Entries in Milwaukee Theatre (5)



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



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




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




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








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