The February 2013 term of Beyond Awesome featured lazer blazing Chicago duo Team Bayside High. If the Miramar Theatre was actually Bayside High these cats basically tied Mr. Belling up, put Zack in a full-nelson and made Screech punch him in the face at knife point, while blasting their stanking new refit of C+C Music Factory’s infamous hype-music era killing classic “Make You Sweat” over the PA. They bribed Slater to lug 10 barrels of PBR, by himself, into that super weak cafe they had called The Max, where Kelly, Lisa and Jessie were already covered in chocolate syrup and whip cream having a three-way tongue fight, forcing Slater to stuff that masochist Gimp leather gag-ball in his mouth if he wanted to stick around and watch… and he did. Yeah, pretty much like that.
Man… Gonna Make You Sweat Retake via http://soundcloud.com/teambaysidehigh
At some point in their fledgling careers mashing beats up and blasting them, Team Bayside High felt the apple drop on their head, realizing that people like that kind of nonsense. They are tearing scenes up like breakaway pro-wrestler tanks on their rag-tag Midwest tour that eventually hits Spring Awakening in Chicago this June at Soldier Field. Expecting any material to stay sacred around them is expecting to much, they are capable of mashing anything to smithereens, including the best Super Mario rendition I’ve heard yet. Maestros, for real…
Here we go… Super Mario via http://soundcloud.com/teambaysidehigh
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Miramar Theatre, Beyond Awesome
A nice cross between mellower House and hard banging club Electronica of vary shades, I hate to even try to give a written flavor of Albydamned controlling the monitors. He’s been a mainstay of Beyond Awesome dance-offs and collaborator with most of the who is’s of Milwaukee’s club jam producers, most notably 414MELT ‘s TheDemix who deserves his own post.
Like a great point guard, Albydamned set the tone for the latest edition of Beyond Awesome at the Miramar Theatre emitting slowly boiling mixes that got the crowd primed and frothing for the rest of the night, swaying involuntarily to his own blends, his flowing mane draping in through the bass. You can get a great taste of a few of his kicking downloadable sets on the Ryan Albydamned Mixcloud, chances of sitting still… none.
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Miramar Theatre, Beyond Awesome
A jagged cobble gangway leads to a rundown London public house. Inside, the local pub’s dingily stained wood bar, worn and barely kept, stays littered with empty glasses awaiting a pour from Margarette (Sharon Nieman-Koebert), a surly bartender in the Whitechapel section. The pub’s flock comes to the trough at times solitary, and at others in tandem and at random, always gnarled like the wrought iron propping up the once fine carved stair banister. The same iron, cast thick to seal unequivocally combustible ether within it, protects the life of the only light on this bleak passage on Buck’s Row. A lurid scene to beset the stage, a swell display of craftsmanship to give a story a place; something Milwaukee’s come to expect from the Alchemist Theatre.
Aaron Kopec, the Alchemist’s lead producer/director, has been making rounds story telling the world’s most notorious villains. Eventually, the wheel had to stop on the original terror tale, of those despicable acts carried out by Jack the Ripper. Dubbed the first modern serial killer, the fact that “The Ripper” only had a nickname and never saw justice gives his legend that much more creepy mystic. His known victims referred to in history’s annals as the Canonical Five, collectively serve as the production’s namesake and principle character.
The Chisel, The Stone
One by one we meet Polly Nichols (Liz Whitford), Annie Chapman (Sammich Ditloff), Elizabeth Stride (Erin E.), Catherine Eddowes (Libby Amato) and Mary Kelly (Anna Figlesthaler), unsavory and low, making their ends meet through charms of the flesh. Their first impressions come through the crude eyes of two Whitechapel blokes, who give us a taste of the bitter flavor filling the Old World English body politic, freshly weary off a century of Industrialization.
Isolated and cynical of their own existence, we learn of the male archetype’s harbor of utter disdain for women from Thomas Cutbush’s (Randall T. Anderson) foul mouth, frothing with vile regard for each of the Canonical Five. As he describes the unseemly sisterhood, they pepper the street corners and pubs they work with quip dirty remarks, emitting an aura of rank sexuality, leaving little doubt as to the warrant for Cutbush’s attitude.
Then there’s James Sadler (Kurtis Witzlsteiner) a scurvy ship hand with a streak of kindness towards the neighborhood ladies, but within eye shot of a fellow bloke he falls in-line with the times. He likes to frequent the stale air in London’s underbelly, among the regular faces flush with booze, scrapping by in life, guiltlessly having his way with the town floozies.
Then there’s a conspicuous stranger that completes the line up. A Yank, Francis Tumblety (Harry Loeffler-Bell) sensitive and prone to offense, with little interest in typical mundane male affairs, floating far above vulgarity and “buggering” tawdry women. Searching for something, his mysterious silent ways befuddle everyone, even more so when he takes a personal interest in anyone expressing brutal honesty about the contradictions and futility surrounding life in industrial society.
When the Music Stops
Contrary to the male point-of-view, much of the story unfolds from the perspective of the women who would loose their lives at the hands of Whitechapel’s unknown killer. In their private moments with each other, the working women share kindnesses, concern, their meager possessions and hefty burdens. After the first of their circle falls to a vicious murder, with them we go deeper and deeper into fear’s mist, barely enduring reality as their loop grows narrower and narrower.
Each heroine exposes their inner most feelings before their moment of reckoning, leaving an unfortunate trail of crumbs back to the beaten road of circumstances leading to their dispossessed existences as working girls; each having been abandoned by their husbands and emotionally lacerated by the loss of their children. They yearn for some light of hope, elusive and shyly personified by Billy McDoogle (Drake Dorfner), the Whitechapel section’s street lantern attendant.
The Wheels Grind
Theater has always taken on the conundrums of human life, contemporaneously in current day theater it’s quite vogue get down right obscene. While keeping the obvious aesthetic and entertainment value of drama in the forefront, The Canonical Five of Jack the Ripper does present some content, social commentary and dialog that is not for the squeamish. In taking on the tough issues of gender relations, morality and poverty, in some of the scenes the players are clearly challenged with even dramatizing these topics. (not to worry this doesn’t relate to the on-stage portrayal of the fates of the victims, there is not one scene of dramatized violence)
All of the actors muster rousing performances in at least one scene, playing to their acting strengths. Amato and Figlesthaler maintain superb chemistry with each other and create tension with the other characters particularly well. Ditloff embodying haplessness, Erin coyness, and Whitford tragedy, take the limited moments available in their monologues to draw the audiences attention.
Nieman-Koebert’s character Margarette, an unlikely foil, keeps the down-beats from sinking too low. A bit jester-ish Witzlsteiner provides a character that is relateable to most. Loeffler-Bell is convincing, as a being that doesn’t quite fit in. Anderson, displayed quite a bit of stage presence and seasoning, keeping the pace of the show.
A Matter of Practice
Where as pressure has mounted in Milwaukee’s theater community to climb trees and dance in the street, as a production The Canonical Five of Jack the Ripper maintains a conventional approach, which is always interesting to watch, as it tries to say something relying purely on what the players can evoke with method and the personal approaches to character. A good story and show, the Alchemist’s current run appeals most to those with a taste for little suspense and naughty humor.
