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January 24, 1981 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1981-01-24

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Saturday, January 24, 1981

The Michigan Daily

Page 5

New play at Loft

Ann Arbor loves Madcat'

When graduate theatre student Bill
Sharp was looking for an original play
for a directing project, his friends ad-
vised him to stay away from works by Al
Sjoerdsma. Sjoerdsma's 'never going
anywhere as a writer they told Sharpe.
Arthur Miller he's not, nor can he ever
hope to be. Sjoerdsma went on to win a
major Hopwood award for drama, an
honor conferred on Miller during his
undergraduate days. Well, so much for
listening to your friends
"Obie" Sjoedsma, as his co-workers
at the Canterbury Loft jokingly refer to
him after the Obies, the off-Broadway
theatre awards, claims that even after
he woi the prestigious Hopwood Award
he wasn't sure that he wanted to make a
serious go at a career in playwriting.
But after graduating with a B.A. in
English last year, buddy Sharpe asked
him to join the staff of the new Canter-
bury Loft Stage Company as a sort of
playwright-in-residence Sharpe
promised him that the Stage Com-
pany's first full season would include a
Sjoerdsma play, Judgement Day.
Sjoerdsma later decided that he didn't
feel that Judgement Day was ready for
production, and he created a new work.
NOW IT'S ONLY a matter of days
before the premiere of Saturn's Young,
the product of a three month frenzy
("an act a month," he said
breathlessly) and Sjoerdsma is sur-
prisingly calm as he chats with me
about his work.
"Everyone knows Chekhov wrote
well but not everyone knows what the
people in town are writing and doing,"
Sjoerdsma said. The Loft is committed
to doing at least one original show each
year. That's a big thing. I don't think
the University would do that."
Along with Sjoerdsma's work, the
Loft is featuring plays by contem-
porary playwrights Samual Beckett
and Harold Pinter. "We're doing con-
temporary plays that deserve to be
seen in this town and just aren't done,"
Sjoerdsma commented.
THE STRUCTURE of the Loft Stage
Company is such that members are ex-,
pected to work in areas other than their
major field of interest. Sjoerdsma has

stage managed and ran lights for Loft
productions and he appeared in the
Stage Company's production of Papp.
"Almost anything I do in the nature of
the theatre helps me with my writing,"
Sjoerdsma said. "I have a much better
idea of what's good for actors. I try to
keep in mind what's the best thing for
performers when I write."
Sjoerdsma began his writing career
with short stories and novels. "I never
made it past page 35," he said with a
sigh. He soon realized that half of his
writing was dialogue. Playwriting
seemed a natural -extension of his
talent, and a class with English
professor Peter Bauland "tied it all
together" in Sjoerdsma's words.
cely produced two plays to his name, he
speaks about playwriting with an air of
a seasoned writer. He defines charac-
terization and a natural flow of dialogue
as the two most important elements of
good script writing.
"My biggest bugaboo is problems
with the way people sound. New
playwrights have brought me their
work and I say to a lot of them, 'But
that's just not the way people talk.'
And how does he write? What's the Al
Sjoerdsma secret, I ask him? "People
ask me how I construct a play and I tell
them that I have two characters, I get
them to talk to each other and then I
just see what happens. You start out
with five minutes of dialogue, then you
add five minutes more and pretty soon
you've got a play. That's about it.,
The onlytthing that it's impossible to
get Sjoerdsma to discuss is, sur-
prisingly enough, his play. Apparently
much of the work hinges on illusion and
Sjoerdsma refuses to talk lest I reveal
anything crucial about the production.
"It's about a conflict between a
father)afid son who are both in bad
situations. They fix their problems on
each other because it's the only thing
that they can do to survive.'
And that was all he would say. He sat
back smiling, took a drag on his
cigarette and waited for more
questions. Just come next Thursday
and see for yourself, he seemed to be
thinking. I'd like to see the Daily pan
this one.

