Tag Archives: plays

On 400th anniversary, exhibit examines Shakespeare’s act

From a dress worn by Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth to a “Hamlet” script owned by famous stage actors, a new exhibition explores how William Shakespeare became “the Bard” 400 years after his death.

“Shakespeare in Ten Acts” looks at 10 key performances of the playwright’s works, from the first showing of “Hamlet” at the Globe theater around 1600 to a contemporary version of that play in the digital age.

The exhibition opens at London’s British Library as theater fans prepare to mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616.

“It’s really difficult to do full justice to Shakespeare’s legacy over the last 400 years,” exhibition lead curator Zoe Wilcox said in a British Library video handout.

“We’re not just looking at Shakespeare the man or his most famous plays, we’re focusing in on 10 significant performances of his work that tell us something about the way that his plays have been constantly reinvented through the ages.”

A woman is reflected in glass next to a human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt during the press preview of the exhibition 'Shakespeare in Ten Acts' at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A woman is reflected in glass next to a human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt during the press preview of the exhibition ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Highlights include the only surviving play-script in Shakespeare’s handwriting, in which he describes the plight of refugees. Also on show is a human skull inscribed with poetry given by French writer Victor Hugo to actress Sarah Bernhardt, which she used when playing Hamlet in 1899.

Visitors will also be able to see a “Hamlet” script owned by the likes of Michael Redgrave, Peter O’Toole and now Kenneth Branagh and theater playbills showing the career highs and lows of Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play “Othello” on the English stage in 1825, organizers said.

“We are using the full range of things we have at our disposal to bring them (the acts) to life,” Wilcox said.

“So sound, video, costumes, props, paintings, everything we can to give people a sense of what those performances would have felt like had you been attending them.”

“Shakespeare in Ten Acts” runs until September.

A human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt is seen during the press preview of the exhibition 'Shakespeare in Ten Acts' at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A human skull owned by Sarah Bernhardt is seen during the press preview of the exhibition ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ at the British Library in London, Britain April 14. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Married actors Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin tell ‘Love Stories’ at MCT

This holiday season, local actors Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin are going to get up on the stage of the Broadway Theater Center’s Studio Theater and tell some love stories — as themselves.

The two are perfectly suited for the task, being both longtime members of the Milwaukee theater community and more recently partners off stage as well. They met several years ago during a production of The Exonerated at Next Act Theater and married a few years later. Love Stories, directed by Paula Suozzi, uses as its conceit the idea that the two are in rehearsal for a trio of one-act plays about love and relationships, which causes them to reflect on their marriage. Suozzi previously directed Madison actors Colleen Madden and Jim Ridge, also married, in the world premiere production at Forward Theater in 2012.

With a play in which the lead actors play themselves, there seems no better way to get at the heart of what it’s all about than to ask them directly. WiG sat down with the couple to learn about the show and what they’ll be bringing to the stage.

How did you get involved with this production?

Tami Workentin: Michael came to us. I had him over for dinner one night and I had said to him, “I think it would be a really nice idea if Jim and I did something together.” With that, he suggested this show, which we had heard dear friends of ours, Colleen Madden and Jim Ridge, had done at Forward Theater. 

Jim Pickering: It was when I was in Spring Green, a year and a half ago. Michael plans ahead. 

What about the idea appealed to the two of you?

TW: Working together. 

Because you’ve only worked together once before?

JP: And never to this extent. The only time we worked together before, I played a cop who arrested her for murder. 

TW: (The Exonerated) was about death row inmates. So not nearly as happy. It was together, but it was in a cast. 

JP: There was a lot of people. 

TW: So this one is really a two-hander.

JP: It’s a cage match.

How would you describe the structure of Love Stories?

TW: There are the three one-acts: “Village Wooing,” by George Bernard Shaw; “The Jewish Wife,” which is by Brecht; and “Here We Are,” by Dorothy Parker. 

JP: It was Jen Uphoff (who put the plays together).

TW: Jen Uphoff Gray had done this when she was in college; she put these three together. To say that we have a full understanding of what the framework is yet — not really, because we’re still figuring it out.

JP: We’re still forming it.

TW: But the framework is that Jim and I — as Jim and I, as ourselves — are coming to a rehearsal process where these interns are there in attendance. We’re going to give part of our own life and all of that stuff in between.

