Just a couple of days ago, the Milwaukee Rep announced that it would be opening-up for indoor performances starting April 27th with its production of Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song. Smaller stages still wait for the COVID to clear enough to allow live audiences back in. There are quite a few shows popping-up online this coming month as COVID continues to run its course. Here’s a look at some of them:
Cosmic Fairy Tales
Theatre Gigante’s next big project turns out to be 31 Cosmic Fairy Tales written by Slovene writer Rok Vilčnik. The 31 stories are available in video format for 31 days...each one told by a different storyteller. There’s quite a range of impressive talent involved including Megan Kaminsky, Nathan Danzer, Mohammad ElBsat, Posy Knight, Evan Koepnick, Jason Powell, Nate Press and more. Gigante’s own Mark Anderson and Isabelle Kralj are also featured. Gigante refers to the project as “Thirty-one winking, blinking, curious Fairy Tales in the cosmos, offering uniquely bizarre adventures in search of the earthling heart in all of us.”
All videos are available beginning March 1st. For more information, visit Gigante online.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents a show online this month which also becomes available March 1st: Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s The Island. DiMonte Henning and Sherrick Robinson play a couple of cellmates in a maximum security prison. By day the two inmates work back-breaking manual labor. By night they rehearse for a prison production of Sophocles’ Antigone. The Apartheid-era drama continues to hold the kind of resonance one would expect from one of the most resepcted playwrights of the late 20th century.
The show is available for viewing with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online starting March 1st. Tickets are $35. They go on sale March 1st.
Cooperative Performance returns to the web this month with a new show. The group’s recent Embodied Truth was a compelling fusion of small-stage aesthetics that were firmly-rooted in Milwaukee. The group’s latest explores the nature of human connection in a world of digital connections made through the forced isolation that continues to impose itself on contemporary society. Andrew Coopman devised the piece. There’s a really interesting mix of talent involved in the show including Ashley Retzlaff-Rogaczewski, Allison Chicorel and a whole lot of people I don’t recall ever seeing before. If the last Cooperative Performance show was any indicator, this should be a really, really good show.
RE: Social/Divide streams on-demand March 12th-April 11th for more information, visit Cooperative Performance online.
BTC Spotlight Artist Virtual Cabaret
Brand-new local performance group Bombshell Theatre Company introduces itself with a one-night-only Virtual Cabaret featuring Broadway showtunes from Les Miserables, My Fair Lady, Chicago, Guys and Dolls and more. Eric Welch and Tim Albrechtson are joined by local talent including Eric Begendahl, Morgan Clarey, Laura Monagle and more.
Virtual Artist Cabaret hits the internet March 19th at 7pm. For more information, visit Bombshell Theatre online.
It was a little over ten years ago when Marti Gobel starred in playwight Charlayne Woodard’s one-woman show Neat with Renaissance Theaterworks. This March, Gobel reprises her role as Aunt Beneatha “Neat” Harris, who teaches black pride and a love of live through the ’60s and ’70s. Gobel is a great talent. The intimacy of a one-woman show online should be a great deal of fun with Gobel’s charm.
Neat runs March 19 - April 11 for more information, Visit Renaissance online.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre hosts another fun, informal distance performance event late this winter as it welcomes the work of two-piece string/vocal group SistaStrings. Monique and Chauntee Ross’ distinctive violin/cello sound is presented in a fully-produced music video developed by Traveling Lemur Productions. Once again, MOT fosters a fun evening of conversation and performance for a limited audience in the latest of its Zoom-based soiree “zoirees.” There’s a vibrantly playful mood about the program as artists of various types discuss their craft in an open online setting.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre Artistic Director Jill Anna Ponasik hosts a three-part evening. After introductions, the small Zoom audience is introduced to the artists by way of pre-recorded interview that precedes the performance. This is an interesting choice. It allows the audience and opportunity to get to know the artist a little bit before seeing their art. It really brings across the feel of casually meeting a couple of people at a party, finding out they are musicians and then seeing them perform. Then after the performance, there is an opportunity for an audience back which was followed by a live performance this past Saturday night.
A pre-recorded performance plays like a music video. The video was put together by Traveling Lemur productions added features reef and soul for appearances by a couple of cute, fuzzy puppets courtesy of designer Bill Olsen and Angry Young Men, ltd. SistaStrings’ unique blend of wistfully impassioned vocals and classical sounding strings is at the forefront of a video package which combines their performance with footage of demonstration and puppets playing along in a dreamy superimposed shadow on violin and cello. Deeper statements that might have been made in combining street protest footage with violin, cello and puppets seem to be a bit lost in the dream he miasma of the video presentation. It’s a remarkably pleasant experience, but it is difficult to draw the deeper meaning which is clearly there in the substance of the work devised by SistaStrings. A truly unique pair of performers are given a truly unique platform in which to present their material.
Video conferencing still feels a bit stiff as a vehicle for performance. As pleasantly informal as it is, it’s still very much like a work meeting over Zoom. And though it is kind of cool to see the artists in their natural environment accompanied by appearances of accompanying vocalists and Angry Young Men puppeteers, the overall experience isn’t quite as relaxing as it could be in a format that is so often used for more formal meetings. SistaStrings manage to soften the experience. They are a great deal of fun to hang out with before and after a performance. (And Ponasik is always fun.) Saturday night, Monique and Chauntee played together on zoom in a live performance of “Amazing Grace that round it out the evening quite nicely.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s The Sound with SistaStrings continues through Feb. 28. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.
