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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.


Rest Off, Jeff Ircink, Strange Bedfellows


I raked the dead grass and leaves out of my backyard shrubs and saw this giant orange tabby jumping over the fence to the next yard. No sooner did I wonder why it bounded so fast from my direction, I smelled the kitty turd. I finished this chore with barely enough time to get moving to a theatre thingy called Strange Bedfellows happening in Bay View. So I’m riding down 794-East with fresh catshit on my shoe. 

I’m blasting a cassette dub of Liquid Pink, super hyped because in seconds I’m going to be crossing the Hoan blasting Liquid Pink just after dusk heading to the Alchemist Theatre, with catshit on my shoe: Milwaukee-Style.

At the Alchemist Theatre, Strange Bedfellows has the ghost light on inviting people into lounge’s dim confines. Jeff Ircink’s multi-format piece screens several independent short films as a prologue to his stage piece titled The Bed

Get Under the Covers

A straight forward endeavor, weaving movement and narration, The Bed takes us through the cycles of life in “time-leap”. The narration contemplates the broad view of human existence relative to the most constant and basic amenity someone can have, their bed. 

Brilliance somehow always finds its way home through simplicity, as less gives more here in the same way it always does. Although the linear path of life gets hammered home in The Bed, each short film that precedes it offers a take on the varied relationships people have with their beds along the way.

The films bring us to top of mind intersections with our beds like sleep or romance. In other less direct ways, some of the film content Ircink selects shows us more unsettling places that beds creep into life where health and comfort are concerned, and sometimes where a physical headboard and mattress don’t apply.

Folded Blankets

When asked about finding films on the subject matter Ircink replied, “It wasn’t easy. I had to look really hard for films specifically about sleep or that a involved beds.” 

Strange Bedfellows also includes a couple of short home movies with Ircink’s family friends and parents, which bring forth instant classic Milwaukee perspectives on life. “I just went and shot the videos. I knew what I was going to get. The one with my dad was during a Packer game,” Ircink shared, “I knew exactly what my mom was going to do and how my dad would react. It was perfect.” 

These video interludes served up the most inadvertently comical moments of the entire piece, stuffed with this certain Milwaukee-style curmudgeonly matter of factness that kids always get a kick out of. Tempered with the poignant reality that Ircink’s family that featured in these videos now trod through their golden years, I’m sure these clips will always provide a memory of how they were.

Make Your Bed

As a production concept, Ircink succeeds in pairing these films together to actually give more relevance and potency to each. With the exception of the film that tells a microdrama subplot in the last year of President Kennedy’s life (which could have stood alone) reveals the boundaries of absurdity that leaders of the free world have to deal with behind the pomp and circumstance.


Strange Bedfellows has a few nice touches that give the production some additional dimension. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliand provides the narration for the stage piece The Bed. Ircink, showing the resourcefulness of an experienced film producer, got Jeff Bridges and George Winston (Lullaby (Sandman)) to lend some of their musical works to the production. Yes, Jeff Bridges has weird and experimental music out called Sleeping Tapes. Ircink also evokes Siegfried Sassoon from extreme obscurity through one of his film choices.

Jeff Ircink’s The Bed is performed by Mike O’Toole, Lauren Hoefle, Amanda Morden, Nolan Zellermayer, Brandon Haut, Emma Kessler, Robert Schreiner, Philip Sliwinski and Kathy Landry.

Jennifer Naida co-produced/co-directed Strange Bedfellows. Technical credits go to Maxwell Huenin (technical manager) and Aaron Koepec (scenic, sound and lighting design), Parket Gayan (video production), and Lisa Quinn, Amanda Marquardt and Naida (costume design).

Strange Bedfellows has double feature shows at 7:00 and 9:00p on the coming Fridays and Saturdays through May 12 and 13 at the Alchemist Theatre in Bay View, Wisconsin.

The production is well sponsored and feature a few in show give aways like Rishi Tea samples and Pop’s Kettle Corn. Attending the show also throws you in a raffle for the fancy Steinhafel’s bed frame used in the performance of The Bed.


Acacia Theatre Company, Best of Enemies

C.P. Ellis (Ryan Schaufler) stands on a lye soap box publicly railing against all ideas suggesting black Americans’ right to liberty, especially education. He’s dressed in his Klu Klux Klan best, a silky white robe with a pointed hood. This is Durham, North Carolina in 1971. Home of Duke University, known earlier in the century as ‘Magic City’, the place that reached racial reconciliation one generation after the civil war.

