Chamber and Marti Gobel stage powerful, moving and brilliant Brothers Size

Marques Causey, Andrew mUwonge and Travis A. Knight in The Brothers Size

This may seem like some kind of cop out, but it’s not.

It’s just that there are few, of any, words to adequately describe the magnificent (see, there’s one  word) production of the Tarell Alvin McCraney play “the Brothers Size” that opened Friday night at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

Despite feeling that I am not up to the task, I am going to try and find a few words, in a dictionary and thesaurus, to describe this evening of magical theater.

POWERFUL!

MARTI GOBEL!

MESMERIZING!

JOYOUS (OR JOYFUL, I CAN’T DECIDE WHICH ONE)!

UNFORGETTABLE!

JAHMES TONY FINLAYSON

BLACK MAGIC!

UNIVERSAL!

EACH ONE OF US!

FAMILY!

MARQUES CAUSEY, TRAVIS A. KNIGHT, ANDREW MUWONGE!

SADNESS AND A TEARS!

MOVES AND MOVING!

MARTI GOBEL! (I know, I know, but trust me on this one)

ALL LIVES MATTER!

LOVE AND MORE LOVE!

INSIGHTFUL!

UNIQUE!

CREATE!

DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES!

WHITE FOLKSWATCHING WITH FEELING!

BLACK!

AFRICA!

HEARTBEAT, DRUMS! (Finlayson again. And trust me again)

OH, MY GOD!

MADELYN YEE AND JASON FASSL! (set and lights)

VISION!

PROBABLY IN MY TOP 10 ALL-TIME!

AND FINALLY…

MARTI “AMAZING” GOBEL

Production credits: Director, Movement Choreographer, Marti Gobel; Stage Manager/Production Manager, Brandy Kline; Scenic Designer, Madelyn Yee; Costume Designer, Leslie Vaglica; Lighting Designer, Jason Fassl; Properties Designer, Meghan Savagian; Dialect Coach, Michelle Lopez-Rios; Composer Jahmés Tony Finlayson, Production Photos, Paul Ruffalo.

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In Tandem delivers just half a play with The Outgoing Tide

Susan Sweeney and James Pickering in The Outgoing Tide at In Tandem.

Victims here, victims there, Good Lord we’ve got victims everywhere.

That’s what gets delivered in “The Outgoing Tide,” the Bruce Graham play that opened Friday night at In Tandem Theatre.

The first victim we meet is Gunner (James Pickering) an aging outdoorsman, fishing in the creek near his cabin in the woods. Gunner isa talking with a younger man, a stranger uninterested in fishing or the outdoors and answering the nosy questions from this old man with grudging hesitation.

It takes only a brief few minutes until we begin to suspect that there is something wrong with Gunner.

The next victim we meet Gunners’ wife Peg (Susan  Sweeney), stepping into the cabin, obviously the woman of the house and, in the first surprise of the evening, the mother of the third victim, we also meet son Jack (Simon Jon Provan), who was the man talking with Gunner in the opening scene.

Aha!

Confirmation that Gunner, who didn’t even recognize his only son, is suffering from some form of dementia and his memory is in full fade. He is traveling a long way down the road toward the kind of ending that scares the daylights out of him.

Peg, however, is as much a victim of the disease as is her husband.

It takes almost no time at all before she lays open her woes to her son.

“Worse Every day. Wait  until he starts repeating himself. We have pancakes tomorrow? Can we have pancakes tomorrow? Pegh, tomorrow can we have pancakes? Peg, know what would be good? Pancakes. And each time I tell him, Yes, Gunner, we can have pancakes tomorrow. And five minutes later he’s back about the pancakes. The other day, Oh, God Jack. I snapped. I lost it. Pancakes, I know I know, you told me twenty stinking times so far today. I felt awful, the look on his face. It’s not his fault. I have to keep telling myself. That it’s not his fault. So, I don’t say anything. I just keep smiling and say, sure Gunner. We can have pancakes. “

Peg is overwhelmed with the frustration of trying to care for and figure out what to do with her husband. She is thinking about the ease of an assisted living facility that Gunner will have nothing to do with.

Jack is the third victim in this play, and, perhaps the most damaged of all.

He grew up in a house where his father wanted him to play ball but he cried when he was hurt and his mom babied him. He is 50 years old and still struggling with what he wants to be when he grows up. He and his wife are getting a divorce after two children are out of the house and they are left with a third, who never leaves his room.

He has been damaged most of his life, cursed by role his parents created for him, as an ear for private secrets.Both his mom and dad repeatedly ended each secret with “Don’t tell your mom” and” Don’t tell your dad.” The secrets of the family have worn Jack out.

