The first show to open this coming month looks fun. It’s another trip to Sunstone Studios. Given how many shows have opened in the tiny studio space, it’s easily one of the busiest theatrical stages in Milwaukee. The space just opened a little while ago and it has REALLY hit the ground running. The Taming is playwright Lauren Gunderson’s all-woman take on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The show finds an intimate staging in the busy, little confines of the coziest space in town. Set in the U.S., the show is billed as, “a semi-historically-accurate ether trip.” Sounds like fun. The cast includes Samantha Sostarich, Kaylene Howard and Caroline Norton. The show runs November 4 - 13. Maggie Marks directs. For more information, visit Sunstone online.
Skylight Music Theatre presents another staging of The Little Shop of Horrors this coming month. Michael Unger directs a diverse cast including David Flores as Mushnik, Seth K. Hale, Raven Dockery, Aaron Reese Boseman, Kevin J. Seivert as Seymour and Ashley Oviedo as Audrey. People sometimes ask me which shows get produced more than any other locally and honestly...this is one of the most-produced shows in the past dozen years or so, which is a bit odd considering how weird it is. The strangely upbeat sci-fi horror musical makes its way to the main stage at the Skylight November 19th - January 2nd. For more information, visit the Skylight online.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre stages a production of a comic comedy of manners as it presents Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. A group of very culturally conscious people try to find a way to present the story of Thanksgiving for a school that will also honor Native American Heritage Month. MCT staged a production of this show online last Spring. Torrey Hanson and Hannah Shay return to the show, joined by Cassandra Bissell and Neil Brookshire. With the addition of Bissell (one of my favorites) in a production that now matches the season, I’m looking forward to this one a lot. It’ll be nice to see it live. The show runs November 19 - December 19. For more information, visit MCT online.
Michael Hollinger’s Cold war detective spoof Red Herring opens this month in a Next Act Theatre production that features a very appealing cast including Mary MacDonald Kerr as a tough Boston cop , Dylan Bolin as an FBI agent. Also appearing: Zach Thomas Woods and Bo Johnson in an array of roles. David Cecsarini directs. Cecsarini always does as really good job of putting together the right cast for a show and this...wow...this is a LOT of fun. A really nice mix of talent from a couple of different generations. The comedy runs November 24th through December 19th. For more information, visit Next Act online.
Actress/Adaptor Maya Danks has reduced Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth into a streamlined one hour without intermission. Developed in part by Rebirth Ink, the production of increased brevity makes its way to the small stage of Sunstone Studios for a single weekend’s performance at the end of October. Directed by Linetta Alexander Islam, the show graces the intimacy of the venue with a cast of four: Macbeth (Ken Miller), Lady Macbeth (Guinevere Casper), Banquo (King Hang) and Macduff (Brielle Richmond.)
Prophecy. Ambition. Death. It all plays out in a single hour without intermission. Everything glides across the stage quite gracefully. Danks has really cut the script to the quick. The production follows Danks' minimalism in a reasonably deft swiftness. There’s a powerful economy of visuals on a stage that isn’t much deeper or wider than the length of a broadsword. Four seats sit at four corners as the three witches settle-in for the play’s opening. The stage is bathed in black and gold with the occasional flashes of red light when blood is spilled.
With so much speeding by so quickly, there isn’t a whole lot of time for the mystical darkness to settle-in around the edges of the story. Between the lack of mysticism and a few other decisions that have been made in framing the script and staging the drama, this is a Macbeth that feels much more like psychological horror. The three weird sisters are as abstract as the dagger of the mind that haunts Macbeth. The plot elements tumble across the stage in a strange maelstrom the Danks and Islam have carefully concentrated. The characters are all clearly going through a dark madness, but how much of it all is in their minds? Couldn't they all stop it if they just discussed things like rational people? Without the mystic darkness, all of the darkness lies within. What is real? What lies in the mind? It's a darker edge when it's all within.
Sunstone Studios’ and Rebirth Ink’s production of Macbeth has three more performances: October 29th and 30th at 7pm and October 31st at 5 pm. For ticket reservations and more, visit Sunstone Studios online.
