Milwaukee Chamber Theatre sharply fuses bedroom farce with crime suspense in its season opener Paul Slade Smith’s Unnecessary Farce. Ryan Schabach directs a briskly-paced comedy set in a pair of adjoining hotel rooms in Sheboygan. A couple of police officers are engaged in a stakeout involving a mayor and conspicuous accounting at city hall. As this is a farce, things inevitably get incredibly complicated when the Scottish Mafia gets involved and a secret romance is revealed. The standard bedroom farce is beautifully amplified by crime mystery plot elements. It’s fun light comedy fusion to kick off the season for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
It’s a beautiful scenic design by Martin McClendon. A wall bisects the stage. The room on the left of that wall is the outpost of officers Sheridan and Dwyer. Ben Yela is sternly fragile as the undercover Officer Sheridan. Yela delicately plays the uneasy authority of a man in WAY over his head on an important stakeout. Rachel Zientek is deeply appealing as Officer Dwyer. She’s playing a police officer who has worn her uniform to an undercover stakeout so...y’know...her heart is in the right place, but she’s not exactly the most functional member of the Sheboygan police force.
The motel room on the right is identical to its counterpart on the other side of the wall in every detail down to the placements of the identical art prints on the walls. The room plays host to a meeting between the mayor and his new accountant who is secretly working with the police on the sting operation. Amber Smith deftly balances between confidence and vulnerability in a role which also finds her as a very nuanced and engaging romantic lead. She and Zienek have very impressively sophisticated grasp of the physical end of the comedy. There’s a subtlety to nonverbal comedy that both Smith and Zientek handle brilliantly. They both have a very clever awareness of how their respective sections of the chaos onstage fits into everything else that’s going on.
Local theatre veterans Jonathan Gillard Daly and Jenny Wanasek are cleverly comic as the mayor and his wife—stereotypical small town Wisconsinites on the surface with much more going on in beneath the surface for both of them. Their ability to play simplicity on the surface with a deep sophistication lurking underneath is an ideal job for a pair of seasoned actors.
Tim Higgins plays Agent Frank--the Mayor’s bodyguard who...in spite of his apparent competency is ALSO in way over his head. Higgins’ mastery of verbal comedy allows comedy to hit that really has no business working on its own. This guy has been with ComedySportz for a quarter century. He knows how to deliver comedy and fuse it perfectly into a narrative. His Sconnie accent is probably the best. He’s amplifying it and exaggerating it a little bit, but it’s perfect. Having grown-up in northeastern Wisconsin, it’s really difficult for me to hear most actors try to do a working-class Wisconsin accent. It’s really, really hard for most actors to nail in just the right way. Higgins has it down perfectly, which lends a great deal of atmospheric authenticity to the rest of the production.
And Rick Pendzich plays a weird Scottish hitman. It’s weird. Just weird. But good.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Unnecessary Farce runs through August 25 at the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N. Broadway. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800 or visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.
A robust audience greeted opening night of Patrick Schmitz’s The Comedy of Romeo & Juliet: Kinda Sorta. The latest in a long line of productions of Shakespeare parody briskly rolls through the stage of the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall in a three-hour stretch lightly entertaining enough to feel like a half hour sitcom. Though there may be a few slightly dated pop cultural references lingering about various corners of the script, the light comic treatment of Shakespeare’s classic romance is still hugely enjoyable several years after its original staging.
Writer/Director Patrick Schmitz juggles a clever array of humor surrounding the central comedy of a couple of kids who have fallen deeply in love having only just met for the first time. The fourth wall isn’t broken so much as casually disregarded in a highly self-referential script. The play’s awareness of itself helps cut the tragedy of a couple of young lovers who kill themselves. It’s a very sharp strategy that works once more in the show’s latest staging.
As Romeo, Josh Decker is at his best when he is over-the-top passionate whether tragically pining after fair Rosaline or lamenting a whole host of problems in his romance with Juliet.
Schmitz hands quite a challenge to the actress playing Juliet. His treatment of the female lead can come across a bit emotionally flat, bratty and petty in places. (It’s all part of the comedy.) And while it works for the comedy, it keeps her at an emotional distance from everything. Kara Minelli does am admirable job in keeping the character engaging throughout the twists and turns of the story. Minelli’s brash confidence in the role keeps Juliet from becoming a vapidly tedious title character.