COVID has continued to have its impact on local theatre. There have been quite a few different responses to the unique challenges posed by online video presentation. Video can be like any other factor in performance. It can add, detract, enhance or distract from any given production. It’s interesting to see what video does to Oscar Wilde’s Salomé in the new production being streamed by The Village Playhouse this month. The fully-produced studio theatre staging of Wilde’s one-act is presented in a full-color, low-res Zoom format that does interesting things to the themes being presented in Wilde’s take on the biblical tale.
It’s a very comfy staging. The set is small and humble. The lighting has a cool, relaxing blue about it in the foreground and a brightly overpowering red about it in the background. Hannah Kubiak is enjoyably haughty in the title role. She feels an aloof fascination with John the Baptist and demands things of him that he’s not willing to give. Later-on Eric and Stacy Madson appear onstage as Salomé’s parents Herod and Herodias. They’re just as arrogant and entitled as she is. He wants his daughter to dance for him. His wife doesn’t want her to dance. Things get weird and ugly.
Wilde’s unique talent for showing the overwhelming pettiness of the ruling class is put to good work here. These are epic characters from one of the most widely-read books in human history, but they might as well be the people living next door. There isn’t anything larger-than-life abotu them in the way they are presented onstage for screen. Kubiak could have played the haughtiness of Salomé in full-blown knock-down drag-out Kardashain-esque exaggeration, but she plays it casual. Similarly the dialogue between her parents could have been blown-up to heroically arrogant proportions, but the Madsons play it casual. This is a kind and a queen in a throne room, but it could really be any married couple anywhere at almost any point in history.
With very little glamor and very little editing, there’s something vaguely hypnotic about bringing this story into one’s living room. The low-res video isn’t so faded as to be a distraction from the comedy and drama of Wilde’s script, but it. In its own way it’s quite beautiful. It casts everyone in the same sort of pleasantly lurid blurriness. This could be surveillance camera footage of a particularly ugly night between a mother, a father, a daughter and a dismembered human head. There’s no sense of elevation here. The viewer is bearing witness to the ugliness of human desire without limitations on human power. Hubris. Anger. Frustration. Decapitation. It’s all there. And it’s all so very, very cheap. No need to exaggerate it. No need to blow it out of proportion to make it look epic. Humanity can be very, very ugly.
The Village Playhouse’s production of Salomé runs through Feb. 21st via Zoom. For more information, visit The Village Playhouse online.
Milwaukee stages remain kind of quiet. The Milwaukee Rep may have recently announced cancellation of all of its live performances through April, but there’s still quite a lot going on in and around the edges of everything. Theatre finds itself slowly making intermittent appearances live onstage outside of the city as online theatre maintains its presence. Here’s a look at some of what’s coming up:
Local playwright Matthew Konkel’s hardboiled radio detective spoof Jake Revolver: Freelance Secret Agent makes its way to a live performance this month as Waukesha Civic Theatre stages a production of the comedy that runs Feb. 5 - 21. “Some say he’s not human. Others say he’s only just a man. Only a small percentage say he’s a woman.” In addition to the live performances throughout the month, Konkel’s play will have livestream performances Feb. 13 and 19, which is particularly cool for an old time radio noir format. For more information, visit Waukesha Civic Theatre online.
The Last Five Years
Years ago I’d had the opportunity to see a Skylight production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. (I believe that it was directed by Norman Moses if I’m not mistaken.) It’s a remarkably intimate, little two-person romantic musical with a non-linear narrative structure that’s absolutely gorgeous. Deep romantic love doesn’t obey standard linearity...and TLFY does a good job of representing that. This month, Ghostlight Theatre is presenting a live, socially-distanced production of the musical at Kewaskum High School Theater in Kewaskum, WI. Kathryn Flynn and Joseph Gallo play the romantic couple in a staging directed by David Pecsi. The Ghostlight Theatre Co.’s staging of Feb. 18, 19 and 20. For more information, visit the show’s page on Showtix4U.
Next Act Theatre continues its season with a the Wisconsin Premiere of Principal Principle. The charmingly dynamic April Paul plays a woman who quits her corporate job to get into teaching on Chicago’s South Side. Marti Gobel directs a talented cast that includes Milwaukee theatre veteran Flora Coker, the vibrant energy of Ericka Wade and more. I’ll be watching this downstairs in the living room at night. My kids’ classroom? Upstairs in the office during the day. A celebration of teaching that should play well in the age of COVID when so many students are taking classes from the same homes this show will be streamed into.
Next Act’s Principal Principle runs Feb 15 - March 7 online. For more information, visit Next Act online.
Cosmic Fairy Tale a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
The work of Slovene writer Rok Vilčnik serves as the basis for a show that’s being brought to life by Theatre Gigante on March 1. Gigante’s ability to distill a tremendous amount of material into single, isolated moments of intensity should get a workout in a program that promises to bring no less than 31 of of Vilčnik’s stories into a single performance. For more information, visit Theatre Gigante online.
All this AND Tim Albrechtson and Eric Welch recently announced the establishment of a new local theatre company. Bombshell Theatre has a number of really cool people involved with it already. They’ve already announced their first show: a Spotlight Artist Virtual Cabaret. Local musical theatre types perform selections from Les Miserables, My Fair Lady, Chicago, Guys and Dolls and more. It’s a one-performance-only virtual show on March 19th. For more information, visit Bombshell online.