The Canonical Five of Jack the Ripper runs tonight in about five minutes, with closing weekend next Thursday, Friday and Saturday. All show times starting at 7:30p on the dot.
This band of theatrical misfits led by Brian Rott, have taken over a rugged space in Brewers Hill’s Fortress Building and turned it into an irreverent dramatic play land. Rott, Artistic Director of Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre, recently did the unthinkable. He tangled with the rotting corpse of Anton Chekov to produce his version of The Seagull… in 3D. Yes my friends, 3D.
Wow, it’s in 3D!
It all started with a schtick jabbing at movie opening sequences. Members of the Quasimondo ensemble come out and mime a skit, where as the audience is instructed to prepare for a 3D bonanza by turning off their cell phones and throwing on their 1950′s 3D glasses. A handful of small rainbow colored feathers get tossed in the air and to everyone’s delight we’ve been had. Feathers fall to the ground with that strange blue and red haze that just won’t mix, that was the 3D part we can take our glasses off now. Then zombie Chekov appears.
He creeps out during Rott’s brief intro to Chekov: the man, the myth, the legend, a nice touch to the show for those who just like the idea of going to see play. Zombie Chekov is then gunned down with an original neon orange Nintendo Entertainment System Duck Hunt pistol (vintage NES references weave throughout the piece). As most zombies do if you leave their heads and limbs intact, zombie Chekov (Steve Gallam) stiffly limps over to join the music ensemble and lifelessly picks up a saxophone to lead the house concert band with Molly Leiberman, Sara Mellstrom, and Jenifer Reinke.
Oh, yeah, there’s a Plot
Konstantin (Rott) wants fame as a writer but his attention-hoarding, overbearing, melodramatic mother Irina Arkadina (Olivia Gonzales) can’t let go of her overexposed stardom or her twisted romantic entanglement with laureate novelist of the times Boris Trigorin (Jeff Kriesel).
Konstantine dotes, unrequited, for the naive daughter of a real estate magnate, Nina (Jessi Miller). She’s an aspiring actress longing for regard on-par with Irina’s. Having caught a glimpse of one of Nina’s performances, Boris falls for Nina’s whimsical fancies. She likens herself unto a seagull.
Irina’s brother, Sorin (Michael Davis) meanwhile suffers from an unknown affliction that will soon take his life. The manager of his estate Ilya (Michael Guthrie), henpecked constantly by his daughter Masha’s bratty antics, ignorantly goes about his business as his wife Polina (Jennifer Reinke), a violinist in the Kiev chamber falls for Sorin’s doctor Yevgeny (Kirk Thomsen). She eventually makes passionate love to the doctor, gracefully, through an interpretive dance routine accompanied by a stanza of Russian opera performed impeccably by Sarah Mellstrom singing in Russian. Yevgeny tosses her aside when he has had his way.
Sorin laments his desire to live, and eventually dies, though not easily. He’s forced comically into a casket on stage by a personified Death (Chris MacGregor). Mid-scene Sorin pops back up to sing a number about his want for life, before Death, Irina, Ilya, and Polina coral him back into the casket so that death can tap dance on top.
Nina pursuing her dreams runs-off to Kiev, Boris sappily chases behind. His wife Irina, succeeds in beguiling Boris to wrap himself back around her finger. Konstantine raves about, unable to attain Nina, obsessing over his disdain for Boris. With the help of his conscience, personified by MacGregor, we understand the madness overcoming Konstantine.
In one scene, MacGregor manipulates a seagull hand puppet in full view of the audience, tormenting Konstantine, gripping Konstantine’s head while he orates his disdain for Boris to his mother. The rabid seagull in his conscience turns then to Boris, gnawing evilly on his head, who is in view of the audience but not to the other characters in the scene. Konstantine does the only thing he can do to spite Nina, blasts the seagull she adores from her window. When that doesn’t work to win Nina’s attention, he blasts himself offstage, presumably with a Nintendo Duck Hunt Light Gun.
No Wasted Space
Doing theater in a studio space can be challenging, but Quasimondo makes the most of it. The set uses simple, arrangeable stationary set pieces. In this case, wooden platforms and bare mattresses prove Lego-like. Platform and mattress combinations are placed in front, to the right flank and behind the the audience. The players make unorthodox entrances to scenes from in front, behind, on top, underneath or from within various implements, i.e. the dimensions of the play live up to he billing, “3D”. A heavy cache of props, give portable devices for the players to accentuate their performances with, especially suitcases, tons of old suitcases.
The production’s pace was relentless, even scene changes turned into brief vignettes. During a memorable moment to emphasize the 3D element of the show, a highly pixelated drawing of seagull extends into the air on mounted on a long sick. Its wings jut out from the body, flapping up and down under the control of a string pulled by the handler. Swooping to the middle of the crowd, the seagull lightly pecks an audience member on the head, a diversion from a scene change.
To capture different moods of the story, scene changes entertain, but also convey vital information and highlight dynamics between the story’s characters. Semyon (Evan James Koepnick) a bland school teacher, pesters an aspiring performer Masha (Megan Kaminsky) until she marries him. Her resistance to Semyon stems from her sexually charged fascination with Konstantine. As Masha pines for Konstantine, Rott illustrates Semyon’s dutiful daily monotony to her and their baby with a clever scene interlude.
Backstage someone hoists a box over a faux wall, strangely reminiscent of those that bestow magic mushrooms to the Super Mario Brothers. Semyon repeatedly runs to and fro as a hand from backstage hands him a large Mario coin. He grabs it and runs it back upstage to five or more beckoning hands reaching out behind a screen. Opening the second act, Masha and Konstantine clutch and gnaw at each other ravenously covered in dim light, Konstantine swiftly disappearing as Semyon enters.
What’s Fun is Fun
With plenty of antique, cheeky and dark humor, the ensemble mustered plenty of antics to leave the audience duly entertained, if not confused. What the hell, its theater.
Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre doesn’t take much time off, their next production the Halloween Tree opens this Friday October 26th at 8p and closes November 3rd.
At Bay View’s Alchemist Theatre, their current production Help Wanted slickly looks at the cult of mid-20th century’s corporate class and doesn’t pull punches or hide the sexy back-room cogs that kept the profit machines running. Typical of Artistic Director Aaron Kopec‘s productions, the audience is treated to a show that transcends the stage, delivering high impact performances from the players that linger with you after the show.
For local theater enthusiasts, Help Wanted continues to be buzz-worthy even a couple of weeks into its run, and makes the stage arts accessible to new blood. As you follow the traipses of Rand Dandrich (Clayton Hamburg) and Majory Lotus (Anna Figlesthaler), Help Wanted extends the audience a business handshake followed by a teasing kiss on the hand, with a wise-ass inappropriate pat on the butt, before it socks you in the gut, slaps you in the face and leaves you so agasp that you’re turned on by it all. You’ll want to stock up on pencils, yes that’s right pencils and ah, Scotch.
