Milwaukee Rep Presents  Dael Orlandersmith’s NEW AGE!

This weekend the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents the World Premier of  Dael Orlandersmith’s New Age in the Stiemke Theater…following her well received collaboration with Antonio Edwards Suarez, Antonio’s Song. My first exposure to Orlandersmith’s work was the Rep’s presentation of her strong solo piece, Until The Flood.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect…which is a good thing going into a new play…but I was confident that the text would be direct, engaging, and theatrical…something that I admire in her works that I had already experienced. The sub-heading from the Rep’s promo says: Four Women Prove That Age Is Just A Number! An inkling, but where do we go from here!

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Photo by Michael Brosilow

What I was partly expecting was four actors presenting their lives and concerns at their current stage in life…in either chronological order or reverse chronological order…but after taking my place in the Stiemke and having some time to examine the stage, I came to realize we were going to get much more than that. And what an inventive and functional set indeed…as each character inhabits a space that describes their situation and story to date in a very fluid and intriguing way…and fluid is descriptive in a number of ways here! But I’ll let you see that for yourself.

Lisa Harrow as Cass, Courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Photo by Michael Brosilow

A very charming Cass is played by Lisa Harrow with all of the charm and elegance that is appropriate. She’s currently ensconced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art reminiscing or just remembering a previous stage in her life…a time of love and marriage and enchantment…apparently brought about by the recent passing of her former husband. She is clear about what her life was about and how that stage came to an end. It’s a story of personal values and society that have been all too prevalent for too long. Although Cass exudes grace here, we are never quite sure if she lives inside this story in her history or whether it is a passing memory brought about by her ex’s death.

Blair Medina Baldwin as Liberty, Delissa Reynolds as Lisette, Courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Photo by Michael Brosilow

One of the most fleshed out characters…and the one who pursued her dreams and accomplished those goals is Lisette! Certainly my favorite character here…a feisty and aware octogenarian who knows exactly who she is, what she’s done, and where she’s going…with just a bit of spit about her current health issues. Delissa Reynolds plays Lisette for all she’s worth in a very effective and believable portrayal of a woman many years her elder. And she gets all of the correct emphasis on the curse words she’s given to show us how she’s lived her life and maintained her independence!

Courtney Rackley as Candy, Courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Photo by Michael Brosilow

And Courtney Rackley brings us Candy, a woman who has just celebrated her 45th birthday…and about to make another pivot in her life. Not with regret or remorse…just an understanding of who she is and where she’s been. She has pursued a number of dreams and had some success at them. And maybe not quite content but accepting of her accomplishments and aware she has a opportunities to pursue!

And our Liberty is 18 and has just left home…a home that sounds like it contained a certain about abuse…and Blair Medina Baldwin is our Liberty, with a shrug of her shoulder instead of attaching a chip to it…full of hope and promise and determination to be her own Liberty. And clearly she will be pursuing her dream to be a very serious and direct rock guitarist! Blair Medina Baldwin plays this role admirably but I felt that this character wasn’t as well limned as the others. I think there is a lot more story to realize with Liberty.

This isn’t a play of conversation or dialogue…each character talks directly to the audience from their own little corner of the world. They occasionally will share a snippet of text or ‘sing harmony’ during another’s speech…but the ball passes from Cass to Lisette to Candy to Liberty and back or around again and again as their stories unfold. Only Liberty is mobile since she hasn’t any real ties at the moment…so she sometimes brings the focus from one setting to the other…she is still fluid and the set and her movement emphasize that.

One little quibble…similar to the one from As You Like It: the soundtrack here is important to the flow of the play and Liberty is tasked with bringing some continuity to it via her guitar licks. But the sound of the guitar is a bit tinny and could use a bit more grit!!! Not volume, grit!

So extra credit reading! The Program! and the PlayGuide!

New Age runs at the Rep’s Stiemke Theater from March 22 — May 1, 2022 and is Directed by Jade King Carroll! Ticket and other information is available here.

Approximate Running Time: 60 minutes no intermission
Recommended Age: 16 and up.

COVID protocols are here...check on these protocols because they may change before your planned attendance.

PSA: Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2022/2023 Season!

Monday night, Mark Clements announced the plays and shows that will grace the three stages of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater this coming season. As always these represent a diverse, challenging, and entertaining lot. Eleven plays at the Rep and of course the 47th presentation of A Christmas Carol! And we have a number of premiers by playwrights who have provided very intriguing plays over the past few seasons…plus another play from August Wilson’s Century Cycle.

So here’s what is new at the Rep:

At the Stackner Cabaret…a favorite locale for just about every theater goer in Milwaukee.