JP: It’s weird. It’s taking place in the theater itself, so we just decided the rehearsal process is at the place where we’ve left the rehearsal hall and we’re just getting into the theater for the first time. There hasn’t even been tech and stuff like that. So it’s rehearsal props and rehearsal furniture, though some of it’s the “real stuff,” the way you would do with a regular rehearsal process for a play. 

I think it’s going to be really easy to identify that that’s the stage (of rehearsal). But exactly what our interaction is with one and other, and with the stage manager and with Bobby (Knapp, acting intern) and Erika (Kirkstein-Zastrow, acting/dramaturgy intern) and Megan (stage management intern) is evolving. We’re figuring that out as we go.

Why these particular plays? Why do you think they go together?

TW: Why (Gray) picked them would be a better question for her. But I think…

JP: They’re all about…

TW: Love at different stages. Relationships. What I love about “Village Wooing” is that this couple are at a later point in their lives. His wife passed away and this woman is past her prime a bit. So she’s feeling a desperation to get married and she finds this man. He doesn’t know yet that he should be in love with her.

JP: But she does. (laughs)

TW: So there’s something about that kind of love, and that kind of pursuit of love, that’s different from younger people’s. Certainly that abandon they have. “The Jewish Wife” takes place in 1935, in Germany, and she’s Jewish and he’s not. So she’s making a choice to leave and he’s not fighting for her to stay. 

JP: So “Village Wooing” examines the very beginning of a relationship, the progress of a relationship. “Jewish Wife” is the end of a relationship. And it’s not a comedy. 

Then, Dorothy Parker, who wrote all kinds of satirical and scathing stuff about men and relationships — all her poetry is kind of about that — is writing a partly satirical but very poignant comic piece about two newlyweds on a train on their way to New York for their honeymoon. And the tensions that go along with that. It’s three real different angles of looking at love stories between two people. 

We’re playing people who are younger than we are, but so what? (laughs) Michael wanted to use us because we got together late in life and after things that happened during the earlier part of our lives. There’s something harmonic about that.

Would you say those plays contain situations that are similar to your own life or vice versa?

(Both laugh)

JP: You can write down “They laughed, heartily.”

TW: Oh, hell yeah.

JP: Which is just — I mean it just tells you how good the plays are. 

TW: We’ll be in a conversation — and I’m going to use the word “conversation” very loosely (Jim laughs). There’ll be something that harkens back to the play, and Jim — more often than I, because I’ll be in the middle of it — he’ll go, “Baby this is just like in the play.” And it really is.

JP: “But shut up while I make this point.”

TW: Or, “Shut up because I’ve got to be right about this one.” (Both laugh) Yes, yes and yes.

How has it been for you as actors to prepare to reveal elements of your personal lives to an audience that may not know anything about you off stage?

TW: We don’t know the answer to that yet.

JP: It’s not going to be like — This ain’t like Real Housewives of Bay View, we ain’t opening up that far. Just hinting, I think.

TW: A crack in the door.

JP: For peeping Toms.

What has the rehearsal process been like? How would you describe getting to work together this closely?

JP: It’s exciting. It really is exciting.

TW: And you’re learning each other’s way of going. It’s interesting. When you work with someone, there’s a point at which you have to stop working. 

JP: Cause you’re going to go home and you have to live with this person.

TW: Or you’re going to kill each other. So there’s a point on the trip home where we have to open the windows of the car and let everyone out.

JP: Let everybody else out.

TW: Except for he and I. And we really have parameters for when we can talk about it.

JP: Yeah. There’s a point at which we ask permission to talk shop. You just have to set up rules like that, otherwise it’s chaos.

TW: We also have a younger son who’s home too, who’s 13. He comes home with his life, and you’ve got to be ready to hear about his day too.

Would you say you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work together more closely?

TW: I think it’s a gift.

JP: It certainly is.

TW: It’s a crazy world; you (usually) don’t get to go to the theater for your job with your spouse. It’s kind of nice, to share it. So much of what you do in front of people is a shared experience, and it’s great that we then can get in the car and go “Wow, that felt great.” Or whatever. Art is evolving. It isn’t a movie. It changes every night. And a look or a gesture or a breath makes it different. When you’re up on the stage with someone, it’s scary. And if you’re up there with somebody who has your back, is in it with you, and you know them on a whole other level too, that’s pretty outstanding.

JP: We’ve done two plays together. Fifty percent of the plays that we’ve done have been just the two of us. That’s pretty good, I think. When Michael (asked), we were so glad. We wanted to do something together, we just didn’t know what it would be. This was the perfect situation.

ON STAGE

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Love Stories will run Nov. 25 to Dec. 20 at the Broadway Theater Center, 158 N. Broadway. Tickets are $34 to $38, and can be ordered at 414-291-7800 or milwaukeechambertheatre.com.

American Players offers a searing ‘Othello’

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so, William Shakespeare famously wrote in Hamlet. That same ethos is even better demonstrated in his later work Othello, where the Bard weaves a tale of evil intent, with all the expected consequences.

American Players Theatre’s production of Othello, which opened in mid-August at the Spring Green troupe’s Up the Hill theater, pulls no punches. With its racism both overt and covert, Othello falls into the category of Shakespeare‘s plays that are sometimes difficult to watch, a list including the anti-Semitic Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew, rife with unbridled misogyny.

APT’s powerful version of Othello doesn’t shy away from its distasteful elements. But its dramatic accomplishments make it well worth seeing.

The play opens as Othello the Moor (Chiké Johnson), a general in the Venetian army, secretly marries Desdemona (Laura Rook), daughter of Brabantio (Brian Mani), a senator with the Venetian state. The newlyweds are happy, but Brabantio does little to disguise his disgust, literally throwing his daughter at her new husband. 16th-century Venice, it seems, is no liberal society.

Enter Iago (James Ridge), Othello’s ensign, outraged that Othello has passed Iago over to promote Cassio (Nate Burger) as his lieutenant. Operating in partnership with the reluctant Roderigo (Marcus Truschinski), who secretly loves Desdemona, Iago undertakes the machinations that will ultimately lead to Othello’s undoing. 

Director John Langs creates an air of urgency in his production, underscored with an undercurrent of despair. The senators, noblemen and soldiers, including the Duke of Venice (David Daniel), applaud Othello’s military victories, and his minions are obsequious to a fault. But that doesn’t protect the military hero from his ultimate fall. 

In fact, Othello’s power and presumption only contribute to his undoing, a theme that carries over to many of the other lead characters. Iago’s own vanity, colored by his ambitions, drives his near-pathological pursuit of Othello’s demise.

As Othello, Johnson manages his character with charm and bravado, but his descent into distrust, despair and, ultimately, murder under Iago’s influence seems a rather abrupt shift. It’s a fault more attributable to tight dramatic turns in the source material than anything else. In the end, Othello is neither hero nor villain, but rather a tragic pawn in the power plays and social influences of others.

Despite the play’s title, it is Iago who is the dramatic driver of both the concept and action behind the narrative, and Ridge is fully capable of handling the role. His pursuit of Othello is cool, calm and calculating, which makes it all the more unnerving. 

Director Langs draws only a modest distinction between Iago as the “hale fellow, well met” and as the evil conspirator who carefully strategizes Othello’s undoing as if he were solving a puzzle or managing a military campaign. It’s an interpretation that suggests how close we all dance to the edge of sanity and our own capability to operate in a similar fashion. 

Langs’ production also adds a variety of stage business to scenes that could easily have lapsed into mere dialogue. Othello and Iago train with swords while discussing the Moor’s concerns over his wife, first matching movements in warm-up exercises, and then sparing as the conversation becomes more direct. In addition to foreshadowing the swordplay in Act II, the scene, along with others, bring a much needed physicality to the largely intellectual proceedings.

The cast, as a whole, is strong and draws on several accomplished APT veterans in smaller roles, including Colleen Madden (actor Ridges’ wife in real life) as Iago’s wife Emilia, to bring greater depth and breadth to the ensemble. Scenic designer Andrew Boyce’s minimalist set is spartan, ringed by moats of water, and more than proves adequate for Othello’s undoing.

APT tells an engaging tale in which the powers of evil and the vanity of men combine to create a true tragedy. Othello is certainly one of the company’ strongest plays of the season, warning us all that the power of persuasion in unbridled pursuit of ego can lead to deadly consequences.

ON STAGE 

American Players Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Othello runs through Oct. 3 on the APT campus, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green. For tickets, call 608-588-2361 or visit americanplayers.org.

