The crowd was packed at The Best Place Tavern. It was 7:30 pm and it looked like everyone was wearing horns. It must have been something to do with the summer. Or maybe it had something to do with The Merry Wives of Windsor. Boozy Bard Productions’ Shakespeare Raw is hosting a decidedly unprepared staging of the classic comedy at the beginning of this week. It opened last night.
Stephen M. Wolterstorff serves as a warm and welcoming host for the evening. Opening night had suspiciously perfect casting. Nick Firer found himself in the role of arrogant bastard Sir John Falstaff. Firer had mentioned online that he hadn’t acted in 4 months, but the man has some excellent comic instincts which served him well in the middle of the ensemble. Firer had a very relaxed approach to this stage. There was a casually drunken fatigue comically lounging about his portrayal that served the role well. Falstaff’s total confidence, mixed cleverly with an exhaustion that amplified the subtle end of a very-unsubtle Shakespearian sitcom.
Brian Bayer showed similarly sharp comic instincts in the role of Falstaff’s sidekick Pistol. Brian also continued his tradition of performing a song at intermission inspired by the show. ‘90s pop twisted its way around a the comedy of Falstaff in the Thames in a laundry basket. Bayer’s sharpest moment involved a rather unexpected Johnny Cash parody song that fit almost perfectly into the comedy’s climax.
The free and open environment of the improv-style Shakespeare works well with the sitcom-like energy of Merry Wives. Dramas can have a tendency to be a bit hit-or-miss with the Shakespeare Raw format, but a light comedy like Merry Wives feels like the perfect fit. The tragedies can occasionally strike it brilliant onstage with Boozy Bard, but the comedies are reliable fodder for the group.
As always, the cast reads directly from scripts throughout the course of the performance. There’s a delightful sense of informality about that which is better suited to comedy than it is to tragedy. Characters seem somewhat lost in their own thoughts somewhere between the page and the stage. There is clearly a sense of playfulness about it. A story of trickery and deception seems to ricochet around the stage all the more wildly without any sense of elaborate preparation. At its best moments, it really DOES feel like anything can happen.
Director Drea Roedel-Schroeder does a really good job of holding everything together. The energy on opening night of this particular run felt coherent and cohesive. That doesn't always happen. There are a lot of elements that go into well-executed stage chaos. Roedel-Schroeder has fostered a really fun energy for a really fun show. Early-on in the evening before the show gets started, the cast assembles in the space’s balcony for one final huddle. Opening night Drea could be seen leaning over the balcony and looking directly an actor sitting below as all the rest of the actors were assembled above. There's a light tone in her voice: “Don’t make me come down there.” The actor in question moved more or less immediately. It’s a fun atmosphere. The energy moved quickly and fluidly opening night.
Boozy Bard’s. Production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (Raw) continues through Wednesday,, July 12th at The Best Place in the Historic Pabst Brewery on 917 West Juneau Avenue. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
July is going to be kind of a weird month in local theatre. Yes, there IS going to be the traditional visits with Shakespeare. (And this month I get to see two Shakespeare shows on consecutive nights, which should be fun.) Also...there IS going to be at least one Broadway-style musical, but...things get a little weird as well. Sir John Falstaff, Helen Keller, the Nanny Named Fran, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West. Here’s a look at some of what lies ahead the month of July.
Optimist Theatre returns to Milwaukee area parks this summer with a production of Shakespeare’s romance Cymbeline. As in years past, Optimist has put together a remarkable cast for the production including Ken Williams, Libby Amato, Michael Stebbins, Susie Duecker, and Zachary Woods. Ron Scot Fry directs the show. Optimist always does such a good job of putting together stylish productions that can easily sneak into a section of a park, weave a little Shakespeare and then...vanish like they were little more than a strange dream. The show runs for an hour and a half without intermission and it explores innocence, jealousy and love. The show runs July 9 - Aug. 13. For more information, visit Optimist Theatre online.
