1) Enjoy this as a whole.
2) Wholly enjoy this.
3) This whole, enjoy.
Manual Controller – CD Release (realtime) from Local Trolley on Vimeo.
Professor Whately (Kathryn Cesarz) notices a few people ambling down the long hallway leading to the humble Quasimondo Physical Theatre studio space. She points the way cordially before meeting the rest of the group touring Miskatonic University. Like most college kids we were a little eager, possible a bit anxious, going so deep into the annals of such a austere and cavernous building for the first time. Before the first scene, the strokes of genius laid in this production by Artistic Director Brian Rott and assistant Simon Eichinger begin. Even the audience must get in character.
New Research Wing
As if portions of the lecture hall are being a revamped, the first scene can be viewed through a torn tarp. A single window hung in one of the set’s partitions provides another vantage point to the opening faculty meeting. Dim white light glows through a mist that has overtaken the Dean’s office. The professors prone on the floor, writhe as if possessed, jerking as if stricken by tetanus. What has overcome them?
Meet the Professors
Unaware of the ordeals, the student body meets their new instructors as the faculty file in revealing each others’ finer points through charade. Dean Thurston (Jeremy Eineichner) introduces Dr. Judith Wilmarth (Jenni Reinke) professor of English, her knowledge and ambition for literary mastery unmatched.
Herbert West, Prof. of Medicine and Anatomy (Kirk Thomsen) and his Graduate Assistant, Danforth (Alex Roy), make a formidable team capable of conquering mortality. Her eyes contemplating the wonders of the universe, Prof Whately’s gaze never leaves heaven’s stars, diligent in her research of Astronomy, she may have interdisciplinary interests. Physicist Randolh Carter (The Skrauss), practical and calculating, keeps the faculty grounded in reality.
Prof. Webb (Thom Cauley) doctorate of Anthropology, persistently searches for intellectual understanding of human cultures, desperately has intertwined with Amelia Dyer (Jessi Miller), Emeritus in Geology, who constantly pursues her life’s work through harrowing experience. Wound in the aesthetics of existence Professor of Art History Victoria Wilcox (Emily Craig), wields the power to interpret life through symbols.
The students who actually made it freshman orientation will get a fleeting chance to peer into each of these learned individuals’ life work and personal struggles, as they come to terms with their tenure being interrupted by Dean Thurston’s crowing discovery of the ancient text Necronomicon, and its translation by expert Semitic linguist Prof. Angell (Michael Guthrie). Eventually, each of the Professors’ personal complexes, personified by a celestial alien monster, will consume every one involved.
Love & Cthulhu is the most ambitious and inventive production Milwaukee has seen in recent years, quite possibly ever. Only one other comes to mind as even coming close. Directed into their strengths, everyone in the ensemble performed exceedingly well and with immense presence. Semi-lead roles by Thom Cauley, Kirk Thomsen and Jessi Miller stood out further, their roles accentuated by tenacious method and character.
Staged as a series of vignettes, Love & Cthulhu shows that the imagination of a few handfuls of dedicated individuals knows no bounds. They boil illusion, set design, props, movement, lighting, sound, pantomime, dance, acrobatics, live classical music, and miniature and large format puppetry into a cauldron that leaves the audience stirred, challenged, and awestruck; their imaginations’ still twisting at the curtain.
If Cthulhu rings a bell you are in rare air. That’s right Rott and his ensemble adapted Love & Cthulhu liberally from H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work that bridges the gap from Mary Shelly to Orson Welles.
Quasimondo’s production runs long and packs every scene with so many goodies this review would become an exposition. It’s run time is worth every moment of drama.
Love & Cthulu has gaping mouthed undiscovered tribes, expeditions “on belay” in distant lands, seething monsters, aliens, chanting cults, academic socialites that invite illusionist Nyeriathotep (Eichinger) to entertain them, geek romance over petri dishes and telescopic photographs, scientific experiments with Serum 3.2.1, and ballads of desperation.
The Quasimondo’s tech work deserves extremely high regard. Puppeteers Dawn Swarty, Bridget Cookson, and Mike Petit, led by Andrew Parchman, animated inanimate objects such that Dr. Moreau would fly into a jealous rage.
Stage Design held the hallmarks of Quasimondo’s inventiveness, sparse and utilitarian partitions the main feature, constructed by Paul Bentz, Andy Walsh, and Rott and illustrated by Nerissa Eichinger and Andy Walsh. Costume hit the spot designed by Fabrizio Cappeli Salon, Carolyn Christianson and Rott.
Quasimondo’s company boasts a team fluid in multiple artistic disciplines, many of the cast double musical composers. Jennie Reinke, Steve Wolf, Kathryn Cesarz, and Simon Eichinger scored the show. Choreography and Dance directed by Eichinger, Reinke, Miller, Rott, and Couley.
You hardly are ever missing out on a show, but if you miss Love & Cthulhu you definitely are and you’ll miss the most epic scene change in the history of theater. Tonight’s the night, Love & Cthulu closing performance March 1 at 8pm at The Fortress. Arrive early, as your entry to the house is guided.
A lonesome voice brings everyone into his realm, they savor the feeling. His guitar sings the cryptic melodies of life’s winding road. Everyone’s route has its charms. Jaems Murphy quaintly celebrated the release of his most recent expulsion Mono No Aware, with a small ensemble of musicians and audiophiles at Brewed Cafe. Outside is cold as February in the year 2014.
A sheet draped over the picture window made a silver screen for the Vidic Eden to accompany Jaems Murphy’s numero uno rip Right Your Will. Murphy tumbles through escapades expected for a man in his shoes, somehow unscathed like sopping wet clothes renewed in a gas dryer, better for their tumbles.
Right You Will, Jaems Murphy’s Vedic via Jaems Murphy on Youtube
A gnarly bunch, the Vedic Eden has Murphy’s back on rhythm guitar, stand up bass, keyboard, trumpet and various percussion, not withstanding a door key chime.
If eclectic weren’t cliche they would be serially riding your emotional whims until personal sands are stirred. The Jaems Murphy’s Vedic Eden release can be sampled here on Bandcamp.
As the dialog in the theatrical duet The Chairs goes on, you begin to notice the Old Woman (Kelly Doherty) and the Old Man (Tim Linn<) nonchalantly bringing chairs from places all over the stage into the scene. Somehow 52 chairs have made it on stage by the closing scene. Who was this guy Eugene Ionesco and what was he up to?
At Leda Hoffman’s direction Doherty and Linn, guide us along the final bend of that sleepy road that married couples travel in their golden years. The Old Woman and Old Man sit in their chairs, frail, all movements an ordeal. The Old Woman gushes over her husband, of how talented he is and how many people he knows. None of that seems to matter any more, those days were decades ago. The Old Man laments his chosen fate to sequester himself from the world to tend to their humble existence.
A Captain on a Sinking Ship
The Old Woman endearingly butters up the Old Man to tell her a story she’s heard a million times, of how the Old Man revealed his treasured life work to the most important people of the world.
They routinely pantomime the guests’ arrival, as a couple might play a cribbage game together, cordially greeting and conversing with their imaginary socialites. Some guests the Old Man knows. He speaks with regret to his true love Belle, as the Old Woman flirtatiously entertains the Colonel. Soon after they witness a tawdry affair between Belle and Colonel.
More guests arrive. As the Old Man answers the door, the Old Woman fetches chairs and struggles to find places for them. At one point she’s distracted by salacious banter with a photographer who lures her into her own vanity while the Old Man is distracted across the room. Finally, the Emperor arrives.