There is great talent around the edges of the ensemble. Laura Holterman has a cunning mastery of Schmitz’s humor in the role of Juliet’s mother Lady Capulet. Holterman has a sharply droll sense of authority about her as matriarch that serves the comedy well.
Beth Lewinski is deftly comic in almost anything. (She’s just...really good. Trust me.) Here she’s playing Juliet’s Nurse with a heroic level of patience that becomes a brilliant kind of comedy in its own right.
Hayley San Fillippo has brilliantly tempered comic instincts as Benvolio. Part of the joke of the role in Schmitz’s script is that everyone recognizes her as a woman. Benvolio has to constantly remind everyone she’s actually a man being played by a woman. It’s kind of a dated joke given the number of women that have been playing male roles in local Shakespeare lately, but San Fillippo has a very charmingly earnest approach to the role that makes it work beautifully. Intended or not, San Fillippo has that cleverly endearing ”woman-putting-up-with-the-guys-in-order-to-be-one-of-the-guys” dynamic going on that really illuminates the role.
As typically occurs in any large ensemble show like this, there are so many talented actors in and around the edges of the production who feel underused. Erik Koconis is comically creepy as Count Paris: a grown man who wants to marry the 13 year-old Juliet. Michelle White makes a strong impression as an appealingly salty Apothecary/homeless woman. Chris Goode is childishly aggressive as hot-tempered Tybalt. Nic Onorato draws on an entirely different kind of comic childishness as would-be aggressor Sampson. Rollie Cafaro draws on substantial sketch/improv experience to conjure a very wise Friar Lawrence. For light comedy, Schmitz’s script has a lot going on in every angle of the ensemble. Directing his own script, Schmitz knows exactly what he needs out of his cast to make even the weirdest bits of humor work.
Schmitz 'n Giggles’ The Comedy of Romeo and Juliet: Kinda Sorta runs for one weekend only through this Sunday, August 10th. (Tonight and tomorrow night. Both shows start at 7:30 pm) For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
For ticket reservations...ugh...you’ll have to deal with Ticketmonster. For the love of all that is good, just go early and stand in line to buy tickets in person. It’s a nice night out. There’s a river nearby and everything. Seriously: just go early and wait in line at the Box Office and save yourself the surcharge.
An intimate, little group of 16 or so assembled in a space not far from the stage at the Underground Collaborative for a Voices Found Repertory presentation. There was a cozy kind of welcoming informality about the place as people settled-in for a staged reading of Jake Thompson’s Beautiful Things Or the Rise and Fall of Dorian Gray and the Writer From Mars.
Actors and others involved in local theatre sat in a circle of chairs. There were pillows on the carpeted floor of a room just precisely big enough to hold all in attendance. The charmingly engaging Jake Thompson introduced the reading of his script from paper packets and mobile devices. He spoke of the long process of getting the script into its current form: an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and biographical bits of Wilde’s life fused together under the influence of David Bowie’s 1972 Ziggy Stardust album.
The title of the script almost feels suggestive of some sort of weird Bowie-esque rock opera fusion between author and adaptation of his novel. This is not the case. Every scene is named after a different David Bowie song. Other than that, Bowie is nowhere to be found aside from a vague thematic connection Bowie’s relationship with his Ziggy Stardust character and Wilde’s relationship with the inhabitants of Dorian Gray.
Thompson’s work is an alternating fusion between biography and adaptation of Wilde’s novel. On the surface, this feels a bit redundant as Wilde’s work is essentially a dialectic exploring different elements within him. Wilde has even stated that the three central characters in the novel are essentially aspects of his own personality, so it’s already about him. Throwing biographical moments with Wilde into the adaptation might feel a bit unnecessary. The work speaks for itself. It’s difficult enough to distill any decent novel down to the script’s 90 minutes as it is. Throwing biography in there would seem absurd. In attempting to be both fiction and biography at the same time, any production of Thompson’s work runs the risk of failing at both. That being said, there was something very haunting about Wilde contrasted with his three central characters that became apparent in the course of the reading. Clearly Thompson’s on to something with his script.
