Courtesy of FroPhoto.comPast Haunts Present When Burying the Bones

In a haunting production with potent performances, In Tandem Theatre opens the 2013-2014 season featuring Burying the Bones. Playwright M.E.H. Lewis grips with ghosts from 1990 when South Africa suffered with Apartheid, a policy that allowed kiffirs, black South Africans, to disappear without warming or ever knowing their whereabouts.

The African National Congress (ANC), a group organized to fight against Apartheid’s racial prejudice, began holding hearings delving into these mysterious deaths after 1990, when the organization’s prisoners could ask for amnesty if they told the truth and related how the treatment and torture rampant from 1960-1990 could be justified. As the audience and world realizes, the truth can have varying perspectives, hidden with those buried bones of those who died.

In many of Lewis’s award winning plays, she combines the personal and political history of her characters to riveting effect. Burying the Bones continues this tradition when a young wife, Mae, searches for the answers to why her schoolteacher husband James disappeared in a Range Rover on an afternoon almost two years ago. She believes he is still alive. Her sister Cassandra warns Mae to leave well enough alone, move forward, and then figuratively bury James’s bones. However, James haunts Mae almost every night, begging her to find the answers to his death.

A commanding cast handles this sensitive material with professional ease and evocative clarity. Former Milwaukee Rep intern Malkia Stampley delicately inhabits Mae, her personal betrayals fully compounded by the complexities in South African politics, and what she believed about those closest to her, her family.

Bria Cloyd’s Cassandra weaves her own magic into this saucy, shaman role, a disposed nurse who becomes “a comforter” to the prisoners asking for amnesty. One prisoner richly created by Mark Corkin plays Afrikaner Gideon, a high-level police lieutenant that committed atrocities and murders in the service of his country during the years the ANC was banned. Was Gideon brainwashed or can he be held accountable? What truths does he hide, know or reveal?

As James, University of Wisconsin Theater student Di'Monte Henning entrances the audience and wife Mae with a passionate presence. An apparition his wife meets in bed almost every night or who survives the hands of Gideon when he is arrested. Director Chris Flieller creates ample anxiety and tension in these scenes mining the deeper meaning in place of the mere theatricality. 

To enhance the dramatic production, Scenic designer Steve Barnes together with Lighting Designer Holly Bloomquist fashion a bed that revolves in supernatural moments or place shadows of the interrogators on the backstage wall, these ominous creatures looming over the defendants they prosecute, including Gideon. The evening embodies a surreal quality, especially during scenes describing and using the wet rag technique inferring “what’s buried should stay buried,” as the truth unravels with the unsuspected facts.

When the two sisters, Cassandra and Mae, older and younger, struggle with their political philosophies and how to love each other, the truth eventually “belongs to living.” In the aftermath of these indescribable tragedies, what does a family, a culture, a country do with the uncovered truths? What does and will the audience do with these uncomfortable revelations about how the world values human life the audience sees in the past and present too frequently? Those transfixed in their seats certainly discover what they’re looking for, great, soul-searching theater. In Tandem presents monumental ideals on the intimate stage fraught with disturbing and perplexing questions to haunt the audience long after experiencing this needs to be seen, compelling production.

 In Tandem Theatre presents Burying the Bones at the Tenth Street Theatre through October 27. For information or tickets, please call 414.271.1371 or click the link to the left.     By Peggy Sue Dunigan 


The Great Siberian Love Affair at In Tandem’s Apartment 3A

In Tandem Theatre closes their season with a reprise production of Jeff Daniels’ delightful Apartment 3A.  The playwright’s comedy centers on a recently separated Public Television development director that has given up on life named Annie Wilson. Yes, Annie admits she has lost her belief in Big Bird, Catholics, God, life and love while in the middle of her television station’s annual pledge drive.

Tiffany Vance gives Annie a hefty dose of bi-polar personality that adds to her recreations of how Siberian Polar Bears mate, a feat shown in a popular documentary necessary to replay for her pledge drive, while still making Annie’s character believable. Vance allows Annie's moods to swing precariously when accepting meals with the two men in her life, a co-worker Elliot, the charming and convincing Doug Jarecki, or her across the hall neighbor, Donald, a debonair and inquisitive Simon Jon Provan.