Peter "Madcat" Ruth packs 'em
wall-to-wall. Though his Soundstage Cof-
feehouse concert was moved from the
University Club to the larger Anderson
Room Thursday night, people still sat
on the floor, on extra chairs scrounged
from hither, thither and yon and even on
the piano against the wall..
Crowded conditions to the contrary,
the crowd was comforted by Madcat's
dynamism, his cool relaxation, and his
charismatic personality.
STARTING THE set off with "Bad
Luck Blues," a song written by Sonny
Terry, one of his earliest influences,
Madcat immediately impressed the
audience with his technical virtuosity,
his tonal variety and fast-paced
changing style. His amazing range and
his breadth of repertoire evade the
usual categorization of musical styles
and musicians.
But it is variety that makes Madcat
such a charming and unusual perfor-
mer. Drawing from various jazz, blues
and folk sources, he adds his own
vivacious personality to familiar pieces
in order to produce a pleasing and
custom-fit performance. Each song
seemed in some way revised by Madcat
to accomodate his personality and his
personal rapport with the audience.
For instance, in directing his revision

means of spacious pockets) to use four
different harmonicas as well as to sing in
this new edition of an old time song.
PART OF THE reason that Madcat is
such an enjoyable performer is because
of his stage presence. He is somehow
able to seem completely spontaneous
and relaxed while maintaining a keen
awareness of his own playing as well as
a strong sense of cohesiveness with the
other members of his group, bassist
Jason Boekeloo and drummer Rick
Hollander. They make an amazingly
"big" sound for such a small group. But
then again Madcat is no "small" per-
His career as a soloist was preceded
by a long history of working with other
great musicians including Dave
Brubeck and Brubeck's sons: Darius
and Chris. Madcat's experience wears
well on him - he's seasoned yet clearly
loves to perform.
A sense of mutual interest has
developed between the people of Ann
Arbor and Peter "Madcat" Ruth. After
his numerous Ark appearances, Hill
Auditorium concerts, as well as an
autumn jam on the Diag, many people
have found an interest in Madcat which
he enthusiastically returns. Judging
from the overwhelming turnout at the
Soundstage concert and from his con-
stantly progressing career, we will
probably be seeing quite a bit more
of Madcat in the months to come. ,

Daily Photo by DEBORAH LEWIS
Ann Arbor's mad over harmonica player Peter "Madcat" Ruth, who packed
the house of the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union Thursday night in his
first local performance since September. Judging from the crowd's reac-
tion, Madcat will be welcome around here much more frequently. Make sure

you catch him the next time around.
of Taj Mahal's "Scooby Dooby Dooby
Song" to the Ann Arbor audience, he
used such lines as "Let's all move out to
Dexter where there's no student types
4round.. .", which got an enthusiastic
response from all. In a song about

"Going Fishing," he again made the
spectators a part of his act and an ex-
tension of his own sense of humor using
just the twinkle of his eyes and his
smile. In a personal rendition of "Shor-
tenin' Bread," Madcat managed (by

Going 'Home' with Bower

The cover of Bryan Bowers' new
album, Home, Home on the Road
displays an old yellow truck with none
other than the grinning autoharp player
on the hood sporting a new pair of high-
tops and a bright green Flying Fish t-
shirt. Reference to this "old yellow
truck" was one of the few bits of ex-
citement on Bowers' very traditional
first album The View From Home.
Home, Home on the Road displays the
traditional side of Bowers beginning
with "The Flowers of Edinburgh,"
"Grandfather Clock," and a pair of
songs direct from Bowers childhood
days. Set against them are songs like
"This Age We Live In," "The Scot-
sman," and "The Prison Song.
The result is a pleasant duality, a
two-sided look at a pleasing folk enter-
tainer. "Berkeley Woman" for example
contains the archaic lines "Woman is
the sweetest fruit/God ever put on the
vine/Still I can no more love just one
kind of woman/Than drink just one
kind of wine" which is set against "This
Age We Live In" in which his woman-
as-grape analogy is turned against him.
Bowers' most commanding moments
on the album are in "The Scotsman"
and "Scotland" which bring together a
harmony of voice and autoharp heard

previously only in his live performan-
ces. In fact, "The Scotsman" ballad is a
live cut from a national flatpicking con-
test. "Scotland" is the instrumental
highlight of Home largely because of
accompaniment by Adelle Weiland on
cello. Bowers' arrangement here
achieves a bagpipe effect from four
string instruments.
A poignant protest, "The Prison
Song" is the most striking piece and
could have carried the entire album if
it had been called upon. Any attempt to
convey on vinyl the terrors of prison
risks sentimentality. Yet Bowers
avoids affectation by reporting without

c1he ttilr
A rts Staff

Vincent Price will be appearing as Oscar Wilde in his one man show, 'Diver-
sions and Delights' at the Power Center for one performance only February
5 at 8 p.m. Hey, Vince, I thought Gertrude Stein was the one who coined the
phrase, "A rose is a rose is a rose..."

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