There may be a fourth victim in this production however, the audience.

Because what we really get is two different plays, one moving and full of suspense and depth and another that seems contrived and plods along like a Budweiser horse on Ambien.

Part of the problem, at least on opening night, is that both Ms. Sweeney and Mr. Povan, are on the same stage with Mr. Pickering, one of the greatest actors Wisconsin can call our own. There will rarely  be parity between him and others on a stage but those who share a play with him have to be at the top of their game.

And that is not the case here.

Ms. Sweeney had trouble with the dialogue and Mr. Povan had difficulties with the emotions of his role. Mr. Graham may have started out with a good idea for a play about an old man, full of life, who is watching his mind travel away.

But at some point he began to create other stories, stories that nobody really cared about. Jack’s  lackluster son and he photos of mansions he dreams about and he keeps in a box in his basement. His disintegrating marriage and his questions about coming to some grip with his own sexuality as a boy.

There is a foray into the history of the 51 year marriage between Gunner and Peg, a foray that adds nothing to the story being told.  

He peppers all of this with a series of brief flashbacks that are neither illuminating or particularly well acted. Had this play ended after the first act, it might well have been an enjoyable evening. But carrying on like this beast does just became boring and predictable.

Production credits; Director, Chris Flieller; Set Design, Steve Barnes; Sound Design, Jonathon Leubner; Costume Design, Kathy Smith; Light Design Holly Blomquist; Production Stage Manager, Chris Flieller; Rehearsal Stage ManagerJane Flieller; Assistant Stage MNanager, Aaron Suggs; Production Photos, Mark Frohna.

Funny, singing and dancing and one joyous evening with zombies at Skylight

Rick Pendzich and Kathryn Hausman

How old you are would seem to be an issue in “Zombies from the Beyond,” the James Valcq chestnut that opened Friday night at Skylight Music Theatre.

After all, the show is a send-up of the C class group of science fiction movies that were a staple for many a boy who clutched a dollar to get into a movie, get popcorn and a soda, and watch with wide-eyed wonder at a world of people from outer-space.

The high point for all of this came when Dwight Eisenhower was the president – the 1950’s. Those of us who were little boys back then are a long way past grown up now and some of us have faltering memories.

With Pam Kriger at the helm, aided and abetted by a sparkling cast, there is no need for memory. Just sit back, get comfortable, and let yourself go with all the silliness storming from the stage.

Along with those special movies, the play also pokes fun at the paranoia that gripped those time, the fears of aliens and nuclear bombs that drove us to build bomb shelters,learn how to hide under our school desks and wonder at all this talk of going out there into space to see what was REALLY up there.

Here’s the story of Valcq’s  play which has had a run in New York and has been produced over 600 times the world over.  Valcq is Wisconsin’s own and is co-Artistic Director of the esteemed Third Avenue Playhouse in Door County.

Major Malone (Norman Moses) runs the Milwaukee Space Center where he and his right-hand man, Rick Jones (Rick Pendzich) keep watch over whatever is going on in space. Charlene “Charlie” Osmanski (Meghan Randolph) is the secretary in the office, dedicated to working but heartbroken about her inability to get a man.

“Take a memo type a letter.
Life would be a whole lot better.
If I could find a man.
Take a memo, tue a letter
I don’t need an Irish Setter.
That isn’t what I plan.
The secretary
Finds it scary
Going through life without a man. “

She has a chance, though, when delivery boy Billy Krutzik (Joe Capstick) arrives. He wants her but she won’t have anything to do with a mere delivery kid.

Once we have met the bumbling crew protecting us, we are introduced to the Major’s daughter Mary Malone (Kathryn Hausman).

Going through life without a man. “

Once we have met the bumbling crew protecting us, we are introduced to the Major’s daughter Mary Malone (Kathryn Hausman).It is obvious from the earliest moments that while she is a woman in a man’s world, she has the kind of knowledge and ability that is far superior to the testosterone around her and she rather shyly offers to solve problems of photography and astrophysics among other skills.

Enter the egghead scientist, Trenton Corbett (Matt Frye), come to add his big brain to the quest to conquer space and protect America should there be an attack from the world beyond.  Corbett soon becomes infatuated with Mary, even though she has a relationship with Rick.

And finally, when the spaceship that has been hovering lands, we meet Zombina (SaraLynnEvenson). And what a meeting it is.

She has arrived to control the men of Earth and dos so with a shrieking soprano that hits notes that perhaps have never been heard in the Cabot Theatre in its entire history.

