Tag Archives: off the wall theatre

Off the Wall Theatre presents ‘A Passage to India’

An original stage adaptation of the 1924 award-winning E.M. Forster novel, A Passage to India is set in the 1920’s, when British rule met the Indian independence movement. The play explores the difficulty of two very different cultures understanding each other, making it relevant for today’s political climate.

7:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays, 4:30 p.m. on Sundays, Sept. 22 to Oct. 2 at Off the Wall Theatre in Milwaukee; $25; offthewalltheatre.com

Off the Wall opens season with Molière’s ‘Tartuffe’

Vice that masquerades as virtue is the stuff of which comedies and revolutions are made — one usually funnier than the other.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get both in a single package. Few comedies are as rich as those of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name Molière, and fewer of those are as revolutionary as Tartuffe, the 17th-century French playwright’s greatest work. 

Off the Wall Theatre will stage a new verse translation of the play to open its 2015–16 season, beginning Sept. 17.

Molière’s tale of a religious charlatan who domineers and directs the life of an influential gentleman to the point of distraction (if not near-destruction) is rife with comedic situations, according to artistic director Dale Gutzman, who crafted this translation. But its underlying social implications are as relevant today as in 1664. 

“The play is a close look at a family falling apart because the father feels that his life is meaningless and he needs to embrace a fake religious leader,” says Gutzman, who has twice before directed productions of Tartuffe. “Just watch certain television channels today and you can see the foolish people sending in money to TV preachers.”

Religious zeal is a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, Gutzman adds, and extremists of any kind who use religion to justify their selfish aims pose a distinct threat both to individuals and society.

The play revolves around Orgon (Randall Anderson), blinded by his admiration for Tartuffe (David Flores), a pious fraud who has gained significant influence over him. However, Orgon’s wife Elmire (Jacqueline Roush) and other family members easily see through Tartuffe’s charade and work together to engineer his undoing, saving Orgon and the household in the process.

Tartuffe, also known as The Imposter and The Hypocrite, proved popular in Molière’s day, and controversial.

Even though he is purported to have enjoyed the inaugural production, French monarch Louis XIV censored the play, most likely at the behest of the archbishop of Paris, also the king’s confessor. The topic of religious virtue and the portrayal of the dark side of a self-described religious devotee, it seemed, struck a little too close to home for church leaders.

In fact, history notes, the archbishop threatened excommunication for anyone associated with productions of Tartuffe, including members of the audience. Molière protested and the play’s revolutionary stance in face of the church’s demands helped seal its place in theater history.

Gutzman hopes his translation will bring more life to the proceedings than the standard Richard Wilbur translation, the most common one used in America.

“In America, we have been anchored by Richard Wilbur’s lovely, but very outdated, stiff and conservative translation, which is very far from Moliere’s theater,” Gutzman says. “The Victorian Age and the early part of this century did much damage to classic works by cleaning them up, and we have drifted away from the raw, earthy fun of many classical pieces.”

Gutzman also updated the action to modern-day Paris, a step that makes the play more accessible to audiences and demonstrates that the scenario’s themes and issues aren’t relics of the past.

“I have created a new modern verse translation, sticking quite close to Molière and the kinds of things he would have wanted to emphasize,” Gutzman says. “His play was banned twice for its controversial content and he was forced to rewrite it. So the show is not only very, very funny, but quite potent.”

In addition to the undue influence of false religion, Tartuffe addresses women’s rights and criticizes the social caste system, which Gutzman insists is all too prevalent an influence even in today’s media-rich society. The classics are classics for a reason, he adds, emphasizing the importance of the themes at play in what may be Molière’s most famous work.

“The lessons of the play concern what is truly important in life,” Gutzman explains, ”and the respect and care we must take for each other.”

ON STAGE 

Off the Wall Theatre’s production of Molière’s Tartuffe runs Sept. 17-27 at 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. For more information and tickets, call 414-484-8874 or visit offthewalltheatre.com.

Off the Wall’s Coming Season

Beginning with Tartuffe, Off the Wall Theatre is offering a rich and varied season of comedy, drama and points in between.

Grand Guignol, based on famous French theater works of horror and suspense, will give four directors the chance to raise goosebumps with short tales of suspense. The seasonally appropriate production runs Oct. 29 through Nov. 8.

Comedy kicks back in with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim’s 1962 musical set in ancient Rome. Chuckle your way through the year-end holidays with productions running Dec. 16-31.

Things get serious again with Hamlet, considered by many William Shakespeare’s finest work. The story of the melancholy Dane, based on director Peter Brook’s 2000 production, takes to the boards March 4-20.

OTW ends its season with Everything in the Garden, Edward Albee’s rarely performed and very dark comedy that opens with an innocent question: “Where did all the money come from?” Find out for yourself April 28 to May 8.

