“A Feminine Ending”
Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Performance Network Theatre
Advance student tickets starting at $10

On the corner of Huron and Fourth Streets lies the home of the Performance Network Theatre. Seating 139, it’s an inviting atmosphere in which the performer’s connection with the audience is immediate. Running since March at the Theatre, current show “A Feminine Ending” runs through this Sunday before closing.

The Performance Network’s vision to promote arts and support the intellectual and cultural community of Ann Arbor is carried out through their season plays and development programs. While seven plays are performed a year, the Network also offers the Apprenticeship Program. The annual program allows two people, usually recent graduates, to gain hands-on experience in stage management and marketing as well as in the more artistic side like scene and costume design. It also works to encourage creative progress in elementary and middle school students with their theater and dance workshops.

As part of Actors Equity Association, the Network has claimed its own independence in the Ann Arbor theater scene. But even though it’s in a prime location, the Network is often overlooked by the University community. While the University is actively engaged in performances held at venues like Hill Auditorium and the Power Center, the Performance Network is its own entity. While it certainly enhances the dialogue between the arts and University members, it also encourages us to experience the arts outside of the school setting.

“The Network, in my mind, is such a local treasure,” said Joseph Zettelmaier, director of the Network’s current play, “A Feminine Ending.” “It’s the only local equity theater in Ann Arbor. It’s had so many forms, and has opened its arms to so many different arts communities.”

“A Feminine Ending” by Sarah Treem (writer and producer of the HBO series “In Treatment”) is a fast-paced romantic comedy about how one’s quest for happiness can be stifled by a quest for practicality. The play’s lead character, Amanda Blue, dreams of being a composer. Instead, she takes a job composing jingles for an advertising company in order to support herself. Though a comedy at its core, the play still forces the audience to think about gender roles in the career world and what it means to take charge of one’s own passions.

“It’s such a new voice,” Zettelmaier said. “I am really drawn to scripts that speak to a new generation. And there’s something really young and funny about this one that I really like.”

The banter between Amanda and her mother Kim is humorous throughout, but not without gravity. In one scene, the momentum of their speech slows and turns into startling conversation in which Kim reveals the life she had before she was married. When Amanda learns that a painting in their family home was actually created by Kim when she was young, the audience is forced to reconsider what drives the suddenly multifaceted characters. In these moments, Amanda is compelled to face the realities of her current job as well as her engagement to her fiancé, an almost-famous musician.

The dialogue retains a tendency of emotional intensity even during Amanda’s monologues. Subtle interjections skillfully pull the audience into her world. They underscore the play’s conflict and put us in direct contact with her vacillating conscience. Because the audience is placed in such close proximity to the stage and actors, this effect becomes even more tangible. This ability is what Zettelemaier recognizes as being unique to the Performance Network and giving those who work within the Theatre company “a sense of artistic freedom.”

Although “A Feminine Ending” is closing this weekend, the Performance Network stays active throughout the spring and summer seasons. Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fences,” “A Picasso” and “The Blonde, The Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead” will grace the stage during the next four months. The network is just minutes away from the more familiar, heart-of-campus venues, and it shows how a theater experience can vary even within the same city. Seeing these upcoming plays will be an ideal way to experience the richly sustained variation that is local Ann Arbor theater.

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