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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Escaping Memories

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The Milwaukee Rep closes its season at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater with a pair of world premieres. Next week, The Rep stages the world premiere of Charles Randolph-Wright’s The Night is a Child. And next month, The Rep opens its production of Armadale, Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of the 19th-century Wilkie Collins novel of the same name.

Randolph-Wright, a man of many talents, enjoyed one of his biggest successes as a playwright with Blue, which opened Off-Broadway in 2001. The Night is a Child is a story of personal transformation through vacation, perhaps inadvertently paralleling the theme touched on in the Rep’s production of Enchanted April last month. Elizabeth Norment stars as Harriet, a mother who lost her son to a senseless act of violence.

Hoping to escape from the pain by traveling, she packs her bags and leaves for Brazil without telling anyone. Randolph-Wright said he was inspired to write the story while vacationing in Brazil and watching television during an anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Seeing such a horrific story about the shootings in the idyllic atmosphere of Brazil led Randolph-Wright to create a work that is driven by memories of tragedy juxtaposed against one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

“Brazil is where I go to escape, where I go to breathe,” the playwright says. “Magic and beauty permeate that country—the people, the music, the food, the religion, the sports, the dance. It is an extraordinary world.”

Fantasy plays against reality on a stage lifted by the warm music of Sergio Mendez. Randolph-Wright’s deep love for Brazil should show quite clearly in a script brought to the stage by accomplished director Timothy Douglas. As the female lead, Norment will likely be left to carry much of the heavy drama as she makes her journey into a foreign paradise in hopes of getting away from the pain of her memory. Norment, who has previously appeared with the Rep, also has made regular appearances in bit parts on television over the past two decades. She has shown national audiences a very palpable presence in the margins of various episodes of “Law & Order,” “Party of Five” and numerous other shows. She brings more than enough gravitas to hold down the center of a serious drama. Norment is joined by a substantial cast that includes Rep resident actors Jonathan Gillard Daly and Lanise Antoine Shelley.

Often on the edges of the stage herself, Shelley plays an interesting character here—that of a mystifying Brazilian woman named Bia who entices Harriet to come with her to the paradise of Ipanema. Shelley has an energy about her that should be fun to see in a role like this.

In the course of the play, Harriet is pursued by her surviving children, Brian and Jane, played by Tyler Pierce and Monette Magrath, respectively. The fragmented family searches for absolution in a place distinctly unlike home in what should be a very interesting premiere. The Night Is A Child runs March 12 though April 13.

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