‘Odyssey’

One of the oldest epics in the history of literature gets a new staging at Off the Wall Theatre. Dale Gutzman, in partnership with classics scholar John Angelos, has crafted a fast-paced, intimate adaptation of Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca after twenty years of war and travel that brings Off the Wall actors new and old together to answer two central questions: “What makes a hero, and does becoming a hero destroy the man?”

At 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $25 and can be ordered at 414-484-8874 or offthewalltheatre.com.

April 1-12

‘Rope’

If you like how well Off the Wall normally uses its jewelbox theater space,  then you’ll really love how they use it in Rope. Company director Dale Gutzman’s arranged things to keep you only a foot or two from the setting, the drawing room in the home of two college-age male lovers in post-WWI England (see preview, page 26). The play opens with them committing a murder for the sheer thrill of it, stuffing the body in a trunk and serving a buffet to their victim’s family on top of the trunk.

At 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Most performances are at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $25. Call 414-484-8874 or visit offthewalltheatre.com to order.

July 17–27

Off the Wall’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ has ageless charm

Here’s the inevitable challenge with Romeo and Juliet: finding actors who are talented enough to bring gravitas to the roles of the doomed lovers and yet young enough to convincingly portray them.

Milwaukee’s Off the Wall Theatre simply throws that second requirement out the window. In Dale Gutzman’s new production of the Shakespearean tragedy, he and frequent collaborator Marilyn White — both of them retirement age —play the lovestruck children of Montague and Capulet. Gutzman steers into this curve by setting the performance within the framing device of a 1960s Italian nursing home for former actors. It’s the perfect setup, with enough of a knowing wink to suspend disbelief (and, to sweeten the deal, actual sweets are divvied out by ushers before the show opens).

But the setup is hardly necessary, given how effectively Gutzman and White slip into their roles. From the moment he saunters on stage in a black hoodie and oval-shades, Gutzman is a swaggering, surly young man, raunchy with his companions but moody in his passion for soon-to-be-forgotten Rosaline. White is a wisp of a near-14-year-old girl, giggling and capering about in an oversized shirt and more often barefoot than slippered. In their passion for each other, they are equally matched as well, balancing their hasty, youthful folly with an equally youthful ardor that dares us to chastise them for it.

Heightened emotion of all kind is the name of the game here. Rage simmers beneath the surface of these Italians, boiling over with Tybalt (Max Williamson) first and more impressively when Juliet’s father (Tairre Christopherson) and mother (Donna Lobacz) lash out at her for trying to evade her marriage contract with Paris (Robert Preston). Even Friar Lawrence (Jeremy C. Welter) has a moment of screaming frustration, when Romeo reveals he has transferred his affections to Juliet.

The production is also lustier than might be expecte. Benvolio (Nathan Danzer), Mercutio (Jason Will) and Romeo cavort like horny frat boys. Shakespeare’s double entendres are taken out and stretched to full length. Also in on the action is Juliet’s Nurse, played by David Flores, a casting coup that brings a saucy but never-cartoonish sensibility to the role. In fact, he and Will are the most capable of the supporting cast members at playing both the serious and comic elements of their roles.

Will’s Mercutio moves at whiplash speed from comic to serious — as madly mercurial as his name suggests. Flores does the opposite, letting the events of the play slowly sober his bawdy Nurse, paving this way for a most heartrending wail when he finds Juliet dead.

As usual, Gutzman makes Off the Wall’s small space work better than could be imagined. Upon entry, you’re enveloped by the nursing home. Once the play begins, the action is constantly in your face, which makes the recurring fight scenes as frightening as they are captivating.

One of the production’s few missteps was to pipe in musical accompaniment. Gutzman and company have unfortunately scored Romeo and Juliet’s moments of romance with schmaltzy, Lifetime movie orchestration — a manipulative tug at the heartstrings. And sometimes music swells in a scene that’s better suited for silence.

Gutzman, White and their fellow actors do just fine by themselves. 

On stage

Romeo and Juliet continues at Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, through April 6. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on most nights and 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. The theater seats only 35, and several evenings have already sold out, so reservations are recommended. Tickets are $25. Call 414-484-8874 or visit offthewalltheatre.com.

‘Romeo and Juliet’

In this production, director Dale Gutzman turns the Shakespeare classic on its head. Setting the play in a 1960s-era Italian retirement home, Gutzman and his longtime “artistic muse” Marilyn White portray two elderly residents who take on the title teenage roles. It’s an intimate, clever idea for a show — the sort that Off the Wall has become known for. At Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. except on Sundays, when the curtain rises at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 414-484-8874 or visit offthewalltheatre.com.

March 27 to April 6

‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

Through Sun., Feb. 16

Mamet’s most famous work gets the Off the Wall treatment for two weeks, directed by Jeremy C. Welter. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play puts four salesmen to the test when they are challenged to a “sales contest” that will end with the victor driving away in a Cadillac and two losers walking away without their jobs. Add in the rapid-fire, profane dialogue that Mamet is famous for, and you’ve got an unsparing critique of capitalism and greed. At Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at 414-484-8874 or offthewalltheatre.com.