In a Pyrrhic victory over their futile lives the Old Man and Old Woman commit suicide in a dramatically metaphorical way, meeting the sea that they greet when the play opens, as they climb out of their humble abode’s windows before the plenary they’ve prepared even begins. The Orator enters dressed to the intellectual nines to deliver the Old Man’s message.
The Orator gathers himself and forcefully speaks a mumble, he cannot hear himself. He tries again. A strained sound exits his mouth, his tongue can’t find its way around his pallet, his is mute. He takes to the chalk board and rakes lines emphatically, inscribing what should be letters but are only line that happen to touch one another. He is illiterate.
Wringing Every Drop
Ionesco mastered “theater of the absurd”, and Leda Hoffman does well to see his vision through. Doherty and Linn share compelling stage presence convincingly portraying that intertwined distantness that elderly spouses sometimes have. The familiar routines, the prediction of the others’ mannerisms appear naturally through their portrayals.
Hoffman successfully makes space for the audience to interpret the piece. In her rendition. the growing distance between the Old Woman and Old Man leaves one to wonder do the chairs represent all those memories and lost interactions of the past each has held on to, drawing them further and further to isolation though their mutual company that never ends.
The Chairs closed The Alchemist’s 2013 – 2014 season February 22. Credit Antishadows for Lighting Design, Andrea Bouck for Costume Design, Stage Manager Jared McDaris, Dramaturg Emily Penick, Set and Sound Design Aaron Koepec.
Creative conspirators Sarai Yardbird Anzaldua, Josh Bryan and Jackie Benka hit their point on their first roll of Cream City’s newest live performance channel Cabaret Milwaukee.
Nestled in the catacombs of the The Brewery’s local watering hole Best Place, eager ladies and gentleman seated snugly around wood furnishings filled the rathskeller for an evening of Valentine’s night entertainment. They received large and savory helpings of melodrama and sideshow talent interludes set to a prohibition era radio show theme.
A Night Under the Cups
Radio host Richard Howling (Adam White), conducted the nights performances backed by the house jazz band stationing Anthony Deutsch on piano, Devin Drobka at drums, Clay Schaub on upright bass and Scott Hlavenka on guitar.
Between scenes that brought the mean streets of gangland Chicago pub side in episode one of The Jealous Revolver, Richard Howling played maestro to zinging one line comedic punches from Mrs. Milli (Laura Holterman) and show tunes belted by jazz siren Sadie Starlight (Jen Cintron).
The Howling Radio Hour talent interludes also featured Jason Hillman stirring the mood with a long form stand up routine, tapping toes of dancer Danielle Weber, and advertisements from the angelically persuasive voices of the Jingle Crew Steve Breese, Sarah Mellstrom, and Katrina Cengeri.
A visually enticing approach, the Creative Director Sarai Yardbird Anzaldua’s vision comes to life with scenes staged throughout the cabaret, and at times right next to audience members. In other spots, dual framed scenes allow players to discuss the goings while others are in action.
The technical acumen of co-producer Josh Bryan highlights it all, especially with resourceful lighting design. Jackie Benka’s knack for dialog flavors the entire production with requisite dramatic pace to keep the audience engaged at all times.
Acts of Noir
In episode one of The Jealous Revolver we meet a host of underworld characters. Nightclub owner Vick Marconi (Michael Keiley) has a couple of young workers, starlet Vivica (Michelle White) and Joey Yardbird (Ryan Nelson). The regulars Anna (Anna Ceragioli), Stella (Anzaldua), and Tommy (Bryan) keep the club rumor mill turning, as run ins with the local mob affiliates Jean (Jennifer Grundy), Tony (Brian Miracle), and Marco (Greg Ryan) heat up.
The action reaches a fever pitch when soon after Jean’s unfortunate alcohol induced demise, Marconi is called to a sit down with Marco. Marconi has eyes for Vivica all along, and pushes the issue insisting that she come to the sit down as a customary female acquaintance. Under Marconi’s thumb Joey rides along as the mission’s driver.
At Vivica’s pick up point there is no trace of her, she and Joey have plotted an escape from Marconi’s grip. When Marconi arrives at Vivica’s place instead of Joey, she realized something has gone awry. Marconi weaves through Viviva’s smokescreens, finally with sinister resoluteness applying heavy pressure revealing the Joey’s zip-cock misfired. In treachery Joey ran off before Marconi could catch him. In the nick of time Joey arrives at Vivica’s to intervene Marconi’s wrath, revealing his secret romance with Vivica. Now they’re both on the lamb… until the next episode of The Jealous Revolver.
A lot of familiar faces from many other artistic efforts in Milwaukee appeared in Cabaret Milwaukee, an truly amazing prospect to see the nucleus of the art’s scene readily forming new bonds. Cabaret Milwaukee’s next stew is sure to be a crowd pleaser in its period homage, overacted glory.
Tucked neatly in the back of Sugar Maple, the Okka Disk performance space is best known for its annual jazz fest set to turn 6 years old this year. In the meanwhile it also makes a temporary home for jazz musicians and their extended family when the occasion calls. None more suitable that a rare new moon appearance of The Viper & His Famous Orchestra in Milwaukee.
When talent meets ingenuity in music, good things happen, like the The Viper & His Famous Orchestra. They’re a seasoned bunch of classically trained musicians and/or general life enthusiasts, who have mastered the mixology of traditional and homemade instruments, pouring out well measured roots country and swing jazz.
Bring the Mustard
Featuring a ukelele (Ryan Jerving), upright bass and viola (Riley Broach), trombone (Rob Hen), piano (Jon Peacock), percussion (Edward Burch), The Viper really gets interesting when these core ensemble pieces confront their DIY musical doppelgangers.
Meeting their match, Broach gets in the mud on washtub bass, Burch on suitcase drum confirms he and his doppelganger are one in the same , and Peacock ignores all street signage on stylophone, toy piano, and the atrocity that is the air-tubed melodica.
The Howl of Goodtimes
Once the The Viper gets going, the goodtimes roll. They take themselves 45 RPM less serious than their music, pulling out a few comedic bits for their sets to go with the sarcasm and pop culture wit from the ages.
The Viper will take over 91.7 WMSE’s Local Live tomorrow at 6p. If you really must see them live you get another chance March 7th at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.’s new cafe on Bruce Street.
A Song for All Seasons by The Viper & His Famous Orchestra via The Viper on YouTube
You can’t go much further underground without calling diggers hotline, than the two ravens together know as the The Naima. A metal band playing to jazz principles can hardly be stopped, or seen. They’ll drop a super limited edition SD release this Sunday at Circle-A.
Supposedly there’s some crazy videos and other lo-tech stuff to distract you from their super ripping tunes, like this mysterious transmission that ended up on The Portuguese SoundCloud.
Hod-A326MT_FINAL by thePortuguese549655404 via The Portuguese SoundCloud
The Naima will be setting clocks forward at Circle-A’s Live at 8 with The Nobody Brothers this Sunday January 26, 2014 at 8p. The Naima is not to be confused with Naima Adedapo or The Naima Train, so you don’t have to push your jacket sleeves up in the bitter cold or bring a mini-backpack. Actually, you probably shouldn’t search The Naima much on the internet because basically the internet avoids the The Naima.
Burrowing deep in a crease at an uncharted pole of your being, resonating frequencies in rare, often musty air; an entity bearing the mark of Rock music, Secret Lover arrives.
They cruise well after the nostalgia that has many clamoring for simple times found in early century blues roots. They dig far beneath concrete foundations, burying acoustic beat era folk in its shallow grave. They leave soundtracks of peace and protest at a forgotten rally with hand written signs. They’re really not known to break things that aren’t theirs, so they don’t need spikes.
