Year In Review Part One: August Through November
A look back at the 2011-2012 Theatre Year In Milwaukee
Being a theatre critic who attends 100+ shows per year, my year is defined a bit differently than a standard calendar will allow for. My year starts in August with the first shows of the new theatre season, continues through May as regular season switches gears for the summer shows and finally ends in July as the new theatre season gets underway the following month . . . and so each year I like to take a moment to look back at the previous year . . .
The new theatre year started as it always does with the Milwaukee Comedy Festival.
Last year's festival took place at ComedySportz, which had a genuinely open atmosphere about it. The fact that it was also where many of the Milwaukee sketch and improv groups performed regularly made it feel a bit more like home than it has in years past.
Youngblood Theatre had a couple of shows that month. Tess Cinpinski and Rob Maas put together a memorable romantic chemistry with Cruel Playground Injuries and Andrew Edwin Voss and Evan Koepnick managed an entirely different kind of energy in a beautifully-chosen space at Milwaukee Parks' Trimborn Farm.
Add to that Fools For Tragedy's stylish debut with In My Mind's Eye and a visit from the Hinterlands Ensemble and last August was one of the better months for fresh material. An excellent way to start the year.
September opened with a program featuring a really powerful world debut of a "lost" short by Tennessee Wiliams. 100 Year Portrait of Tennessee Williams was a fitting tribute to the playwright with some remarkably brilliant bits of comedy. This will likely prove to be the first AND final production of Fresh Page Productions as co-founder Kyle Queenan is moving off to California. (Just remember Mr. Queenan, every time a talented actor moves out of town . . . a cute furry thing on the east side gets kicked. I'm just saying . . .)
The other really powerful opening last September had to be Alchemist Theatre's Faust: An Evening at Mephisto Theatre. It was a monster to write, direct and act in, but the whole thing came together in beautiful form through multiple stages all over the building which houses the Alchemist Theatre. The Alchemist's Aaron Kopec is planning another such show, but it won't be for a while. Really impressive performances by a host of actors made this one of the best dramas all year.
October was a great month for comedy on local stages with a few hints of some profoundly strong drama as well. Carte Blanche Studios staged a remarkably clever piece with the comic send-up of Hitler in Mein Kampf Jordan Gwiazdowski plays a man quite a bit older than himself as Hitler's Jewish roommate, but he made the role work remarkably well. And taking the role himself after a sudden cast change, Jimmy Dragolovich was cleverly comic in the role of Hitler.
Theatrical Tendencies staged its best work to date with the Hollywood romance The Little Dog Laughed. A very tight and very well-asembled comic cast including Nate Press and Allie Beckman rendered the story of a rising Holltywood star who had a potential PR problem with his sexuality. Brilliantly comic and still stands out in my mind in a year of great comedies.
Renaissance Theaterworks also staged a memorable Hollywood-based comedy in Gorgons. Jennfer Rupp and Marcella Kearns starred as aging actresses working out old demons on the set of a bad drama. Very funny stuff. I always love Kearns onstage. She's got a really brilliant sense of comedy.
Also of not in comedy, Boulevard Theatre staged a really solidly executed production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest which opened in October. The cast included really impressive performances by Tess Cinpinski, Megan Kaminski and the now exiting Kyle Queenan.
In the dramatic edge of things, there were a couple of really great pieces in October as well. Ruth Schudson continued a long and distinguished career in the Milwaukee theatre with her performance as the title character in a Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production of Driving Miss Daisy. Schudson put in a typically excellent performance alongside Michael A. Torrey & Jonathan West.
Brittany McDonald brought a captivating strength to her role in UWM's The Sins of Sor Juana. Every year there's another 2 or 3 dazzlingly talented actors making it out of the theatre program at UWM. This was McDonald's big showcase and she was brilliant in it.
The celebration of Milwaukee stage veterans continued with Milwaukee Chamber's production of Tom Stoppard's Heroes. Richard Halverson, Daniel Mooney & Robert Spencer held together a really classy dynamic as a trio of retiree war veterans sitting together outside a French hospital.
Of note in November's comedy was Carte Blanche Studios' production of Reefer Madness which featured more surreally inspired performances than a show like that probably deserves. Michael Traynor was comically warped in a very concentrated way as the central storyteller in a very, very strange musical.
The more serious end of surreal experimentation was on display in a very promising staged reading by UWM's Fly Steffens. Love Is a Horse With a Broken Leg Trying to Stand While 45,000 People Watch was Steffens' tribute to overrated postal worker Charles Bukowski. Okay, so I'm not that impressed with Bukowski's work, but I absolutely LOVED what Fly did with it. There were some ver,y very brilliantly surreal little bits of drama here that I would love to see in fully-staged format . . .
Tomorrow: Year In Review Part Two--December through March