Village Playhouse chases top community theater honors

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Every two years, the American Association for Community Theatre stages a competition for the best community-produced plays in the nation. A Milwaukee troupe hopes to bring home top honors in 2017.

Village Playhouse is debuting Facing the Finding: A Mirror in Three Acts, an original play written by two area residents that juxtaposes timely political themes with historical precedents.

The playhouse presents Facing the Finding Jan. 13–14 and Jan. 20–21 at Inspiration Studios in West Allis in preparation for a performance at the state AACTFest competition Feb. 16–19 in Stevens Point.

The play, with sections written by poet/playwright Sabley Sabin and playwright Mark D. Wyss, shines a light on shared culpability in conflicts. By turning the mirror on ourselves, we can find our responsibility in creating conflict — either through action or inaction, according to director Alexis Fielek.

Fielek says the cast and crew came together for the project before the playwrights finished the narrative. To some degree, the play was adapted for the cast and vice versa, resulting in a dynamic creative environment.

“This was a big leap of faith for us, but I truly believe in this production,” says Fielek, a former high school drama teacher who also works as a trainer at United Heartland Inc., a New Berlin insurance firm. “I think the play will resonate with audiences.”

Three acts of mirroring

The play consists of three acts. Saben wrote the first and third, while Wyss penned the second of the hourlong production.

Saben’s first act, “prepare to enter,” consists of three scenes that focus on miscommunication. There’s a discussion between a millennial and her mother that goes awry, survival of a car accident and the ensuing emotions, and a two-character dialogue with significant missed connections.

The scenes reveal the lack of communication in society, Fielek says.

The play’s second act, “J. McCarthy vs. The Aliens: An Alternative History,” juxtaposes testimony from the Army-McCarthy Hearings of the 1950s with rhetoric from the recent 2016 presidential campaign. During the 1950s, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Appleton and attorney Roy Cohn accused a variety of celebrities and politicians of having Communist ties. Their witch-hunt ruined many lives and careers.

Wyss draws parallels between the Red Scare and dark aspects of the 2016 presidential campaign, but he offers a twist on history by changing the genders of the protagonists — “Josephine McCarthy” and “Rhonda Cohn” — to give the situation and its outcomes greater universality.

The connection between the McCarthy era and 2016 is deep: Roy Cohn served as attorney to Donald Trump during the 1970s, helping him to establish a foothold in Manhattan real estate. Much of Trump’s tough talk and pugnacity are thought to have come from the influence of Cohn, a closeted gay man who died of AIDs-related complications in 1986.

The final act, “link to disparate parts,” is a page long, Fielek says. The seven members of the cast appear onstage out of character to talk about the play’s “truth.”

Each of the four upcoming productions includes a post-performance talk-back session, with the cast and crew inviting commentary and questions designed to help refine the play before the February competition.

“Given the current political climate, the play is very timely in its message,” Fielek says.

If Facing the Finding is one of the two winning plays in the state, it will move to the AACTFest regional competition, scheduled for April 27–30 in Champaign, Illinois.

The national AACTFest competition follows in Rochester, Minnesota, between June 26 and July 1.

On stage

Preview performances of Facing the Finding: A Mirror in Three Acts are at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13–14 and Jan. 20–21 at Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd St., West Allis. Tickets are $10 and available by emailing or by calling 414-207-4879.