The Constructivists explore truth, beauty, passion and a hell of a lot more this week in an online production of Sheila Callaghan’s contemporary comedy Women Laughing Alone With Salad. Humor slides from the real to the surreal to tragedy and tragic reality in a series of scenes featuring a small ensemble. Director Jaimelyn Gray manages a very intimate theatre experience for the small screen. Actors each occupy their own screen on a simple background in a series of scenes that wander restlessly around a wide-ranging collection of interconnected themes. One story opens the show. There’s another one entirely waiting on the other side of intermission. The lack of a strong central plot works well with the online video format in a casually engaging dramatic comedy presentation.
Rob Schreiner rests at the center of an ensemble as Guy: a man trying to make some sort of connection between three different women who all fit into a different aspect of his own personality. Schreiner is charming enough, but it’s a bit disappointing that an ensemble so largely dominated by talented women couldn’t focus a little bit more on the female characters. They’re all cast against him as the central character, at least for the plot rolling through the show prior to intermission.
Prior to intermission, Liz Ehrler finesses a complicated emotional journey as Meredith. Guy meets Meredith at a club. He’s quickly drawn to her confident energy. Ehrler swims gracefully around the comedy as it rests on the surface of far more complicated drama. The deeper psychology of Callaghan’s characters feel a bit sparse in places, but Meredith feels a bit more sophisticated than everyone else in the ensemble. Ehrler does a beautiful job of delivering on that sophistication.
Paige Bourne isn’t given a hell of a lot of depth to work with as Guy’s traditionally attractive girlfriend Tori. She’s not a terribly appealing person, but Callaghan gives her self-conscious superficiality its own charm. Bourne does her amplifies that charm without compromising the deeper ugliness within the character. Bourne’s a performance has its own kind of fearlessness as she pursues the complexity within the superficiality.
Sabra Michelle rounds out the cast as Guy’s mother...a Boomer who has been through quite a lot in her life. She’s extremely judgmental of Guy for many, many reasons. Michelle lends the character depth even though it's largely present onscreen in only a single, brief dialogue between her and Guy.
The show returns from intermission with Ehrler and Bourne playing a couple of bro-forward masculine guys at the office of an advertising for a pharmaceutical company. Callaghan gets extremely tedious with a scene that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere from the beginning. Ehrler and Bourne play the roles well, giving the characters complexity without exaggerating the manliness for comic effect. They’re fun in a scene that pretty much lives up to the limited expectations it sets for itself. Ehrler and Bourne make an insufferably boring scene remarkably tolerable. Callaghan might have forgotten to have a point with the scene for the most part, but Ehrler and Bourne keep it from feeling like a waste of time.
By the time Michelle shows-up at the meeting in the role of another co-worker, Callghan lays into a bit of depth. By this time, it’s far too late. Michelle delivers a really compelling monologue about a search for identity of an ad executive. It's interesting, but by this time the rhythm of the show loses a lot of its momentum. Michelle carves into interesting depth as she is soon revealed to be playing Guy after intermission. It's a different point in Guy's life. The drama gains a bit of gravitas with Michelle as Guy, but it's the end of the show at this point and the show is only beginning to gain momentum right before it ends.
As tedious as it is in places, Women Laughing Alone With Salad director Jaimelyn Gray has pulled a less than accomplished script together into a really unique couple of hours on the internet with some extremely enjoyable local actors.
The Constructivists’ production of Women Laughing Alone With Salad runs September 30 - October 4. For tickets, visit the show’s page on Eventbrite.
Local playwright Deanna Strasse crafts a fun murder mystery comedy with The Cafe Mocha Murders, Staged as a reading on Zoom, the show features a respectably large ensemble that articulates remarkably well in the online videoconferencing format. What starts off as a light sitcom rapidly gets weird without ever losing sight of the emotional human connection that is the heart and soul of so much good comedy. The cafe-based, single-location comedy has great potential for a full production on a small stage. Strasse’s Zoom staging of it is fun and breezy. This might be one of the tighter live, local small-stage presentations to have arisen online since the emergence of the COVID pandemic.
The ever-magnetic Hayley San Fillippo is endearingly abrasive as a barista named Soma who is understandably upset when she finds out a staff meeting at the cafe is going to run far later than her usual shift. To make matters worse, Soma’s least-favorite co-worker Ivy is in attendance. Kara Penrose is a crisp, precise presence as the perfectionistic Ivy. Soma works evenings. Ivy works mornings. They’re both there for a meeting also attended by anxious new guy Ian (Christopher Goode) and seasoned long-term employees Mel (Melody Lopac) and Ben (Adam Qutaishat.) San Fillippo and Penrose are pleasant and irresistible as opposing forces of experience cast against Goode’s passionate, eager-to-learn inexperience.
