Edition: 2018 Vol. 12 December
By Liz Ball
Williamston Theatre’s Opening Night production of A Hunting Shack Christmas is a comedic romp that is ridiculously goofy while pulling at your heartstrings in a fashion that compliments the spirit of the season. The playwright, Jessica Lind Peterson, is a Minnesota native and she delivers a play that has a true Minnesotan feel. Peterson’s script is surprising, funny and clever, and moves at just the right pace. The cast is simply fantastic delivering a performance full of laughs. This downright wacky script is bound to have the audience rolling in the aisles for this Michigan premiere.
The Story: As the holidays approach, Charlie heads up to the hunting shack that’s been in his family for generations, hoping for the peace he needs to sort out his life. Instead of the solitude he was looking for, he finds himself buried in snow, unexpected family, beef jerky, a crazy internet romance, and more snow. Can he sort it all out in time for his wedding anniversary?
The cast of A Hunting Shack Christmas features one newcomer to the Williamston stage, Michigan State University Graduate Student Sharon Combs, along with Sandra Birch (Beau Jest, Summer Retreat), Aral Gribble (Pulp, The Woman in Black), John Lepard (1984, Pulp) and Patrick Loos (Beau Jest, Summer Retreat). Williamston Theatre’s Artistic Director, Tony Caselli (Beau Jest, Silent Sky), is the Director of A Hunting Shack Christmas. The production team includes Scenic Design by Bartley H. Bauer (Memoir, Beau Jest), Lighting Design by Dana White (Doublewide, Too Much, Too Much, Too Many), Costume Design by MSU Graduate Student Meredith Wagner, Sound Design by Jason Painter Price (Out of Orbit, 1984) and Props Design by Michelle Raymond (Silent Sky, Memoir). The Stage Manager is Stefanie Din (Silent Sky, Doublewide).
The play is directed by Williamston Theatre’s Artistic Director, Tony Caselli (Beau Jest, Silent Sky). Caselli is excited to produce this show for the Holidays and enjoys working with cast and crew. His enthusiasm when discussing the production is simply contagious. Caselli shares how the theatre did a reading of this script a year ago and he knew instantly he wanted Gribble, Birch and Lepard to play their roles. The rest of casting process went smoothly, Caselli knew Loos would be great and asked him to join the cast. Caselli also felt that an MSU student would be a good fit for this play. After watching Combs’ audition tape, he knew she was the perfect fit for the remaining role.
The director and cast are animated about the story and their first reactions to the script. Birch shares, “Laughing. Laughter is the key.” Combs states, “Hilarious.” Gribble adds, “Ridiculous. This is ridiculous.” Lepard states, “It is just silly. Laugh out loud stuff. It is fun.” The cast instantly knew they wanted to perform the play at first read. Loos says, “I found it very touching the first time I read it.” Gribble expands, “You see this married couple grow together again in a whole new way.” Caselli summarizes, “There are some really sweet heartwarming family things that I like about it. Which is for me, the stuff I love. The stuff that makes you laugh, makes you cry—a play that touches your heart.”
When discussing the production and the characters, one instantly realizes that the entire cast is having a blast starring in this show. Combs is especially enthusiastic about performing the fight scenes, “I can’t spoil it, but it is so good.” Lepard shares how Birch has to stop him from swearing in the show which is quite entertaining and fun to practice. Gribble likes the dialect and is enjoying his character, “It is really fun to play a character that embodies the most terrible aspects of myself. Just a giant man baby that can not function in society.” The cast consists of old friends who have worked together in the past and are thrilled to be joined by Combs as she has fit right in. Birch exclaims, “It’s great to come to work. It is all just friends—we all know each other. It makes it so much more enjoyable.”
Williamston Theatre showcases as amazing set portraying an authentic hunting cabin. It features real wood logs, deer head on the walls and a wood staircase with an actual exit off stage via a ladder. It is fascinating how the set exploits the small space. The set designer, Bauer, has surpassed himself with the realism of this set transporting you to a snowed-in shack in the woods. The prop design by Raymond truly adds character to the production with plates of food, deer heads, dead geese and touches that are perfect for Christmas such stockings on the stair rail and a Christmas tree with lights. Caselli shares, “We are lucky to have her do a lot of our shows.”
Opening night, the theatre was packed, the spirit of the holiday season was in the air and the cast delivered stellar performances. I really enjoyed seeing A Hunting Shack Christmas, finding laughter in the tension this time of year may bring, being surprised by zany antics while still being reminded of importance of love and family. Gribble shares, “I think it is a perfect Christmas show because it is about family. It is about finding the good in even the worst family members.” Caselli summarizes eloquently, “It is about communication and coming together when the chips are down which is a beautiful thing this time of year. The laughter and the love in this play is coming through. For me, the most gratifying thing is knowing we have six weeks of putting that out for people. Especially during a time in our nation that is pretty full of tension, stress and controversy. I love being able to lay that out.” The play has a compelling plot with enough heartwarming moments to give you the warm fuzzies. It all adds up to an entertaining show that is crowd pleaser, illustrating the essence of Christmas and bringing warmth to the season. Don’t miss checking out the show by ordering your tickets here.
