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Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

Bromantic Comedy with Heart and Teeth

Milwaukee Chamber’s ‘Things Being What They Are’

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Billed as a “bromantic comedy,” Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Things Being What They Are delivers lots of laughs along with insight into relationships, identity and male friendship in middle-class America. Written by a female playwright, Wendy MacLeod, this play is incisive in its treatment of male voices and points to the universalities underlying human experience.

The story opens with Bill (Ryan Schabach) moving into a new condo and awaiting his possibly cheating wife when his effusive, intrusive neighbor Jack (Dan Katula) bursts in seeking beer and company. Much humor is derived from Bill’s numerous, non-verbal attempts to get Jack to leave, but small talk gradually gives way to genuine conversation as Bill develops empathy for his philandering, divorced companion who “never cared for children” despite being a father of three.

Michael Cotey makes his directing debut with Chamber, and both actors deliver believable performances with superb comic timing.

The playwright describes Bill as “a man ready to make a commitment and honor that commitment,” and Schabach more than meets these demands. Although much of Bill’s humor comes from his OCD tendencies and moral outrage, Schabach does not play this side of his character to comic excess. Rather, we constantly sense the conflict within this good man, who really has a great deal of sympathy and patience for humanity even in the midst of immense personal jiltedness.

As Jack, Katula likewise finds an ideal balance between the more extreme, comedic facets of his character and those that would tempt us to judge him simply pathetic and pitiable. The character is neither comic boor nor hopeless loser, but a complex and disillusioned man facing his mortality and making the best of a terrible situation that he realizes he created himself.

At the heart of Things Being What They Are is the subject of friendship. Both men long for contact from the significant women in their lives, and yet the play makes this odd couple’s friendship just as profound and restorative as any marriage might be.

Things Being What They Are runs through Dec. 15, at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com.