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Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

Actors Shine in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s ‘Moon Over the Brewery’

Theater Review

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Poets build castles in the air and lunatics live in them; in Moon Over the Brewery, now playing at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, single mom Miriam Waslyk obsessively paints the full moon and her teenage daughter Amanda is a gifted child whose imaginary friend "Randolph" helps her scare away any man who might come between them. Enter Warren Zimmerman, a mailman with a heart as big as his belly—and with his eye on a place in Miriam's life—and the stage is set for a confrontation between dreams and less-than-perfect reality.

If this sounds like a made-for-TV movie plot tricked out with some fancy metaphors, no wonder: Playwright Bruce Graham has lots of television credentials. That the production is engaging, touching and funny is largely thanks to its great onstage talent. Amanda Hull nails every teenage sigh and eye-roll, from devilish looks to the authenticity of youthful remorse. The charismatic Melinda Pfundstein's openhearted performance perfectly captures the struggle between Miriam's love for her daughter and her need for a good man. As Warren, Dan Katula proves himself worthy of Miriam’s love, creatively challenging the specter of Randolph on his own turf. Travis Knight gives the sarcastic imaginary friend an edge of danger, while looking fabulous in a series of fanciful outfits.

The ensemble's craftsmanship and love for their art make us care about these characters, seeing in them our own confused, lovable selves. Director Angela Iannone shoots straight for the heart, and scores big time: Many in the theater appeared deeply moved. Sound designer Cassy Schillo employs only songs about the moon, from Beethoven to Van Morrison; instead of simply being cute, this really serves to support the drama.

Moon Over the Brewery plays at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre through Dec. 13.