An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

Archive for January, 2015

Moving on Sideways, The Rep, Good

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

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

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

A Stunner

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

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

Social Litmus

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

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

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

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

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

The Rote and the Writer, Alchemist Theatre, True West

Austin (Jason Will) has stolen away to the desert to have a stand-off with his typewriter, struggling to coax his next screenplay on to the blank leafs rolling through its paper carriage. He’s somewhere deep in the Southwest, house-sitting while his mother is on vacation. Even if his writing becomes more of a plow, he at least relishes the quiet.

Austin sits, sips coffee, and concentrates. Kimmer (Mitch Weindorf), a small-time Hollywood producer, will visit him soon to tour Austin’s story before it’s translated to film. Unexpectedly, Austin’s estranged brother Lee (David Sapiro) appears at the door like a dust storm, with barely a knock. Just how straight laced is Austin?

Lee holds himself up as the cracked mirror so we can better perceive the distorted angles and dark crevices of Austin’s family life. As Lee makes himself at home, rustling through his mothers drawers and cabinets, helping himself to Austin’s cheap brew while emitting a constant chatter, unconcerned with Austin’s concentration. You soon wonder if it’s actually Lee that is surprised to see Austin.

Like Rolling Stone

Lee, covered in a physical grime and unkempt, has the charm of a successful rug salesman. Lee launches into Austin, extracting his pity with persistent narrative of his troubles and guilt-trudging laments about Austin’s disregard for their alcoholic father. Wearing thin, and against his better judgment, Austin soon relents to Lee’s presumptuous ask to borrow his car. Austin just wants to be rid of his brother for a few hours and hopefully long enough to do business with Kimmer before Lee returns. Austin had offered Lee money, which Lee venomously refused. It slowly becomes clear what Lee really wants. In my head I begin to hear Bob Dylan sing, “… Once upon a time you dressed so fine, You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you ?…”

The Cat, The Yarn

Director Nicole Eggers takes few chances in developing her adaptation of Sam Shepard’s True West, beside empowering highly capable players Jason Will and David Sapiro to inhabit the verbose roles required to bring True West to life. Will convincingly portrays a tightly wound, Ivy League college grad, that predictably lacks an edge, coming unhinged relatively easily when enough pressure is applied. Sapiro, appeared challenged initially with playing Lee, however immersed himself deeper into character as the play worn on, exuding cringe-worthy qualities needed to give Lee the proper dimension. I found Sapiro’s performance particularly intriguing for this reason, as first impressions are nearly impossible to reverse, especially on stage.

Subtle metaphors worked there way into the production, through Eggers vision for the play. In one standout scene, Lee has conveniently returned to Austin in the middle of Austin’s meeting with Kimmer. Lee is carrying a t.v. and places it on the kitchen counter facing the audience. From that point forward, Lee and Austin are mostly opposite each other with the t.v. visually separating them.

During these scenes, Lee harps on his hard-living and surviving hand-to-mouth in the desert, while Austin meekly squirms for the safety of his measured intellect. The presence of the t.v. challenges the audience to determine who belongs on what side of the tube. Eventually, through his charisma and cunning, Lee is able to wiggle into the professional relationship Austin has established with Kimmer. As the action falls, Austin and Lee’s orientation to the television prop at key moments flip, then eventually become interchangeable.

And Dylan sings,

…You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely But you know you only used to get juiced in it

And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it

You said you’d never compromise With the mystery tramp, but know you realize He’s not selling any alibis

As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes

And say do you want to make a deal?…

True West disguises itself as drama filled with didactic episodes, but really a melodramatic psychological thriller (okay Im being melodramatic) might describe the play better. It hits you when Lee and Austin’s Mom (Deborah Clifton) arrives home early. Her ironic and underwhelming reaction to the aftermath of Lee and Austin’s prolonged interaction adds to the bizarre ordeal. A rare production that builds momentum, Eggers’ rendition of True West gathers your attention with each passing scene, rolling out humor, irony, conflict and degeneracy contained in Shepard’s story all the way to the curtain.

True West opened January 16th, and has weekend runs at the Alchemist Theatre through January 31, 2015 with all-show times starting at 7:30p.

Radiant, Jazz Estate, Sidewalk Chalk

Expecting the same old dusky jams you can count on at the Jazz Estate, I stepped to that night more for the dim ambiance than the music. Though the music is always a big  plus. I get the per usuals and the main act is preparing to go on. Then this trumpet leans on the silence.

It blows the cob webs off of everyone with a slow tenor drawl. Hi hat taps in the snare, and rim shot. A melodic line is sung-spoken by Maggie Vagle, keys trickling notes around her words,’I have seen the break of day, rising glistening, Im transfixing…’ It’s an exquisite lead in for Rico Sisney to begin his reminiscent verse about a person he knew.

Sidewalk Chalk, Vibrate

Sidewalk Chalk marked a high-point late in 2014 for sneakily good shows, a feat pulled easily by a such an obviously good band of musicians. Based in Chicago, Sidewalk Chalk touts a vintage brass section featuring a Trumpet (Sam Trump) and Trombone (David Ben-Porat), that build on the foundations set by urban R&B electric Bass (Garrett McGinn) and drums (Tyler Berg), and a hip deck of Keys (Charlie Coffeen). Sidewalk chalk has all the parts needed to steer an a all-terrain course through music’s soulful parts.

Their second album, Leaves, prepares to bud late in February and they treated the crowd a Jazz Estate to an early sampler. Sidewalk Chalk has a ton of moxie to go with their stage presence, striking the right balance of justified confidence needed in the urban fusion genre. Most of all they are a lot fun.

Sidewalk Chalk, Them Us

Sidewalk Chalk weaves in and out of dreamy and contemplative pieces, and go quickly from sentimentality to good times. When they get introspective you have a musical pal to accompany you on your daily laments and social tithing. At their upbeat best, they will give you perfect soundtrack to do something uplifting. Sidewak Chalk’s sophomore album leaves drops February 25.