Milwaukee Theatre opens the Autumn with a few moments of very heavy drama punctuating a largely light month of pleasant comedy. From the intimate comedy of Placeholder Players to Shakespearian romantic comedy with Boozy Bard to offbeat laughs with Next Act...it looks like a largely fun and breezy time on local small stages this month. Here’s a look.
Stupid Fucking Bird
Back in 1896, Anton Chekhov wrote The Seagull--a large ensemble drama involving a novelist. About ten years ago, Aaron Posner wrote Stupid Fucking Bird--a contemporary adaptation of the ensemble drama involving a struggling playwright. This September Placeholder Players present a staging of Posner’s play at Sunstone Studios on 127 East Wells Street. The ever-charismatic Zach Thomas Woods plays the playwright in question: a guy named Con. The cast includes quite a bit of talent including Mary Grace Seigel, Rick Bingen and Grace Berendt. The show runs one weekend only: September 1st - 3rd. For more information, visit Sunstone online.
The Boulevard Theatre hosts one more performance of a remarkably thoughtful and nuanced staged reading of Joshua Harmon's Significant Other in the back room of Sugar Maple this month. Director Mark Bucher has put together an impressive cast for the show including Kyle Conner, who also stars as the title character in Richard II with Voices Found Rep. It also features Grace Berendt and Mary Grace Seigel who appear in Stupid Fucking Bird...so it's kind of a cool opportunity to spot a few actors meeting-up for a quick matinee performance after a couple of shows close. Significant Other's single performance takes place on September 9th at 2pm at Sugar Maple on 411 East Lincoln Ave. For more information, visit Facebook.
Love’s Labours’ Lost
Four guys attempt to avoid the company of women in the interest of focussing on their studies. Naturally, they fall for the Princess of France and her ladies. It’s a fun, little premise for a Shakespearian comedy that makes its way to a fun and informal stage by way of Boozy Bard this month. Roles are chosen at random before each performance in a fun comedy environment Sep. 11th - 13th at The Best Place Tavern on 917 W Juneau Ave. For information, visit Boozy Bard’s place on Facebook.
Milwaukee's longest-lived sketch comedy group clearly has enough experience to provide more than a few helpful tips. There's real wisdom that comes from hanging out together onstage for quite a few years. All-Woman comedy group Broadminded continues its relationship with the stage in a series of shows at The Interchange Theatre Co-Op this month. Each show is preceded by an opening act. Broadminded's Lifaehacks runs Sept. 16th - 30th. For more information visit the show's page on Eventrbrite.
Splash Hatch On the E Going Down
Next Act Theatre opens its season this coming month with a contemporary drama. Jada Jackson plays Thyme--a 15 year-old pregnant Harlem girl. She’s an A student who is eco-conscious and coming to terms with a great many things in a world that suffers from environmental racism. Playwright Kia Cothron touches on quite a few different very serious issues with a promising drama that debuted back in the late 1990s. The Next Act production runs Sep. 20th - Oct. 15th on 255 S. Water St. For more information, visit Next Act online.
Laughs in Spanish
Isa Condo-Olvera stars as the owner of a Miami art gallery that has become a crime scene in an offbeat murder comedy that opens the season for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. It’s described as a cross between a Telenovela and a Wes Anderson movie. So in other words...it’s the perfect opening to what appears to be a really impressive season for Milwaukee Chamber. September 22nd - Oct. 8th at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre on 158 N Broadway. For more information, visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.
A Piece of My Heart
Playwright Shirley Lauro explores the lives of women who served in Vietnam from their own perspective in a very gripping emotional drama that I’ve seen a couple of times before. Marquette University Theatre celebrates 100 years with a season that opens with Lauro’s drama. The show runs Sep. 29th - Oct. 8th at the Helfaer Theatre on 1304 W Clybourn St. For more information, visit Marquette University online.
