PSA: Milwaukee Repertory Theater Cancels Remaining Dates For “Dad’s Season Tickets” .

Yesterday the Milwaukee Repertory Theater announced that the remaining dates for “Dad’s Season Tickets” have been canceled. Here is the announcement from social media:

As a result of COVID-19 cases with vaccinated members of the “Dad’s Season Tickets” cast, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the remaining week of performances to safeguard the health of our artists, staff and audiences.

Our COVID health and safety protocols have been robust and our ongoing testing protocols with our cast and staff did exactly what they were designed to do – detect COVID-19 prior to it being able to spread.

Our Ticket Office will contact those who purchased tickets to one of these performances, all tickets will be refunded in full.

Although a sad circumstance for the Rep and those of you anticipating seeing this delightful play, I have to give the Rep credit for making the tough and correct decision. Best wishes for a healthy continuation of their theater season as new plays start to open after the first of the year.

American Players Theatre: Taming of the Shrew and other thoughts…

I first discovered the performed Shakespeare vis a PBS airing of Hamlet from the BBC. Very serious, very traditional, right up my alley. That was followed by the BBC’s Age of Kings, their also very traditional take on Shakespeare’s history plays.

But ever since then theater groups have ever more often felt the need to make Shakespeare relevant or enticing to ‘modern audiences’ by changing the locations, eras, dialects, or costuming to bring a certain freshness I guess. Does it work? Sometimes.

So when this presentation of the Taming of the Shrew opened with a bit of a choreographed mime, I braced for the worst. The five actors came out in brightly colored slick silk-like suits and Mario brothers mustaches dancing round and round making rude gestures and displaying nefarious faces. I feared that Verona was moving to Sicily with made men and mobbed up accents or a Las Vegas dinner show version of the play or worse yet…Shrew: The Musical!

But I needn’t have feared…but we get straight away English pronunciations that allow us to follow the story and dialogue.

And a wonderful phantasmagoria of costumes that define the characters but don’t quite put us in a particular place or era! This worked wonderfully well through out.

And of course in a post BLM world, theaters are re-evaluating their selection process of plays and playwrights, their casting choices, and how they present their selections. This isn’t a sea change for the American Players Theatre. They have been aware of the artistic advantages of diversity for some time. And over the past few years they have been bold in choices in casting and directorial assignments. All to the good!

And in the perceived post pandemic era, theaters have been strapped for revenue, and are doing more with less. And that often means slimmer cast lists and here the Taming of the Shrew makes due with five actors for essentially nine named roles and other sub-characters. This isn’t unusual and actors often play more than one role, particularly if the characters are underlings or don’t appear in the same scenes.

One of APT’s 2021 plays worked with multiple roles of even principal characters very well and that was Cymbeline! And in a sort of turn about is fair play, all of the actors in Cymbeline were women.

screen capture from video by Ed Heinzelman

But at what point are fewer actors too few actors? I am thinking that this presentation of Taming of the Shrew may have stepped over that threshold.

Why? Because by their hats you shall know them. Well in the early going, I was more than a little confused as James Ridge moved about the stage from one pose to another, obviously in conversation, but talking to the hat in his hand. Well it quickly dawned on me that Mr. Ridge was playing three characters…a major principal, Baptista, his own daughter, Bianca, and one of her suitors, Grumio. So you had to be careful…which hat was he wearing? That was the character speaking. Which hat was he holding? That is the other party to the conversation. And obviously Baptista and Bianca have major speaking parts throughout. It did get a bit easier but no less unnerving, when Mr. Ridge opened his jacket while portraying Bianca to reveal his bustier underneath.

This is just a slight quibble for me…and despite enjoying APT’s very effective cross-gender casting, something didn’t quite feel right about Colleen Madden’s Tranio’s impersonation of Lucentio. Ms. Madden played it to the hilt but I just couldn’t get my head around it and sometimes lost the sense that she was playing a male character.

Alejandra Escalante was simply marvelous as Katherine, the ‘shrew’ of the title. Ms. Escalante portrays the character with a certain grace beyond the behavior we’ve come to expect from this part. And she provides some very human moments on her wedding day when Petruchio is decidedly and intentionally late.

