Year In Review Part Two: December Through March
The 2011-2012 Theatre Year in Milwaukee Remembered
Being a theatre critic who attends 100+ annually, 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 . . .
As always, the month of December was a bit slow . . . quite a bit opened up reprising previously-appearing bits of holiday fare. The Rep's venerable A Christmas Carol continued unabated . . . (and contrary to what a recent Rep ad showed, my characterization of the show as "theatrical comfort food," did not include an exclamation point as they had quoted. I'm scarcely enthusiastic about that characterization . . . it feels kind of strange having an exclamation point rammed down my throat like that . . . but thanks for thinking of me all the same . . . ) Other holdovers from previous years included the always enjoyable Scrooge in Rouge with In Tandem Theatre and Neil Haven's irrepressible variable ending comedy Who Killed Santa?
Making a departure from previous years, The Alchemist Theatre staged a new murder mystery by Michael Timm. Who Killed the Ghost of Christmas Past? was another multi-stage event at the Alchemist Theatre and it proved to be an enjoyable evening with some very memorable characters quite well-played. So much is prepackaged and easy to digest during the holidays for the sake of commerce. It was refreshing to see something last December that was a bit more challenging.
Gerad Neugent began the new year in thoroughly enjoyable comic form at the Rep's Stackner Cabaret. While the Milwaukee Rep opened a production of the wildly comic Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), there were quite a few decent dramas being staged to open 2012. Carte Blanche Studios had a new plays fest that had a little bit of everything dramatic.
Soulstice Theatre had Jordan Gwiazdowski starring in a musical drama written by Jonathan Larson. Tick, Tick Boom! was probably one of the only musicals I really liked this past season. It was a really simple look at what happens to life once adulthood has well and fully set-in.
One of my favorite dramas of the past season also opened in January . . . the prison story The Unseen is a bout as pure an exploration of the nature of incarceration as I've had the opportunity to see staged so far. (Once again, my apogees to Insurgent Theatre for missing In The Belly when they came through town …again) The World's Stage Theatre production was staged at the intimate Tenth Street Theatre. Clayton Hamburg was elegantly tortured as the man in charge of keeping the prisoners prisoners. Ben Rogaczewski and Zachary Kunde were the two prisoners behind suggested walls as fear and paranoia flitted through their conversations. This was a very, very powerful drama.
Ruth Schudson continued a really good season with her appearance in Next Act's dark comedy The Vigil. She starred opposite Mark Ulrich. The deliciously dark comedy was remarkably well executed under the direction of Mary MacDonald Kerr.
A comedy of a different color altogether, Jordan Gwiazdowski (there's that name again. . . ) wrote a clever little take-off on Waiting for Godot that was a great deal of fun. Staged by Fools For Tragedy, the audience was seated on the stage of the AlchemistTheatre as actors played actors waiting around to rehearse a play. Very, very fun. And dark in a far less traditional way than Vigil.
Also in February, Windfall Theatre had one of its best of the season as Robert W.C. Kennedy played Martin Luther, David Flores played Faust and Kyle Queenan played Hamlet in Wittenberg. Kind of silly without forfeiting any sense of depth. This one was fun . . .
March ended up being a bit of a study in tyranny and mutation on a variety of different levels. David Kaye directed a haunting production of George Orwell's1984. Christopher Elst starred as a man being interrogated by the engine of a totalitarian government. Some pretty wicked darkness there onstage. . . .
Also in March, In Tandem Theatre, played host to what I think was probably the single best dramatic performance of the season. Chaim Potok's The Chosen is the story of a few you Orthodox Jews living in Brooklyn in the mid-20th century. Bill Watson wielded an overwhelming sense of authority as steely conservative Rabbi Saunders. The power he brought to the stage in that role was staggering. And it's not easy to stand out in a play that also features performances by James Tassee and Matt Daniels. I wasn't expecting to be impressed by a story of a younger generation coming to terms with the older generation's conservatism . . . it just feels so overplayed, but In tandem did a really good job of rendering the drama of that ever-present cultural transformation from one generation to the next.
UWM Theatre also played on the theme of progression versus tyranny as it staged The Nature of Mutation--a compelling academic drama of what happens when evolution meets creationism . . .
Tyranny of an entirely different kind was explored in Uprooted Theatre's staging of South Bridge at the Broadway theatre Center. . Andrew Parchman pu in one of his better performances of the year as a black man who gets tangled up in an affair with a white woman in Ohio in 1881. Very tragic and powerful stuff.
Tomorrow: Year In Review Part Three: April through July