When family or friends tell a story, whether in confidence or jest, whose story does this become when the words enter the wider world? When words go forth through the lips, Facebook or twitter does this suddenly place the stories into public domain?

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre explores these interesting questions in their current production Collecting Stories. Pulitzer Prize winning writer Donald Marqulies based his award winning play on an actual legal case from 1993. When novelist David Leavitt drew “inspiration” and material from a British author’s autobiography. The writer, Stephen Spender, eventually won an out of court settlement where Leavitt’s original books were then destroyed.

Marqulies recreates this scenario with more at stake than “collected and recycled stories," or publishing rights.  In a period of time covering six years, acclaimed author Ruth Steiner accepts a student in her class, Lisa Morrison, to work as her personal assistant. Over this time, Steiner helps develop Morrison’s talent as a successful writer. The pair also assumes a surrogate mother/daughter relationship, so when Lisa appropriates several of Ruth’s most intimate stories, Ruth feels betrayed and bereaved.

American Players Theatre actor Sarah Day illuminates the cranky and quirky Steiner, a Jewish woman who lives partially in the past glory of Manhatten’s Greenwich Village during the neighborhood’s heyday in the first half of the 20th century. She has built an artistically renowned career, yet longs for her youth and “more” from her lonely writing life.

As Morrison, Laura Frye carefully evolves into a writer who discovers her literary footing by worshipping Steiner, clinging to every word she utters. Ultimately mourning the loss of the main woman in her life after writing her new novel, Morrison claims she has only attempted to honor Steiner's personhood and help define her life from an alternate perspective.

These circumstances become pertinent dilemmas to be discussed. In an age where authors write autobiographies while “inventing” their lives and New York Times Newspaper reporters fictionalize facts for articles, how can a reader decipher the truth or what to believe and is this important for fiction?

Multiple websites and individuals claim sentences, paragraphs and stories from the internet without permission or acknowledging copyrights, freely appropriating information as people once downloaded music and movies from the world web. Where does “collecting information, stories and songs” begin and end?

The advice Steiner gives to Morrison appears highly relevant, great wisdom for those who write. However, if these two women really loved each other as the script portrays, something surely would have been mentioned before these final actions. While the Leavitt/Spender legal case involved two less invested individuals, Margulies’s captivating play leaves sparse redemption for two friends who supposedly respected each other as the play describes, perhaps to heighten the play’s concluding scenes.   

Decide the answers to these questions by investing in Day and Frye who recreate a stunning Steiner and Morrison under C. Michael Wright’s accomplished direction. The definition of "intellectual property" remains a continually disturbing dilemma, similar to telling stories to friends, in real sentences with words or written on Facebook. There can be consequences to these actions, and in a less face to face world, people become bolder in what they write on walls and then take away without any remorse. Perhaps everyone needs to be more sensitive of what can be put into public space as MCT’s Collected Stories so powerfully illustrates.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Collected Stories at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre through December 16. For further programming in coordination with the company’s “Exploring Jewish Voices” and the play's collaboration with Madison’s Forward Theater Company, the production moves to the Overture Center beginning January 16. For further information on programming or tickets, please call  414.291.7800 or click the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan 




The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Broken and Entered will definitely shatter the audience’s expectations at the conclusion. Similar to the glass window broken in the very first scene, when the audience waits through the blackness of a completely dark theatre before the cast enters on stage. The complex, richly nuanced world premiere production written by Kurt McGinnis Brown was featured at a play reading for MCT in 2010, and comes fully produced for their current season this fall courtesy of the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series.

Brown places on stage two brothers figuratively and literally wrestling with their individual lives at the age of thirty something while grappling with the recent death of their mother. Only several years apart in age, Vern and Wally contemplate opposite visions in life seen through divergent lenses. Vern, a half delusional, semi distraught Jonathan Leslie Wainwright, tries to convince his attractive, optimistic brother Wally, the very likeable and sympathetic Andrew Edwin Voss, to rid their boyhood home of all its belongings. This task would clean up what they name “the stink” of their abusive father and supposedly give them a new lease, or actual house, in life.

The only problem to their plan could be the house they inherited stands in a now poor, somewhat corrupt neighborhood, unable to be sold at a premium or any fair price after their mother’s death. Without income or goals themselves, the two devise some unusual plans for refurbishing the house before trying to sell it: Breaking and entering upscale neighborhood properties to “borrow” new doormats and plush towels that substitute for their old ones.

