Detroit Public Theatre presents new political thriller

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 9, 2017

 Alysia Kolascz and John Lepard share a life altering encountering in the Detroit Public Theatre’s production of “The Harassment of Iris Malloy.”

Alysia Kolascz and John Lepard share a life altering encountering in the Detroit Public Theatre’s production of “The Harassment of Iris Malloy.”

Photo by Chuk Nowak, provided by Detroit Public Theatre

DETROIT — A thought-provoking new political thriller is closing out Detroit Public Theatre’s second season. Through May 28, the theater is staging the Michigan premier of Zak Berkman’s critically hailed “The Harassment of Iris Malloy.”

The show has had a rolling world premier at cities around the country in recent months. It looks at what happens when the title character — a waitress and single mother — spends time in the hotel room of a war hero turned senator, and how the encounter changes both of them.

The production is being directed by Grosse Pointe native Geoff Button, who has become a respected theater director in Chicago since moving there almost 20 years ago. Courtney Burkett, of Grosse Pointe Park, one of the founders of Detroit Public Theatre and a producing artistic director with the theater company, attended Grosse Pointe South High School with Button, and she thought he’d be a good fit for the show, so she invited him back to direct it.

Burkett said “The Harassment of Iris Malloy” tackles “class and privilege,” as well as gender roles, as it looks at how Iris and the senator have led very different lives as a result of coming from very different backgrounds. She said Button, having grown up in the Pointes — first in Grosse Pointe Park, and then Grosse Pointe Farms — was uniquely prepared to helm a show like this one because he and Burkett attended school with students from wealthy families as well as those from middle class homes and less economically advantaged homes. Button, whose father was a teacher at South, said he was “a solidly middle class kid,” but growing up in the Pointes, “I have this complicated understanding of how class functions.”

“The Harassment of Iris Malloy” is a play that “sort of examines what success looks like in America and who has access to success,” Button said. “One of the central questions the play asks is, ‘What opportunities are available to (the senator) and what opportunities are available to (Iris)?’”

The show allows the audience to step inside the world of these characters in order to understand the choices they make.

“It raises certain questions,” Burkett said. “There’s a lot (for audiences) to talk about at the end.”

The cast consists of Alysia Kolascz, of Ann Arbor, as Iris; John Lepard, of Williamston, as Sen. Aarons; Birmingham native Ned Baker, of Chicago, as Sticker; and Sarah Winkler, of Birmingham, as Cyd. Winkler, a producing artistic director of Detroit Public Theatre, was one of the founders of the company with Burkett and Sarah Clare Corporandy.

Audiences don’t know what happened between the senator and the waitress, and Burkett said the show “plays with time” and has “some big reveals at the end.”

“It’s a really exciting piece, emotionally and politically,” Button said.

Since graduating from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor of Arts in theater performance and from Northwestern University with a master’s degree in theater directing, Button has been working professionally in theater in Chicago. A longtime member of the theater company The Hypocrites, the award-winning Button has worked as a theater educator and director, and was recently named the casting director/associate producer at Writers Theatre in Glencoe.

“This is my first tine doing theater professionally in Detroit,” Button admitted.

Being back has been a pleasant surprise for the local native.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Button, who’s staying at the Grosse Pointe City home of a high school buddy while he’s been working on the show. “One of the things that’s been amazing is to see the revitalization of Detroit. This whole city is changing in ways that are exciting and creative.”

Burkett said she and Button “got a really good foundation in the arts” as students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System. She said they want Detroit Public Theatre to become a place where national theater talent can collaborate with local performers — something that’s happening with this show.

Detroit Public Theatre performs in the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall inside the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Hall. Burkett said Detroit Public Theatre’s union with the DSO is based on the Lincoln Center model in New York, where visitors can enjoy a variety of different performances. She said Detroit Public Theatre patrons enjoy all of the amenities of the DSO, including a bar.

“We have a great space in there that we convert into a theater,” Burkett said. “We are just so honored that they took us on as partners to bring live professional theater to (midtown Detroit). It’s been a really great partnership and we love being there.”

“The Harassment of Iris Malloy” is being produced through May 28 at the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall inside the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. Tickets cost $35 to $45 per person. For tickets or more information, call (313) 576-5111 or (313) 974-7918, or visit www.detroitpublictheatre.org.