Monday, Aug. 9, 2010

2009-2010 Year In Review Pt. 2

Another Year of Transition for Milwaukee Theatre

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The second half of the 2009/2010 theatre year has had some really interesting points. Here are some highlights:

JANUARY: ONE MAN--ONE WOMAN DRAMAS

January featured a pair of compelling one man/ one woman dramas in the heart of the theatre district. Renaissance Theaterworks featured Carrie Coon and Brian Mani as a girl and the man who she had her first sexual encounter with long before she turned 18. Set in a squalid factory break room, there was a real sense of imprisonment that played out between Mani and Coon in a profoundly provocative drama.

Only a few weeks after Renaissance opened Blackbird, Next Act Theatre brought its own one man-one woman drama to the stage as David Cecsarini and  Angela Iannone starred in Purgatorio. Directed by Mary MacDonald Kerr, the drama featured husband and wife somewhat unwittingly/somewhat unwillingly struggling against each other in the afterlife. The cool antiseptic precision of the production was an interesting contrast to the Renaissance show.

The following month, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre would open yet another single man/single woman show as C. Michael Wright and Jacque Troy starred in a studio theatre staging of Duet for One.

January also saw Youngblood’s Red Light Winter briefly flash across the stage in a run cut short by a brutal attack on one of the actors in the show. Yonugblood has announced that it will be re-mounting the show later this year.

FEBRUARY: SHAKESPEARE, THE DEVIL AND MORE

In one of the best actor/character pairings all season, Jonathan Smoots played the devil in the Milwaukee Rep’s production of The Seafarer. Set in Ireland, the devil played cards on Christmas Eve with colorful characters played by Lee Ernst, James Pickering, Chris Tarjan and Jonathan Gillard Daly. Easily the Rep’s best of the season.

Two different Shakespeare shows opened up the same weekend in February—Off The Wall presented Jeremy Welter as a decidedly modern Macbeth introduced in a gas mask as Jordan Gwiazdowski’s Benedick squared-off against a dynamically appealing Emily Craig as Beatrice in Carte Blanche’s Much Ado About Nothing. The Shakespeare-heavy month also found the Boulevard Theatre staging All’s Well That Ends Well with impressive performances by Shannon Nettesheim as Helena and David Flores as Parolles.

February also found a couple of shows with really good ensembles making it to the stage—Windfall Theatre’s production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters had a cast that included such talents as David Ferrie, Robert W.C. Kennedy, Liz Mistele Thomas Dillon and Thomas Rosenthal. Later-on in the month, In Tandem staged a production of Neil Haven’s Stuck which featured comic talents Doug Jarecki,

MARCH: NEW AND UNTESTED

March saw the emergence of a number of new theatre pieces that met the stage with mixed results.  Musician Vlado Kreslin joined Theatre Gigante for Three Other Sisters—a new work by Isablle Kralj and Mark Anderson based on an old Montenegran legend staged at the Off-Broadway Theatre. The same space would play host to a decidedly more bizarre pseudo-semi-comedy late on the same month as the shiny, new Bite Theatre presented the all-new Robert Lawrence shorts program Kill The Rich Kill The Poor! Vince Figueroa’s ‘80’s retro comedy 8-Bit Warrior at the Alchemist Theatre. The show included memorable performances Rob Mass as the title character, Matt Kemple as a cheesy villain and Anne Graff LaDisa as a Molly Ringwald-esque female lead. UWM presented new musical revue theatre projects by Liz Shipe and Amanda J. Hull in a fun, little program called Letters To No One/Purple Hearts. On the other end of the commercial spectrum, Joseph Hanreddy’s farewell project for the Milwaukee Rep opened—The Seven Keys To Slaughter Peak was a fun, if somewhat superficial comedy featuring really good performances by the Rep resident actors Hanreddy had been working with for so many years in a new script written by Hanreddy.

The Boulevard Theatre also presented a relatively new script with Patricia Durante & Betsy Tuxill’s It’s Your Mother—a comic tribute to mother-daughter relations.


APRIL: FOUR BRILLIANT LEAD PERFORMANCES

Every now and then an actor gives a performance in a lead role onstage that makes one wish they were there much more often . . . such was the case with four different performances in April . . .

Robert Spencer gave a brilliant performance as an actor blacklisted by the HUAC in Next Act Theatre’s  The Value of Names at the Off-Broadway Theatre.

Only a few days later, Mary MacDonald Kerr put in an equally breathtaking performance as an artist trying to find cope with life through feigning schizophrenia in Milwaukee Chamber's The Sweetest Swing In Baseball. Her performance was easily one of my favorites this season.

John McGivern’s talent for engaging an audience in a cast of one was put to good use in Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of American Fiestaa nuanced drama that McGivern brought to the stage quite well.

Elsewhere in the month, Nick Hamburg made amemorable trip to the stage as a particularly animalistic Stanley Kowalski in Carte Blanche Studios’ Streetcar Named Desire. The shattering of “unbreakable” plastic dishes. The brutal aggression of . . . eating and other things . . . this was a really interesting performance.

Youngblood Theatre continued a nearly flawless season with a captivating production of Mickle Maher’s offbeat Shakespeare/superhero drama Spirits To Enforce

 

MAY: DOUBLE SKYLIGHT, DOUBLE UWM  AND A LOVE SONG

Some of the more memorable bits of May came in pairs. The Skylight Opera Theatre closed-out an anniversary season with an enjoyable RENT on the main stage and an equally enjoyable Evening With Gilbert and Sullivan in the black box. UWM also had a pair of really good shows with Noel Coward’s Hay Fever and a group of one-acts under the title Five Plays You Didn’t Know.  UWM continues a recent trend in developing theatre talent. Emerging talents like Max Hultquist, Meghan Kaminsky and Marques Causey join recent UWM-established talents like Rich Gillard, Tommy Stevens, Grace DeWolff and others.

Soulstice Theatre launched its single best show of the season in May as it brought Love Song to the stage. Relative newcomer Jason Thompson joined a cast including Matthew Michaelis, Jillian Smith and Liz Mistele in a compelling look into the nature of romance and sanity on an intimate stage. 

 

Wisconsin Hybrid Teatre continued a high standard of straight-ahead comedy with its music-less production of Carmen featuring  a cast that included WHT talents Jim Owczarski, Char Paylbicke joined by comic talents Beth Lewinski, Vince Figueroa and Ruth Arnell. The only thing missing from the production was WHT regular Randall T. Anderson . . 

 

JUNE: LIGHT COMEDY/DARK DRAMA

June was a weird mix of the very comic with the very serious. Sketch comedy group Broadminded staged their single best show yet with the stylishly sophisticated Science and Surplus while Alchemist Theatre presented the first in a pair of dystopian dramas—the incongruously good Closetland starring Aaron Kopec and Jenna Wetzel.

Shakespeare also hit in oddly out of synch stereo as relatively new theatre groups The World’s Stage and Optimist Theatre presented drastically different Shakespearian stagings. The World’s Stage opened the first of two shows for the summer with its production of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the 10th Street Theatre.

On the other side of town, The Optimist Theatre presented a highly successful free, outdoor performance of The Tempest on the campus of Alverno.   

JULY: THE NEW CONTINUES

The final month of the 2010-2011 theatre year featured a number of shows from emerging talent including Bad Example’s Fahrenheit 451, Sparkling Orange Soda’s The Wolf, The Princess and the Revolver and The World’s Stage’s second production of the summer—an interesting Neil Simon curiosity called The Star-Spangled Girl.

Youngblood Theatre rounded out its season with the world premiere of Drive Me To Arson--a flawed but haunting psychodrama in the dreamy confines of UWM’s basement black box. 

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