They crimp midi cables and corrupt the digital interfaces hiding music hackery. They rewind self-loathing, and close the dairy. They care about what they do, their cool falls secondary, so collars down. Born before Moog was normal, they relish lo-fi. They hid in a shoe box until destiny knocked them off a dusty shelf. They ended up in a cassette tape deck, stellar-as-ever, post-punk, art-core and beyond.
Matter of Tongues
Rolling a new EP release, The Lasso, right at the end of 2013 Secret Lover has stolen the year, giving amplified instruments renewed purpose. Back in Milwaukee a year and half after testing their Summer Demo on a few willing heads, they recently meandered back to a small venue in Riverwest to kick off 2014.
Lyrics rarely carry entire albums so resolutely both in content and vocal quality, and there Sally Horowitz exudes everything that now means. Controlling the mood and moments in every song with her voice, she celebrates micro-drama paradigms and self-determined sensibilities, soaking them in perpetually shifting meter and tempo, unpredictable melodies and soul-snatching contralto octave switches; punctuating stanzas with an occasional evocative spoken “Oh Yeah”. And the band has the tab covered.
Lead guitar John Guida divides himself on most songs between rhythm and solo parts, distortion and hollow pickups, like a man with no palms, and a third brain hemisphere. He’s the docent for The Lasso, quietly guiding ruddy ears on an indie journey, propelling Secret Lover’s purposefully crude product, substantiated by highly technical methods, to the moon.
Sewing the void left between vocals and lead, Lars Paulson pulsates sticky rhythmic effluvia on bass, following structure momentarily before dribbling spontaneous scales with nice handle, subtly giving the final outline to the emotional tones held in the jams, shaking stable feelings from their tree.
Noticeably beefing up the percussion from their initial 2012 release, Summer Demo, Dave Paquette hammers his kit, a contained riot determined to knock down an inhibition or two, pace-setting each song fluidly, throttling and coasting with his mates. Serve the whole ensemble with room temperature Hamm’s, and you’re basically set.
Taste Dorian to sample Secret Lover’s choice of ingredients. Presumably an ode to a friend, lighthearted and heartfelt, Horowitz dives in plainly, coyly, “Dorian you changed your name, and you cut off all curls…” The band rides right in, as Horowitz continues through though the chorus and bridge, each take their turn embellishing a verse with a slight variation. The song builds to the refrain with Paquette rolling, Guida veering off to a half scale, and Paulson syncopating nastily, by the close a climax is reached in deep in harmony, a simple exercise in bliss.
Dorian by Secret Lover off of the The Lasso EP (2013)
Infectious, present and packing some serious performative powers Secret Lover resuscitates and revives those dark and mundane places that harbor rough beauty. Where a lot of music tries really hard to be something, they just are something, and they’re evolving rapidly. Secret Lover is touring, so if you’re not killing baby red pandas you should check them out. The Lasso is a 6-track EP available for download, and so is equally worthy Summer Demo.
Secret Lover, Unpop Art Show, Orcanine Abbey, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1lU
(There’s a pretty nifty vid too)
Passers-by on the Riverwalk crossing at Wells Street, squint their gaze at the brownish human figure standing at ease, with arms bent at both elbows to let the most famous thumbs in history point to the sky. Everything’s Hey, OK.
For statues with notorious local reputations, the Bronze Fonze stands next to only the random Michael Jackson idol that was stuck in mid-pelvis thrust out side of Fulham FC’s stadium at Craven Cottage, London. Let’s face it, Fonze in the Happy Days… butter, today the Bronzie attracts its share of ridicule.
On one seemingly normal overcast morning, lurking an uncomfortable distance from the Fronze, another statue suddenly appeared. A seven-foot gangly clay figure glowered over the Fonze, disproportionately large hands’ pleading palms inward facing to its chest. It wore a blue suit. It stood on massive black booted feet. Someone had taken the ante up a notch higher than ever before.
Apparently, as the day went on people started to notice; as public art projects tend to be a hot button topic in this town. Having one appear in such a prominent location, with no public hearing, must have raised someone’s eyebrows.
A day later, Jim Stingl, known for scrounging up a scoop to post on JSOnline, sent out a plea on NewsWatch to get a bead on the goings on. Amazingly that yielded results in less than 24-hours.
via The Skrauss Speaks, You Listen on YouTube
Turns out a local artist The Skrauss, a recent MFA of UW-Milwaukee and long-time illustrator, has unmistakeable work. Jim Stingl somehow got a hold of Skrauss and pulled a few strained responses from him. A mysterious statue on the Riverwalk, makes a physical metaphor for random acts of love and outburst.
I suppose with a sketchy box van and 10-foot statue, pop-up public art is possible. The Skrauss has art that hangs on walls too, and sometimes cameos in indie films like The Wheel.
The Skrauss (c) 2013
Usually the debate about how to get about town in Milwaukee is a decent conversation piece. In the worst cases, it’s the way to find the poles of people’s outlook on life in the city. Wait what’s that? Milwaukee has Zipcar! Now there is even more to talk about, and they’re giving away a Zipcertificate worth $100 to get a worthy Milwaukeean moving (details below).
Get a Move On
As Milwaukee tussles with plowing towards becoming full fledged metropolis or remaining a fragmented mid-sized city of suburbs and enclaves, many urbanists vie for a more robust public transit system by adding variety to available modes. From buses, street cars, to bike shares multiple transportation options decrease reliance on cars and increase urban viability as a matter of public policy. Urban Milwaukee, has provided an ongoing commentary on the Downtown Street Car plan and other transit innovations that have made their way through the wringer a few times, some set to see the pavement in 2014.
Other Milwaukeeans make a conscientious lifestyle or personal finance choice to live car-less relying on any of the above, and in certain fits of principled defiance (read: “fun”) take “pedicabs” and pedal pubs. Others who come to the city from smaller towns, or who are just prideful locals, may swear by nothing other than a personal vehicle for transportation, lest they have their own personal Jim Anchower moment on the bus. It’s quite possible that with Zipcar, Milwaukeeans can now travel the middle ground about town when and how they choose.
Did you know? Zipcars survived the Polar Vortex of 2014
If You Didn’t Know…
Zipcar is a car sharing business that has served Milwaukee for the past five years. This University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus got them first in 2007, and soon after Marquette University added the Zipcar option. This past August, Zipcar expanded its presence in Milwaukee to serve nearly 20 locations. Zipcar works like a monthly subscription to awesome cars that you can use by the day or hour, accessible right in your neighborhood.
What about insurance? It’s included. What about gas? It’s included, if you follow the very reasonable guidelines. What about the hassle, sounds like a rental car? Leave that to the concierge at the airport, with the deposits, and mandatory rental periods and every changing pricing. You sign up for Zipcar and use the mobile web (iOS or Android) or conventional internet to make a reservation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Modern technology allows you to access the car and drive off without having to talk to a person. Even in an middle of the night emergency you can get to where you have to go, as long as it’s not to Kalamazoo.
Getting the Picture
Have you a friend that’s coming in town on the Hiyawatha or by coach bus from a city like Minneapolis or Chicago that has Zipcar? Say on an occasion your schedules don’t match. If they are signed up they can arrange a Zipcar here, they can explore Milwaukee for an afternoon until you can connect.
If you live around downtown Zipcars are stashed about several neighborhoods for your shopping, business, or personal convenience. Juneau Town on Kilbourn and Van Buren, Eastown on Jefferson and Wisconsin, US Bank Center on Michigan and Cass, Public Market on Broadway and Clybourn, Third Ward at Buffalo and Jefferson all have Zipcars.