What follows is a convoluted path of good vs. evil and love, longing, and treachery,

This cast is uniformly spectacular, Ms. Kriger is wise enough to give each actor a time to shine and each actor has moments to shine. Wisconsin is blessed with two outstanding director/choreographers in Ms. Kriger and Molly Rhode

This marks the second time in two years that Ms. Kriger has directed Ms. Hausman in a production, having staged a remarkable “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

Ms. Hausman has a beautiful and expressive voice and a commanding stage presence, combining sex appeal with an innocence that is full of appeal. She can act, sing and dance and there is a spark in her every performance and there is hope that she will find more work on Milwaukee stages.

Mr. Moses may well be the most versatile actor in Milwaukee and here he creates a character who is stuffy and overbearing, perfect for the Major.

Mr. Pendzich is like a young Mr. Moses and his duplicitous American soldier/Russian spy is perfect.

Mr. Frye clearly draws the familiar nerd with a heart and Ms. Randolph is as funny and touching as a loyal team player and a lonely woman who has had her heart repeatedly shattered.,

Ms. Evenson is overwhelming, broadly drawing this character who is so threatening that she is both funny and frightening.

Mr. Capstick is a Chicago who is also a tap dancer. His energetic dance as he tries to convince Ms. Randolph to date him was spectacular. He floated across the floor, up stairs, and on a desktop, all while singing to the object of his desire. He brought the house down, with a first act standing ovation.

There is not much serious about Valccq’s but it’s so well constructed, directed and acted that it’s a show with a lot of fun, no matter how old you are.

Zombies From the Beyond runs through February 18th.

Production credits: Playwright, James Valcq; Director and Choreographer, Pam Kriger; Music Director, Kurt Cowling; Scenic Designer, Aaron Dyszelski; Lighting Designer Stephen Roy White; Costume Designer, Shima Orans; Sound Designer, Megan Henninger; Production Stage Manager, Daniel J. Hanson; Production Photographer,Mark Frohna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Cotey directs a masterful production of a Shakespearen mystery at Next Act

The players at a Shakespearean mystery at Next Act

Just take a look around you and shake your head at this world we live in.

Truth vs. Lies. Alternative facts. Demands for unbridled flattery. Opposing forces of government. Treachery. Sorrow and jealousy.

If it sounds familiar it should but you can actually see this whole thing in action in “Equivocation,” the play by Bill Cain that opened at Next Act Theatre Friday night  under the

The play takes place in 1605 and is focused on a moral dilemma for the greatest playwright ever, William Shakespeare (called Shag in this play).

Robert Cecil, the right-hand man for King James and the power behind the throne, calls Shakespeare to him for a commission to write a play about the famed Gunpowder Plot, a plan to dig a tunnel under the Parliament building and blow the whole thing to smithereens with barrels full of explosives.

Along the way, the king, queen, children and various Lords of the Peerage will perish and perhaps England will be religiously unified. The country is plagued with conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

There is just one catch to this scheme. Shakespeare must write his play based on the story of the incident, a story written by the King himself. And, as expected, the King’s tale has only a nodding acquaintance with the truth and goes to great effort to paint His Highness in a most favorable light.

Thus the dilemma for our playwright.

Does he take the money for the commission and write a play that is predetermined and demanded by the King and his henchman, or does he search for the truth to create a work that will be honored and live in posterity?

Forces in every corner of his life threaten to pull this tormented genius apart.

Robert and the King are on one side. Shakespeare’s company of actors at the Old Globe are split, some wanting the money, some just wanting to act. Then there is Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith the sister whose twin brother died as a youth. She has never felt the love that her father had for her brother, yet she admires his work and loves him as a storyteller.

In addition to this play be a tale about the conflict between honesty and falsity but a tale of the accurate and unvarnished account of events.

More than anything the search for the truth of the government version of Gunpowder Plot (celebrated the 4th of November in England even as Guy Fawkes Day) resonates so powerfully today,

Instead of King James, we have Donald Trump and his coterie of sycophantic adjutants. We also have the kind of passion for flattery from the president, the sangfroid over the tsunami of alternative facts and the sanctimonious bluster of righteousness.

It is this parallel that Mr. Cotey has found and that he plumbs for all it is worth. This production switches smoothly between scenes of reality and those that are being played by the actors. At times it is problematic to tell which is which, but it hardly matters. It is left to the audience to decide what is real (true) and what is not. The difficulty crystallizes in a small moment when Shakespeare visits with Father Garnet, who is imprisoned for being a conspirator in the plot. The good priest asks what play is being written.

SHAG. The True History of the Powder Plot.

GARNET [RICHARD]. (Ahhhhh-) By John Shagspeare’s son. (Yes.) We are in good hands. (Then.) And that’s why you’re here? You’ve come to me to learn the truth about the Powder Plot?