Unforgettable: John-Mark McGaha Sings Nat King Cole

September 9 – November 6, 2022

Remember the genius and warmth of Nat King Cole with acclaimed singer, storyteller and multi-instrumentalist John-Mark McGaha (The Ray Charles LegacySmokey Joe’s Cafe). In this heartfelt concert, McGaha leads a lush jazz ensemble and reflects upon Cole’s trailblazing career with poignant insight and intimate charm. BroadwayWorld calls his voice “crystal-clear perfection.” Classic songs include “Unforgettable,””Route 66,””L-O-V-E,” and “Mona Lisa.”

Beehive: The 60s Musical

November 11, 2022 – January 15, 2023

From Aretha Franklin to Janis Joplin, the powerful female voices of the 1960s have left an unforgettable mark on generations. Beehive: The 60s Musical is a non-stop, energetic celebration of these iconic women and their music in a soundtrack for this decade of change. Six extraordinary women perform more than two dozen chart toppers from Diana Ross, The Supremes, Tina Turner and more. Complete with big hair dos and 60’s fashions, this timeless production will have audiences of all ages singing along and shouting for more.

Dino! An Evening With Dean Martin

January 20 – March 23, 2023

Effortlessly charming and charismatic, Dean Martin rose from humble immigrant roots to embody the definition of cool as a Rat Pack heartthrob and one of America’s most adored entertainers. Dino! transports us to a hip 1970s club where – accompanied by his signature drink in hand – the “King of Cool” entertains all by weaving personal stories with a smorgasbord of classic hits including “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,””Everybody Loves Somebody,””That’s Amore” and more. Warm and endearing, Dino! suavely shines the spotlight once again on this legendary star and the glory days of the nightclub crooner.

The Greatest Love For Whitney: A Tribute to Whitney Houston

March 24 – May 28, 2023

From her powerful anthems to her glamorous elegance on the silver screen, Whitney Houston’s breathtaking voice helped her become one of the most beloved artists of all time. The Greatest Love for Whitney celebrates the amazing career and legacy of this Grammy Award-winning icon by taking audiences through a journey of her record-setting hits, performed live and in-concert. Featuring songs like “I Will Always Love You,””Saving All My Love For You” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” this superstar’s warmth and magnetism takes center stage in a fitting tribute to the woman known simply as “The Voice.”

And on the Quadracci Powerhouse main stage…the really big shows!

Ragtime

September 20 to October 30, 2022

One of the largest and most beloved shows makes its long-anticipated return after a completely sold-out run a decade ago! With bold choreography and a soaring score, this powerful and epic musical captures the sounds and unbridled optimism from the dawn of 20th century America. Ragtime presents a nation on the cusp of change by weaving together the disparate stories of an enterprising Eastern European immigrant, a courageous Harlem pianist and a conflicted upper-crust wife into a melting-pot of a musical that skillfully mixes the hopes and realities of the American Dream.

The Nativity Variations

November 15 – December 11, 2022

In a small midwestern town, auteur theater director Jules and her experimental community theater troupe face their biggest and most ambitious challenge yet – staging the Christmas pageant at St. Ignatius Episcopal Church. As their adventurous vision for the greatest story ever told hilariously evolves to include Shakespearian comedy and even foul-mouthed puppets, Jules – with a gentle nudge by Father Juan – is left to consider the purpose of her art and the true meaning of the holiday season. Modern cynicism meets emotional tenderness in this hilarious and heartfelt World Premiere by award-winning playwright Catherine Trieschmann (One House Over < a very popular Rep presentation).

Much Ado About Nothing

January 10 to February 12, 2023

Laughter, witty wordplay and 1990s nostalgia come together in this joyful and cherished classic, one of Shakespeare’s most delightful romantic comedies. Fast-flying gossip and thick-headed pride threaten to bring down the bash of the decade as a fairy-tale marriage quickly turns from swoon to scandal. With honor and friendship on the line, sharp-tongued adversaries Beatrice and Benedict put their savage battle of wits (and hearts) on hold to restore order, charting them on a collision course that might just lead to true love. Hilarious slapstick, mistaken identities, and a town full of well-meaning (but mostly ridiculous) characters lead to sheer theatrical delight on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage.

August Wilson’s Seven Guitars

March 7 – April 2, 2023

What would you do for a chance to live out your dream? In 1940s Pittsburgh, struggling singer Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton’s shot at stardom comes when a major recording studio offers an unexpected opportunity of a lifetime. Armed with newfound hope and a second chance, Floyd and his friends discover that dreams are heartbreakingly fragile when confronted by a world set against them. This riveting play, Milwaukee Rep’s eighth production in August Wilson’s iconic 10 play American Century Cycle, explores faith, artistry, humor, oppression and love set to the fiery rhythms and intense lyricism of American blues music.

