Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gallery Night And Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

The Stage On The Other Side Of Popular Reality

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Marketing Director Cara McMullin sent out an email to those attending last night’s opening night performance of The Sweetest Swing In Baseball. It warned of parking difficulties that usually go along with Gallery Night in the Third Ward—Milwaukee Chamber’s home at the Broadway Theater Center being deep in the heart of the third ward, parking was going to be particularly difficult that night.

 My wife and I made it in a couple of hours in advance of the 8pm show. After dinner, we ended up wandering about in the Third Ward a bit before the show. The MUTES were there hanging out in front of a pizza truck. We said hello to Jeremy Eineichner and Alice Wilson—they were there in full costume promoting their show at the Alchemist next weekend. Evidently Eineichner’s also in Alchemist’s upcoming staging of Fahrenheit 451 this coming July . . . evidently the director saw his performance as Renfield in Dracula and simply had to cast him . .  .

Walking around in the unique atmosphere of gallery night was an interesting lead-in to a play about an artist who finds herself becoming suicidal after a particularly bad showing at a gallery. The atmosphere in the Third Ward for the show’s opening night made Milwaukee Chamber’s production of The Sweetest Swing In Baseball seem a bit like an environmental piece. Sure we had to get there early to get decent parking, but it was a great chance to immerse in a little gallery culture before the show. Just before entering the theatre, we found ourselves in a space not far from the theatre—I saw painted images of a carrot surrounded by people and a flotilla of people being held at bay in a leash held by a dog. I saw a woman talking to a guy in the gallery atmosphere and imagined that she had painted those pieces—that he was trying to impress her with his perspective on them as she humored him—busily preoccupied with questions of  whether or not anything was going to sell that night. It was an interesting lead-in to the play . . .

We crossed the street and went in to the theatre . . . the lobby of which had featured work by Nicholas Harazin—a member of the cast of the show. Evidently the talented actor has really interesting eye for texture as well. They were interesting abstracts with a very rich, organic feel.

After a typically charming curtain speech by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Artistic Director C. Michael Wright, the show faded-into the stage. There was Mary MacDonald Kerr waiting around nervously on a big, sterile stage in character as an artist hiding out in the back room of a gallery. Her intelligent nervousness was brilliantly mirrored by the comically vacuous confidence of a brilliantly funny Laura Gray as an ostentatious “gallerist” named Rhonda.

Rebecca Gilman’s The Sweetest Swing In Baseball captures a mood—a frame of mind not often committed to stage, film or video. The main character decides to commit suicide, and then doesn’t actually do it. The realization that an intended suicide is not going to happen provides a striking clarity about things—it’s an opportunity to completely restructure everything in a frame of mind that is completely removed from any kind of preconceptions. When you’ve just come back from suicide, you end up on the other side of popular reality.

Even your own identity is unfixed. Everything is frighteningly, beautifully possible. I know because I’d been there Sophomore year in high school and had talked to numerous people who had also been there years ago when I did some volunteer work. It’s a mood—a frame of mind which is rarely committed to stage, film or video. And Milwaukee Chamber does a brilliant job of bringing that frame of mind to the stage with Gilman’s script. There’s a unspeakably beautiful intellectual vulnerability about Kerr’s performance that brings that frame of mind to the stage remarkably well. For me it was kind of a vivid reminder of a particularly cold day in the early ‘90’s . . . and after the show, I’m brielfy talking to actor Robert W.C. Kennedy about his recent experiences behind the camera—a quick hello to actress Amy Geyser and I’ve just had a fantastic night with my wife in the Third Ward.

So I guess you could say it was one of those nights . . . but I'm not quite sure exactly what I mean by that. I seem to have lost the right frame of mind to be able to put it into words. 

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s The Sweetest Swing In Baseball runs through May 2nd at the Broadway Theatre Center. A comprehensive review of the show runs in the next Shepherd-Express.   

 

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