Late this month, The Milwaukee Entertainment Company hosts an evening of three one acts by seasoned local actor/director/playwright Bill Jackson. Once again, t’s refreshing to see live theatre in an indoor setting after lockdown. The three shorts are presented with a single intermission. Brief dramatic comedies about truth and identity open and close a program also featuring a comedy of a couple of pairs of sisters. It’s all very small, intimate and well-executed. One of the first big returns to traditional indoor theatre in Milwaukee turns out to be a casual evening with nine characters. Conversation are had. People learn a bit more about each other. And everyone goes home.
The program opens on a dreamily resonant note courtesy of Bill Jackson, who begins the show directing his own work. Coffee With Doug imagines a chance meeting between two strangers who turn out to be more than strangers. Joe Ferrie has a ragged, frazzled charisma as a guy who has come to edit some poetry in peace and quiet. Scott Sorenson summons a fair amount of earnest curiosity as the guy who ends up distracting him for the course of the drama. It’s a pleasant, little dark fantasy that delves into the nature of celebrity in the heyday of the baby boomer...the last era of the enduringly resonant mega-celebrity demigods. It’s a short that might be lost to those without some passing familiarity with the rock and roll of the era. Celebrity is a hell of a lot more cheap and disposable in the age of the internet than it was back then. Playwright/actress Deanne Strasse makes a fun, little cameo as a waitress at the coffee shop.
The music of The Doors lingers as the scene changes for the second one act: Nut Ring. Becky Cofta and Hayley San Filippo play a couple of sisters slipping into a conversation about sex with a pair of older sisters played by Kim Emer and Leslie Fitzwater. Open and honest discussion of sex has a tendency to be awkward to begin with, but the one pair of sisters in this case just happens to be mother and aunt to the other pair. Jackson plays an interesting, little chamber symphony of comedy directed by Raven Dockery. Everyone has a chance at a slightly different angle on the sex-based comedy conversation. Filippo is sweet. Cofta is sensual. Elmer is earnest. Fitzwater is a little bit of everything. It’s a nice, little four-part harmony of ribald comedy.
The program returns after intermission with Nate Press and Ashley Oviedo as fiancees Ash and Cassie in Immortal. The two characters have only been together for a brief period of time when she comes home to accuse him of being immortal. What might seem absurd on the surface gradually delves into greater and greater thematic depth as Jackson explores truth and identity. Press has a brilliantly layered sense of comedy that serves the short well. He’s as good with obvious punchlines as he is with far more subtle and nearly imperceptible shades of humor. Oviedo is crushingly vulnerable and courageous as someone who isn’t afraid to sound crazy to someone she loves in order to get the truth. Director Robert A. Zimmerman cleverly sets tone and mood while sharply directing the flow of traffic in a script that could all-too-easily feel overwhelmingly weighty. Oviedo is remarkably magnetic. Press is appealingly restless. It’s a truly enjoyable end to a really, really fun evening of shorts.
Table For Three: An Evening of One Acts by Bill Jackson runs through August 14th at the Brumder Mansion on 3046 W. Wisconsin Avenue. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Entertainment Company online.
A quick recap: There was a lot going on online. Then there was a lot going on in outdoor spaces. Now with the 2021-2022 Milwaukee Theatre Season beginning to look into opening itself up, Milwaukee stages look to begin responsibly returning to indoor spaces as an open house, fundraisers and quite a lot of other events begin to populate the calendar at the close of the summer of 2021.
It was one of the smallest of the small stages in Milwaukee (which I’m pretty sure would make it one of the smallest of the small stages in the world, but I really have no idea.) The space re-opens as Sunstone Studios: an entirely different theatre this month with a completely new group of people in charge of it and a really, really ambitious set of ideals. Lots of work has been done. Lots of plans have been made. And now the tiny little space across the street from the Pabst Theatre opens to the general public. The newly imagined space will be open for viewing. Events are being planned for the whole day of August 6th on 127 East Wells St. For more information as it becomes available, visit the grand openings’ Facebook Events page.
This September, Voices Found Repertory will present a staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Imagination Studios in West Allis. Sarah Zapian directs. In advance of that opening, the group is hosting a little fundraiser on August 7th at Bad Moon Saloon on 4035 S. Clement. It’s a casual evening of games, socializing and drinks with a silent auction and live music performed by cast members for the upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a cleverly subtle dreamlike preview of some of the talent that will manifest in West Allis at the beginning of next month in a production that will open Sept. 2nd. For more information, visit the fundraiser’s Facebook Events Page.
Generation X is...aging. I mean...I realize that Green Day had a musical and everything, but every now and then something like Rock of Ages or Don’t Stop Believin’ rolls around and it just feels weird. Music I remember hearing on WAPL as a young kid beginning to grow-up in the early 1980s is now making its way to the Musical Mainstage at Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. Music from late ‘70s/ early ’80s vintage bands like Journey, Rush, Styx, Boston and Foreigner will be performed on the big stage by local musical theatre talents like Rana Roman, Bob Hirschi, Tommy Hahn and others. Don’t Stop Believin runs August 9th and 10th at Sunset. For more information, visit the Sunset Playhouse online.
Summerstage of Delafield opens the second show of its outdoor season this month as it presents the mid-20th century Beth Henley drama Crimes of the Heart. Kelly Goeller directs Brigid O’Brien, Abbi Minessale and Kelly Goeller as three sisters who have returned to Hazelhurst, Mississippi to await news of their ailing grandfather. The touching family drama runs Aug. 19th - Sept. 4th at Lapham Peak State Park. They peaceful, idyllic atmosphere of a gorgeous outdoor space should serve as a powerfully resonant home to Henley’s thoughtful drama. All shows start at 7:30 pm. For more information, visit Summerstage online.
