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Posts tagged “theatre

Going Cosmic, The Quasimondo, Love & Cthulhu


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 Trailer from ALLFRIENDS FILMOGRAPHIE on Vimeo.

Beef Trimmings

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.

Rolling Boil

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.

Billboard Production

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.

The Lathe Within, Alchemist Theatre, The Chairs


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.

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Over Bored

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.

Speaking of Variety, Best Place, Cabaret Milwaukee


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.

Artistic Brew

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.

It’s Alive

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.

Hitting that side of the Barn, Broadminded, Jerks!


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.

Hungry Games

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!

High Snobbery

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.

Intricate Deluge, Alchemist Theatre, Closing Night

ClosingNight Alchemist

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.

Psychic Hotlines

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?

Getting Closer

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.

Regal Breed, Alchemist Theatre, King Lear


King Lear (Bo Johnson) gnashes his last words in anguish clinging to his dearest treasure, lost within his own mind. Life’s seasons delivered him one too many harsh political maelstroms, one too few kindred summer swoons, his will worn away. The life of a King.

We see him tangled, a heap strewn across the overgrowth of English hollows at Dover, symbolized by the gnarled trellis set pieces’ sturdy appendages, jutting in all directions, like a cruel wooden barricade dividing sides in a great war. A motley band of Lear’s devoted few, in a reverent moment, watch him fade away, but how did he meet his fate?

Daughter’s of the Lust

Veterans in the Alchemist’s ensemble, Anna Figlesthaler (Regan) and Libby Amato (Goneril) fittingly stand in leading roles as King Lear’s daughters, weaving their wiles around the players, their father the King finding no refuge in his begotten brood.

We get hints of Regan and Goneril’s perilous machinations in the open sequence, as the Duke of Cornwall (Jason Will) receives Regan’s dowry, and the Duke of Albany (Ken Williams) Goneril’s. Beneath the cover of ample doting, required to receive their father’s favor in tandem with the venerable nature of their suitors, the daughters’ obedience claims virtue although something lurks amiss.

Regan and Goneril’s righteously indignant sister, Cordelia (Grace DeWolfe), intervenes in France’s (Mack Folkert) prize, refusing to heave into words her gratitude for her father. Chastised, yet unyielding in her countenance, Cordelia accepts the wrath of her father, the King, his tongue and lips seething with venom expectant of a monitor lizard; She henceforth disowned.

King Lear’s rage blindly strikes his loyalist man Kent (Dylan Bolin), sending him from court in disgrace for questioning his highness’s judgement. King Lear filled with pride cannot see his flattering daughters conspire to usurp his authority as King. Few fetters remain of Lear’s royal fold after the opening scenes, the King has climbed atop his wall.

Cardinal Direction

Taking less prominent roles, Artistic Directors Aaron Kopec and Erica Case handed the keys, of the Oldsmobile 442 that the Alchemist Theater is, over to Leda Hoffman. Hoffman cut her teeth directing as an intern with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. She goosed the Alchemist’s throttle plenty, driving King Lear into an exceptional production, delivering pace, atmosphere, suspense and affect, taking the crowd on a sidewinding joy ride without a wreck.

Hoffman’s production hugged the corners of the King Lear text, erring on the side of a traditional stage translation. The technical aspects of the players’ book-work and adherence to Hoffman’s vision rang through the audience’s response to punchy delivery of the script, which nailed Shakespeare’s wit meter after meter. Dramaturg Fly Steffens and text coaches Mark Corkins and Marcy Kearns deserve a nod for adding permeability to the impenetrable quality that Shakespeare’s rhetoric can pose for the layperson, their knack seen through the actors methods.

Looks to Percieve

The A.V. direction mimicked the overall polished manner of the production, wielding the power of an upgraded lighting system. To the credit of Stage Manger Erin Eggers and Sound/Music Designer Erin Paige, the overlay of cues on the players performances draped well. All elements of King Lear’s blocking added to the production’s readability, with hands lent from an extensive support crew including Mallory Metoxen (Assistant Director), Sydonia Lucchesi (Assistant Stage Manager), and Christopher Elst (Violence Design).

Visually, the costume design pressed by the fingertips of Caitlin Lux and Rachel Stenman tied the production neatly to the set design and stage performance. Without being distracting, medieval period looks infused with modern sensibilities kept the players in that magical place provided by Shakespeare’s literary settings.