Prior to the beginning of the reading, actors were paired with characters. Kyle Conner (last seen onstage in an entirely different reading of an entirely different original locally-written script in an entirely different basement) was chosen for Wilde. Conner’s deft emotional instincts served that character of Wilde quite well, allowing for emotion not often exhibited in traditional depictions of the writer.
The three central men in Dorian Gray were read by women. Voices Found’s Alexis Furseth read the part of Dorian Gray in Thompson’s adaptation of selected highlights of the novel. The sensitive innocence at the opening of the story pummeled its way through intermittent scenes to the harshness of the character at the end of the story. There isn’t a whole lot of room for delicate character development in selected scenes pulled from an 80,000 word text over the course of 90 minutes, but existing as he does in shadowy echoes of Wilde and two other characters, the adaptation works.
Sarah Zapiain responded most noticeably to Thompson’s description of corrupting influence Lord Henry as the Kevin Kline character from A Fish Called Wanda. She was given the role to read. An actress of intricate gravities, Zapiain was a perfect fit. She’s magnetic. Some of Wilde’s wittiest lines were casually amplified by the woman reading Henry. Who wouldn’t want to be corrupted by Sarah Zapiain?
Maya Danks rounded out the central quartet reading the role of painter Basil Hallward, who serves as the conscience of the piece. Danks earnest emotional warmth in a role helped to shine a light on the strengths of pairing Oscar Wilde’s biographical moments with the fiction.
The four central characters in Thompson’s adaptation had an undeniable appeal in the reading. During the reading, part of this appeal came from a really talented quartet of actors. In the script, part of this appeal also comes from the inherent appeal of seeing echoes of the same personality reflected between four different characters in two different worlds onstage.
Thompson’s work could really harness this appeal by focusing the energy of the script more centrally on those central four characters. If he can do so in a way that harnesses the moody, mercurial rock and roll of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, all the better. (Otherwise...y’know...maybe drop the Bowie connection altogether as it’s not a very strong connection as it is.) Conner’s passionate reading of Wilde’s words taken from courtroom transcripts show that he can work in more of an emotionally aggressive context. Why not go all the way with it? It would be interesting to see the wit of Wilde delivered with a brasher, higher-energy delivery than is allowed in traditional performances of Wilde’s work. Tightening-up the script and amping-up the tempo could turn this 90-minute script into a remarkably taut 60 minutes. This could theoretically allow for more coverage of both fiction and biography in a future draft of Thompson decides to explore it. Of course, judging from audience reaction to the reading, this might not be necessary. Everyone in attendance enjoyed it.
As this was more of a workshop reading of Thompson’s adaptation for local theatre people, there was some rather in-depth conversation regarding the script afterwards. The most interesting element of this post-reading conversation was finding out how much appeal the script held for those in the audience who weren’t as familiar with Wilde. A dive as deep as his into Oscar Wilde from fiction and biographical angles would be excessively dull if not handled well. Clearly the script can hold the interest of theatergoers not already a fan of Wilde’s. That Thompson’s work was able to hold them is quite an accomplishment. (A couple of people in attendance expressed an interest in reading the novel for the first time.) Thompson’s really got something here. It’ll be interesting to see how Thompson’s work develops in the future.
Beautiful Things Or the Rise and Fall of Dorian Gray and the Writer From Mars. rests for now. Next up for Voices Found Repertory is an appearance at Milwaukee Fringe Fest on August 24th. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel is host to an appealing, little buffet of little arts experiences. Somewhere beyond the large horse sculpture inhabiting the lobby, the tiny gallery and the Poet Phone (a classy little phone featuring recordings of Timothy Kloss, Matt Cook and more) there rest a tiny, little 90-seat black box theatre. The Saint Kate artists in residence company ARCo introduces itself late this summer with a production of America Hurrah—a program of three shorts from playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie. Originally written for small crowds in New York during the Vietnam Era, the program is a look back at a tumultuous era in the nation’s history that echoes universals that continue to beat through the pulse of contemporary cultural consciousness.