Shakespeare RAW: The Merry Wives of Windsor
Y’know...Sit John Falstaff’s natural habitat would appear to be a bar. The legendarily comic knight makes his way to The Best Place Tavern this month courtesy of Boozy Bard in its production of The Merry Wives. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect fit for a casual night at a bar. So...who’s playing Falstaff? That’s going to depend on the night and the whims of the casting director...that just happens to be a hat. Roles are determined at random at the beginning of each performance in a fun sort of an improv kind of an atmosphere. The. show runs Monday through Wednesday July 10th -12th. For more information, visit the show’s
This month, playwright Tim Backes debuts a coming-of-age drama at Wulff Lodge in Grant Park. The Milwaukee County Park lodge should serve as a warm and inviting place for Backes’ coming-of-age story of a group of friends who meet-up four years after high school graduation. What was intended to be an opportunity for the group to meet-up and get nostalgic turns into something altogether more dramatic as secrets are revealed and friendships shift. The showm which is produced by Backes in partnership with Milwaukee County Parks, runs July 13 - 15 on 215 S. Lake Drive in South Milwaukee. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
The Miracle Worker
William Gibson’s adaptation of the real-life story of Helen Keller welcomes outdoor audiences courtesy of Summerstage of Delafield. The peaceful space of Lapham Peak State Park should match the overall mood of Colbert County Alabama in the late 19th century. Helen Keller’s relationship with her teacher Annie Sullivan should be a very natural fit for the organic feel of outdoor theatre. The drama is directed. by Elaine Rewolinski. It runs July 13th – 29th in Delafield. For more information, visit Summerstage online.
The Nanny: A Fine Parody
Purse String Productions will be staging a spoof on the popular 1990s sitcom. Typically TV sitcoms are kind of a weird thing to try to put on the local live stage, but...this one looks like it’s got a really fun cast Samantha Sostarich is brilliant with light comedy. She’s going to be playing the Fran Drescher role. Parker Cristan plays the butler Niles. Ceci Rodriguez plays Fran’s longtime friend Val. The show runs one weekend only July 14 - 16. For more information, visit Purse Strings’ Facebook Page.
Greendale Community Theatre celebrates its 20th anniversary Summer show with The Prom--a really cool idea for a musical based on real-life events. Back in 2010, a student at a high school in Mississippi planned to attend her senior prom with her girlfriend. The school banned her from attending. With the aid of the ACLU, she successfully sued the school district, which promptly caused the school to cancel the prom altogether. The drama continued from there. Six years later, a Broadway musical was based on the real-life drama. At the end of this month, GCT stages a production of the musical. The show runs July 27th - August 5th at Greendale High School Auditorium on 6801 Southway in Greendale. For more information, visit GCT online.
The Wizard of Oz
Courtney Denzer stars as Dorothy in Bombshell Theatre Co.’s upcoming production of the beloved fantasy The Wizard of Oz. The land of Oz heads. to the stage of the Broadway Theatre Center in a big staging featuring costuming, puppetry. (The crows that popped-up on Bombshell’s Facebook feed look adorable.) Those crows and a whole lot of other elements that should have little difficulty bringing the fantasy to life onstage. The show runs July 28th - August 6th. For more information, visit Bombshell Theatre online.
The Pink House is a cozy, little space in Riverwest. People gather around a tiny stage for a show that runs for two performances. One weekend only. The 7pm show opens the program. April Biggs’ Sick Girl feels like an oddly pleasant and deeply engaging trip to the doctor’s office crossed with an art installation and an abstract narrative dance performance. (Audience members are handed clipboards and intake forms on the way into the performance space.) Biggs is radiant. I’ve reviewed THAT performance for The Shepherd-Express.
After intermission, the program returns. It’s a provocative, little three-performance show that’s being presented by 53212 Presents. It’s a show called TRIP/syck. You should go. Really. It’s fun. It’s a fusion of different narrative styles that don’t often make it...anywhere. So it’s really cool to see this sort of thing presented onstage.
Selena Milewski’s Biopic follows the intermission. It’s an exploration into phantoms of biography and mediated reality through the lens of popular cinema. There’s a pre-recorded bit that’s projected onto the wall--a mutated isotope of an Academy Awards telecast. She’s hosting the ceremony while presenting an award for a category in which she’s the only one who has been nominated. Milewski stars in weird fragments of nonexistent feature films which play out on the wall as a living Selena dances in the projection. It’s hypnotic. Milewski has the kind of striking beauty and magnetic presence that fits well into a glowing rectangle. There’s no question that she’d be good for big money projects in two-dimensions, but there’s something alive living in the projection...and it’s her.
