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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Austin (Jason Will) has stolen away to the desert to have a stand-off with his typewriter, struggling to coax his next screenplay on to the blank leafs rolling through its paper carriage. He’s somewhere deep in the Southwest, house-sitting while his mother is on vacation. Even if his writing becomes more of a plow, he at least relishes the quiet.
Austin sits, sips coffee, and concentrates. Kimmer (Mitch Weindorf), a small-time Hollywood producer, will visit him soon to tour Austin’s story before it’s translated to film. Unexpectedly, Austin’s estranged brother Lee (David Sapiro) appears at the door like a dust storm, with barely a knock. Just how straight laced is Austin?
Lee holds himself up as the cracked mirror so we can better perceive the distorted angles and dark crevices of Austin’s family life. As Lee makes himself at home, rustling through his mothers drawers and cabinets, helping himself to Austin’s cheap brew while emitting a constant chatter, unconcerned with Austin’s concentration. You soon wonder if it’s actually Lee that is surprised to see Austin.
Like Rolling Stone
Lee, covered in a physical grime and unkempt, has the charm of a successful rug salesman. Lee launches into Austin, extracting his pity with persistent narrative of his troubles and guilt-trudging laments about Austin’s disregard for their alcoholic father. Wearing thin, and against his better judgment, Austin soon relents to Lee’s presumptuous ask to borrow his car. Austin just wants to be rid of his brother for a few hours and hopefully long enough to do business with Kimmer before Lee returns. Austin had offered Lee money, which Lee venomously refused. It slowly becomes clear what Lee really wants. In my head I begin to hear Bob Dylan sing, “… Once upon a time you dressed so fine, You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you ?…”
The Cat, The Yarn
Director Nicole Eggers takes few chances in developing her adaptation of Sam Shepard’s True West, beside empowering highly capable players Jason Will and David Sapiro to inhabit the verbose roles required to bring True West to life. Will convincingly portrays a tightly wound, Ivy League college grad, that predictably lacks an edge, coming unhinged relatively easily when enough pressure is applied. Sapiro, appeared challenged initially with playing Lee, however immersed himself deeper into character as the play worn on, exuding cringe-worthy qualities needed to give Lee the proper dimension. I found Sapiro’s performance particularly intriguing for this reason, as first impressions are nearly impossible to reverse, especially on stage.
Subtle metaphors worked there way into the production, through Eggers vision for the play. In one standout scene, Lee has conveniently returned to Austin in the middle of Austin’s meeting with Kimmer. Lee is carrying a t.v. and places it on the kitchen counter facing the audience. From that point forward, Lee and Austin are mostly opposite each other with the t.v. visually separating them.
During these scenes, Lee harps on his hard-living and surviving hand-to-mouth in the desert, while Austin meekly squirms for the safety of his measured intellect. The presence of the t.v. challenges the audience to determine who belongs on what side of the tube. Eventually, through his charisma and cunning, Lee is able to wiggle into the professional relationship Austin has established with Kimmer. As the action falls, Austin and Lee’s orientation to the television prop at key moments flip, then eventually become interchangeable.
And Dylan sings,
…You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it
You said you’d never compromise With the mystery tramp, but know you realize He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?…
True West disguises itself as drama filled with didactic episodes, but really a melodramatic psychological thriller (okay Im being melodramatic) might describe the play better. It hits you when Lee and Austin’s Mom (Deborah Clifton) arrives home early. Her ironic and underwhelming reaction to the aftermath of Lee and Austin’s prolonged interaction adds to the bizarre ordeal. A rare production that builds momentum, Eggers’ rendition of True West gathers your attention with each passing scene, rolling out humor, irony, conflict and degeneracy contained in Shepard’s story all the way to the curtain.
True West opened January 16th, and has weekend runs at the Alchemist Theatre through January 31, 2015 with all-show times starting at 7:30p.