With the Stiemke Theater occupied by a production that requires only one actor, the Milwaukee Rep has freed itself to utilize a large number of Resident Acting Company members for its season-opening show at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. With a cast consisting of some of the best Milwaukee-based professional actors, including Torrey Hanson, Deborah Staples, the Pickerings (James, Rose and Steve), Gerard Neugent and others, the Rep should have a hit on its hands with State of the Union, a political ensemble drama.
The play, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, is set in the political landscape of the mid-1940s United States. Having been through many years of a Democratic White House, the Republican Party entrusts its future to a political outsider, a businessman by the name of Grant Matthews (Lee Ernst), who must deal with the problems of running for office while coming to terms with marital difficulties with his wife, Mary (Laura Gordon).
It's easy to see why the Rep would choose to stage State of the Union, as the plot is bursting with parallels to this year's historic presidential election. There is, however, the question of whether the theatergoing public will want to escape constant campaign ads and up-to-the-minute election coverage by heading to the theater to watch a drama about a presidential election.
The opening month of the Milwaukee theater season won't crown a single winner like the election will, but people are voting on what they want to see every time they buy a ticket. With that in mind, let's look at the presidential ticket offered by the Rep's State of the Union.
Rep Resident Actor Lee Ernst is set to portray candidate Grant Matthews. Ernst seems like a good candidate for the role of the plain-spoken political outsider who has been thrust into the forefront of contemporary politics. His performance in the Rep's Norman Conquests last year shows that his vulnerable stage presence can do wonders for a role like this.
Rep Resident Actress Laura Gordon, who has proven to be a very talented actress and director, will play Mary Matthews. Gordon brings a clever strength to almost every role she plays, whether it's the queen of England or Scrooge's oppressed maid Mrs. Dilber. This time around she'll be portraying an estranged wife who must decide how she wants to relate to her husband's new life, so she'll be required to temper her strength with vulnerability. It should make for an interesting challenge.
The Rep's production of State of the Union runs through Oct. 12 at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater.