The Milwaukee Rep’s Professional Training Institute stages a provocative drama this weekend with Michael Rohd’s The Compass. Director Jeffrey Mosser brings together a diverse, young cast in the near-future sci-fi drama of one girl and the app that might be at least partially responsible for landing her in court. High school senior Terynn Erby-Walker renders an impressively complex portrayal of a girl named Marjahn who is faced with a tough decision. She consults an app for some kind of guidance. Things get suitably disconcerting in a compelling couple of hours that cover a tremendous amount of ground.
The sci-fi element of the drama involves a fictitious smartphone app. “The Compass,” analyzes a user’s personality and tells them what they will do in any situation that is presented to it. As a user, you’re not asking the app what you should do...you’re asking it what you WILL do. It responds. You can do whatever you want in response to this information. You could go against Compass' prediction, but do you really want to second-guess it?
In the “real world,” people WOULD have a tendency to mess with this sort of thing. People are...messy. People like to be unpredictable. People ALSO like making this sort of app malfunction and do weird things. It seems like a bit of a stretch to think that people would blindly follow an algorithm that thinks it knows them better than they do. Rohd’s premise IS a fun thought experiment, though. For the most part, the specifics of the app’s algorithm are vague enough to be believable without cluttering the narrative. The center of the drama rests in a world of uncertainty as the script navigates its way through the story of Marjahn.
The play takes the form of a trial. Over the course of the play, members of the cast occasionally break to engage sections of the audience in discussions about various aspects of the trial. Intermittent audience discussion could seriously derail the dramatic momentum of a script that’s as layered and intricate as Rohd’s. Cast an audience alike glide along through some very abstract ethical and philosophical territory in harrowingly tight corners of time that rest within a cleverly-crafted narrative that flits quickly from three distinct timelines. There is the “now” of the trial. There is the recent past leading up to the crime. There is the relatively distant past of the app’s Steve Jobs/Elizabeth Holmes-inspired product launch event. It is to Mosser’s credit that this runs as smoothly as it does. Brief interludes for discussion included, the drama is less than two hours from start to finish and it all feels remarkably fluid. The visual elements of production are a big part of that fluidity.
Video Designer Joseph Burke’s countdown clocks clearly define the time the audience has to talk. There are three large smartphone-shapes screens onstage that provide a great deal of information in and around social media and the ever-present Compass app. Burke’s work on the show feels remarkably slick, allowing for a near seamless fusion between the world of emotion, motion and motivation as humanity interacts with a world of uncertainty through an app that promises to make life so easy.
The Milwaukee Rep Professional Training Institute’s production of The Compass runs through July 31st at the Stiemke Studio. For more information, visit the Milwaukee Rep online. Tickets are only $10 each.
The Summer kicks-into full gear this month with a couple of musicals, a little Shakespeare and a little sketch and improv and a whole lot more. Wrap things up with an interesting one-weekend show from the company with all the money and we’ll call it July. Here’s a look at some of what’s ahead:
Shakespeare Raw: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Boozy Bard continues to explore a fun, informal Shakespeare with this classic comedy at mid-month. Actors choose characters out of a hat, grab their scripts and props and perform a vastly unprepared iteration of the classic tale of lovers and fairies. The show runs July 11th - 13th at The Best Place Tavern on 901 W. Juneau Ave. All shows start at 7pm. For more information, visit the event’s page on Facebook.
The Sunset Playhouse launches its summer musical. Tommy Lueck directs a big main stage production of a musical labor strike in New York in 1899. Lueck is a talented director and Sunset always does a really good job with the bigger musicals, so this one should be good. July 14- August 7 at the Furlan Auditorium on 700 Wall Street in Elm Grove. For more information, visit Sunset online.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Outdoor Shakespeare continues with director Dustin J. Martin’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at SummerStage of Delafield. Day turns to night in a dreamy Lapham Peak State Park. Brandon Haut and Brittany Haut star as Oberon and Titania in a production that also features the talented Michelle White as Puck. July 14-3o. For more information, visit SummerStage Online.
Sketch 22 #29
The now unmistakable logo image of a tiny Harold Lloyd on a giant minute hand can only mean one thing. Patrick Schmitz’s long-running 24-hour sketch comedy show takes to the stage for a 29th time. Milwaukee comedy writers and performers meet on a Friday night to write a sketch. The following day, writers choose scripts and actors from a hat and go to work developing a sketch comedy show that will be presented July 16 at 7 pm at ComedySportz on 420 S. First St. Writers this year include Beth Lewinski, Doug Jarecki, Joel Kopischke, Broadminded, Mandi Veeder, Andrea Roedel-Schroeder and more. Actors include Matt Konkel, Becky Cofta, Kellie Wambold and more. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
On the same night as Sketch 22 just a little further South James Boland presents his improv role playing game comedy show. Improv comedy types including Jessie Frankie Kanter, David Ryan Lane and more play a classic paper-and-dice RPG without paper...or dice. Brian Bein provides musical accompaniment. No Dice: Improv RPG returns July 16th to Sugar Maple on 441 E. Lincoln Ave. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Greendale Community Theatre closes-out the month of openings with a production of the beloved musical based in the book by P. L. Travers. July 28th - August 6th at Greendale High School Auditorium on 6801 Southway in Greendale.
At month’s end, The Milwaukee Rep presents one of the more interesting shows on the month. Michael Rohd’s The Compass is a one-weekend-only show staged by the Rep’s Professional Training Institute that involves students from various local high schools. It’s an interactive production in which the audience plays the jury who will decide the fate of a defendant. Originally written and staged back in 2016 with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the sci-fi story has updated echoes on Murray Leinster’s classic short story A Logic Named Joe. The defendant used the AI algorithm from an app to make a life-altering decision. That decision has landed her in court. The show runs July 28-31 at the Stiemke Studio. Tickets are $10.