The ensemble’s footwear captured the spotlight, as rugged leather riding boots signified the station of Albany, Cornwall, Edmund, Edgar and Oswalt (Tim Palecek) in particular, complimenting their English hunting field vests and durable breeches. France’s dandiness clung to his thigh-high cream colored equestrian boots, to match his two-tone white and pale blue admiral jacket with frilled epaulets.

Goneril and Regan, fit with versatile and well-tailored mini-one piece pleated dresses, exuded run way appeal enhancing their perceived ability to impress their privileges upon their subjects. Cordelia elegantly wore a chaste white gown through the hell and rising troubled waters of Dover.

Beneath the Velvet

The plotting and scheming in King Lear has few spectators, and a sporting chap Edmund (Matt Wickey) indeed brings his treachery to the fore with little ado. Edmund subtly impresses lies on his half-brother Edgar (Tim Linn) driving Edgar into exile. He foists his resentment on their sire, Lear’s most trusted noblemen Gloucester (Michael Pocaro), pushing him into disfavor with Regan’s Duke Cornwall. Edmund sadistically plays paramour to both of Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril driving them to each others’ throats. Wickey channels something dim and sinister from his character, and almost comical in his portrayal of an archetypal super villain that really has no aim beside sowing chaos, knowing in the end he must be caught to fulfill his infamy.

Loon Farm

King Lear has its share of train wreck moments in the follies of the characters. Every character has some personal drama. Everyone goes crazy.

Edmund’s foil Edgar, looses touch with reality while banished, wondering the wilderness calling him self “Poor Tom”. Linn showed promising acting range in his earnest and noble portrayal Edgar, flipping a switch to enter Poor Tom by evoking the paranoid split-personality persona of J.R. Tolkien’s cast away Gollum, and it worked.

Poor Tom grovels around, spewing just as much wisdom as non-sense, stooped and erratic, as Linn’s sinewy body lurched under his wet stringy long hair until happenstance brings Poor Tom into Gloucester’s presence. His father, Gloucester blathers away too, sucked in the undertow of his guilt for falsely accusing his son Edgar of treachery, and stricken by Cornwall’s vicious wrath that extracted Gloucester’s eyes.

The Fool (David Flores) flits about Lear loyally, however sarcastic, mocking Lear in song, rehashing the troubles of Lear’s throne. Betraying the name of the character, Flores adds plenty of theatrical dressing to this character with his stage presence and singing voice. Hoffman really made a great choice in Flores, as this character easily could have been lost in the fray without his moxie. Although aided heavily by The Fool, King Lear needs no help in finding hysterical and inglorious madness.

Long Live the King

The character of King Lear contains complexity of a archetypal patriarch, a detached, caring, and long suffering parent, yet ornery and down right nasty when pushed. Johnson, a seasoned stage actor, conjured up a tremendously entertaining performance as King Lear. It was like seeing a possessed William F. Buckley cyborg crossed with Gary Oldman and Andrew Dice Clay, endlessly hitting all the pomp notes and vulgarities in the dialog.

King Lear incensed at his daughters’ defiance at every turn, spends much of the play in a blissful rage, stumbling about the countryside playful at times, but generally a hair-trigger pull away from verbal tirades that likely are the inspiration for the Shakespeare Insulter website.

A truly tortured man, Lear lasts longer than he intends, unaware that his loyal attendants guide him from peril, many to their own undoing. Even his own discarded daughter, Cordelia, attempting to restore her father’s glory with the help of France, is ensnared by the forces working against Lear. Imprisoned and defeated, life lets them free mercifully.

A Smashing Success

Rounding out the ensemble the presence of Mitch Weindorth (Corwall’s Servant), Harry Loeffler-Bell (Cornwall’s 2nd Servant), Margaret Casey (Gloucester’s Tenant), and Chris Goode (Lear’s Knight) did not go unfelt. Making their accomplishments on stage even sweeter, Figlesthaler and Amato are also credited as co-producers King Lear.

Unfortunately for those without passes, King Lear’s run has sold out going into its final week. The Alchemist Theatre’s King Lear opened July 11, 2013 and closes July 27.

Blow a Fuse, The Quasimondo, Robot Cabaret


The irony of robots is that they are kind of low tech now. In Brian Rott’s latest amalgamation of ideas, props, plot and actors Robot Cabaret, we find out that quite possibly robots have feelings too.

