playwright

Post Script

Thoughts on theater from page to stage.

Take a Trip to Byhalia, Mississippi -- At the Kennedy Center through July 7

In a post-show talk at the Kennedy Center last week, playwright Evan Linder described his play Byhalia, Mississippi, as a love letter to the region where he grew up, although he may not feel so welcome in little towns south of Memphis, now that he has shined a light on the complicated landscape of racial, economic and social tensions that permeate those communities.

“I wanted to see characters onstage that were people I knew,” he said. “Not some broad stereotype, but real people from the South,” he contended.

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Gwen Rice
Capital City's "On the Town" is a Helluva Ride

Strangely enough, the classic musical On the Town opens with a lullabye. That was one of many surprises in Capital City Theatre’s production, which opened officially last night and runs through Sunday, June 2 in the Capitol Theater at Overture Center. If starting a show with a sleepy longshoreman singing about a baby that kept him up for much of the previous night seems counterintuitive for a production that often bursts with energy, you’re right. But it also sets the stage for a night of stark contrasts in tone, tempo, and even genre. Cleverly conceived by director/choreographer Josh Walden and beautifully executed by members of the Madison Ballet and professional veterans of Broadway and regional stages, this production of On the Town compensates for the show’s paper-thin plot by performing each scene, song and dance number with exceptional artistry.

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Gwen Rice
Leads in Skylight's "Kiss Me Kate" Generate Lots of Heat

In the program notes for Skylight Music Theatre’s production of “Kiss Me Kate,” director Ray Jivoff does not apologize for Cole Porter’s biggest Broadway hit, which premiered in 1948. He writes, “Dated? Sure. Does it mine comedy from old gender stereotypes? Yup. Is the battle of the sexes based on old-fashioned sexual politics? Absolutely.” So, the Skylight’s last show of the season — and the last one under Jivoff’s tenure as artistic director — is one of those classic musicals that is grandfathered in to contemporary theater line-ups as a quaint snapshot of another, less enlightened time, redeemed by some great music. And in that context, the lively production, running through June 16th at the Broadway Theatre Center is a success. It’s also a reminder of why they don’t write musicals like this anymore.

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Gwen Rice
Where are Women's Voices Onstage in 2019-2020 Seasons?

Yes, it’s that exciting time of year when theater companies around the state unveil their plans for next year and as audience members, our imaginations run wild. Obviously, there are a lot of ways to evaluate proposed seasons, and dozens of questions to ask. Which future performances will move us? Surprise us? Entertain us? Which actors will inhabit the role of a lifetime? Which unknown gem of a title will steal our hearts? And when will the shows we hear about on the Tony Awards make their way to stages in our neighborhoods?

Other things worth looking at . . . How much original work does a theater commission? How culturally diverse is each theater’s line-up? How do their seasons tell a larger story? And who gets to tell that story?

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Gwen Rice
Growing Up with the Mafia in "A Bronx Tale"

A whole crew of “wise guys” from New York City has recently arrived in Madison via the national Equity tour of the award-winning musical A Bronx Tale, and they’ll be shooting craps, protecting the neighborhood and crooning doo wop songs at Overture Center through May 19. You’ll know them by their signature hats, sharp suits, slicked back dark hair, penchant for all things Italian and their thick accents. And over the course of the two-hour show, peppered with high-energy uptempo musical numbers, you’ll get to know all of them -- Rudy the Voice, Eddie Mush, Jo Jo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake and Tony 10 to 2 -- along with the mob boss Sonny, who is the ultimate guardian of Belmont Avenue and the unlikely father figure for our hero Calogero, also known as “C.”

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Gwen Rice
"A Curious Incident" Well Worth Investigating

Christopher is honest to a fault. Not because he’s virtuous, but rather because he doesn’t know how to lie.  He also doesn’t understand metaphors and he absolutely doesn’t like to be touched, even by his parents. Profoundly affected by his environment, Christopher hates brown and yellow. But when he sees four red cars in a row, that’s a very good day. A gifted math student, when he’s feeling anxious he recites the squares of cardinal numbers.

Christopher is the main character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the final play of Strollers’ season, onstage at the Bartell through May 25.  Although it’s not explicitly stated in either the book by Mark Haddon or the play adaptation by Simon Stephens, Christopher is neuro-atypical, and would probably be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Deftly played by teenager Payton Cardella, he is also the heart and soul of the production, directed by Kathleen Tissot.

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Gwen Rice
Get Swept Away by the Stunning Musical "Come From Away"

Introduced by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, (and accompanied by an actual member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police!) the national tour of the award-winning musical “Come from Away” opened at the Marcus Center on Tuesday, to the sounds of a bodhran, a fiddle, an “ugly stick” and a mighty islander “screech.” The exuberant, touching and beautifully executed show continues in Uihlein Hall through May 12, so audiences have only a few more chances to be personally “Welcomed to the Rock,” at the intersection of American and Canadian spirit in the aftermath of 9/11.

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Gwen Rice
CTM's "Willy Wonka" Could be Sweeter

Ever since Roald Dahl came out with his fudge-topped, lollipop-filled, taffy-packed book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, generations of kids have fantasized about winning a golden ticket and touring the magical headquarters of Willy Wonka’s candy bar empire -- and maybe even becoming the factory’s next owner.

Right now young people and families can see that wish come true for the kind hearted kid Charlie Bucket (a terrific Walker Stephenson), whose family’s meager income sends him to bed with a lot more bowls of cabbage stew than chocolatey treats. Helmed by Children’s Theater of Madison’s Artistic Associate and Director of Education Erica Berman, CTM’s 90-minute musical, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, has a few sugar plums in store for audiences in the Overture’s Playhouse Theater, running through May 12.

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Gwen Rice
"Twilight Bowl" Shines a Light on Midwestern Women's Lives

Rebecca Gilman’s new play Twilight Bowl, onstage in the Hemsley Theatre at UW-Madison through April 28, is probably going to look familiar to area audiences. That’s because the play is about us.

Set in the fictional small town of Reynolds, Wisconsin, somewhere in Green County, it feels like many communities of less than 5,000 in the state. Bars, schools, churches and bowling alleys separate “town” from the surrounding farmland. There are struggling, family-owned businesses here, as well as families trying to cope with the changing economy and a lack of job opportunities. There are also “big city problems” — alcoholism, poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence and homelessness — that need to be addressed, even in this rural hamlet.

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Gwen Rice
Visual Magic Carries "Tinker Bell" at First Stage

Like other literary classics, J.M. Barrie’s creation “Peter Pan” has been revisited by a lot of contemporary authors, spinning new stories inspired by the original. “Lost Girl,” “Peter and the Starcatcher,” and “Finding Neverland” have all graced Milwaukee stages in the past few years, examining the tale of “the boy who wouldn’t grow up” in new and illuminating ways. And now, after staging the OG “Peter Pan” and “Peter Pan and Wendy,” First Stage is venturing into the world of alternate interpretations again with “Tinker Bell,” a play for young audiences, adapted by Patrick Flynn and directed by First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank. Focusing on the glowing sprite that befriends Peter in Neverland, “Tinker Bell” includes most of the audience’s favorite characters and memorable moments from the original story, while examining the relationship between Tink and Peter and exploring the meaning of friendship.

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Gwen Rice