A gray wool topcoat, plaid aviator scarf, wooden cane and bone colored felt pork pie, blaze in our subconscious as marquee fashion pieces of a quintessential figure of 20th century American design. These garments lay empty on the floor in Charles Allis Museum‘s gathering hall, void of a personage for Frank Lloyd Wright.
At one cue, the wool topcoat and scarf animate. Jenni Reinke’s hands, arms and torso manipulate the articles stridently around the supple areas of Mamah Borthwick’s (Jenni Reinke) hips. Here a woman, seduced from her husband’s embrace, falls prey to the presumed privilege of male genius.
This calamity serves an unjust comeuppance for Kitty Lee Tobin (Reinke), mother to six of Wright’s children. Tobin, another dutiful and smitten weight bearing support beneath the golden facade of Wright’s professional sphere topples, crushed; Wright’s reputation stands a contrived personal structure girded by accomplishment, quite possibly more so by the women that were his rock or his muse.
When asked if she imagined what Frank Lloyd Wright ‘the person’ was like as she developed her intricate character sketches of Wright’s wives and lovers, Jennie simply stated, “No, this play is about the women who were involved with Wright.” The gray wool topcoat lays empty, scarf limply hanging around the shoulders, all of it draped formlessly on a round spindle farmhouse chair.
By weaving movement, drama and dialog together, Reinke achieved a masterclass with Mrs. Wrights. Reinke delivers expressionist portraits of the lives of Anna Lloyd Jones, Tobin, Borthwick, Maude Miriam Noel, and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, drawing primarily from their firsthand public accounts and memoirs of their times and exploits with Wright. They’ve been there all along, only hidden by the shadows created by the historical telling of Wright’s works, his vaulted legacy a pillar of American architecture practice, a corner of Americana unto itself.
A sprawling and disorienting piece, Mrs. Wrights bends time and space in the dimly lit and cavernous hall that gives the performance its setting. Reinke employs only costume, a coat rack, and a chair as simple props; and lighting, her full voice and tidily placed musical accompaniment to tantalize the audience’s imagination with her series of delicately strung vignettes. Reinke’s melding of dance, theatrical practice and music performance give drama enthusiasts something stimulating and exquisite to captivate their senses and emotions for an evening (or afternoon).
Touring de Force
Mrs. Wrights was written and directed by Reinke, and originally formulated as Reinke’s MFA thesis project in dance from UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. The story was inspired by her early experiences growing up in Milwaukee hearing about Wright and working at the famed Spice House, whose owners William and Ruth Penzey extracted hearty inspiration from Wright’s philosophical and design sensibilities. Mrs. Wrights’ travels included a performance at Taliesin where it met a warm reception, when we might expect a story re-orienting the perspectives onto the women Wright engaged to be most challenging.
Reinke added Mrs. Wrights to the canon of Quasimondo Physical Theatre with remaining shows for an intimate house on Saturday November 9, Friday November 15, and Saturday November 16 at 7:00p and Sunday Matinee Sunday November 10, 2019 at 2:00pm at the Charles Allis Museum on Prospect Avenue and Royall Place on Milwaukee’s lower Eastside.
A Milwaukee-born theatre company, Quasimondo launched its 8th season earlier this fall, in the midst of their quest to redevelop the Old North Milwaukee Village Hall on 35th and Villard Avenue into the North Milwaukee Arthaus. If any questions need answers as to what kind of inventive and quality shows Quasimondo brings to the scene, Mrs. Wrights can provide them.
Production credits for Mrs. Wrights go to Brian Rott (Dramaturg and Lighting Design), Margi Schires and Leslie Vaglica (Costume Design), Rita Reinke (Costume Assistance), and Jessi Miller (Sound Engineer).
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