When you walk into a theater expecting seats and instead stumble onto the stage itself, you know you aren’t in the kind of venue you expected.

The “stage” on which audiences see “One Hundred Twinkling Lights” at the Blackbird Theater is a life-sized floor plan conceived by set designer Joshua Parker. Lines for walls and words like “Foyer” mark the theater floor, which the audience sits around. While seats are pushed back to a single row lining the theater walls, audience members are just pushed closer to the action and emotion of this production.

The show begins and a homeowner is complaining about student ghettoes. A bum is begging for a smoke and the floor plan is beginning to look like your own dilapidated rental unit. You know you’re right back in Ann Arbor.

BlackBag Productions’ new show demands multiple characters from its small ensemble — two men and a supporting actress. Both actors perform a decathlon of role changes under the direction of William Myers, portraying strangers, lovers, friends and brothers. And both actors have been crucial to the collaborative process; star Barton Bund has adapted the play from costar Jim Posante’s short story.

The story is as firmly fixed in this town as the homeless character Posante plays — a permanent fixture of the city even as the students come and go — and deals with the question of why the less permanent residents disregard him as the vagrant.

This injustice is shown in gritty, realistic dialogue. Carlos, old and forgotten, is altogether dismissed by the star, Vic.

“Hey, can I bum a smoke, man?” Carlos begs.

“It’s a menthol,” Vic refuses with venom.

To altogether dismiss another human being is too easy. But when Carlos returns, in the form of a letter left on a porch, Vic can’t dismiss him from his mind.

The letter is a two-page, handwritten, Baudelaire-quoting, prose/poem masterpiece, written on occasion of Carlos’s viewing the glowing strings of lights still ornamenting Vic’s house in February.

Inside, Vic hurts. He drinks; he pops pills. His brother shoots up, his wife has left, his father dies. Bund plays Vic with an Ypsilanti edge — a grime that is eventually wiped away to reveal his loving core.

That cleansing is effected by the infected Carlos, who wants — even more than he wants a smoke — to be remembered by some persisting being before he passes on. Posante plays the professor turned castaway with grace, shaping the mysterious man into a fascinating, sympathizing companion.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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