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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

Rare Performances

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They’re probably the easiest theater companies to overlook, since they only have one or two shows per season. But when local companies like Kopper Bear and Soulstice Theatre do make it to the stage, they do so with consistently thought-provoking performances that rarely fail to impress on some level. Considering how rare their performances are, it seems like an anomaly that both Soulstice and Kopper Bear are opening shows within a week of each other.

Founded more than a decade ago in Boulder, Colo., Kopper Bear has since migrated to the Studio Theatre of the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. Its 2005 production of How I Learned to Drive featured a talented cast that was cleverly orchestrated by Howard Bashinski, Kopper Bear’s artistic director. Its 2006 production of Proof was equally memorable.

On Feb. 1, Kopper Bear opens its production of Three Viewings by Jeffrey Hatcher. The piece consists of three monologues. (Yes there have been a lot of monologues in Milwaukee lately). The first monologue is “Tell-Tale,” featuring Brian Faracy as a funeral director named Emil. Emil speaks to someone who can’t hear him—a frequent mourner at his establishment with whom he has become infatuated. It’s a cleverly episodic bit that sets the stage for the other two pieces. Faracy, who starred as Uncle Peck in Kopper Bear’s How I Learned To Drive, has a cleverly unassuming stage presence that should serve the role well.

The second piece, “The Thief of Tears,” features Amy Geyser as Mac, a young woman who snatches jewelry from corpses. Mac is a tough girl who describes her profession in detail. Geyser is an interesting fit for the role. As evidenced by her recent appearance in Bunny Gumbo’s Combat Theatre show, Geyser has an overpowering cuteness that should make for a potentially brilliant performance when paired with such a dark role.

The show closes with a bit titled “Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti,” starring Elaine Wyler as a widow who discovers certain details about her husband after his death. Three Viewings runs through Feb. 17. Operating out of the Marian Center for Nonprofits, Soulstice Theatre staged a vividly visceral production of Margaret Edson’s intellectually emotional drama Wit last April. They return on Feb. 7 with a romantic comedy—Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing. It’s a love story about two teenagers growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in East London. The adolescent Steve (Chris Darnieder) is jostled out of his home by domestic unrest, only to be taken in by Sandra, the woman next door, played by Soulstice alumna Jillian Smith.

Over time, Sandra’s bookish son Jamie (Zachary J. Kunde) comes to realize that he is falling for Steve. It’s a delicate comedy that Soulstice should be able to handle well if its deft production of Wit is any indicator. Beautiful Thing runs through Feb. 16.