Tag Archives: staging

In Tandem gives Dickens’ ‘Carol’ a twist

In the history of Charles Dickens’ legendary tale of redemption, A Christmas Carol, there has been no shortage of stage adaptations.

Perhaps none of them will be as unique as In Tandem Theatre’s take. A Twisted Carol, a musical spoof written by Mondy Carter with music by Nathan Wesselowski, will debut at the company’s Tenth Street Theater this month.

The show will tell the same basic story as A Christmas Carol: miserly money-lender Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three Christmas Ghosts in one night, who convince him to change his ways. In the Dickens tale, Scrooge follows the spirits with little resistance, but Wesselowski said in a recent phone interview that In Tandem’s telling is a little different — with this Scrooge an opportunist who tries to “wheel and deal with the spirits” to ensure the best afterlife for himself.

The result, he says, is a rollicking farce that will leave audiences in stitches. “I compare this show to Monty Python’s Holy Grail or Life of Brian,” says Wesselowski. “Everything is, on the surface, normal but it is really anything but. Even from the first scene which is set on this beautiful winter day, it takes only a moment for the audiences to realize that something is not right there, something is a little twisted.”

In addition to composing the music for this production, Wesselowski will be one of seven local actors playing a variety of different characters; his include the important role of Bob Cratchit. “It actually adds to the humor, all of the roles that the actors are playing,” Wesselowski says.

Wesselowski’s contribution to the show is a brand-new addition for this production. Carter has presented A Twisted Carol as a comedy skit for years, but this year marks its expansion into a two-act musical.

There have been more than a few revisions along the way, which Wesselowski says is typical for a newly created or revised show. For example, he says, the Act I finale music had to be rewritten after he submitted the original draft, because Carter had changed the lyrics. 

Wesselowski says his score utilizes a number of different musical styles, from works of the Great American Songbook to French and German art songs. “The songs in this show are really show pieces. They heighten the action that is already taking place,” says Wesselowski. “I really explored a variety of styles for composing this work. I wasn’t tied to the Victorian era for the music, which was really central in this composition.”

The most important part of composing a song, to him, is finding the melody — something tuneful that will stick with audiences. “That is what I compose first before I add accompaniment or harmonies,” says Wesselowski. “People will leave the theater humming the melodies from the show.”

Wesselowski has been soliciting feedback from his fellow actors and crew members throughout the rehearsal process, but audience members will have a chance to do the same during talkbacks scheduled throughout the show — your opportunity to add your own twists to this Dickens-ish tale.

ON STAGE

A Twisted Carol runs Dec. 4-Jan. 3 at Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $30, $25 for students, seniors and military. Visit intandemtheatre.org or call 414-271-1371.

‘Handle With Care’ captures a humorous and moving struggle to communicate

For 30 years, Boulevard Ensemble has delighted audiences by presenting lesser-known works with emerging Milwaukee area actors — and the opening work of their new season continues that tradition. Jason Odell Williams’ romantic comedy Handle With Care launches this anniversary season with a story that mixes humor and pathos with disarming effect.

The play follows an Israeli-born grandmother, Edna, and her granddaughter, Ayelot, as they travel the backwoods of Virginia. When the play opens, their journey has hit a bit of a snag: The grandmother is dead.

Respecting Jewish tradition, Ayelot is sending her grandmother back to Israel so that she can be buried as quickly as possible in accordance with religious law. Terrence, a local delivery man, is charged with helping to get the body to Israel, but Edna’s body goes missing when his truck is stolen.

Torn as to what to do, Terrence must try to explain to Ayelot what has happened and what must be done. Because he only speaks English and she only speaks Hebrew, Terrence enlists his Jewish friend Josh, who can speak a very small amount of Hebrew, to try and communicate with Ayelot while he finds a solution. 

“There’s a comedy aspect in watching the two communicate, “ said artistic director Mark Bucher in a recent phone interview. “Essentially, they are communicating with exaggerated gestures and very little speech for a time. It’s very entertaining.” 

Bucher says the play is not just a farce. It draws on some very powerful and difficult subjects that we face in our everyday lives. 

“The show has a beautiful message of affirmation and renewal amid the dealing with Ayelot and Josh’s personal grief stories,” Bucher says. “Audience members learn early in the show that Josh lost his wife in a car crash three years ago and has not quite recovered from that yet.” 

As the two try explaining what has happened and communicate, it becomes clear that they are falling for one another. More is learned about Ayelot’s relationship with Edna as well through flashbacks that take place throughout the show — delivered in English, for the sake of the audience.

It isn’t easy to make it 30 years in the theater business, Bucher says, but Handle With Care is a great way to start the celebration. “This show is a perfect example of what we have prided ourselves on for the last 30 years. We have sought out a wonderful show that has not received the stage time it deserves and producing it for an all-new audience,” says Bucher. 

Bucher is also glad to offer young, developing actors a chance to be onstage with Handle With Care. “This has been our mission from the beginning. … Our Josh and Ayelot are young performers just finishing college degrees with great talent. Both have great futures ahead of them.”

ON STAGE

Boulevard Theatre’s production of Handle With Care runs Nov. 7-29 at Plymouth Church, 2717 E. Hampshire Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $10 to $25 and can be ordered at boulevardtheatre.com.

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.