It’s disorienting walking into the Evjue Theatre for Mercury Players’ current production, A Place in the Woods. The shoe-box shaped space is arranged in a new way, with audience seating on the the two “short ends” of the rectangle, with a kitchen/living room set taking up the middle of the theater — something that’s always been possible, but I’ve never seen before. (Clever set design by Doug Dion.) The first few scenes are also a bit disorienting, since much of the action is obscured by long panels of brown translucent fabric that hang from the ceiling, creating the titular woods.
The Catholic Church has been the subject of many scandals over the last few decades, and that has left a lot of its followers disillusioned. According to a report from the Pew Forum, the number of American Catholics has declined by 3 million since 2007; they now make up only 20% of the general population. According to John Patrick Shanley’s forward to his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt: A Parable,” there was a time when such uncertainly and lack of faith in the church was unheard of. That time was the early 1960s, when the author himself was attending Catholic school in the Bronx. At the confluence of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the shift in Catholic doctrine called Vatican II, and a new social order that demanded questioning authority, Shanley pits the old ways against the new in a tightly wrought drama with very high stakes. Directed by Artistic Director C. Michael Wright, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre brings an exceptional production of “Doubt: A Parable” to the Cabot Stage through April 29th.
The nation was shocked by the death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. The victim of a hate crime, the young gay college student was beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. Not long afterwards, Moises Kaufman and members of the New York based Tectonic Theater Project deployed themselves to conduct hundreds of interviews with townspeople, students and professors at the University of Wyoming where Shepard had been a student, members of law enforcement, representatives of the clergy, and the medical personnel who treated him in his final days. The play uses pieces of these interviews verbatim, to create a documentary style examination of the circumstances that led to this crime, and its aftermath.
Antarctica, WI tries to cover a lot of ground. The world premiere production, co-commissioned by First Stage and Chicago’s Filament Theatre, has the best of intentions and a strong methodology. Based in part on interviews with Milwaukeeans following the 2016 Sherman Park riots, the play focuses on a diverse group of teens — black and white, gay and straight, guys and girls — who try to work together to address racial inequality and systemic violence. And every other difficult thing in their individual lives and the larger community. Even for 15 year-olds, that’s a tall order.
The Milwaukee Rep closes its 64th season with a gorgeous production of Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town,” featuring an enormous cast that includes many of Milwaukee’s favorite performers. Led by the incomparable Laura Gordon as the stage manager, it is a languid and loving portrait of ordinary people living unremarkable lives, punctuated by brief and brilliant moments of connection.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ provocative production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls greets the audience with a collage of projections of iconic women from the 1980s. As I wait for the play to begin, one familiar photo catches my eye. I don’t need to see the slogan, because I recognize the long flowing hair, the model-perfect body, the designer clothes and the cigarette placed elegantly between this superwoman’s fingers. She’s the Virginia Slims girl and the ad campaign’s caption is “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
In a 2016 interview in the New York Times, award-winning playwright Lauren Gunderson commented that part of her goal in writing “I and You” was to create a play with an ending that provoked “pure shock and surprise.” She explained, “I wanted to write something that would take your breath away, and you can’t see coming.”
The French revolution was brought to glorious life once again last night, onstage at Overture Center. In this touring production of the landmark musical Les Miserables, producer Cameron Mackintosh has refreshed the entire look and feel, with new staging, completely new sets and re-imagined choreography, which is really exciting for those of us who’ve seen the show multiple times. The production also makes (mostly) effective use of video, which gives several scenes visual punch that can only be achieved with a mix of live action and smart background film.
Back before the much celebrated playwright Annie Baker invited us to a community center drama class in her play Circle, Mirror, Transformation, and before she brought us to the run-down movie theater of her Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Flick, she made her off-Broadway debut with Body Awareness, a fairly conventional comedy set on a quaint, very PC college campus in Vermont. Kathie Rasmussen Women’s Theatre is presenting this intricate and intelligent one-act, which is onstage at the Bartell through April 7th. Ably directed by Jeanne Leep, it’s a study in language and the creation of meaning, set within a family drama rife with complicated relationships and misunderstandings. Funny, challenging, and at times heartbreaking, the play gently pokes fun at the verbal and mental gymnastics we go through to say what we mean, to be understood, and to assert our own voices.
In the tradition of introducing the littlest audience members to the wonder of live theater, Children’s Theater of Madison recently opened Diary of a Worm, a Spider, and a Fly, a bouncy musical adaptation of a series of charming books by Doreen Cronin. And to warm up the pint-sized attendees, the title characters come out into the audience prior to the show to say hello and get everyone excited for what’s to come.