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Carnal Beat, Alchemist Theatre, Another Tale of Eddie

Without actually smelling it, the stench of stale beer permeated Eddie’s crap-hole apartment. Petty thieves, smart alec jerks, low-life amateur cons, and shape-shifters, litter the neighborhood that starts when you enter the Alchemist Theatre. It’s dingy. It’s plastered with aerosol tags and shitty band posters, were you just there or are you here? The Bowery was kind of like that. New York 1977 that’s where we are, in the Kitchen.

F-U Too

Aaron Kopec steps off the curb into the gangways of the Rotten Apple to set his latest production Another Tale of Eddie, the first episode in his New York Stories trilogy set for this spring. Like the title says, this tale is about Eddie Valentine (David Sapiro), an oxymoron of a character. He lacks enough scruples to guiltlessly ensnare straggling neophyte posers in petty schemes that separate them from their loose change. At the same time he’s so un-hardcore, he demonstrates repeated he lacks the stomach to really be a heartless bastard that belongs to the night.

Eddie’s running mate Izzy (April Paul) kicks her wits in a nasal Queens-laden inflection, smacking him coldly with sobering sarcasm at every opportunity. She’s not the sharpest razor, only getting the job done as needed. When she teams up with Eddie to fleece fresh faces that show up at a rock shows, she lets you know she’s at least good at one thing.

A Lit Match
Rose (Shannon Nettesheim) enters Eddie’s world, and he quickly finds out she is fresh in more places than just the face. With her, his bladder repeatedly gets called to the carpet. Known to hide behind his tough guy personal, Eddie jellies before our eyes, slowly and sappily, at one point so disgustingly he nearly dry-heaves on himself. He reluctantly bares his soul to Rose, as bared on the pages of his crumpled up notebook, oh god, he’s a writer.

When the Glass Shatters

Enjoyable aspects of Another Tale of Eddie present themselves readily, starting with the scenic design. Small details go duly noted. Manufactured grime coats all of the furnishings, vintage beer cans line the sink and counter tops, a working Zenith tube-t.v. fires up occasionally (the pitch of the transistor jars any pre-milennial memory). In one scene, Eddie opens the cupboards and it’s filled with toasters, a nice reference for recent Alchemist regulars.

Nettensheim maintains an enigmatic disposition throughout her portrayal of Rose, adding much needed dimension to the play’s structure. Eddie stands as a relatively straight-forward character. Sapiro reads this role quite transparently leaving some scenes to approach death on set, although he mostly revives them at the last possible opportunity. In the shoes of Izzy, April Paul provides valuable pace and character consistency of a lower-Eastside punk, from Brooklyn. Jacob Woelfel (Hilly Crystal), Annie Lipski (Sindy), Nathan Sawtelle (Bruce) and Liz Witford make cameos, and most likely will appear in upcoming New York Stories episodes.

Another Tale of Eddie basically acts like that person that does annoying things to the point that you are almost irked, then somehow salvages your outlook with a catchy idea, or lets say a story. This time the Alchemist delivers a mental nipple twister, which in some strange way was kind of gratifying.

Another Tale of Eddie runs tomorrow night March 21, and next weekend on the March 26, 27 and closing Saturday March 28. All shows start promptly at 7:30p.

Another Wind, Riverside Theatre, Sleater-Kinney

Rumors of an instantaneous sell-out at Turner Hall added to the lore that made Sleater-Kinney’s highly anticipated post-Valentine’s Day performance at the Riverside legendary. You know you’re all grown up when you can say you’ve been to the Riverside more than once in a calendar year. My time has apparently come. If any band was to do it I’m glad it was them.

The Elephant Pose

Riverside’s gorgeous Baroque interior couldn’t mute the obvious mental chatter permeating the foyer atmosphere, brimming with posers poser-checking other posers, myself included. My then-girlfriend, now-fiance, caught me laughing out loud while watching Portlandia a couple years ago, and enlightened me on Carrie Brownstein. I admittedly only had at the tip of my tongue, ‘Oh that cool looking girl who’s pretty funny?’

I imagine 5 out 7 people attending stood in the category of Portlandia fans first. My fiance even confided her deference for Bikini Kill when she heard Sleater-Kinney was coming to town, and she’s not even as big a Portlandia fan as I am, right? Really, it’s not worth being like the SXSW hoard. Really, it’s physically, emotionally and socially impossible to have been there for everything, especially anything that happened before 2005.