Extraordinarily imaginative, Rott, in creative tandem with Michael Guthrie, centers an underlying point of tension around a Robot Detective that seeks out and dismantles fritzing robots that are passing around a terrible virus. In this robot world, companionship develops between human and machine, as robots of various persuasions, interests and intelligence seek to emulate the best humans have to offer; or wait do the robots want to rid the planet of humans and keep the highest points of human invention preserved in exacting semi-conducted binary logic?

The best thing about Quasimondo’s productions (Robot Cabaret being no exception) is that they spin fractal like stories, within sub-stories within metaphorical vignettes, woven into loosely devised plots that don’t follow a logical or sequential pattern, their plays at least don’t seem to do so until you get home and say silently, “oh”. Most likely you’ll just have had several dramatic flashbacks to some completely outrageous joke that you missed live.

Quasimondo’s full commotion multi-sensory response inducing hijinks, always stack the shows with ample pop culture references and true renegade efforts from very talented performers of many different corners of stage art. Robot Cabaret even has guest cameos from famous imposter musicians of various glory ages that a conniving salesman has put his robot minions up to studying so that he can make sideshows out of them.  Bits and jokes galore litter the show, spewing from human and robot alike, and backed up by a house band… a house band? Yes!

If you’re into theater, nothing can bring more enjoyment than not knowing what to expect next from the next scene, or part of a dialog. Robot Cabaret far exceeds this threshold and the ensemble is an attractive bunch to put a bit of icing on the show.

The Quasimondo’s Robot Cabaret opened Thursday night and runs February 16, 18, 21, 22 and 23 and the following weekend all at 8p at the Fortress. There’s also a Matinee show on February 24 at 2p and pay-what-you can on February 18. Advanced tickets are available.

The Alchemist, Canonical Five of Jack the Ripper


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.

Infamous Infamy

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.

Blue and Red, Quasimondo, The Seagull 3D

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.

Your Needing, Help Wanted, Alchemist Theatre

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.

Paper or Plastic, Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre

An intensely focused brand of chaos sort of missed the New Kids on the Block when they debuted 21 years ago, luckily creative forms aren’t left solely in the clutches Artist and Repertoire directors anymore. Brian Rott is distinguishing himself quickly as a visionary expanding the limits of traditional stage-bound theatrical performance. Founder and Artistic Director of Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre, Brian Rott’s upcoming run of Paper or Plastic strings together a thread of scenes that rely nearly entirely on movement and stage direction, rather than dialog, to create a duskily humored, absurdist and variety filled fun-time. Paper or Plastic opens June 15 at the Quasimondo Theatre Space at 100A E. Pleasant Street, and has additional shows June 16, 21, 22 and 23 all at 8pm. Take a gander at the theatrical trailer…

Paper or Plastic from Andy Walsh on Vimeo.

Quasimondo Presents: Paper or Plastic

Leather Bound, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Othello

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.

No Commentary

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.

Reactive Elements

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.

Leap Week! Weekend Performance Happenings

Waiting for the next snow storm won’t make the Spring come any quicker, I get the feeling people can sense the season coming anyway. Don’t be so hard on yourself you earned it. By the end of the week, you’ll be ready for a few entertainment options provided by a few of Milwaukee’s brightest unsung talent. Okay, maybe this “talent” is a little further away from the mainstream Galaxy than most, but the Easter bunny cometh, so some options other than the Bar should spark some interest.



Thursday March 1, 7:30p
Opening Night
Alchemist Theater, Bay View







Friday March 2, 7:30p
One-night only
Milwaukee Area Composers & Artists (MACA) Showcase 4
featuring Stand By a Quasi Mondo Production
Marian Center Auditorium, Bay View





Saturday March 3, 8:00p
One-night only
Astral/Subastral at the Riverwest Follies
Polish Falcon, Riverwest

Leap Week! Milwaukee Area Composers & Artists

Live original composition jazz meets experimental performance theater at the Marian Center for Non-Profits for one night only on Friday March 2.

The Notes

Milwaukee Area Composers & Artists (MACA) jazz collective, led by Milwaukee grown Jazz composers and saxophonists Steve Gallam and Blake Manning, will perform in tribute to their first CD Release of Live Jazz performances. Solo, duet and quartet sets will create melody, as Mike Neumeyer navigates the marimba, Steve Gallam on Bass Guitar duals with Nathan Dill on violin, and Blake Manning corners a quartet of sax, drums, violin, and bass. MACA’s musicians all benefit from formal training but maintain their artistic warrant, clearly paying homage to their golden age of Jazz heroes in their works. This show should be a real treat for jazz enthusiasts who may be concerned about the future of the music, the MACA residents are all barely approaching 30 years of age.