Cinema and video produced by Zeze Schorsch are projected onto the wall. They play with corpses of what’s already been and there they are projected against the screen in biographical mutation as a very real and living Selena dances around in the light cast from the past. Very cool stuff...and a clever (if possibly inadvertent) satire on the nature of film as art on the precipice of the SAG strike that’s coming at month’s end. So much money is cast into the yawning pit of creative energy in LA. The live stage in all its many forms is capable of so much more than anything that’s restlessly being projected on so many vapid multiplex screens all over the country. It’s so much more when it’s alive...especially on intimate, little floorboards somewhere West of the river.
The program ends with a weird, little tour de force of trippy disorientation called Afternoon of Fawning. It’s a mind-warping deconstruction of performance. Forrest Jackson, Posy Knight and Zeze Schorsch are rehearsing a show that they’re performing...as they’re performing it they’re rehearsing it. Basic relationships break apart nonlinearly as the narrative slides around itself looking for the right diagonals...looking for the right rhythms. Everything’s unfixed on some level of being live as video of the audience and actors shot from various angles are projected against the wall. We’re the audience and we’re in it as they’re in it and we’re all looking into it and around it. Schorsch and Knight and Jackson play mutated amplifications of themselves as light and life are haphazardly refracted through the video in uneasy projection through. every reflection.
There’s good beer and snacks too. And wine. It’s like a gallery opening or something. In Riverwest.
TRIP/syck: a collection of 3 intimate studio showings is presented by 53212 Presents at The Pink House on 601 East Wright Street. For more information, visit 53212 Presents online.
Summer opens-up on the Milwaukee theatre scene with a few diverse shows in June that will ultimately lead to some kind of major explosion of openings in July. The transition from the traditional theatre season to summer opens right away in June with a Summerstage show and then filters through some quite promising productions. Here’s a look.
Mark Bucher directs an intimate staged reading this month with Boulevard Theatre. It's about four friends who are searching for relationships in one of the largest cities in the world in the 21st century. Playwright Joshua Harmon didn't set-out to write a comedy. “I honestly thought that I’d written the saddest play... I don’t write thinking about the comedy. I am genuinely always surprised when something winds up being funny. ”“I honestly thought that I’d written the saddest play..." said Harmon in a piece in Playbill a few years back, "I don’t write thinking about the comedy. I am genuinely always surprised when something winds up being funny.”
Boulevard Theatre's staged reading of Significant Other has two performances: Monday, June 5th and Wednesday, June 7th. Both performances are at 7pm at Sugar Maple on 411 E. Lincoln Ave.
So...uh...Maya Danks is playing Lady Macbeth. (That’s so cool.) (And really...all I need to know about the production.) And it’s outdoors. With Summit Players. Maureen Kilmurry directs the show that will be touring local Parks June 9th - August 19th. The show opens at the Bong Rec Area and gets really, really busy from there with over 20 different tour dates throughout the summer. For more information, visit Summit Players online.
Brighton Beach Memoirs
Neil Simon helped to define the sitcom format of the late 20th century. His semi-autobiographical dramatic comedy makes its way to the idyllic outdoor space of Summerstage of Delafield to open the season. The coming-of-age tale of a kid growing-up in Brooklyn comes to Lapham Peak State Park June 8th – 24th. The show is being directed by Reva Fox, who is an impressively talented actress in her own right. Typically I’m not all that impressed with Neil Simon. He’s like...oatmeal for the stage: thick and hearty, but lacking in a whole lot of personality. Directed by Fox, though? That could be fun.
Holmes and Watson
Jeffrey Hatcher’s premise for Holmes and Watson is a lot of fun. Long after reports of Sherlock Holmes’ death, three men show-up claiming to be the man himself. It’s up to Dr. Watson to work out whether or not any of them is anything other than psychotic. Acacia Theatre presents the show June 9th -25th at The Norvell Commons at St. Christopher's Church on 7845 North River Road. For more information, visit Acacia online.