SXSW Hoard via Jimmy Kimmel Live

Clear the Non-Sense

None of that poser-pretension mattered inside the Riverside auditorium, only that the die-hard pretentious were sharing their moment, gladly letting a little rub-off on everyone else. Neo-true skool Hip-hop serial-banger Lizzo had already tenderized the crowd and Sleater-Kinney went right to work.

They riffed, Carrie Brownstein funky as ever, in a capped shoulder blouse and jeans, throttled then soothed her guitar strings. They belted, Corin Tucker grounded herself as if she was drawing power directly from the floor to mega-amplify her cavernous voice. They banged, Janet Weiss pelted her drum kit furiously. They animated life-less objects, the backdrop of their staging hung motionless upstage, gray and textured like concrete; brought to life under DIY special effects, cut squares wafting upwards, blown by a giant fan.

Sleater-Kinney, Entertain – Live (2015)

Sleater-Kinney’s prowess showed best in their updated delivery of gravity carrying songs like Combat Song and their willingness to drift-off to distant glory held in frenetic anthems like Not What You Want, while introducing new material from their latest LP No Cities to Love. Brownstein heaped tons of praise on Milwaukee for turning out on a Sunday night and gushed a little at the Riverside’s handsomeness. I’m sure everyone welled-up a little with classic Milwaukee exuberance, wishing only to turn the entire lower level into the pit.

Understanding they are a piece of the heart and a gasp of the breath of the last generation to leave home en-mass and in earnest at 18 or sooner, Sleater-Kinney was nothing less that impressive musically. To know they played The Globe with a lot less lights and people, is even more ridiculous. What else is there to say, if you weren’t their you missed two damn good shows, hopefully in 15 years everyone in the audience and on stage will still have enough spunk to do it again.

Sleater-Kinney dropped into Milwaukee as one of 20 U.S. stops on their international campaign for their latest album No Cities to Love.

In the Realm of Innocents: An Exhibition of Mysticism and Lore, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

A Guest Contributor Review by Helene Fischman

The artists in the current exhibit at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts approach mythological/ethereal/religious themes with both irony and sentimentality hidden in their works. “In the Realm of Innocents” takes us on a heterotopian journey through fairytale iconography. Each artist musters distinct painting techniques and passions one might expect only from an occult fanatic. While all the artists are worthy of mention, I will highlight two which lingered in my thoughts long after I left the building – Gina Litherland and Andrea Guzzeta.

Nether in Ether

Gina Litherland’s paintings are slick and elegant, your eyes slide across their smooth varnished surface. She captures moments, stopping the clock at pivotal watersheds as though she tore out an illustrated Gothic fantasy from her imagination. Litherland’s ornate and detailed strokes, hold a touch of Byzantine human awkwardness. Like Guido of Siena’s Enthroned Madonna, her two-dimensional beings struggle to fill out their three-dimensional destinies, perhaps only a day dream separates them. She creates tension in her piece with tight over-rendered brush strokes. Her persistent technique lays conspicuously visible as though she’s wrapping paint around the limbs of her subjects; their skin encasing them, a restrictive contraption attempting with futility to confine their energy.

Tea Leaf Reading exalts physical characteristics, her chosen archetype: thin and pale-complected. She poses two elegant, lean bodies next to one another. One woman looks over the other’s shoulder, both peeking into an oracular teacup.The posture of the primary figure appears physically strained, neck and wrist bent past human comfort, creating unease for an empathic viewer – I could feel my shoulders tense up when following that impossible curve with my eyes. Yet, behind the women, the air looks chemically fluid. It seems ready to spill and mix the background colors into an active wallpaper, a canvas for a bird in flight. Litherland’s visual composition reads as an extemporaneous chromatic explosion, betraying the painting’s initial stillness.

The perceptible intimacy shared between the women subjects of Tea Leaf Reading remains covert. In a cooperative gaze, they focus on the porcelain tea cup’s scattered leaf pattern, indicating their future. Their relationship seems intentional yet ambiguous. They have a strong likeness. Could they be sisters, perhaps mother and daughter?