Three Other Sisters
Theatre Gigante closes-out the month with a show that manages to fit so many different moods...a strangely engaging fugue starring Simone Ferro, Isabelle Kralj, and Tori Watson. I’ve seen Gigante do this one once before and it’s a great deal of fun. Sep. 29th - Oct. 1st at Kenilworth 508 Theatre on 1925 E Kenilworth Place. For more information, visit the show’s page online.
It’s been a very, very busy weekend. Milwaukee Fringe Fest lands on the same weekend as Milwaukee Irish Fest and...this year Milwaukee Irish Arts has A LOT going on with the fest in its cozy, little theatre tent overlooking the water. In and amidst three other shows in and around Milwaukee this weekend, I managed to see one of two shorts programs that MIA put together this year.
Tiny Plays 2 is a program directed by Mitch Weindorf. There’s a lot of fascinating existential energy that’s rolling through the program, The program of brief interactions between iconic pairs is punctuated by whimsically strange and hauntingly poetic texts by Mark Cantan. The author suggests a few things that might be going on right now in Ireland as scenic changes are made. It’s a remarkably well-constructed, little theatrical adventure that feels cleverly buried behind all of the singing and dancing and carrying-on that goes on in and amidst the rest of the Fest.
The cast is stellar. Kyle Conner slides into a staggeringly charismatic Irish accent in the role of a man who has been asked to look at a few pictures in Brendan Griffin’s “Naked Photographs of my Mother.” Isaac Brust is emotionally intricate in his end of the comic short. He also makes a memorable appearance in an encounter on a path with an old man near the beginning of the program. Conor also manages a captivatingly nonverbal performance earlier-on in the brief program where he is...opening bills. (It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds. You kind of have to be there...and you should it’s a good program.) Brittany Boeche-Vossler punctuates that nonverbal piece beautifully with a bit of song. There’s a lot of young energy that MIA is bringing to the tent this year, but it’s nice to see some experience on the stage as well. David Ferrie and Kevin Callahan do a delightful, little bit of meaningful small talk in a milking barn in “Unrequited.”
Laura Monagle closes-out the program with a stunning monologue by Dermot Bolger that cuts straight to the heart of the metaphysics of theatre in a way that few scripts ever manage. Monagle is elegantly magnetic in the performance. It’s only then...only when Monagle finishes her deconstruction of everything under the power of Bolger that the weird confluence of different bits of comedy and drama turn into something magical. It’s really quite. exquisite and worth the price of admission to Irish Fest in and of itself, but y’know...there IS so much else going on as well, so it’s worth going anyway.
Milwaukee Irish Arts concludes at the Theatre Pavilion at Irish Fest today, August 20th. Tiny Plays 2 will be performed today at 2pm and 6pm. For more information, visit Milwaukee Irish Arts online.
An actor walks onstage at the beginning of her one-woman show and picks-up a piece of music. She reads the name at the top. She announces that it’s a piece composed by “F. Mendelssohn.” Then she asks, “which one?” This is a good question. The actor is Jennifer Vosters. She’s playing Mendelssohn. Both of them: Fannie and Felix. They were kindred spirits...literal siblings who worked together. As Vosters enters the stage, though, it isn’t entirely clear which one she’s playing. As a part of Milwaukee Fringe Festival, she’s performing the debut of Songs Without Words--a written and performed by Vosters. It’s a deeply engaging biographical narrative about brother and sister who were both great German composers from the early 19th century.
The sheet music that Mendelssohn picks-up at the opening of the drama isn’t alone. There’s a large spread of music elegantly strewn across the floor. A single music stand rests in the center of it all. There’s a piano bench. Vosters wears simple black. There’s a conductor’s baton...and a hell of a lot of drama tied up in many layers of complexity as Vosters works her way through a tightly-woven narrative about two siblings, their lives and their artistic endeavors. It speaks a great deal to those who love classical music, but Vosters speaks to universals in art, life and familial love that make it a one-hour journey anyone can take.