The opening short is “Job Interview.” It’s a rhythmic abstraction of human interaction that opens with a deconstructed cascade of job interview dialogues before melting and fusing into a series of smaller narratives the illustrate the absurd difficulties of human connection. As this is also the first short on the inaugural ARCo show, it also serves as an opportunity to meet the ensemble that will be working out of the space. It’s a strong group of young performers led by the show’s director Nancy Kresin. The characters present in the short were a rage from Ian Tully’s polished, professional bank president to Tim Gutknecht’s earthy house painter to Gabriella Ashlin’s somewhat abrasive floor washer. Perhaps the single most disturbing character in the set had Seth Hale pouring himself through the shiny veneer of an impersonal politician being rapidly pursued by the rest of the cast. Susie Duecker is particularly engaging as a woman at a party reaching out in an apparent attempt to try to make sense of something horrific. She and a few others look to engage directly with audience in the front row.
After the first intermission, Duecker returns as a woman working a at a TV station. She and her co-workers (played by JJ Gatesman and Ian Tully) are contrasted against the artificiality of the TV programming they are broadcasting. The contrast blurs between reality and the television which mocks it. The specifics of the TV medium as they have evolved over the course of the past half century make “TV” the most dated of the three shorts, but the questions of the relationship between pop art drama and the reality of human drama on this side of the TV remain captivating in a fascinating piece of drama.
The short that closes the show (“Hotel”) might have been a bit more ambitious a project to tackle on a small budget than the other two. Emily Elliott and Rachel Meldman we’re nevertheless dynamically destructive in masks as a man and a woman destroying a hotel room while the voice of Gabriella Ashlin could be heard delivering a monologue about a hooked rugs and other fine amenities in a hotel on Route 666. Eliot and Meldman are graceful and breathtaking in a ’60s proto-punk dance destruction piece. The problem with the staging was that everything onstage LOOKED like it was made to be destroyed. In a way the might say something about the disposable nature of a landscape strung together with temporary housing for populations in transit, but if Meldman and Elliot aren’t destroying something that appears to have been built to stand the test of time, the destruction of the props doesn’t carry the impact that it could have otherwise had. The energy that Meldman and Elliott were able to bring to the piece was strong enough to overcome props and scenery. There’s kind of power in seeing people in mask and costume making a mess. It’s a strong visceral statement on which to end ARCo’s debut show.
ARCo Ensemble’s production of America Hurrah runs through August 24th at Saint Kate--The Arts Hotel on 139 East Kilbourn. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events page.
Given how many full productions of established material make it to the stage in a given year, the opportunity to see an intimate staged reading of something new. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity in my schedule this past weekend to see local playwright
Given how many full productions of established material make it to the stage in a given year, the opportunity to see an intimate staged reading of something new. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity in my schedule this past weekend to see local playwright Matthew Konkel’s In Celebration of the Oblique onstage in the basement of the Brumder. The one night only reading was directed by Grace DeWolff for a group of local theatre people. Billed as a love story between a cannibal and a vegan, the weird existential romantic comedy feels right at home in one of the smallest stages in Milwaukee.
Vegetarian actress Abigail Stein played a woman suffering from an inability to digest anything that didn’t come from a a human body. With the aid of a very delicately-written script, Stein brought a degree of humanity to a woman trying to navigate the difficult morality of her own diet. Stein has a compelling sense of humanity about her that makes the role feel strikingly compassionate.
Kyle Conner has developed considerably as an actor over the recent past. Here he’s playing a man who is passionately vegan. Conner plays the socially crippling passion of a vegetarian activist with clever nuance. Conner’s sense of humor allows comedy to glide out onto the stage in a range that includes everything from a subtle whisper to far more aggressive volumes. There was a particularly clever bit of subtle comedy as he shared the stage for a moment alone with Chris Goode.
Chris Goode played a man lost in the torpor of his own apathy. A janitor at a medical college, he’s a friend of the young cannibal woman who provides her with the only food that she can eat. Goode added a level of curiosity to the apathy that makes the character truly interesting. When paired onstage in relative silence, the two conjured laughter with their presence alone. A lot of the success of that one moment of silence had to do with how well-defined all of the characters in Konkel’s script.
Casey Van Dam had an opportunity to play the single most interesting character in the entire script--a secular humanist street preacher who addresses the audience directly on a number of different occasions. Van Dam has a very engaging charm that amplified the character’s theatrically German accent. Van Dam played the role somewhere in between Hitler, Einstein (and...I don’t know...Dr. Ruth?) as a very aggressively curious mystery inhabiting the edges of the script until he rises to prominence midway through the play.