My third thought is death. Their gaunt complexions can’t be separated from the possibility of an afterlife, or after-death. Are witnessing a doppelganger? They are, after all, doused in a bluish-purple haze which could serve as an allusion to post-mortem existence; the sighting of her twin, the doppelganger, possibly an omen of death? Perhaps we are seeing a woman foretelling her own demise. A goat accompanies the women, and a bird symbolizes a sacred unknown like a tarot card. The goat perhaps represents new beginnings, the bird… intuition?

In Litherland’s uncanny atmospheres, you are drawn into the environment in a true, haptic sense.  Her world begets authenticity, she lures you to suspend your disbelief – really go there – and then find yourself thrust back into your own life pondering the space between free-will and fantasy.

Bound in Angles

Andrea Guzzetta’s paintings send dizzying geometrical visual rhythms wrapped in a kaleidoscope of hues through your pupils. She works in allegory as though her canvas, beneath its top layer of gesso, hides a worn palimpsest scratched with medieval tales of life and death.

In Blood Nectar, a square-based angular pattern transforms into a swirling spirograph set in a palette of hot pink and bright teal. Paired flowers and skulls weave in an unlikely harmony. The eye cannot help but follow, in allegro. The highly saturated colors of the piece overstimulate.

Guzetta captures you, and tosses you into a cavernous hole at the center of Blood Nectar. She paints an porthole entryway, dotted with butterflies and surrounded by clouds, suggesting a threshold into another universe beyond the canvas. She paints with confidence that entices you to jump in and breathe her fluorescent air.

Her choices make pairs of object and color. Pink skulls, initially shock the viewer and seem dialectically opposed. Catching my breath, I found these concerns resolved in a new visual language, a neon lexicon. Guzzetta convinces you there is a beyond, and tasks you to envision the extension of this deceptively colorful world beyond the canvas edge.

Generally, her aggressive and well-executed surrealist drawing style creates a framework for the imagination, a launch-pad for curiosity, a yearning for the potential of things.  Gravity is turned on its head as the viewer is pulled outwards, perhaps upwards, into an unknown plane. Through this play on physics she insists we revisit old stand-by definitions. We can no longer rely on the tried and true. In a mixture of color which calls up memories of birthday cake frosting and little girls ribbons, rendering imagery of both bones and blossoms, her quandary between life and death lifts its head and roars a mighty roar.

In the Realm of Innocents: An Exhibition of Mysticism and Lore (curated by Michael Flanagan and Kimberly Storage) is on display at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 South 5th Street Milwaukee, WI 53204, from January 30 – March 7, 2015. Other notable artists contributing to this exhibition are Jean Roberts Guequierre, Claire Stigliani, Kristen Ferrell, and Linnea Bergstrom.  For more information on the author of this article, visit: www.helenefischman.com.

Bayou Fixings, Bronzeville, The Big Eazy

Bronzeville laid in wait, and nabbed a prize foodie establishment in The Big Eazy. Nestled on a quiet corner of Lloyd and Martin Luther King Drive, The Big Eazy offers authentic soul food staples from the delta region, raised a notch to unpretentiously meet the tastes of discerning diners.

Sticking to the gulf theme, helpings of seafood take up main street. Choices of red snapper partnered with sauteed squash or blackened catfish surfing on a bed of andouille grits or soft shell crab caked or seasonally fried under an egg Benedict take their final swim on your plate.

Terrestrial fare gets its due as well. Where the chicken usually gets chosen by default, The  Big Eazy hunts outside of the coop zeroing in on four legged stock. Pork chops, lamb chops and ribeye steak parade as drum majors to your table if you choose. The Big Eazy stands out as a place doesn’t mind providing multiple options, usually only reserving space on seasonal menus at boutique eateries around town.

The flavor profile of The Big Eazy departs reliable bulbous garlic and onion phases, in favor of the traditional Cajun pallet preferring pepper and citrus embellishments. The Big Eazy’s Herbs of choice shift menu further neutral of savory, or sweet. Sage, oregano, dill, parsley and cilantro gently complement main courses, as an alternative to more bracing standard choices of basil, rosemary or bay. In this way, authentic New Orleans inspired cuisine may prove challenging in comparison to Midwestern customs, however that should beckon a much appreciated welcome to an relatively uncharted culinary realm in Milwaukee. Save some room after dinner, rum cake, and with some luck, sweet potato cobbler will be available to represent the best Southern tradition of all, dessert.

