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.
Voices Found Repertory conjures a snug, little island to the tiny space Inspiration Studios in West Allis as it presents a staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. An ensemble of five swiftly spins through many more than five roles in the course of the immersive, little comedic drama. Under the direction of Alex Metalsky, weightier dramatic elements fade out in a flurry of well-aimed comedy that speaks to various aspects of the human condition.
Local theatre veteran William Molitor performs as the central anchor of the cast in the sole role of the wizard and displaced nobleman Prospero. The rest of the cast play castaways and spirits in a tumultuous tumble of comic conflicts, murder attempts and various other bits of scheming on an uncharted Shakespearian island.
Hannah Kubiak deftly inhabits a few different prominent characters including one quarter of the indentured spirit Ariel and drunken butler Stephano. (Everyone onstage but Molitor plays a quarter of Ariel in a well-modulated quartet.) Kubiak’s sense of comic conception and tasteful exaggeration serves the role well. Relative newcomer Grace Berendt makes quite an impression in a few roles. She plays to the darker end of the drama as the crafty usurper Sebastian. Berendt does an impressive job of taking-on the characters from every end of the play, making them her own and giving them life without undue exaggeration. It’s a lot of fun to watch. She’s powerfully present with physical and intricate verbal comedy in the meekly funny role of Stephano’s partner Trinculo and the sweetly romance of Prince Ferdinand.
Ferdinand falls for Miranda--daughter of the island who also falls for him. Miranda is given earnest life by Chloe Attalla. Towering Cory Fitzsimmons rounds-out the cast most prominently as Caliban. Fitzsimmons’ high-gravity presence could easily overpower everyone and everything else onstage. He does an impressive job of muting his physical presence to play a shambling slave. In the intimate confines of Inspiration, it’s quite apparent that Caliban could easily become the single most powerful character in the whole story if only he were confident enough to stand upright and stand-up for himself. This dynamic makes for an interesting contrast to most other stagings of the story that I’ve seen over the years. The only true native of the island is subjugated by interlopers. Fitzimmons is vividly portrays the innate power of the island itself in an enjoyably immersive comic staging of Shakespeare’s final script.
Voices Found Repertory’s production of The Tempest runs through Feb. 19th at Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St. in West Allis. For more information, visit Inspiration Studios online.
A sad and wistful drama fairy tale is given a fun and playful staging as Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Danceworks present Rusalka. Dvořák’s opera playfully glides across Danceworks’ cozy space somewhere between Downtown and the East Side in a brisk 80 minutes without intermission.
The Czech version of the Little Mermaid legend is presented in a graceful dance and beautiful song that is hosted by narrator Jason Powell as The Moon. Powell also adapted the opera for the production, which conjures a crisp, contemporary atmosphere for the ancient story. Stage Director Jill Anna Ponasik has found a clever variety of ways to keep things light while remaining true to the original opera. Quite a lot of this involves some very sharp and nuanced work by choreographer Christal Wagner.
Not long after a few mood-establishing moments, Powell enters to welcome everyone...dressed exactly like the moon in sparkly athletic shoes and something resembling a white jumpsuit with a sewn-on name patch that clearly identifies him as, “Moon.” Saira Frank is equal parts powerful and vulnerable as the water spirit Rusalka who has fallen in love with a mortal man. Colleen Brooks summons a darkly droll craftiness in the role of Ježibaba--the witch who agrees to turn Rusalka into a mortal girl in exchange for her voice. Tim Rebers is quite charming as the guy that Rusalka has fallen for. He’s completely unaware of the magic in the world around him, but deeply connected with the whole idea of romantic love as witness by the fact that he falls for Rusalka and a visiting foreign princess who becomes an integral part of the story’s central conflict.
Powell, Ponasik and Wagner’s best collaboration involves a party. A romantic triangle between Rusalka, her love and a foreign princess is given clever presence. The dancers move about in a brilliant fusion between a casual party mood and graceful ballet amidst the overwhelming iconic presence of shiny, red plastic solo cups. Kaitlyn Moore has a sharply witty presence onstage as the somewhat bored foreign princess who has kind of a lot to drink. Moore’s drunken grace has the same kind of understated precision that her disaffected, unengaged silence manages at the top of the scene.
The flow of action feels a bit strange. The sudden crash of events at the end of the story IS quite sad. Somehow Powell, Ponassik and Wagner manage to maintain the overall playfulness of the production without compromising the sadness of the ending. It’s not really all that clear how they manage this.
It's playful. It's witty. It's sad. It's tragic. It's romance and indifference and dance and song. And it's like...80 minutes in a cozy, little theatre. Things are so cleverly balanced onstage that the mood seems to make sense even if it really has no business doing so. There’s a kind of magic in turning a 3-hour-long show into a more manageable 80 minutes. It’s a magic that allows for whimsical, little dichotomies to peak out of the shadows and tumble across the stage in a graceful and deeply satisfying fusion of music and dance.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Danceworks’ production of Rusalka runs through Feb. 12 at Danceworks Studio Theatre on 1661 N Water Street. For mor information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre Online.
A hell of a lot of fantasy is coming to inhabit small stages in Milwaukee this month. Fairies, time travelers, nymphs a Shakespearian wizard, a dragon and at least one Hobbit are drawn to small Milwaukee stages this month. The month ends with an opening featuring Cassandra Bissell. It may not exactly be fantasy, but Bissel is kinda magical in her own way. Here’s a look at what’s opening on small stages in February.
