The theatre season opens in the greater Milwaukee area this September with a mix of drama, comedy and musical flavors. This September features a more diverse cultural fusion than previous years. It's quite a variety available on local stages this month as Summer turns to Autumn.
The Spitfire Grill
The 2022/2023 theatre season opens with a heartfelt musical drama. Director Michael Pocaro and Music Director Mark Mrozek lead Sunset Playhouse’s production of a 2001 musical adaptation of the 1996 indie film of the same name. The beloved story of a young woman looking to find herself in rural Wisconsin is brought to the stage with a rather impressive cast including local theatre veteran Marilyn White, the talented Josh Scheibe and local musical theatre icon Matt Zembrowski. The show runs September 8th through 25th at the Furlan Auditorium in Elm Grove.
Sunstone Studios opens its season next week with a production of Terrence McNally’s tragic mid-1980s comedy. A literary editor’s relationship is falling apart. He tries to keep his mind off personal matters while conversing with an opera diva that runs late into the evening. The cast includes Joshua Biatch, Cory J. O'Donnell, Bryan Quinn, and Deshawn Thomas. The stage and Sunstone is perfect for an intimate, little comic drama. It’s one of the smallest stages in town. Perfect for a cozy evening with a few characters. September 9th through 24th at Sunstone’s space on 127 E. Wells St.
The Seanchai opens-up September for Interchange Theatre (the space that In Tandem founded.) Marie Jones' A Night In November an Irish comedy about events surrounding the World Cup qualifying match between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park in 1993. John Dunleavy plays Kenneth Norman McAllister--a man who finds his entire life changed on a single night in November. The show runs Sep. 9 - 25 at the Interchange Theatre on 628 N. Tenth St..
Shakespeare RAW - Twelfth Night
Boozy Bard returns at mid-month to host another series of strangely irreverent explorations into the most acclaimed writer in the whole of the English language as they present Twelfth Night. The shipwrecked romantic comedy fits-in quite well with the Shakespeare RAW approach. Actors arrive at the show not knowing what to expect until the hat assigns them their roles at random. Admission is $10, but it’s only $5 for those who show-up in pirate attire. It’s a fun, breezy informal roll with a beloved comedy makes its way to The Best Place Tavern at the Historic Pabst Brewery September 12th through 14th.
Kill Move Paradise
Of all the shows on the coming month, this might be the one that I’m looking forward to the most: James Ijames’ dramatic look into the lives of four Black guys who are stuck in a cosmic purgatory in the afterlife. I love this sort of surrealism...it’s a chance to explore the deeper meanings of identity. The playwright has said that this drama was inspired by the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer. The cast that Next Act Theatre has put together for the show is phenomenal...Marques Causey, Ibraheem Farmer, Dimonte Henning and Joseph Brown Jr. Marti Gobel directs. September 22nd through October 16th at the space on 255 S. Water St.
Wife of a Salesman
Playwright Eleanor Burgess had come to realize that her grandfather was a salesman in Brooklyn right around the same time that Arthur Miller’s protagonist Willy Loman would have been around. Knowing that history doesn’t always look at the women in any situation, Burgess was inspired to write a dramatic comedy seen form the perspective of the wife of the salesman as she goes to confront his mistress. It’s a fun concept that The Milwaukee Rep explores in its first Stiemke Studio show of the season. Directed by Marti Lyons, the show runs September 27 through November 6.
Where Did We Sit On the Bus?
Milwaukee Chamber Theare opens its season with a fusion of talents as Kellen “Klassik” Abston and Isa Arciniegas present the story of a young Latino searching for identity and cultural history. The narrative fuses the music of Klassik with spoken word in a piece written by Brian Quijada. September 30th through October 23rd at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre.
The theater pavilion faces the water in a cozy, little tent far enough from the rest of the fest to hold its own atmosphere. Milwaukee Irish Arts returns to Milwaukee Irish Fest this year in a perfectly-placed theater tent that is far from the noise and commotion of the rest of the fest. The brief bits of comedy and drama fill a cozy, little space with more than enough time between performances to pop out for mead, ale, fish and chips and such amidst the festivities of the festival. I had the pleasure of seeing three shows opening night. Here’s a little bit of what to expect.