The Experiments

Quasi Mondo Productions artistically directed by Brian Rott (formerly of Loose Canon Productions) pours a night cap/second-wind starter with its experimental theater trial Stand By that distills movement, props and illusion to tell a story. A subset of short acts from its parent production A Night of Something or Other, Stand By will play with elements designed to leave the audience room to narrate their own sub-text filling the space left by the production’s deliberate omission of spoken dialog. Visually intriguing and at times a bit nonsensical, Stand By aims to satiate the theater scene’s taste for something slightly askew of the typical flavor spectrum. Stand By enlists the talents of artistic consultant Jessi Miller, Lamont Smith and several other budding performers.

The Venue

The Marian Center for Non-Profits Auditorium provides the stage for MACA part IV and will begin at 7:30pm. Proceeds or the $5 cover at the door go to offset the cost of space rental.

The Marian Center for Non Profits is located just South of Oklahoma Avenue on South Superior Street in the old St. Mary’s High School across from Bay View Park. The Marian Center for NonProfits is a mission of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Francis Assisi that provides affordable office space for non-profits and rent-able space for events.

Main Article
Alive Week, Three Fingers-Plus of Weekend Performance Happenings,

Related Post
Marian Center for Nonprofits, Bay View Compass

Leap Week! 1984, Alchemist Theater

The Alchemist Theater swings full tilt into its 2012 season with its upcoming opening of 1984 this Thursday. This adaptation of the ubiquitous George Orwell classic, comes at the hands of Michael Gene Sullivan and directed by David Kaye.

The cast includes several veteran upstarts including Jeremy Eineichner who currently moonlights a regular stand-up comedy act at EastTown’s Karma Bar with Caste Killers Comedy Comedy Collective and Clayton Hamburg, a cast member of Carte Blache’s great run of Refer Madness last fall.

The gist of the story Sullivan tells and Kaye brings to life, fast fowards to Winston Smith’s arrest at the hands of The Party, where from his confinement, the audience will vicariously experience Winston’s struggle through politically motivated torture and programming as told from the perspective of his diary. Christopher Elst, Michael Keiley, Marcee Doherty, and Erin Hartman round out 1984‘s cast.

1984 will seek, capture and alter audience expectations opening on Thursday March 1 and closing Saturday March 17 (show runs Thursday thru Saturday). Tickets are $12 online and $15 at the door.

Main Article
Alive Week, Three Fingers-Plus of Weekend Performance Happenings,

Carte Blanche, Cafe Bizarre, Reefer Madness!


Nestled on 5th and Washington, on a surprisingly quiet strip in Walker’s Point, Carte Blanche Studios continues to imprint it’s butt on Milwaukee’s rogue theater scene. Carte Blanche’s current production Reefer Madness:The Musical enters it’s last weekend on Friday November 18th at 8pm, a stage adapted lampooning of the 1936 alarmist propaganda campaign against ganja Tell Your Children (Reefer Madness).

It’s a slapstick comedy with mega-doses of high jinks and quip humor that pits the active eyebrows of Michael Traynor (portraying the omnipresent shape-shifting conscious of America narrating the story, also serving as maestro of musical interludes) and his pitiful fictitious citizenry from Anywhere, USA, against overly concerned Carte Blanche audience members who play the role of Anywhere High School’s PTA. Okay Carte Blanche‘s audiences my not be overly concerned, even so our funny bones didn’t have a chance.

The Green Brick Road

The story centers around Jimmy (Chris Jones) and Mary Lane’s (Karrisa Lade) infantile teenage romance culminating with Jimmy asking Mary to the High School dance. Jimmy, after building up the guts to ask Mary Lane to the dance, realizes with horror he lacks rhythm.

Vulnerable, Jimmy comes across the path of Jack (Derek Woerpel) the local weed man, who offers him dance lessons as a thinly veiled ploy to lure a new customer into his web. Jimmy takes Jack up on his offer and Traynor dubbing as “America’s Conscious” gets many “I told you so” moments to taunt us with, as Jimmy’s experience on “Marihunana” swiftly turns him into a junkie, eventually dragging Mary into the smoke.

