Entries in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (12)



What could be better than sharing a brewski with another man friend? Milwaukee Chamber Theatre provides a fascinating portrait of two men in crisis when they present Things Being What They Are in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center for the festive season ahead.

In this male dominated play, an acclaimed women playwright and graduate of the Yale School of Drama Wendy MacLeod draws from her personal experience, a houseful of men, a husband and two sons. When she writes the characters of Bill McGinnis and Jack Foster, these man friends bond over brews when Bill moves into Jack’s condo complex, their abodes within close proximity. 

While MacLeod contrasts the two personalities during their interesting in home conversations, she pits Jack, a man who lost his way in life when he rarely appreciated his three children until they were lost, against the very sensitive and responsive metro man Bill. His personality suggests a man bordering on being too neat and too patient with his elusive wife Adele.

After discussing careers and women over multiple micro brews, Bill remains reluctant to accept Jack’s friendship in his new life. And then suddenly, surprisingly complex concerns emerge from Bill and Jack, insight into the changes they discover within themselves. For Jack, as a father who ignored his sons, taking them for granted while misunderstanding the differences between mistress and wife. For Bill, as a practical person who complains about his choices and finding the courage to take risks when he pursued management for a steady income instead of acting.  

Both men have changed over time, morphed into something other than they thought they would become, throughout their lives. Bill passively waits for Adele instead of taking action, actually getting in his car to claim her as his own. Jack, combating his own mortality and how he sees the rest of his life, perhaps lived alone. In each other and in their own way, Bill and Jack discover these imperfections to their lives and satisfy themselves with the comforts revealed in the other man.  

Ryan Schabach plays the man in waiting throughout this bromantic comedy, the straight man in a comic script that pokes fun at women and the heartbreak of any romance. Even in the most passive role, Schabach’s character stands alone on the stage. Dan Katula’s Jack competes for all the attention in the conversations and the audience believes these two men do bond though Jack semi-bullies his way into Bill’s life. Although in the second act, Jack admirably forgives Bill for a missed commitment, a slightly unbelievable event considering Bill’s personality.

Underscoring these male friendships are the buried consequences to chance and choice every person encounters over a lifetime, experienced by either sex by only being human. Instead of acting and being like animals, as Jack insists men, and by default women might also be, in another sentence Jack’ s profound words prove he actually contradicts this sentiment, confirming his humanity when he says, “Love is not little…We are all worthy of love.”

Despite what changes and chances occur in any person’s life, either men or women, who exchange their disappointments over brews or cosmopolitans, bromances or best forever friends,  MCT's humorous performance relates life can be complicated. Filled to the brim of a beer glass with unexpected events and sublime second chances at any age. Yet, a life worthy of love, to be cared for by another human being of either sex as Jack claims everyone could be. Experience Chamber Theatre’s entertaining production with a timely message for the holiday season, that is, when things being what they are one can quote the wisdom of four British lads who were for a time exceedingly bromantic: We get by with a little help from our friends.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Things Being What They Art in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center though December 15. For further information or tickets, please call 414.291.7800 or click the Chamber Theatre link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan


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



Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Art: A Whiter Shade of Pale

Set against a backdrop of what might be a monumental Piet Mondrian painting and primary colors…blue, red and yellow…Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s season opening production Art resonates with modern abstraction in its design and themes. Even the pale Barcelona chairs designed by Mies van der Rohe flank the stark, white leather sofa front and center on the Cabot Theatre Stage. And speak to a sophistication that echoes the ideas on contemporary art and friendship French playwright Yasmina Reza’s award winning script addresses.

First produced in Paris during the mid 1990’s, Reza’s Art places three old friends, Marc, (Brian Mani), Serge (C. Michael Wright), and Ivan (Tom Klubertanz), in one of their classically fashionable apartments. Serge, a well to do dermatologist, recently purchased a “white” painting for an absurd amount of money, which infuriates his best friend Marc. However, the cultural renegade Ivan places himself between the two warring friends and the resulting backlash from Serge making such an expensive decision without consulting Marc.

While the three friends argue over the artist's importance, an 'Andrios' painting, even to what color the canvas might be, for there are numerous shades of white, they all struggle with what ties, experiences and feelings, bind them together. Because very similar to the diagonal lines dividing the white background in the Andrios painting, the three friends, like the three musketeers, are divided by what emotions the painting unleashes in each of them. Which can be equally absurd and conflicting.