SHAG. The truth? Fuck the truth. I’ve come to you to learn how to equivocate. And this is the key. Equivocation is Shag’s way out. Teach me. To equivocate.

GARNET   [RICHARD]. (Annoyed.) It’s not a way to lie, you know –  equivocation -it’s a way of telling the truth.

SHAG. (Exactly!) That’s what I want to do. I want to tell the truth. I just don’t want to get caught at it.Look, here are my choices – lie or die. I don’t want to do either.  You have written a book –  probably a very tedious book –  on how to tell the truth in difficult times. Give me a short course in that and I promise you, I will do the best I can.

GARNET  [RICHARD].   (Considers, then ) Right. (Garnet becomes the teacher he was born to be.) Man comes to the door.

SHAG. (Dutiful student.} Man comes to the door.

GARNET [RICHARD]. And he asks you, “Is the King inside?” –

SHAG. He is and I say, “No.” How is that not a sin? And on – my – oath – how is that not a damnable sin?

GARNET [RICHARD]. (The crux of it.) Ask yourself- what­ is this man – really –   asking?

SHAG. (I’ve got this one!} Where’s the King?

GARNET [RICHARD]. No.

SHAG. No?

GARNET [RICHARD]. Well, yes. Of course, on the surface, yes. But what does he really want to know? Really?

SHAG. He really wants to know Where? The King?  Is?

GARNET [RICHARD]. (Nasty teacher.) Simon was right about you. You’re a slow student.

SHAG. (Nasty schoolboy.) He was a dull man and you are what they say you are –  a clever liar.

GARNET [RICHARD]. (Bitterly.) If I wanted to lie, all I would hav_e to do is take the Oath of Uniformity. If I were to lie, what wouldn’t they give me? {Amused.) They’d make me Archbishop of Canterbury. SHAG. Why not then? Lie?

GARNET [RICHARD]. Pray God I don’t. They’ll be after me till the end.

SHAG. No, but really- why not?

(Garnet evaluates Shag. Then he does what he does best. He re­ forms the abstract question into a personal one.)

GARNET [RICHARD]. What would have happened to your

father – if he had sworn to what he did not believe was true? SHAG. (Remembering his father.) He would have ceased to be him­ sel£ (Then, deeper.) I can’t afford to have that happen to me. (Deeper still) I can’t afford to go to hell.

GARNET [RICHARD]. There’s always purgatory.

SHAG. (Immediately resentful) They closed it. Bastards. I don’t miss anything else from the old religion, but how could they take away pur­gatory? Some hope for people who won’t make heaven on the first try.

Mr. Cotey had an exquisite cast of actors to work with in this production and he shows his roots as an actor by giving them space and pace to do their finest work.

Mark Ulrich plays Shag, Jonathan Smoots is Richard (an actor in the company) and Father Garnet, David Cecsarini plays both Robert Cecil, and Nate, another actor; T. Stacy Hicks, whom we never see enough of on Milwaukee stages, plays Armin, an actor in the troupe as well as a delightful Lady Macbeth, Josh Krause plays Sharpe, an actor, Thomas Wintour, a conspirator and King James himself, and Eva Nimmer plays Judith. Watching these six actors on a stage is what makes excellent theater so excellent.

A word must also be said about Mr. Cotey, who cut his teeth on theater in Milwaukee and has moved to Chicago where he has earned his Masters at Northwestern. He is an actor of experience and talent but the path he is paving as a director is filled with the kind of skill you rarely see in such a young director.

An example came in the second act when Mr. Krause, as the imprisoned plotter, is virtually paralyzed by injury as Shag watches him struggle to pick up a pencil to write a final letter to his wife and sons.

It is an impossibly long moment as a hush settled over the audience. You could see people leaning forward, holding their breath, lips tight in concentration and hope as Mr. Cotey let the clock tick as all of the air was sucked out of the room. When the fingers finally touched the pencil, after an impossibly long journey, you could see smiles on faces. It was a glorious moment and one that signals the kind of sensitivity and bravery it takes to be a successful director.

Mr. Cecsarini has built a company that features works that are probing and often have a profound relation to the world in which we live. This is another of those productions.

Equivocation runs through February 25.

Production Credits: Director, Michael Cotey; Scenic Design, Sotirios Livadtis; Lighting Design, Alexander Ridgers;  Costume Designer, Amanda Gladu, Sound Design, Grover Hollway; Properties Design, Heidi Salter and Shannon Sloan-Spice; Fight Director, Christopher Elst; Production Photographer, Ross Zentner; Stage Manager, Jessica Connellly.