Growing up, playwright Annie Martin spent summers at her grandfather’s cottage in Northern Michigan. As she got older, college friends would join her; in later years her husband and daughter would come. “At that cottage, time stopped—I have such great memories,” recalls Martin. When her family put the house up for sale, she felt she was losing something magical. So she wrote Summer Retreat as a sort of memorial to the place; the new play runs July 14-Aug. 21 at Michigan’s Williamston Theatre.
Martin’s quirky comedy about friendship and death centers on three former college roommates in their 50s who reunite after a friend’s funeral at a cottage they haven’t visited for years. Amy is determined to keep a promise to her late friend Nancy, though keeping it could land her and the others in jail. When Nancy’s pesky little sister and a mysterious man show up, chaos ensues, as the friends discover the cottage is not the same—and neither are they.
“We can be horrible to each other and still love each other,” says Martin. “You see yourself reflected in your friends.” She says she enjoys writing “flawed female characters.”
Williamston Theatre is something of a home for Martin; Summer Retreat marks her sixth production there. Though it was originally scheduled to have a National New Play Network rolling world premiere that would begin at the nearby Performance Network Theatre last December, that was scotched when that company died. Still, says Williamston’s artistic director, Tony Caselli, “We never thought of not doing it,” calling the play “a fascinating exploration of the relationships women can have over decades.”
“Annie keeps it real,” says director Suzi Regan, who is helming the production. “She gives voice to those who may otherwise not have a voice.”
Martin’s career in theatre didn’t immediately start in playwriting. After taking an acting class at Kalamazoo College, she opted to stage manage, run lights—anything that kept her near the stage but well off of it. She delighted in poetry and telling a story in as few words as possible; as for playwriting, she was a dabbler.
It was while Martin was doing an apprenticeship at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Mich., that the theatre’s artistic director, Guy Sanville, promised to do a concert reading of the play she was writing. Eventually he wound up giving Martin’s Completing Dahlia a professional production.
By day, Martin works as an acquisitions editor for Wayne State University Press. There she runs the Made in Michigan Writers Series, which she started 10 years ago to add poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from Michigan authors to the press’s academic publication list. She writes plays in the evenings after her daughter is asleep. Williamston’s Caselli is glad she does.
“Annie makes me laugh,” he says. “Her plays get to the heart of people and relationships. She’s a smart and a funny woman.”