In between having lunch and dinner with these two men, and during the course of this incredibly funny performance, Annie discusses the existence of eggs, God, miracles, public television and Siberian love affairs, while determining how these concerns make a difference in her life. Rerunning the Polar Bear documentary to raise the necessary production funds sparks primal sexuality in each character, including a fine cameo by the apartment manager named Dahl, played by Gene Schuldt.

While the performance definitely speaks to some sexually explicit situations with care, if the audience delves deeper into these situations the script makes complete sense. Why? Because the essence of scientific research defines the culmination of sexual mating, whether in Siberian Polar Bears or human beings, as the release of an important chemical (oxytocin) that sparks life, a bonding element necessary for human existence at the microorganism and mammalian level. Without this chemical, humans, and life, can be doomed, personally and communally.

This physical act is a miracle of sorts, similar to the miracle referred to in the play, when two people spark soul to soul, and transfer the life-giving chemical to each other. And as Elliot insists, this means a prayer to God was answered and becomes a God-given gift. What is the miracle and does God have anything to do with this or does this somehow prove His existence? Director Jane Flieller mines each of these philosophical questions while deftly handling the growling sex with aplomb and laugh out loud moments. And if these thoughts are too complicated to ponder, merely enjoy the humor found inside Annie's inviting and supernatural apartment on the third floor. 

One can only say there’s a spiritual and surreal complexity to Apartment 3A that needs to be appreciated along with the witty dialogue and then danced to. In the course of the two plus hour evening, Annie ultimately realizes, “you haven’t truly lived life until you waltz with your one true love.” Or as Elliott believes, “you can make a heaven on earth… with someone who thinks the world begins and end with you.” This could be the love Annie hopes to discover when repairing her own broken world. In Tandem presents Annie’s dilemmas with clever insight and the audience leaves Tenth Street Theatre smiling with satisfaction. Wondering about what Siberian Love Affairs could appear in their own lives.  

In Tandem Theatre presents Jeff Daniels’ Apartment 3A at the Tenth Street Theatre through May 19. For information or tickets, please call 414.271.1371 or click the In Tandem link to the left.    by Peggy Sue Dunigan



 In Tandem’s Tender Beast on the Moon Honors Human Tragedies

There was and there was not. These words open In Tandem Theatre’s elegant production at Tenth Street Theatre, Beast on the Moon, an award winning play written by Wisconsin playwright Richard Kalinoski. In his historical based story, there was one Armenian family that lived in an Ottoman Empire's city, and one in the Ottoman Empire's country. There was a holy war waged by Turkey against the Armenians. There was grief, heartbreak, shame and then determination to live and love in after one of the world's lesser known genocides, which began in 1915. 

These qualities give Beast on the Moon even more emotional resonance to the story of the two Armenian holocaust survivors. A young man, Aram Tomasian, sells his valuable stamp collection given to him by his father and then finds his way to Milwaukee in the 1920’s. He eventually sends for an Armenian picture bride named Seta. Seta is the other survivor, a war orphan who arrives in Milwaukee as a 15 year old girl clutching a tattered rag doll, full of gratitude to her new husband for bringing her here and being alive.

Aram and Seta live life unlike Aram had planned, because as Seta says, “most of life is unplanned.” She had never planned on coming to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while Aram follows in the footsteps of his father, becoming a sucessful photographer. Seta learns to bake scrumptious cakes to sell because when no baby arrives, baking fills the void in her life. This unspoken tension, replacing the there was not any children to there will be a child, determines the couple’s future happiness, a story narrated by an older man named Vincent. As a young boy Vincent knew the couple when they were living in Milwaukee, a role adeptly played by the older, debuting Robert Spencer.

Michael Cotey and Grace DeWolff play the surviving couple with affection, sensitivity and tenderness while learning to face the reality that there will be no family to replace the ones that were so heinously destroyed in the holocaust for being "infidels." Directed by Milwaukee’s Mary MacDonald Kerr who plumbs memorable performances from each actor, Beast on the Moon transcends the 1920’s time frame on Rick Rasmussen’s bare structure of a set as if Aram and Seta were spirits still hovering in a Milwaukee bungalow. 