Edwin Booth play cycle seeks to redeem the name of America’s greatest actor

Edwin Booth is arguably the most acclaimed, most beloved and most talented American actor to ever strut the boards, a tragedian who was a pioneer of naturalistic acting. Yet today that reputation is buried beneath the weight of his brother’s name: John Wilkes Booth.

It’s in part to pull Edwin out from under his brother’s shadow that local theater artist Angela Iannone began writing a series of plays featuring him at work: the Edwin Booth Cycle. But her four plays — the latest of which, The Seeds of Banquo, will soon make its world premiere in Milwaukee thanks to Theater RED — are more than just a PR campaign. They’re an opportunity to examine a time long past but not truly so different from our own, through the life of a man who examined and embodied it better than any other creative artist in the period.

“The history of America in the 19th century,” Iannone says, “is the history of the Booth family.”

Edwin was born into a clan that became one of the earliest theatrical families in America. In addition to himself and his brother John, Edwin’s father Junius Brutus Booth and elder brother Junius “June” Jr. were both actors, and his sister Asia married the actor John Sleeper Clarke. But Edwin towered over them all. “There was Edwin Booth and there was everyone else,” Iannone says. “He was that much better.”

Edwin had already become America’s most beloved actor by the time John assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 as part of an attempted coup. His brother’s crime nearly derailed Edwin’s career — he went into seclusion for eight months, only leaving his hotel room at night. But after that time, he wrote a public letter asking his audiences to permit him to return to the stage, as acting was the only gift he possessed and it was the only career he believed he could pursue. They did. His first show was a production of Hamlet, and when he walked on stage, Edwin received a 5-minute standing ovation.

Iannone says that in contrast to our modern era, where John’s name is legendary and Edwin’s is secondary, 19th-century audiences truly separated Edwin from his brother’s acts. “During that time period, America was not as fascinated either with evil or with murderers as they are now,” she says. No one had any interest in figuring out why evil people like John acted the way they did, she says, and because Edwin had a strict rule that John’s name never be mentioned in his presence, he never expounded upon it himself.

It’s a rule Iannone has tried to follow in her four plays about Edwin. Only one, This Prison Where I Live, explicitly deals with John’s ghost haunting Edwin — for Edwin truly believed his brother, along with his father and his first, beloved wife, were always with him as he went about his life. Her first, The Edwin Booth Company Presents…, features John but takes place in the 1850s, before the war; her third, Irving & Booth in Othello, is set long after the assassination. 

The Seeds of Banquo gets slightly closer, but only obliquely. Like all four of Iannone’s Booth plays, it depicts Edwin (John Glowacki) in rehearsal for a Shakespeare play — in this case, Macbeth, a meditation on the nature of evil that Edwin would have been uniquely suited for exploring. “Who better to be dealing with that kind of question than the older brother of the man who brought down a government?” Iannone asks.

All of Iannone’s plays share a devotion to presenting Edwin’s circumstances as they actually occurred, aided by Iannone’s access to the Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, the preeminent research library for 19th-century American theater and home to Edwin’s correspondence and promptbooks. Many playwrights would simply take the setting and write the rest themselves, but Iannone says she wants to stick with portraying things as they happened whenever possible. “The truth is so much more interesting and it’s also so much more strange,” she says.

For The Seeds of Banquo, Iannone will be following Edwin’s actual directorial notes for his 1870 production of Macbeth, and the set and technical elements will follow those same specifications. She’s also included alongside Edwin actual members of his cast — Lawrence Barrett (Cory Jefferson Hagen), second only to Edwin on stage; Elizabeth Crocker Bowers (Marcee Doherty-Elst), an acclaimed actress brought out of semi-retirement to play Lady Macbeth; and the young ingenue Minna Gale (Sasha Katharine Sigel). Shoehorned in is comic actor Owen Fawcett (Bryan Quinn), a contemporary who fortuitously was in a melodrama up the street in 1870 and could be easily inserted into the mix.

This particular production of Macbeth happened to coincide with the first pregnancy of Edwin’s second wife, which Iannone says she’s taken as an opportunity for Edwin to ponder questions of inheritance — critical ones both for him as an actor and for him as the brother of an assassin.