That is, until Wally falls in love with someone he waited tables on at a fancy fundraiser, the beautiful, rich Jamilla. Wally suddenly realizes she lives in his own neighborhood, only a few blocks away. He’s smitten with Jamilla, as black as Wally is white, that actor Marti Gobel conceives with a sexual chill. She’s already devised her own plans for breaking into their old neighborhood where she was unwelcome as a child. Where she learned to disown her confusing emotions and harbor her distrust for white people.

MCT debut Director Susan Fete conjures ambiguity from this cast with deft skill, entering the character’s tenuous love-hate relationships so the play cracks with both elements of revenge and possible redemption. Discovering the multiple meanings to the term “broken and entered.” The approach presents a beguiling two-act evening.

The three cast members interact primarily in the dilapidated interior of the childhood home where past memories continually challenge the emotional borders and realities Jamilla, Vern and Wally set for themselves. A shifting space where the audience waits, unaware of what will happen. After the final window is broken within the last few minutes of the play, the audience leaves with spellbinding questions to contemporary issues of community, poverty, housing practices and racial tension, pondering all that has been shattered in these three lives.

An impressive Wisconsin playwright, Brown produces this latest sensitive and suspenseful play developed after he received awards from competitions around the country for his previous work. He puts before the audience wounded individuals, often observed in life and misunderstood, that the audience will connect to. With Vern, the son who wants to escape his disturbing upbringing and father. Or Wally, a man who deeply desires a future and love, and then last, Jamilla, the lost little girl grown into a woman who connives to attain her own brand of reconciliation for past losses.

Be completely engrossed in MCT’s intriguing performance, especially for the final scenes, which could turn the audience’s hearts on end and centers on the compelling cast. Applaud this sublime performance at the Broadway Theatre Center for MCT’s world premiere production, Broken and Entered.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Kurt McGinnis Brown's Broken and Entered at the Broadway Theatre Center through October 14. For a MCT ViewPoints presentation attend on Wednesday, October 3 beginning at 6:30 p.m. when playwright Kurt McGinnis Brown discusses his play. For further information or tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.          by Peggy Sue Dunigan




A splendid cast currently occupies the Cabot Theatre for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s 2012-2013 season opening selection One Thousand Clowns. Written by the award winning Herb Gardner, the play inaugurates the company’s “Exploring Jewish Voices” series in collaboration with the Jewish Museum Milwaukee and the Jewish Community Center.

Set in the year 1962, Gardner’s play speaks from the heart of New York Jewish culture that celebrates delicatessens and pastrami sandwiches. However, Gardner’s very sophisticated humor reaches far beyond merely a passion for pastrami, whether one loves delicatessen’s or not. A culinary preference the main character Murray Burns uses to asses an individual’s personal worth.

Jonathan West debuts as a MCT director in a primarily delicatessen loving cast that deliciously keeps the comic timing on a fast course. Murray Burns, the delightfully irreverent Tom Klubertanz, embraces the philosophy of an imaginative man, more intent on experiencing life than working in life. He reluctantly becomes the unintended guardian of his 12-year-old nephew Nick Burns. A character professionally played by Thomas Kindler from First Stage Children’s Theater Academy in this far beyond his years accomplished role as Nick.

Nick landed on Murray's doorstep when he was only six because Murray's sister dropped him there "temporarily" after her several divorces, although she never married Nick’s father. While spending the next six years with his uncle, the grown boy genius attracts the attention of the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare through his exclusive school where Murray's unorthodox parenting skills come into question which sets the scenes for the play's action. Many scenes then set in Murray’s one room apartment with a rumpled, rummage sale décor that includes a female statuette with a blinking light chest, courtesy of Scenic Designer Brandon Kirkham.

Acting for the NYC Bureau of Child Welfare, Matt Daniels as Albert Amundson and Beth Mulkerron as Dr. Sandra Markowitz present the intellectual, rational side of life, which prefers studying hard to success. They inquisitively interview Murray and Nick to the suitability of Murray’s home life while they curiously examine their own motivations and romantic inclinations that climax at the welfare interview. The play somehow slyly ponders what parenting style could better motivate a child during these formative years? 

