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The Slow Simmer, Cream City Theater, Twelve Angry Men


The jury’s foreman and the bailiff have a brief exchange in an empty room furnished with twelve chairs. The bailiff (Ken Meleski) ushers the jurors into the deliberation room, eleven men file in, and the locks the door behind them. Not yet befitting the title of the play, including the foreman (Al Van Lith), twelve men mill around a long conference table preparing to decide the fate of a young man charged with murdering his father.

On the small stage where theatre goers have grown accustom to seeing 5 to 6 players, the image of twelve men on stage at the same time, eleven of whom are are white American (the twelfth of Spanish descent) creates a jarring visual frame, a constant reminder deep subtext contained in this work. Little do they know, they the salt of America, they will be soon drawn out of the veneers of their measured respectability.

Well Preserved

There is no spoiling Twelve Angry Men. Originally a film by Reginald Rose made for television, airing in 1957, eventually reaching the silver screen, playwrights and drama programs regularly adapt the title as a mainstay in theatre’s repertoire of contemporary major works. Commentary in the most explicit form, well weathered and relevant to this day, Rose wrote Twelve Angry Men in a period of great cultural and political conflict in America’s Golden era.

Elvis, Truman, Burroughs, McCarthy, Bogard, Bacall and Reagan and of course Joe McCarthy all simmering in the great American tuna casserole. A sweeping movement of conformity to conservative beliefs and values ushered in through Sen. McCarthy’s political office, polarized America along several societal fault lines that shifted the landscape of American life. Although we don’t readily associate McCarthism with America’s racial narrative, it certainly sat at least as an antecedent to McCarthy’s raging lunacy. Without explicitly stating it, plausibly Rose’s story uses the white-black racial color line within the context of Justice as a metaphor to juxtapose the society’s expression of social conformity with the noble struggle to live the up to principles of the supreme laws of the land.

Urban Blues

A young man’s father has been stabbed to death in his own home, the son the alleged killer. We glean through the jury’s cursory discussion of the case that a teen that lives in a poor neighborhood and has experienced prior run-ins with the law, stands accused. In three minutes a particularly vocal juror uses a series of character assaults, coded and explicit racial stereotypes to remind the other jurors of the certainty of the teen’s guilt. The jurors attempt to confirm the youth’s guilt quickly by vote so that they don’t waste anymore time away from their daily lives, which included going to a baseball game and selling advertising.

Manufacturing Consensus

Needing a unanimous vote, juror (Mack Heath) herds the others into group think, evoking the juror’s white identities and infallible God given discernment of the truth through their common sense understanding of the world. In defiance, a solitary juror (Nicholas Haubner) surely the devil himself, not satisfied that they have fulfilled their civic duty to issue a verdict explicitly based on the merits of the evidence, votes ‘not guilty’. A contentious tug of war of wit and reason ensues, giving the audience an intense and stirring display of rhetorical and persuasion tactics as the jury struggles to find a consensus.

A well-cast and played production, we see that even within cultural contexts presumed monolithic, various personality archetypes and personas contained within exist and collide as a matter of course, vying to determine if the voice of reason or conformity will win out in the eternal battle raging in the human psyche. Tailor made for audiences with an appetite for provocative and unmasked social commentary and an interest in interpersonal communication this production delivers on all three.

Zack Sharrock, Greg Ryan, Erico Ortiz, Bill Hitt, Paul Weir, Doug Smedbron, Gene Schuldt, David Cooklock, and Tom Jozwik round out the cast of Twelve Angry Men.

Directed by Katherine Beeson, Cream City Theatre, brings Twelve Angry Men off the shelf to Milwaukee area audiences through October 29, with performances on October 27 and 28 at 7:30pm and a matinee Sunday the 2th at 2:00pm at the Inspiration Studios performance space in West Allis, 1500 S. 73rd St. If you go 73rd street is closed under construction, however 76th Street gives easy accessed to the space.

 

Acknowledgement: This review originally presumed the race of the teen on trial for murder in Twelve Angry Men as black American. While not explicitly stated in the play’s script, or the intent of Beeson in producing this play, in context of the plot, dialog, and setting there are not many other plausible identities that the teen could have been other than black American.

