Melancholy with a Side of Wit and Social Commentary: "Heartbreak House" at APT

George Bernard Shaw is known for his talk-y, and often witty polemical plays that foreground arguments about political philosophy, morality, and the enormous gaps between rich and poor. Anton Chekhov is known for his plays about the decline of the Russian aristocracy, epically doomed romances, the intensely self-absorbed, and a general stasis that prevents even the most modest goals from being realized. So what would happen if Shaw borrowed liberally from Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” and attempted to re-write the story “in the Russian manner, on English themes?”For a mash-up of these two aesthetics, see “Heartbreak House,” at American Players Theatre, playing in rotating rep Up the Hill through October 5.

"Blood Knot" -- From Controversy to Conversation at American Players Theatre

When Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot premiered in 1961 at the African Music and Drama Association in Johannesburg, it was met with a storm of controversy tied to race. The play is about two black half-brothers—one very dark and one light enough to pass for white (played initially by Fugard himself)—and their rage as oppressed people under apartheid. As a result of the performance, the production was immediately banned in South Africa, and interracial casts and audiences were also outlawed.

When the same play kicked off the American Players Theatre season this summer —almost six decades later— it was also met with a storm of controversy tied to race, specifically questioning the casting of longtime APT company member James DeVita in the intense two-hander. In Mike Fischer’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review of the production, he acknowledged it had been traditional to use a Caucasian actor in the role of the light-skinned brother but chastised the theater for following this precedent writing, “No white actor can capture that existential dilemma as well as a black actor can.” He continued, “APT would never cast DeVita as a black man in an August Wilson play. It shouldn’t have cast him as a black man in this one.”

Sherlock Holmes has a New Case -- At Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Now that the character of Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain, the peculiar genius detective is showing up with new stories across all forms of media. There are movies, comic books, TV series, books and new plays, including Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Holmes and Watson,” which was part of the Milwaukee Rep’s season last year, and a version for young audiences, “Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars” at First Stage Milwaukee in 2014.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre has entered the Holmes fan club with their production of “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily,” playing through August 26 in the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center. With its familiar characters and clues, clever deductions and plot reversals, the play fits neatly into the genre of Victorian whodunits. But instead of building on the source material — including Conan Doyle’s novels, short stories and previous adaptations of his work; bits and pieces of Shakespeare plays; a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta; and a library full of Oscar Wilde plays, poems, witticisms and prose — playwright Katie Forgette mainly recycles them, but without Sherlock’s skill at puzzles and the wit of his friend Wilde. Fortunately the actors, designers and director Marcella Kearns raise the material as high as they can.

Lots of Great Theater to Look Forward to this Fall in Milwaukee

It’s been a long hot summer, but now the signs of fall creeping closer are unmistakable. Kids and parents are doing their back-to-school shopping. The lakefront festival season is winding down, and the theater season in Milwaukee is getting started. There’s nothing better than Shakespeare under the stars on a hot July night, but these exciting productions, which will grace local stages through the end of 2018, have me looking forward to the months ahead.

Check Out New Plays at Renaissance Theaterworks' Br!nk Festival!

Artistic Associate Mallory Metoxen sounds wistful as she describes Renaissance Theaterworks’ fifth annual Br!nk New Play Festival. A passion project that she has overseen from its inception, Br!nk has grown substantially each year as it supports and develops new plays by Midwestern women playwrights.

“We started out small, doing the most with the resources we had, working on a shorter festival,” Metoxen explained, recalling the first Br!nk in 2013, which comprised weeklong workshops and readings in the Broadway Theatre Center for two playwrights.

Overwritten "Diamond Girl" Can't Be Over Soon Enough

This weekend local author Bruce Calhoun is remounting his play Diamond Girl at the Bartell Theatre, as a benefit for rainforest conservation. But with a convoluted plot, painfully predictable dialogue, Scooby-Doo special effects and tortured references to ancient Greek classics, if you really care about the rainforest, perhaps you should skip the play and send your contributions directly to a Sumatran rhino.

The Magic of Pie -- In the National Tour of Waitress

When the indie film Waitress was released in 2007, it cemented the reputation of Adrienne Shelly, the writer/director/actress in the quirky story about complicated relationships in a small Southern town, the glory of a well made pie, and a waitress who’s ambivalent about an unplanned pregnancy. When the movie was made into a musical in 2015, it established another astonishing female talent — Sarah Bareilles, who wrote the music and lyrics to the award winning show, and even performed the lead role periodically on Broadway.

Bright Moments in the Dark Story of "The Children's Hour"

There’s a rumor going around that something “unnatural” is happening at the local boarding school. There’s a girl who says she’s heard things late at night — sounds that shouldn’t be coming from the bedroom of two female teachers. And once a story like that gets out, it doesn’t much matter what the truth is.

A Second Look At APT's "The Recruiting Officer"

Restaurant reviewers typically visit a new eatery three times, or more, before submitting a review. They come at different times of day, they sample a full range of dishes, they suss out the rhythm and the vibe of the place when it's busy and when it's slow. They don't assess the service until they've been waited on by several different servers. That's because first impressions can be misleading and it's much more accurate to give a well rounded report. This helps the restaurant and its potential diners. It's more comprehensive and much more fair this way. 

Young People Finding Their Way in "Lost Girl" and the Rep's Professional Training Program

The Milwaukee Rep’s current production of Lost Girl focuses on a young woman struggling to grow up. As she evolves from a little girl, enchanted by magical stories, to a young woman asking hard questions about her future and the people around her, she loses her innocence, but finds confidence in her true self. The show is beautifully rendered by a group of teens who can identify with the protagonist both personally and professionally. They are all part of the Milwaukee Rep’s Professional Training Institute (PTI) — a program designed specifically for young people to find their voices and begin their careers in the professional world of the performing arts.