In opposition to racial integration of public accomodations, Ellis lobs denigrating terms directly associating the entirety of the African-American masses with pestulence, concluding the crux of the matter of integrated schools, “…Next thing you know ni**ers will be sniffing after our daughters’ behinds.” Even in a dramatic context the term stings the ears and rips the flesh.

He’s accompanied by two choruses, on each side of him, also segregated by race, who quickly level mood with a Christian spiritual singing, “…just like a tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.” The vocalists provide harmonic and comic relief to this well-acted but challenging production.

Hold Fast

Best of Enemies director Erin Nicole Eggers takes on a huge task bringing to life Mark St. Germain’s adaptation of Osha Gray Davidson’s novel. The story chronicles the unlikely real life friendship formed between Ellis and Ann Atwater (Lori Woodall), a spirited black resident of Durham, as the town struggled with legally mandated school desegregation.

Eggers makes some strong choices to ground the play in an evolving yet persistent historical narrative of tense social relations in the US. Three screens suspended upstage catch projected still photographic evidence of America’s ordeals with cultural, religious and mostly racial discrimination. These images cycling through in a random slide show, initially create a bit of discomfort reminding us of how open an blantant discrimination was less than 50 years ago. These images slowly fade into a profound subtext for this play, reinforcing that this story is very much rooted in an unfortunate reality.

Her choice to use ‘historically accurate’ language in the script signifies another place Eggers willingly accepts risk to great affect. We are brought into contact with insults and weaponized literary devices of all types. The open use of these terms force us to confront reality, beyond our personal sensibilities, and how we must reconcile our association with those viewed as similar to us.
 

Town of Thunder

Ann Atwater enters as a vocal and no nonsense black woman resident of Durham. She’s seen a lot and is ready for change. School desegregation orders have come, however skeptical her ‘right-mind’ makes her that this will make any difference in the state of affairs that keep African-Americans as second class citizens. She knows C.P. Ellis and claims to fear no man in the face of his hate charged racial separatist tirades. They’ve clashed in the past and likely will again.

Unexpectedly, Bill Riddick (Derrion Brown) arrives in town. He’s well-spoken and well-read representative from the US Department of Education. He also happens to be black. He’s come to garner whatever consensus he can to accept the new social arrangements the US government wants to induce.

A Troubled Calm

Eggers through St. Germain’s adaption finds the greatest traction in making this story immediately relevant by tying threads from the old time racist mentality to current conditions. Ellis in a memorable scene, meeting Riddick for the first time, vehemently rebuffs Riddick as a Yankee communist stating, “We don’t want anything the Federal government has to offer, we don’t take anything from anyone.” It sounds eerily familiar to a segment of the political discussion today.

Ellis is a gas station clerk, and son of a mill worker. One is left to wonder if this class consciousness alludes to the benefits many Northern whites enjoyed, in the years winding through the mid 20th century, that bestowed suburban housing and college education through the G.I. Bill, capital investment of the Federal Highway Administration and urban Community Reinvestment all from the Federal government.

Eventually Riddick’s mission gets a break when Atwater and Ellis agree to meet to discuss the integration of the school. In the retribution they both face from their respective communities, here again we are brought to view an extremely consequential element of American racism: its social reenforcement. Ellis’ drawn lot decidly the harsher of the two. In a tumultuous series of acts to follow, Ellis and Atwater dance a strenuous and forbidden dance that crossed the color-line in a way that no one had previously dared to do.

Cast Shines Light

Best of Enemies casts Elaine Wyler as C.P. Ellis’s wife Mary Ellis alongside Schaufler, Woodall and Brown, who all deliver enjoyable and believable performances. Schaufler and Woodall notably nail the unmistakable drawl hanging from Southern speech. Walker matter of factly shows us the disturbing circumstances many Southern women lived under, and their quiet resilience. Brown an upbeat and talented actor, acts his part with a large helping of charisma. It’s a masterful piece of small stage theatre that brings the audience through troubled waters in view of a hopeful future that we can attain if we all take ownership of the trappings of crude ethnocentrism.

The production models diverse casting with major and secondary roles being played by individuals from many racial backgrounds, and maintains gender balance. The chorus was sung by Susie Duecker, Paul Fojut, Lachrisa Grandberry, Andrew Parchman, Ben Parman, Kwasi Stamply, Bailey Steger, Terry Lee Watkins Jr, and Glenn Widdicombe.

Best of Enemies’ final performance was March 26, 2017 at the Todd Wehr Auditorium at the Concordia Mequon Campus.