Each spirit tries to escape the tragedy of their past lives and a barren womb at a time when a woman’s worth often depended on her ability to bear children. Seta copes with her own disappointment, and her husband’s desperation, by exclaiming in frustration, “The person who is a wife is a person.”

Picture brides, lovely, young women, were persons. The Armenians who were ruthlessly destroyed were persons. Armenian and all immigrants to America were persons. Even Vincent, a young boy who lives at St. Bartholomew’s orphanage is a person deserving of respect. They were all human beings deserving to be heard and seen as living, breathing souls with names.

In Tandem’s intimate Beast on the Moon asks the audience to remember the Armenian holocaust with compelling honor, especially as the production builds toward the emotional release in the second act. However, Kalinoski’s play speaks to the facts that despite a person’s age, faith, gender or heritage, every one deserves to be treated as a valuable person to be treasured for their uniqueness. For who a person is instead of what they can do.

Aram, Seta and Victor discover this over the course of a decade living in Milwaukee where eventaully a wool coat that was once a saving grace again gives warmth to both the body and soul. In the poignant Beast on the Moon, all three survivors, like many in the audience, learn being gratefully alive with each other can transform a barren there was not into a wonderful there was.  

In Tandem Theatre presents Richard Kalinoski’s Beast on the Moon at the Tenth Street Theatre through March 24. For information, tickets and fundraisers planned for Armenian causes held during the specific performance dates, please call 414.271.1371 or click the In Tandem link to the left.             



Before In Tandem Theatre’s A Cudahy Caroler Christmas opened this weekend, the performances were 65 percent sold out. These familiar Milwaukee characters from the South Side, Stasch and Pee Wee try to settle their personal differences when the Cudahy Carolers reunite for a special, one time cable television performance.

In Tandem’s Artistic Director Chris Flieller and Managing Director Jane Flieller claim the play’s “alternative, exaggerated comedic level’ gives the off beat humor heart. Chris jumps in to add, "The Cudahy Carolers write a little valentine to the working class of Cudahy to embrace the play’s longevity.”

The character’s hometown, Cudahy, and South Side cultural references speak to the “the epic struggle of the work a day person,” while remaining laugh out loud funny. This includes any personal dreams to be a ski queen at a Wisconsin Dells water ski show or enjoy the city’s North Shore, Whitefish Bay, as a fine place to live. However, alternative entertainment needs to be as Jane puts it, “Cleverly constructed and acted well while providing a higher concept to the audience."

Chris explains, “There’s a quirky heart here in the play, when Stash and Pee Wee who are at odds with each other find the true spirit of the holidays in their friendship and forgiveness.”

The musical offers close to a dozen revamped traditional carols sung with slightly provocative lyrics where Jane comments, “There’s the transformative power of the music that helps change the cast. When they’re singing together, they listen to each other. And this beautifully allows them to come together in harmony by the end of the show.”

While the original production celebrates its 10th anniversary and premiered in 2002, the songs from that first show remain cult favorites including: “We Three Guys,” “South Side Carol of the Bells” and “O Little Town of Cudahy,” with a sound track available on a CD for purchase at the theater. At a performance on Saturday night, Stash claims in the production, perhaps as the current audience might in this economic downturn, “The carolers warmed our hearts during depressions and World Wars.”

Later on in the show Stasch reprises these thoughts when everyone’s arguing at a rehearsal. “I just wanted to get everyone singing and make everyone happy for a little while. I just wanted everyone to get along.”

This year’s cast creates that Cudahy connection with utter delight. Chris Flieller captures the essence of Stasch with his 200th appearance on Christmas Eve in 2012 that butts heads and fists well with Nathan Wesseloski’s Pee Wee. The women mesmerize the audience in several solo numbers playing Edna (Lisa Morris), Nellie (Kelly Cline), Wanda (Samantha Paige) and Trixie (Alison Mary Forbes), singularly starring on the small stage. Musically, the entire Cudahy Carolers perform some astonishing arrangements to difficult melodies that heighten the irregular comedy. The familiar songs with sometimes sophomoric lyrics have more than a pinch of truth to them.

