The Gem and Century Theatres, two early-20th century venues that were relighted in recent years and help anchor a revitalized theatre district in downtown Detroit, lit up anew on Sept. 5 when Dinner With Friends and Fully Committed both started previews. The shows will also end their scheduled runs on the same day, Dec. 31.
Guy Sanville, artistic director of The Purple Rose Theatre Company, stages Donald Magulies' Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends on the Gem stage. John Lepard, Barbara Coven, Phil Powers and Michelle Mountain appear in the rueful comedy about two couple and friendships that splinter when one gets divorced. Opening was Sept. 14.
Becky Mode's Off-Broadway hit, Fully Committed, at the more intimate Century Theatre, which is attached to the Gem building, officially opened Sept. 12. Matt Callahan directs and stars in the one actor circus of a comedy, about a harried reservation-taker at a trendy, overbooked Manhattan restaurant. Sam arrives at work to discover that he alone six phone lines, two intercoms and the chef's hotline.
The play had a 20-month run Off Broadway. Callahan plays all the characters in the world of the restaurant, from Manhattan socialite to Japanese businessman, from Latino cook to the psychotic maitre d. Actor director Callahan staged the Gem Theatre's Shear Madness in 1995.
The Gem and Century Theatres are at 333 Madison Avenue in downtown Detroit. For information call (313) 963-9800 or visit the www.gemtheatre.com. *
The Century Theatre was built in 1903 by the women's social activist group, the Century Association, which added the adjacent Little Theatre (now called the Gem) in 1927. The first floor of the Mission-style Century originally housed a dining room, and the second floor was an auditorium for 400 (now seating 200). Since it opened, the 450-seat Spanish Revival style Gem served as home to the Concordia Singing Society, the Russian Bear Restaurant, adult movies and George C. Scott's acting company under the banner The Vanguard Playhouse (staging Three Penny Opera, Don Juan in Hell, The Hostage and Dark of the Moon and more between 1959 and the early 1960s). There were six name changes over the years. After a dormant period, developer Chuck Forbes renovated and restored the Gem and the space reopened New Year's Eve, 1991, with the revue, All Night Strut! Since that time, the venue has staged popular runs of Forbidden Broadway, Forever Plaid, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and popular comedies by playwright-actor Jeff Daniels.
After the building was moved a few blocks to make way for football and baseball stadiums, Forbes refurbished the Century into a restaurant and theatre. In 1999, Forbidden Hollywood was the debut production at the 200-seat Century. A restaurant opened there in June 1999.
— By Kenneth Jones