Some people need car for an afternoon once or twice a month, why go $15,000 in debt or get a hooptie that’s going to break down when you need it. For many people, Zipcar is a practical way to save money and abide by a low-car diet. You’ll probably be able to enjoy the luxuries of a much nicer car that you can afford while you’re at it.
You’re a responsible adult, so why shouldn’t you be able to drive an Audi Q5, Mini Cooper or Toyota Prius?
To Zipcar affordable does not mean economy. Each of these cars are available in the Milwaukee market in select locations. Other Zipcar makes include Mazda, Ford and Hyundai.
Hybrid City Dwellers
Using Zipcar doesn’t mean you have sold out public transit. Zipcar represents the shared option, which is the next most civil thing to the public option, without the nerve racking of lending or borrowing and bumming rides in someone else’s car. Matter of fact, it’s basically like a bike share but with cars. Well almost. Although our wildest dreams as kids were to put some coins in the kiddy horsey ride and ride off, you’ll actually have to sign up and get your Zip Card in the mail before using Zipcar.
Services like Zipcar are huge steps in the right direction and show the surge in vitality Milwaukee has recently experienced in its city center, so it’s at least worth knowing about. RadioMilwaukee has a spot with Zipcar’s Milwaukee marketing rep, and she’s got a great radio voice you can hear behind the “Love’s Gonna Get Ya”/”Plug Tuning” and “So Watcha Saying”/”Jackin’ for Beats” instrumentals.
To make their 2014 expansion a little more fun, the good people at Zipcar have decided to offer one lucky Milwaukeean, and Local Trolley reader, a $100 Zipcertificate to put towards a Zipcar membership and driving credit, and the folks at Local Trolley are honored to do the honors. To get a shot at starting your low-car diet on the house, “Like” Local Trolley’s Facebook page by January 15, 2014 to cast your lot.
I used to have this awfully bad attitude like most teens, especially toward popular media, and for some reason it extended to books of literature. I used to rant about how anyone could just start writing, making up any old thoughts and pass them off as facts or novels. Around this time, this newspaper started appearing in the halls of my high school.
It was filled with all sorts of non-sense like Air Jesus coming back to earth dunking in a Bulls jersey, commentary written under the pseudonyms like Smooth B, Jim Anchower and Higalec of the Healfdanes, and some classic spots like Point/Counter Point. It was foundational material emulate, fertilizer for a generation of native Milwaukeeans with a natural penchant for imaginative banter and hyperbolic heckling coursing through their veins. Milwaukee is of course the ancestral home of Jim Abrahams, Jerry and David Zucker, could anyone expect less.
One day buried, on page 5 or something, a random throw away column appeared, “New Study: Books Don’t Take You Anywhere”. In disbelief, my eyes swirled in a self-righteously justified tizzy at the mundane black and white picture of a 9 year old sitting in an over sized living room easy chair reading a book. That was the moment the The Onion played my chord, I was hooked.
One Bad Day
At year close Milwaukee abruptly lost a dear smelly old friend. The day it was announced that The Onion print edition was going away should grudgingly join that club of infamous, tragic and otherwise note worthy moments in popular history deserving of a “where were you when…” recollections. It was almost two months ago now when I first heard the news and I’ve already almost forgotten mine.
I’m pretty sure I saw a status come through the A.V. Club Milwaukee page and immediately dismissed it as “usual antics”. About a week later, I was driving down Prospect Avenue while texting and listening to The Disclaimer on WMSE, which included then A.V. Club Milwaukee editor Matt Wild, where the gory details were revealed.
Somewhere along the line, some bastards in Chicago thought Milwaukee shouldn’t have a newspaper it helped bring to national prominence over the previous quarter century, circulating weekly on newsstands with the admirable A.V. Club Milwaukee local insert neatly tucked inside. It figures, we also have more bars per capita than Chicago, and naturally more cool stuff going on per capita too.
According to Wild , the Milwaukee outfit was still profitable, albeit likely on the curvy mounds about the ladies and gents in the Silk and chatline ads, profitable non-the-less (not a directly attributable sentiment of Wild). It is unknown if the same could be said in Madison, Boulder or any other of the cities The Onion phenomenon burrowed underground, later to be snatched up and tossed at a skateboarder.
Let us then remember The Onion as a true beacon of the oft’ hidden reality found in the sarcasm of cynical minds. A life line for the consciousness of free and critical thinkers to cling, a boil on the face of overcooked established journalism. The Onion: a testament to the vast potential contained in the sprig of an idea. To the A.V Club Milwaukee, a persistent tap on the side of the head to remind us that the local voice matters, and that their is always a reason to slug some Lakefront pints with your esteemed colleagues in the Onion Beer Society.
The Onion, a crowning contribution of Milwaukee to the patronage of cultural and political satire, one of the first and the last to circulate this Grade “A” American institution: The Onion print edition, gone but never to be erased from memory, at least not in the first two weeks of 2014.
Milwaukee blew living colors all year in 2013, with our fine city earning a couple of major national honors including a somewhat dubious “Brainiest City” from The Atlantic, and most notably a spot on ArtPlace America’s top art places 2013 list. On this list, Milwaukee bumped elbows with Brooklyn and Manhattan, NY, Seattle, Portland, Dallas, LA, Philadelphia, and San Francisco and few other name brand cities. The recognition specifically gold-starred the Third Ward for its civic centrality, a harbor of the fine arts.
While most Milwaukeeans appreciate the Third Ward for what it represents, it only gives a taste of Milwaukee’s arts culture. The Milwaukee art-scape evolved pockets, hideouts, scenes, lone rangers, academies and even congregations as the twentieth century turned. In 2013, Milwaukee lost the matriarch of them all, Art vs. Craft.
Though preceded by several notable others including Morning Glory Art Festival and Community Arts Festival (both held annually at the Marcus Center), and Lake Front Festival of the Arts, Art vs. Craft changed everything.
Art vs. Craft took the mainstream fine art culture, spritzed afternoons with your parents sharing blush wine and munching pretzels, and distilled it into an around the clock ordeal of melding kinesthetics and aesthetics during everyday life; a way of life. For those pumping their time, energy and life force into mastering age old craft skills into making things, Art vs. Craft became the annual venue to unveil them to peers and Milwaukee’s neat-thing enthusiasts.
Art vs. Craft founder Faythe Levine must be credited as one of the foremost creative minds Milwaukee has every seen, welding her creativity, ethics, and force of will together to essentially found a niche industry, still maintaining her integrity at all turns. In 2008, collaborating with Courtney Heimerl, Levine released the documentary Hand Made Nation, giving a more global view of the phenomenon taking place in Milwaukee. It was screened around the world, to international acclaim.
Veering to a more specific path of craft professions, Levine and Sam Macon released Sign Painters in early 2013, currently winding down a world tour, capping another immense undertaking.
Leaving the Nest
Art vs. Craft’s final event was hosted by the Harley-Davidson Museum on November 30, 2013. Although a juried craft fair, Art vs. Craft 2013 took up two full exhibition spaces at the HD Museum. Patrons gathered with Printmakers, collage artists, jewelry makers, toy makers, book binders, ceramic dish makers and many others with obscure craft proficiencies, to toast the closing of Levine’s seminal project.
As I browsed that day, obliviously staring over at one of the booths while walking, I almost ran full into someone. Sort of giving way noticing at the last second, I realized in an awe-struck moment that it was Faythe. We ended up just brushing arms. Dammit should have been paying attention, we could’ve met!