The Tenth Street Theatre stage brings these infamous characters to life as never before for In Tandem's 15th anniversary, for the first time in their new home. Up close and personal so the audience can cling to every facial expression or swing around a structural stage pole. Jane, who has directed every year, “refreshed’” and  “spruced up” the 2012 production. All works seamlessly, as glorious as on an O Bowling Night that the audience will laugh and smile to, which is as Stasch says, “Taking the psycho with the songbird.”

Buy a ticket before every show is sold out and then have some dress up fun supporting In Tandem at their January 26 fundraiser, The Crystal Ball. And remember throughout the yuletide season to forget and forgive at family festivities. Come together for a little holiday harmony whenever one celebrates this year. Jane smiles when she talks about the bigger meaning to this musical comedy and says, “No one remembers what anyone argued about and then wastes precious time. Everything’s forgivable if you talk about it. “

In Tandem Theatre presents A Cudahy Caroler Christmas by Anthony Wood through January 5. Remember to support this company by attending The Crystal Ball: 15 Years of Theatre Magic! on Saturday, January 26, 6:00-10:00 p.m., with champagne, cake and dancing to live music. For further information or tickets to the show or Crystal Ball, please call: 414.271.1371 or click the In Tandem link to the left.   By Peggy Sue Dunigan






Leave it to In Tandem Theatre to produce an American premiere in Milwaukee by British playwright John Goodrum at Tenth Street Theatre. Goodrum’s chilling The Nightmare Room takes inspiration from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story by the same name and arrives with its psychological thrills and pretense of murder this October.

In typical fashion for crime fiction and the Sherlock Holmes’s author Doyle (and one uses 'typical’ in the British context where the term means an expected high standard), two women named Catherine and Helen pledged to be best friends since their childhood. That is, until a handsome movie star named Michael interrupts their long-standing sisterhood and Catherine marries Michael after conniving to win his love.   

In true English form instead of an American version depicted in Sex in the City female friendships, the women’s present relationship has the rich and powerful real estate developer Catherine tying the ordinary office worker Helen in a chair. Blindfolded and bound, Helen has her life threatened by Catherine, who presents Helen with two glasses of water and a vial of poison, potassium chloride, in a final rematch of the emotional games they played on each other since they were girls.  

The scenario begins in a room with distorted perspectives and cold, pristine white walls sparsely filled with streamlined white furniture that accentuates the absurdities to these women’s equally distorted minds. Catherine seeks revenge because Helen’s bedding her husband, Michael, who has already slept with his personal assistant humorously named “Short Skirt.” Helen merely asks Catherine to give Michael up, free him. It’s a beguiling premise. The audience easily engages with the women’s personal dramas through the script’s flashbacks into past years that alternate with the present moments to provide suspense.

Director Chris Flieller allows the two actresses plenty of room for the intense rivalry. Mary C. McLellan power dresses as Catherine in a sculptured white trench coat to contrast Libby Amato’s lighter hearted Helen clothed in blue jeans and ballet flats. The ensuing chess match between Catherine and Helen creates the sublime tension in this surprising production. Each “friend” counter moves on the other to secure the movie star for herself, the famous Michael that the audience only hears and never sees.

One wonders if only a man living at the turne of the 20th century could write a story where two best friends would go to these radical personal extremes over another man who was merely prized for his godlike body and smile only, without any worthwhile character qualities. No money involved, Catherine had all she needed, and Helen desired none. This rivalry revolves around masculine eye candy only and says more about the women’s twisted friendship. Goodrum ups the story's theatrical ante by adding some modern details and revealing their divergent backgrounds. Although their backgrounds disclose these women had serious emotional issues since they were reading fairy tales like Rumpelstilskin to each other, which the competition for Michael only fueled more fully. 

The In Tandem production definitely haunts the audience with the ghoulish energy flowing back and forth between Catherine and Helen all evening, an enthralling performance. While pondering where these disturbing personalities might fit in contemporary culture, sit back and be throughly seduced by the crime scenes in The Nightmare Room.

In Tandem Theatre presents The Nightmare Room at Tenth Street Theatre through October  21. For more information or tickets please call: 414.271.1275 or click the link to the left.    By Peggy Sue Dunigan