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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007

McGivern Tales

THEATER PREVIEW

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Next Act’s production of the holiday comedy Greetings! ends its run Sunday, but scenic designer Rick Rasmussen’s cozy, midcentury domestic set will remain at the Off-Broadway Theatre in the weeks to come, serving as a backdrop for Next Act’s presentation of John McGivern’s Winter Tales. The popular Milwaukee stage actor performs a one-man holiday show Dec. 18-31.

In previous years, McGivern mixed his own memories of the holidays with excerpts from David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries. This year, McGivern’s memories fill the entire performance in a show featuring a great deal of new material. Classic tales of childhood winters in 1960s Milwaukee have expanded to include some moments that are very specific to McGivern, including an account of his mother’s annual basement birthday party.

“My mother’s birthday is Dec. 31,” McGivern says. “I wasn’t clear as to why everyone in the world celebrated my mom’s birthday.”

Fans of McGivern (whose monologues have regularly appeared on 96.5 WKLH FM and local NBC affiliate TMJ4 in the mornings) may be particularly interested in the tale of his first-ever experience onstage at a holiday family get-together. McGivern’s father was a union-organizing JFK Democrat. His mother and her family were Goldwater Republicans. Suffice to say, political discussions during the holidays could get quite heated, spurred-on as they were by brandy old-fashioned sweets.

“My grandma decided there would be no alcohol on Christmas because of alcohol-induced political arguing,” McGivern says, “so my mom produced, directed and made me the star of a ‘family-friendly’ Christmas pageant.

“When the last line was uttered,” McGivern continues, “…the curtain came down, my father broke out the brandy and a round of old-fashioneds were quickly consumed by all (including my grandma).”

His first stage experience may have tanked, but McGivern’s popularity has now reached a level unmatched by almost any other Milwaukee actor. His holiday shows have become something of a local theater tradition, not unlike the Rep’s Christmas Carol.

Some of McGivern’s more popular holiday bits survive into this year’s Winter Tales, as he once again relates memories of going to the “old tree lot” for the classic Christmas tree and later finding strange wooden toys made by his father underneath it Christmas morning. This year McGivern also goes into detail about what current Christmases are like for him.

McGivern first performed Winter Tales in a sold-out, one-night performance at the Racine Theatre Guild last November. In April 2008, McGivern returns to Next Act in its production of The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful.

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