Iannone’s decision to produce the play here is a fortuitous one for several reasons, the greatest of which is that she’d had no anticipation of ever staging one of her Booth plays in Milwaukee, due to their period costuming needs, historical context and elevated language and motifs. The Edwin Booth Company Presents… was conceived and produced as a project for UW-Whitewater, while her other two plays have had readings and workshops in Milwaukee and at Door Shakespeare but were ultimately picked up for full stagings by Titan Theatre Company in New York City, with This Prison Where I Live produced in 2014 and plans to stage Irving & Booth in Othello in progress.

“There is not another theater in town who has a mission to explore plays with those particular parameters,” she says. “I’m not trying to be snarky on that. But Theater RED has a mission for exploring literary and intellectual content, positive roles for women and supporting local playwrights. Not only is that my only door in, that was my only interest.”

But Iannone was steered toward Theater RED after seeing their production of A Lady in Waiting, a Maid Marian-centric adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, decided to work with them on Banquo

ON STAGE

Theater RED will produce the world premiere of The Seeds of Banquo Aug. 13 to 23 at Soulstice Theatre, 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave., St. Francis. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at
theaterred.com. A portion of all sales will be donated to the Players Foundation for Theatre Education in New York City.

The Rep’s short play series celebrates its 5th year

While it’s one of the newest additions to the Rep interns’ duties, the annual Rep Lab short play festival has been delighting audiences since its debut in 2011. Now in its fifth year, the festival provides acting, directing and design interns an opportunity to show what they’ve learned in a season.

This year’s installment features seven plays, two written by former Rep interns (James Fletcher and Patrick Holland), as well as a devised work featuring the full company by directing interns Hannah Greene and Philip Muehe. We’ve provided the Rep’s synopses of each, but remember — half the fun of Rep Lab is getting surprised by something you never knew you’d love. 

Rep Lab runs April 10–13 at the Milwaukee Rep’s Steimke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at 414-224-9490 or milwaukeerep.com.

Every Show You’ve Ever Seen by Amelia Roper; directed by Leda Hoffmann

Commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville, this tribute to theater calls upon the collective memory of artists and audiences alike and it begs us to consider our experience of theater as something greater than a single moment.

Tape by José Rivera; directed by Hannah Greene

Prolific playwright/Oscar nominee José Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) ponders the consequences of a man’s lifetime of lies.

The Latest News from the Primordial Ooze by Rich Orloff; directed by Leda Hoffmann

A primordial creature reveals to his girlfriend that his fins are really fingers. What’s worse, he can breathe air! In this punny short produced in 2012 by Milwaukee’s Pink Banana Theatre Co., Barry considers taking one small step for an amphibian, and one giant leap for amphibian-kind.

People Are Dancing book and lyrics by Sarah Hammond; music by Benny Gammerman; directed by Philip Muehe

This 10-minute musical by Sarah Hammond, whose “Hum of the Arctic” appeared in Rep Lab 2013, showcases two strangers who meet on a plane to Venice, fall in love and eat gelato three times a day. On their last night together, Jim wants to make a clean break, but Rebecca reminds him that they still have time. They are, after all, in Venice. And in Venice, people are dancing.

Give Until It Hurts by James Fletcher; directed by JC Clementz

Local actor James Fletcher takes nonprofit fundraising to the extreme. Two goons hired by NPR bust in on Robert at dinner and guilt him into giving at gunpoint.

hysterical by Steve Yockey; directed by Philip Muehe

From Yockey’s short-play cycle “very still & hard to see,” this “play that tastes like black licorice” catches Elizabeth in the throes of a Jäegermeister-fueled breakdown. Repeating a cycle of love, loss, and alcohol abuse, she hallucinates an unusual and somewhat unsympathetic companion.

The Cowboy by Patrick Holland; directed by Hannah Greene

In this thrilling play, The Cowboy muses on his role in the deaths of three women: Linda, Kim and Amanda. But are their flirtations with him their only connection?

The arts can change minds and heal hearts

Running a theater company is like juggling chain saws — there are endless competing priorities. You want to create a season of works with artistic merit to excite performers and staff. You want works that pack a punch and wow audiences. At the same time, bills must be paid, so it is critical to select shows that will attract a wide audience. The two goals need not be mutually exclusive, but it’s a delicate balance. 