And Daniel Jose Molina is the matching and appropriate foil as Petruchio! And the interaction of Petruchio and Katherine as directed by Shana Cooper takes some of the edge off the misogyny inherent to these roles without ever making light of it. ‘Tis the mind that makes the body rich. Yes indeed.

Yes this play is still misogynistic and paternalistic in many ways and without gutting Shakespeare or not performing it at all, directors and casts will need to represent it in an appropriate manner. I think that Ms. Cooper accomplished much here.

This has nothing to do with the performance…but with a 21st Century lens…rather than being a ‘shrew’ does the text support Katherine having a mental illness or some form of Asperger’s or other illness. Can that be played to?

I watched the American Player’s Theatre production The Taming of the Shrew via their streaming At Home option. All photos are courtesy of APT and were downloaded from their website except as noted.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater Opens Their Main Stage with Steel Magnolias!

I have never seen this play before and I hadn’t seen either of the movies, so I only had a vague idea of what to expect. Of course there would be 1980s era Southern dialect and atmosphere and I expected the one liners and overall humor…but I wasn’t quite ready for the drama and heartbreak. And after doing a bit of background on this today, I also didn’t realize that this is actually based on a true story from playwright Robert Harling’s life and the death of his sister. Thankfully, he was able to make art and reach out to us in his sorrow.

While waiting for curtain, we get to peruse Collette Pollard’s incredible set of Truvy’s beauty salon. Thankfully the script lets us know where we are because I was wondering how someone could successfully run a salon out of doors in Louisiana…but we are looking into Truvy’s place uninhibited by the walls of the car port her husband enclosed so she could support them! And we can sit and wonder how the Rep found all of the correct hair dryers and stylist stations and such as well. But this set design makes perfect sense and utilizes the Rep’s thrust stage to perfection, giving the characters space to work and the audience the sense of time and place of the story.

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

One other thing that does not inhibit our enjoyment of the play is the male characters! They only live here through the stories and conversation of the six women who inhabit the salon. So the focus is more salient to our story…and even for those who know the movie and enjoyed it…the stage play will be a new experience to enjoy and savor.

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

We are quickly introduced to all of the characters and the initial focus is on Shelby, the bride to be, and the customer of the day. So there’s a lot of joy here and a lot of conversation that brings out the personalities of all six women pretty quickly and we get to know the salon’s dynamic! Little do we expect there are little clues here as to the drama that is about to unfold behind the humor and how the mood will change…but the relationships strengthen and hold the women together. But Shelby will come back into focus again…and given that focus, Phoebe Gonzalez plays our Shelby to perfection as she grows and becomes aware of her own wants and needs and the focus on her own life. A very poignant and skilled transition.

And don’t forget Rebecca Hirota as Truvy Jones, who runs the salon, takes a risk on a new stylist (Annelle played by Maeve Moynihan), and provides the common ground for the disparate characters who are her customers. Ms. Hirota has clearly taken to this role as if it were originally her own!

And M’Lynn is Shelby’s mother and in the early going you don’t really expect her to step out or step up from the initial impression we catch in the early going. But she does and as the situation takes its turns for the worse, she finds a new strength and resolve and oh my goodness, Janet Ulrich Brooks reaches for those peaks of emotion and helps us deal with our grief through her efforts to deal with hers!

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

And of course we have Ouiser played by Meg Thalken, who is the perfect curmudgeon and foil who has simply been in a bad mood for forty years! And Tami Workentin as Clairee, a recent widow who brings some ‘class’ and ‘refinement’ to the mix…and of course football! And the tentative Annelle, Maeve Moynihan, who develops into Truvy’s right hand and a forward and determined individual after being reborn in her religion. The perfect characters to round out our cast and crew in 1980s Louisiana.

So, even if you have seen the movie, seeing this play live in the Quadracci Theater will be a new and special treat that shouldn’t be missed! These women will tell you a funny and moving story live and in person!

Photo by Michael Brosilow and courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater