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Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012

Chamber Theatre’s Emotional ‘Broken and Entered’

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Vern and Wally, adult brothers who haven’t lived together in years, return to cohabitate in their childhood home following their mother’s death. Outside, the neighborhood is falling apart, despite appearances of gentrification. Inside, their grip on reality is crumbling even more so, despite the siblings’ effort to somehow make sense of their lives. It’s the ghosts of the past that haunt them, and they can be found in the interior of the brothers’ minds and in the exterior of the fading façade called “home.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre staged a reading of the Kurt McGinnis Brown play-in-progress in 2010. Now, as a world premiere, Broken and Entered details the two brothers and their interaction with Jamila, a bright African-American woman who’s rich, conservative and determined to take back the neighborhood she and her parents left—with bad memories. Jamila has her own ghosts to deal with as well. With all of these spirits crowding the room, we can feel the claustrophobia set in, setting up a highly combustible atmosphere.

The brothers decide that by stealing only what they need by “breaking and entering,” they will somehow purge their past (abusive father missing in action, mother’s downward spiral into suicide). But within the two-hour (with 15-minute intermission) production, the descent into the maelstrom becomes too obvious, especially given the number of “coincidences” that occur (no spoilers here).

Playwright McGinnis Brown sacrifices plot and character development for these dubious coincidences. Fortunately, director Suzan Fete makes the most of the script, which is enhanced by a fine ensemble of actors. Marti Gobel provides the much-needed “calm” in the center of this storm of emotions as Jamila, while Jonathan Leslie Wainwright (Vern) and Andrew Edwin Voss (Wally) work well together as believable brothers. Voss and Gobel nicely balance the love/hate relationship as their attraction grows. Wainwright’s Wally is fascinating to watch in Act Two as he steadily unravels as the walls of his mind slowly cave in.

Broken and Entered
runs through Oct. 14 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. For more information, call 414-291-7800.
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