Theatre Gigante is opening its season with a two-performance show that, as of this writing, is quite nearly sold-out. In the intimate space of the Kenilworth 508 studio, Gigante presents a screening of Nosferatu complete with live original scoring by Michigan-based composer Frank Pahl. Pahl’s work is deliciously eerie. Bizarrely engaging dissonance does an unhinged dance with old celluloid played through digital projection on a modest screen. The show mixes the traditional, silent black and white horror of the original 1922 film with pleasantly eerie orchestration brought to the studio by The Little Bang Theory. That’s right: Nosferatu is about to turn 100 years of age and Theatre Giagante is having a really good time with its delicious creepiness.
The very first live performance I’d ever seen in Milwaukee was Pandemonium III with Present. Music back in 1995. Present Music performed a live, new score for Nosferatu as a part of a program that also including Todd Browining’s Freaks and a costume party with The Little Blue Crunchy Things. The enduring appeal of “the first ever vampire movie” isn’t difficult to understand. Nosferatu is a cult classic German horror film that skulks along the edges of sanity in a way that absolutely defines silent-era horror. It’s a towering legend of the genre. Thanks to Th we Little Bang Theory, enduring shadows from another century being resurrected once more.
Opening night was sold-outThe delightfully moody percussion that calls itself The Little Bang Theory rested onstage at the beginning of the performance with a weird collection of things including a kick drum, toy bells, a mini xylophone, metallophones, automata, homemade instruments and a whole bunch of other things. This is strange, strange darkness. Side seats are covered with fake webbing. Then there’s that opening title card...”Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror.” Okay...yeah...but it’s a really WEIRD symphony of horror played with a respectfully playful madness. There are three grown adults...serious musicians who are ready to play tasty, little nightmares with a few toys while classic horror plays on a relatively small screens . And yet...there’s something strange about the shadows in that tiny, little studio that DO feel a bit chilling and disturbing a round the edges. There’s something about it that definitely feels like it’s resonating deeply into that strange meeting place between beauty and grace and time and space. There’s a mix of childhood fear and adult disorientation as shadows from another era play out on a comfortably large screen. The strange tone and percussion playing through the space reaches beyond expectation into something new and chilling amidst the advancing autumn on Milwaukee’s east side.
The final scene before “The End,” continues to echo through my head as I write this. Todd Browning’s end to Bella Lugosi’s Dracula feels like weak surveillance camera footage next to the final death in Nosferatu. For all its jerky motions and awkward motions, this cinematic vampire still holds some power.
Theatre Gigante’s Nosferatu with Little Bang Theorey has one more performance on Sunday, Oct. 24th at the Kenilworth 508 Theatre on 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. For ticket reservations and more, visit Theatre Gigante online.
Sunstone Studios follows-up its debut comedy Toil and Trouble with local playwright Michael Lucchesi’s contemporary dramatic thriller Between Two Rivers. Director Tim Kietzman brings the drama to one of the smallest, most intimate stages in town. Lucchesi’s script delves into ancient myth with a contemporary story that explores some basic human conflicts. An AWOL marine returns home in order to take care of some unfinished business. Though the tension between characters feels a bit stiff in places, the central intensity between mother, father, daughter and sons is compelling and provocative enough to serve as an admirably brave journey into the darkness that rests in the heart of the American home.
Lucchesi’s family drama plays out in a secluded rural space. Husband and wife (Scott Sorenson and Anya Palmer) share a few moments together in an unfinished house. She’s paid for it. He’s trying to fix it up. Symbolically, he’s worked really hard to develop the exterior of the place, but the interior is scarcely habitable. They’re getting along, but there’s a distance between them. Before long the two of them are joined by their daughter Eden (Molly Kempfer,) their son their son A.J. (Rick Bingen) and their estranged son Kyle (Brandon Michaud.) Kyle’s appearance is a bit of a surprise. He’s a survivor of the war in Iraq who has returned from one horror to confront another.
