Entries in Mary McDonald Kerr (2)



A sensual and surreal evening arrives at Next Act Theatre in their first production for 2013 titled The Clockmaker. This mystical play presents Heinrich Mann as a son who inherits his father’s clock shop in some bygone era, although Mann believes he will forever be a failure to his father's artistic legacy. When a woman in need named Frieda walks through his shop door one rainy afternoon to have a very important timepiece repaired, this one moment in time changes the course of the couple’s lives.

The dimension of time literally rearranges the following scenes throughout Stephen Massicotte’s intriguing play directed by Mary McDonald Kerr. Audiences need some patience in the first half so they can fully appreciate the unusual staging of the action. The rearrangement of unknown places and time reflects a nonlinear storytelling and changes at the playwright’s whim. Only afterwards, in the final scenes, will the audience actually realize what has supposedly occurred. 

Somehow Massicotte’s (author of the company’s 2009 Mary’s Wedding) coherently pieces this haunting love story written with a fairy tale sensibility while using sparse poetic dialogue that holds the audience's attention. Massicotte delves into the sensuality of fragrance, the smell of bread and rain and you, which Mann and Frieda represent. Drew Brehl and Molly Rhode characterize Mann and Frieda by displaying delightful innocent charm through these insecure personas. 

Richard Halverson appears to play “an inquisitor” as Monsieur Pierre and gives the audience an actor who will eternally (to rephrase the play’s language) be welcome on a Milwaukee stage. Dan Katula’s Aldolphus adds an impressive turn as Frieda’s destructive husband, who tires to the thwart the kind affection between Mann and Frieda.

Without revealing too much of the mystery in this production, The Clockmaker entertains on several visual and intellectual levels. Rick Graham’s scenic design, Jason Fassl’s lighting and Aria Thornton’s simple costumes add to the performance’s unique enchantment. While one wishes the pace moved slightly quicker (a one hour, forty minutes without intermission), the deliberate delivery and direction allows the surprise ending to fascinate the audience even more.

At the end of the evening, the audience might remember that when one person desires to make a difference, even in only one person’s life, they can by showing love and reap magnificent rewards. How wonderful to see this proven in McDonald Kerr’s and Rhode’s personal careers, professionals who have enriched Milwaukee theater as actors, choreographers and directors as distinctive women in the theatre, a pleasure to continually see develop over the years The entire cast in Next Act's appealing The Clockmaker defines how passion for one’s career or a particular person transforms events and time for good even into eternity.

Next Act Theatre at 255 South Water Street presents The Clockmaker through February 24. For information or tickets, please call 414.278.0765 or click the Next Act link to the left to visit the company’s website.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan




Was this merely a dog-gone contrived evening at the theater? That’s only one question left unanswered at Next Act Theatre’s December production Sylvia, which opened last weekend. A.R. Gurney penned Sylvia in the heyday of the 1990’s, produced on Broadway before September 11, 2001. The multiple award-winning playwright has numerous achievements to his prestigious pedigree, including the poignant Love Letters. 

However, there’s something about this Gurney play that could leave dog lovers wanting. The couple portrayed in the production named Kate (Mary McDonald Kerr) and Greg (David Cecsarini) find themselves in a New York apartment, all alone, after sending the children to college. Greg discovers his successful financial job depressing while Kate is teaching Shakespeare to central city children, each person depicted as somewhat stereotypical baby boomers. Throughout the performance, an absence of genuine warmth for their careers or each other develops this couple’s conflicts. Althoug many families would be fortunate to be in this couple’s economic position with the rampant under and unemployment seen in 2011. 

Then on an afternoon away from his desk, Greg connects with the stray dog, Sylvia, a half-breed French Poodle who he immediately falls in love with. The delectable Georgina McKee presents herself as dog/woman Syvia, dressed to the nines in a sexy, feminine way pawing the besotted Greg with amorous affection. While the audience understands this connection, the device can be overplayed or used. With little substance to all that happens on stage, the dialogue detracts from the true comedy. These scenes are repeated over and over, especially one involving Sylvia and her dog mate Bowser. The two owners Greg and the off beat Tom (Ryan Schabach), who gives little relevant advice to the perplexed Greg, watch the dogs mate in an overly long scene. 

Are all these contrivances humorous? At times, certainly yes, and there’s some great characters played by Schabach as Leslie, a friend of Kate’s, and an androgynous therapist. Once again the dialgoue speaks to the audience strictly for the laughs instead of character development. Similar to Kate’s behavior at the end of act one when she literally mounts Sylvia in a jealous rage. Gurney scripts this couple as irrationally foolish, especially Kate, so the play’s final moments barely reveal any emotion, affectedly insincere.

The character most likeable in the audience’s eyes will be Sylvia, at the mercy of both Kate and Greg, except when she’s spewing foul language at cats (Is this really that funny?). McKee inhabits the lovely French Poodle, pert in pink bows and tulle skirts, or slinky black sheaths. As a French Poodle type, she’s only another woman seductively playing to her man. Is this really how a dedicated dog lover wants to think about his beloved pet? 

Without any genuine dogged affection appearing in the play, Cecsarini and Kerr can only act what the script allows, and Kate has little room to develop as her own seductive woman. The play scarcely offers any real solutions on a wealthy couple’s minor mid-life problems, solved without any struggle except for living with the instincts of a lovely, innocent dog. While it might have appeared extremely Saturday Night Live funny in another decade, this couple and Sylvia have few real concerns that they can blame on Man's Best Friend. An amusing evening, although the true canine connection left one wanting substantially more from the best of Next Act Theatre's professionals. 

Next Act Theatre presents Sylvia on their great new stage at 255 North Water Street through December 18. For information or tickets call: 414.278.0765    by Peggy Sue Dunigan