Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

7 Stories In A Week of Four Openings

Next Act's Next Show

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Somewhere amidst researching my theatre preview column for next week, I realized that
Next Act’s production of Seven Stories is the one show I’m looking forward to this month more than any other. Yes, Carte Blanche has an opening next week as well, but I’ve already seen a different production of The Producers recently with the Skylight and so I’m not looking forward to it as much as I might’ve been . . . and yes, Angela Iannone directing Moon Over The Brewery with Milwaukee Chamber should be a lot of fun, but there’s something insidiously clever about Panych’s 20-year-old comedy.

The idea is this: a guy stands on the 7th story ledge of an apartment complex, intending to jump. Before he can do so, he gets caught-up in the lives of the people who live on the fourth floor of the building—many of whom seem completely oblivious to the fact that the guyin question happens to be standing on a ledge. It’s a clever premise with more than a few shades of darkness. Just precisely my kind of thing.

In the process of tracking down info about the show, I found a number of different reviews of a number of different productions of the play. I also happened to find video footage of a 20th anniversary production of the play that closed just this past Sunday in the playwright’s home town of Calgary. Here’s a link to the footage.

At first glance, the Theatre Calgary production looks good. Ken McDonald’s set design of the exterior of the seventh story looks suitably surreal. Between that and the costuming for the guy on the ledge, the clip has the visual feel of a Magritte painting. This is perfectly okay for me: I like Magritte. Magritte’s visuals always feel like a dream. The problem with the production as seen in the clip is . . . it looks like a Magritte painting and it feels like a Magritte painting, but it moves around between the one-liners like an early rehearsal. The comic rhythm of the lines is completely hashed-up. To be fair, this footage was part of a promotional video series available online, so it was probably taken during final dress rehearsals without an audience, so there’s going to be kind of an artificial, kind of stilted feel to it, but still . . .

What I’m really looking forward to about the Next Act production is the comic talent in the cast . . . Robert W.C. Kennedy is an interesting guy and always fun to see onstage. He’s playing a few roles. Doug Jarecki plays a few roles and he’s managed to make it into nearly ALL of the best comedies staged in Milwaukee this year. Tami Workentin and Debra Babich play the female roles and they’ve both proven themselves as comic talents in various productions in the recent past. And then there’s Mark Ulrich. The nam sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it until I read the bio. He’s the guy (I believe he’s a Chicago-based actor) who played St. Ignatius in Next Act’s Lombardi last year . . . a really solid talent who should work really well in a role that involves so much subtlety . . . for the most part, he’s kind of the straight man reacting to the strangeness of everyone else, which is pretty ironic considering his position. In the press release, Director David Cecsarini has this to say on the subject of Mark Ulrich: “I don’t know that author Morris Panych is aware of Mark Ulrich or his work, but it sure seems like this play was written with Mark in mind. I have a feeling that I’ll be doing as much laughing as directing.” Very cool. And Cecsarini has put together some really great comedies before, so there’s little doubt the comic rhythm of the show should be really well orchestrated. In a weekend with four other openings, this is the one I’m really looking forward to.

Hopefully a bit of clever numerological foreshadowing of subtle comic elements in the actual production, Next Act’s production of 7 Stories opens on the thirteenth of this month (a Friday) and closes on the thirteenth of next month. Cute. A full preview of the show runs in next week's Shepherd-Express.

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