Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Impressive Drama: UWM's Senior Capstone presentation

Two Shorts at UWM are striking contemporary dramas

By Russ Bickerstaff
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One of the best dramas on local stages right now is, interesting enough a musical. As In Tandem's Thrill Me edges towards its closing performance this coming Sunday, the UWM theatre department is staging a pair of contemporary dramas every bit as intense as the Leopold and Loeb story playing out at the Tenth Street Theatre downtown.

This past Monday, the UWM theatre department hosted the first of two free performances of a pair of Senior capstone shorts that are being staged in UWM'™s basement studio performance space. The two contemporary dramas are remarkably well-crafted pieces of drama that wouldn'™t seem at all out of place in one of Milwaukee'™s many studio-theatre-based theatre companies. It didn'™t feel like a senior project so much as a fully realized piece of drama. Not bad for a show that is, essentially free.

Directed by Rebecca Holderness, the pair of shorts opens with Heroin-e ”an intriguing piece by Carson Krietzer. Krietzer is probably best known locally as the author of Freakshow--a captivating drama that was sos successfully brought to a rented warehouse space by Youngblood a little while back. Here Krietzer explores the lives of two different women in parallel monologues--”one contemporary, one historical.

Kelliann Karry plays Ellie Nesler-- woman who entered a Jamestown, California courtroom in 1993 and shot a man accused of molesting four boys including her own 6-year old son. Karry adopts a sweet sort of a working-class mother personality about her. Krietzer has no problem reconciling the complexities of a woman who would kill a man in cold blood for molesting her son, do a little bit of time as a folk hero and then end up in prison again on drug charges anyway. Karry takes a fracture folk hero and makes her very approachable in a performance that could've all too easily come across with an unearned sense of drama. 

Brittany McDonald plays the historical end of the drama in the role of, Anna Pankejeff sister of Sergei "œthe wolf man"--one of Sigmund Freud's best-known patients. The Russian aristocrat was given his pseudonym by Freud after a dream Sergei had involving a tree full of white wolves. There'™s a dark poetry in the historical end of the pairing that McDonald renders with impressive complexity. She comes across as a remarkably strong person also possessing a great deal of vulnerability. There'™s a very deep conflict within her that Krietzer brings out in solidly framed narratives that McDonald does an excellent job of bringing to life with a richly-realized Russian accent.

The pairing of poetic early twentieth century European interpersonal conflict with a much more street-level contemporary drama plays out in overlapping segments as one mini-monologue leads to the next. Karry and McDonald take turns communing with their characters in a very tightly-woven piece of drama.

The second short is Raw Youth by Neal Bell. A more traditional drama, Bell'™s Raw Youth concerns three men. Derek Burton Morris plays a father trying to recruit his son for an undercover assignment that will ruin the career of a politician. Kyle Gallagher-Schmitz deftly handles the emotional complexity of a man willing to have sex with a politician in order to get closer to his father. Nicholas Callan Haubner summons a remarkable amount of charm as the politician being set-up for the fall. The plot has clever little complexities that develop a very textured depth beyond the surface tension. The ensemble picks-up on many of those provocative complexities. This is impressively well-constructed drama in a space small enough to lock-in the intensity.

Cheap entertainment doesn'™t have to be superficial. It'™s very rare that a show with this much raw intensity makes it to the stage. That it is also free makes it very highly recommended. It'™s a small space. Therw's no reason it shouldn'™t be packed for its second and final performance on Friday. IF you have no other plans for Friday night, do yourself a favor and see these shorts.

Herion-e and Raw Youth have one more performance this coming Friday the 13th at 7pm. Admission is free.

 

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