From the perspective of this review, it should be noted that Twelve Angry Men is a play that gives ample room to question how American society gives consideration to social groups that are in subjugated roles in the social hierarchy. Race has proved to be the most enduring social division by which social acceptance, fair consideration and the right to Justice have been denied to entire groups of Americans by law and practice. Masterfully, and rightfully so Rose leaves clear cues in the dialog that the black-white color line is on display that we may judge ourselves by how the least regarded among us is treated.

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Cruising Tuesdays, Cactus Club, Date Stuff


Date Stuff’s drummer (Abby Black) was all geeked about being in Milwaukee so she could nab some Spotted Cow for the trip back to Chi-town. Part of the gag was that she could actually tell everybody since she had a mic. Drummers never have mics. 

Her band mate Karla Bernasconi seared her for it, “You bought 24 spotted cows” evoking absurdity of the literal image. She’d hate to admit it but nobody can get more Sconnie than someone who’s last name has ‘-Sconi’ in it.

Stop being my Favorite

A punchy bad-ass nerd duo, Date Stuff hammers out some wildly arranged spasmodic indie pop. Bernasconi sometimes laces these riffs with painfully restrained breathy vocals, always recognizable in conservative indie pop tunes. Her skittish and unorthodox guitar work gives her voice the ultimate playmate, which shifts quickly to well-placed matter-of-fact belting. Black mercurially codes her drumming in ever-morphing time signatures, giving the lead harmonies something fun and choppy to surf on.


They released a demo winter 2017, and everyone who hears it probably can barely wait for more. Self-muted and unassuming, Date Stuff gave Cactus Club goers a bigger serving of dizzying and whimsical material, just what you need but wouldn’t expect for Tuesday night show.

Date Stuff’s self-titled 2 song demo is on bandcamp if you were wondering.


Ides of the Amazon, Theater RED, Wayward Women

photo: Traveling Lemur Productions


A couple of German fellows, err a Swiss military officer Cordelius (Timothy Rebers) and his bond  Julian (Zach Thomas Woods) have found themselves washed ashore in the Amazon. They over-shot their destination by a couple thousand miles and have somehow lived to tell the tale. 

These salty dogs blather guarded thanks for their landing, and soon encounter a qypsy who warn of the wayward ways of this land. The gypsy plainly notes that Julian and Cordelius’ manhood is not entitled any birthright here, and certainly that two unaccompanied men traveling alone would face retribution quickly. Women and their wiles rule the Amazon.

Ladies in the Raw

The Amazonians are not the waif-like damsels of post-industrial Europe. They forged their own landed gentry, now ruled by the iron glare of Duchess Penti Celia (Alicia Rice), with a hedonistic fervor for sword and might. 

Rough hewn personalities typify the realm of the warrior princesses. Dame Amu (Madeline Wakley) and Dame Grendela (Jennifer Larsen) consumed with pride, glory and booty, feign and posture eagerness to come to blows with anyone closer than two-arms length and less than a mouthful of praises.

photo: Traveling Lemur Productions

Cordelius and Julian shuffle to heed the warning of the local, who swam off leaving them women’s cloths, that one them should disguise as a woman as to give the appearance that the man has a chaperone. Mentally stuck on the Western front and oblivious to the actual dynamics of the jungle, Cordelius insists that Julian play the role of the fairer sex to accentuate his lack of masculinity.

Bathed Every Vein in Swich Liquor

When the Swissmen encounter the ladies of the land, mayhem ensues as contrasting societal conventions around sex and gender collide. 

Swashbuckling Grendela and Amu quickly pounce to capture Cordelius’ fresh meat from what they think are Julian’s puny thighs. They bombard Cordelius with a combination of feminine bravado and an onslaught of thinly veiled and raunchy sexual advances. 

photo: Traveling Lemur Productions

Although Grendela and Amu nearly to come to blows over Cordelius, who would oridnarily have no choice but to be temporarily betrothed to whoever proved the stronger dame, Cordelius clumsily shakes Amu’s court turning his loin toward Squire Aquiline (LeAnna Vance).

Smiling Teeth

Meanwhile Julian struggles to keep up his facade, a bit out of place coming-off as woman with no mettle. Even the least among these huntresses has the primal instinct to sniff out the faintest hint of testosterone. A skillful strategy might bring Cordelius into better fortune. 

