced the cast for its youth production of “Doctor Dolittle” last week, which runs 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, 13, 19 and 20, and 3 p.m. Feb. 14 and 20 at the Catherine A. Daly Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle in Wyandotte.

Tickets are $16, with a $3 discount for students and seniors. To order, call 734-407-7020 or go to

The musical follows the adventures of a kind but unconventional doctor, played by Alex Rosen, 17, of Lincoln Park, who talks to animals.

Directed by Debbie Aue of Taylor, the cast includes Allen Park residents Emily Braun, 16, as Emma Fairfax, Kayla Chavez, 16, as Madeline Mugg, Phoebe Sequin-Davenport, 10, as Vladimir, and assistant director Nathan Vasquez, 21, as General Bellows.

Madison Ganzak, 12, of Dearborn Heights plays Popsipetel Island warrior chief Straight Arrow, with Lincoln Park residents Lilyana Quiroga, 8, as Berta, and Lily Steele, 11, as Dolittle’s dog Jip, and Riverview residents Grace Bock, 10, as a townsperson, Nora Kalvas, 10, as Rufus the dog, Isabella Owens, 11, as Gertie Blossom, Lily Paschke, 10, as Chee-Chee the monkey, Molly Pelky, 11, as Toggle the horse, Brianna Rainey, 15, as Grandma Blossom, and Natalie Richards, 11, as a townsperson.

Elyana Cecil, 10, of Southgate plays Mavis, with Jessalyn Sturm, 16, of Taylor as Polynesia the parrot, Madison Konarski, 8, of Trenton as Grub Grub the pig, and Wyandotte residents Andrew Dmitruchina, 8, as Dab-Dab the duck, Cassidy McFarland, 10, as Herbert the hedgehog, Madison Rasnick, 14, as a townsperson, Grace Ray, 14, as Sophie the seal, and Hannah Schaffer, 14, as a baliff and police officer.

Elaina Primeau, 10, of Brownstown Township, and Isabella Greene, 12, of Newport play the Pushmi-Pullyu, a two-headed llama, while Kerstyn Reeves, 11, of Brownstown Township plays Sheila the fox, Emily Teper, 9, of Carleton, plays a townsperson, Asiel Clark, 17, of Ecorse plays a police officer and townsperson, and Leo Hellar, 16, of Woodhaven, plays Tommy Stubbins.


Mark Clark of Lincoln Park is double-cast in the role of Michael Banks in “Disney and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins,” which runs weekends Nov. 20 to Dec. 20 at Stagecrafter’s Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette in Royal Oak.

For tickets, call 248-541-6430 or go to