The Milwaukee Reps Dial M for Murder

The twisty tricky, very British, murder mystery, Dial M for Murder is currently playing on the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse main stage. But it’s not a whodunnit…we know exactly whodunnit…but will it be the perfect crime? The real question is how will you keep track of all of the plot twists, turns, and snags without your GPS…and when will the authorities finally figure it all out? And spoiler alert, everyone here has a secret!

The entire action in the play occurs in the living room of a married couple, the Wendices. And it is a marriage of convenience for both of them as you will see. Margo Wendice needs a handsome and ambitious husband, while Tony Wendice needs his wife’s fortune to pursue his expensive tastes. A match made in heaven? Well until things start to unwind and some secrets come to light.

Tony and Margo photo courtesy of Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Amanda Drinkall brings us a very believable and lively Margot who seems the perfect match for Tony. But yes, she has a secret and it proves to be her undoing…as a very jealous Tony plots his revenge. Marcus Truschinski revels in bringing us the very smarmy, devious and quick witted Tony who thinks he’s going to pull of the perfect murder. Marcus never lets us see him sweat!

Maxine and Margot photo courtesy of Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Lipica Shah is Maxine Hadley, also quick witted but deep deep logical thinker who has carefully thought out all of the reasons for murder and all of the methods of accomplishing one…well because she is a mystery writer herself and is on a need to know basis with the subject. Lipica has an emotional side too and it makes its presence known at times. Her relationship with Tony and Margot? Well she may have been the love interest of each of them it seems, certainly of Margot, but it gets complicated.

Tony and Capt Legate photo courtesy of Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

And one character with the biggest secrets is Captain Legate…lots and lots of secrets…that Tony quietly ferrets out. Alex Weisman plays the Captain as a bit of street tough and a ne’er do well staying on the down low. Tony uses Legate’s secrets to gain control but Alex doesn’t get much stage time, and I’ll let you guess why!

The Inspector, Tony, and Margot photo courtesy of Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

And finally we have Jonathan Wainwright playing Inspector Hubbard, a close to the chest rather inscrutable detective that we love from British mystery drama. And he eventually comes round to the truth by plays end but not without considerable help and prodding from Maxine.

Yes it’s a murder mystery but it is great fun! Director Laura Braza has assembled a great cast and leads them through the story without giving away whats to come and without losing the tempo and movement in the story. Very insightful direction!

Dial M for Murder was written by Frederick Knott and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. You may have encountered the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock in your cinema wanderings.

Squeeze this one in between your holiday play plans, you won’t be sorry. Dial M for Murder runs through December 17th, 2023. Additional information and tickets can be found HERE.

Extra Credit Reading: Program and Play Guide

Maxine and Margot photo courtesy of Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater Launches The Holiday Season with Nuncrackers!

Yes, Nuncrackers, and it’s exactly what you think it is. The hilarious and slightly dysfunctional nuns of Nunsense are poised to bring you a portion of the Nutcracker ballet with pink tutus at the ready…but sudden disaster and hilarity ensues!

Do you need to have seen the original Nunsense to understand Nuncrackers? Heavens no! Like any successful sequel, author and composer, Dan Goggin has made sure that the characters are re-introduced and that any required story from Nunsense is back filled here. And quite frankly, I think that Nuncrackers might be even funnier if you don’t have knowledge of the original and come into the theater without any expectations or preconceived notions. But maybe that’s just me.

So here we are in the basement of the convent at Mount Saint Helen’s School, as Sister Mary Paul, Sister Mary Hubert, Sister Robert Anne, and Sister Mary Regina prepare to tape a Christmas show in their new TV studio for a public access channel. And they are being assisted by Father Virgil…not necessarily ably assisted but enthusiastically so!

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

The action revolves around the nuns presenting Christmas carols and some new songs that riff off of Christmas carols. There is an incredible amount of humor to be mined here! And in between the singing and dancing…Mr. Goggin has sprinkled in a generous supply of jokes, puns, and little skits. The front facing story is a lot, lot of fun!

There are a number of side bars here…they happen off stage and are relayed by our favorite nuns…or they are translated for us from several interrupting phone calls delivered by a black rotary dial wall phone. The phone and the mention of public access television, for me, was a bit of humor on its own since those are things are so very last century!

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Fortunately for Milwaukee audiences, director and choreographer Kelley Faulkner understands the gags and songs and nuisances to a tee and has assembled the perfect ensemble to bring us the Little Sisters of Hoboken and of course Father Virgil! This troupe plays together like they have been a team for years. The rhythms and timing of the jokes is as quick and sure as the songs and dance numbers. All of the principles are remarkable in their roles. And after reading their bios in the playbill, I was amazed that three of our five actors have appeared on other local stages but are debuting at the Rep…and our other two intrepid nuns are debuting here as well. After this performance, I am sure that we will be able to enjoy their work in future Rep presentations for years to come.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Seth K Hale is Father Virgil…a role of a very humble and disarming priest but obviously inspired to assist the nuns to the best of his ability…and he is something of a ham as well. Hale embodies the character through and through.