Zach Sharrock rounded out the cast as a classic Sam Spade-style gumshoe detective trying to solve the murder of the preacher. His role seems minor until things get REALLY weird at the end of the play.
It’s a very clever script with a variety of characters along the edges of humanity. The strange chemistry of these characters works quite well...but the real fun of seeing a script like this in its infancy lies in all the imperfection. There’s a very deep philosophical energy at the heart of the script which devolves all too often into Philosophy 101-style conversations. They sound perfectly natural in the context of the play, but directly talking about themes covered in the script feels incredibly tedious on all those occasions it pops up. Except for Van Dam’s street preacher. (Everything sounds A LOT more important when spoken with an engaged German accent.)
On the whole, it’s a really great script. There are contemporary playwrights who have been acclaimed who haven’t written anywhere near this good....even WITH the Philosophy 101 moments. Milwaukee needs to celebrate its local playwrights. Stuff like Oblique needs to get staged much more often if Milwaukee is to have an active voice in the national theater. There’s real talent here. This staged reading was further proof of this.
When it’s not hosting special, little events like the reading of In Celebration of the Oblique, the Brumder Mansion’s intimate stage is host to the Milwaukee Entertainment Group. For more information.
The Sunset Playhouse takes a trip back in time with its latest: Hairspray. The 2002 musical based on the 1988 John Waters film is set in 1962. The fun and classy, little allegorical look at the Civil Rights Movement plays across the stage of the Furlan Auditorium in a quick, little whisk of an evening’s performance. The endearing musical comedy is brought to Elm Grove with a pleasantly textured sense of passion and imperfection which suits the themes of the story quite well. Director L. Tommy Lueck brings the story to the stage with a fun, breezy sense of humor that is marred only a bit by the complexity of difficult sound design on a two-tiered set that poses all kinds of acoustic challenges. Beyond the occasional dropout in the sound, there’s a really enjoyable evening to be had in Elm Grove.
Emma Borkowski is deeply charming as Tracy Turnblad...a Baltimore girl who dreams of being on the local TV dance program The Corny Collins Show. Noah Maguire has an imposing sense of authority in the role of Tracy’s mother Edna, who discourages her from her dreams in order to shelter her from disappointment.
In the process of pursuing her dreams, Tracy comes into contact with black students who introduce her to a culture that she has been sheltered from. Jahbarri Bradshaw has a strong, warm presence onstage as Seaweed J. Stubbs--a friend Tracy meets in detention. Tracy’s best friend Penny (an endearingly anxious Amber Weissert) promptly falls for Seaweed. An invitation to visit Seaweed and his family also introduces formidably wise matriarch Motormouth Maybelle (Sharon Tyler) who encourages the integration. Tyler’s ability to assume authority onstage matches Maguire’s as the two matriarchs help march the heroes into conflict with a deeply segregated Baltimore in 1961.
In the current political climate, it is immensely reaffirming to see a tale of integration set in 1961. The Elm Grove production adds something of a weird social anthropological angle for those of us who are younger than so many Sunset Playhouse subscribers. The script is filled with comic references to the late ’50s/ early ’60s. No one in the cast is likely old enough to have remembered the era, but in a house full of baby boomers in the audience, it is aesthetically satisfying to hear so many pop cultural jokes from the era land so well. There’s also a sense of disappointment in the era that’s palpable in the audience.
There’s that distinct subtly groaning sense of disgust for the casual racism prominent in 1961 that is delicately brought to the stage in the musical. In an era where racism seems to be creeping back around the edges of contemporary culture, it’s kind of a relief to be reminded of how far society has come from the safe and cozy confines of an enjoyable musical. With music inspired by the era with an engaging story of love and acceptance, Hairspray finds a very appealing natural habitat onstage in Elm Grove.
The Sunset Playhouse’s production of Hairspray continues through August 11 at the Furlan Auditorium on 700 Wall Street in Elm Grove. For ticket reservations and more, visit the Sunset Playhouse online.
