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Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010

Next Act’s ‘Four Places’ Reveals Complexity of Family

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Next Act Theatre opens its season with Four Places, a family drama infused with dark comedy. On a nearly bare set, Mary MacDonald Kerr and Mark Ulrich play a brother and sister driving together on their way to pick up their mother for lunch. Chairs represent the car’s interior, and Kerr drives with hands resting on an unseen steering wheel. Milwaukee theater veteran Flora Coker plays the mother. When the family reaches the restaurant, four chairs are organized around a table onstage. Laura Gray plays a waitress.

On the surface, it’s a simple, minimal production of a drama about an adult son and daughter talking with their mother. But the apparent simplicity hides a complex psychological drama mixed with a healthy dose of dark humor. Director David Cecsarini works with a really talented ensemble to render a nuanced, sophisticated portrayal of siblings dealing with a shared past that haunts them well into adulthood.

Coker’s sweetness as the mother hides something altogether more sinister. Kerr brings vulnerability to her role, as the daughter’s concern for her mother touches on a bewildering family dynamic. Ulrich portrays the son with a calm exterior covering something more vicious underneath. The waitress is a brilliant addition to the cast on the part of playwright Joel Drake Johnson. Gray plays the role with a charming, accommodating personality, allowing the deeper level of her involvement to sink in around the edges.

Next Act’s production of Four Places runs through Oct. 10 at the Tenth Street Theatre.

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