Last fall the Alchemist gave us Faust, a sprawling narrative that guided audiences on an eerie journey throughout the Alchemist Theatre space, venturing on the surface of reality and daring patrons to go below. This time with Help Wanted, the Alchemist Theatre furnishes a hot summer show that successfully weaves comedy, sexuality, and intrigue into a sleek polyester-blend frock accented with nice pumps. Help Wanted features performances from Michael Keiley, Sydonia Lucchesi, Randall Anderson, Erin Hartman, Jake Mallony, Zack Brickman, and Aaron Kopec.
Help Wanted runs tonight Thursday June 21 and June 22, before closing Saturday, June 23. All shows begin at 7:30p.
Before the show, the house received preface that the cast had not run a full dress rehearsal of the second act. Ut oh… The action that ensued on stage warranted the hedge, however unneeded. Delving into the original play on race, The Rep’s Creative Director Mark Clements continues his reputation for fearless confrontation of theater’s most difficult subject matter with a singeing rendition of Shakespeare’s Othello. Clements leaves little doubt that he has done his part to keep The Rep’s seats warm.
Whether viewed as a mirror or as reinforcement of prevailing sentiments on human social order in a western context, take it for what you will. Irrevocably, Othello transforms the Rep’s Resident Actors into rugged and utterly unrecognizable players mastering the stage, with guest actor Lindsay Smiling leading the way. All opportunity for liberties taken, aside from the script, Clements’ production of Othello runs whole hog for three hours tonging the audience’s ear with Shakespeare’s knack for intrigue and all things rhetorical, while shaking them with imaginative set design, special effects, and attention charming costumes, choreography and props.
Reaching the top early and often, although couple characters teeter over at times where subtly might have dutifully taken the place of contemporary comedic influences, the players deliver an entertaining performance while clearly having fun in their craft. Familiar faces cloak themselves in ample stage method and a few faces make new memories out of their scenes.
By intermission, although it didn’t register when referencing his previous roles, thriving beneath the veneer of Cassio (the venerable and unlikely pawn in Iago’s treachery) I finally notice Reese Madigan in great form, per usual. Lee Ernst duos as Brabantio, vitriol and father to Desdemona, and Montano the Venetian underboss in Cyprus. Desdemona, played on a pedestal by Mattie Hawkinson, accepts the courtship of the Venetian war hero Othello (Lindsay Smiling), which would have been okay but he’s… well… “the Moor”.
Other Key Ingredients
The wedding of Desdemona and Othello doesn’t just enrage her father but also conjures the ire and envy of Rodrigo (Jonathan Wainwright), Desdemona’s secret admirer. In effort to get to Desdemona, Rodrigo unleashes Iago‘s (Gerard Neugent) socio-pathic predisposition on Othello, which in a course of unfortunate events wreaks havoc on the newly weds and all of the rest Venice, to the consternation of the Duke of Venice played like a true bad-ass by James Pickering.
As hero and foil, Smiling and Neugent charismatically pace the production fluidly and effortlessly on book, highlighting Shakespeare’s story with intonation and gesture; Smiling accepting his curtain call almost too humbly.
For the Less Patient
Don’t care for a bunch of fancy unintelligible iambic pentameter, Clements has you covered there too. His production crew built an extremely stimulating visual experience that encompasses everything you might imagine in a motorcycle club themed Shakespeare production, oh I guess I didn’t mention that part. Tooling up of for their summer exhibition Worn to Be Wild at the Harley-Davidson Museum, Harley-Davidson pitched in for some cool surprises pumping adrenaline fueled modernity into the production. Iron, leather, fire and skin provide a little garnish.
Othello’s cast of bandits includes seasoned actors Micheal Kroeker (Lodovicio) and Deborah Staples (Emilia), rising stars Melissa Graves (Bianca) and Alexander Pawlowski IV (Herald) and the Repertory Ensemble N’tasha Anders, Eva Balistrieri, Tyler Burnet, Cody Craven, Nathaniel French, John Jernigan, Eric Lynch, Thomas Novak, Elizabeth Telford, and Jenna Vik.
Othello chops the stage until May 6th opening Friday, April 6th at 8p, running daily except Tuesday with weekday and weekend matinees.
Walking into Studio Lounge, large canvases covered in artistic expression offer salutations, bizarre and gripping. On the canvas lay familiar forms, a profile of a face, the appendage of an animal, a human body clothed. The forms meld together, a technique exquisitely conveyed by Jenie Gao. Featured on Gallery Night at Studio Lounge, Jenie Gao masterfully persuades her audiences to leave their realities’ and enter hers.
Abstract imagery clouds concrete themes, endangering a surface dweller’s faux pas: claiming a weirdness violation. Quite exceptional, and coherent if not only in craft, Jenie Gao‘s work displays detail in the details. Executing highly proportioned and realistic ink-based compositions, simultaneously in some pieces, Gao reaches for hard to attain anthropomorphic and polymorphic styles seemingly effortlessly.
Gao, also proficient in wood etching, scores exacting resolution in her images. Graphically depicting movement that captures the gravity of that exact moment, precisely, gives Jenie Gao’s work near photographic qualities. Gao’s current works on display at Studio Lounge highlight several pieces from her recent project Thresholds. Jenie Gao’s exhibition anchors Studio Lounges’s wall space until November 6th.
Milling goes on in the Alchemist’s cozy Bay View Lounge before the show, tension in the air? Maybe. Tonight Faust: A Night at the Mephisto Theatre opens. Aaron Koepec’s latest opus, an undertaking certainly. Using the infamous “e” word would belittle the production. Groundbreaking? No not quite the connotation to apply, although the show does reveal the extent to which a production’s content can challenge audiences’ sensibilities.
Something keeps taking me to that scene from Time Bandits where that animated bald head chases real people down a hall way and they dive through a wall to a whole different dimension and you say “What!?” Until that point, my young eyes had never seen anything like it in special effects.
Only Boring People are Bored
The Alchemist’s Faust counts on the audiences’ willingness to move around and follow an abstract story line that takes place in different settings staged throughout the theater space. Third Coast Digest provides a good synopsis of Faust, a few additional notes should be taken with you.
Entering the show with a stationary spectator’s mentality will leave you dissatisfied, as well as being claustrophobic, socially awkward or immature. It’s an actor’s play, in the same way George Clooney is a man’s man. Actively following characters through the show and receiving limited instructions about reconciling missing information in the story in real-time, presents real life challenges to the audience both physically and psychologically that actors tend to embrace naturally.
As an audience member that is a part of the actors world but not in it, one can have a lot of fun with Faust just taking the “fly-on-the-wall” approach to social situations. Audience members are provided a masquerade to assist in this transformation, sorry no teleporter machines created by Seth Brundle to help you out.
The sets mimic five primary locations: a bedroom, a parlor room, a movie house, an alleyway, and a church. Neutral semi-scenes take place in the lounge and theater space proper where audience members can take a break if the story becomes to intense. In the lounge, Prohibition era crooners give ambiance for libations. In the theater, Sammy Dittloff and Beth Lewinski mock Faust in a radio show themed series of skits.
