Tuesday, April 27, 2010

American Fiesta: Another Side of McGivern

Renaissance Theaterworks Latest Offers Another Look At The Talent Of One Of Milwaukees Best-Known Actors.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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John McGivern is a really, exceptionally nice guy. A stage personality as charming as he is approachable, McGivern'’s one-man shows have firmly established a comfortably endearing quality about them. The John McGivern one man show has had the kind of success that lends itself to its own sort of brand-name image. It's easy to overlook that McGivern's style is, essentially his personality. More comfortable than any brand identity, McGivern's stage personality is his identity. The man has been able to make a rather nice living simply being himself and could likely continue to do so for years to come. McGivern’'s latest project American Fiesta with Renaissance Theaterworks brings McGivern into territory not normally seen in a McGivern show. 

Written by Steven Tomlinson, American Fiesta was originally written as a one-man show performed in Austin, Texas by Tomlinson a few years ago. The story follows Steven (played here by McGivern) on a journey across a very divided contemporary America. Steven has just announced his intentions to marry his boyfriend. His relatively conservative parents aren’t sure how to react. The heavily political backdrop of the piece brings the personalities of a reasonably large cast of characters into pretty sharp focus. McGivern’s natural talent for rendering the social side of life onstage serves the play well. The political edge of the play sinks in beyond McGivern’s affable charisma, providing a respectable amount of complexity to fill the narrative. McGivern’s challenging himself to move beyond his usual work and he takes to the challenge quite well. Tomlinson’s voice may not be perfectly suited to McGivern’s but there’s more than enough compatibility between the styles of Tomlinson and McGivern to make the show feel remarkably cohesive.

The play mixes politics with interpersonal conflict, but there’s also some talk of neurology. Steven’s a professional consultant with a job that requires some level of knowledge about how the brain functions. This is a subject that’s always fascinated me. And while Tomlinson’s narrative oversimplifies things a bit for the sake of the narrative, it’s interesting to hear the friendly voice of John McGivern talking about some rather technical bits of neurology, aided as he is by beautiful, rear-projected motion graphics designed by Tim Chiappetta. Chiapetta’s occasional graphics punctuate a stylish Steve Barnes set adorned by the classic Fiestaware that Steven is so in love with. It’s all perfectly lit by Jason Fassl. On the whole, this is a remarkably polished production.

Renaissance TheaterworksAmerican Fiesta runs through May 23rd at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. 

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