As Grendela and Amu’s feud escalates, the Duchess repeatedly intervenes through her diplomatic arbiter Magistress Dotara (Reva Fox) and eventually with her muscle Derimacheia (Niko King) and Thermodosa (Abigail King). 

photo: Traveling Lemur Productions

As Cordelius awkwardly wriggles away from Amu’s advances, Aquiline squirms and curdles at Cordelius’ bumbling courting ritual that leads him through ‘bushes’ and into the ‘olive groves’. Squire Pinne (Brittany Curran) brings unexpected relief to this mess with her talents and cunning. Only the arrival of Switzer (Bryan Quinn) disentangle the petty whims ensnaring everyone in this lush outdoor humidor. 

Punctuating the Plot

A period piece, Christopher Elst’s Wayward Women deftly adapts Jared McDaris’ take on several Shakespeare works, most notably Twelfth Night and As You Like It, turning the primary premise on its head with respect to gender roles, making men the powerless objects of desire of women. 

The play bends a ton of realities that no theatre goer should expect to be upheld within the style and genre of this production. Some of the inconsistencies present arise deliberately and absurdly, in setting the play in the Amazon, the time period roughly the 1920’s, and with scenes taking place in what looks like a lounge in upper Manhattan and not in shadow of the vast rain forests surrounding Brazilia, and the players dressed accordingly. 

A well written piece, McDaris stacks Wayward Women with layers and layers of Shakespeare’s rhetorical and literary devices into quip, flesh tearing, low-brown and thoroughly entertaining dialog. 

Grant that this is a “players’ play”, with so many briskly delivered antiquated references and inside humor (which you should expect from any Elizabethan Comedy) causal theatre goers will have their mind spun like a yarn ball. However, the overall levity of the play allows you to be at least carried along with the visual cues offered by the cast with and punctuation of cheeky humor with timely gestures ans vocal intonations.

A Tidy Game of Tug-o-War

A well acted play, Alicia Rice imprints herself once again as an intense and commanding presence onstage as the Duchess. Woods and Larsen hold one end of the story’s drama with classic over-the-top performances, having Wakley and Rebers play more measured roles. Fox, Curran and Vance, and briefy Quinn, give needed grounding to the production with solid accompanying roles.

Production and technical credits go to Marcee Doherty-Elst (Producer, Props), Julia Xiong (Stage Manager), Evan Crain (Scenic Design), Aaron Kopec (Lighting), Katlyn Rogers (Costume), Eric Welch (Hair and Makeup).

Theater RED bodaciously brings these players to the stage for Wayward Women’s final weekend of curtain calls Thursday July 20 through Saturday July 21 at Alchemist Theatre in Bay View. All show times 7:30p and definitely worth arriving early to suck up some of the ambiance. 


Synth Fest Prelude: Cactus Club, adopt-a-highway, Holy Circle


Not as if you needed any reason to get your potentiometers cleaned beforefor Synth Fest, Paul Barry Clark in rotation as adopt-a-highway, continues to push the definition of local music provocateur to new peaks. He will continue his string of mayhem on day 2, embedding a local stop of his summer tour with Dead Pawn.

He puts together shows across genres in a way you might think he was a raving lunatic. Quite contrary, he brings a controlled methodical rage to his gear, a rounded set of digital instruments, summoning conventional upright or electric bass.

 

Mid-lining a weekend diy show at Cactus Club in June, adopt-a-highway went to the root and surfed various sound spectrum around that theme, blending break beat style sequences with improvised in-key modulated distortion. That night he brought up Nicholas Elert and B’More, MD origination Holy Circle. Both notable for pushing the synth genre.

 
Slowly tearing through your scars, Holy Circle stays curled in a ball of raw inner turmoil. What Milwaukee gives on any given night at a show with not more than a pack of bodies, still unreal.

Synth Fest lurks upon us until July 21st ans 22nd, Cactus gives it a home again. adopt-a-highway jumps up again on Saturday the 22nd, surrounded by a brood of synths styles.


Stage Hounds, Voices Found Rep, Theatre Games


A sparsely furnished room gives two guys in suits a place to stand and wait. A rough disposition covers them, the kind of guys you imagine have seen and done most of it anyway. Yet beneath this grimy coating, nervous anticipation seeps through no matter how bad Brutus (Aaron Suggs) and Titus (Glenn Widdicombe) try to hide it. Bill has this effect on people.

