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.
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.
Outdoor summer shows begin to come to an end with another Summer of COVID. Things still seem to be waking-up in the midst of the Delta Variant. September approaches. There’s a bit more going on in and around small stages in and around Milwaukee than there was in September 2020.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Voices Found Repertory recently posted a video promo for their upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The cast looks really, really good for the show, which opens the month at Imagination Studios in West Allis. Response has already been impressive with the first performance nearly selling-out very quickly. The video promo feels a lot like an opening of a 90s Xer-based comedy like Singles or Reality Bites or...I dunno...Friends or something like that. If director Sarah Zapian takes this direction with the production, it could make it really, really interesting. The show runs Sep. 2 - 12.
Run For Your Wife
Seasoned director Brian Zelinski opens the season for the Sunset Playhouse. Phil Stepanski plays a London cabbie in Run For Your Wife. Tanya Tranberg plays his wife Mary. Allison Chicorel plays his wife Barbara. Mary doesn’t know about Barbara. Barbara doesn’t know about Mary. Two separate wives give the cabbie two separate lives that come crashing into each other as the cabbie is mugged and winds-up in the hospital. The 1983 Ray Cooney comedy runs Sep. 9 - 26 at the Furlan Auditorium in Elm Grove.
Pitch & Play
So...the idea is this: people get together to throw around ideas for new programs.
An open atmosphere might be a good place to make connections and introduce new ideas.
What better place to do this...than at a boxing studio?
This has got to be one of the more novel ideas for generating new work.
Cooperative Performance’s Pitch & Play takes place Saturday, Sep. 18 at Dropout Fight Club on 830 E. Keefe. Ave. from 4-6 pm.
Next Act Theatre opens its season with a production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s program of monologues. Three people tell three stories drawn from a small midwestern funeral parlor. Next Act brings to the stage stories of a widow, a jewelry thief and a man going to great lengths to win a woman’s heart. It’s dark, intimate comedy. An evening with three characters in Next Act’s theatre space. Next Act is limiting each performance to half capacity and requesting that everyone in attendance be masked and vaccinated. The show runs September 23 - October 17.
Season Preview Gala Fundraiser
Bombshell Theatre closes the month with a fancy-dress season preview fundraiser gala. Bombshell has already announced their first show: Bryanna VanCaster in a production of Funny Girl. Preview performances from the show will be staged alongside an appetizer buffet from Apple Spice, a drinks station, a silent auction and more. The gala happens September 29th at Inspiration Studios in West Allis.
Milwaukee-based actress/playwright Cara Johnston graces the internet this month with a sharply clever, little dramatic historical comedy. The Little Glass Slipper as Performed by the Queen of France and Her Friends imagines a quaint, little production of a classic fairy tale with an ominous background. Marie Antoinette plays Cinderella in a production staged in her own, personal theatre on July 14th of 1789. (This turned out to be kind of a big day in history.) Johnston puts together an ingeniously intricate, little comedic drama with dizzying thematic balance. Johnston also directed the piece, which was shot on July 14th of 2021. (Oh...and she also plays Marie Antoinette...and did some set painting...)
The premise has some basis in history. Marie Antoinette was a great lover of the theatre and even had a performance space built on which she would, in fact, perform. She evidently loved playing people who weren’t queen. And I mean...these were characters who REALLY weren’t queen: farmer’s wives and soubrettes and things like that. And she would play alongside her royal friends with her own servants in the audience diligently (and perhaps nervously) playing along in the role of the claque. (It's true. Take a look at Muriel Zagha's “Drama queen: a peek inside Marie Antoinette’s private theatre,” Apollo ) So there’s actual history here that’s fascinating. Johnston’s decision to have herself play Marie Antoinette playing Cinderella on the day of the storming of the Bastille is kind of a brilliant one thematically. In light of growing inequities between the wealthy and the poor in the contemporary world, this is a particularly fun angle on the show.
Johnston is delightfully awkward in the role of a queen who is quite oblivious about the nature of her own privilege. Johnston’s work is deeply comic on a variety of levels...many of which have to do with the cluelessness of the ruling class. There’s greater depth in it all, though. Marie’s desire to escape the pressures of queendom find her fantasizing about being a servant girl as all around her disintegrates. A would-be assassin even finds himself thrust into a role onstage. Knowing full well that they’re doomed, a number of Marie’s fellow cast members abandon the show mid-performance. Cinderella ascends to royalty as the woman playing her descends into a darkness that will inevitably see her executed. It’s impressively well-balanced and poignant.