Mae (Samantha Paige), Jack’s pot jonesing girlfriend, melodramatically tries to urge the kids not to go down her path to burnout hussy-dom, but is foiled again and again by Jack, his best customer Ralph (Clayton Hamburg) and his resident floozy Sally (Emily Craig), and her own urges to keep toking. Jimmy and Mary Lane’s peers pop-up regularly as spunky teens of the town, by day, and dancing weed zombies by night… or day, played by Mara Mcghee, Mica Chenault, Andrew Parchman, Jessi Miller, and Caitlin Alba.

It’s plenty entertaining! Even before the lights went up, Michael Traynor’s entrance alone was so on spot to the period that I was already laughing out loud.

Cafe Bizzare

Carte Blanche now has a cafe called Cafe Bizzare that will eventually maintain regular business hours even when a show is not going on. There’s art on the walls, wood on the floors, great furniture, brews of caffeine and malted grains, what more could you want!

Carte Blanche Studios closes Reefer Madness!: The Musical, Sunday, November 20 and opens a one-nighter Lucky13 Open Mic Comedy the next day at 8p.

Related Posts
Reefer Madness: The Musical, Bunny Gumbo’s Blog, Bunny Gumbo
Carte Blanche gets bent: Reefer Madness! The Musical, The Examiner, Jeff Gryngy
Reefer Reviews!, Lisa Golda Blog, Lisa Golda

Dark Passage, The Alchemist Theatre, Faust

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.

Another World

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.

Pt. 2, ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court’s History

Looking Back

Historian John Gurda guided the evening’s story tellers by explaining signposts of historical significance to the Capitol Heights neighborhood and Milwaukee’s Black community. In 1956, a mall that came to be known as Capitol Court made Capitol Heights its home. It was Milwaukee’s third major shopping center, after Southgate, on South 27th, and Bayshore. At Capitol Court’s founding the neighborhood was barely 10% percent African-American. Today at least 75% of Capitol Heights is African-American, with a growing population of Hmong-Americans.

A few blocks away, on Fon du Lac Avenue, sits Satin Wave Barbershop. Gurda relays that Fon du Lac Avenue, once an old plank road, epitomized the folk saying describing Milwaukee “Look to the East the Lake, and to the West the Land”. Back then, farm goods carted into downtown from as far as the name sake of the street, true also of Appleton Avenue and, at one time, Windlake and Muskego Avenues to the South.

As diagonal roads, they represent seminal thoroughfares that pre-date Milwaukee’s grid system of streets. Around the same time, in the 1850’s, Sully Watson became one of Milwaukee first Black land owners, after migrating with his manumission papers gained from Virginia. He and his wife Susanna lived successful lives in ante-bellum Milwaukee, supported by his work as a tradesman.

Overcoming, Making a Life

Although under the constant looming menace of the Fugitive Slave Act, which gave any white person claiming ownership over a black person force of law to take them into their possession immediately, the Watson family carried on raising a family. The Watson offspring found little success extending their family tradition of gainful trade under the repressive, reactionary and often violent post-Reconstruction American social caste system. The Milwaukee Public Museum recently added a tribute to the Watson family to the Streets of Old Milwaukee.

Pt. 1 Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop
Pt. 2 ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court History
Pt. 3 ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy
Pt. 4 ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain&lt
Pt. 5 ExFabula, Tom Crawford, a Thankful Trim
Pt. 6 ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

Pt. 3, ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy

Still a Tale of Two Towns

Ronnie Sherrill saunters up to the microphone. He’s Satin Wave’s proprietor, style deacon and local icon. In good spirits, he’s set the tone all night. To introduce his delivery of Satin Wave’s roots, soul music beat moderate ambiance from a classic juke box. You can ask just about anyone from the baby boomer generation and older from the Black community about Satin Wave and they will tell you that hands down Satin Wave was the place to get your do done right.

Satin Wave’s lineage began in the 1950’s with Colonial Barbershop on 6th and Walnut. These days it may be referred to as Hillside, but then it was Bronzeville. Barbershops, taverns, chicken shacks and a hotel were thriving businesses and gathering spots for culturally proclivities. A thriving area, to set a gauge for the importance of Walnut Street to the cultural landscape in Milwaukee, the doo-wop quartet The Esquires formed in and frequented Bronzeville. By 1967, they gained enough notoriety to release the song Get on Up nationally. The record went Gold and nearly cracked the Billboard top ten. As local lore recounts the band never received any royalties for the song.