Burning Moral Coals
Alchemist’s Faust dabbles in the degenerate and absurd. In the play, the lead actor of the Mephisto Theatre tries his darndest to keep the acting stable committed to the Theatre’s operation, but the forces of doubt, temptation and greed manifest and the meek-minded receive nurturing from the devil himself. A German aristocrat investor further enables the devil’s deviance and lures other characters into lurid circumstances. The dark forces personified in the play gnaw at the veil of civility and quaintness that shrouds everyday life and eventually tears it down. By the end, no character escapes complicity in the devil’s frolics.
Dissuading Viewer Regression
Scenes reach a fever pitch amongst the players at certain points in the production, and adult situations do occur. Most great acts of art take risks without abandon. The Alchemist’s Faust makes no exceptions. Take this play in with a dirty martini and civilly-rogue attitude.
Faust: A Night at the Mephisto Theatre still had tickets for tonight’s show (10/7) last I checked, but the rest of this weekend is sold out. The show runs Thursday through Saturday until October 29th.
The players of Faust are Libby Amato, Randall Anderson, Grace DeWolff, Sarah Dill, Sammich Dittloff, Anna Figlesthaler, Joe Foti, Melissa Freson, Lindsay Gagliano, Erin Hartman, Beth Lewinski, Gracie Liebenstein, Rob Maass, Laura Meyer, Sharon Nieman-Koebert, Mike O’Toole, Rebecca Segal, Amber Smith, Lineve Thurman, Liz Whitford, Gwen Zupan.
Circling back to National Avenue from 34th and Scott, I nestle my wheels against the curb under a shade tree. I like spicy food, my hands don’t like hot steering wheels. The city bustles on 35th and National like the pulse of a hyper-tensed vein. People activity registers high in Silver City, as gnarled wills eek out gritty and working-class livelihoods.
Too hot to stay indoors, the neighbors gather on door steps outside of the Asian International Market and speak in an Asian dialect I do not understand, most likely Hmong. Walking up the block to Thai BBQ, passing windows full of American immigrant authenticity, I make a snap unwarranted judgment that I am going to love this Thai dining experience. Reaching the eatery, I ascend the stairs inside to see adorned, with spices, tables creating islands of various sizes for diner’s to escape McWorld.
A tremendous number of religious themes, possibly more so than Cafe Corazon, emblazon Thai BBQ’s interior. Gold painted molding breaks up the deep red trim glazing the walls. Figures of Ganesha and Vishnu accompanied by ornate lanterns and fixtures keep the eyes looking around for more. Departure from the sacred happens in blank wall space, filled with pictures of staged menu items on plates advertising the most popular and rare entrée. Like all good Thai restaurants, you will not lack choices, 101 dishes fill the menu. Amazingly each meal is a little different.
After being seated a middle age gentleman approaches the table, our server. He utters English in a thick accent and perfect grammar of his native language. He has a wry smile that is not completely showing, and issues banter implicitly asking if we would like more time with the menu. Feeling at home as a Thai food veteran, I truly can’t decide what to select. The menu consists of the standard fare: fried rice, rice noodles, fried rice noodles, papaya salads and curries of all varieties. Shrimp, tilapia and duck appear alongside chicken, et al, as the meat choice for each.
My dining buddy selects the Ginger Curry, and I am plain addicted to fat rice noodle with basil, commonly know as Drunken Noodle. Then the inevitable question arises, “How spicy for you?” I want 4 out of 5, and the server looks at me imagining the face of the last 11 Americans to say that. No testament to the quality or flavor of the meal, I would eventually put the self-serve table chili sauces to use.
A tepid but savory soy milk drink and rice wrap spring rolls fried to perfection satiate my wait. A flat screen television beams recorded Thai pop music videos that have already made the dining experience well worth it. The server moves to the background near the fruit smoothy station, in front of kitchen entrance, pins a cordless phone between his shoulder and ear to chat while counting receipts on a Saturday afternoon. Suddenly a scene flashes in my head that I am on location for a Jean Claude Van Damme action sequence for a straight to DVD flick.
The food arrives and I quickly snap back to reality. Steaming hot spices, singe the combination of meats, vegetables and noodles placed before me, copiously filling quaint china ware accompanied by customary communal sticky rice. It’s 90 degrees outside and the air conditioning maintains a relatively cool climate in the mid-70′s. These conditions only encourage my appetite for chilies.
As expected Drunken Noodle takes my mouth to a familiar place, that of wanting seconds. Having asked for a sample of my friend’s Ginger Curry, my sentiments quickly erased all memory of Drunken Noodle and embraced fully that Thai BBQ’s curry recipe easily could take the title of the best I have ever tasted. Keeping custom with all great Thai restaurants, the unfinished portions whisked away return stuffed inside durable Asian style paper take-out boxes.
Not for everyone, Local Trolley recommends Thai BBQ only to the most experienced and hardcore Thai food lovers. I’m from the camp that expects certain things from Thai food restaurants and it’s not plastic trays that look like they came from the Froedtert medical complex, with dainty helpings of pasta and red curry powder from Sysco sprinkled on it, and no rice!. I suspect the Silver City neighborhood alone will keep unappreciative diners away. A superb value Thai BBQ courses range from $8-$12.
You can try to sit there with a straight face, but as Broadminded guarantees stolid faces may rip or tear. Another way to look at it, if you’re not laughing, their jabs at reality may land closer to you than you may care to admit. Darn ladies of Broadminded with their knack for wit and entertainment!
In Broadminded’s latest effort, Blood is Thicker than Liquor, Stacy Babl, Anne Graff DeLisa, Melissa Kingston, and Megan McGee breakout the industrial sized clothes hamper and pull out a dozen and a half sketches based on memories of their family and friends. A host of concocted characters humorously navigate everyday life situations like moving into a new apartment, court mandated counseling or getting revenge in innocuous ways.
The Broadminded troop exhibits extraordinary chemistry on stage, very adeptly weaving improv and sketch comedy into their current production. Babl and McGee both graduated from the Second City Conservatory and all four ladies are Comedy Sportz veterans. If nothing else, Blood is Thicker than Liquor gives a clinic on how to pace and structure a comedy performance.
For $10 you get an hour and a half comedy onslaught on weird mannerisms, social ignorance and taboos and great stories. Tonight, Friday June 24th, June 25th at 8:00pm and Sunday June 26 at 4:00pm are your last chances to join the Broadminded family at the Alchemist Theatre.
Pink Banana Theatre Co’s One Act Festival, Higher Education, drew its bow last night with a six act show aimed at funny bones, soft-spots, tear ducts (well maybe eye-balls), and family jewels. Although turning its cheek from more serious drama created by traditional theatre, some arises amidst the sketch comedy with which Higher Education bats your ears. Staying on theme, re-enacted school house shenanigans rotate in and out of view on the carousel stage, written, directed and performed by some of Milwaukee’s most promising young comedic talent.
Abound from start to finish, commentary, conflict, absurdity, slap-schticks, droll, and sarcastic burns, pack Pink Banana’s production. Class of 2011′s collective consciousnesses of pre-pubescent, college and early professional life dynamics added to well placed exaggeration, and flare for the ridiculous, make a pretty entertaining concoction irresistible for those with a taste for being entertained. In the process, Higher Learning provides a much needed outlet since laughing at kids in real life makes you jerk.
Writer’s Megan McGee (The Grade and Portuguese) and Sammi Ditloff (The Dilemma) delivered tightly worded, stand-out material directed by Kevin Wleklinski (The Grade) and Dana Gustafson (The Dilemma). The Grade (performed by Marion Araujo, Ashlea Woodley, Alix Lahren, and Ditloff) mocks two underachieving students’ very contrasting attempts to convince their frustrated Profs to increase their final grade at semester-end. Portuguese (performed by Lahren) sheds light on the changing landscape of college instruction, not withstanding regressing to use of “non-human substitutes”.
In The Dilemma, two college buddies, played by Rob Mass and Michael Black, take a social media decision so far over the top that Black enters a trance state where he utters Shakespeare while talking-out the problem, to the chagrin of Mass. By sketch end, it’s easy to forget why high school graduates go to college.
Charles Sommer’s Sound of One Loaf Baking, directed by Eleni Sauvageau, although a tad campy offers sitcom quality timing and genuine humor. The Baker family owns a bakery and papa Baker (Howie Magner) tries to convince teen daughter Juliana Baker (Megan Kaminsky) to keep the tradition going. Through her protests a revelation occurs when the Baking Buddha (Joaquin Rodriguez) delivers baking-inspired wisdom, while his son (Tim Braun) and Juliana’s angsty friend (Eilen Dunphy) meddle.
Enter the Players
Reader’s Pick for Express Milwaukee’s best actress in 2010, Beth Lewinski gives an attention-keeping performance in Allison Gruber’s nicely written but otherwise difficult script Guess Who Died? (dir. by Alan Piotrowitcz), supported by Mandy Marcucilli and Amie Lynn Losi. Georgia (Lewinski) and Rose (Marcucilli) graduated the same English program and now live together strained, lovers on the outs. Georgia’s intimate and professional life flashes before the audiences eye’s as her stories of work, play and romance provide a glimpse behind the scenes of Georgia’s public and internal personas.
Michael Black gives a repertory season’s worth of method as a supporting player in Guess Who Died?, The Dilemma and The Cookie (written by Rich Orloff, dir. Rebecca Segal), a little doohickey about two trailer-park-dwelling parents (Karina Lathrop and Kris Puddicombe) visiting their son James (Rob Mass) in jail for murder. A twisted power-seeking Lawyer (Kelly Coffey) tries to impress a likely-story on James to get him off.
A gentle warning, Pink Banana takes the liberty to incorporate a good deal of vulgarity both verbal and non-verbal in certain acts. So don’t bring your 3rd grader or refined high culture sensibilities. Overall, Higher Learning brings well done comic relief to an otherwise bi-polar Spring.
An hour jaunt up I-43 will land you in Sheboygan, WI, a stylish lakeside neighbor with maritime charm. John Michael Kohler (Gilded Age Wisconsin industrialist and famed namesake of fine toilet and faucet fixtures) felt Sheboygan, at population of 15,000, had too many people a decade into the 20th century to have room for his factory. Cuddled by a patch of forest a few miles away, Kohler, WI became the cradle of iron castings, guiding water through America’s homes and beyond.
The Kohler estate stayed active in Sheboygan and opened the John Michael Kohler Art Center 1967. Completely remodeled during the early 2000′s, the JMKAC greets visitors with a reclaimed historic facade of the town’s library, now serving as a gateway into JMKAC’s modest concrete sculpture garden.
Beasts of Burden
In the JMKAC gallery space, Animal Magnetism shows its last artwork selection in the exhibition entitled Animal Instinct: Allegory, Allusion and Anthropomorpism. Animal Instinct suspends tremendous visual interpretations of animals interacting in their natural habitat, with humans and the human imagination. Multiple artistic techniques and styles represented challenge the viewer’s reality often.
Several large John James Audubon encyclopedic depictions of North American wildlife, from the Milwaukee Art Museum collection, highlight the Animal Instinct installation. Although Audubon sat as a foremost anthropologist of his time, his work through today’s lens appears to project human anxiety on his subject matter. With this tendency, Audubon readily cohabits with the mostly impressionist and surrealist presentations currently found at JMKAC.
Animal Instinct also contains selection of excellent contemporary art pieces. Possessing similar affect to Audubon’s, George Boonrujy inks extraordinary illustrated portraits of animals. Rendering them absent of their habitat, Boonrujy, with or without intent, subtly personifies his impressions of animals surviving life. An artist with Wisconsin ties, Gina Litherland overtly weaves animal life into her graphic story telling. Through her chosen medium, improbable interactions with human beings take place that Litherland makes seem mundane.
In the adjacent gallery, Animal Magnetism transitions into the next JMKAC exhibit Hiding Places: Memory in the Arts. In addition to professional artists, Hiding Places notably calls attention to work of self-taught artists considered by medical standards psychologically impaired (or gifted). Capturing the ruminations of artist savants, Hiding Places allows entry into forbidden mental spaces of several contemporary artists.
New York artist William Powhida shares small pencil sketched faces of Everyone [Powihida has] Ever Met from Memory (that [Powhida] Can Remember). You might not care to know the guy that his female roommate brought around that he wanted to beat up, but surely some of the characters sketches that accompany his sketches will provide mild amusement. For ponder, Gregory Blackmon visually gives a Complete Musical Review of the Augmented Triad Chords, along with other illustrated lists of boats, planes, six-legged pests, and pit-bulls.
Several other mental feats, among others, positioned for view are the works of Mark Fox who kept lists of popular cereals and t.v. lineups and attempted to draw, cut and 3-D collage everything that he ever owned. Wisconsin native George Widener devised and meticulously illustrated a method of picking out dates falling on Friday, on which interesting things will happen. A host of additional mind-boggling Widener works address infamous dates in history, all oriented around numbers and thoughts chronicled in tiny penmanship covering every corner of the paper.
The John Michael Kohler Art Center (608 New York Avenue, Sheboygan) is not to be confused with the Kohler Design Center (the toilet museum). However, the Kohler folks made sure the bathrooms at JMKAC were pretty impressive too.
Significant, road construction prevents access to the JMKAC from 6th Street. Gain access to New York Ave from the downtown side, on 7th, where you can park complementary for 2 hours, and 25 cents an hour thereafter.
To festive Milwaukeeans, no opportunity to have the summer’s first Margarita presents itself better than Cinco de Mayo. Cafe Corazon sits as a kitsch landmark on the Beerline bike trail, happy to oblige distilled agave cravings despite Cafe Corazon’s Puerto Rican inspiration. Nestled just North of Burleigh on Bremen Street deep in Riverwest (the unofficial home of Polish flats) uninhibited good times radiate from Cafe Corazon’s craggy triangular-shaped building.