Art vs. Craft is survived by venues WMSE’s Buy Local Bazaar, Hovercraft, and Made in Milwaukee, and likely has many budding offspring.
The holiday gift buying crunch time has arrived with well timed seasonal snow and ice, but don’t let that stop you. If you haven’t wrapped all your gifts yet, there are some great local shopping options worthy of a browse. One of a kind clothing, accessories, and art make great gifts, lets face it everyone likes custom.
This weekend shops are popping up and store front proprietors will have their doors to greet you. If you prefer online, most of these local options can accommodate e-commerce as well.
Last Minute Shopping List Part 1
Zen Dragonfly, Last Ditch Effort, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1Mk
Handmade clothing and accessories by fashion house Zen Dragonfly, and hosting mini-craft fair Last Ditch Effort in Sherman Park Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 12p.
Madam Chino’s Look Nook, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1Mi
Madam Chino fashion house feature vintage and handmade fashion and accessories, pop up shop is open Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 12p.
Roots Underground Outfitters, Nice Gear, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1Mm
Urban fashion retailer Roots has custom fashion designs and independent brands from across the nation, their store is open regular business hours in Washington Heights.
Milrawkee Alt, Bubbler Studios, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1Mo
Prepare for fun, Milrawkee Alt has original Milwaukee themed art and gifts of all types, perfect for the MKE junky with a love for funky stuff to put on their walls, located in Bay View’s Hide House.
A smorgasbord of makers will fill Zen Dragonfly’s 3rd Annual Last Ditch Effort. Created by local fashion designer Angela Smith, Zen Dragonfly carries a suite of skirt and dress designs derived from re-purposed fabrics, along with hats, knit tams and beanies and other hand sewn accessories.
Every year she teams up with other local artists and crafts people to have a year-end vendor market. This year the Last Ditch effort will convene at the Body and Soul Healing and Arts Center in Sherman Park’s Good Shepard Lutheran Church on 48th and Roosevelt Boulevard.
Past vendors at the Last Ditch Effort included bookbinders, visual artists, screen printers, jewelery artists, natural soaps and beauty products. In a stroke of luck for sweet teeth, several local bakers will also be in residence to help you spoil your appetite a little early, with a variety of tantalizing goodies.
The Last Ditch Effort will go down on Saturday December 21, 2013 from 12:00p to 6:00p at Good Shepard Lutheran Church, 3617 N. 48th Street. Like the Zen Dragonfly page for the latest updates on this event.
Many clothing items leave a first impression that they probably came straight from a major retailer, or worse yet a department store. I actually have a phobia of being seen in an item of clothing that has an immediately recognizable origin. Local maker Vanessa Andrew’s alter-ego Madam Chino will cure that ailment when you stop by the Look Nook on 100A E. Pleasant Street.
A treasure trove of handmade accessories and clothing, the Look Nook also has an extremely forward and very gently worn vintage clothing and shoe selection. Madam Chino is one of the contributors of Hovercraft, adding to her resume of impeccable taste for quality hand tailored and curated found items.
The Look Nook will have an exclusive pop-up shop open Saturday, December 21, 2013 from 12:00p – 6:00p. Take a gaze at the Madam Chino Look Nook page for details on how to attend the shop opening.
Holding down Washington Heights, urban fashion gets a boost from Roots Underground Outfitters. Located on 54th and Vliet, Roots carries a carefully selected stable of gear must haves such a jeans, hats, tees, bags, and nap sacks in independent brands like Mishka, Kidrobot, 5Boro, along with your favorite local sports team apparel.
Roots keeps their banner namesake ‘Roots’ tees around so you can rock deep Vliet Street pride. They also teamed up with Rehughes Design to generate even more local flavor. Rehughes Design brought forth limited edition T’s graphics to amp Roots grand opening back in the fall, some styles worth looking into.
If you’re going really hardcore backlashing against any branding, Roots also has custom screenprinting services available to get you into that t-shirt idea burning a hole in your head.
Roots Underground Outfitters is located in 5328 W. Vliet Street
Alternative fashion photographer Ryan Laessig and visual artist Amanda Iglinski formed the design house Bubbler Studios this past year. They’ve melded their highly conceptual creative forces to launch Milrawkee Alt as an ode to traditional science fiction culture and our favorite hometown Milwaukee.
In a series of original comic illustration-style paintings they capture superbly absurd scenes like King Kong romping on the Intercontinental Hotel, martians nuking the USBank building and the Kraken munching on the Calatrava. These are available in print and refridgerator magnets.
A second set of graphically illustrated prints lets Milrawkeeans get super local by expressing their neighborhood pride in series of Star Wars themed portraits. Infamous likenesses from mostly the Darkside of the Force paired with the Milwaukee ‘hood name enscribed in Star Wars-esque typeface can help geek out your walls.
Laessig and Iglinski also have their own individual contemporary artworks worth exploring. Check them out in person at Bubbler Studios in the Hide House or online at the Milwaukee Alt site.
When you’re incoherently ambling around ready for that crucial first sip of the day, though taste and quality does matter, hard pressed coffee enthusiasts know that how you prep the brew rarely has consequence. Contrary to conventional habits, the crude, yet noble, preparation technique of hand drip has gained popularity in cupping communities in recent years, bringing a whole new meaning to delayed gratification to coffee drinkers. In a fortunate twist of enterprise, the hand drip mavins of Valentine Coffee give us a new cause to care.
Washington Heights’, Valentine Coffee has shared its own distinctive, globally sourced crop and small batch roasts geared toward discerning tastes for about a year now. You won’t find any large plastic buttons pumping coffee through a thermos, Valentine Coffee employs the hand drip method to every regular cup, without exception.
Dressed in stylishly rough finished interior design, located in a modest storefront on Vliet Street just east of 60th Street, Valentine Coffee offers a contemplative atmosphere for casual conversation or task mastering. Although hand dripped, optimally scalding temperature water awaits its chance to run over carefully measured coffee grounds, awakening the full character of the coffee within three minutes.
Valentine’s current selection stretches vast for a roastery its size and arrives from Brazil, Indonesia, New Guinea, Peru, and Uganda, each with their own unique flavor profiles. Sweet and savory light baked goods present themselves for the taking courtesy of Blue’s Egg and other local establishments.
Valentine Coffee now opens daily from 6am to 2pm.
Drawing a lot of cool from the fact that it was literally a neighborhood of burned out buildings 15 years ago, Fifth Ward can boast another foodie destination right off of Bruce and Second Street. That’s right. Across the street from Clock Shadow Creamery and Purple Door Ice Cream, and behind Milwaukee Brewing Company, sits Anodyne Coffee’s new roasting factory and cafe.
F- the Bar
It has hit the soft spot between Stone Creek’s Fifth Street facility downtown and the mega-Colectivo on KK. Having multiple full bore, fair trade, exclusive batch coffee roasters in town is an absolute luxury and distinguishing factor Milwaukee has over even its largest peers. It was astounding just how bad, or hard to find, good coffee was in cities I traveled recently. I actually can’t imagine the same isn’t true in nearly every American town. Especially, Louisville, Hiene Brother’s should just say its a murky hot water shop. I guess we’re spoiled.
Humble, Humble Better
Anodyne‘s red brick one-and-half story warehouse, takes up a low-key corner and has a low key footprint to match. It barely looks touched, other than a little pressure washing and red trimmed large framed hybrid-sash box windows. A heavy wood stained door looks respectably salvaged, above it a three dimensional iron decal blazes Anodyne complete with its signature capital “A” and red banner.