Ending Bronzeville’s heyday, beginning in the late 1962, the Department of Transportation claimed much of the neighborhood as right of way for Interstate 43. Today on the corner of Sixth and Walnut, the complex that once held a Black owned hotel and shopping area now houses the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter and a Department of Corrections Probation and Parole office, respectively.

Pt. 1 Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop
Pt. 2 ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court History
Pt. 3 ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy
Pt. 4 ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain&lt
Pt. 5 ExFabula, Tom Crawford, a Thankful Trim
Pt. 6 ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

Pt. 4, ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain

A Common Bond

Marvin Pratt attended Terminal Milwaukee as the poet laureate of the evening. He treated the audience to a trip down memory lane, through the steps of a young man that emerged, from an era tainted with the trappings of fast talking, slick dressing cats just trying to survive in a time of intense depravity and a racial caste reality, to emerge as a man with political prospects. Fulfilling his ambitions in 1986, Pratt’s district elected him to a Milwaukee Common Council. A seat that he held until 2004, when he ran for Mayor against the current incumbent Tom Barrett.

Along his path to political achievement, Pratt always held close in his memory the tendency for the Barbershop to draw people of all walks of life. His appreciation for the people aspect business and politics mended a common bond with Ronnie over the years. Pratt’s fancy for a certain young woman solidified their connection, when a romance sprung into a loving and lasting marriage with Ronnie’s older sister Dianne.

Dianne treated Terminal Milwaukee to amusing tales of adventures in the Bronzeville, where she, family and friends often and innocently traveled about the City on the 23 City bus into foreign worlds barely miles away from her home. On one occasion, she and her playmates found themselves far from home at Mayfair Mall, where the only route back required a paid fare. Having no money, but in good spirits and unbegrudged after being refused a ride, she lead her fellows on foot back to her Sixth Street neighborhood.

Tying Ronnie, Marvin and Dianne’s stories together, a sown thread bearing the tremendous influence that family played in establishing and maintaining the barbering trade in their lineage, all attached to the first patch in the quilt, Ronnie’s grandfather the first Black Master Barber in Milwaukee.

Pt. 1 Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop
Pt. 2 ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court History
Pt. 3 ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy
Pt. 4 ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain
Pt. 5 ExFabula, Tom Crawford, a Thankful Trim
Pt. 6 ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

Pt. 5, ExFabula, Tom Crawford a Thankful Trim

Grown Out, Up

No other social function of hair exists that intrigues as much as rebellion. The central character in the Terminal Milwaukee series Tom Crawford has, among other conspicuous features of his appearance, a flop of bushy wavy mane draping over his forehead nearly covering his glasses. During those days post the decade of civil unrest, the afterglow of hippiedom still prevailed for sometime before spiraling into garage rock, which all affected post-hoc the overgrowth of Crawford’s mop of hair and his strained relationship with his father.

At the breaking point all parents reach with their kids, Crawford’s mother exasperatingly urged him to ask his father, who had barbering in his survival tool belt of occupations, to cut is god-forsaken hair. When approached with the task Crawford recalls his father growling in an authentic Scottish accent, “The lawnmower is broken”. Of course, his father agreed to the hair intervention and, although receiving the uncoolest haircut of all-time, in a moment humbled by a parent’s patience, Crawford sincerely thanked his father.

Pt. 1 Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop
Pt. 2 ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court History
Pt. 3 ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy
Pt. 4 ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain
Pt. 5 ExFabula, Tom Crawford, a Thankful Trim
Pt. 6 ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

Pt. 6, ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

A Rip in Time

Framing well an evening of cultural intersection, John Gurda spoke of man from Missouri that escaped enslavement in 1854 that sought refuge in Racine, WI. Under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Act, the man’s alleged owner arrived in Racine with Federal Marshals, took the man into custody and detained him in Milwaukee, commandeering the jail. Arriving by boat, a contingent of men from Racine arrived in Milwaukee demanding the man’s release.

Hearing of this atrocity and the seafaring protestors, the local human rights activists descended on Cathedral Square, which at that time was the footprint of the County Jail. At the peak of dissent, over this man’s arrest under unjust Federal Law, 5,000 people gathered outside of the jail. Taking a beam from the construction site of St. John’s Cathedral, they bashed in the door of the detention facility and freed the man. The namesake of primary street in the Riverwest neighborhood, Sherman Booth rose to the center of this display of intolerance for injustice.