It’s easy to find works with strong entertainment value that are certain to do good box office, but they don’t always succeed in other respects. We want to speak directly to the hearts and minds of our audiences, inspiring positive thought, dialogue and change in our world. That is what we believe we were created to do as artists.

Last week, we opened our latest musical, Bare: A Pop Opera. The Hartmere/Intrabartolo work centers on two teenage boys, roommates in their final year at a Catholic boarding school. One protagonist is the deeply closeted golden boy on campus — the popular, attractive jock destined to head off to Notre Dame as valedictorian. The other is the quiet, shy kid, much more in love with his roommate than anything else. Their relationship is pushed to its limits by the need to conform to the pressures of friends, faith and family. 

The story takes a bitterly tragic turn when our golden child sees coming out as no way out and opts to end his life rather than face what he is certain would be rejection on all fronts.

When this production was brought to our team as an addition to the season, I immediately saw the appeal. The statistics about LGBTQIA+ teens are staggering. Eighty-two percent of those teens had problems in the last year with bullying related to their sexual orientation. They are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. They comprise 25–50 percent of homeless youth, and they are over-represented in foster care and juvenile detention. 

Their stories matter and our patrons deserve to hear them. Help has to start somewhere. Awareness and change cannot happen in a vacuum.

Art is a powerful tool to affect social change. When we tell a story onstage, we want hearts to be reached, minds to be changed, souls to be touched. Not every play will appeal to everyone. We know that. We don’t seek to challenge, inspire, and entertain every single patron. We just want a crack at them. 

If we can make just one person reflect, then we’ve achieved our goal. Art changes the mind slowly, firing one neuron at a time until the tidal wave of mindshift takes shape. As artists, we believe strongly that we are chartered to catalyze that process.

It is a difficult cross to bear, but one we carry with pride, knowing that the world benefits from the rays of light we shine on subjects like LGBTQIA+ teens.

Jillian Smith is artistic director and president of Milwaukee’s Soulstice Theatre.

Milwaukee Rep keeps mum about its ‘unforgivable’ world premiere

A. Rey Pamatmat doesn’t want to tell me anything about his new play, after all the terrible things I do.

But he has a good excuse: It’s a world premiere production — the first in several years for the Milwaukee Rep — and this is the only time it’s going to be staged before an audience that has no idea what to expect.

“There’s a purpose for remaining a little cagey,” he says. “We’re really hoping to preserve our one chance to surprise people.”

What little he will reveal is enticing. The play features two characters — a young gay author-in-the-making named Daniel and a Filipino émigré named Linda, who owns the bookstore where Daniel goes to work. The play is set in the Midwestern town where Daniel grew up and where Linda has lived much of her life.

And the two characters share a tragic connection, buried so deep that neither initially knows it exists.

The play comes to Milwaukee almost by chance. Pamatmat met JC Clementz, now a Rep artistic associate, when they were both working at a play festival in Colorado. When Clementz joined the Rep, he asked Pamatmat if he had any plays in process. Pamatmat sent over an early draft of after all the terrible things I do, which Clementz shared with Rep artistic director Mark Clements. When Clements learned that Pamatmat was a frequent collaborator with Rep associate artist May Adrales (on plays like Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, which premiered at the 2011 Humana Festival), the deal was sealed.

In the course of its development, the play has changed quite a bit, Pamatmat says. While the overall narrative has remained the same, working with actors has helped him to restructure individual moments. “The emotional lives of the characters are so large and complex that the way things happen has changed dramatically,” he says.

The play’s origins spring largely from Pamatmat’s response to articles about the “It Gets Better” campaign, launched in 2010. “I noticed when reading those articles that a lot of the anti-bullying initiatives focused on victims and not on bullies,” he says, “and so I was curious about why we weren’t trying to solve that half of the problem.” 

Pamatmat says writing the play gave him an opportunity to step out of his comfort zone, working with just two characters in a confined space. The challenge with that sort of construction, he says, is that in real life, if a two-person conversation isn’t going the way you want it to, you can just leave. In a two-person play, you have to figure out what makes them stay.

His solution, which he found while working with Adrales, hinges on a rejection of contemporary society’s tendency toward polarized opinions. We expect people to adopt a staunch position and attack or defend it without ever considering our counterpart’s views, he explains.