Shakespeare RAW: The Winter's Tale
Winter’s Tale will be presented in Summer. Up will be down. Black will be white and those who dress in winter gear will get a discount on admission as one of Shakespeare’s classic comedies gets a fun and breezy treatment with a group of actors who are dedicated to being vastly unprepared. The improv comedy atmosphere will find welcome home in The Best Place Tavern as actors are randomly given roles for each production by the casting director: a hat filled with names. The show runs June 12th - 14th on 917 W Juneau Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
Shakespeare RAW: The Winter's Tale
There’s something beautiful about the abstract experimental onstage in late Spring and early Summer. Late this June, 53212 Presents stages a program of short features with descriptions that read like poetry. “Sick Girl” is “an autoethnographic and interdisciplinary solo, exploring her disabled and medicalized body as a site of chimeric world-breaking and world-making – a cyborg bodymind imagining itself into a wingèd creature.” (That’s being performed by April Biggs.) “BIOPIC” is a “satirical one-woman awards show” performed by Selena Milewski. “Afternoon of a Fawning” is “inspired by the evolution of choreographic process from the birth of modernism to post-pandemic zoom dance.” The show runs both online and Pink House on 601 East Wright Street June 24th- 25th. For more information, visit 53212 Presents online.
Bluebeard greets you on your way into the theatre. Played by Kirk Thomsen, he’s a cordial presence at entrance. He’s there to co-host an evening of short operatic stories that all fit into a larger narrative. The production in question is a program of Impossible Operas. The show is a collaboration between the voices of Milwaukee Opera Theatre and the moving shadows of Quasimondo Physical Theatre. It’s an appealing evening of song and story that feels deliciously surreal in so many interesting ways. It’s a deeply enjoyable evening of musical storytelling in a cozy environment that’s been put together by the show’s creators Tim Rebers, Brian Rott, Jeffrey Mosser, Anja Notanja Sieger and Jill Anna Ponasik.
Jessi Miller provides an emotionally engaging counterpoint to Thomsen in the role of Judith--Bluebeard’s wife. Singers flank the physical theatre action as shadow puppetry of various styles is project into the darkness above the stage. Some of the puppetry is quite haunting. Some of it is every bit as weird as the stories that it accompanies. There’s a sharp wit about it that can feel pleasantly disorienting as the stories glide across the stage under the power of extremely beautiful voices.
Bluebeard and Judith usher the audience through a series of conceptual doors beyond which lie tasty, little bites of a variety of different operas. There are some classic, iconic bits of music including ongoing excerpts from Wagners Ring Cycle. (At one point Judith and Bluebeard take to Wagner’s classic a bit like it’s a series on Netflix. The title card comes-up on the screen above the stage and Judith takes note, calling to an off-stage Bluebeard: “The Ring Cycle’s back on again!”)
Mozart’s The Magic Flute makes a brief appearance. There are also some pieces that feel relatively obscure to the casual music lover including Bellini’s The Sleepwalker and the high weirdness of Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges.
And...uh...Prokofiev. Uh...yeah: It’s one thing to read Prokofiev’s story. (I know I’ve don that much before. Even listened to it once or twice.) It’s another thing entirely to actually watch this thing play-out live onstage with shadow puppets. It’s irresistibly surreal and whimsical, but with an endlessly endearing center that makes it one of the more memorable moments on the entire program. (Absurdist surrealism is so underdone. I desperately need more of this sort of thing in my life. Can someone please have a Dada festival? I need to see The First Celestial Adventure of Mr. Antipyrine, Fire Extinguisher. Thanks.)
The two central characters provide the wraparound story that all of the other mini-operas snuggle-up into. Those familiar with the story of Bluebeard’s Castle (the subject of the opera by Béla Bartók) know to expect a tragic and bittersweet ending. This is a pleasant evening’s operatic stories, though. All of the stories have something to do with love and they all seem to have some sort of happy ending. Can Judith and Bluebeard find happiness as well?
Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Quasi Mondo’s Impossible Operas continue through May 28th at The Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. For more information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.
Almost everything opens the first week in May. (Almost Everything.) Even The Third Week in August opens the first week in May. (And then there's love and operatic impossibility a little later on.) May's going to be cool, though: a generous mix of different elements including ancient romantic comedy, ancient romance an insightful evening of monologues and more. Here’s a look.
UWM Theatre closes-out its season with the late 18th century romantic comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It’s the story of Captain Absolute and Lydia Languish. Absolute has been somewhat dishonest,,,presenting himself as “Ensign Beverly.” Things get complicated when it is revealed that Languis has two other suitors: Bob Acres and Sir Lucious O’Trigger. Of course...all of this is tangential to the one character who the play is most remembered for: Lydia’s guardian Mrs. Malaprop. The show runs May 3 - 7 at the Mainstage Theatre on 2400 E. Kenwood Blvd. For ticket reservations, visit UWM online.