The traditional cantina spirit lives inside Cafe Corazon. Patrons converse jovially, aided by house specialty libations removing any inhibitions one might have of sharing minimal space with the maximum number bodies. There will be no cagey American sensibilities requiring acres and privacy here. Diners in wait stand, sit or lean with beverages clutched and mingle with neighbors.
Decor tinted with teal tropical ocean hues, starkly contrasted with blood-red bar and wood trim, give backdrop to the ample religious relics and Catholic keepsakes commemorating the Christ’s Passion that occupy every free nook. Enjoying more than one of the tastiest and tartest mouth searing Margaritas served on record will certainly beg an extraordinary test of self-control, to avoid unseemly acts beckoning God’s forgiveness. Fortunately the Parish Priests of this Mass, of Latin-inspired cuisine, shepherd wayward appetites with insatiable dishes.
Good things come to those who wait for a place at one of the six coveted table tops tended by the cafe staff. Part of the Cafe Corazon experience must include the faux pas of wetting your appetite by eying others’ food while on stand-by. There is no denying that every food combination appears absolutely delicious, urgently flying out of the kitchen quickly uniting with the ordering guest.
Certain details such as the thinly sliced medallions of radish garnishing the tacos, the secret house tomatillo and cilantro-based green salsa or flavorfully doctored black beans, compliment the traditional Latin menu nicely. Plates of tacos, enchiladas or quesadillas with choice of filling, including the lesser known Mechada (slow cooked pulled beef) anchor the menu. Sea Food aptly varies the menu further and all dishes have a vegetarian option. Keeping with sustainable ethics, Cafe Corazon uses Restaurant Supported Agriculture and raises its meat locally.
Cafe Corazon serves up tastiness Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 10pm. Saturday and Sunday offers brunch starting at 10am.
Timely describes Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s season night-cap. A sarcastic toast to resurgent free market enthusiasm, and all the “self-making” delusions that tag along with attitudes encouraging reduction of society to no-holds-barred capitalism, Arthur Miller’s classic challenges this exuberance prophetically. Death of a Salesman reminds us all of the virtue found in honest reflection, as only theater, in comparison to contemporary mass media, seems to have the guts to do these days.
Miller opens the Loman household to scrutiny, as Willie (Lee Ernst) and long-suffering wife Linda (Laura Gordon) cope with the personal tolls exacted by professional life in the post-war business sector. When two thirty-something-aged sons appear, they rehash memories of the Loman’s child rearing years. The perceived expectations of 1950′s early onset consumer culture tack veneers on the members of the Loman family and friends. To these veneers, the characters’ past and present life experiences apply varnish or turpentine.
Progress through the scenes of Mark Clements’ production reach a point of bullying comfort; credit Ernst for his ability to take the audience past entertainment value to at least the point emotional response. The cast proved adept as usual, despite Reese Madigan, better suited for the role Hannay in 39 Steps, fidgeting a bit while finding his way into the character of Biff. Madigan’s portrayal still worked well, in caricature of the period in which Miller authored Death of a Salesman. Accurate, visionary set design, and exceptionally well-timed and in-place actors projected a polished show.
Borgs and Ugly Sweaters originally posted to the Sane Artworks Blog January 10, 2011.
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Borgs and Ugly Sweaters
“So there was this cool cat with an autotunes guitar who went to the bar to tune his guitar… the bar tender asks if he wants a tune-a-sandwich…” If you walked in at this moment of the performance, with a blindfold, you might have thought a stand-up comedian voiced a futile introduction to a terrible joke. If, hypothetically, you were thinking that, with a blind fold on, you would have been wrong.
I stay tuned to ‘MSE no matter the play format, and I keep hearing about this band Sleeping in the Aviary. A friend of mine during the same time period keeps hounding me about this show at the Borg Ward, for over a month she’s been raving. Well, yesterday I happened to be at this place and these cool cats are tuning their guitars, and you probably can’t guess who they are.
Drawing a crowd of anti-scenesters, bad sweater-wearers, beat up chucks, broken-in skull caps, some onlookers that could have been extras in Deliverance, and good old average southsiders of with their customary above average good sportsmanship, Sleeping in the Aviary mid-lined a small independent show of deadpan spaz rock brute force.
Tuning done a riff breaks out: a chorus of drum, guitar, bass, and accordion reminiscent of a 50′s sock hop ditty ode, but that damn accordion is making the music so randomly today that the toe tapping of the spectators soon turns knee bopping. Next song, a little less 50′s with a little more DIY alternative, and torsos start getting in the action. Before the set starts my girlfriend sees a friend of hers and his friend claims he has nothing bad to say about this band. A first time listener, I can’t say that I do either. Even luckier for me my first time is live.
Midway through the show the moppy haired band member stalls by picking up where he left off earlier, “So this guy at the bar, wanted to tune his autotune guitar, was going to get something from the guy at the bar, uh… what did he get?… [pause]… [pause]… he got nothing…[crowd laughter].” His punch-line delivery, an effort to disguise a bubble machine controversy from going public, didn’t keep the slow-train-wreck-like “story” of spending too much on the bubble machine that doesn’t work from happening anyway. Meanwhile, the accordion player managed a wardrobe change into a 1992 Shaq Diesel Orlando Magic jersey and suddenly brandishes a saw to be chorded with a cello bow.
Bubbles spraying lightly into the crowd initially provide ambiance for a crowd member who counts the band back in for the next song. Since lightly spraying bubbles at the wall is no fun, bubbles are cranked up and aimed into the center of the light mass of town folk. The majority of said bubbles are landing on a fairly large fellow you would not expect at show of this sort on a prime Magic: The Gathering card game night. Heads on loose necks are now joining the rest of their bodies, on most of the Borg clan. Even the those of southside-patented least affect are noticeably enjoying the show, although still lacking movement or affect.
Fun is contagious. This axiom proves true for Sleeping in the Aviary: a bright and motley clothed bunch who are barely mumbling one minute and screaming manically the next; a pretty sick musical ensemble (in the previous metaphorical way, which is far less sold out than in the old school snow boarder slang sense). You have to be entertaining if you get bored enough to think up a band name like Sleeping in the Aviary. I heard they might be playing in Mini-soda soon. Go see, they really don’t suck that bad.
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Wanna stick it to the “the man”? What if I told you that you could do it in the comfort of your own home, on a park lawn, by yourself or with a crew of friends. What if I told you that you could and only reap the rewards of soul-inspiring fulfillment and not the affection of INTERPOL. Sounding unreasonable? The United States premiere of the film Handmade Nation made believers out of a capacity crowd at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee.
Judging from the flock of movie-goers you would have thought the Dali Lama was in town. With the theatre’s Buddha statues mounted on the balconies presiding, Handmade Nation written and directed by Faythe Levine and Courtney Heimerl took us on an easy ride through the winding open road of ‘crafting’. HMN covers 19,000 miles worth of perspectives, traveling cross-country to interview crafters in all four corners of the continental US.