As Sister Mary Regina, Ashley Ovidedo is an absolute scene stealer. An infectious presence on stage, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone adopt the character so absolutely as Oviedo does here. It was a literal thrill to watch.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And my goodness, the song and dance chops of Katie Kallaus as Sister Mary Paul, Meka King as Sister Mary Hubert, and Isabel Quintero as Sister Mary Regina are flawless…add to that their comedic gifts…and you have the perfect Nuncrackers! I really think that this is one show where the actors are having more fun than the audience.

photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Now, without being too much the spoiler, three things to watch for. The arrival of the Three Kings, the dueling sugar plum fairies, and the puppet. I hadn’t been promised a puppet, so I was amazed and pleased at its appearance.

Nuncrackers is my recommended start for this holiday season! And arrive early and have dinner and a refreshing beverage!!

Nuncrackers runs through January 7, 2024 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret. But this is an extremely popular musical, so don’t dawdle on acquiring tickets. You can do that HERE!

Extra Credit Reading: The Program

Milwaukee Rep: Parental Advisory: a breakbeat play

Different Tribe, Different Vibe. I think that’s right, I forgot my notebook Sunday night. Although it was also presented as Different Vibe, Different Tribe, I believe as we fell under the spell of Timeless and The MC. So is that a rhyming couplet? It has the rhyme and matching meter…but is it long enough? Does it have enough syllables? Is it truly a couplet? This is important because there will be a quiz later!

So the Milwaukee Repertory Theater has finally opened their 2023/24 season in the Stiemke Studio with their World Premiere of Idris Goodwin’s Parental Advisory, a breakbeat play. And to put us off our game right up front, we enter the Stiemke by wandering around the back and entering the theater from the west (stage left) rather than the more direct east access from the lobby…and we come into a cozy recording studio/rehearsal space with all of the required electronics plus the requisite Persian carpets and sample posters/LP covers along the wall space and Timeless working his beats machine and turntables.

Marvid Quijada as Timelss, Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And as The MC enters the scene it would seem at first that we are going to be regaled with a musical driven by rap and hip hop music, but as you will see, we will be happily wrong! First it seems we will be privy to a song development recording session, but as the conversation starts to turn to previously completed but unreleased material, the whole scene fluidly evolves into a concert…which Timeless re-imagines as a ‘salon’…to a couple confrontation…and reconciliation…to some personal histories…to music history…to cultural history…to some fun and wordplay in the studio…to that quiz as the conversation now includes the audience (the fourth wall has really taken a beating in Wisconsin theaters in 2023). So is this about Rap and Hip Hop? Well, yes and no, we do celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Hip Hop but through the lens of lived experience of black male America and the reaction and over reaction of many others in the nation. So there is some pretty intense and biting commentary here and some of it is very pertinent to our contemporary circumstances.

Marvin Quijada and Amir Abdullah, Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

One key topic is censorship. And I bet you can guess from the play’s title, what we are initially talking about. The movement in the latter part of the 20th Century to label offensive music with the Parental Advisory label. Often unfairly and from someone who lived during the era and had been in the music business just before that period, very, very arbitrarily. And of course that Parental Advisory label which was a advisory label for parents became an imprimatur of sorts for the young audience who needed to be protected.

Which brings us around to directly focus on Timeless and The MC. They are adults now and The MC is a father of young children which leads to a pretty angst filled conversation about personal censorship…when is a child old enough to partake of edgy media content. This gets pretty interesting and I don’t think we ever come to a final decision.

Now, there are some very very funny bits in here too and if you are only somewhat aware of the history and contributions of Hip Hop to music and culture, this will provide a valuable starting point. And you will find out who put the Wu in the Wu-Tang Clan!

Marvin Quijada and Amir Abdullah, Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Now, The MC is Amir Abdullah and his partner in rhyme (yeah I stole that) is the DJ, Timeless, played by Marvin Quijada. You are immediately at ease with these gentlemen and although you know that this is a play and that they are actors, you totally accept them as a DJ and The MC, as a successful rap team: wholly and without restrictions. And thankfully Scenic Designer Sidney Lynne’s cozy recording studio makes full use of the width of the Stiemke stage space and leaves plenty of room for Abdullah to flow across the room as he raps and as he expounds. And the console that Timeless works, gives Quijada an anchor and a foil to help with his inflections when talking with MC, while also providing musical underpinnings and examples of the topic at hand. Their timing is spot on. Director Kyle Haden got the feel and interplay between the characters, the actors, and the text precisely right!

All three Rep stages are now lit…but if only have time to catch one play this month, this is the one you should see.

Parental Advisory runs through October 29, 2023 and more info and ticket ordering can be found here.

Extra Credit Reading: PROGRAM and PLAYGUIDE.

Marvin Quijada and Amir Abdullah, Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater