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‘A Play by Franco Vitella’ is a play within a play within a play within...

A Play by Franco Vitells

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‘A Play by Franco Vitella’ is the name of the world premiere comedy now being staged by Magenta Giraffe Theatre. To clarify, it’s a play about the challenges of writing plays, written by, you guessed it, playwright Franco Vitella. It also features Franco Vitella, who is played by Atrun Kircali, and directed (in reality) by MGT leading man Jonathan Davidson, who is played by MGT favorite Keith Kalinowski. Alexis Mabry plays the Stage Manager, who is really Julanne Jacobs, neither one of whom is the Stage Manager from the Thornton Wilder classic, “Our Town.” Which at least some of the cast wish they were performing.

Atrun Kircali performs as the playwright Franco Vitella, who suffers a lethal case of writer's block.
Atrun Kircali performs as the playwright Franco Vitella, who suffers a lethal case of writer's block.Photography by Chuk Nowak

Stay with me.

Andy Huff, the brilliant actor who has graced the stages of Detroit finest theaters, is not actually in this production. Which is good, because *SPOILER ALERT* he gets murdered near the end by the actor who was second choice for the Leading Man role, Joel Mitchell, who really is in this production, although he only makes it into the program as an erratum. Also in the cast is Adam Schrader, who plays himself playing a likable bumbling clown. And Poseidon, God of the Sea. Holly Portman plays the inevitably undeveloped (character-wise) female lead and muse for Franco Vitella.

You know that thing that happens when you hold a mirror up to a mirror? This play is like that. Except the first mirror is Franco Vitella’s script and the second mirror is its performance. And the whole thing is being sucked relentlessly into the gravitational vortex of THEATRE TRADITION and the illusion that one is obliged to do SOMETHING DIFFERENT even though there is NO ESCAPE.

It’s great fun, even if it doesn’t make much sense. And the audience gets to be part of the fun because we are, after all, the reason for all this strutting and fretting upon the stage. We provide witness as Franco Vitella (the struggling playwright character) bullies his way through multiple script versions, forcing the hapless cast to voice the lines he spontaneously rewrites for them. In short order, he makes them perform as gangsters in a zombie movie, blood-thirsty boy scouts, commedia dell'arte stock characters, Tom Stoppard’s version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (but dressed as Mexican peasants) and sock puppet dinosaurs. Deprived of freewill, the actors find that even when they try to rebel, they are simply playing a part in the script.

This is the parable of Actors in the Hands of an Angry Playwright. Anyone who has had any part in theatre, attends a lot of theater, reads a lot of theater, or is just open to something (dare we say it?) different, will enjoy the mayhem that this play brings to life.

According to Vitella, “The play was born in my own struggles with writer’s block and the countless unfinished drafts I’ve started, only to abandon after a few pages. And then I thought about how when it comes down to it, an audience gathering to see a play is sort of a strange thing. Even more strange is the fact that actors shed themselves to become other people for a few hours and as a playwright, I have control over what they say and do. So I wanted to take the theatricality of it all, director and actors, the audience, myself, and throw them into this experiment to see what happened.”

It’s hard to imagine this show working with a different cast – but that’s part of the inside joke. It’s the kind of play that Magenta Giraffe does better than anyone else. The real-life MGT cast includes Keith Kalinowski (Director), Artun Kircali (Franco Vitella), Alexis Mabry (Stage Manager), Joel Mitchell (Male Lead), Holly Portman (Female Lead), and Adam Schrader (Supporting Male). The play is directed by Jonathan Davidson, with scenic design by Gwen Lindsay, sound design by Frannie Shepherd-Bates, and costumes by Katie Casebolt. Julanne Jacobs is the Stage Manager and Jessica Tiernan contributes graphic design.

“A Play by Franco Vitella” opened January 31 and runs through February 22, 2014 at the Abreact Performance Space, located just off the Lodge at 1301 W. Lafayette, #113, in Detroit. Tickets are $15-$18, with pay-what-you-can tickets available to all performances. Tickets may be reserved by phone at 313-408-7269 or at www.magentagiraffe.org. As the space is very intimate, reservations are strongly suggested.

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company’s production of “A Play by Franco Vitella” continues to run Sunday, February 16 at 3 p.m. and next Friday and Saturday, February 21-22 at 8 p.m. at the Abreact Performance, 1301 W. Lafayette, #113, in Detroit. Reservations are available via phone at 313-408-7269, online, or at the door the day of the performance. Cash or a check is preferred, but credit cards will be accepted. Tickets are $18, with a $15 ticket available for Student/Senior/Industry patrons; a certain number of tickets are also available on a pay-what-you-can basis at all performances.

As always, audience members paying the full ticket price may wish to take advantage of MGTC’s “Repeat Offender” offer: If you’ve paid the suggested rate for a ticket and would like to see the show a second, third or fourth time, bring back a customer paying the same rate each time and see it free of charge.

Also note that during the run of “A Play by Franco Vitella” Magenta Giraffe serves as a collection site for Mittens for Detroit, a nonprofit founded in 2010 by actress Erin Cummings to collect and distribute new, unused gloves and mittens to children and adults in Detroit. So bring a new pair of mittens, your sense of humor, and prepare for an unexpected evening's entertainment.