The Big Eazy sets a classy-casual decor and atmosphere. Seemingly minor touches, such as furnishings, make a tremendous impression, and if done improperly can affect the taste of the food. Pleasantly, The Big Eazy’s sanded wood armed chairs padded with black vinyl cushions project quality and charm.

Matching black table clothes accent the table settings. A wall sized photo-wrap of Bourbon Street steals the scene. Mardi Gras masks, people portraits and street-scapes from New Orleans immortalize the past in the present, covering the remaining wall space.

America still probably can’t fathom the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina. The displacement of people and culture is tragic, but has very likely enriched Milwaukee. The Big Eazy keeps true to its Southern pace, open for business during the dinner hours and for Sunday Brunch. A husband and wife team run the outfit, sharing the helm in the kitchen and dinning area. The Big Eazy is located on 2053 N. Martin Luther King Drive and also offers catering and hosts private events.

Moving on Sideways, The Rep, Good People

Really bad wallpaper hung in Margie’s kitchen. It might as well been the kind your grandma had. Dated decor lines the room, things look like they haven’t changed for an entire generation. Margie (Lauran Gordon) sits with some old gal pals, Dottie (Laura Fisher) and Jean (Tami Workentin), volleying old stories about characters that have come in gone in their South Boston neighborhood.

Margie occasionally breaks-off, holding her chin-level, periodically stressing over how she can’t make ends meet after loosing her cashier job. What of her developmentally disable daughter? How will they ever manage. Her landlord Dottie sits right next to her, glasses low on her nose, sipping coffee. It doesn’t matter. They’ve known each other for years, so why bother with appearances. The three carry-on, partly determined, partly resigned, partly pitiful, and partly proud, conjuring up futile options to prop-up Margie’s livelihood.

This leads them to the High School basement bingo hall, where they sit with the store assistant manager, Stevie (Bernard Balbot), that fired Margie, who happens to be the son of one of their old friends. A scheme instigated by Jean, Margie reluctantly goes on a quest to track down an old flame that word has it has, made it out of Southie. After stretching her wits thin and still finding no work, Margie benefits from a kind gesture that keeps the lights on, if only just enough to buy time until she finds her next gig.

A Stunner

Kate Buckley succeeds wonderfully in using David-Lindsay-Abaire’s story Good People to stage intimate portraits of life where the nickles rub together. Much of the intrigue in this play, stems from Buckley’s ability to use subtle decisions such as choice of scenery, to draw out the extreme contrast between working-poor and affluent Bostonians. Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet, masterfully presents the South Boston and Chestnut Hill settings where the drama unfolds.

Scenes set in South Boston might leave you to believe the play is set in the 1960’s, however Chestnut Hill’s contemporary appearance returns the audience to the present day. Here a great tension reverberates through the characters. We see Margie running circles around herself in almost every action, insisting that she might wittingly betroth herself to her Southie roots. In comparison, we see the vapor trails of her old classmate’s exit trajectory that mark his manner in interacting in his new found success.

Social Litmus

Good People’s narrative comes at a very timely point in American cultural discourse. In the new millennium, we have seen the mainstream cultural understanding as expressed through most common forms of media production, back pedal decades in its ability to present realistic and critical reflections on the American experience and its people.

In this rare occasion, Lindsay-Abaire’s dramatic narrative provides a ground-level view of stereotypes being turned on their head. The mainstream media loathes the idea of acknowledging that impoverished and working poor white communities exist in areas North of the Mason-Dixon line, who are not noble, long-suffering or in possession of Middleclass sensibilities. How the color lines that historically pervade American life are understood, make another ripe battleground for Lindsay-Abaire to march upon.

In Good People we see the introduction of affluent African-American characters that have dynamic social barrings. The limitations of including all social perspectives in a commentary play are seen and handled well, as Good People offers focused and developed characters instead of attempting address every societal nuance with broad strokes relying on the well-trodded themes of oppression and injustice.

Michael Elich (Mike) and Jennifer Latimore (Kate) complete the ensemble with truly enjoyable performances, drawing the audiences deeper into the story with their engaging acceptance of challenging stage roles. Production credits adding to the general delight of this play go to Rachel Healy (Costume Design), Jason Fassl (Lighting Designer), and Joe Cerqua (Original composition, Sound Design).

Good People continues its run at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater through February 15, 2015.