Vosters modulates through moments of triumph, anxiety and uncertainty drawn from the lives of a couple of people who were acclaimed artists of their day. Felix was recognized far more for his accomplishments than Fanny was for hers, but Vosters maintains a very textured approach to the understanding of both composers that respects the complexity of the early 19th century era that they inhabited.
Vosters’ writing occasionally edges into the poetic as brother works to live-up to the potential of both himself AND his sister in an era when she would not have been entirely recognized for her own achievements. Eventually, Fanny DOES receive some recognition for her work and even manages to have a few compositions published. Vosters’ delicate handling of Felix’s feelings at the success of his sister are some of the more meticulously sophisticated moments for Vosters as actor and playwright.
Not every moment lives up to the complexity. of the lives of two composers, but Vosters' charisma holds the drama together even in those rare moments that might feel a bit forced in and around the edges of the narrative. Overall Vosters has crafted a remarkable piece that explores a brother/sister relationship that also examines the challenges all artists face.
Vosters’ Songs Without Words was debuted in a single performance on the Fringe, but she’s planning on doing more work with it. Judging from the reception that she received on her debut, the show would likely do VERY well with the right audiences. It’s an intimate portrayal of brother and sister that reaches very deeply into the nature of art and the core of human experience without skating along the superficial platitudes that so often accompany dramas about artists.
All-in-all...it's very powerful stuff. Someone should get ahold of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Though a larger venue would rob Vosters of some of the immediacy of the drama, it'd be really cool to see Songs Without Words accompanied and punctuate by the MSO performing work by the Mendelssohns. It'd be a hell of a concert. Seriously. Get Vosters in Bradley Symphony Center with the MSO. It'd be breathtaking.
For more information on Songs Without Words, check out Vosters’ Instagram Page for the show. The debut of Vosters’ show was a part of the Milwaukee Fringe Festival, which continues in and around the Marcus Center through Saturday night. For more information, visit the Fringe Fest online.
Patrick Schmitz continues to crunch through the classics with playful spoofery in another one-weekend production. This year’s Schmitz ’n’ Giggles show is a bit story of a classic tragedy as a talented comedy cast sinks it’s teeth into The Comedy of King Lear…Kinda Sorta. Adroit comic veteran Beth Lewinski plays the title role of the doomed king in a briskly moving parade of light humor. Nic Onorato plays with similarly intricate comic energies as.the Earl of Gloucester. His illegitimate son Edmund is given silly scenery-chewing over-the-top evilness by Josh Decker.
The Shakesparody Players do a good job with this one. Notable performances include Jacob Woelfel as the particularly inspired janitor Pete Benson…who in this play happens to be harboring unrequited feelings for Cordelia. She is played with delightfully casual comic energy by Karah Minelli. Becky Cofta plays to a more caddy humor in the role of Cordelia’s sister Regan. Ekta Desai rounds-out the central cast as the actively scheming sister Gonerill. It’s a big ensemble, but the production still manages to play on some humor involving the size of the production. Rachel Seurer and Amarion Herbert play the gradually dwindling group of 100 knights that Lear is given to protect himself as he heads off into the cold, cruel world in self-imposed abdication. Seurer and Herbert are a lot of fun in the margins of the production as the knights and various other roles.
As always, Schmitz veers away from deeper satire in favor of fun, little deviations and mutations on traditional sitcom tropes and gags. Schmitz’s comedy rushes through a high joke-per-minute ratio. With as much shooting by on the stage as there is, there is actually quite a lot of comedy of that just completely fails to hit. It’s really weird to think about this in retrospect as it is the case that so much of it IS funny. I’m not quite certain how the math works out on this, but I mean...even if only one in ten gags is good, it all shoots by so quickly that the show as a whole never really drags.
