By Sue Suchyta
Henry Ford Community College opened Jane Martin’s “Vital Signs” Thursday at Adray Auditorium in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center for a two-weekend run. The collection of songs and monologues is a showcase of intense experiences that challenge the student ensemble, which is directed by Mary Bremer Beer.
Closing weekend performances of “Vital Signs” include 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. The show contains adult content. For tickets, call (313) 845-9817.
“Vital Signs” showcases 18 performers in a variety of cabaret-style songs as well as some intense first-person monologues.
Beer has brought out the best in a relatively inexperienced student cast. She also treats us to the closing monologue “Truck Stop.”
The ensemble includes Caroline Cajas, Judo Manko and Laith Salim of Dearborn; Jake Baker of Lincoln Park; David Rojas of Wyandotte; David Alexander — who also serves as the accompanist, Courtney Butterfield and Robert Gray of Redford; Asia Monay Smith of River Rouge; Miekyle Turner of Romulus; Katie Orwig and Alexis Simmons of Detroit; Marquitta Washington of Highland Park; Judy Fletcher of Bloomfield Hills; Mariah Johnson of Warren; and Maryann Peeples of Eastpointe.
The monologues even are fascinating with the human vulnerabilities they expose. Among the more memorable vignettes are those where the characters explain the mindset of those rejected, scorned or abused. Such scenes tug at our own consciences, and remind us to be more tolerant of each other.
Fletcher opens the show with a monologue about a middle-aged divorcee who has to deal with the pitfalls of middle age dating sex and the impact of male performance anxiety in a monologue entitled, “Impotence.”
Butterfield delivers the heartfelt and impassioned monologue “Nightmare Daughter” about an overweight girl with an eating disorder whose mother exacerbates the situation with unrealistic expectations. She also delivers a moving monologue about a rollercoaster tragedy.
Cajas delivers the amusing monologue “30 hours,” which humorously skewers people’s inability to come up with continuous conversation over the course of a relationship.
Salim is funny in “Hams” as a man whose view from his dream home is blocked by obnoxious swine billboards, and his ill-fated covert attempts to destroy them.
Orwig is amusing as the southern belle sharpshooter whose monologue details her unique revenge upon her cheating lover.
Turner delivers a touching portrayal of a transvestite whose father beat him when he discovered his young son’s cross-gender clothing curiosity.
Peeples amuses us with “Hors D’oeurves,” the account of a black maid whose white employers only recognize her in their home in uniform and not on the street. Her material is timely considering the movie “The Help” now in theaters.
Johnson brings a wistful vulnerability to “Father’s Circle,” a daughter’s remembrance of the only day she recalls spending with her absentee father.
Mako delivers a heartfelt rendition of “Fried Chicken,” the tale of an abused wife who snaps and seeks revenge. It is reminiscent of some of the cell block tango tales from the musical “Chicago.”
Fletcher’s “Cocaine Hotline” monologue had some funny lines as a cynical incoming call operator shows no patience for the helpline clients until she satisfies her own craving for caffeine.
Baker makes the most of the monologue “Stud” about a man who relies on his attributes below the belt to keep him steadily supplied with one night stands.
Washington offers an emotionally wrenching plea in the monologue “That Girl” as the secret lover whose man won’t acknowledge her in public, but with whom she is not willing to cut ties.
The songs were fun and light, and remind one of open microphone night at a bistro.
The cast opened and closed the show with a company number.
Bremer has pushed her students to reach new levels and demand more from themselves as actors. It was wonderful to see the HFCC company begin to develop a stronger acting ensemble.
The subject matter is mature and sexually provocative, and not appropriate for children.
Chris Matlock of Royal Oak, a professional snake handler, appears in the second act holding a very large boa constrictor. Since the audience is seated onstage relatively close to the snake, if such creatures freak you out, you may want to pass on this show.
For more information, go to www.hfcctheater.org.