“I hope people come away from this play understanding the value of empathy for people they don’t understand,” Pamatmat says. “Because I don’t think that’s necessarily about divesting your own principles or giving up your points of view, to recognize the validity of other people’s points of view.”

I push one more time for a little more detail about the plot, and Pamatmat thinks for a minute. “What the play is asking the audience to do or contemplate is: Is there such a thing as a truly unforgivable act?” he offers. “And is it possible, if you are the person who has performed that unforgivable act, is there any chance that you can come back from it?”

On Stage

The Milwaukee Rep’s world premiere production of after all the terrible things I do opens on Oct. 3 at the Stiemke Studio and runs through Nov. 9. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at 414-224-9490 or milwaukeerep.org.

Stiemke Studio SEASON

Pamatmat’s after all the terrible things I do is the only world premiere play coming to the Stiemke this year, but it’s far from the only exciting production in the theater’s season lineup:

The Amish Project (Feb. 11–March 22): In the spring, the Stiemke will provide the platform for this powerful one-woman show. Inspired by a school shooting in an Amish community, the play explores grief and forgiveness in the wake of an unimaginable tragedy.

Rep Lab (April 10–13): Every year as its season comes to a close, the Rep’s interns unite to produce this short play festival showing off their talents to the city of Milwaukee for a single weekend.

Iannone’s Amanda latest venture into Williams’ canon

Fresh from her role as opera diva Maria Callas in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Master Class, Milwaukee actor and playwright Angela Iannone is ready to try something different. And nothing could be more different than the role of Amanda Wingfield, the abandoned wife and faded Southern belle of The Glass Menagerie.

In Tandem Theater opens its production of the Tennessee Williams classic, starring Iannone, on Sept. 25.

Although it’s not her first experience with Williams — Iannone has played Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — Iannone says Amanda presents an entirely different set of challenges. And she’s looking forward to them. 

I spoke with her about those challenges.

How is this role different from Williams’ other faded Southern belles? Williams’ plays are, to my mind, American plays of manners. His women seem to come from a place of social structure — civility, appearances, good graces and expectations of gentle treatment from the world — and they are continually disappointed. Williams’ women run into trouble when they are asked to speak the truth, and truth for Williams is the thing that breaks the world. 

The Glass Menagerie is different from other Williams plays because it is a memory play. The audience sees Amanda through her son Tom’s eyes and hears her voice as it is remembered by Tom. 

As such, there can be no resolution for the characters. Amanda doesn’t get to “finish” like Williams’ other characters. Her resolution, if there is one, is not one that Tom saw because he left. This is a far more delicate play in walking the line between “now” and “then” than most audiences realize.

This was Williams’ earliest play, the one that launched his career when it was first performed in 1944. It is also said to be his most autobiographical work. Williams has said that Amanda, and Blanche DuBois, too, are more autobiographical than factual. It is popular and current to say he based those women on his own mother, and perhaps some of that is true. But as a playwright myself, I can say that all of my characters speak with my voice, just different facets of it. 

I believe the same thing is true of Amanda. She’s one facet of Williams’ own voice. She is, however, also an invention: a fantastic creature he created for his own dramatic purposes.

Some scholars have said that the role of Amanda Wingfield is one of the greatest female roles in American theater. Do you agree? Interesting question. Tennessee Williams is one of our great American playwrights, and Amanda has certainly been a great character for many of our great American actresses, but I don’t know that I personally would put her in the pantheon of great American roles for women. I don’t want that to sound dismissive or disdainful — it isn’t at all. But if you ask a group of dramatic lit professors that question, you are likely to get a parade of broken, dysfunctional and suicidal women, most of them completely uninteresting to me. The play belongs to Tom, not to Amanda, however interesting the role of Amanda may be. 

What are some of the great roles that you have played? Medea was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever played, at least in Robinson Jeffers’ version of the story. Playing Kate Hepburn in Tea at Five was pure delight, and I adored playing Sarah Bernhardt in Memoir, even though I did think the play was pretty terrible. I had a ball playing Mae West in Dirty Blonde, but I thought I was too tall and thin to do her justice. I have played Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, have been Lady Macbeth twice, and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream six times, all but one of which were fun and very satisfying. 

I have even had some small success in American musical theater, where I believe most of the great women’s roles migrated. Playing Roxie in Chicago and Adelaide in Guys & Dolls were both enormous fun.

