Sunstone Studios and Mad Rogues open the 2021/2022 season with a crazy, absurdist 90-minute comedy. Set in a small apartment in San Francisco, Lauren Gunderson’s Toil and Trouble takes elements from Macbeth and playfully warps them around a cleverly bizarre contemporary buddy comedy. Director Linetta Alexander Islam uses the tiny space of Sunstone to lock-in the deliciously weird madness of three unstable friends and the dreams of fortune which draw them against each other. It’s a refreshing reboot for the tiny space across from The Rep that had been occupied by the Off The Wall Theatre for so long.
Adam Qutaishat plays a guy named Adam who may as well be a personification of Southern California itself. In our hearts, we all want Southern California to exist, but we all know it’s just an illusion conjured by an entertainment industry which doesn’t really exist either. The Adam that Adam is playing is a lot like that: dreams too big to possibly be anything other than true. And so when they turn out to actually have some grounding in reality, it warps reality. Qutaishat brilliantly follows the casual insanity of a guy who seems to grab success by virtue of being too ignorant to know what he can’t do. There’s a nice guy charm in that which fuses with a cleverly understated sense of sophistication.
Adam’s dream haunt a humble, little San Francisco apartment that’s been conjured into existence onstage in a sideways thrust sort of an arrangement in the Sunstone. Sit in the middle of a single line of seats and you’re like...right in front of the couch. (So cool: it's like watching the weirdest possible one-camera video sitcom.) Adam isn’t the only resident of the apartment. There’s also Matt. Matt is even more of a dreamer than Adam. Adam’s got a MBA, so his dreams are tied to business. Matt’s dreams aren’t really tied to anything. He’s a deeply philosophical guy played with great, goofy heart and irresistible emotional intensity by Joel Kopischke.
As the play opens, Matt is tolerating Adam’s brainstorming for new businesses. In the end, the craziest one actually sounds the most plausible: the two decide to take over a small island off the coast of Chile...sort of. If they’re going to be able to do anything with their plans, they’re going to have to enlist the help of their friend Beth. Beth is an over-the-air sports reporter with great ambitions stunningly played with comically inflated ambition by Maggie Marks. At first, Beth is reluctant to agree to Adam and Matt’s strange psychotic business fugue...but she realizes the potential power in it. Beth and Matt become...MattBeth...an unstoppable force that begins to wonder just how necessary Adam really is. Scheming and treachery follow. Blood is shed. It's a comedy.
It’s all so very, very absurd. The cast holds the totally bonkers script together in a way that makes it feel almost believable. Gunderson has left just enough believability between the weird references to Macbeth and odd tangential sci-fi clustering around the edges of the absurdity. It all feels just grounded enough to keep the weirdness from annihilating the emotional gravity that keeps the comedy firmly rooted in very real human emotions between three people who have no business being together and really no reason for being alone either. It’s a very tightly-produced comedy on a appealingly small stage.
Sunstone Studios and Mad Rogues’ production of Toil and Trouble runs through Oct. 2nd at Sunstone’s space on 127 E. Wells St. For more information, visit Sunstone online.
There's a mix coming this month in Milwaukee theatre. There are big shows. There are small shows. Some of them are onscreen. Some of them are onstage. Here's a little bit of what to expect.
One of the more interesting local shows this month will appear online. Brit Nicole worked with staff and volunteers at the Tricklebee Cafe to explore the drama of a pay-what-you-can restaurant at the center of a food desert.
Contemporary society has had a love-hate relationship with larger-than-life heroes. The Everyman drama emerged...I guess at some point in the 1500s and has been around ever since. In more recent years British author Alan Moore suggested the need to move into a post-heroic era. It’s a noble idea, but storytelling is a basic need at the heart of all intelligence and there is always someone at the heart of a story...a hero. This month Milwaukee Opera Theatre and the Decameron Opera Project present the story of heroism in the kitchen with Home Cooked Heroes. It’s a heroic drama for the home...potentially one of the last pandemic-era streaming theatrical presentations for the Milwaukee area as theaters continue to open-up beneath the looming threat of the Delta Variant. Home Cooked Heroes becomes available Oct. 1st. For more information, visit Decameron online.
Sunstone Studios presents a fully-stage presentation of local playwright Micheal Lucchesi’s Between Two Rivers this coming month. It’s the tragic drama of an AWOL marine returning home in order to take care of business. The script touches some pretty dark areas including incest, homelessness and PTSD. The play was originally featured in a staged reading at the Milwaukee Fringe Festival some years back. Kind of a lot has happened since then. Now it will finally be fully staged in one of the most intimate spaces in town Oct. 8th - 24th. Tim Kietzman directs. Posy Knight has designed the environment illuminated by Kirk Thomsen. For more information, visit Sunstone Online.
Boozy Bard Productions returns to the Historic Pabst Brewery this month with another Shakespeare RAW experience...this time it’s a semi-drunken dance with tragedy as the. group presents one of Shakespeare’s most acclaimed hits. Some of the most iconic characters in all of literature mill about the corners of this script: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth. The Three Sisters. Who will be playing which roles? That depends on what the casting director decides on the night of the show. That casting director? It’s a hat. Some are destined for greatness. (Or at least...y’know...more lines.) Some are destined for...smaller roles. Chance dictates that which isn’t in the script. I’m pretty sure that there’s some kind of statement made there about tragic fates and suchlike, but...y’know...we’ll all find out what fate has in store for the performance on Oct. 20th. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events page.
