A rare, valuable nugget of French culture travels to the Broadway Theatre Center stage in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s (MCT) holiday production Heroes. On opening night, the acting performances of Richard Halverson, Daniel Mooney and Robert Spencer were a priceless treasure in Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of the 2003 Paris produced play that was nominated for four Moliere awards, Le Vent des Peupliers, or The Wind in the Poplars.

The Wind in the Poplars was first written by Gerard Sibleyras, which also won British playwright Stoppard the Laurence Olivier Best New Comedy Award. Stoppard magically captures the European flair for witty conversation while three World War veterans Gustave (Richard Halverson), Henri (Robert Spencer), and Philippe (Daniel Mooney) reflect on their past and present lives.

Set in France on a sunny back terrace at a Veteran’s home in August 1959, the trio ruminates about the beauty in a grove of poplar trees, seen high on a hill off in the horizon. This may refer to those grand landmarks in the French countryside that the Impressionist artist Claude Monet immortalized in his 1891 series of oil paintings. These elegant, stately poplars represent as Monet eloquently stated, “Nature [that] is greatness, power and immortality.” 

When the three men plan a campaign to reach that hill of poplar trees and traces of insanity ensue, the veterans appear to be striving for these qualities that Monet so beautifully illustrated. Henri, Gustave and Philippe suffer varying degrees of physical and mental capabilities, given in sacrifice to their country, which complicates completing their plans. This includes their faithful compatriot, a cement dog weighing 200 pounds that Philippe thinks occasionally moves by itself. Sitting and planning their escape strategy, the veteran trio decorated with numerous medals for their military heroics and now forgotten by society, ultimately finds the reclusive hospital their final refuge. 

The three friends also remind the audience of Alexandre Dumas when adapting his 1844 tale of The Three Musketeers. His inseparable friends, similar to Henri, Gustave and Philippe, recall the adage “All for one and one for all.” Even when these three friends who call themselves “the two crocks and one crack pot who mount a campaign,” they are unable to function without one other. Camaraderie, memories and belonging to flawed yet meaningful friendships permeate the dry humor in Stoppard’s lyrical script. Discovering these nuances throughout the evening without elaborating on them here in words will be a distinct pleasure for anyone in the audience. 

Halverson, Mooney and Spencer absolutely shine in this powerful although charming character study in how society may abandon its real heroes. Contemporary culture places acclaim on celebrity instead of dedicated service. Credit to Director C. Michael Wright in finding the sublime tempo for this very European paced scenario that reminds the audience to honor any unsung heroes they might personally know. One will remember the play’s poetic ending long after leaving the theater. Take a journey to the French countryside this December to see MCT’s mesmerizing Heroes and three very wondrous, golden actors performing on stage again. 

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Tom Stoppard’s adaption the play Heroes through December 18. For information or tickets call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan









 MCT Drives to Ruth Schudson's Success 

Alfred Uhry’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play Driving Miss Daisy still enchants audiences. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) concluded their Pulitzer Play series with co-founder Ruth Schudson’s 65th role for the company as Daisy Werthan this past weekend. All accompanied by a standing ovation. 

The applause was well deserved for this timeless script that was then released as a four time Academy Award winning film produced with Ulry’s screenplay. He based the story on his own grandmother and the unique 25-year relationship with her chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn (Michael A. Torrey). Miss Daisy’s son Boolie Werthan (Jonathan West) provides the catalyst in sparking this relationship when he hires Coleburn to drive his mother through Atlanta during the years 1948 to 1973. Years when political unrest for civil rights changed the face of America. 

The Werthan's Jewish heritage adds another racial counterpoint to this delicate play that delivers a subtle message: When one learns to know a person from another culture, race or religion individually, the preconceptions disappear as one discovers everyone has the same bones underneath their skin. The aging pair uncovers these endearing foibles to their personalities by cherishing them. 

Daisy and Hoke unveil another dimension over the course of this performance, which reveals that friendship and love may develop at any and the most unexpected time in one’s life. Perhaps, the best might be saved for last. Torrey gives Hoke depth and sincerity to his growing devotion for Schudson’s irascible Daisy. When their advancing age finally separates them, the last scene melts the audience’s heart. 

Only a story based on truth combined with the stellar acting talents of Schudson and Torrey makes this ending immensely believable. Without unnecessary sentimentality, the play's sincere emotional connection becomes an appreciative credit to Director C. Michael Wright. This includes West’s role as Boolie and his affectionate kisses to his mother when he says, “You’re such a doodle.” 

Also important to the play’s intimacy was Scenic Designer Steve Barnes who tightly framed the Cabot Theatre’s stage in hominess. Allowing it to appear smaller, this focuses attention on the two characters while the audience watches them grow in their expectations and outlook on life well into their 90th years. These two never give up, personally forging ahead to meet the challenges facing them, whether traveling to Alabama or attending a dinner for Martin Luther King, because their deep friendship upholds them through life.

After the curtain call, linger in one’s seat to savor MCT’s production Driving Miss Daisy to celebrate Schudson’s 65 performances in theatre.  Remember how a seemingly insignificant job and opportunity when done well can provide the ultimate satisfaction, whether it’s driving a car or acting a small part on stage that eventually becomes an outstanding career. Each event invites the audience's undivided attention. 

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Driving Miss Daisy through October 30. Or attend the Tribute to Ruth Schudson on Monday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. Reservations and a benefit donation of $250 required for this fund raiser to help provide 65 more years of Milwaukee Theater. For tickets 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.




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