Gardner then adds Murray’s brother Arnold to the mix, the affable Patrick Lawlor, who contrasts the eccentric and exuberant Murray playing a sibling proud that he works diligently to support his own home. When Murray desperately needs a job to appease the Bureau of Child Welfare at a court hearing, Albert reinstates Murray’s old job of writing for Leo "Chuckles the Chipmunk" Herman, an actor on a children's show that advertises for potato chips bearing the animal’s name. Stephan Roselin deftly steps into the slightly derelict Herman's shoes.

Within the span of two acts over two plus hours, Gardner delivers a rare rebel for the 1960’s: A single man substituting for a parent played by a creative character like Murray. Someone infinitely worried as much about conforming and losing his own identity in the world as he is about losing the nephew he loves. A wacky but warmhearted father/son relationship often ignored in the 60's as it might be in 2012. This poignant play also depicts brothers, who although polar opposites in personality, deeply care for each other. A chance encounter with demonstrations of unlikely and intimate male bonding portrayed on stage without sentimentality or violence only realistic sincerity and struggle. 

This outstanding six-member cast feeds the evening with uncanny humor, a not to be missed summer treat that offers a buffet of talent. Including a touching ukulele duet of  “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” and a surprise finale that Milwaukee audiences will treasure. This August, be a lover of delicatessens and laughter that feasts on life affirming affection at Chamber Theatre’s entertaining One Thousand Clowns.   

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents One Thousand Clowns in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through August 26, with several special programs planned in collaboration with the Jewish Museum Milwaukee and the Jewish Community Center. For further information and tickets call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.                                                                                                     by Peggy Sue Dunigan






Often admired as the “Playwright of the Midwest,” William Inge gleaned inspiration from the people he met in America’s heartland. His hometown of Independence, Kansas provided an emotional and intellectual muse, these roots apparent in his very successful 1955 play Bus Stop on stage in the Cabot Theatre courtesy of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. 

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents a grand setting for Inge’s play in their collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (UWP) Theatre. UWP Faculty Scenic Designer Keith Harris sets up a sumptuous rural Kansas 50’s diner. Richly designed in reds and greens, a checkerboard floor and graced with a large silver place setting, the diner gleams with lights across the tops of its walls.  

A redbrick backdrop faced with snow-covered windowsills envisions the apartment above the diner, where the owner Grace (a luminous Jacque Troy) lives sans her husband in absentia. A high school student Elma (UWP student Brenna Kempf) works with Grace part-time after studying Shakespeare and betrays her amusing wide-eyed naiveté.

When a cross-country bus becomes stranded at the diner for an all-nighter due to snowy weather, several eccentric passengers arrive for comfort away from a personal and outdoor chlil. Amid the diner’s claustrophobic surroundings,  their personalities prove a combustible mix while laying bare their lonely souls over coffee. Dr. Gerald Lyman (UWP Theatre Artistic Director Jamie Cheatham) unleashes his loathing for his failures, a professor escaping the tedium of teaching inept students while embracing liquor. 

The Montana cowboy Bo Decker (UWP student Ethan Hall) erupts with manhandling passion for the pretty, 19 year old Cherie. Although Bo was orphaned at ten and raised by the wonderfully sensitive Virgil (Patrick Lawlor) who soothes all these tired souls amiably picking on his guitar, Bo found the light of love in the young Cherie. Cherie (UWP student Anne Walaszek) left home at 14 and mistakenly thought singing as a Chanteuse in night clubs could relieve the emptiness in her heart. She consented on a whim to marry the overly confident Bo to escape her own unhappy fate. 

Add in the bus driver Carl (Doug Jarecki), a man willing to pluck the loneliness from his long night drives with Grace on his weekly travels. Or when the Sheriff Will Masters (Dan Katula), a man with morals and regrets, keeps and makes his peace within the diner’s cozy world. One night at Grace’s diner delivers them all from a solitary ache in their lives that rises to the surface with unfulfilled desires over hot drinks, doughnuts, and raw hamburgers.   

Their pent up emotions transform each character’s admitted inadequacies into bragging brawls, recitations of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet and a late night romantic rendezvous. Throughout the extended diner service, Troy imparts a worldly edge to a Grace faced with the candid, overeager advance of Jarecki’s Carl, and then switches to the wise mother with Elma. These two Parkside female leads also attract the audience’s attention. One understands Kempf’s portrayal of Elma’s innocent attraction to the doting Dr. Lyman. 

Walaszek’s Cherie (the antithesis of the iconic Marilyn Monroe who played the role in the much remembered 1956 film) adds dimension to the character with her need for “respect.” In the diner’s one night only performance of that “That Old Black Magic,” Walaszek allures the audience with her intentional off-key performance of the popular song. 