Pacing a couple stair walk up, or ascending by accessibility lift, you’re greeted by exceedingly spacious and thoughtfully designed common space. From floor, to the vaulted ceiling must span twenty feet.
Looking as though sliced from recently felled trees, wooden conventional camp cabin and bar height tables glazed with a hard glossy lacquer, cover the deck of the matching wood floor. Tucked beneath the table surfaces, custom manufactured aluminum chairs sit light and sturdy, with an “A” for Anodyne branded on the seat.
Lights hung in domed clear glass utility fixtures, appear like they could run on argon gas. The shaded lamp stands lean back casually, both powered with intensely red cords.
Anodyne’s uniqueness even shows through its service counter, which more resembles the ultimate Irish pub bar. It reaches at least 70 feet from the register to the wall, used both for service and patrons.
Brewed Awakenings, Unwindings
Anodyne’s current roasts traveled from Costa Rica, Kenya, El Salvador and Tanzania, some roasted in completely original small batches like the signature Snake Oil Espresso Batch No. 2 blend. When its past coffee time, Anodyne also offers a few taps of Milwaukee Brewing Company brews.
Anodyne is a remarkable coffee destination and open daily.
Just like sitting in forth grade homeroom again, a PA crackled the sound of a matronly voice informing us of what had come to her attention concerning recess play ground antics. Ut oh! No more “Smeer the Queer” or “Beat the Geek”, we have to play nice. Luckily for all of the troublemakers in the crowd, the ladies of Broadminded Comedy were willing to some of the dirty work for us.
Jerks!, Broadminded’s latest episode of improvisational and sketch comedy, hit the Grand Avenue Arcade over the Thanksgiving Holiday in the Underground Collective performance space. The relaxed fitting and functional black box stage gave Anne Graff DeLisa, Stacy Babl, Megan McGee, and Melissa Kingston plenty of room to knock eagerly awaiting funny bones.
Fun with Poking
Like a magical unicorn beast, sketch and improv comedy moves elusively between slapstick, sarcasm and irony. If you find that mystical place in your mind to play along, Broadminded will make that unicorn appear before your computer glazed eyes. They’ve pulled off a series of individual shows, and participated in many comedy fests over recent years, succeeding in snatching laughs out of their audiences’ bellies since 2006. Their latest show Jerks! supplied no exceptions.
A two act pony, Jerks! boasted 21 scenes in all, tapping the opposite shoulder of many everyday situations and ubiquitous current news topics involving a caricature of someone behaving on the spectrum of “jerkism”. The Broads kicked off with The Apology, a skit where DeLisa explained reluctantly to her roommate, played by Kingston, how she mistakenly shredded Kingston’s favorite college hoodie in the wash. McGee, the third roommate, sat at a computer absorbing the drama airing out.
DeLisa breaks the news indirectly, and Kingston shrugs it off, as if assured of her sweatshirt’s whereabouts. Feeling guilty DeLisa, adds emphasis to the reality of her apology and produces a green absurdly tattered cloth, at the sight of which Kingston looses it as if her best friend moved away. McGee smarmily gives a clinical blow by blow of Kingston’s reactions, illustrating to DeLisa that everything will be okay. After all, her tantrum subsiding, predictably Kingston will think of what could have intervened to save her sweater, before she falls into a heaping emotional funk. On cue, Kingston overacts each stage of the Kubler-Ross model.
Finally, Kingston gets over it and turns to DeLisa to instigate conversation with McGee as she studiously finishes her homework. McGee gets testy, and Kingston snidely remarks that McGee must be lacking Maslow’s first basic need, food. Lesson learned: stop being the “#$@&” that analyzes your friends problems just because you took some stupid college intro course. Let rinse and repeat, a few highlights from Jerks!
Pot shooting the wine drinking crowd in the Rich Bitches skit, Babl and McGee prop themselves up haughtily at a table for two. They comment hideously on the traits of the wine they are sipping, its obvious shortcomings, and why it should have been decanted. DeLisa, the server, drops a bombshell into their gaping mouths that they’re having diet cola.
Just Brand Me
Three moms, push their kids in imaginary swings. In What’s in a Name, McGee and Babl marvel that DeLisa renamed her kid, taking up a well known candy corporation on an offer of a large undisclosed sum of money to purchase the naming rights of her daughter. DeLisa admits that the name was very special to her and her husband, a memento to lasting memories of the travels of their young romance. Reconciling her decision, DeLisa explains they’ll rename their kid, and she’ll keep all of her local appeal and won’t sacrifice any of her intelligence. Now everyone in the world will know her name! Get it? Milwaukee now gets its favorite brewed beverages off of a metaphorical bus.
Meet me in the Bathroom
Act two brought everyone back to attention with a little audience participation. What’s improv without a little potty humor, that’s what Vajayprov guaranteed. Broadminded company members extolled audience members to blurt out an item they would find in a kitchen. Some answers bounced back, “knife”, “glass”. Kingston, impeccably timed as always, wizzed back, “Ok, great,… butt plug.” The sketch commenced barging through frenetic quips and wits, and much like DeLisa’s mime, the mental imaginary window opened and some of the audience climbed out. Others stuck around for a kick in the pants.
Wry vs. Spy
Although they all were great, Broadminded’s NSA Nancy sketch was genius. Mom locks herself out of the house, no problem, NSA Nancy shows up friendly as the mailman, and has the key to let her in. Mom doesn’t know that her son is trying to hook up with the friendly neighbor girl, no problem, NSA Nancy shows up just in time with a condom. What’s that? The neighbor doesn’t have garlic for the pasta sauce, no problem, NSA Nancy heard about the dinner party two weeks ago and let herself in to give the neighbor the clove she needed for taste. They all reply, Thanks NSA Nancy. Thanks Broadminded, that was beyond classic.
A Common Thread
You’re at the mall, you’re on vacation, you’re in a confessional, and suddenly the song “Brown Eyed Girl” starts playing and two girls jump out of no where and start screaming that they have brown eyes, and giggle hysterically and jump around singing along. They hitch hike a ride on a tractor trailer, and what on the AM dial? “Brown Eyed Girl”. The trucker dishes that he loves Van Morrison, the naturally reply from the “Brown Eyed” girls, “Huh”?
Worth Your While
They’re funny, smart, and all that good stuff, and worth a evening out with someone you like to share lighthearted and witty laugh. Broadminded Comedy’s next show is scheduled for next April, 2014, so you have plenty of time to build up false expectations and get on their mailing list.
A banjo slung over his shoulder, his right hand swung at the wrist allowing his fingers to effortlessly pick, strum and coax with other means, tinny notes found by the curious fingers of his other hand working the fret, wringing cords, knuckles contorting unnaturally, finger tips nailing the wiry strings. Don Flemons moonlit Shank Hall, treating the modest, fully engaged audience to an old time country blues set fit for both foot stamping and kicking back in a weather worn wooden chair under a shade tree. He opened with his version of Milwaukee Blues.
Pass the Sweet Tea
In an easy conversational manner that endeared the audience to receive him like an old friend, while moving his capo far down the banjo neck, Flemons warned us that he worked really hard to get the tuning for his next number down. Reserved on a line in his tattered set list notes for one of his favorites, he cut into the pleading opening scale of Rabbit Brown’s James Alley Blues. A chill went up the base of my neck raising every hair it touched on the way, when he leaned heavy into the lyrics of the first verse, “Those times ain’t now, nothing like they used to be.” A fitting honor, Living Blues magazine bestowed Flemons the 2013 Most Outstanding Banjo Musician award for his rendition of Brown’s tune of tribulation.
