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No more shadows, Quasimondo Physical Theatre, Ms. Wrights

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.

Simple Complex

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).


A Bird in a Can, Halyard Park, Dead Bird Brewing Company

Dead Bird Brewing Company Taproom opened last month like rumor, turns out that the truth betrayed fiction. Yes, Milwaukee now has a place called Dead Bird Brewing. A self proclaimed nanobrewery, the space that houses this small batch brewing outfit has garage chic charm that only Milwaukee’s legacy of industry embedded in neighborhoods can provide.

Halyard Park’s Has A Brewery?

Dead Bird picked a spot on 5th street in Halyard Park, a low profile predominantly African-American enclave just North of downtown and just West of Brewer’s Hill. This subdivision was developed in the early 80’s to bring suburban planning and housing sensibilities of a place like Glendale into the heart of the city. Halyard Park now attracts upscale urbanist redevelopments like The Griot and City Place apartments which sits across the street from Dead Bird’s establishment.

Dead Bird will give fun-loving patrons an unpretentious setting to let the wild rumpus start. With just enough rustic detail in its interior design, Dead Bird sits a tier above single use light industrial. Maybe the social cycle has come full circle to call for spaces like this one, large rec halls that make their own brew and designer snack food so people can hang out. Let Milwaukee have Der Rathskeller revival!

A 90’s Act

To complete this venue’s curious attraction, a selection of vintage quarter-slot arcade games line Dead Bird’s walls, marking the signs of times. Those GenXs and Oregon Trailers have come of age and they’ve found out first hand they had a reason to revile authority and hold cynicism toward the system. Now in nostalgia, they just want a taste of those wondrous tween years again and can spare more than $2 on quarter games in a single visit. Dead Bird also plans to host sociables like game nights and a cribbage league.

You’ll find more than just IPA’s here. Dead Bird boasts a manageable and balanced selection of draught brews. The brew list has variety featuring local and regional brews and styles along side Dead Birds own batches.

With a peculiar name for such an auspicious place, apparently an experience with a dead bird really did inspire the name. A historical plaque will appear at some point to keep the team from having to tell the story over and over one hundred million times. Finding out the story for yourself can be your homework.

Dead Bird Brewing sits tucked back on a permeable driveway surface (a spectacle in and of itself for any sustainable landscape enthusiasts) just North of Walnut Street at 1726 North 5th Street in Milwaukee.


Thieves of Fortune, Cactus Club, Endless Era

Radio Milwaukee had a spot recently with beabadoobie discussing how inexplicably some musicians with phenomenal projects toil and toil and never quite break through, and how others miraculously gain instant notoriety.

A recent live effort by new kids on the scene Endless Era gave show-goers the feeling this trio could vault straight to insta-hit status or run the well trod path a mega cool cult synth pop act that never quite climbs from under the shadows of the local music canopy.

They cut their Cactus set with an inspired play of their winter 2019 single Mine. Blake Akers just devastated the final drum transitions in a way that very few can open up, sending Jon Eleyet and Caleb Rogers into a controlled rage to bring Mine to its crescendo.

Spicing up the Recipe

It wasn’t so much that the song conjured a groundbreaking new sound, Mine is basically variation of the pop synthwave formula: rising drums, thick down tempo key board, thinly layered guitar melody with a tad of mod distorted amplification, always delicious. A certain moxie and sense of performative urgency set Endless Era apart. How they progress from their new-band honeymoon will be worth staying tuned, hope they stick around for awhile.

Endless Era’s 2019 single Mine is available on bandcamp.


Permanent Press, Village Playhouse, The Clean House

Matilda (Emily Condon) bounces about Lane’s house taking life in stride while she battles an extended case of the mopes. She recently lost both her parents and has found herself a Brazilian transplant in America doing the thing she hates worst for a day job, cleaning.

“Laughter cleans the insides,” Matilda announces halfway through our encounter enmeshed in the fateful intersections of human paths that The Clean House dramatizes.

A Life Deferred

Matilda inherited comedy from her mother and father, who shared the wonder of laughter with her from the day she was born, but left her wanting on the day they died. Matilda carries this void along when she enters Lane’s crumbling personal life as her live-in maid.

Lane (Jackie Benka), once a charmed doctor who hitched up with a surgeon, now grasps desperately to hold her strained marriage. The controlled demolition of Lane’s personal life gives this story a hub of morbid ironies to find humor and wisdom in.

Active Bystanders

Lane’s bored and nosey sister Virginia (Kathy Landry) regularly comes poking around and stirring the cauldron brewing in Lane’s house that Matilda already has swirling with her mercurial ways. Matilda and Virginia make a odd match of confidants as Virginia’s love for cleaning and small talk meets Matilda’s need for an ear and a pair of industrious hands to save her from Lane’s chores.

Virginia prophetically proclaims the reason behind her devotion for cleaning, “How else are you going to catch your husband cheating.” Commiserating over a basket of Lane’s freshly laundered undergarments, Matilda and Virginia’s symbiosis naturally discovers evidence of Charles’s (Joseph Ellman) infidelity.

Dirt-tinted Senses

Without her cleaning crew’s help, Lane’s rigid intelligence allows her to deduce the symptoms of her failing marriage. When her husband finally comes clean, his stilted and clinical rationalism allows his mouth to supply her a defensible alibi – er, explanation.

He gathered his conscious clearing pass from the cultural repository of public radio no less. Tuning in there, he learned that finding his soulmate Ana (Sam Billek) while removing her cancerous breasts obligated him to be with her. Charles obliviously attempts to share his joy with Lane, with Virginia and Matilda gazing in awe, arriving at her house accompanied by Ana.

As these five lives entangle further, the audience explores several aspects of love’s elusive, unquantifiable presence in our drive to exult in our lovers with our talents, bitterly let them go forever, transact with them steadfastly in daily exchanges of love languages, or unselfishly tend to their last wishes.

Solid State

A Village Playhouse production, Scott Sorenson’s take on Sarah Ruhl’s story succeeds in creating a well-set, snicker inducing mellow drama. Type-blind casting works here as the players come as they are, betraying and remolding stereotypical imagery this play runs the danger of eliciting, giving the characters a new lease on life.

Credits go to The Clean House’s producer Erico Ortiz and creative team Jennifer Lautz (Lighting and Sound Designer), Nikki Maritch (Costume Designer), and Sorenson (Set Design).

The Clean House runs at Inspiration Studios in West Allis through October 13 with evening shows Friday and Saturday October 4, 5, 11, and 12th at 7:30pm and Monday matinees October 6, and 13th.

Inspiration Studios’s quaint confines sit on a corner just South of 73rd and Greenfield, 1500 S. 73rd Street, West Allis, WI 53204.


Dramatic Pause