Inge’s diner beguiles the audience under UWP Parkside Faculty Lisa Kornetsky's direction, which moves towards a quicker pace in the second act. While only several characters eventually appease their loneliness, each one awakes with a small epiphany and resilience to get back on the bus. Or unfortunately move outside back into the cold. Willingly go along for the retro bus ride at MCT’s gorgeous production of Bus Stop.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Bus Stop through April 29. Subscriptions for 2012-2013 season are also available. For information or tickets please call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left. by Peggy Sue Dunigan








Does a writer use only one or one thousand words to convey meaning? In Gwendolyn Rice’s world premiere play One Thousand Words presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) last weekend, Rice edits the art world and love to one word: complex.

Rice’s recently produced play was a recipient of numerous workshops and a partner in the MCT’s Montgomery Davis Play Development Series. The full production finally comes to Milwaukee after being previewed and working in collaboration with Madison’s Forward Theater Company. Similar to the visual and written art Rice ponders in her play One Thousand Words, her script and subsequent production represent a theatrical diptych. The diptych defined as two images placed side by side and seen as one picture that relate to each other.

In One Thousand Words, Rice places modern day situations involving New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art through their curator Sally Quinn (Sarah Day) who needs to negotiate with Andrea Monroe (Georgina McKee) for the rights to Midwestern textiles, or an exhibition of quilts. The alternate image relates a 1930’s Depression era story of American photographer Walker Evans (Josh Aaron McCabe) and his writing partner Shirley Hughes (Molly Rhode) who are working for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration. In the play each pair alternately travels through rural Kansas in their own time period discussing art and how as Evans reminds Hughes to regard life, "Sometimes the things unplanned are the most memorable.”

Forward Company Artistic Director Jennifer Uphoff Gray deftly directs these two alternating images on stage. The 1930’s symbolize the words dust and poverty. The contemporary world takes its cue from two others, marketing and promotion. A cynical, type A MET museum supervisor Brian Walters (T. Stacy Hicks) insists that Quinn return from Kansas to finalize a deal with a bar owner in Havana, Cuba where he suddenly uncovered a trove of Depression era photographs by Walker Evans. Quinn staves Walters off for three days while she maneuvers her own deal with the small town public relations director, Monroe, for quilts and more photographs by Evans.

Returning to the days of the Depression, Evans and Hughes discover the endearing and poignant, sometimes powerful, moments in the play. A very witty Evans, which McCabe captures with dapper charm, relates oh so warmly to the literary highbrow, Hughes. Although Rhode develops Hughes' disarming vulnerability when the pair strolls through the Kansas plains without a tree in sight. .

The tantalizing format of alternating centuries that are filled with secrets engages the audience in both scenarios even if one might be unfamiliar with photographer Walker Evans. While the play is fiction, the character of Evans invokes the famous artist credited with founding documentary photography through his realistic and unsentimental portrayal of his subjects that initially inspired Rice to write the play.   

While the play delivers an intriguing tale that affects several generations, one significant character in One Thousand Words is missing. The serene, striking photos from Walker Evans’ illustrious career are nowhere to be seen. Everyone in the play talks about his photos, refers to them. A few hang in the theater lobby together with an exhibition on the Depression (a very interesting aside). Yet, these photos need to be a backdrop or presence in this artistic diptych because Evans’ art holds several keys to the play’s ultimate meaning. Including building upon the well known phrase "one picture is worth a thousand words." While Scenic Designer Nate Stuber stacks brown cardboard storage boxes on the set to worthy effect, there perhaps needs to be some evidence of Evans’ groundbreaking photos on stage. 

Rice’s themes regarding commercialism within the modern artistic process contrast the despair encountered in the 1930’s economic Depression. Add in the tender romance between the straight-laced Hughes and the supposedly single Evans to spark even more controversy. Rice and Chamber Theatre produce a thought provoking and thoroughly engaging production delivered with sparkling performances, especially by McCabe and Rhode. Rice promises to be a playwright to respect and remember, which succintly reflects two words: compelling theater. 

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents the world premiere of One Thousand Words at the Broadway Theatre Center through March 11. The company hosts a special event with playwright Gwendolyn Rice on February 22 and historian John Gurda on February 25 with both evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m. For information or tickets, call 414.276.8842 or click the link to the left.                                                by Peggy Sue Dunigan