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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Compelling Cast Boosts UWM's 'Nature of Mutation'

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UW-Milwaukee's appealing production of John Walch's The Nature of Mutation tells the tale of a private prep school that is given a large donation in exchange for teaching “intelligent design” as part of its curriculum.

The idea is topical, but as it plays out, the script starts to feels like a weak collection of allegories. The school gives students smartphones that become an analogy for religion. A rampant dog represents the first man to identify himself as an agnostic. Chalk is everywhere—and it's symbolic.

But there's also genius to UWM's staging. Under the direction of Bill Watson and the stylish costuming of Pamela J. Rehberg, the cast coalesces into a unit that provides compelling dramatic moments in the service of a less-than-inspired script.

Cheong-Hyeon Park plays the son of a woman looking to change the curriculum in honor of his older brother. Park is charming as a teenager looking to find meaning in a dark world. Julia Huryk matches his charm as an impoverished girl paying lip service to Christianity in the interest of getting a scholarship. It is fun to watch Huryk, who has a very clever grasp of subtle comedy. Glenn Widdicombe makes a memorable appearance as Huxley, a mid-19th-century agnostic biologist. It can be difficult to portray an intellectual hero in a dramatic way, but Widdicombe does so with deftness.

UWM's The Nature of Mutation closed March 11. The university's next theatrical production is Mr. Marmalade, the story of a girl with an adult imaginary friend. That show runs March 30-April 1. For ticket reservations, call 414-229-4308.