A Gift to Give
Like an old transistor radio, Flemons’ voice carried the presence of many songsters past, many gone for a century. Hid did Franks Stokes, tinged with a character giving southern drawl. In other rips, he cleared the air with crisp tenors of John Estes. Flemons’ even reached high pitched yodels seeking something to the effect of Mike Johnson’s soul.
Dubbing himself a ‘vocal contortionist’, Flemons admittedly attempts to capture the tonal qualities of the original authors. This description should leave you more settled than to say Flemons radiates as a spiritual medium to the hard lives of Ragtime and Depression Era Americana. Lost to our contemporary consciousness, the only trace of their musical existence lays fossilized in gritty phonograph recordings pressed in wax, and cracked gray scale photographs, and in a dying generation of blues musicians, Flemons one of their few native sons.
More than his Music
Listening to old time folk and blues gives the ear a taste of the rhythm of the times, the other part, in the musics essence the byproduct of entertaining. Flemons embodied his appreciation of the intangible elements of old time blues players, spending a few moments between each leg of his musical monologue on old tall tales and comedic bits, explaining the gamut of son topics from ‘happiness and heartache’ to ‘hokum’.
With mechanical certainty, he stood straight, swaying his head side to side between conversational pauses, eyes shifting as if his mind beat one step ahead of his strumming hands. He interrupted songs, to urge his personified banjo to keep playing. He swung his banjo buddy high, low and all around displaying his tingling prowess, playing with unorthodox bodily extremities, still on key and in rhythm.
Deep Blues Maker
Back then making instruments sometimes made do for having nothing else to accompany the banjo or guitar, or having any instruments at all. Most know of the washboard, spoons, maybe even ham bone, and of course the harmonica. Flemons, immersed in the blues traditions, naturally came equipped with a harmonica, blowing through it fluidly. Playing a hold card, Flemons broke out a well improvised flute know as the quills, a lyre-esque doohickey giving off a hollow breathy whistle.
His ace in the hole, hands down, came in the form of four polished portions of cow ribs, known as the Bones. A pair sandwiching the middle finger, clasped loosely in each hand, when shaken vigorously, they smack together making a crisp clacking sound; tempo exceeding castanets. Flemons flapped, waved and punched his way through an incredible one man bones duet with his harmonica providing the melody.
Memorable for the sake of Memories
A fairly young man, Flemons shared stories of spending time with some of the great depression era country and blues musicians still living. He’s impressed upon so many from the blues community that he’s been featured at the Black Banjo Gathering in Lexington, KY, the Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention and on a PBS Art Beat special. Dom Flemons is also know for his founding contributions to the greatness that is the Carolina Chocolate Drops. His his latest solo work includes a collaboration with Boo Hanks entitled Buffalo Junction and American Songster.
Even though they like jangle out of storage bins to dance in October, skeletons don’t smash carved stories for Halloween like the Alchemist Theatre. Per tradition, Artistic Director Aaron Kopec brings a bit of intrigue to the fall season with his choose-your-own-adventure mystery drama Closing Night.
A cerebral crime story, Closing Night challenges its cast to lead the audience out of their seats on a fluid and nerve turning journey through the depths of the Alchemist Theatre space, to learn the dark secrets of its murky past, and fates of the present day Alchemist ensemble that has succumb to the theater’s sanguine lineage.
Two cooky spirit mediums lead the audience’s haunted tour of the Alchemist’s history, hinting at clues along the way that reveal who, with what, and why the Alchemist’s present day company were murdered. The secrets lie within the twisted tale of the theater founders Montecore and Lillian’s charmed lives and deaths, and the artifacts of the current company’s contribution to the Alchemist’s canon.
In the story, the Alchemist’s director Trisha is a distant relative of Lillian’s, who’s productions have tremendous success reviving the theater’s magic through the type writer pecks of her writer Maggie, and the ensemble of type cast usual suspects: a guy everyone can agree on, Mitch, a vixen, Lucille, and a offbeat maintenance man, Don, and a newcomer, Sheila. In a flash, they are all dead, or are they?
Once presented the nebulous prologue, the audience must shed their voyeuristic tendencies (that brought them to the theater in the first place) and use their wits, and unwits, to uncover the well hidden hints to the case of the deceased Alchemist cast. Cryptically written messages on walls, decoys and dead ends are plenty as you go from the theater, to the lounge, to the cellar, to the writer’s office, the workshop, the catacombs, and the film studio.
If you are clever you will activate one of the many sensory hotspots that detect motion, sound or touch, and take one step closer to putting the pieces of the plot together. Most of the clues are found interactively, by noticing a combination of tip-offs located in the wall art, note pads, and other furnishings that make up the multiple staging areas of the production. Although you are encouraged to touch props and set pieces, an astounding aspect of the show is that nearly every clue is hidden in plain sight.
All in Good Fun
Rather than try to scare a weird expression out of you, Closing Night presents a great Halloween themed date night for couples and friends. Its a great activity as talking is acceptable during most of the show, and it will either leave you feeling either very smart or feeling like you need to accept that free online trial of Luminosity. Light hors d’oeurves are served with the quip humor of Alchemist’s core performers including Anna Figlesthaler, Libby Amato and Sammy Ditloff and host of other notables.
Closing Night runs heathen weekends (starting on Thursday) at 7:30p from now until November 2 at the Alchemist Theatre.
At the top of a ravine, two stair cases shoot down symmetrically into an expansive flower garden framed by an ornate wrought iron fence. From Lincoln Memorial Drive, glances at the distant beauty held in the Italianate terrace excite ideations that a real life Vito Corleone could have made their retreat there.
In all of its intrigue, it stands as a vintage monument, permanent show space for decorative arts, and for a brief moment the Villa Terrace offers itself as theatrical staging befitting a tribute to the gods. Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre begins its season by laying at the alter The Bacchanalia, a wonderfully presented dramatic montage in the tradition of Greek tragedy and cult.
Showcasing major threads in the performance repertoire of Quasimondo, The Bacchanalia is anything but traditional. Its multiple dimensions incorporate human puppetry, masks, interpretive dance and a host of other exceptional dramatic special effects.
Whisking its audience away to antiquity, Artistic Directors Brian Rott and Jessi Miller compose The Bacchanalia, a three act masterpiece staged using three distinct spaces of the Villa Terrance.
On the terrace, Act One introduces us to the tradition of the Bacchanalia from perspectives held by mortals and gods. Seamlessly the audience is transferred deep into the mundane on-goings of mythological Greek life.
A league of pre-knowledge gentlemen figure and hash out the philosophical underpinnings of Western thought. Among them, a who’s who of pre-educated fools the likes of Socrates (Michael Davis), Aristotle (Josh Bryan), Plato (Kirk Thomsen) and even Diogenes (Michael Guthrie) bumble around until the gods intervene. Heroes in the making leave their doting maids, to find honor and adventure, encountering all manners of bane and beast.
The gods show their boredom, meddling in the lives of mortals. Naturally, Zeus (Davis) is central to the drama, as the grand scandal of his affair with Semele (Sarah Ginger Seefeldt) is portrayed so that we know how this “Bacchanalia” madness started. Hermes (Thomsen) complicit in this tawdry episode, absurdly assists Zeus avoid Hera’s (Brooke Maroldi) temper.
Act Two, performed in the court yard, prominently features Apollo (Ben Yela) and Artemis (Jenni Reinke) as they continuously enter the earthly fray, as they choose lovers and take turns instigating and intervening in lovers’ quarrels.
