Entries in Chris Flieller (5)


 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











The years is 1944: In a few more years, World War II will end. An entire world kept a silence that will be deafening to the pain eventually felt in the war’s aftermath. Set amid this turbulent background and history, In Tandem Theatre at Tenth Street Theatre presents an intimate tale of two Jewish boys in a stage adaptation based on Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel The Chosen.

Aaron Posner (who also adapted My Name is Asher Lev and just directed To Kill A Mockingbird at The Milwaukee Rep) along with Potok unfold a tale about two teenage Jewish boys, Reuven Malter (Eric Shabla) and Daniel Saunders (Andrew Bosworth). Providence connects them when they meet unexpectedly on a Brooklyn, New York baseball field, despite Danny holding to Hasidic Jewish beliefs and Reuven practicing as an Orthodox Jew. The pair forms a lifelong friendship that brings rich rewards even though they ecounter personal pain in their separate lives.

In Tandem and experienced Director Chris Flieller chose a potent cast for this deeply profound production. Matt Daniels narrates as the older Reuven, explaining the details to Jewish law, Yiddish phrases and connecting the intricacies to finding one's way through uncomfortable silence and solitude. During the performance, Daniels inhabits several smaller roles, which add immeasurably to the story’s believability. 

The two fathers, Bill Watson playing Rabbi Reb Saunders and James Tasse acting as David Malter, fill the stage with a charismatic presence while deftly remaining true to their distinct personalities. Each completely displays his character’s passion for his faith and a son. Their absolute tenderness defines these relationships where Saunders expects a decisive silence from Daniel and Malter discusses with words his feeelings with Reuven. The difference pays emotional dividends for the audience. While the fathers learn to respect their sons’ ultimate decisions, all these experiences deliver an emotional impact that immediately captivates the audience. 

This impact carries over to the friendship expressed by exceptional acting from Shabla (a First Stage Theater Academy student) and Bosworth, who struggle with their chosen roles and paths in life. When World War II ends and the Holocaust stories prove that over 6 million Jew were murdered, returned to bones and ashes, while treasures in cities, culture and faith were lost, tensions between divergent Jewish viewpoints almost tear the boys apart. Their opinions colide as to the importance of a Jewish nation reasserting itself in Palestine, an attempt to become an independent state. 

Throughout the production, The Chosen shifts its particular meaning much as today’s current events shift, from the very individual to the universal. Who is ultimately chosen to carry on a family tradition, through a collective faith or as a nation resonates in this story. David Malter describes the problem when he says, “A fly also lives. Life does not automatically have meaning. We must choose to fill our life with meaning.”

To choose to fill life with meaning despite personal cost, to learn compassion from the pain of others and to respect another viewpoint become powerful messages present throughout In Tandem’s incredibly moving production of The Chosen. With genocide, political polarization, father and son relationships and acts of true friendship all relevant to contemporary society, the play demands one’s full attention. This coming of age story intersects for two youths uncovering the meaning in their life, two fathers dealing with their sons becoming men, the world discovering the evil possibilities waiting for humanity, and a Jewish nation struggling to find its place in the world. Stunning performances by this In Tandem cast will linger in the mind and heart of the audience when they find the time to listen in their own silences. 

In Tandem Theatre presents The Chosen written by Chaim Potok and Aaron Posner at Tenth Street Theater through March 25. For further information or tickets: 414.271.1371 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan




In their final seasonal presentation of the musical revue Scrooge in Rouge, In Tandem Theatre at Tenth Street Theatre opened the returning comedy this past weekend. When the crazy yuletide shopping and sentiment stifles one’s holiday joy, Scrooge In Rouge will definitely revive it with hilarity. 

The production’s British turn of the 20th century setting recalls the era’s raucous Variety or Vaudeville humor that eventually developed the later half's popular music culture. Which can be a worthwhile gift to an audience when done well. In Tandem's three actors Matt Daniels (Lottie), Chris Flieller (Charlie) and Marcella Kearns (Vesta) present A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in satirical song and dance while playing all the characters in the story with decided panache. 

While Dickens’ story remains recognizable in the supposedly English Royal Music Hall’s three-actor rendition, the production offers Christmas spirit with a dose of schmaltz. Kathleen Smith’s quick costume changes add substantially to the production’s success, as does David Bonofiglio’s musical direction and accompaniment on piano. The audience then forgives the company misplacing jokes in lines such as, “What ghost up must come down.”

The performance also involves Daniel’s cross-dressed Lottie fumbling with her dialogue and trying to remember Bob Cratchit’s real name: Is it Bob Crabcakes or Bob Cranberry? Additional clever songs and lyrics by Ricky Graham and Jefferson Turner will bring a smile when combined with material from Jefferson Roberson and Yvette Hargis. Daniels, Flieller and Kearns were cast together with infinite affection for the book, lyrics and each other that deftly displays an irrepressible talent in this irreverent comedy. 

An especially funny number begins the second act, which as Charlie claims has nothing to do with the plot: Beside the Shiny, Briny Sea. Thoroughly enjoyable, at this point the audience barely notices and might be relaxing in their seats after an intermission when they purchased “the intoxication that will pay for the cast’s vacations.” 

Scrooge in Rouge entertains all evening with informal touches that also involves audience participation. An affable and willing member participated at the Saturday matinee. The dry English humor that may seem silly and a bit depraved at times will engage those audiences that define December by the phrase “Bah, Humbug!” (Incidentally, in this production another well done song and dance number.) 

Even if one believes that the traditional holiday performances are touching, try this Scrooge for one evening. Diehard Christmas fans may discover Scrooge in Rouge can lighten the holiday load with a definitely decadent charm, primarily because of these three gifted actors. Catch the production before its performance ghost disappears into the Christmas past forever. 

In Tandem Theatre presents Scrooge in Rouge at Tenth Street Theatre through December 31, with a special New Year’s Eve reception after the last performance. In Tandem recommends the performances for those over 13 years of age.  For information or tickets call: 414.271.1371 or click the link to the left.    by Peggy Sue Dunigan