Boozy Bard returns to an old classic this month for another run at Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Raw). Once again, roles are chosen at random before the beginning of each show for a weirdly unique Results May Vary brush with one of the English language’s most celebrated authors. Mandi Veeder takes directorial duties for this show. The show's host Sarah Wallisch lent a refreshingly informal energy to the evening. The atmosphere of The Tempest with its strange chaos and interactions lends itself quite nicely to a freewheeling improv comic energy that Boozy Bard brings to the stage.
Opening night of the show a respectably large crowd filtered in to the Best Place Tavern in the shadow of the Bucks’ new place for a comfortably warm evening of comedy. The “casting director” hat felt as random as ever before the show, granting roles in a pattern that lent inadvertent comic strength to some scenes while leaving others a bit stylistically sparse. Sometimes the energy catches...sometimes it doesn’t. Actors take the stage with scripts...the iconic glaring red of the covers contrasts against the white of the pages in a darkened room that’s blasted with light. Actors launch themselves into characters they didn’t know they’d be playing until they arrived at the venue. There’s some great energy here even when things slow down.
A delightful energy all her own onstage AND off as both audience and performer at various points in the show, Sarah Seefeldt drew the honor of playing Miranda—the only woman on an isle ruled over by an old man with various magics. Seefeldt warmed-up to the strangeness of the role over the course of the evening, finding firm comic grounding for the character once Miranda’s love interest set-in.
Jim Donaldson wore an iridescent veil as Ariel. Beer perpetually in hand, Donaldson’s spirit carried himself across the floorboards of the Best Place in a magical slouch, shrugging chaos into the story while sipping beer. As always, Donaldson is perfectly in tune with the spirit of the show.
Also of note were scenes featuring Stephen M. Wolterstorff and Michelle White playing Stephano and Trinculo...a couple of the king’s servants who quickly find themselves in the company of a rather large Caliban in an awkwardly simply bit of green costuming. Wolterstorff and White had clever comic instincts that animated an already comic set of moments in the play. The great strengths of a script like The Tempest is that so much of it is already strange and comic. Add a little random casting and a few glasses of beer into the mix and it’s the perfect show for an informal evening at a bar with echoes of great writing bent around a weird mood.
Boozy Bard’s production of The Tempest runs through July 10 at the Best Place Tavern on 901 W. Juneau Ave. The run closes-out with a one-night-only performance July 12 at Hawthorne Coffee Rosters on 4177 S Howell Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
Theatre is universal. If it’s done well, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be accessible on some level to everybody. Responsible adults tend to overthink this. We tend to think that there are some types of shows that might simply not appeal to very, very young kids. Given them the right attention, though, and even a little girl entering kindergarten next fall would have no trouble becoming remarkably engrossed in something as culturally obtuse as one of Shakespeare’s histories.
Door Shakespeare does a remarkably good job of drawing-in the tiniest theatergoers with a Saturday pre-show program called Shake It Up Saturdays. The intimate, little outdoor theatre in Bailey’s Harbor, has early 5:00 p.m. Saturday evening performances of Henry V throughout the summer. An early 5pm show is great for families, but a history like Henry V could seem like a really bad idea for really, really young kids. Door Shakespeare Managing Director Amy Ensign hosted a fun, little Shake It Up this past Saturday that engaged my two daughters before an afternoon with Shakespeare.
Ensign does an admirable job of bringing the complexities of an ancient play to life for kids prior to the show. The kids played with slips of paper assembling an ordered synopsis of and addressed various aspects of the play. (My daughters were particularly amused at the idea of France sending a king of England a chest full of tennis balls to mock him.)
The specifics of the tiny outdoor production were also of interest in the children's pre-show. It is explained to the kids that there are two opposing teams in the play: one in red and one in blue. Actors play counterparts on both teams based on cleverly simple Kim Instenes costuming. The basics of this are brought to the kids via props and costuming. They take turns choosing items, creating characters and improvising interactions between them.
The lessons from the free pre-show workshop are brought into the theatre. Henry V director/chorus presenter Matt Daniels is there onstage warming-up. The rest of the cast gradually filters-in to join him in warm-ups and pre-show socializing. Daniels has chosen to allow aspects of the backstage atmosphere to be visible onstage in the narration-heavy spirit of Shakespeare’s script. This semi-visible backstage is a great introduction for the younger theatergoers. My oldest daughter was given a checklist of classic lines from the play to listen for. The connection between script and spoken word seemed particularly interesting to her.