STORIES LEFT TO TELL
Theatre Gigante returns to an appealing glance into the intellectual life of a man who was best-known for some truly insightful monologues. The storyteller Spalding Gray’s craft is celebrated in an intimate evening brought to the stage by a cast of performers including Mark Anderson, Isabelle Kralj, David Flores and Shawn Smith. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been nearly two decades since Gray’s untimely passing...and it’s nice to see him still remembered all these years later. The show runs one weekend only May 5 - 7 at Kenilworth 508 Theater on 1925 East Kenilworth Place. For more information, visit Theatre Gigante online.
THE GRACIOUS SISTERS
Ancient Greek legend serves as the foundation for an intriguing new play by Alice Austen, The playwright draws on Aeschylus' The Eumenides to tell the tale of three goddesses of vengeance. Their divine retribution is posed with a bit of a challenge as Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, suggests a trial-by-jury for the accused. What happens when the jury can’t decide guilt or innocence? First Stage presents the story at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center May 5 - 21. The talented Matt Daniels directs. For ticket reservations and more, visit First Stage online.
THIRD WEEK IN AUGUST
Kettle Morraine Playhouse presents a contemporary British comedy bty Peter Gordon. It’s a caravan--a camping vacation in late summer with a colorful cast of characters. Three mismatched families are trying to get along on vacation. With any luck, there’s a little peace and quiat. With any luck there isn’t. The caravan from hell visits a cozy performance space in Slinger, WI May 5 - 14 at the Kettle Morraine Playhouse on 204 Kettle Moraine Drive South. For more information, visit Kettle Morraine Playhouse online.
Not many people know that William Shakespeare wrote a play about Merlin. (Honestly, though....it might have been news to him as well.) Boozy Bard continues its irreverent exploration into Shakespearian drama with The Birth of Merlin--a play that had been credited to him which...he honestly might not have written. The Arthurian mage is likely to inhabit a different actor every performance as roles for the entire ensemble are pulled from a strange and powerful artifact that bears a strong resemblance to a perfectly ordinary hat. The show runs May 8 - 10 at the Best Place Tavern on 917 W. Juneau Avenue. For more information, visit the show's Facebook page.
Romeo & Juliet
Voices Found Repertory brings the Montagues and the Capulets to the cozy stage of The Interchange Theater Co-Operative. Emerging talents Max Pink and Amber Weissert play the title roles. The show runs May 18 - 28 at the Interchange on 628 N 10th Street, For more information, visit the shows Facebook page.
According the Lewis Carrol, the White Queen had been so whimsically disciplined that she could believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Quasimondo Physical Theatre attempt to outdo her by performing SEVEN impossible operas in 75 minutes. (Without intermission.) Composers featured on the show include Handel, Mozart, Bellini, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, Prokofiev, and Poulenc. (That's...eight composers, though. I'm sure there's some sort of an explanation...) Opera is accompanied by shadow puppetry courtesy of Quasimondo. The show runs May 25 - 28 at the Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre. For more information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.
April opens-up on lingering winter weather as March of 2023 goes out like a snowy lion. Local stages offer a wide spectrum of different shows including a contemporary family drama, a couple of historical dramas musicals and more. Here's a look at what lies ahead in warmer weeks.
Boozy Bard opens the month in a week and a half with its staging of King Lear. Shakespearean drama hits the stage with a breezy improv atmosphere in a show that features a different randomly-generated cast every single evening. Shakespeare RAW: King Lear runs April 10 - 12 at The Best Place Tavern. For more information, visit the show's Facebook events page.
Dominique Morisseau's powerful period drama debuted about ten years ago. Chelle and her brother Lank are starting-up a basement business to make ends meet. A mysterious woman enters the picture, throwing everything out of synch in the second production by VIP (Voices Included for People of Color.) It's a group operating under the umbrella of Marquette Theatre that is expanding the group of diverse productions that the University is bringing to the stage. The drama runs April 14-23 at the Helfaer Theatre. For more information, visit Marquette online.
