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The Detective’s Wife Delves into Life's Darker Mysteries

One woman on one stage tries to solve several mysteries changing her entire life when Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents The Detective’s Wife. Award winning playwright David Huff created the character of Alice Conroy, a darling, although somewhat disconnected 50-ish woman whose husband, a homicide detective named Jim, was gunned down in a Chicago alley. Jim reopened a very disturbing case from 20 years past involving three young boys dumped, dead and undressed, at the side of a road.

A grief stricken Alice, the demure yet vibrant Mary Macdonald Kerr, struggles to survive when she loses her voice, speaking to the audience in a stream of conscious dialogue while she plays with the clues and ghosts from her past. In the months after the murder, she conjures her own misconceptions and misgivings about her 30-year marriage and who she is in the aftermath.

Kerr develops a fine performance in this one woman evening as Alice, confused, depressed and searching for answers in her minimalist, urban apartment designed by Sandra J. Strawn. Projections on a large screen masquerade as a picture window and cleverly allow the audience to view Alices’s newspaper clippings, pictures and texts from her daily life, including photos of her husband’s murder, to great effect through lighting designs by Stephen Roy White.

In the process of detailing her husband’s notes, Alice explains the nuances to the evidence available, to the killer of the three boys, and the seven detectives who died working on the case when trying to discover the truth. Each was killed in the hunt for the killer. As Alice fully admits, “discovering the truth is a do it yourself venture,” a dilemma while also deciding who to trust when she confides to the audience, “You can only trust yourself.”

Alice draws on Huff’s multiple references to the cultural and pop mystery genre, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Huff’’s character accumulated over 70,000 mystery books, and then determined she spent 10 years of her life reading them. Alice claims, “Each human might be addicted to something, that says a thing or to about their personality.” And she’s probably right, which gives the audience more intriguing mysteries to ponder in reflection in their own life.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Jim Tasse directs Kerr and the action with sensitivity, although Alice’s train of thought can be lost occasionally. However, in the end, Alice believes the public loves fictional mysteries because they can be tied up neatly, unlike the ones encountered in real life.

The Detective’s Wife performance solidifies Kerr as a Midwest Milwaukee treasure, in acting, directing and playwright adaptations. While everyone enjoys an entertaining mystery, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre places more on stage to contemplate while engaging with the mystery unfolding over the evening with a surprise twist. And the audience leaves asking what do we really know about the people in one’s and whom ultimately do we trust? With a hint of humor, Kerr and Huff deliver these darker complexities to the mystery of human existence 

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents The Detective’s Wife at the Broadway Theatre Center through October 13. For more information or tickets, please  call 414.291.7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com  by Peggy Sue Dunigan

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