Goode’s anxious new guy is a charming lens through which everyone else in the cast introduces the subtly surreal world of Strasse’s comical amplification of coffeehouse co-worker culture. Mystery quickly unveils itself in the course of the employee meeting. A man who worked there had apparently died only to turn-up missing. If that wasn’t weird enough, his disappearance is tied-up in the legend of a sinister drink known only as “The Devil’s Joe.” Naturally the drink in question is going to show-up at the employee meeting which is going to involve death, injuries, missing phones and plot twists
Strasse makes good use of murder mystery conventions in a script that breaks the fourth wall more than a couple of times. Brandon Haut makes a clever appearance as a pizza guy who assumes that the meeting is, in fact, a murder-mystery play rather than an actual crime scene, which allows Strasse to veer-off into subtly post-modernist directions without betraying the overall form of a classic light murder comedy. The weirdness of Strasse’s cafe culture amplification maintains a tight enough hold on basic elements of realism to keep it grounded as a reasonably satisfying mystery. The fact that it manages to do this while holding together the charm of colorful cast in an idiosyncratic comedy is very cool.
Once again...there’s no production company involved here. It’s just a playwright and a bunch of actors she knows having fun with a thoroughly enjoyable script. Strasse and company make it look so easy that it seems very strange that videoconferencing stagings of new scripts aren’t taking place a few times per week. Of course...there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into something like this, but Strasse and company make it feel like so much fun for everyone involved
Deanna Strasse’s The Cafe Mocha Murders will be performed again one more time September 26 at 7:30 pm on Zoom. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
It’s mid-to-late September. Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox. There have been live performances announced for the greater Milwaukee area. In addition to a couple of live, in-person shows (and a very cool sounding Milwaukee Opera Theatre/Danceworks thing on the river this coming Autumn) there are quite a few online events in the days and weeks to come. Here’s a look:
Voices Found Repertory has been consistently doing live theatre performances since the outbreak of COVID. This month the group presents a theatre & chill event as a conclusion to their first Build-A-Bard season. The weekly online video series has had various members of the creatives involved in producing VFR shows talking shop about the work they do. The series is wrapped-up this coming Saturday with a staged online reading of Hamlet: one of Shakespeare’s best-loved tragedies on Saturday, September 26th at 6pm. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
Women Laughing Alone With Salad
As September winds-down on the online Small Stage, The Constructivitsts prepare to open an online season with a “Virtual Theatre Adventure” by playwright Sheila Callaghan. Women Laughing Alone With Salad features a really good cast including Rob Schreiner, Sabra Michelle, Paige Bourne, and Liz Ehrler. Inspired by the strange trend of women laughing at salads in stock photography, it’s a contemporary social satire that was published just last year. Jamielyn Gray directs.
The show runs online Sep. 30 - Oct. 4.
For more information, visit the Constructivists online.
Boozy Bard returns to Facebook this month with another Shakespeare Raw-ish production. This time around they're doing Macbeth. A cast of some pretty talented people in both dramatic and comedic ends of theatrical performance are chosen at random to play various roles for a lovingly adapted version of Shakespeare’s original script.
Boozy Bard’s Macbeth marches onto the internet at 7pm on October 7th. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
This coming month, Voices Found Repertorty opens its 2020/2021 season with the virtual performance of a new play by Bloomington, Indiana-based playwright Pharyne Gremore. It’s called Call Me Dracula. Bram Stoker’s classic villain has been analyzed from every possible direction, so it’ll be interesting to see if Voices Found can find some novel life in the most popular member of the undead this Halloween. Dates and specifics have yet to be announced as of this moment. For more information about VFR’s upcoming season, visit their Facebook page.
The Decamoeron Opera Coalition puts together a really promising virtual performance this month in Tales from a Safe Distance. It’s a video collaboration between Milwaukee Opera Theater and ten other indie opera groups all over the country. The show is an anthology series of nine one-act dramas and a single wrap-around story that presumably unifies the rest of them. The series runs online from Oct. 9 - 30. MOT’s offering is Orsa ibernata, (yes: as a matter of fact that IS “hibernating bear” in Italian.) It will feature work written by Composer Elizbeth Blood and Librettist Danny Brylow. Orsa ibernata will be shot entirely outside (in the woods I believe) by talented choreographer (and likely equally talented Videographer/Editor) Christal Wagner. For more information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.
There’s actual live theatre this month.
On a stage and everything.
This coming month, Village Playhouse in West Allis opens its production of Weekend Comedy. Written by Jeanne and Sam Bobrick and originally published in 1987, the comedy involves two couples: a husband and wife in their 50s and a husband and wife in their 20s. They have both booked the same cabin in the Catskills for the same weekend. They’re both determined to be there. It’s a fun premise for light comedy.