Director Tyler Merchant adds a strident, hyper-realistic quality to the production, a play without any intermission, perhaps to generate more tension between the three men on the set. So do the flashing lights designed by Jason Fassl which gently stobe between the changing action against Scenic Designer Keith Pitt’s Mondrian inspired back wall. Theatrical techniques reinforcing how the serenity in these three men’s lives was definitively disturbed by the painting and then consequently each other.

Mani and Wright demonstrate their astute acting abilities by letting the audience visibly wrestle with these character's emotions. Perhaps the French might be more philosophical and less rigorously argumentative in regard to these dilemmas while being equally as passionate. Klubertanz acutely develops the play's humor with a genuine neurosis, his Ivan less debonair than Marc and Serge. Ivan has his own problems to contend with, an upcoming wedding, correct wording on invitations, and a life working with mundane stationery. His frustration daringly expressed in an exhilarating tirade about the minute details that complicate a wedding.

Throughout this almost two-hour play, art and friendship can be observed as the very idea of abstract expressionism. Where what a person feels can be more significant than what one sees, especially in a painting. The emotions are more critical to acceptance than the colors or lines drawn on the canvas, and how one discovers the words to open up those ambiguous sentiments to another person when describing art or a friendship. Whether the painting is indeed white-white, white shit as Marc believes, or that indefinable whiter shade of pale, the color matters less than what Marc, Serge and Ivan “sense” about the painting. Which comes to the forefront at the script’s conclusion when they process what actually binds the three of them together as human beings. 

The final scene in Reza’s play closes by questioning what “art,” a painting, evokes in the collective soul, what that is worth, culturally and moentarily, and then how this pales in comparison to the friendships these men have forged over 15 years. Because then the value of art rest in how the audience and these three men understand their humanity more fully. Perhaps another French philosopher and poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said this more succinctly when he wrote, “Words are the source of misunderstanding…Eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

This August, Milwaukee audiences should indeed look keenly, observe with open eyes and heart MCT’s intriguing production of Art.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Art at the Broadway Theatre Center in the Cabot Theatre through August 25. Several special events are planned, so for information or tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or click the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre link to the left.    by Peggy Sue Dunigan



Charming Comic Satisfaction at MCT’s Jeeves In Bloom

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre welcomes spring to the Cabot Stage at the Broadway Theatre Center with their current production of the wild and witty Jeeves In Bloom. Margaret Raether’s delightful adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories winks at British society with marvelous charm. Stories where the boyishly brash Bertie Wooster survives only by advice given through his impeccable butler Jeeves. MCT reprises these beloved characters from their 2010 production Jeeves Intervenes by taking them to the English countryside.

In Jeeves In Bloom, a lush English rose garden blooms on stage under Scenic Designer Steve Barnes’ talented vision, complete with a fountain, which provides an enchanting setting for any romantic action. The scenery alone breathes warmth into Milwaukee's cold spring and instantly invites the audience to be comfortable for this lighthearted theatrical comedy.

Matt Daniels returns as the astute sophisticated Jeeves, a picture of elegant worldliness. Set up as a foil for Chase Stoeger’s Bertie Wooster, the pair forms a skilled comedic team, Stoeger gives Bertie an added dose of youthful good looks and gestures. Add in the veteran Norman Moses as an egotistical French chef Anatole who doubles as Bertie’s Uncle Thomas, and one has an accomplished trio made for all Raether's action on stage. Debuting Matt Koester enters as Gussie, the scientific nerd knowing everything about lizards named newts, to accompany his school chum Bertie to his Aunt Dahlia’s country house.

Gussie sets much of the plot revolving around his inability to woo Madeline Basset, the object of his affection who was already visiting Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom. When Aunt Dahlia calls Bertie for assistance, Bertie insists Gussie travel with him to court Madeline. Strong woman characters define these performances, the expressive Marcella Kearns humorously cynical as Aunt Dahlia, a publisher of a women’s magazine that “has been turning the corner for two years, “ and desperately needs more funds from her husband to pay the printer for the next issue.

Karen Estrada completely inhabits her scenes as the lovesick Madeline, a lovley complement to the newt man, Gussie. Whether Estrada’s quoting poetry she’s written, feigning Juliet’s despair from Shakespeare’s great tragedy or dropping fantasy lines with aplomb, such as, “Every time a fairy sheds a tear, another star is born in the sky,” as the whimsical Madeline she wins the audience’s heart.

