Mariana is having an awful time. Her Miami gallery was all set to exhibit the work of a successful artist when it all went missing. Every single painting was stolen. To make matters worse, her mother has shown-up clearly in need of something. Family drama mixes with beautifully idiosyncratic comedy in Laughs In Spanish. Playwright Alexis Scheer’s cleverly-crafted 90-minute party satisfyingly opens the season for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Isa Condo-Olvera makes a deeply appealing appearance as Mariana--the coherent center to all of the rest of the chaos which seems to be orbiting around her. Rána Roman summons a strong presence to the stage as Mariana’s mother--a Hollywood actress who looks to get closer to her daughter at a rather difficult point in her life. To make matters a bit more complicated, the only solution to the suddenly empty gallery seems to be employing the paintings of her assistant Carolina (an emotionally dynamic Ashley Oviedo) who happens to be dating a police officer who has boldly put himself in charge of investigating the theft. Arash Fakhrabadi had an earthbound charm as a man who is caught-up around the edges of an extended family in flux.
Director Anna Skidis Vargas keeps the crazy energy of the show moving without ever overwhelming the audience. The offbeat energies of the comedy inhabit a very appealing visual world. Costume Designer Jazmin Aurora Medina does a beautiful job of dressing the contemporary Miami art world against a very clean and bright backdrop by Scenic Designer Em Allen. Emotionally endearing comedy moves through an appealing visual world.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Laughs In Spanish runs through Oct. 8 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre on 158 N. Broadway. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.
Before they took the stage, I was having a 3 Sheeps IPA with a cookie that had been handed to me by a time traveling housewife. Venerable all--woman sketch comedy Broadminded is opening it’s show this month with a different act each week. Opening night the opener was Professor Merryweather’s Time-Traveling Improv Show. It’s kind of a high-concept premise for improv: everyone in the group plays someone from a different era. It’s a fun show.
The Broads present another show that comes from a diversity of different angles on a loosely-defined theme. Each one of the four members of the group brings something distinct and unique to a very well-established connection that has built up between them over many, many years. And the comedy itself ranges from deeply satirical historical comedy two light observational humor to some very clever physical comedy that also engages emotionally.
As with any sketch show, some of the humor lands much more impressively than the rest of it. One of the more sophisticated sketches was “Women of the 1890s”--an imagined TV commercial for the opium that women were constantly being prescribed in the era of menotoxins. (Actually that was a concept that was proposed in the 1920s, but...y’know...women have been mistreated by medical science for SUCH a long time....ugh...) As real-life daytime pharmacist Anne Graff LaDisa spoofed about the benefits of opium, Melissa Kingston and Megan McGee engaged in some cleverly nuanced (yet somehow still completely over-the-top) physical comedy. It was a dual-track highbrow-lowbrow sketch that represents some of the groups better work.
Physical comedy engages on a few different levels over the course of the program. Kingston’s “Cell Problems” feels like a catharsis as much as it is a sharply physical, little episodic piece. “Losing My Edge” is an entirely nonverbal comedy bit that reaches a deep emotional level while playing around with delightfully accessible observational humor. Truly heartfelt emotionality salvages a few moments that might otherwise feel superficial. Stacy Babl gets perilously close to very simple and obvious physical comedy with a roll of duct tape, but she turns it out at the ends with an emotionally endearing punchline. Her “Mr. Fixit” sketch runs the risk of engaging in a bit more complexity than might be readily available through sketch miming...but the dynamic between her as husband and Kingston as wife gives the sketch a strong emotional center which effectively sells the sketch.
There’s some somewhat experimental moments in the show as well. The level of detail thrown into a presentation on Pointless charts is pleasantly dizzying and the delicate interplay between generations in a generational quiz show sketch is one of those rare sketches that manages to stick around in the psyche long after the show. Once again...Broadminded continues to show a distinct kind of comedy that’s so very difficult to find anywhere else.
Broadminded’s #Lifehacks continues through September 30th at the Interchange Theatre Co-Op on 628 N.10th St. For more information, visit Broadminded online.
Playwright Aaron Posner casts a Chekhov classic into a Generation X aesthetic with Stupid Fucking Bird. The comedic drama has a 1990’s indie cinema feel about it in a small stage production that comes to inhabit Sunstone Studios this weekend courtesy of Placeholder Players. A remarkably nuanced and textured cast works its way through a contemporary US adaptation of The Seagull with heart, poise and powerful emotion that strives to plunge itself right into the existential heart of theatre.
“Start the Fucking Play.” (Zachary Thomas Woods tells everybody that right at the beginning of the play.) Someone has to say that before the play can start. Opening night it was just about everybody...opening night appeared to be sold-out. It was a deeply engaged crowd for a deeply engaging drama.
Woods plays Con--a struggling contemporary playwright who is trying to change the world. He wants to do art that carves its way into the center of reality to find some sort of truth. He’s falling for the woman he has cast in the center of a piece that he’s written. Mary Grace Seigel plays to a casually playful poise and perfection as the actress Nina, who is actively seeking fame and love from everyone. Seigel lends some depth to the character as she explores a deep emotional vulnerability in seeking the love of the famed author Trig, played with a sense of intellectual passion by Rick Bingen.
Grace Berendt is achingly stunning as Mash--a goth girl in fishnets with a ukulele who feels a powerfully overwhelming darkness about the world. The darkness comes at least partially because of the love she feels for Con, which is destined to be forever unrequited. Berendt’s sweetly beautiful voice dances out across the intimate space of Sunstone Studios as she plays something wistfully dreamy about the futile nature of life. Berendt is irresistible in the role...occupying the edges of the ensemble except for a couple of brief moments. The structure of the play allows Berendt an opportunity to show some deeply moving emotional development as Mash opens-up to the possibilities that are open to her. It’s a profoundly satisfying transformation that is presented without undue amplification around the edges of the ensemble.
Jabril Rilley plays with a charming innocence in the role of Dev--a guy who is understandably in love with Mash. Riley resonates a casual wonder about the world that lends an honest, childlike levity to the production. Rilley balances the innocence against a simple, pragmatic wisdom that Posner is clever enough to give the character. So often an adult of innocent wonder is played-up as an idiot. Posner may have placed a bit of that in the script, but Rilley plays it with such an intellectually adroit energy that Dev feels like a fully-rendered person onstage.
Kim Emmer plays Con’s mom. Bill Molitor plays an old, retired doctor. They’re both given their moments, but Posner hasn’t really been able to engage with them in a way that feels truly connected and integrated with the rest of the cast...and then...they weren’t THAT significant in Chekhov’s original play anyway...so once again the more experienced end of a cast is on the periphery.
Woods’ presence opens and closes the show. He’s got the first and last lines. As Con, he’s well aware that he’s in a play...and there’s a really cool fusion between actor and character in a gorgeously existential angle of one of the better plays to be placed on any stage so far this year. The complexities of love. art and commerce that Chekhov was working with feel kind of interesting in a contemporary US setting...the whole thing feels like a MUCH more complicated mutation of Helen Childress' Reality Bites.)
There are two more performances.
Placeholder Players' staging of Stupid Fucking Bird runs through September 3rd (one weekend only) at Sunstone Studios on 127 E. Wells Street. For more information, visit Sunstone online.