Onstage In January
It’s been an unseasonably warm new year, but there’s little doubt that the cold is coming. A warm comedy opens 2023 in a month dominated by some very serious and weighty dramas that are certain to accompany some of the coldest days of the year. A charming southern musical warms the Milwaukee stage in a month that also finds topics of suicide, infertility and basic human survival inhabiting the heart of winter on the live stage in Milwaukee. A couple of 20th century classics join some remarkably compelling works from the past ten years in a very promising month for local theatre productions.
Bombshell Theatre Company stages a classic 1970s country-western musical at the beginning of 2023 as it presents The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Director Eric Welch brings the show to an intimate studio theatre space that should amplify the small-town feel of the show. Robbyn Wilks plays the proprietor of a brothel that finds itself in jeopardy due to a TV expose. Promo pics of the upcoming production reveal a classy, vintage boudoir feel about the costuming by Welch and Madison Nowack. January 6 - 15 at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. For ticket reservations, visit Bombshell online.
Director Caroline Norton brings weighty drama to one of the smallest stages in town this month as it presents the classroom drama Gidion’s Knot. Sarah Mankowski-Lathrum plays a grade school teacher who is confronted by Corryn (Tina Nixon)--a parent of a student who committed suicide. The tiny space at Sunstone Studios serves as a grade school classroom in a very tense and provocative 90-minute drama. Johnna Adams’ script dives into intense complexity that is compellingly explored between two characters. The whole of society is reflected in a single tragic death. January 13 - 28 at 127 E. Wells St. For ticket reservations, visit Sunstone online.
A cast including a couple of Milwaukee theatre veterans is brought together for a look at one of the most acclaimed dramas of the 20th century as Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? January 20 - February 12 at the Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre. Laura Gordon and James Ridge feature prominently in 0ne of the more haunting stage dramas to come out of the 1960s. A casual get-together between a couple of couples turns very serious as the evening progresses. Things are never as they appear. For ticket reservations, visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.
Renaissance Theaterworks closes-out the month with the Midwest premiere of Martyna Majok’s clever 2016 comic drama. Ben Raanan directs the story of four mismatched characters. A former trucker and his paralyzed ex-wife are contrasted against the concerns of a young man with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver. In contemporary America, survival is expensive. Life can be incredibly difficult in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Four people struggle in a show that’s brought to a cozy space January 20 - February 12 at 255 South Water Street. For ticket reservations, visit Renaissance Theaterworks online.
Lumpy the Golem Boy was mixing with the crowd and collecting donations as Audrey Thompson-Wallace played the harp in the center of the room. It was The Best Place...somewhere between spirits in Boozy Bard’s production of A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ classic is probably the single best-known story of any kind in the Western world. It’s been adapted so many times in so many ways that anyone could recite the plot entirely from memory without even realizing they’ve done so.
And so it’s a perfect choice for a Boozy Bard show. (Or it would be if it had been written by Shakespeare.) It’s good. A lot of fun. The first of two evenings’ performances of the show happened on Friday the 16th of December. The Best Place was packed. If it wasn’t a sell-out crowd, it at least felt like one. The cozy, little bar was filled with people looking to watch Scrooge get haunted again. Stephen M. Wolterstorff served as a charismatically informal host for the evening’s proceedings as the show started.
Every show with Boozy Bard is drastically different from every other show with Boozy Bard. Actors choose roles at random from a hat. Last night’s Scrooge was barefoot for the entire show. A witty puppet served as narrator. It was weird. It was cool. The group raised a lot of money for the very worthy cause of Sojourner Family Peace Center.
Somewhere amidst drinks, scripts and various bits of costuming, the story unfolded. The adorably attentive, fuzzy blue visage of Lumpy the Golem Boy looked-on from as the all-too-familiar story shuffled across the stage with tastefully comic exaggerations of drama. It’s a weird improv comedy sort of an atmosphere that’s elegantly tethered to a streamlined adaptation of the classic holiday story. Audience and cast members took turns heckling the wealthy, old anti-hero in a fun and festive atmosphere. Every now and again, there’s something truly unexpected to anchor a Boozy Bard show. Last night it was Thompson-Wallace’s serious gravitas as Belle, who delivered a heavy weight to the evolution of Scrooge’s personality. Scrooge chooses greed over love and Lumpy is seen in the background comically slamming his face against the script in frustration. It’s such a weirdly unrehearsed energy the animates the moment...the type of thing that makes a Boozy Bard show as truly appealing and unique as it is.
There’s real warmth in a holiday crowd that has such an open distain for wealth. Want to go to a fancy adaptation with big sets and costuming that’s attended by people with money? You know where the Pabst Theatre is. There’s plenty of seating there. Want a closer, less formal brush with Dickens? The Best Place is...well...the best place for that. But here’s the catch: there’s only one performance left. The show starts at 7 pm. And y’know...get there early because last night seating filled-up pretty fast. (The line for the bar is pretty crazy too. So...y’know...consider that as well.)
Boozy Bard’s production of A Christmas Carol (Raw) emerges for its second and final performance tonight, December 17th at The Best Place Tavern in the Historic Pabst Brewery on 917 W Juneau Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.