Entries in Jane Flieller (4)


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.             



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