Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009

The Moon and the Mood

Intimate Proximity and Milwaukee Chamber's New Show

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Milwaukee Chamber Theatre continues a really good season with its latest—a production of William Inge’s Moon Over The Brewery—a highly accessible contemporary comedy about a woman her daughter and her daughter’s imaginary friend. Direted by Angela Iannone, the play gracefully glides through a very predictable plot arc that is nonetheless very, very satisfying.

From the moment one sets foot in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre, the moon motif is almost overpowering. The set is dominated by moon imagery. The thrust seating arrangement used for the production cuts a kind of crescent across the space. They’ve chosen a number of clever bits of moon related between scenes. Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon opens the production. During intermission, there’s Van Morrison’s Moondance …intermission ends with Al Jarreau’s theme to Moonlighting. There’s a lot of attention to detail in every aspect of the production.

Right away we’re introduced to Amanda Waslyk—a precocious young schoolgirl who opens the play reluctantly engaging in a conversation with a guy named Randolph—who ends up being her imaginary friend from way back. Amanda Waslyk is played by UWM BFA student Amanda J. Hull. Randollph is played by UWM graduate Travis A. Knight. It is entirely possible that the only real problem with the performance is Hull’s portrayal of Waslyk. It’s not uncommon for a college student to be playing someone substantially younger than herself in a professional production, but I personally always have a degree of difficulty completing the illusion of youth on my end. Perhaps its all that time spent watching First Stage shows—I know there’s talent in town that would be the right age to play Waslyk and I know it’s entirely impractical for a primary school actress to perform in a professional play like this, but it’s still kind of a distraction for me . . . and Hull’s a talented actress, but she’s playing the youth of the character just a bit pout of synch with her level of intelligence. Yes, the character Amanda Waslyk has an extremely childish side, but the actress Amanda Hull doesn’t seem to be completely reconciling that childhood immaturity with the pragmatic intelligence of a young girl who balances her mothers finances and memorizes the dictionary in her spare time. A role like this would be a challenge for any actress and Hull handles it remarkably well, but there are a number of moments where the character gets lost between immaturity and intelligence.

Travis Knight’s performance as Randolph adds some depth to the character of Amanda. Being a part of her imagination, Randolph is a dynamic part of her personality—a far less mature side of her that’s exceedingly jealous and excessively romantic. This is not Knight’s first time onstage playing a fantasy figure. He recently played a similar, albeit far more adult role in In Tandem’s The Girl In The Frame. Here he’s given quite a bit more space to develop a personality with some depth to it that serves as a substantial portion of the character of Waslyk—her desire for perfection coupled with a love of literature. Knight’s poise in the role anchors the character of Amanda—creating a balanced duality that is able to overcome the challenges of the character.

As fun as the dynamic between Hull and Knight is, the real magic in this production occurs between Melinda Pfundstein as Amanda’s mother and Dan Katula as the mailman she’s dating. It’s kind of rare that one gets a chance to see a pair of actors with years of stage experience play two characters who are falling in love. The intimacy of the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre is maximized by the use of a thrust stage that gives nearly everyone in the audience an incredibly close look at the subtlety of the emotion going on. Katula’s sense of comic timing and Pfundstein’s compelling sense of vulnerable strength make for a really good heart to the production.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s
production of Moon Over The Brewery runs through December 13th at the Broadway theatre Center. A concise review of the show runs in this week's Shepherd-Express.

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