“Bring Your A Game”
Rising Irish playwright Méabh de Brún paints an endearingly complex picture of a couple of women caught in an elevator. It’s a brilliant comedy painted on the smallest possible canvas: 15 minutes in an elevator. Becky Cofta is remarkably balanced as someone suffering from a serious phobia. Cofta’s level of distracted focus in the role is inspired. Brittany Boeche-Vossler is charming as a wheelchair-bound overachiever looking struggling to deal with the predicament. The playwright manages a very, very sophisticated and relatable comedy that says a hell of a lot about the human condition without ever leaving the elevator.
The title character never quite manages to show-up in a three-person comedy. It’s set around a rural dinner table. Julia’s parents try not to wait for her when a suitor shows-up to ask for her hand in marriage. George Sheppard is the gruff-but-lovable father. Sarah Mankowski is cleverly subtle as the passively dominant personality that always seems a bit too over-eager to render the moment. Charismatic Joe Picchetti channels an impressively comic vulnerability about him. Picchetti does well in a performance that's solidly counter-intuitive for someone who has such a smooth stage presence.
“Dead Man’s Bells”
Méabh de Brún’s other piece on the fest is considerably darker than her elevator-based short. It’s the darkly comic tale of three sisters living on a farm. Libby Amato plays soft-spoken strength as the eldest sister. Maura Atwood conjures her trademark charm as the middle sister. Madeleine Craig is admirably nuanced in the role of the youngest daughter. Amato, Atwood and Craig have an engaging fluidity about them as they move in and around an ensemble of characters in a small town. The three bring together a captivating comic thriller.
These shorts and more will continue to appear in the theater tent as Milwaukee Irish Arts continues at Milwaukee Irish Fest through Sunday, August 21st. For a full schedule and more, visit Milwaukee Irish Arts online.
Prolific local comedy writer Patrick Schmitz sets his spoofy sites on classic horror this month as he presents The Comedy of Dracula...Kinda Sorta. It’s an exhaustive spoof of Bram Stoker’s original classic that runs around onstage for quite a long time without actually feeling like it. The spoof has a huge cast and a hell of a lot going on in and around the edges of everything. Intermission feels like it’s about a half hour into the show. The curtain call feels like it’s about a half hour after that. Leave the theatre and you’ll notice three hours have past. It’s weird, but it’s also Schmitz. So it’s fun.
Chris Goode capably carries the role of Jonathan Harker, who has gone to Transylvania to work out a land deal with Count Dracula (David Pritchard.) The epistolary aspect of the story allows for some clever comedy at the outset of the show. Harker is corresponding with his lover Mina who is endearingly played by Becky Cofta. Schmitz’ script elevates the women of the ensemble without compromising a somewhat bizarrely faithful spoofed adaptation of the overall plot of the original novel. The women are quite strong in Schimtz’s script...which give Cofta a lot of room to move around as Mina...showing-off both comedic AND dramatic talent. (Cofta is really cool. I don’t often get to talk about this coolness. In addition to appearing in this show this week, she’s also showing-up next week at Irish Fest with Milwaukee Irish Art as someone trapped in an elevator in the Méabh de Brún one-act Bring Your A Game.) Mina’s victimization by Dracula is, of course, foreshadowed by the victimization of her good friend Lucy, who is played with clever comic poise by Liz Whitford.
The female focus of the play is aided by a bit of casting. The script doesn’t seem to specifically suggest that the role of vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing be cast as a woman, but Beth Lewinski is perfect for the role. She’s got a very commanding comedic presence that works powerfully in the role. The staggering precision of Lewinsky’s comic subtlety fits the role brilliantly.
The rest of the cast features some really amazing talent in various supporting roles including Doug Jarecki as one of Lucy’s suitors, Tim Higgins as her Texan suitor and veteran comedy talent Nic Onorato in quite a few scene-stealing comedic moments as a rider, an orderly and...well...a wolf who drops by to work on the plumbing.)
