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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dramatic Independence

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It's wonderful to see veteran theater companies weathering our current economic woes, but this success is only part of the bigger picture for Milwaukee's theater scene. The prosperity of smaller, independent companies is absolutely essential for theater in Milwaukee to thrive. Without a board of directors or numerous other concerns facing established theater companies, independent productions can take chances on shows that must reach an alternative market in order to be successful. By drawing new people to live theater, independent productions can add to the total size of the audience in town.

Venues like the Alchemist Theatre in Bay View continue to support independent shows. The Alchemist's latest debut, The Temples of Nadir, is a drama written, directed and produced by Eric Theis. Set in Asheville, N.C., in 1889, the play centers around an African-American songwriter who is struggling to build a musical institute that will allow young African Americans to develop artistic talents that can serve as an escape from a life of sharecropping and manual labor. It's a compelling premise that could prove to be one of this season's best surprises.

The Temples of Nadir runs April 16 to May 2 at the Alchemist Theatre.

In the realm of more established work, Milwaukee ChamberTheatre opens its production of Donald Margulies' comic drama Brooklyn Boy this week. The show stars Jim DeVita as a Brooklyn native who, despite finding success as an author of autobiographical work, struggles to connect with people in his home borough, including his father, played by longtime Brooklyn resident Robert Spencer.

DeVita, who actually is a Long Island native, is returning to Milwaukee Chamber Theatre after 16 years. He used to regularly appear with the company following his graduation from the UW-Milwaukee Professional Theatre Training Program in 1987. Spencer's most memorable roles in recent years include a shrewd Russian negotiator in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's A Walk in the Woods and the lovable title character in Milwaukee Rep's production of Tuesdays With Morrie. DeVita, a resident actor with the American Players Theatre, and Spencer, who has been a major talent in Milwaukee for years, are two of the best actors in the state and provide reason enough for anybody to attend this show.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's Brooklyn Boy runs April 16 to May 3 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Cabot Theatre.