After being indicted for his involvement in the Cathedral Square incident, Booth appealed the Wisconsin Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The Wisconsin high court granted the writ and furthermore declared the Fugitive Slave Act a violation of States rights, stating that no citizen of Wisconsin would be reduced to a “slave catcher”. Ironically, States rights provided the pretense for Southern succession from the United States five years later, demanding their right to practice slavery. The twice freed man escaped to Canada, his name, Joshua Glover.

Stubborn to defend heathen practices, the Federal Supreme Court accepted Joshua’s captor’s lawsuit and awarded him $1000 dollars (the value of a person in bondage to the captor) and fined Booth $1000. In today’s dollars that’s approximately $30,000, roughly equal to the cost incarcerate an individual for one year.

Pt. 1 Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop
Pt. 2 ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court History
Pt. 3 ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy
Pt. 4 ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain
Pt. 5 ExFabula, Tom Crawford, a Thankful Trim
Pt. 6 ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop

Set in the Capitol Heights neighborhood for Terminal Milwaukee’s current episode, ExFabula teamed up with the owners of the oldest Barbershop lineage in Milwaukee, Satin Wave, to host an evening of storytelling revolving around grooming experiences.

ExFabula and Satin Wave deserve major kudos for breaking uncharted ground. Let’s look at it this way. I over heard a 17 year-old African-American young woman (well okay, my niece), noticing the scene at the event, immediately pipe up “White people in the ‘hood, oh this is so exiting!” Her sentiment expressed genuine surprise and feelings of encouragement that where she lives isn’t place where only Blacks care to be.

Her reaction was gut and essentially summed up my grand anticipation for what ExFabula was doing on this night, a willing and unprompted effort to extend and mutually share creative conscious across the deep racial divide that prevails in Milwaukee. It’s not an everyday occurrence, and couldn’t occur as successfully impromptu, but a highly commendable effort to bring a group of people together to mutually enjoy the company of those from a different background (and at an event far from the Eastside, Downtown, or Third Ward).

Let’s have some Fun

ExFabula centers on story telling and the stories reached a variety of experiences with the hair grooming process. One story accounted the fabled barber for who you dread being next, in line to receive the hasty wrath of his clipper. Another set of stories told of the venerable barber’s ability to impart discomfort on kindergarten age children. Depictions of the tactics deployed by the barber to quell adolescent fits ranged from pysch-ward restraints to Donald Duck voices, revealing that the Barber can be jack of many trades and hopefully master of at least one.

A Faithful Effort

Likening the group at Terminal Milwaukee, collectively, to the 5,000 seeing to Joshua Glover’s freedom may be a bold statement, but the thought conjures up the gravity of progressive possibilities made offered by events that aren’t designed make proclamations of values, rather the event itself presents the value.

ExFabula continues their path through Milwaukee in Sherman Park with Intersections. Take a look at ExFabula’s Recap of the night at Satin Wave!

Related Post
Drink the Well, ExFabula, Terminal Milwaukee

Pt. 1 Shaping Influence, ExFabula, Barbershop
Pt. 2 ExFabula, John Gurda on Capital Court History
Pt. 3 ExFabula, The Sherrill’s, A Black Business Legacy
Pt. 4 ExFabula, Sunshine and Rain
Pt. 5 ExFabula, Tom Crawford, a Thankful Trim
Pt. 6 ExFabula, Monumental Integrity and Murals

Drink the Well, ExFabula, Terminal Milwaukee


ExFabula sounds kind of tricky to say, but a name you should get to know, quickly. They filled Club Garibaldi in Bay View to jump start the neighborhood segment of their story telling series, Terminal Milwaukee. Milwaukee has its share of characters, and the one’s sharing their tales in this episode of Terminal Milwaukee proved why Bay View might be the most grounded place in the City.

If you have ever hung out, known anyone or actually lived in Bay View you may have noticed a healthy, but subtle, self-contained shoulder-chip. Their level of neighborhood pride has a good reason. Terminal Milwaukee’s Bay View theme, “All in a Day’s Work”, gave venue for master historians and grizzled but good spirited working folk to dish proletariat-ism, uncensored, honest and unplugged. John Gurda author of The Making of Milwaukee, a 17 part documentary series that aired on Milwaukee Public Television, layered bedrock for the night’s story tellers.

