The Chosen, @ Milwaukee Repertory; Directed By Aaron Posner

This play features only four characters, two fathers and their respective and respectful sons. They share a neighborhood and an abiding faith, but all four live in worlds apart. And the stories that come from that faith and family and love are the things that we are shown here can both unite and divide us, all at the same time…and that secrets can be powerful teachers or hurtful events but can seldom remain secrets for very long in close knit communities.

And no, despite the compelling graphic used to promote The Chosen, this isn’t actually a story about baseball. Baseball is an allegory here. And a way to introduce the characters and bring two of their worlds together…and to show the influence of ‘America’ on tradition based Old World communities. But it is not contemporary America…it is the America of the Second World War and milestone events from that period play a role in how our story unfolds.

Reuven Malter, Reb Saunders, Daniel Saunders. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Worlds apart, or so it seems. Hasidic Rabbi Reb Saunders is the patriarch of a community that he has brought to America to escape the violence in their home nation. Rabbi Saunders is the sixth generation of his family to lead the community and his eldest son, Daniel, is expected to eventually take his place. And that other world is just a few blocks away, conservative, and is represented by David Malter, described here as an intellectual. He is know to the Saunders for his writing on faith and the law. And his son is Reuven Malter, a student of mathematics, and is expected to attend college and eventually become a college professor. Both families study the Torah and Talmud and are described as observant of the law. But there are always questions. They all are always questioning.

Rabbi Reb Saunders Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

The boys attend the appropriate religious schools and at some point during the war it apparently was decided that the schools would support baseball teams to show their mettle as Americans. And that brings us to that fateful day on the ball field when they meet for the first time and wind through an abundance of emotions that go well beyond the simple rivalry on the field. Until that calamitous moment on the field that eventually brings their worlds together and eventually sends them into different orbits. Always questioning.

Reuven Malter Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

A sub-topic here is bridges. But in the story, our major, active, bridge across all worlds is Reuven Malter. Initially and at other pivots in the action, as an adult, he explains the backstory and the key events as prelude and exposition. Within the action he acts as a bridge between Danny and Reb, between Danny and the secular world, between Hasid and Conservative narratives, and something of a mouthpiece for his father. But there are always questions. You probably won’t be surprised that as the boys grow to men and venture off to college together that they decide to follow different paths than those assigned to them.

Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Aaron Posner adapted The Chosen with Chaim Potok from Potok’s book of the same name. It is certainly a bonus that Posner directs this presentation for the Milwaukee Repertory. His casting and direction are so incredibly spot on and the movement is so fluid that one has barely time to laugh at the humor or gasp at the horror or tear up for the sadness.

Ron Orbach is awesome as Reb Saunders, a seeming self-assured, direct, teacher and authoritarian for much of the play who then melts away to be the tender and understanding father. But he befuddles his son by his silence. His son, Danny, played by Hillel Rosenshine, who himself amazes as the youthful, wondering, and a bit fearful high school boy and aggressive ball player. His ball field nemesis and eventual best friend, Reuven, is played by Eli Mayer. And Mayer, also brings us an aggressive ball player, but the tender son…and the very adult and instructive narrator of the play. His father, David Malter, is played by Steve Routman, a firm but loving father, but someone who has a secret of his own that straddles these two worlds and helps bring the boys together.

Danny Saunders, David Malter, Reuven Malter, Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

I don’t want to give too much else away here but there are some history lessons to be learned and some social cues to be heeded. And yes, it resonates in 2024 despite be dated to 1944/45. And, yes, a story that should be experienced.

The Chosen runs at the Milwaukee Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse main stage theater through March 31, 2024. Tickets and more information can be found here!

Extra Credit Readings: The Program and The Playguide

article © 2024 The New World Digs

PSA: The Milwaukee Repertory Theater Announces Their Movable Feast…I Mean Their 2024/2025 season!

Here’s the link to their webpage outlining the new season (although I am including snippets below) and here is the link to order subscription tickets!!! There are a number of subscription options so read carefully.