Shakespeare. Time travel. Sunstone Studios explores something new with the big premiere of playwright Rick Bingen’s Whirligig of Time. There’s a Shakespeare-themed pub in London. There are Shakespeare-themed drinks. Things happen. (The aforementioned time travel and such.) Sounds like fun fantasy in the intimate space of one of Milwaukee’s smallest theatre spaces. Tim Kietzman directs a show featuring original musical compositions by Kaila Bingen. February 3rd - 18th on 127 E Wells St. Bingen’s script calls for seven actors, which should feel like a relatively large crowd for this month’s trip to Sunstone. (The space has recently been home to smaller casts.) For more information, visit Sunstone online.
I love how ambitious projects can find their way onto even the smallest of stages. Sometimes it’s like...it’s like a hobbit walking into Mordor. This month First Stage presents a small-stage adaptation of a J.R.R. Tolkien classic as it stagesThe Hobbit at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center on 325 W Walnut St. Some 96,000 words are lovingly compressed into a 90 minute stage drama as Bilbo, Smaug, Sting and the One Ring all come to inhabit a cozym little stage attended by parent and children Feb. 3 - Mar. 5. For ticket reservations and more, visit First Stage online.
Music and dance fuse in a cozy space as Danceworks and Milwaukee Opera Theatre present a staging of Antonín Dvořák’s classic story of magic, nymphs, love and the moon. Between the Stage Direction of Jill Anna Ponasik and the choreography of Christal Wagner, this should be a spellbinding experience. The traditional runtime of Dvořák’s opera is like...three hours. I ran into Ponasik recently and she assures me that the show is actually like...one hour long. As I recall, she also assures me that they haven’t abridged it or messed with the fabric of space and time or anything like that. Ponasik didn’t exactly explain to me how they manage this...but she didn’t NOT tell me either. Evidently it has something to do with Jason Powell, who not only adapted the opera for the production...he also plays The Moon. I will not question his powers further. Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Danceworks’ production of Russalka runs February 9-12 at Danceworks Studio Theatre on 1661 N Water Street. For more information, visit MOT online.
Voices Found Repertory chooses the coldest month of the year to go tropical as it presents The Tempest at Inspiration Studios in West Allis. William Molitor plays Prospero in a streamlined 5-person cast that includes charming longtime VFR-er Hannah Kubiak, Chloe Attalla, Grace Berendt and Cory Fitzsimmons. It sounds like kind of a tricky thing to manage, but these guys know what they’re doing. The warmth inhabits the stage for two-hour stretches February 10th - 19th on 1500 S 73rd St. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
The one big non-fantasy to open on a small stage this month is a romance that is delivered entirely in rhyming verse. Cassandra Bissell and Neil Brookshire play a couple of university professors who had engaged in “coitus on a campus green.” They take turns explaining themselves in a romantic comedy that is cute in the best possible way. Playwright Mickle Maher’s There Is a Happiness That Morning Is runs February 23 - March 19th in a production with Next Act Theatre. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the final preview performance of the midwest premiere of playwright Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living. The show makes its local debut in a remarkably vivid Renaissance Theaterworks production. Two pairs of people deal with the complexities of human connection in the course of two hours on an intimate stage. Director Ben Raanan shepherds the dramatic energies through alternating scenes between the two pairs in a deeply moving emotional drama.
Bryant Bentley and Regan Linton are an estranged couple who struggle to find some common ground in the face of tragedy. Bentley is quite charming as Eddie--a trucker who is turning his life around. Majok’s script arms him some of the sharpest lines in the script. He’s matched in grit and wit by his wheelchair-bound wife Ani. She’s been through hell. Thanks to Eddie, she’s going to be through a bit more before things can have a chance to turn around for her. Linton carves together a gruff appeal of her own as Ani tolerates the company of a man she has not spent much time with in recent months. Raanan has helped Bentley and Linton climb their way through some very tricky emotional territory between the two characters. The tragedy that binds the two of them is beautifully crushing on a deep emotional level.
Jamie Rizzo and Valentina Fittipaldi captivatingly fill their half of the two-hour drama as John and Jess. John is a man suffering from neuromuscular challenges that leave him largely wheelchair bound as well. As the play opens, John is looking to hire Jess as a personal aid to help him with the arduous tasks of shaving, showering and so on. Fittipaldi and Rizzo carefully manage the dauntingly complex relations between John and Jess. The unlikely pairing of a wealthy man and his financially challenged aid hit the stage with a deeply engaging emotionality. Fittipaldi is crushingly endearing as a woman who has been through far too much to be able to casually trust anyone. Her performance might be one of the most memorable performances of the whole season thus far. Fittipaldi makes clever and beautiful use of the chance to deliver great complexity in a wide spectrum of silences in and around a charmingly pensive performance.
The alternation between the two different stories sometimes felt a bit interruptive. Just as things were really developing between Eddie and Ani, Majok jumps over to Jess and John. Jess is such a deeply interesting character for me...and Fittipaldi was so good at bringing her to the stage that I found myself taking a bit more time to warm-up to the perfectly charming gruffness of relations between Bentley and Linton. The two stories inevitably fuse at the end of the drama’s two hours onstage. It’s a very touching end to the whole thing, but I wish I would have been able to focus a bit more on things with Eddie and Ani.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of Cost of Living runs through Feb. 12 at the theatre space on 255 S Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Renaissance online.