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Photo by Sean Carter Photography. Left to right, Rhiannon Ragland as Karen, Casaundra Freeman as Olivia, David Bendena as Eddie, and Lynch R. Travis as Mitchell visit together in Olivia and Mitchell’s Flint home.

By Crystal Hayduk

The name Flint, Michigan evokes a reaction. The senior population most likely recalls a thriving transportation industry (“Vehicle City”), the growth of the United Automobile Workers, and the development of General Motors Institute (now the highly-ranked Kettering University).

Flint is the home of the Flint Symphony Orchestra, Longway Planetarium (the largest planetarium in Michigan), and Flint Institute of Arts. You can fly from Bishop International Airport, and receive care at McLaren or Hurley Medical Center.

But in recent history, Flint is probably best known for poverty, an elevated crime rate, and the infamous water crisis.

In his 17th premiere on the stage of the Purple Rose Theatre Company (PRTC), playwright Jeff Daniels bravely reveals a dramatic commentary on current issues through an invitation into the lives of two couples on a steamy day in early September, 2014, in FLINT.

As a simple and familiar tune is picked on a guitar, one by one, the characters establish themselves by the work they do: Mitchell (Lynch Travis), Olivia (Casaundra Freeman), Karen (Rhiannon Ragland) and Eddie, “the one they forgot” (David Bendena).  

With the Rose’s quintessential attention to detail, the action takes place in Mitchell and Olivia’s clean, but modest and tired kitchen. Freeman (Olivia) and Travis (Mitchell) portray a married couple working easily in tandem while discussing their day. Despite the challenges their characters face, they share a beautiful on-stage chemistry that is pure and enviable.

Photo by Sean Carter Photography. Left to right, Olivia (Casaundra Freeman) and Mitchell (Lynch R. Travis) comfort each other.

Ragland (Karen) and Bendena (Eddie) play their neighbors and friends, who characterize their physically and emotionally challenging roles so well that there was hardly a dry eye in the building by the performance’s end.

Through the interactions of just one day, Daniels brilliantly builds his play into a vehicle that permits the theatre-goer to ride shotgun into the Rust Belt with the people who live there. Underemployment, poverty, race wars, crime, and contaminated water – FLINT tackles it all. The spark plugs of humor injected throughout seem natural to the flow of conversation, as a way for the characters to relieve the stress in their lives.

FLINT is a riveting depiction of real problems faced by countless people every day. It defines loss and anger, demonstrates a journey from desperation to hope, and exemplifies the positive difference a faith-filled life can make. 

From the depths of despair, Eddie cries out, “I made this country what it is! Who’s gonna give me my life back?”

Olivia’s response to many of the problems she identifies in her community is the Golden Rule based on the words of Jesus found in Matthew: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you. The world would change if people did that,” she says.

Gerie Greenspan, PRTC’s development director, said that the company has teamed with a few agencies in Flint who are responding to the water crisis. “We want to help Flint – one of the many cities around the country that have helped to forge the American Dream, but now struggle with many challenges,” she said. Donations can be made by visiting www.Give2Flint.gesture.com or by texting “Give2Flint” to 52182.

Note: this production contains adult language and content.

FLINT
What: World premiere by Jeff Daniels.
When: Now playing through March 10, 2018; six performances a week – evenings and matinees. See schedule here (http://www.purplerosetheatre.org/flint/).
Where: The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St.
Director: Guy Sanville, assisted by Michelle Mountain
Cast: David Bendena, Casaundra Freeman, Rhiannon Ragland, and Lynch R. Travis
Crew: Design includes set by Vincent Mountain, properties by Danna Segrest, costumes by Shelby Newport, lighting by Dana White, and sound by Tom Whalen.
Stage manager: Thomas Macias; managing director: Katie Hubbard.
Tickets: Available at www.purplerosetheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734-433-7673.

About the Purple Rose Theatre Company: Founded in 1991 by actor, playwright, musician and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels, the Purple Rose Theatre Company is a creative home for original American plays. In the 168-seat theater, patrons experience an intimate encounter with live theater.

Photo by Sean Carter Photography. Olivia (Casaundra Freeman), right and husband Mitchell (Lynch R. Travis), middle, offer hope to their friend and neighbor, Karen (Rhiannon Ragland).

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