Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre has been reaching some significant milestones lately.
The professional company celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016—after Jeff Daniels purchased and renovated the old bus garage that opened as a theater in 1991—and now, the Rose is about to pull up the curtain on its 100th production: a revival of Livonia-based playwright David MacGregor’s Vino Veritas.
The show tells the story of two sets of suburban parents who gather in one couple’s home, in costume, on Halloween night. The wife of the host couple—formerly globetrotting, adrenaline-junkie photographers—brings out an exotic Peruvian wine, brewed from the skins of blue poison dart frogs, and explains that it’s supposed to act as a truth serum. But are any of these “settled down” adults, feeling the slow burn of midlife malaise, truly prepared to hear or speak unfiltered, hard truths about themselves?
“It’s a dark comedy about the truth, and many times, when we have dark thoughts, we don't tell anyone and think that we're terrible people,” said MacGregor. “But then, to see that played out on stage can be a kind of a catharsis along the lines of, ‘I thought it was just me, but it's not just me.’”
The Rose has produced a handful of MacGregor’s plays, including The Late Great Henry Boyle, Gravity, and Consider the Oyster, so you might wonder what drew the company back to Vino.
“Well, a lot of people wanted us to do it,” said artistic director Guy Sanville. “We wanted to put a revival in this season—a play by a Michigan playwright—so we thought that would be a good one. … We employ a focus group from time to time, a broad spectrum of about 500 people, and we ask what shows they’d like to see again. … Plus I wanted to see it again, too. It’s been eight or nine years since we did it, and it’s a really good play. The script has held up beautifully, and a lot of people in our audience—particularly anyone who’s been married—can relate to it.”
According to Sanville, the show’s placement in the company’s 100th slot came down to luck.
“We’d already picked out our season when, I think it was in a meeting, someone pointed out that we’d be doing our hundredth show,” said Sanville. “We figured out it was the spring show, and we’d already chosen [Vino Veritas]. So while I’d like to say this is some grand plan at work, it was really just coincidence.”
Even so, Vino neatly embodies part of the Rose’s mission: to produce new work, with a special emphasis on plays that tell the stories of, and give voice to, the people who live in this part of the country.
“In many ways, we’ve broadened our view about what a Purple Rose play is,” said Sanville. “It’s not propaganda. We like to think we produce shows that present both sides of any issue with equal force and clarity. … We do plays about real people, with real problems, and we like humor a lot. We like ‘tonal confusion’—that’s what they call it in New York—where we can mix it up, and make you laugh and move you in the same evening. And this play has the potential to do that. It’s funny and wicked and moving.”
Sanville directed the Rose’s world premiere production of Vino, but this time around, he handed over the reins to Rhiannon Ragland.
“I wanted to see what someone else would do with it,” said Sanville. “These are four really good actors at work, and it’s a good script. David’s best play so far, in my opinion.”
MacGregor will be part of the Rose’s 2017-18 season, too, premiering a new Sherlock Holmes play, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear, which features not only Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved sleuth, but also Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh, and two swashbuckling female characters.
Other plays in the Rose’s 2017-18 lineup are Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage (for which Jeff Daniels earned a Tony Award nomination); Daniels’ new drama Flint; and Jeff Duncan’s new play-with-music, Willow Run, about the women who worked at the manufacturing plant during World War II.
For now, though, audiences will see how much truth they can handle with Vino.
“The original production caused some people to leave at intermission or to write letters to the theater about how offended they were, and maybe that's part of the appeal,” said MacGregor. “The play says things you're not supposed to say, but which in our heart of hearts we know are true.”
All images courtesy of Sean Carter Photography
Vino Veritas runs from March 23-May 27th at The Purple Rose Theatre. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here.