Optimist Theatre hosts a restless green forest this summer as it wanders about to various locations performing an abbreviated Shakespearian experience in the middle of summer. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Lovers’ Tale. Is a fun focus on Athenian love lost amidst the meddling of a couple of fairies. The 90-minute show is a perfect little nap of a narrative that makes the dizzying, convoluted trips and swings through complex romance easy and enjoyable for audiences of all ages.
The set is simple. Just a couple of backdrops dotting the stage area. Costuming is bright and cheery with character is paired up in their ideal romantic connection by matching colors. The physical comedy of the show is amplified and exaggerated in a way that does not detract from the depth and sincerity of the romantic drama being presented. The directors have maintain a delightful balance that keep everything moving very quickly from beginning to end as the sun migrates towards the western horizon of whatever outdoor space they happen to be performing in at the time.
Rebeka Farr and Susie Duecker play to their strengths as two young women struggling with love, life, family and death threats. Farr’s sweet earnestness in love makes her a perfect fit for the fair Hermia. Duecker’s something of a genius with physical comedy, which fits the role of Helena quite well. As this is an intimate, small-stage affair, Farr has an opportunity to get into subtleties of romantic love while Duecker deftly explores a range of physical comedy from subtle confusion to passionate physical exaggeration.
Fabian Guerrero and King Hang play the ore aggressive, dramatic ends of the male end of the comedy in very robust dramatic motions that occasionally delve into greater subtlety. Libby Amato and Seth Hale each play dual roles. Hale is charismatic and subtly witty as both Theseus and Oberon. Amato is captivating as both Puck and Hippolyta.
Focussing as it does on the lovers, the only two speaking fairies of note in the play are Puck and Oberon. Hale’s sense of humor brilliantly filters in around the edges of his portrayal of Oberon. Amato is endlessly fun as the heroically confident trickster Puck. Amato’s grasp of physical humor is immensely enjoyable from subtle annoyance every time her talents are questioned to her blinding glee at causing confusion and chaos.
Not everything about the production is perfectly smooth. There IS some really, really engaging scoring that plays through one of two large speakers. This adds to the fully-rendered feeling of the outdoor production and really adds to the comedy, but I made the mistake of sitting right underneath an amp and the amplification was kind of deafening. Also: the wind in the mics caused static and distortion that was a bit wince-inducing in places.
Micheal Pettit does a little bit of puppetry for the show including a very pretty, ethereal Titania and the a pleasantly cute little bald-headed walking Egeus voiced from elsewhere by Optimist’s Tom Reed. The problem is that little Egeus’ head doesn’t articulate and Reed’s voice comes in more powerfully than anything else onstage even though the little puppet never appears to be speaking. So it’s like this little, bald puppet is...telepathically projecting his dialogue...which makes him seem a bit more supernatural than the two superhuman fairies who are in the show. A bald-headed mortal apparently capable of telepathic communication doesn’t quite fit the production. It would seem more at home in a school for gifted youngsters in Westchester County.
The Optimist Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Lovers’ Tale runs through September 6th at various locations in and around Southeastern Wisconsin. For more information, visit Optimist Theatre online.
Larry Shue had the ability to be an actor’s writer of comedy. In The Foreigner, he wrote an incredibly intricate, little pseudo-language for the title character in a plot populated by a lot of interesting characters. In The Nerd, he constructed an entire ensemble of people who are totally grounded and realistic while all being a bit mad. This summer that madness comes to the outdoor space at Summerstage in an enjoyable production that opens the summer season in Lapham Peak State Park. Dustin J. Martin directs a capable cast in a comedy of bad manners of a house guest who rapidly wears out his welcome and can’t seem to get the idea that everyone wants him to leave.
Scott Fudali plays an architect who is a bit too timid to take what he really wants out of life. Patrice Hood is charmingly engaging as Tansy: the meteorologist who loves him, but must move across the country in pursuit of her dreams in front of a map on in the Washington DC television market. Nicholas Callan Haubner is cleverly droll as a good friend of both of them who only wants to make sure that the two of them are happy. Matters between the three of them are slowly. established over the course of a few moments at the opening of the comedy. Then there’s a call from Rick Steadman.
Steadman had saved the architect’s life back in Viet Nam. He’d never met the guy, but he corresponded with him over the years since they both re-entered their civilian lives. And now Steadman is dropping by quite unannounced to spend some time with the guy who owes his very life to him. Everyone seems excited to meet the hero. Their excitement quickly sours when it turns out that Steadman is a comically obnoxious human being who is quite unaware of a great many things.
James Sevens is great as Steadman. The title role could end up being a flat stereotype of a 1980s nerd exaggerated to comic excess. As written by Shue, the character has strange layers that rest within stranger layers that could easily be overlooked in the pursuit of laughter. Sevens is well aware of these layers and manages a portrayal of Steadman the is just annoying enough to be funny and just vulnerable enough for an audience to care about him. There’s a careful execution of the comic amplification of Steadman’s annoying habits that Sevens sometimes wields like a scalpel.
Martin has directed the flow of comic traffic across the stage in a way that makes for a very appealing show...the gradual increase of comic energy amplifies over the course of the play as things increase into a pleasantly surreal attempt to get Steadman to leave of his own accord. I’ve seen a few different productions of the play...this one seems to have a really solid handle on the bizarre otherworldly quality of that climactic scene. It’s refreshing to see this kind of madness outdoors in the middle of summer after a long lockdown.
Summerstage’s production of The Nerd runs through July 31. For ticket reservations and more, visit Summerstage online.