Join us for 12 world-class productions, three of which will take will take place off-site while the new Associated Bank Theater Center is under construction. 

For our 2024/25 Season we are excited to offer 12 productions that are sure to entertain and inspire. Discover remarkable performances, soul-shaking rhythms, fresh takes on classics and bold world premieres. This season includes:

  • * A World Premiere musical based off the Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony-nominated play by Craig Lucas, Prelude to a Kiss: The Musical.
  • * Two World Premiere musicals created by Artistic Director Mark Clements in the Stackner Cabaret – Women of Rock and The Craic.
  • * A Studio Season with the regional premiere of The Coast Starlight direct from Lincoln Center and a bilingual play, Espejos: Clean.
  • * The acclaimed London West End production of The Woman in Black with its stellar British cast
Don’t miss Milwaukee’s favorite holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol celebrating its 49th Anniversary in the historic Pabst Theater with Rep favorite Matt Daniels returning as Ebenezer Scrooge.

and extra credit reading: information on the rebuilding of the Rep spaces and their capital campaign can be found here.

article © 2024 The New World Digs

What the Constitution Means to Me @MKERep

We are all aware of the Milwaukee Repertory’s strength on their main stage with big cast dramas and popular musicals. But I tend to look forward to their offerings in the black box Stiemke Studio hidden away under the grand staircase. The Stiemke brings us edgy dramas, divine comedies, serious contemporary content, and alternative forms of presentation. The Rep’s current Stiemke offering, What the Constitution Means to Me, lives at the nexus of all of those strengths.

Jessie Fisher photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Our protagonist, Heidi, steps out front and introduces herself and starts to present us with the backstory of the play. As a teenager she was driven to excel at speaking at American Legion Halls on the US Constitution as part of their oratorical contest in order to win college scholarships. This is a bit autobiographical and the original role was played by Heidi Schreck in many early productions of the play.

Here in Milwaukee, Heidi is played by Jessie Fisher who owns the role and this viewer is completely convinced that Fisher is Heidi and actually lived these experiences. And Fisher moves smoothly from the fifteen year old Heidi to the adult Heidi and brings out all of the questioning and doubts that life presents and how our society and the Constitution have helped or hindered Americans over the centuries.

Jessie Fisher and Will Mobley (center stage) photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

In opposition to Heidi early on is a strict and seemingly no-nonsense legionnaire played by Will Mobley. The legionnaire is responsible for timing the contestants and keeping them on track and laying out the ground rules for the contestants and the audience. As the story continues, Heidi again breaks theater tradition and introduces the legionnaire as her long time friend Danny who she has recruited to play the part since she trusts him.

Late in the play, the scene shifts from play and exposition to a debate on wither the United States should retain or replace the US Constitution. This requires Danny to reprise his role as timekeeper and rule keeper for the debate. And it also requires a third character, the debater. This role is filled in rotation by three actors from First Stage’s training programs: Maria (Rose) Campbell, Hazel Dye, and Maya O’Day-Biddle. The evening performance I attended was graced with an amazing performance by Rose Campbell.

Will Mobley and Maria (Rose) Campbell (center stage) photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Director Laura Braza scores some gold stars here for making this play run so incredibly smoothly and incredibly realistically…it is hard to tell that we aren’t listening to a friend or neighbor relate their life experience.

So, besides the drama and humor surrounding the events in the play, there is a fair amount of history and discussion on culture and politics. And you will learn about any number of prominent Americans and hear snippets of their own speeches and commentary, and you will get some in-depth analysis of the 9th, 13th, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

The play runs without intermission and the Rep says about an hour and forty minutes. The night I was there, I think it was closer to two hours. It continues at the Stiemke through March 17, 2024 and you can find ticket information and more details here.

Extra credit reading: Program and Play Guide and the US Constitution

Jessie Fisher and Will Mobley photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

article © 2024 The New World Digs