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Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008

The Struggles of Modern Man

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   Jeff Daniels, best known for his work as an actor in films like Dumb and Dumber and Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo, deserves more attention as a playwright. But don't expect it to happen anytime soon: Daniels, the witty mind behind Escanaba in Da Moonlight and a half-dozen other comic plays, is scheduled to appear in no less than four major films next year. This week, however, his comedy The Vast Difference makes its way to downtown Milwaukee in a modest production by Windfall Theatre (Sept. 26 through Oct. 11 at Village Church Arts, 130 E. Juneau Ave.).

  The Windfall production stars Thomas Rosenthal as George Noonan, a flight attendant for a small airline in the Midwest. A visit to the urologist turns into a deeply reflective psychotherapy session as Noonan struggles to come to terms with life and the nature of being a man in the modern world.

  Rosenthal, a playwright himself, has proven to be a reliable comic talent offstage, most memorably in the clever dialogue of his Naughty Angel, which debuted with Windfall a few years ago. More recently, he's shown a knack for serious drama onstage, particularly as the male lead in Windfall's A Lie of the Mind last year. In The Vast Difference, he will be taking center stage once more, this time in a role that explores some of the psychological difficulties facing men in modern times.

  Rosenthal should have little difficulty mastering the play's sophisticated humor, and he'll be joined by a talented cast familiar to the Windfall stage, including Robert W.C. Kennedy, Joe Fransee and Jennifer LaPorte.

  Windfall newcomer Brent Hazelton, who regularly serves as an artistic associate with the Milwaukee Rep, is set to direct.

  "I think it's a hell of a lot of fun," Hazelton says of directing. "It's a play that I've aspired to work on for quite some time, and now I've got the remarkably good fortune to be directing it for a theater company that I've admired for a long time."

  Hazelton's fresh perspective should prove interesting. The Vast Difference is often staged as a light comedy about being a guy, but Hazelton is looking to add more depth to his production. He's using a new stage and seating arrangement for the show to maximize the intimate space at Village Church Arts. With this space and this cast, it sounds like he has all the makings for an insightful comic look at modern masculinity.

  Also opening this weekend: Hansberry-Sands presents Touch Me in the Morning on Sept. 26 at the Marcus Center's Vogel Hall. The show runs through Oct. 5.

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