I’M GONNA PRAY FOR YOU SO HARD
Jaimelyn Gray directs Milwaukee theatre veteeran James Pickering and the talented Rebekah Farr in The Constructivists’ production of Halley Feiffer’s tale of a father and his daughter. He’s a playwright. She’s an actress who is work The Interchange Theater Co-Op on 628 N.10th St. The show runs April 15-29, Also of note: The Thursday, April 27th performance is a dedicated understudy show featuring William Molitor and Maya Danks in the roles of father and daughter. For more information, visit The Constructivists online.
The 2007 musical theatre adaptation Mel Brooks’ 1974 enduring horror comedy gets an Elm Grove staging this month as The Sunset Playhouse launches its production. Eric Nelson plays the title character of Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson Frederick Frankenstein (It’s pronounced FrahnkenSTEEN!) The charismatically tall and reasonably mesomorphic Steven Sizer the monster to Nelson’s Frankenstein The cast also features Cheryl Roloff as Frau Blücher, Tommy Lueck directs a show that should be a sizable hit for Sunset. It should be interesting what Sunset does with costuming and scenic design for a colorful horror comedy spoof. April 20, 2023 - May 7, 2023 at the Furlan Auditorium on 700 Wall Street. For ticket reservations, visit the Sunset Online.
BOB MARLEY’S THREE LITTLE BIRDS
Back in 2006, legendary reggae musician Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella wrote a children’s book called Three Little Birds. She named the main character after her little brother Ziggy. (An accomplished musician himself.) The. Ziggy of Three Little Birds is afraid to leave the house. He’s afraid of tropical storms, evil spirits and more. Ziggy learns not to be worried in a fun, little story. A little under ten years ago, Cedella worked with playwright Michael J. Bobbitt on a musical adaptation that opened in New York. The show gets a Milwaukee production this month courtesy of First Stage. Directed by Samantha D. Montgomery, the show runs APRIL 21 - MAY 21, 2023 at The Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater. For ticket reservations and more, visit First Stage Online,
Playwright Katori Hall focuses on a single moment in time: Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on Earth. King is in the Lorraine Motel, having just delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre stages a production of the drama this month. Cereyna Bougouneau plays a young maid goes to the motel room and has a conversation with the civil rights leader. Hall adds some perspective on the legend of the man who would prove to be so influential. Mikael Burke directs. The show was staged about ten years ago with the Milwaukee Rep. The Milwaukee Chamber production runs April 21 - May 7 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.
Bombshell Theatre Company stages the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation of the classic 1950 film...on Broadway. (Or...at least...the Broadway Theatre Center's studio theatre.) The intimate space of the studio should serve as a cozy space for all the glamor that Bombshell can conjure. Featuring Kara Ernst-Schalk as the Hollywood diva Norma Desmond, Eric Welch as struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis and Rae Elizabeth Paré as script reader Betty Schaefer. The show runs April 21 - May 7. For more information, visit Bombshell online.
Bombshell always does a good show. This is one that I'm really disappointed that I won't be able to make it to. I would be tempted to make it a four-show week, but I've tried that once before and...it was not pretty...
The story goes something like this: contemporary playwright Bill Cain was simmering in COVID lockdown when he heard the same things all of us did: Shakespeare wrote some really great work during Bubonic Plague lockdown. Being a playwright, Bill Cain wrote a play about the playwright and thus was born God’s Spies. This month, Next Act Theatre presents the world premiere of Cain’s work. Directed by David Cecsarini, the show features an impressive cast including Mark Ulrich, Eva Nimmer and Zach Thomas Woods. The show runs April 27- May 21st, For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.
It's a beautiful mess. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s circular set rests beneath a circular lighting fixture that fittingly references the one above The War Room in Dr. Strangelove. This is Renaissance Theaterworks' world premiere of playwright Kristin Idaszak’s mind-bending dystopian one-woman drama Tidy. The stage rests beneath a small city of clutter. Noele Stollmack’s lighting design casts the mess onstage in a shadowy hue of blue that seems to permeate everything. Movement becomes apparent behind a stack of boxes. It’s actress Cassandra Bissell who glances over everything in the sole role of The Detective. She’s dressed quite casually in a space that she considers to be her home.
A Welcome In the Shadows of Human Residue
The Detective is cleaning-up for a get-together. Judging from the state of the stage, she’s got a hell of a lot of work to do. She’s not getting any help from her partner Joy. Joy has left the apartment and it’s up to the detective to make the place presentable for the people who are coming to visit. It’s okay: she wants to do it. (She really does.) She’s excavating the past by looking over so many things that she really should simply throw away. In the process of the excavation, she stumbles into a mystery which calls every possible assumption into question.
Echoes of a Simple Gravity
Bissell offers a thoughtful performance that radiates charisma throughout the entire one-woman show. Idaszak’s script is dense and deeply engaging, but without the right mood, motion and emotion all of those details would be hopelessly lost. And it isn’t easy to maintain an audience’s interest for 90 minutes or more without intermission. To make matters more difficult, Idaszak’s script demands that The Detective avoid anything that would suggest a commanding stage presence. Bissell is contemplative. She’s cleverly curious. She doesn’t have to reach out and grab the audience. Attention simply...falls into her like gravity. She deftly coaxes the audience into casually noticing strange depth in even the smallest details of a script that is cluttered with fascinating details. Some of them are clues. Some of them are red herrings. Some of them spark joy. All of them hold interest.
An Exploration of Ambiguity
(Here There Are Spoilers)
It’s difficult to mention much of the substance behind the show without spilling spoilers all over the place. The play is set “next year.” All too often dystopian dramas attempt to assault the viewer with the overwhelming darkness. Idaszak allows the ecological apocalypse to settle-in around the edges of a perfectly normal process of cleaning and tidying-up. The apocalypse slowly sneaks-in around the edges that way it has in the world outside the theatre.
The Holocene Extinction is very real and very tragic, but it’s not something that makes for terribly compelling drama...until someone like Isaszak comes along and makes some kind of genius detail-driven paranoid nightmare fairy tale for the children of the information age. It’s a prismatic funhouse of a story. When it becomes apparent that The Detective might not have the capacity to be a totally reliable narrator, a particularly engaged audience might find reason to question every last detail in Isaszak’s script. There’s a tantalizing ambiguity about it all that speaks to the greater mysteries of human existence. The fact that it’s also roughly 90 minutes without intermission means that there’s plenty of time after the show in which to get into some pretty deep discussion on one of the most provocative shows onstage this season.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ world premiere production of Tidy runs through April 16th at the theatre on 255 S Water St. For more information, visit Renaissance online.
Milwaukee theatre openings in March have sort of a three-act plot structure. We open with themes of death at the beginning of the month...then move on to jazz-age dance and music and some light Shakespearian comedy followed by an even-tempered sort of warm-hearted dramas--one based on a beloved book and another featuring a book of an entirely different kind. So three acts: Sadness. Then Dance and Comedy. Then cozy drama. Here’s a look.
Okay, so it’s not exactly about death. It’s about what happens to those death leaves behind. It’s an ensemble piece about three women who meet each other in the presence of their late husbands’ graves. The Cemetery Club graces the stage of the Sunset Playhouse at the beginning of the month. Life moves on even after death in a charming script that should play well at the end of a placid suburban winter. Donna Daniels directs the poignant contemporary comedic drama March 2 - 19 at Sunset’s space on 700 Wall Street in Elm Grove. For more information, visit Sunset online.
This one IS serious drama. Right Before I Go concerns playwright/TV screenwriter Stan Zimmerman (The Golden Girls, Roseanne, The Gilmore Girls) and his journey to understand his friend’s suicide. He’s not able to read his friend’s suicide note, so he reads the suicide notes of others online. The play explores suicide notes of celebrities, veterans and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Erica Case & Sara Kohlbeck direct. All-In Productions and The Medical College of Wisconsin present a two-performance staging of the drama March 3 - 4 at Sunstone Studios on 127 E Wells Street. For more information, visit All-In online.
UWM Theatre lightens-up the late winter with a celebration the ’30s and ’40s. Fran Charnas’ The All Night Strut is billed by Music Theatre International as “an easy-to-produce crowd pleaser, has minimal set requirements and features a small orchestra and a small, flexibly sized ensemble cast.” The dance of the era accompanies songs like “Tuxedo Junction,” “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing.) The Gershwins, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and more swing across the UWM Mainstage one week only March 8 - 12. Steven Decker directs with musical direction and choreography by Ryan Cappleman. For more information, visit UWM Peck School of the Arts online.