If your senses are easily overloaded this is not the film to see. HMN begins with a sentient needle scurrying across the screen, with beady friends and inky playmates, adding to the ever-morphing patchwork quilt and screen-printed background. They say you cant judge a book by its cover, but opening sequences definitely set the tone for great films in the 21st century and HMN‘s doesn’t disappoint.
What is crafting anyway? Any person engaging in this activity will be reluctant to tell you with any certainty; that would ruin the fun. In different pockets of the US, HMN documentarians asked partakers of the tactile fellowship their thoughts on crafting. Harvesting various answers, a few common threads still ran threw the craft-persons’ responses each unique in the coloring and texture describing their ethics in relation to their preferred craft.
Without prompting, it became apparent that to a crafter our consumer culture is a bother and a bore. Consumerism is impersonal, mass produced, ruthless in its hoarding of resources, and most tragically mind-numbing. Fed up with corporate sales associates ringing-up cloned scarfs and greeting cards incubated on computer screens, the keepers of the crafting code urge you to stop and think before you brandish your magnetized plastic filled with money credits.
Here a distinction must be made. We’re not talking about the crafting that will take you to Michael’s after watching a couple of Martha Stewart episodes and cause you to break out the bedazzle gun. As HMN plays on, it’s clear that transforming reality, by taking a stand against idle fingers and the capitalist big-box, requires commitment to an ethic.
On the most fundamental level the crafter, born through a series of realizations, possesses an intriguing awareness of the relationship between using your hands to interact with the materials around you and the sensation of connectedness to your habitat. This process departs from the traditional artist, likely more concerned with conveying an idea, evoking irony, or a portraying a particular aesthetic. Seeking confirmation of life’s presence, the stimulation of senses provide crafters a motivating catalyst to create. The crafter removes the isolation of modern life by making things and sharing them.
The crafter locates self by eliminating the mysterious origin of objects both novel and utilitarian. Craft-culture rejects all-things paternal and challenges us to not hinder our personal maturation by standing in-line for things we want or need all the time. According to a certain social theorist, people are cooler in uptown Manhattan anyway.
The need to conserve by recreating with the previously used is a renewable theme throughout the film. Rather than staging a workers rally, one with busy hands admits that she buys only pre-owned fabric to make her garments. Before tailoring a class piece of formal wear, another crafter contemplates the implications of cutting into a 50 year-old piece of fabric commenting, “what gives me the right to cut into this fabric?” Doing more than ‘tree-hugging’, a dedicated crafter uses recycled paper as the medium of choice for post cards and such, decreasing demand for felled trees. The principle is one less fiber purchased retail is one less environmentally inconsiderate product that needs to be re-stocked on the shelf.
It’s not coincidental that ‘Do-it-Yourself’ has an activist application. Conservation is kind of like the crafters’ Swiss army knife; it’s a versatile instrument of change. Endearingly, crafters are willing to engage social problems on a level that departs from an annoying issue-mongers’ tendency for screaming, guilt-tripping and proselytizing. Maybe we don’t need another hero, we just need a bunch of tiny creative moments to make change.
The limits of conservation extend beyond physical materials to preservation of ancient methods. In one scene, a young woman teetering light-reflecting safety goggles from her nose, donning a tattered long sleeve sweater with strings dangling from the wrist and a payload of necklaces B.A. Baracas-style, ignites a blue-flamed torch a foot from her face that looks like it could melt a diamond. We soon learn that Tracy Bull of Happy Owl Glassworks is nonchalantly risking her eyebrows to preserve a 2,000 year-old glass-beading technique. Now that is hardcore.
Minute sized paper cutouts of cultural symbols and fauna are carefully whittled with an Xacto blade at the fingertips of Nikki McClure, her works are anthropological manuscripts translating bygone creative eras practiced by Chinese, African, and Middle Eastern cultures, connecting us to what our human ancestors were doing with their energy.
Expressing conservation comes not only with their chosen mediums and techniques, but also with diet. Working from the inside out, for some, tuning-in to the craft wavelength requires the compassion for all living beings expressed through vegan practices. That’s how one participant entered the craft chamber, “just getting together with friends to craft and enjoy good food.” That’s the beauty of it. It’s just that simple.
Causing a Commotion
If human interaction and conservation are not motivation enough, crafting also appeals to the inner renegade rebel in all of us. It was hippy-ness and punk rock for the younger Baby Boomers and grunge for the Gen X-ers. Now since both are well into their thirties, forties and fifties, according to the fist law of thermodynamics, that rebellious energy has to go somewhere, but where? (I’m a young Gen X-er pardon my sarcasm, it is well intended). The recent generations are not immune.
Some of my favorite parts of HMN depict deviant behavior that is decidedly anti-establishment. The proprietor of Anti – Factory stages a public contest to see who could knit the best bootleg of the Burberry pattern. Receiving many demonstrations she is able to construct hand bags that soon become popular. Take that posh name brand!
A posse of Texas knitters take the proverbial cake. With nicknames like Notorious N.I.T and J – Nitty, the group Nitta’ takes crafting guerrilla. When night falls they pile into a compact economy car. Timing the precise opportunity-maximizing-moment they jump out, to stealth-bomb-knit a Technicolor muffler onto a street sign post and vanish into the night. Cleverly mocking municipal bureaucrats and graffiti artists simultaneously with a stab of the knitting needle, the least crafting can do for you is provide some amusement.
Handmade Nation (2009) Trailer, Levine and Heimerl
There is a parallel story to this motion-picture look into an American subculture that adds instead of takes away from our collective wellbeing. One of the film’s makers, Levine, also runs a local Milwaukee outlet called Paper Boat Boutique and Gallery (kind of defunct now), which as recently as January 30th was set to close, nearly unfathomable given the talent and drive of Levine. However, crafting economics defy the conventional wisdom of enterprise enough for an imminent shutdown to make sense.
Presenting an alternative model for business proves a little trickier than selecting the perfect place for a new hem. Shamelessly labor and input intensive, craft-based shops snub the profit-maximizing formula in favor of unconventional antics. If you see a six-foot-tall canvas cuboid resembling a vending machine inching toward you, wildly painted with small pictures on the front and a slot for stuffing in dollar bills, you might think you are on Japanese television, but know that a starving crafter just wants to make ends meet with some of his prints.
Efforts of magnitude replace economies of scale and sweat-equity won’t cut it. Evidenced by a vendor’s ordeal, who while embellishing one of her craft fair displays accidentally staples her index finger, badly, you have to be willing to sign your check in blood. Ensuing film frames capture a friendly neighbor arriving, without cue, to lend some clot-aiding pressure and moral support. The HMN viewer then understands that ink runs thicker than water.
The mend of the crafting community weaves together a closely packed network of individuals devoted to a common bond. HMN confirms that interaction with objects is secondary to the magic that happens when humans decide to appreciate what they agree on. The turnout to last Thursday’s premiere gives an unequivocal testament to this fact. Levine and Heimerl have clearly dedicated their energies to the most deserving places. Smacking the smiles off the big yellow circle-faced end-caps that dominate our consumption habits, Levine’s film makes a strong case for the premium warranted for crafter-made items.