Another outcast joins them, a devilishly innocent looking fella. Two more arrive soon after, barely on theatre time. These strangers get familiar really quickly, as the plot of Theatre Games thickens around the characters Pharyne Stephney developed in her debut play.

The theatre director’s daughter, known only as Princess (Alexis Furseth) to this anonymous actor’s guild, waltzes in, to start a dangerous charade of impromptu theatre Bill is ready to see. She too has played a role in her father Bill’s (Greg Ryan) productions before. 

She’s interrupted an intense warm-up that the player’s initiated without direction, theatre games if you will. With malicious banter, they take note of each other’s stage presence and talent, prodding for tenderness in the each others skin to draw blood from; searching for the right pecking order among them. 

Quelling their anticipation, Princess gives them all a script containing only their character’s part. To keep their identities concealed from one another, they must refer to each other by their character names. 

Brutus and Titus have a clear edge. With nothing to prove, they’re willing to deflect and return a few barbs headed towards Othello’s face back at Romeo (Oliver Wolf). Romeo doesn’t relent easily. 

Othello (Jacob Ortiz) shows his erratic and testy persona uncontrollably, not wanting nor accepting that he needs help among this company. The last character MacBeth (Jake Russell Thompson), looks like a rabbit in den of foxes, backed in a corner, wide-eyed, oblivious and skittish. They’ve all come to this theatre to play their role for the money, at the whim and mercy of Bill’s maniacal desires. The problem is nobody ever knows the content of those desires until the curtain has already closed.



Let Us Play

A two-act drawing directly and admittedly from the shallow well of Quentin Tarantino’s film legacy, Theatre Games tells a convoluted story of secrets, lies, manipulation and betrayal that most noticeably references the Tarantino centerpiece Reservoir Dogs. Theatre Game’s premise transposes key character qualities and story structure from Reservoir Dogs, including transposing salutation-plus-color-named characters for famous Shakespeare character names as pseudonyms, and mimicing the famous scenes were the thugs are holed up with each other and dueling wits to figure out who snitched. 

Take a Number

Stephney’s story succeeds most in its departures from Tarantino’s films. The action of Reservoir Dogs revolves around a bank robbery, and the conflicts that arise after the gang botches the job. Central to Theatre Games, the job and role of each of the players is shrouded in a web interpersonal drama between the actors, keeping the audience mostly blind as to what end the hooligans are working towards. In this ambiguity, Stephney weaves a rampantly interesting tale.

Embedded in the stage directions Stephney takes audience members, uninitiated to life behind the third wall, backstage to learn widely held superstitions, courtesies and semblances of how actors get primed for the stage. Stylistically, Russell Thompson, who also directs Theatre Games, does well animating Stephney’s story. 

Stage Work

The play’s blocking and lighting contribute to the composition of the scenes in unexpected ways. Most notably upstage moments (relying on deliberate body language from players not involved in the dialog) get permission to lend to how we understand the story to unfolding. Suggs uses these opportunities naturally without being in the dialog, magnifying dimensions to his character he establishes well with convincing and focused script delivery. 

Going between awkward and brilliant, Ortiz gave a performance reeking wonderfully (purposefully or not) of the constantly exasperated classic performance that Steve Buscemi deliverd as Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. As Romeo, Wolf puts ample effort into portraying an irascible sociopath, the type of person who looks solid and rational at first glance only. 

Widdicombe and Furseth in their supporting roles offer a steady balance to the production. Burgeoning stand-by of independent theatre, Ryan uses his reliably sturdy persona, rich baritone voice and imposing physicality to make Bill an ominous spectre compelling Theatre Game’s underworld into motion. 

Eric Schmalz (assistant director/producer), Caroline Boettcher (stage manager), Suggs (lighting designer), Furseth (pyschology dramaturg) and Bridget Anderson (dramaturg) worked together behind the scenes to make Theatre Games a show.

Voices Found Repertory Theatre’s production of Theatre Games has a short run with remaining shows Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6 at 7:30p and Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7 matinees at 2:00p in the Arcade Theatre in the lower level of the old Grand Avenue Mall.