Director Tami Workentin knows Jeeves and company intimately, she fine tuned the last production two year ago, and adds a restrained touch to let the British shenanigans on stage unfold effortlessly instead of overplaying these comic moments. Which really only endears the characters to the audience and their misadventures, all great fun for a evening at MCT. 

Who in the audience could resist adoring the commanding Jeeves as he confidently dispenses his particular brand of common sense to the British upper crust they so desperately need? Come to enjoy and laugh, appreciate the comic antics, rose garden greenery and a marvelously accomplished cast that complements this feel good performance. Chamber Theatre and Jeeves would say, “He (or the company) aim to give satisfaction.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Jeeves in Bloom at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center through April 28, with special programs and talkbacks planned throughout the performance. Season subscriptions are also available for 2013-2014 with the theme: "Our Neighbors and Friends: Behind Closed Doors." For information and tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or click the link the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre to the left.    by P.S. Dunigan





Playwright Glen Berger’s script conjures a multitude of questions in his play Underneath the Lintel that draws from historical legends and mythology. Written in 2001, the one character drama produced by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre relies considerably on the acting genius of James Ridge, a 16-year veteran imported from Spring Green’s American Players Theatre. His portrayal of a Dutch Librarian searching for a person who would return a traveler’s guide in deplorable condition 113 years overdue will visibly move the audience when he leaves the stage 90 plus minutes after they sit down.

Luckily for Chamber Theatre audiences, Ridge deftly handles the nuances to the this bereft Librarian’s persona, who since losing the love of his life spends all his time stamping books returned in the library’s night slot. Without sitting to rest for the entire performance and no intermission, Ridge mysteriously follows the clues he uncovers in the overdue book over centuries and continents through his knowledge of reference materials. As the audience eventually discovers, The Librarian then unknowingly follows the path of what is known as the Errant, Eternal or Wandering Jew.

Art, drama, literature and music retell these wanderer stories through the eyes of various cultures and Berger intertwines this history with his mix of quirky humor befitting a Dutch librarian trapped in his small town. Poignant moments reflecting questions that have haunted humanity drift through the dialogue that also reawakens curiosity in the audience.

Initially, Ridge’s quest appears ludicrous, and the audience needs to sit back and enjoy the preliminary storytelling. Before Berger and Ridge fully confront what “underneath the lintel” eventually means and the subsequent journey. For those unacquainted with this tale, transcendence waits, when the audience fully comprehends everything that can happen underneath the lintel.

Which perhaps begins when the Jewish nation first painted their lintels with blood so the angel of death would spare them from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s captivity and destructive curse. This became the Jewish Passover, a precursor to the wandering Jew legend, which supposedly occurred during Holy Week.

Ridge carries the audience and the weight of the wandering Jew’s journey by using numbered evidence to prove this person may actually exist. The only concern The Librarian faces could be if he proves this legend as true, then must God truly exist as well? Which opens a whole Pandora’s box of existential mysteries: Why is each person here? What is love? And what constitutes one person's existence in a short span on earth? 

These questions only subtly reflect the themes in Berger’s play, carried out on a lonely auditorium stage, where a chalkboard, humble desk, dilapidated suitcase and slide projector are effectively interchanged. Chamber Theatre’s compelling Underneath the Lintel may be appreciated on multiple levels. Even if only to marvel at Ridge's perfromance, again directed by C. Michael Wright, to attain this command of the stage. His ability to captivate the audience in this highly intellectual but humorous play reveals another one of drama’s reflection on “everyman," pertinent to each person sitting in the audience.

While Underneath the Lintel applies few answers to the questions the play poses, the script is well worth revisiting. In a flight of fancy at the final scene, the constantly in motion Librarian and an effervescent, masterful Ridge dance off the stage. When The Librarian believes life needs to be cherished when one discovers those moments to “revel in mirth and beauty.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Underneath the Lintel ias part of the "Exploring Jewish Voices" series n the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through March 17. The company also presents a staged reading of Plaza Hotel Ballroom by Alice Austen on Monday, March 4, 7:30 p.m in the Skylight Bar & Bistro. There annual Young Playwrights Festival happens the weekend of March 21-24. For further information and tickets, please call: 414. 291.7800 or click the link to the left.      by Peggy Sue Dunigan