There’s some interesting dramatic ends of the show that don’t often get explored in a great amount of detail in stage or screen adaptations. The dramatic end of relations between Dr. Seward and his patient/prisoner Renfield hit a cleverly dramatic counterpoint to all of the comedy. Dennis Lewis weaves an impressively sharp line between drama and comedy as Seward. Rollie Cafaro goes through quite a transformative arc as Renfield, which is particularly impressive considering how little he actually appears onstage.
Schmitz ’n Giggles’ one weekend-only production of The Comedy of Dracula...Kinda Sorta has one more performance tonight, August 13th at 7:30 pm. The show takes place at the Next Act / Renaissance Theaterworks building on 255 S. Water St. For ticket reservations, visit Next Act online.
The final month of summer opens with a couple of Shakespeare shows. A few comedies. It’s a light exit to a very hot summer that finds a few familiar moods haunting some very cozy stages. There once was a time that August featured an early opening to the new theatre season courtesy of Milwaukee Chamber, but it HAS been a little while since the group’s last venture into August.
The month opens on the smallest possible stage--your headphones. Milwaukee-based All In Productions and Button Podcasts presents a ten-part superhero audio drama thriller featuring the work of a large ensemble of actors and writers coordinated by Adam Qutaishat (who plays the title character.) Those in the cast include Hayley San Fillippo, Ashley Oviedo, Shayne Steliga, Jackey Boelkow. Ekene Ikegwuani and more. The ten-part series opens with its first episode on August 5th. For more information, visit Vigil online.
Shakespeare Raw: Titus Adronicus
It’s bloody. It’s violent. And Boozy Bard is ready to have some fun with it after quite a bit of work. (Adapting the show for a small, energetic, proudly unprepared cast looks positively bewildering. Adaptor Andrea Roedel-Shroeder recently posted a picture of a very pretty and somewhat aggressive graph involving characters and acts which featured lots of colors pockmarked with many a black “X.”)
Actors are assigned their roles the evening of the show courtesy of a casting director who could easily be mistaken for a hat. The show runs August 8th - 10th at The Best Place Tavern on 901 W. Juneau Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events page.
The Comedy of Dracula (Kinda Sorta)
One of the most iconic villains in the history of literature is also one of the easiest to spoof. there have been countless attempts to feed Count Dracula to the open jaws of comedy. It’s been done so often that one would have to be a bit odd to want to try to do it again. Thankfully, local comedy writer Patrick Schmitz has been through this sort of thing before with characters as iconic as Santa, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Romeo, Juliet and more. He knows what he’s doing. His spoof of Bram Stoker’s classic makes it to the stage of the Next Act/Renaissance Theaterworks building on 255 S. Water St. August 11th - 13th. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.
A Comedy of Errors
Imagine how much more confusing and perplexing mistaken identity would be if everyone involved had to deal with life in a video conference on Twitch. In a few weeks, Voices Found Repertory welcomes the challenges of Shakespeare on a fun, breezy, little reading of the comedy Sunday, August 2nd at 2 pm. The show is free and open to anyone with a browser or a Twitch app. For more information, visit the show’s events page on Facebook.
Playwright Ken Ludwig’s beloved period farce finds its way to the idyllic outdoor space at Summerstage at the end of summer. Local theatre veteran Brian D. Zelinski directs Noah Maguire and Phil Stepanski as Jack and Leo--a couple of actor/con artists who wander in over their heads when the nieces that they intend to impersonate turn out to be women. The show runs August 18th - September 3rd at Lapham Peak State Park on W329 N846, County Trunk Hwy C in Delafield.
Milwaukee Irish Fest
The first of two big local performing arts festivals at summer's end, Milwaukee Irish Fest this year features a set of four plays brought to the stage by Milwaukee Irish Arts. Talent featured in the shows includes some really impressive actors including Libby Amato, Maura Atwood, Becky Cofta, Joe Picchetti and Nate Press. For shows, dates and times, visit Milwaukee Irish Arts online.
The Milwaukee Fringe Festival
The local theatre month closes with a one-day-only Fringe Fest this year, There's lots of dance performance on the schedule this year, There's also an appearance by Milwaukee Irish Arts--a theatre group that never quite gets the amount of stage it deserves in a given year. Also look for appearances by Sunstone Studios and Angry Young Men Ltd, among others. August 27th starting around 1pm and running into the evening. For more information, visit the Fest online.