Local actresses Alicia Rice and Jennifer Vosters play with opposing energies in the heart of the cast. Rice is warm and sympathetic well-meaning Princess onstage with Marie who is genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. Vosters is comically cold as the naturally talented Duchess in the cast who is far more concerned for her own survival. It’ a nice contrast that rests at the center of a tight, little ensemble.
The Little Glass Slipper is a very, very intimate production, but there’s a delicious feeling of excess about it as it was shot on the stage of a rather nice theatre in Texas. Production design by Cara’s sister Courtney Miles includes sumptuous costuming by Jerry Miles. Jun Kang did an excellent job of shooting and editing the production. I didn’t see any one specifically credited for the lighting, but it’s gorgeous. The visual reality of the ruling class fumbling on its way to the guillotine is absolutely stunning in a fun, little one-hour comedic drama.
The Miles Sisters’ production of Cara Johnston’s Little Glass Slipper is available online from two different outlets:
--the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is hosting it online for free, but there IS a registration fee of a little more than £1. They’re hosting it through Aug. 30.
--the Milwaukee Fringe Festival is also hosting the show online. Tickets are $15. They carry the show through Aug. 28.
Lenny Magrath the oldest. She’s called her middle sister Meg to come back to her hometown of Hazlehurst, Mississippi. There’s a family emergency involving their baby sister Becky. Becky shot her husband in the stomach because she, “didn’t like his look.” The police know she shot him. She told them. She doesn’t wanna talk about it, though. So she’s going to need a really good lawyer. Only problem is she just shot the best lawyer in town. Once again, playwright Beth Henley’s classic 20th century drama Crimes of the Heart makes an appearance in a local production courtesy of SummerStage of Delafield. Director Kelly Goeller helps a talented cast balance on nuance in a staging bed rather definitely straddles the line between comedy and tragedy.
Brigid O’Brien plays the oldest sister Lenny with a somewhat heroic sense of duty and competence that manages to amplify the characters solitude and desolation. She’s been looking after her ailing grandfather forever. He hasn’t really had a life of her own. O’Brien illuminates the character With a very sturdy, well grounded life that feels very organic. Near the opening of the play, transferred to Lenny is trying to light a candle on the smallest piece of cake imaginable. She’s having difficulty doing so. Still manages to almost sing happy birthday to herself, though. O’Brien captures a very sad moment with the heart and humor that sharply introduce A very sophisticated script.
Abbi Minessale is casually irresistible as middle sister Meg. She’s a free spirit who moved up to Hollywood to pursue musical career that seems to have stalled. The character has a rookie term that Minissale has a little difficulty bringing to the stage. As she is such a dumb and personality, she’s one of the more difficult characters in the play to render with any sense of sophistication. It would be way too easy to just let the script guide the character. Minessale Find the screen unique heart and comedy of a fish out of water in her hometown and inhabitant with tenderness and grace.
Madison Penzkover might have one of the biggest challenges in the ensemble as Becky Before she even appears on stage, we know that her character has shut her husband in the stomach. When she shows up, she quite casually says that she meant to shoot him in the heart. She says that without even the slightest remorse. And yet Penzkover is able to Come across as a sweet, endearing personality who seems quite open even in her on mysteries. The chemistry between her and Logan Milway might be one of the cutest things on a local stage all summer. Milway has an earthbound valiance in the role of the man looking to represent Becky in court.
Drama and comedy wash over a late summers afternoon In the process of the coming evening. An open domestic setting arrests in a very beautiful park somewhere in the periphery of Milwaukee County. Southeastern Wisconsin becomes a 20th century Mississippi however briefly.
SummerStage of Delafield’s production of Crimes of the Heart runs through Sep. 4th at Lapham Peak State Park. For ticket reservations and more, visit Summerstage online.
Milwaukee Irish Fest makes a return to Maier Festival Park this weekend. Once again, Milwaukee Irish Arts makes a return to the festival with Sebastian Barry’s casual, heartfelt dramatic comedy Fred and Jane. Directed by Lindsey Gagliano, the show features Amanda J. Hull and Margaret Casey as a couple of Irish nuns who have been friend forever.
In and amidst all of the activity of a typical ethnic festival on the Milwaukee’s lakefront, there’s a cozy, little theatre tent. This year it’s tucked away far from the noise of neighboring bands and other noisy acts. Comfy plastic chairs sit around tables in the shade in the presence of a stage with a couple of far more comfy-looking chairs. A tea set rests on a table. After a brief introduction, a couple of nuns who have come-in to the festival from a convent in Ireland in 1996. They rest there telling the stories of their lives for a brief time whilst sipping tea.