Boozy Bard returns the The Best Place Tavern on on 917 W Juneau Avenue this month, They will be presenting a Shakespeare RAW production of As You Like It. A painstakingly adapted script of Shakespeare’s classic comedy is presented with an open, irreverent style that can feel more than a bit like improv comedy. (Actors are chosen for roles at random before the shows starts.) It’s been a lot of fun following the Facebook posts by Bardwriter Andrea Roedel-Schroeder regarding the editing process. Evidently she had to cut the character of Jacques entirely. Touchstone remains in the current edit. (“I’m sorry..." she says, "having 2 separate dingdongs is messing up the scene flow.” She’s posted animated GIFs of a ridiculously large pair of scissors and an enraged Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s a whole thing...) Warmer weather is welcomed by a cozy night with Shakespeare March 13th - 14th. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
The local small stage has been really good to actress Cassandra Bissel lately. She's been really good to it too. She's delivering some impressively intricate emotion in the role of an understandably frustrated professor with Next Act through the end of winter. At month's end, she returns to the exact same stage on 255 S Water St. with an entirely different theatre company: Renaissance Theaterworks. Bissell appears in the world-premiere production of Kristin Idaszak's one-person drama Tidy. Bissell plays a woman excavating her life in a sea of stuff as guided by Marie Kondo's self-help book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The show runs March 24 - April 16. For more information, visit Renassaisnce online.
This month First Stage goes from a post-apocalyptic Middle Earth to the wacky, shiny technicolor of a cel animated Bikini Bottom. (That one opens in a couple of days.) Late this month the children’s theater group shuffles off to a genteel poverty in 19th century Concord, Massachusetts. The talented Karen Estrada directs the stage Kate Hamill adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel Little Women. The warm, emotionally rich drama of the March sisters makes its way to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center from March 24th through April 2nd. For more information, visit First Stage online.
Next Act Theatre explores a playfully classy romantic mood with its latest. Mickle Maher’s There is a Happiness That Morning Is dances whimsically across the stage in rhyming verse as two actors speak of lust, love and so much else in monologues diving into dialogue which graces the stage for 90 minutes without intermission. The audience serves as a large class of undergraduates listening into a lecture that may be the last for either one of the two professors. They had engaged in very public lovemaking on the college campus and now they’ve each been asked to apologize to their students for the inappropriate behavior. Maher frames, the alternating monologues and graceful, rhyming verse that is so elegant that it scarcely feels like the poetry it so clearly is. It feels very natural, very casual very carefully constructed in crushingly beautiful all at once.
Neil Brookshire plays Bernard. His printing on the chalkboard is simple, very neat and very legible. He passionately speaks of the primacy of young love. He speaks the title, like it truly means something very deep in and within him. There’s a great emotional depth to what he is presenting. He manages a great deal of strength and wisdom that are also very childlike. It’s a cleverly captivating dichotomy that echoes so many of the rest of the dichotomies reverberating throughout the drama. Through it all, Brookshire remains radiantly charismatic. Bernard is attempting a deeply fearless aesthetic honesty that Brookshire fully embraces.
Cassandra Bissell plays Ellen. Her handwriting on the chalkboard is a dense cursive. She speaks with powerfully articulated vulgarity. She’s frustrated for a great many reasons. And there is a great elegance to her wit. Bissell slides deftly through a some of the most powerful emotions imaginable. She does so in a way that holds it all at an intellectual distance just a far enough away from her and the audience to appreciate its beauty. Ellen is passionately searching for the truth knowing full well the weight of the time that has been given to her. Bissell’s grasp of Ellen’s immediacy is inspiring.
Mark Corkins adds a crazy energy to the conflicts at the end of the drama. His passion crests over the passions of the other two with every bit as much manic exaggeration as the script seems to call for. There’s a real desperation in his performance, which provides a passionate counterpoint to the drama going on between the male and female leads.
Director Mary MacDonald Kerr has fostered a dynamic between the three actors that allows for very fluid transitions between moments of monologue. It would have been all too easy for flat and relatively lifeless transitions as one actor gives away to another in the alternation between contrasting passions. Kerr has assured that the overlapping energies of each actor exists in a very dynamic interplay. The other two actors aren’t always necessarily always present when one is addressing the audience, but the presence of every actor in the show is felt quite profoundly from beginning to end.
Next Act Theatre’s production of There is a Happiness That Morning Is runs through March 19th at the space on 255 S. Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.