A lot of what Schmitz is doing with various elements in the script is simply allowing his actors room to play. He’s been working with Lewinski for long enough that he knows he can trust her to make even very, very dull comedy absolutely sparkle. Seurer lends a whole lot of nuanced comic energy to the role of a doctor who really has no business being anywhere near as funny as she is. Schmitz goes for some of the more obvious comedy potential in the script, but Seurer does a grand job of making it work. A painfully over-worked bit of humor involving a chevron-emblazoned shirt and a pair of glasses manages to lend a bit of strangely poignant dramatic weight to the proceedings as Joel Dresang plays the mild-mannered Earl of Kent and his casually heroic alter-ego Caius.
The Comedy of King Lear…Kinda Sorta runs through Saturday, August 12 at the Next Act/Renaissance Theaterworks space on 255 S. Water Street. For more information, visit Schmitz’n’ Giggles online.
The summer of 2023 draws to a close with a lot of Shakespeare: Shakespeare in a bar. Shakespeare being spoofed. Shakespeare in a bar being spoofed by puppets. And then...there's this Mendelssohn thing that sounds kind of amazing too...really looking forward to that!
The Comedy of King Lear (Kinda Sorta)
Local comic guru Patrick Schmitz opens his latest spoof this month as he presents a doubtlessly strange take on the classic tragedy of a man who divides his kingdom up between his three daughters. It’s a really dark drama. Back in the years following the Restoration, they tried to make it a bit cheerier as it was largely considered to be overwhelmingly dark. Ultimately that approach was rejected, but maybe they didn’t go far enough. Maybe they should have gone ahead and just completely re-written it as a comedy. It could work. Schmitz 'n Giggles production runs one weekend only August 10th - 12th at the Next Act/Renaissance Theatre space on 255 S. Water St.
Shakespeare RAW: Hamlet
Boozy Bard performs an irreverent twist on the classic tragedy of an indecisive Emo/Goth Kid as he considers...doing things...Easily one of the best-known of Shakespeare’s plays--it’s a bit of a spoof of itself, so there’s an easy connection between it and the lovingly unprepared improv atmosphere of a Boozy Bard show. Scripts are painstakingly streamlined in advance. Actors are chosen at random to play...random roles. Somehow everything makes sense. It’s a fun approach and an equally fun atmosphere. August 14th - 16th at The Best Place Tavern on 917 W. Juneau Ave.
Songs Without Words
Michael Cotey directs Jennifer Vosters in a solo play about 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn and his older sister Fanny. Vosters is good in anything, but she’s shown a great amount of appeal and charming gravity in various solo efforts she’s done online several years ago during the whole COVID thing. her Instagram page on the show has been interesting to follow. She’s fun. The show runs for one performance only at 6 pm on August 18th at the Todd Wehr Theatre as a part of Milwaukee Fringe Festival.
Angry Bard: Shakespeare? I Hardly Know Her!
If Vosters’ show isn't your thing, there's inadvertent counter-programming not far from the Todd Wehr, Boozy Bard will be performing a script originally written for...puppets by Angry Young Men, Ltd. It's a free Boozy Bard-style Shakespeare show that they had performed on the Fringe Fest some time ago. This year as a lead-in to the Fringe, they’re doing their Shakespeare comedy thing for free at The Best Place Tavern on 917 W. Juneau Ave. Shakespeare originally written for Puppets at a bar starts at 7:30 pm on August 18th. Then the following day, Angry Young Men help Boozy Bard do for late 19th century Russian theatre what they normally do for Shakespeare (and occasionally Dickens) with Chekhov: Half-Baked! The puppet-assisted spoofery continues at 8 pm on August 19th at the Todd Wehr Theatre as a part of Milwaukee Fringe Festival.
Voices Found Repertory presents a staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy of Richard II set in the 1920s. The talented Hannah Kubiak directs the show. She’s directing a cast of just eight actors in a show that runs only eight performances. The two-hour runtime of the performance should make for a tight, little presentation of the classic drama. August 23rd - September 3rd at Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St. in West Allis.