My oldest daughter is an easy match for this sort of show. It would be understandable that an eight-year-old would be able to dive into the reality of the drama as she is given something like a checklist to interact with. A little girl not quite in kindergarten could have been a bit more of a distance from the show, but Ensign did a great job of selling it to her. It was really fascinating to see my pre-kindergartner get into it. Little Isobel wore a flower crown from the concession stand with her tiny plush ocelot toy on one knee and her tiny plush bunny toy on the other. She was slack-jawed with wide, little blue eyes as she watched a Frenchman barter for his life with the British ensign named Pistol. Little Isobel might not have understood the specifics of what was going on, but she WAS totally engaged in so much of what was going on onstage. She may not have been totally engaged for the entire show, but an intimate outdoor performance of one of Shakespeare’s histories carried her attention MUCH more than one might have expected from a little girl entering kindergarten this fall.
It's a show meant for adults that has been made accessible for the whole family. Credit a talented Amy Ensign for drawing out some of that interest with an ambitious, little class. for ambitious, little theatergoers prior to the show every Saturday.
Door Shakespeare’s production of Henry V runs in rotation with The Merry Wives of Windsor through August 24th in Björklunden Lodge in Bailey’s Harbor in Door County, WI. Shake It Up Saturdays are free to attendees of the show every Saturday by reservation only. Shake It Up starts at 3:15. The show starts at 5 pm. For more information, visit Door Shakespeare online. My full review of both Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor appear in upcoming issues of The Shepherd-Express.
A show with a title like Zombies on Broadway brings with it certain expectations. There will be zombies. There will be Broadway. There will be campy music. Off the Wall Theatre delivers on all of these things with its season-ending musical comedy. The premiere of Dale Gutzman’s hand-crafted original show ambles humorously across the stage, successfully avoiding the potential genius of its premise. The show instead curls somewhat charismatically around a mid-twentieth century musical sitcom format that capably delivers light, inconsequential comedy to an intimate stage. Gutzman’s done far better work with his original shows in the past. The campy cheesiness of Zombies on Broadway doesn’t reanimate well enough to live-up to his best work.
Michelle Waide lifelessly generates laughter as Dottie Lotrine: a faded star of Broadway who has been turned into a zombie in order to ensure that her latest show opens on time as expected.
Dale Gutzman is admirably flawed as Carl Denham—the man who brought the disaster out giant ape Ling Kong to New York. He looks to make-up for it by reviving a dead actress and teaching her to sing and dance.
Among those pulled into the horror of the endeavor is broadway star Gilbert Goddard played with comic grace and poise by a dapper Mark Neufang in a pencil-thin mustache. Neufang has a very nuanced and sophisticated understanding of campy comedy that fosters some of the best comic moments in the production. Kristin Pagenkopf also exhibits a clever mastery of cheesy comedy delivery in the role of veteran chorus girl Sassy.
The story itself is a bit of a jumble. There’s problems with a sleazy producer (played by Larry Lukasavage) There’s a budding romance between a chorus girl named Susie (played by Jenny Kosek) and a charmingly wholesome dance captain (Teddi Jules Gardener) named Dick. (And would you believe that his name is used a number of times for wordplay humor? Part of Gutzman’s charm lies in going for easy jokes. They CAN get a bit repetitious.) Gutzman ties together so many elements that the central zombie conflict feels a bit like a gimmick. The script is tolerable as a well-balanced musical, but it misses a great opportunity for something more dynamic.
Horror is one of the more popular genres of fiction in ANY format. Horror fans love parody. People who might not normally think to go to a live stage play are GOING to want to go to a show like this. And they’re going to be disappointed. Gutzman’s script sells the zombie element short. The premise of maintaining a zombie leading lady in a Broadway show has lots of potential, particularly as it might not always be all that clear who she might have been in contact with. Cast and crew alike would have to watch each other very, very closely to make sure no one else might have gotten turned into a zombie or they themselves might unwittingly become the next victim. This and other horror elements are only given occasional time onstage. Gutzman trying to teach zombie-Waide to sing onstage is a bit fun...reminiscent of Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle as Frankenstein and The Monster singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in Young Frankenstein.