Margaret Casey is engrossing as the older of the two nuns: Beatrice. She just might have heard the calling to a life of service having seen Fed Astaire glowing larger than life on a movie screen. Amanda J. Hull plays Anna, who had aspired to being an actress in her youth, but found the habit instead. The two tell tales of having grown-up, met, become quite close and then forced to be apart. Tales of two lives quickly whisk across the stage and soon find rest at the end of a performance brief enough to sweetly linger in the mind even amidst the bustling activity of the large festival beyond the tent.
It’s really, really difficult to bring a couple of extremely well-acquainted characters onstage. It’s really difficult to fake the kind of intimacy a couple of good friends have...especially if they’ve known each other for a decade or more. Casey and Hull do a brilliant job of allowing Barry’s script to weave the story of the two characters together with the mutual warmth and respect of a couple of charming actresses onstage. The memories of a couple of characters lightly fill a quiet, little tent on the edge of the festival.
Casey and Hull do such a good job of delivering the familiarity of two character onstage. The illusion feels pleasantly believable. It’s not difficult to imagine Milwaukee Irishfest welcoming a couple of Irish nuns to a small stage to tell stories. Casey and Hull sell the charming presence of these characters so well that it’s difficult not to look around the festival and expect the two of them to be casually strolling around with a couple of scones talking about which stage they’re going to visit next.
Milwaukee Irish Arts’ Milwaukee Irish Fest production of Fred & Jane has two more performances: Saturday, Aug. 21 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 22 at 6:00 pm. All performances take place in The Theatre Pavilion at Henry Maier Festival Park.For more information, visit Milwaukee Irish Arts online.
Late this month, The Milwaukee Entertainment Company hosts an evening of three one acts by seasoned local actor/director/playwright Bill Jackson. Once again, t’s refreshing to see live theatre in an indoor setting after lockdown. The three shorts are presented with a single intermission. Brief dramatic comedies about truth and identity open and close a program also featuring a comedy of a couple of pairs of sisters. It’s all very small, intimate and well-executed. One of the first big returns to traditional indoor theatre in Milwaukee turns out to be a casual evening with nine characters. Conversation are had. People learn a bit more about each other. And everyone goes home.
The program opens on a dreamily resonant note courtesy of Bill Jackson, who begins the show directing his own work. Coffee With Doug imagines a chance meeting between two strangers who turn out to be more than strangers. Joe Ferrie has a ragged, frazzled charisma as a guy who has come to edit some poetry in peace and quiet. Scott Sorenson summons a fair amount of earnest curiosity as the guy who ends up distracting him for the course of the drama. It’s a pleasant, little dark fantasy that delves into the nature of celebrity in the heyday of the baby boomer...the last era of the enduringly resonant mega-celebrity demigods. It’s a short that might be lost to those without some passing familiarity with the rock and roll of the era. Celebrity is a hell of a lot more cheap and disposable in the age of the internet than it was back then. Playwright/actress Deanne Strasse makes a fun, little cameo as a waitress at the coffee shop.
The music of The Doors lingers as the scene changes for the second one act: Nut Ring. Becky Cofta and Hayley San Filippo play a couple of sisters slipping into a conversation about sex with a pair of older sisters played by Kim Emer and Leslie Fitzwater. Open and honest discussion of sex has a tendency to be awkward to begin with, but the one pair of sisters in this case just happens to be mother and aunt to the other pair. Jackson plays an interesting, little chamber symphony of comedy directed by Raven Dockery. Everyone has a chance at a slightly different angle on the sex-based comedy conversation. Filippo is sweet. Cofta is sensual. Elmer is earnest. Fitzwater is a little bit of everything. It’s a nice, little four-part harmony of ribald comedy.
The program returns after intermission with Nate Press and Ashley Oviedo as fiancees Ash and Cassie in Immortal. The two characters have only been together for a brief period of time when she comes home to accuse him of being immortal. What might seem absurd on the surface gradually delves into greater and greater thematic depth as Jackson explores truth and identity. Press has a brilliantly layered sense of comedy that serves the short well. He’s as good with obvious punchlines as he is with far more subtle and nearly imperceptible shades of humor. Oviedo is crushingly vulnerable and courageous as someone who isn’t afraid to sound crazy to someone she loves in order to get the truth. Director Robert A. Zimmerman cleverly sets tone and mood while sharply directing the flow of traffic in a script that could all-too-easily feel overwhelmingly weighty. Oviedo is remarkably magnetic. Press is appealingly restless. It’s a truly enjoyable end to a really, really fun evening of shorts.
Table For Three: An Evening of One Acts by Bill Jackson runs through August 14th at the Brumder Mansion on 3046 W. Wisconsin Avenue. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Entertainment Company online.