Crafters are giving much of themselves physically and emotionally to carry alternatives to commercial-merchandise. A splurge in Handmade Nation is a tithe that sustains the availability of choices that American’s crave. Their take is not so much gratitude, as just desserts. It’s the only way they can stay afloat. A good amount of the film’s craft fair footage takes place outside. That means you have plenty of time to plan an outing to a craft fair.
Riders of the Storm
Having a group ‘collective unconscious’ definitely does not preclude self-consciousness. Ironically, in the heat of the struggle to remain Indie and commercial-free, the Handmade Nation is aware that their experiment with creativity could turn on the doctor. There is a dark-side. Will the evil empire cunningly find a way to capture one of the last remaining reaches of uncharted market segments? High-end designers and retail executives need to stand down and mind their demographics. Although the odds are stacked against them, the craft guild and its admirers are a fortuitous bunch. It’s up to free thinkers to bestow the social and economic capital that can keep the penny hoarders at bay.
Upcoming screenings of Handmade Nation include stops in New York’s Museum of Art and Design next week, and venues in Toronto, Canada, Barcelona, Spain, Melbourne, Australia, returning to the area at Madison’s Wisconsin Film Festival April 2 – 5, 2009 details TBA. Handmade Nation is also in print! Check here for the latest HMN news.
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Non-Obvious takes on Big History through Little Eyes
In plain view under a curved lamppost with a conical fixture beaming down light, sits an endomorphic body-type mannequin postured upright on a wooden chair at the far end of a 20-foot table; it ominously presides over the diorama scenes intermittently placed over the balance of the wooden surface. The main action of Waldek Dynerman’s Train Project lives here. Curious on lookers begin to meander towards this area like cautious deer fawn at dusk, visibility is low. Me being one of them I decide to keep my distance, the diminutive artistic elements could be sensitive to clumsy eyes or just in case that mannequin decides to stand up I will have a clear path to the exit.
Not having read the description of this event, to my recollection, I am beginning to ask myself why I came. It’s all so random, even creepy. I have seen it before, weird for weird’s sake. I’m from the seminal days of Riddlin prescriptions: ahem, some of us wore mental disturbance like a badge not knowing you could get labeled for it.
A man comes forth subtly, gets the group’s attention with a well placed ‘auuh…’ and reluctantly grants us permission to sit on the floor if we preferred, or otherwise make ourselves comfortable. The gentleman wears a conservative zip-neck sweater that covers an Oxford, and aside from a slightly disheveled bush of hair is markedly non-descriptive; maybe he is the host, definitely not the artist. Expecting Marilyn Manson incarnate to ascend from the concrete floor below, the gentleman, Dynerman to my chagrin, initiates his talk.
Days of Grace
Born 6 years after the end of WWII to a Polish-Jewish father and Christian mother, Dynerman begins recounting the time period of his childhood in post-war Poland and France. “A lot of what we saw on television and in movies was about the war,” as if to understate a great preoccupation of the times, “we used the German words we heard when we played our games.” Sometimes Dynerman was a German soldier exhorting a courageous Pole playmate that defied the order to ‘halt’. Dynerman’s father was a holocaust survivor, doing so with Dynerman’s grandparents by living 18 months without leaving a family friend’s 10 X 10 cellar room. When the ordeal ended, he recounts that his father found none remaining from his former life and eventually moved to Paris where he met his mother before moving to Israel.
The picture slowly comes together during Dynerman’s discussion. The installation features multiple sculptures and miscellaneous tangible elements amply spaced on the walls, floor and on hand-made pedestals. Scanning the installation, heads, malformed torsos and eerily dismembered doll limbs slowly come to focus in the midst of small wooden shelters and platforms. However, small human figurines of laymen, by standers, and soldiers are the stars of this exhibit.
One figurine stands roughly two inches tall and is dwarfed by two quarter pieces of cinder block fused together, to form what looks like a giant high modern building on a European street corner. The figurine lonesomely steps onto a mock curb illuminated by a scaled-down model street lamp. Half-way across the room in the shadow cast behind the large endomorphic mannequin , a crowd of peach colored figurines bunches up when approached by an on coming hoard of evergreen tinted army soldiers with ranks that reach around to the lateral side of the mannequin’s wooden throne.
Is any one watching? Certainly not the mannequin who is content to glare forward, certainly not the fortunate peach figurines that are watching the small LCD displays flickering pretty colors in cozy wood enclosures. He reveals that this work’s subject matter is the holocaust, among other genocides as they have occurred as recently as this year.
Artist in Our Minds
A painter by trade and training Dynerman decided to deviate from his master craft into sculpture, to satisfy his want to delve into a medium with which he was always fascinated. “I always found mannequins interesting,” he utters. While reflecting on his decision not to incorporate several large paintings into to the piece, he wonders into a thought about how he preferred to have a stark white background for the exhibit so that the viewer could “wash their eyes” and refresh their minds before continuing to different parts of the gallery.
His philosophy is consistent and modest. Dynerman’s father and his father before him were tin craftsmen. In ode to his memories, fashioned metal street lights in various scaled-states frequently dot the dusky hall punctuating the tiny dramatic scenes in perpetual suspense. His conversation trickles English with an endearing thick native Polish-speaking accent, “I grew up around a shop so I always liked building things… the things you see here, the pedestals, the table…. are all built by hand…and when I build them I craft them to the extent that they serve the purpose that they are built for and not more.” He’s right staining the woodwork would look contrived.
There is quite a bit of irony here and the use of scale is apparent in the exhibition. Located on the table opposite the seat-perched mannequin is a 3-foot-tall tin model of the Eiffel tower flanked by miniature coniferous trees. Dynerman shares that his father retained his love for Paris, even while in Israel, and constructed the model of the famous structure as a gift to Dynerman. To use the iconic landmark often revered for its invocation of love and freedom as a backdrop for his mini-theatre, is a brilliant twist on reality. “I have no sensible response,” he offers when I asked if there is a deeper meaning to the use of scale in his art. “I think that somehow the viewer may have more empathy [for small doll-like figures],” his tone is somewhat playful when making this remark as if he is omitting something from a secret recipe. I think he has discovered a way to mock human cognition into choosing its own adventure instead of spoon-feeding perceptions.
For Dynerman, by his own admission, simply “painting death” seemed inappropriate. Lucky for us we are able to see Dynerman’s motion picture snap-shot of the human condition projected on the adjacent wall from the point of view of a remote-camera-equipped model train, scurrying on the table behind the omnipotent mannequin, alongside the madness of the evergreen aggressors converging on innocent peach crowds, turning with the track to a straight away with a small mirror positioned like a billboard capturing the face of the mannequin in the reflection, then futilely hustling past a neon blue filament-lit carousel that upon closer examination is housing a series of severed doll feet and legs protruding from the inner cylinder of the amusement park favorite, only to endlessly repeat the circuit as if to take the spectator on a whimsical reoccurring nightmare. If you are paying attention, it is surreal. Train Project is on display at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Union Gallery from January 26 – February 27, 2009.