Over the weekend, local audiences got their first peek at a play from award-winning writer Ken Levine. The production, Our Time, had its West Michigan premiere in the LowellArts gallery on Friday and Saturday night in front of capacity crowds. It will be performed again this weekend on June 22 and 23 at 7:30pm.
With Our Time, Levine – best known for his work on M*A*S*H, Cheers and other sitcoms – crafted a play that delivers laughs alongside a heavy dose of ‘70s nostalgia. While there are universal themes that will appeal to audiences of all ages, the production may be best appreciated by those who came of age during the decade and understand the Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Lewis references as well as the novelty of cable TV and coffeemakers
Be aware that if you like your comedy PG, this may not be the play for you. Strong profanity is used throughout the production. There are also quite a few sexual references and situations including an extended sequence near the start in which the “action” takes place off stage but there is little doubt as to what is supposed to be happening.
However, if you don’t mind f bombs and sex talk, Our Time is raucous fun and had the opening weekend crowds in stitches.
Strong Cast Delivers Pitch-Perfect Performance
In addition to the strong script, Our Time was a hit this past weekend thanks to great casting and stellar performances.
Undoubtedly, one of the struggles of small community theaters is casting shows from a limited pool of local actors. Indeed, LowellArts had originally planned to perform Going…Going…GONE!, also written by Levine, but were unable to fill one role. But getting the right performers apparently wasn’t a problem with Our Time.
Set in the ‘70s, the play follows four young adults trying to break into the world of comedy. There’s Sarah, played by Allison Kavanaugh, who has the talent and is trying to find her place in a genre dominated by men. Her gay writing partner Alan, performed by Zach Conrad, insists this is the golden age of sitcoms and that the duo needs to remain in LA to work on scripts. Sarah isn’t so sure and wonders if the new Saturday Night Live show in New York City represents the future of comedy.
Meanwhile, Zach’s roommate Bobby is an earnest but decidedly unfunny Jewish comic. Played by Sam VanderVeen in his debut performance with LowellArts, Bobby invites Doug to share a room in their apartment.
While all the performances are strong, it is Rob Freund, in the role of Doug, who steals the show. Fruend both looks and plays the part of a ‘70s radio disc jockey who probably shouldn’t get all the girls but does anyway.
The play is directed by Brent Alles. The Wyoming resident first appeared in a Lowell production 1999 and has been coming back to the community for 19 years to direct and perform. Alles says there is something special about the performing arts in Lowell. “I think the community is so enthusiastic about it,” he explains. “The people are so receptive.”
Levine On Hand for Debut Performances
There was a special member of the audience for the first two performances of Our Time. Levine traveled from Los Angeles to see the Lowell production and mingle with guests. “It’s great fun to see different interpretations and to hear the audience,” he says. “It’s interesting because certain things that work one night don’t work another night.”
Our Time is autobiographical in the sense that it draws on some of Levine’s experiences trying to break into the comedy writing business. He teamed up with Dave Isaacs and their work eventually made it onto the small screen. The two were nominated for numerous awards for their work on M*A*S*H, Cheers and Fraiser. Of those, they won several, including an Emmy for Cheers.
While Levine is best known for those shows, he says one of the projects that gives him the most pride is Almost Perfect. Running from 1995-1996 on CBS, the sitcom is one he co-created with Isaacs and Robin Schiff.
“Working on a television show is extremely rewarding for many reasons,” Levine says. However, it involves long hours and tremendous pressure. After about 20 years in the industry, the writer was happy to move on to other pursuits and has found playwriting lets him flex his comedy muscles without having to put in 70-80 hour weeks.
Two More Chances to See Our Time
If you missed the opening weekend of Our Time, you still have two chances to see the play this weekend. Unlike other recent plays which have been performed in Larkin’s Other Place, this production is being staged in the LowellArts gallery at 223 W. Main St.
Performances will be held on Friday and Saturday, June 22 and 23, at 7:30pm. There is no reserved seating for Our Time so show up early to grab the best spot.
“Ken is obviously a hilarious writer,” Alles says when asked why people should come out to see Our Time. “Beyond the comedy, what I like about this play is that the characters have heart.”
As for Levine, he says he wanted to address the theme of new beginnings in the play but even more so, he wanted there to be plenty of laughs. Based on the reaction of audiences during the opening weekend, he has succeeded on both fronts.
You can buy tickets online in advance of this weekend’s play. The LowellArts website also has more about the West Michigan debut of Our Time. For more on Ken Levine, stop by his website, follow him on Facebook or tune in to his podcast Hollywood & Levine.