The Ringwald Theater, located just south of Nine Mile on the East side of Woodward next to Dino’s, is a live entertainment theater that opened its doors in 2007. The theater naturally aims not only to entertain audiences, but to challenge. The Ringwald goes further by proclaiming to “blur the lines between race, income, religion, and sexuality,” while providing a creative environment for local artists and aspiring actors—and recently, also providing a venue for artists all around the U.S.
The Ringwald recently anchored The Detroit Improv Festival from August 3-10, providing a place for performance artists from both near and far to showcase their skills. Individuals and improv groups from a number of cities around the U.S. performed, as groups arrived from Chicago, St. Louis, Toronto, L.A., Vancouver, NY and a host of other areas. I attended a show at the Ringwald during this festival and, while all the troops had their unique styles, I was most impressed by Ferndale’s own Dubalicious. This act was particularly impressive because instead of the usual six performers—there were only two. The female duo kept the ball in the air throughout their entire 35-minute skit without a break, showcasing their combined experience by personifying dozens of hilarious and awkward characters in everyday situations, while brilliantly playing off each other and expanding the boundaries of improv comedy.
At the end of September, I stopped by The Ringwald to take in “Angels in America Part II.” It proved to be more of an experience than a play, compounded by the fact that I had not attended Part I. Leaving no cultural taboo or sociopolitical stone unturned, the characters dramatically exemplified, personified, and blasted away at every dogma, conventional viewpoint and ideology under the sun. The play was full of complex characters, all ceaselessly struggling to find meaning and purpose, while reflecting on their own situation and it’s relation to a society they cannot concretely explain.
The play began with an intense and provoking speech from “the oldest living Bolshevik” in 1985, during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, who asked questions such as “What is progress?” and, further, “Is it worth it?” Mentioning market incentives and the McDonalds hamburgers begotten by these markets, the age-old Marxist question remains: Isn’t there something more? And can we, as a people, reach it? The Bolshevik concludes, “If the snake sheds his skin before a new skin is ready, naked he will be in the world, prey to the forces of chaos. Have you, my little serpents, a new skin?
The play centers around characters with HIV/AIDS during the highpoint of the crisis during the mid-1980’s, and closet homosexuality. The characters’
relationships with one another are complexly and dialectically intertwined, while one AIDS victim is dying, another is being visited by a multi-phallic, hermaphrodite-equipped angel, and another- a Conservative Homosexual Mormon Lawyer- is leaving his wife for a man, which is sending his wife into an emotional spiral leading to breakdown.
Regarding the idea(s) that provided the backbone of the play, theater Director Joe Bailey said, “An idea was born here that never really took hold and/or flushed itself out. America is like a melting pot that never melted.” Throughout the play, characters took as many cracks at every aspect and fringe of our culture and country as was humanly possible during the three-and-a-half-hour drama – libertarians, social democrats, communists, conservatives, Mormons and other religions, blacks, whites, homosexuals, Reagan — all were challenged as each individual character struggled with his and her own issues in relation to the narrative of the American Idea. Memorable one-liners were sown throughout the entirety of the play, as the African American character memorably proclaimed, “The cracker that wrote the national anthem wrote the note to ‘Free’ so high that nobody could ever reach it – that was deliberate.” Other noteworthy lines aimed at our present societal currents hit home: “Lawyers are the high priests of America. Hire a lawyer, sue someone – it’s good for your soul.” “Angels in America” is full of insight into the past and present-day, and showcases a cognitive dissonance within each character that may be inherent and ingrained into our adolescent and still-developing culture. The same character, confined to a hospital bed and dying, proclaimed “America has no use for the sick. America is no place for the infirm,” while also making affirming statements, such as “What you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go,” while carrying a noble love of justice, saying “I save my hate for what counts,” conjuring hope and harnessing the modern-traditional American Spirit of “making it.”
The Ringwald put on a show that was intelligently chaotic, full of fire (and some nudity), in-your-face and one of a kind. Love it or reject it – the experience will be unforgettable. The actresses and actors hit every line flawlessly, the stage set was professionally-crafted and easily transformed to new backdrops after each scene. If you’d like to see some live entertainment that will provide intellectual stimulation akin to drinking water from a fire hose, head to The Ringwald.
For more information, please visit: www.theringwald.com/current
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