Michaud manages a few powerful moments as a man lost in an inner maelstrom that forces him to confront brutality and conflict in and within the home that he had turned his back on in order to join the military. Kempfer makes her Milwaukee theatre debut in a very intricate and sophisticated role. Eden is placed right in the center of the conflict, but Kempfer is not given a whole lot of stage time in which to deliver the complexity of the character. She manages a very nuanced portrayal of someone on the edge of her potential while lost in inner turmoil. It’s a strikingly interesting performance.
Everyone in the family is dealing with some kind of trauma, which adds to the conflict. Sorenson is given one of the more challenging roles in the drama. He plays a deeply conflicted character with a respectable simplicity. Any actor would want to dive into the role of the father in a way that would distort and amplify his inner conflict, but Sorenson avoids that in a very stark performance. Palmer is a powerful presence onstage that throws Sorenson’s performance into sharp contrast. Lucchesi compresses the five characters into a small space where they’re force to confront each other in a way that feels stiff and awkward. The conflict that Lucchesi is exploring is tragically common. It’s difficult to imagine any family confronting it gracefully, so the awkwardness of the dialogue feels more or less natural. There’s little insight into the nature of domestic dysfunction, but that doesn’t mar an otherwise hauntingly unflinching look into the dark corners of the American family.
Sunstone Studios’ production of Between Two Rivers runs through Oct. 24th at Sunstone’s space on 127 E. Wells St. For more information, visit Sunstone Studios online.
Popular consciousness has fragmented in the age of social media. The contemporary world is finding new ways to relate to the concept of heroism. The Decameron Opera Coalition explores the nature of contemporary heroism in the pre-produced three-part online opera anthology Heroes. Indie opera companies from all over the country participate in telling the tales of the contemporary heroism. Milwaukee Opera Theatre lends a Milwaukee voice to the final chapter in the series--Episode 3: Sustenance. Prior episodes in the series include “Episode 1: Answering the Call”--stories of those who have selflessly sacrificed and “Episode 2: The Long Arc” which explores the self-reliance and persistence of contemporary heroes.
The third episode is dominated by a diversity of operatic first-person monologues about the everyday heroes in one of the largest cities on Earth courtesy of New York’s Bare Opera. Director Malena Dayen and videographer Brian Gonzalez manage some beautiful earthbound images of Manhattan as various archetypes talk about their lives...an environmentalist, a sex worker, an aspiring singer and so on. The songs may have been recorded and mixed in advanced without anything in the way of incidental sounds of Manhattan, but there IS something kind of hypnotic about the illusion of everyday people singing operatically on their way from one place to another in the biggest city in the U.S.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre finds itself somewhere in between all of the slickly-executed production of Bare Opera’s contribution. The hip-hop-infused spoken word poetry of Britt Nicole. Britt is a relatively new voice in the local spoken word scene who had her first feature at The Brewing Grounds for Change back in 2013. Spoken word cleverly contrasts against the heavy drama of a passionate operatic program. I love mic-style spoken-word. I’ve performed a lot of it myself. (I met my wife when we were both performing on a poetry/spoken word open mic back in the late ’90s.) The often-overlooked performance style has to potential to add some depth and counterpoint to almost anything. MOT has made a bold choice in somewhat deftly sliding it into an opera program.
Britt Nicole gracefully speaks about the heroism of the Tricklebee Café--a pay-what-you-can restaurant in a food desert a couple of blocks north of Washington Park. As Nicole glides through her words, the lightly casual social atmosphere of the Tricklebee cascades across the screen. Music by Ms. Lotus Fankh lightly punctuates the edges of the words. Director/videographer Samer Ghani puts together what feels like a particularly artistic and inspiring 5+ minute promotional video for the community café. It’s more than that, though. It’s a celebration of the idealism of a restaurant that uses fresh, healthy, locally-grown ingredients to bring meals and people together.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Home Cooked Heroes is available online now in Episode 3 of Decameron Opera Coalition’s Heroes. There will be a live online Premiere Week party for Episode 3 at 7pm Central Time on Oct. 7th. For ticket reservations and more information, visit Decameron Opera online.