God of Carnage

April 18 – May 14, 2023

Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play, this explosive comedy is all fun and games – until the grown-ups get hurt. When two sets of parents politely meet over coffee and cake to settle a schoolyard spat between their sons, the gloves come off as neighborly decorum disintegrates into laugh-out-loud, no-holds barred mayhem. This “first class” (The New York Times) and “scabrously funny” (USA Today) send up of middle-class manners gives a brutally entertaining look at what happens when the little things end up pushing us over the edge.

And at the black box Stiemke Theater…where the most challenging plays can be seen!

Wife of a Salesman

September 27 – November 6, 2022

Acclaimed playwright Eleanor Burgess (The Niceties < another hit from a season or two ago) brings her gift for sharp dialogue and spirited debate back to the Stiemke Studio with this fascinating new play. When a 1950s housewife, from a certain classic American drama, tracks down the woman who is sleeping with her husband, the two discover that they have more in common than society would like them to believe. Important questions of marriage, duty and happiness rise to the surface in this frank exposé of the ways in which the world has, and hasn’t, changed across generations.

The Heart Sellers

February 7 to March 19, 2023

Funny and deeply moving, this World Premiere by Lloyd Suh (The Chinese Lady , an incredible play from a few seasons ago and one of my first responses) gives voice to the Asian immigrant experience in the 1970s when the landmark Hart-Celler Act granted thousands of professional workers a new path to citizenship. But for new Americans Jane and Luna, life in the USA with their workaholic husbands has left them feeling isolated and invisible. One Thanksgiving – over sips of wine and a questionable frozen turkey – they reminisce and dream of spreading their wings together in the land of opportunity: disco dancing, learning to drive and even a visit to Disneyland. With grace and dignity, this powerful play asks: “Would you give up your heart to make a new home?”

I am not sure which plays I am most excited to see but boy oh boy – I love the chance to see another August Wilson at the Rep!

I am sure that you won’t want to miss any of these great plays…so here’s the link to the Rep’s page with info on ordering series subscriptions for the coming season.

AND No I haven’t forgotten:

Watch for ticket information later in the year

P.S. Note to Mark Clements: We need one or two more plays in the Stiemke! Yes, I mean it!!

Antonio’s Song, I Was Dreaming Of A Son, at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents their edgiest or more experimental plays in their Stiemke Theater…a very pliable and flexible black box theater. And as they re-open the Stiemke for the first time since the start of the pandemic with Antonio’s Song, they have stayed true to form.

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Antonio’s Song, I Was Dreaming Of A Son, directed by Mark Clements (the Reps’ Artistic Director) describes one man’s journey from there to here. There being a Brooklyn of ethic enclaves to a life in arts with the family that he dreamed of and struggled to achieve. And the one man is Antonio Edwards Suarez who co-wrote the play with Dael Orlandersmith (playwright and performer in Before The Flood, presented at the Rep in the spring of 2018), and is the solo actor presenting his memoir on stage.

So Antonio’s struggles lead us through too many of the unsolved ills of American society…racism, comprehensive health care, sexism, mental health issues, family dysfunction, child abuse, and the lack of a positive supportive community. That is the path connecting the there and here.

So where is the there really? It is Brooklyn and the young Antonio plays a very delicate balancing game between his peers from his two ethnic backgrounds…some days are spent with his Black friends and the alternate days with his Hispanic friends. And of course he is vilified at time or another by the one group, then the other, for hanging out with the opposite group…and he sometimes craters to peer pressure to participate in the activities of a street tough. And built over all of that is the base of his own dysfunctional family…although he has a physically present father and mother…they aren’t necessarily the supportive family unit we’ve been told is normal.

And what are the flash points or turning points the get him from there to here? Well his best friend who never abandons him and finally convinces him that he is best served by listening to himself and being himself. A chance television program that features a ballet performance featuring master dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov…which initially opens his soul to an awareness of arts that speaks directly to Antonio. And finally when he is accepted into Harvard, seeing for the first time in the story, his father stand up to his mother in favor of his going off to school. A startling revelation after years of everyone avoiding any confrontations.

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

But this isn’t a recitation of a story, but is presented via a fluid movement of body and soul across the stage as the story unfolds. And the answers slowly evolve but they often seem to be written in the palm of Antonio’s hand. And as Antonio dances across the stage or mimics the motions described in his stories, the backdrop sets the place. As we move through time and across space, projected images give us the streets of Brooklyn, the Atlantic Ocean, the industrial space that is Antonio’s studio, and the dark smoke filled rooms of his childhood home. Quite effective and a bit mesmerizing…at times distracting from Antonio’s ‘dance’.

Antonio’s Song, I Was Dreaming Of A Son continues through March 6, 2022. It does contain some adult language and situations with the Rep recommending it for ages 16 and over. COVID safety protocols are in place including presenting proof of vaccination or a negative test and wearing a mask while in the building. Latest COVID information is here.

Extra credit reading!

Antonio’s Song Program!

Antonio’s Song Play Guide!