"As the holidays approach, Charlie heads up to the hunting shack that’s been in his family for generations, hoping for the peace he needs to sort out his life. Instead of the solitude he was looking for, he finds himself buried in snow, unexpected family, beef jerky, a crazy internet romance, and more snow. Can he sort it all out in time for his wedding anniversary?"
Frederick Carl Frieseke was born on April 7, 1874, in Owosso, Michigan. After studying for a short while at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York, Frieseke left for France in 1898, and almost all of his career was spent as an expatriate, with ties to the United States maintained through his New York dealer, William MacBeth, and by occasional visits to America. Following the pattern of innumerable young Americans, he enrolled at the Academie Julian where he studied with Benjamin Constant (1845-1902) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921). He appears to have had at least brief contact with and to have been influenced by James McNeill Whistler, who had recently opened his Academie Carmen in Paris.
By 1900 Frieseke was spending summers in the town of Giverny, made famous by the residence of Monet and subsequently by other artists, among them many Americans. In 1906, the year after his marriage to Sarah O'Bryan, he leased a house once occupied by the American Impressionist Theodore Robinson. Although the property was adjacent to Monet's, Frieseke had only limited contact with the French master. Instead he apparently found Pierre Auguste Renoir the most influential of all the Impressionists. Frieseke's Giverny house and garden, as settings for a series of female models, provided nearly all of his subject matter for the next thirty years, although in 1930 he made a series of watercolors of Florida scenes remembered from his childhood and painted some Swiss landscapes. After World War I, the artist and his family settled in Normandy.
Frieseke's career falls roughly into three stages. In the first, figures most clearly show his academic training and draughtsmanship. Gradually these evolve into the most common images of the next decade, comprised of loosely-applied blotches of bright color. The vast majority of these show their subjects in the garden, standing among the flowers, taking tea, or just basking in the sun. Others include models in colorful, light-filled interiors. In Frieseke's latest paintings, the figures very often appear indoors, their forms are given greater solidity, and the brushwork is less broken.
At the height of his career, in the 1910s and early 1920s, Frieseke was perhaps the most popular of all living American artists. He received numerous awards and medals and saw his work purchased by private collectors and major museums. Decades after the initial introduction of Impressionism by Monet and his contemporaries, Frieseke assumed this style for his work, choosing to ignore the newer artistic movements of the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, his paintings were acclaimed in both the United States and in Europe. In 1904 he won a silver medal at the St. Louis Universal Exposition and a gold medal at Munich. He was elected a member of the Société National des Beaux Arts in 1908 and the National Academy of Design in 1912. Seventeen of his canvases were featured at the Venice Biennale in 1909 and he won the Grand Prize at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. He was commissioned to execute several murals, including one for the New York store of John Wanamaker, one of his most loyal patrons.
He died on August 28, 1939, at his home in Normandy, in the town of Le Mesnil sur Blangy. In the decades following his death, however, after artistic tastes had changed considerably, his work was nearly forgotten until it received renewed attention as interest in American Impressionism grew in the 1960s. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue] - Credit NGA.gov
"Sometimes growing up seems to take so long when there are adventures just waiting to be experienced. Little Alisa is ready to climb the big tree in her yard if only someone would show her the way. That's when Cassie her cat offers to help. But Alisa doesn't have claws and four legs. Will she be able to brave her first big adventure with Cassie as her guide?"
We talked to local author, and frequent Lansing Herald Contributor Liz Ball about her recent publication, "Alisa's First Adventure"
What inspired you to write this book in particular?
My Dad has always played an important role in my life and encouraged me to write. I was interested in expanding my writing to Children’s books and wanted to focus on the father/daughter bond as I feel that is explored less frequently. I also had a cat named, Cassie, who I shared many adventures with as a young adult and with my love of animals, I wanted my pet to be part of the story. The idea just instantly took shape when I sat down to write it.
What is your favorite part about Alisa's personality and why?
Alisa is a bit quirky with an adventurous spirit though still a sensitive kid. She shares a special relationship with her cat which is my favorite thing. I can relate to her as she reminds me of myself.
What would the tree represent to adults?
We all face obstacles & challenges in life. The tree represents embracing the challenge, being brave & finding a way to overcome. Climbing the tree, represents hope and encouragement that you can succeed. However, it also reminds you to trust people you love, like your parents, when you need help. We all need to lean on each other sometimes.