What is the state of female roles in theater today. Would you describe the characters as fully evolved? Well, it depends what you mean by fully evolved. As a 19th-century scholar, I can say with certainty that there are some fabulous female roles in most of those old scripts. Marguerite in La Dame Aux Camelias used to be the judgment mark of a successful actress. Anything from the repertories of the greatest of the grande dames like Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse are terrific, meaty and complex roles, but are they considered fully evolved? I adore Restoration comedies and there are some awesome roles for women in them. 

Essentially, I do not believe any time period has a lock on “the truth” or “great writing” when it comes to developing great roles for women, and contemporary stereotypes are no more truthful or interesting than those of past eras. Is the role of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a better or more evolved role than Clytemnestra in Agamemnon? Not to me it isn’t. I have no interest in Martha, but I’d love to play Clytemnestra. 

Contemporary takes on the classics do a lot of gender-bending, like my drag role as Henry IV and as Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost, but I’m never certain how successful those are, or even should be. I confess to a great deal of discomfort with gender-bending, even when it works.

On STAGE

In Tandem Theatre presents Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., Milwaukee, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19. Go to intandemtheatre.org or phone 414-271-1371.

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Robin Hood, through the eyes of Marian’s ‘Lady in Waiting’

Whether portrayed by a swashbuckling Errol Flynn or a conflicted Kevin Costner, Robin Hood has always been interpreted more as myth than man. Theater RED, a relatively new Milwaukee theater company, reverses the equation. In its latest world premiere, A Lady in Waiting, the troupe adopts a female point of view that presents the legendary male outlaw on a human scale.

Penned by Wisconsin playwright Liz Shipe (who also plays Maid Marian in the production), the story is told from the perspective of Marian’s handmaid Aria (Kelly Doherty). Shipe says Aria’s quick tongue and sharp insights shed new light on familiar characters like Robin Hood (Zachary Thomas Woods) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew J. Patten), as well as the play’s other Merry Men and royals, thus muddling the usually stark distinctions between heroes and villains.

The play begins with Robin Hood already established as the outlaw prince of Sherwood Forest, so both Aria and the audience are inserted in medias res. “Everything I read positioned Robin Hood as the main character, and that seemed the logical way to go,” Shipe says. “But I wanted to look at Robin Hood through the lens of someone who might not see him as a hero, learning about him as the audience does.”

Shipe says telling the story from a female perspective also gives the play some contemporary flavoring, although she hesitates to label its viewpoint as explicitly feminist.

“The original idea was to create a medieval buddy-on-the-road story for two women and a bunch of fellas,” Shipe says. “(But) over the course of writing it, the play did become much more about what it is to be a woman in any society — which is a great thing to put in the spotlight.”

The unconscious shift in perspective fits well with Theater RED’s creative ethos. Married co-founders Christopher Elst and Marcee Doherty-Elst established the company last year as a way to present premiere works from local authors and plays that offer substantial roles for women and new artists. Their first full production A Thousand Times Goodnight was a particularly good example: an original, Shakespeare-esque adaptation of The Arabian Nights by local writer Jared McDaris that centered on Scheherazade as the lead character.

Neither Elst nor Doherty-Elst had extensive experience or education in theater arts until reaching adulthood. Elst majored in literature and has a background in fencing, with advanced actor combatant certification from the Society of American Fight Directors. Doherty-Elst, a trained skater, majored in sociology and statistics. But the two became independently involved in local productions, learning about theater from fellow cast members as they went along. 

“We credit the theater training we have received from being involved in productions with amazing actors, musicians and directors,” Doherty-Elst says. “We learned from working alongside the best and are often cast in the same shows, which is great fun and nice to have our schedules align.”

Starting Theater RED has allowed the couple to share what they’ve learned with others, including Shipe. She’s excited about sharing her unique vision of the Robin Hood myth.

“Robin Hood’s story has been told from his point of view a lot, and I thought that shifting the focus a bit would breathe some life into the story,” Shipe says. “I hope other people feel that way, too.”

ON STAGE

Theater RED’s production of Liz Shipe’s A Lady in Waiting runs Aug. 7-23 at the Soulstice Theatre, 3770 Pennsylvania Ave., Ste. 2, in St. Francis. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets are $15. Visit www.theaterred.com.