Village on the South Shore

On a plainly lit stage, kept company only by the microphone and stand, John Gurda calmly explains that Eber Brock Ward, a Detroit iron magnate, established a branch of his iron conglomerate on the southern shores of Milwaukee, and named it Milwaukee Iron Works. With a new iron outpost in place, 1868 brought the founding of a mill town named Bay View, technically Milwaukee’s first suburb. Just 9 years later, Bay View residents voted to re-join the City of Milwaukee to enjoy access to public services such as water and plumbing. Bay View’s reuniting with Milwaukee changed daily life for its residents, ending the era of public wells and rustic rooms.

According to Gurda, Bay View also claims credit for being a bastion of the labor rights movement in Wisconsin. The iron rolling mill workers toiled in heat of over 150 degrees day in and day out, and still mustered the strength to organize themselves to protest Ward’s ungracious labor practices. When the first worker organizations in Milwaukee, led by the Sons of Vulcan, attempted to follow suit with the rest of the region and strike during the May Day Labor Strikes of 1886, Wisconsin Gov. Jeremiah Rusk called in the militia and ordered use of deadly force if workers did not stand down at the mill.

Adding facts far more accurate that Wikipedia, Gurda’s narrative reveals that the Captain of the militia attempted to call off the shoot-to-kill order. However, as the militia advanced on the stalwart workers, his orders to stand down, rendered inaudible from his post 200 yards behind the front line, fell silent under the sound of gunfire and frantic screams. In the end, 7 died including a retired mill worker living near the protest and a teenage boy playing hooky from school. The workers despite their tragic losses, eventually won 5 day work weeks and 8 hour regular work days. Only a few generations removed, many of the Sons and Daughters of those mill workers reside in Bay View to this day, Terminal Milwaukeeans.

Lost Island, Found Souls

Jones Island now houses the City’s waste facility. During Milwaukee’s time of high industry in the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s it was our Hell’s Kitchen, for rough-knuckled and heavy drinking longshoremen. Before that Kashubian Polish immigrants settled Jones Island as fisherman. 

Terminal Milwaukee story-teller Tom Crawford, is like the Last Star Fighter of longshoremen. Like many before him, doomed to a life of hard-knocks and ridicule by anyone and every one that didn’t see him as having a place (not just because he stands a burly six five), he kept his nose to the grind stone. Rolling with fate’s punches, Crawford eventually found himself at the helm of Milwaukee’s renegade station 91.7 WMSE.

ExFabula casts Crawford as the  central character of the Terminal Milwaukee series. ExFabula’s venue selection mark sign posts that retrace the bumpy road of Crawford’s life. September 9th, in what most Milwaukee residents know as the Capital Court neighborhood, the story telling crossroads leads to Satin Wave Barber and Beauty for an evening centered on Barbershops. Having only heard Crawford’s musings about growing up on 27th and Lisbon, working sporadically at Pizza Man, watching a man get his arm torn off in a machine shop, before settling for a time as a longshoremen,  Barbershop should be  nothing short of interesting.

Moons before Crawford’s time, another breed of longshoremen existed. ExFabula gave voices to ex-longshoremen of this middle era that keep time by tracking strange events like the year Erza Pound died, the model year of a memorable Buick, or the year the ball almost didn’t drop to ring in the next.

Attempting to do justice to the stories told during All in a Days Work would be criminal indeed. A few morals may be in order though. Circa 1972, “Dirty” and “hard jobs”  supplied opportunities to forge a backbone in teenagers. When dealing with others tread lightly, you never know what kind of day someone is having. Good fortune, longevity and community follow the honorable. Finally, like the fabled last inhabitant of Jones Island, Capt Felix Struck, Terminal Milwaukeeans develop a certain stick-to-it-iveness, the ability to eek out more lives than a 3 legged and 1 eared cat.

They might be Giants

Patty Pritchard-Thompson, former president of the Bay View Neighborhood Association, and committed Bay View resident, told the story of her ever resourceful, determined and traditionally classy mother. Her story painting a scene where a woman with indomitable motherly voluptuousness pursues her life passion, a-fixing fashionable upholstery to furnishings using a now-banned epoxy called Hi-Bond 80, smoking cigarettes in an unventilated room in the basement,  evoked the reckless abandon in which Bay Viewers treat work, an all-in, no-limit commitment to making it.  Pritchard-Thompson’s mother, at the end of her story, stood as an archetype, a monument to Bay View and Milwaukee work ethic.

Exfabula continues its series throughout the remainder of the year making stops in the Capital Court, Sherman Park, Burnham Park and Jackson Park neighborhoods of Milwaukee.