Act Three, staged in the terrace foyer, closes the show with a tremendous sense of abstract fluidity, as several vignettes bridge the past to the present, offering dramatic metaphors to make sense of the frailty, purpose and futility human existence.
For Your Eyes Only
A hedonistic fever engulfs The Bacchanalia production unwittingly infecting the audience with allusions of sexual deviance and a reasonable level contextual perversity (although their is nothing explicitly lewd or vulgar, this is absolutely and adult ages show).
The Bacchanalia is absolutely stellar and a must see. The musical composition accompanying the show performed by Bill Webb and backed up by Narazio Chickpeazio, and player Ben Yela provides the perfect shading to the production.
The ensemble is rounded out with multiple roles from Emily Craig, Jeff Kriesel, Sarah Ann Mellstrom, Andrew Parchman, Michael Weiss, Ashley Milewski, Jessi Miller and Brian Rott.
The final run of The Bacchanalia is tonight at 7:00p at the Villa Terrace. The show is set outdoors for two scenes, so dress accordingly. For tonight the perfect closing night, there shouldn’t be an issue.
Gleefully, gentile fellows in seersucker suits and skimmers promenaded on the Quadracci Powerhouse apron, linked in arms with fair ladies tucked into lightly corseted and hooped summer dresses, clutching parasols, singing in chorus, “There were gazebos, there were no…,” High societies’ Mothers’ and Fathers’ boardwalk attitudes typified.
Soulfully, dapper dons glided into their corner of the scene from upstage, clapping, defying disenfranchisement. They tipped the brims of their derbies clad in pinstriped vests and spit shined wingtips. Sweet mamas snapping sassily, with hips swaying, skipping beside their men singing in time, “Giving the nation, a new syncopation…,” Uptown’s first anthem, Coalhouse a man, and his song, killing the dames softly.
Devoutly, proud settlers in a new land dipped at the knee, with arms lifted to the shoulders, clinging to the old country’s ways, heads crowned with a version of the Hasidic Yud, black woolen coats and scarves cradling their torsos. Tateh has brought his daughter to America to make a new home, a prologue offered for his people, “The sound of distant thunder suddenly starting to climb…”
Content murmurs, jovial outbursts and applause energed the ensemble on cue with each bit. The opening scene of Mark Clements’ production of Ragtime met an rousing embrace from the audience even before the first act was over.
Ragtime written by Terrance McNalley, and based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, takes place in turn of 20th century New York City and offers yet another glimpse, through a different window, into a period that cultural buffs have grown quite fond.
Does the veil of propriety and other social illusions draw us? Could it be the uncertainty of the times, upheavals in all areas of life rising with each day? Maybe its the ingenuity of post-industrial technology. Some combination of some other reasons, probably not named here, has aided Clements in bringing us to the whipping post again, to flog us with dramatized American historical fiction; again to our enjoyment.
Layering several concentric story lines, assisted by exemplary production values in stage direction (Clements), lighting (Jeff Nellis), sound (John Tanner), costume (Alexander Tecoma) and scenic artistry, Clements wields Ragtime’s literary edge to cut, salve, and then singe repeatedly the audience’s senses, exercising the joys and sorrows of American life in post-Industrial NYC.
The Art of Place
A two story faux steel girded structure, spans from stage left to stage right, mechanically swinging like a immense barn door, stretching the play into vertical space. The ensemble numbering at least 40, scamper, parade and pause from all imaginable entrances and stage positions.
The technical aspects of the show in isolation from the drama inspire admiration. Credit Todd Edward Ivins (Scenic Director), and the rest of the production team Laura Wendt (Stage Manager), Sarah Hoffman (Assistant Stage Manager), Kimberly Ann McCann (Assistant Stage Manager), and Emily Penick (Assistant Director) for a incredibly delightful technical theater experience
These Crowded Streets, These Lonely Meadows
Ragtime winds around Mother’s (Carmen Cusack) struggles with her contrived marriage to Father (David Hess), Tateh’s (Josh Landay) search for a livelihood and prosperity for he and his daughter, and Coalhouse Walker’s (Gavin Gregory) reconciliation of his musical talents, of his love for Sarah (Jessie Hooker) and their child, and with his standing as a newly minted citizen of the lowest denomination.
These main characters weave and wind their way through the City streets, alley ways and flushing meadows, occasionally bumping into well know celebrities of their time. Eventually, happenstance brings each to encounter one another.
Legends in their Turn
We meet Harry Houdini (Sam Strasfeld) in the middle of one of his death defying acts. In dandiful manner, Evelyn Nesbit (Kelley Faulkner) tries to steal our hearts, playing America’s first celebrity personality (think of the infamous lineage she begot, the most recent of her brood, if you will forgive me, something the likes of Amanda Bynes).
The seething heat of the Lower Eastside Manhattan draws buckets of sweat from exploited factory workers. Among their ranks Tateh searches for a better way to rub two pennies together. For some, Emma Goldman (Melissa Joy Hart) rises as an indomitable figure of action. Tateh, who’s spirit is fortified by the many indignities he’s endured, sees another way, imagination and gall, to breath life to the technical origins of the modern entertainment industry.
Stormy with Coalhouse’s piano scales, Uptown nights rage with the collective passion stored in the mettle of Black Americans, releasing sounds of new found freedom. Beneath musical cocktail of sorrow and jubilation, Booker T. Washington (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) extolls the virtues of diligence and intellectual proficiency, with a pace less pleasing than the tempo of ragtime. Meanwhile, we see Henry T. Ford’s (James Patterson) vision for American mobility come to life and pluck men, alike or not in concern for social pondering, into his organizational machine for making machines.
With some irony, during Father’s journey for purpose to Europe, we even encounter Admiral Peary (Steve Watts) and Matthew Henson (Gabriel Mudd), possibly two of the most obscure references of the “ragtime” era. Henson, a Black American, who is credited in history as exploring much of the Northern Hemisphere on his own expeditions, is overshadowed by his colleague Peary, signifying the realities of the times.
Willie Conklin (Gerard Neugent) embodies the hash iniquities of racial discernment during the period. Conklin too treads his own path, going well out of his given station to express his disdain for anyone not like himself, especially for blacks. Through the use of a choice word or two, we are surely made to notice a route to the central tension in the plot.
In his dialog, Conklin makes a point to downplay his racial animus as something all Americans had to go through, a point of contention achieving the sneaky provocateur needed in all good commentary. Bring you earmuffs if you bristle at seeing the bitter truths of American social structures role played; And Coalhouse obliges.
Polishing both sides of the Coin
The good days meet the bad ones early and often in Ragtime. Along the way, the production’s technical effects highlight the vast range of emotional facets in story. Even more astonishing, the musical accompaniment is played by a live ensemble providing both the score and the sound effects punctuating many of the scene’s .
Ragtime boasts sound and lighting cues numbering in the thousands. The musical ensemble featured Stephen Flaherty’s original score, directed by Dan Kazemi and performed by Blair Bielawski (Reeds), Brett Murphy (Trumpet), Kyle Samuelson (Trombone), Clay Schaub (Upright Bass), Tom Schlueter (Trumpet), and Terry Smirl (Drums).
The main characters of Ragtime are made full with the phenomenal vocal talents of Cusack, Hooker, Gregory, and Landay, and supported masterfully by the ensemble notably Hart, and Bethany Thomas, performing the lyrics of Lynn Ahern.
Opening with a Bang
Thoroughly delighting the audience, Ragtime has a little something for everyone. The ovation at the curtain call indicated as much, as a the applause from the nearly capacity crowd mysteriously found a single rhythmic beat. Ragtime runs long weekends at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater until October 27.