playwright

Post Script

Thoughts on theater from page to stage.

Chekhov for the Modern Age: FTC's "Life Sucks" is an Irreverant Take on Despair

The internet is full of short, funny subtitles for classic books. Moby Dick is summed up with “Man versus whale. Whale wins.” Don Quixote is labeled “Guy fights windmills. Also, he’s crazy.” For The Grapes of Wrath there’s the pithy title, “Farming sucks. Road trip! Road trip also sucks.”

But don’t bother looking up an on-the-nose assessment of Anton Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya. Award-winning playwright Aaron Posner has already beaten you to it. Life Sucks, his homage to the classic Russian work, riffs on its characters and themes while bringing them decidedly, and sometimes irreverently, onto the modern stage. Forward Theater’s excellent production of Life Sucks, running in the Playhouse at Overture Center through April 14, is a funny, contemplative, tragic, ridiculous and insightful take on the sad-sack antihero Uncle Vanya (William Bolz) and his loosely related family group, most of whom live on the edge of despair.

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Gwen Rice
RTW's "Annie Jump" Makes a Mighty Leap Towards Outer Space

What if our first encounter with extra-terrestrial intelligent life doesn’t go at all like we’ve imagined? Instead of E.T., or Jabba the Hutt, or Alf, what if evidence that we’re not alone in the universe came in the form of a hologram named Althea (Rachael Zientek), a somewhat obnoxious teenage girl who’s obesessed with her hair and nails? Sure, she knows everything that can possibly be known in universe and she’s here to recruit future rock star scientists who will contribute to a vault of itnergalactic knowlege known as the “library of heaven,” but can you really take an alien seriously when she’s wearing in a super frilly summer dress, a pink dotted jean jacket and OMG, the absolute cutest pair of sandals that totally bring that outfit together?

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Gwen Rice
The Panel That Wasn't -- A "Teach In" About Asian Sterotypes in Response to "Miss Saigon"

Overture shelves panel to discuss racial stereotypes in Miss Saigon

“This is not how I thought today was going to go,” said Timothy Yu at the “teach-in” he helped organize on the sidewalk outside Overture Center on March 27. With the poster for the blockbuster musical Miss Saigon in the background, Yu, a UW-Madison professor of English and Asian American Studies, looked slightly chagrined as he surveyed the crowd that was gathering to hear concerns about Asian representation in the touring show, which is scheduled for eight performances, April 2-7 in Overture Hall. “As of yesterday morning I thought this was going to be a sleepy little panel,” he said, originally predicting that 15 or 20 people would be in attendance. Instead, after officials at Overture Center abruptly cancelled the joint panel discussion just hours before it was scheduled, the group of interested onlookers swelled, taking over the corner of State and North Dayton Streets.

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Gwen Rice
Strollers Theatre's "The Father" is a Sad Tale of Decline

One of the most powerful experiences theater can impart to audiences is one of empathy. Florian Zeller’s play The Father accomplishes this in a way that a slew of other plays about older people in the grip Alzheimer’s or dementia cannot. The current Strollers Theatre production, onstage at the Bartell Theatre through March 30, illustrates the main character’s final years, primarily through his own altered perspective. Instead of exclusively looking in from the outside at an elderly man who’s lost his faculties, through Andre (a remarkable Carl Cawthorne) the audience also sees a world that doesn’t make any sense. There are puzzling time lapses, new people showing up in each scene claiming to be relatives or caregivers, and contradictory information presented as facts. It’s as if the main character is the only sane person in an increasingly absurd world that refuses to snap back to normal.

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Gwen Rice
Two Crows Theatre's Exceptional "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me" is Devastating and Moving

Over the course of a decade when the Lebanese Civil War was at its height -- 1982-1992 -- more than 100 foreign nationals were kidnapped and held hostage in Beirut. Used as leverage against Western intervention in the conflict, most of them were Americans and Europeans. Among the prisoners were Irish writer Brian Kennan and British journalist John McCarthy, who shared a cell for nearly five years before their release. The story of their captivity is the basis for Frank McGuiness’s play Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, which is currently receiving an extraordinary production at Spring Green’s new Two Crows Theatre Company.

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Gwen Rice
First Stage's "Big River" is a Gorgeous Journey

There’s no doubt that the slightly scruffy Huck Finn (an astonishing Luke Brotherhood in the Clemens cast) could use some “civilizing,” as his elderly guardian Widow Douglas (a chameleon-like Kat Wodtke) pointedly suggests with demanding thumps of her cane and an accusing finger pointed at Huck’s chest. In First Stage’s soulful and enchanting production of “Big River,” she sings admonishments in “Looka Here Huck,” while many of her castmates join in the chorus and provide accompaniment on the fiddle, guitar, ukelele and washboard. Among other pronouncements, she asserts that Huck should go to school, eat all his vegetables, and start behaving like a responsible adult. Of course this is Huck’s cue to playfully disobey, running off to the banks of the Mississippi River to commence loafing on the shore and fishing under the warm sun.

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Gwen Rice
Collaborative "Carmina Burana" is Breathtaking!

According to historians, German composer Carl Orff was so pleased with his new composition “Carmina Burana,” a spectacle which combined Medieval poetry, a full orchestra, choirs, dance, and many theatrical elements, that he sent the following note to his publisher: “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With ‘Carmina Burana,’ my collected works begin.”

After experiencing Skylight Music Theatre’s multi-media, multi-disciplinary performance of the symphony/concert/opera/dance piece with the unforgettable hook, it’s easy to see how an artist would regard this as a bold new chapter in his work. Often performed as an orchestral piece with a standard chorus, this version, running in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through March 31, is probably much closer to what Orff had in mind.

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Gwen Rice
Come to the "Cabaret!"

It’s such an attractive offer when, on a cold night in March, the energetic Emcee (Erin McConnell), with her pixie haircut and a bawdy twinkle in her eye, implores you to come in to the Kit Kat Klub and leave your troubles outside. But after a few playfully naughty chorus numbers in Cabaret, it becomes clear that having another drink of gin or doing another line of cocaine to forget about the increasingly dire world around you is a recipe for heartbreak, or worse.

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Gwen Rice
More Theater for Spring Green -- Two Crows Finishes First Season

For four decades Spring Green, Wisconsin, has been synonymous with American Players Theatre, the much-lauded classical company that draws more than 100,000 patrons a year to the sleepy rural town, all summer long. Now theater-goers have a reason to visit in the colder months as well. Two Crows Theatre Company is finishing up its inaugural season, right off the town’s main street in a building that, until recently, was home to the Village Tavern. Under the guidance of artistic director Robert Doyle and associate artist Brian Byrnes, the space is being reimagined and slowly transformed into The Jefferson, featuring a speakeasy style cocktail bar called Rosa Lee's Lounge in the front and a versatile black-box theater in the back, with a capacity for seating between 80 and 100 patrons.

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Gwen Rice
A Beautiful, if Disjointed Journey to Tibet with CTM

Tibet Through the Red Box is a cultural exploration focusing on the spiritual connection between a bedridden boy in 1950s Prague and his filmmaker father, who is lost in Tibet after an avalanche killed most of his crew. On March 9, Children’s Theater of Madison kicked off a short run of this visually stunning production for young adults and teens, which runs through March 17 in Overture’s Playhouse.

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Gwen Rice