The show takes place on the cozy stage of Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St. in West Allis. The show runs Oct. 9 - 18. For more information, visit the Village Playhouse online.
As this IS a show on a small stage during a pandemic, there are a number of COVID protocols involved in attending the show. Check out their comprehensive list of safety protocols at Village Playhouse online.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre presents a cabaret which will be available both online and in person at a reduced-capacity Schauer Arts Center. Director Ryan Albrechtson and Music Director Julie Johnson present Virtual Villains Cabaret: a rogues' gallery of musical theatre just in time for Halloween. October 30th and live-streamed on October 30th and 31st. In-person tickets are $20. Live Steam tickets are $10. All proceeds from the show support the Schauer Arts Center. For ticket reservations and more, visit Waukesha Civic Theatre online.
The presence of COVID is fiercely felt as a month that would normally feature a return to the Milwaukee theatre season is conspicuously missing its usual shows. This is not to say that there isn’t quite a bit that is still going on online. Here’s a look at some of what to expect in the coming weeks as Summer descends into Autumn.
Roasalind with Door Shakespeare
Door Shakespeare missed an entire summer season due to COVID. This month the company presents a virtual staging of a one-act play by the man who first introduced Peter Pan to the world. The play tells the tale of the mother of a famous stage actress who is accosted by a young man who has fallen in love with her daughter.
Rosalind runs online September 2-13. For more information, visit Door Shakespeare online.
...But I’m Just Not IN LOVE with It
The Village Playhouse has been running its annual One-Act Play Festival since the mid-1980s. A tradition that has been going for that long doesn’t simply pause because of a global pandemic. It shifts to a digital stage. And so it is that The Village Playhouse will be hosting a free donations-welcome online performance of playwright Michael Lucchesi’s “...but I’m just not IN LOVE with It”
The performance takes place on National Actor’s Day, Tuesday, Sep. 8 at 7:30 pm on Facebook Live. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Creditors with the Fleeing Artists
Kenosha-based Fleeing Artists Theatre had originally planned for the final online show of its summer season to happen in August. After the tragedies of the past month in Kenosha, the group elected to postpone the performance into. September. This month, the group presents an online stage reading of August Strindberg’s tragicomedy The Creditors. Saige Spinney and Adron Duell play Tekla and Adolph--a couple who own a seaside resort. Bryant Mason plays Adolph’s friend Gustav. The intricate interpersonal trinity should work well in an online video conferencing format.
The free performance runs September 11th -13th on Zoom. The show is free. Fleeing Artists will be collecting donations during the weekend for Kenosha’s rebuilding efforts. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
A Prison Made of Light with Theatre Gigante
One of the most reliably good small stage theatre groups in town presents a Zoom-based staged reading of Thomas Haskell Simpson's A Prison Made of Light. "Broadcast to you directly from the outer realms of place," it's described as a playful poetic piece. Mysterious? Yes. Trust in Theatre Gigante. They know what they're doing.
The reading takes place on Zoom on September 16th at 7pm. To reserve a space in the Zoom, email Theatre Gigante: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moving Stories with UWM Dance
The UWM Dance Department continues to navigate its way through the pandemic with an online performance of narrative dance with work by faculty and guest performers including Maria Gillespie, Daniel Burkholder and Caitlin Mahon. There will also be a film adaptation collaboration with filmmaker Christal Wagner and an original composition by Kiran Vedula.
Tickets for the livestream even are $18. The money from the ticket sales goes directly to supporting student scholarship funds. The show takes place at 7:30 pm Sep. 17 - 19. For more information visit UWM’s Peck School online.
Cafe Mocha Murders
Local playwright Deanna Straasse hosted an engaging drama online last month with a Zoom-based reading of an intimate, little complicated romance. This month she and a number of talented actors bring a fictitious, little coffee shop called The Bean Shack to life in a murder mystery comedy featuring Haley San Filippo, Kara Penrose, Christopher Goode, Melody Lopac and more. Last month’s offering from Strasse and company worked quite well in a videoconferencing format. This month they’re tackling a much larger ensemble comedy that is going to require a hell of a lot of attention to timing and delivery. It’s an ambitious step-up in complexity from last month.
The Cafe Mocha Murders run Sep. 25 and 26. Both performances start at 7:30 pm on Zoom. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
The Quest for Solomon’s Treasure
First Stage goes for something quite ambitious this September as well as it presents the first in its Milwaukee--based mystery series The Quest For Solomon’s Treasure. (Solomon Juneau I presume.) Written by John Maclay, the series follows a group of six kids as they follow clues on a treasure hunt.
The seven-episode streaming series runs September 20 - November 1. The entire series will remain up through May. For more information, visit First Stage online.