One of the best moments in the entire play has Gardener, Neufang and Waide onstage trying to make it through a rehearsal of a single scene. Waide’s zombie grunts. Gardener’s leading male can’t remember any lines and the recently-infected actor played by Neufang is struggling to keep it together. Neufang’s clever balance between poised stage actor and infected zombie about to go full Romero-zombie at any time is a great deal of fun. Too bad more of the rest of the script doesn’t play clever games with the zombie horror. The right talent is clearly assembled for a proper comedy horror show. Composer/Musical Director Chris Holoyda has done great work with musical horror including Lobotomy the Musical and Flesh Trade. This could have been another great locally-written musical/horror crossover for the small stage. Gutzman does a solid job of putting together a campy musical, but it could have been much more.
Boulevard Theatre’s Zombies on Broadway runs through June 30th on 127 E. Wells Street. For ticket reservations and more, visit Off the Wall online.
A very earthy indie Riverwest feel greets audiences on the walk through a curtain of plastic into 53212 Presents’ I’m a Father Under Construction. Beautiful live acoustic alt-pop plays as the sound of traffic on Center Street rolls in from just outside the second floor space above Company Brewing on Center Street. Nerissa Eichinger’s set is a stylized classic blueprint of the front of a residential home with picket fencing covering the stage floor and scenic flats which are rolled around in the course of the show.
Kirk R. Thomsen directs a concise, little seven-part exploration into fatherhood featuring dance theatre, drama, poetry and more. The opening dance piece gives the show its title. Conceived by Posy Knight, the piece represents some of the show’s best abstract work. Ida Lucchesi, Lindsay Stevens and Joelle Worm render a struggle amidst a deep soundscape that includes spoken word from various voices and echoes of the distinctive eloquence of Barack Obama speaking of fatherhood. The abstract multi-person movement work is some of the more beautiful stuff on the program.
The show gets a bit more directly narrative in a trilogy of “Family Life” pieces which include an imaginary ball thrown around between father and kids. Sounds of the construction which echo the title take the form of power drills, hammers and saws that don’t seem to be organized in any particular way. (There’s almost an abstract kind of confusion in the sound effects. This is what it’s like to be a father, though: it’s a lot of work and it can feel like you don’t have a goddamned clue as to what you’re doing. Just keeping sawing and drilling and pounding-in the nails and you’ll be fine..the important thing is that you’re actually there and doing something. you’ll figure it out as you work...) One of the more starkly simple and hauntingly dark pieces in the show is the “Family Life II” between Thomsen and Ben Ludwig. The two engage in admirably complex relations which swiftly shift in an elegantly primal, little moment between two men in a public men’s room.
Ludwig brings the show to a bit of a crescendo with “Legacy,” a piece featuring choreography by Zach Schorsch. There’s a genuine struggle to find identity and gender identity as Ludwig engages in an energetic and aggressive pseudo-duet with a mannequin and number of feather boas. The piece is fairly simple, but Ludwig’s subtle magnetism does an elegant job of selling the gravity of the drama.
The concept of fatherhood is as dizzyingly complex as it is vague. The show doesn’t attempt any kind of a comprehensive dissection of the topic. This works to the overall advantage of the show. There’s so much interpretive artistic abstraction in form and movement that a more explicitly-rendered analysis of fatherhood would suffer. Instead, the show dreamily coasts through certain feelings of universal dad-like Americana. The show’s traditionally American father abstraction is just ambiguous enough to draw-in audiences to a personal connection with the concept of “dad.” Just about any open heart can connect with it regardless of personal history. That’s the beauty in this kind of abstraction.
I wasn’t exactly “fathered” by a dad. I’m not really a traditional dad to my daughters either...not in the cliche way anyway. The show managed to resonate with me on a personal level anyway. With vaguely dad-like notions playing across the stage, the show draws on vague notions that coax vivid memories in a shadowy space beyond the plastic curtain above a bar in Riverwest.
53212 Presents’ I’m a Father Under Construction runs through June 29th at Grapefruit Studios above Company Brewing on 735 E. Center St. For more information, visit 53212 Presents online.