Sunset Playhouse continues its season late this coming month with a production of the. 1960s crime thriller Wait Until Dark. Debuting on Broadway, the show was a hit that prompted a 1967 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn. It’s a strikingly interesting idea: A blind housewife living in Greenwich Village is targeted by a trio of con men looking for heroin that’s been hidden in a doll. Auditions were held early in September. Rehearsals began on the 13th. Dustin J. Martin directs what should be a promising production in the quiet confines of the main stage in Elm Grove. The show tuns Oct. 21st - Nov. 7th. For more information, visit Sunset Playhouse online.
Cabaret Milwaukee returns this month with its distinct blend of old-timey radio drama and historical comedy set in a live variety radio-inspired format. The Cream City Crime Syndicate serial opens with “Pick Your Poison.” It’s hard-boiled crime drama set in old Milwaukee as presented by emcee Richard Howling, the vintage radio Jingle Singers and the helpful housewife Mrs. Millie. October 22nd - November 5th at The Astor Hotel. All shows start at 7 pm. It’s a really classy cabaret atmosphere that fosters comfortably casual backdrop for vintage history, drama and comedy. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre opens its season this month with Stew: playwright Zora Howard’s Stew. Malkia Stampley directs the story of three generations of women in a kitchen preparing a feast. The Harlem-bred playwright weaves a comic drama around a very tight situation: Mama was distracted for just long enough to burn the stew. Maybe it was a shot outside her home or maybe it was just a tire blowing out. Now she’s going to have a hell of a time helping to feed 50 people at a church event later-on in the day. The kitchen-bound comic drama features Olivia Dawson, Krystal Drake, and Malaina Moore. The show runs Oct. 22nd - Nov. 7th at the Cabot Theatre. For more information, visit MCT online.
Maya Danks is really cool. She's an actress. She's a pianist. And this month she's adapting one of Shakespeare's classic works for a whole new show at month's end at Sunstone Studios. It's a production of Macbeth that focusses on the line between madness and stability as four actors work together to deliver the drama. The show runs Oct. 28-31st. For more information, visit Sunstone online.
Director Sarah Zapiain has put together a really, really cool production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Voices Found Repertory. Nestled into the cozy, little Imagination Studios space in West Allis, Zapiain has fostered a remarkably open environment for the cast of the show to develop some really, really fun portrayals of a whole bunch of characters that don’t always shine in every production of the comedy. In the space of a Shepherd-Express print review, there’s only so much room to get into things and there is much in the cast that I simply didn’t have room for in 300 words. Here’s a look at some of what I didn’t have the space for:
Brandon Haut is a towering presence as both Oberon and Theseus. Beard not withstanding, there’s no questioning that the guy is young...but he has such a clever grace about him that he DOES seem suitably royal.
Amber Weissert really loses herself in the energy of love in the role of Titania. When she falls for the donkey-headed Bottom, she goes full-blown obsessed rock star groupie on him which works a LOT more than one might expect.
Haley Ebinal is something like a force of nature as Hermia...playing her as the popular girl who everyone loves. She’s playing a beautifully assertive personality with so much self-confidence that when she gracefully takes her earrings out before a fight, she bestows them like mana from heaven on someone in the front row...it’s a really, really fun take on the character’s energy.
Grace DeWolff is intoxicating as the lover Lysander...but she also plays the rarely-prominent fighter in him. Phillip Steenbekkers towers over her as his rival Demetrius, but DeWolff’s Lysander fearlessly stands-up to him in deeply comic form.
Maya Danks is remarkably attractive as Helena. A woman so completely taken with someone like Demetrius is...well...it’s usually difficult to bring that across with any strength, but Danks portrays Helena’s love for Demetrius with an intoxicating adoration. Danks plays Helena looking to Demetrius almost like he’s a pet...which gives her a sense of agency that makes the character that much more appealing.
Kyle Conner may not be my favorite Puck this summer, but he IS really, really good in the role. The scene where Puck is taking-out the lovers at the end of the comedy and bringing them to sleep plays-out with a delightfully crazy Chuck Jones energy. This is Puck-by-way-of Wile E. Coyote and it’s a really fun addition.
It’s really, really difficult to make the Mechanicals work in ANY production. The pacing of the script always feels a little awkward by the time Pyramus and Thisbe show-up. With Ben Yela as Bottom/Pyramus and Jessica Trznadel as Flute/Thisbe, there’s a smart energy about the play at the end of the play...amplified as it is by kazoo. Hannah Kubiak, (who plays Peter Quince and Mustardseed provides tight, little comic punctuations throughout the play,) wittily kazoos My Heart Will Go On at a particularly tragic moment for Pyramus. It’s a fun ending to a fun evening that’s only 90 minutes long.
Voices Found Repertory’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through Sep. 12 at Imagination Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St. For more information, visit www.voicesfoundrep.com. A concise, comprehensive review of the show will be available shortly through Shepherd-Express.