Shape of Things, The
Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum

For its second offering, one of Milwaukee’s newest theater companies, All in Productions, tackles Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. The production does a worthy job of presenting LaBute’s take on modern society.

Anne Siegel
Wild Child in the City
The Secret Theater

Wild Child in the City, written and performed by Tjasa Ferme, a Slovenian dynamo, about the adventures of a single woman, shows the actress being wild, sexy, fearless, changing clothes in front of us, interacting with the audience (including having one of them tie her up), and showing us that even grooming can be really entertaining. She’s Performance Art at its highest level. She’s a Robin Williams- jumping from story to story, character to character, all fascinating.

Richmond Shepard
Corktown `57
Odyssey Theater

The war between Ireland and Britain is fought out in a Philadelphia grocery-store basement in Corktown `57, John Fazakerley’s gripping family drama, now in a world-premiere production at the Odyssey.

Willard Manus
Hunchback of Notre Dame, The
Paper Mill Playhouse

Another Disney cartoon film is on its way to Broadway. But this adaptation eschews cuteness in favor of medieval darkness, and its score is more choral and symphonic than others from that source. This is due to the desires of two musical titans, Stephen Schwartz (who wrote words and music for Wicked and Pippin) and Alan Menken (who composed Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid).

Steve Cohen
Honeymoon in Vegas
Nederlander Theater

Rob McClure gives such a spectacular performance, he, alone, makes the Broadway Honeymoon in Vegas worth seeing. Aside from his endearing portrayal of a sad-sack Brooklyn schnook who’s about to get married, the show proves a clumsy and tasteless mediocrity.

Steve Cohen
Watch on the Rhine
The Artistic Home

It's easy for us Americans, safely barricaded on two sides by the earth's biggest oceans, to ignore the border disputes of countries sharing more closely forged histories and real estate. Ah, but what if those disturbances invaded our homes—indeed, our very families? Would you render their agents your assistance? How much? And for how long?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Heidi Chronicles, The
Music Box Theater

The Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein's 1988 Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize Award-winning play, The Heidi Chronicles, still raises sensitive points, especially for women. With wit and poignancy, Wasserstein balanced the zeitgeist of American women in the 60's and '70's, demanding equal choices, smashing that glass ceiling and quashing the cultural roles. By the late 1980's, many of the inequities had become part of history. Many, but not all.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Heidi Chronicles, The
Music Box Theater

Can women really “have it all”? More importantly, do we make ourselves miserable if we don’t get the top-notch career, adoring husband, brilliant kids, size-two figure, money, esteem, and everything else we’re supposed to achieve?

Michall Jeffers
Wilma Theater

The Wilma’s production of Hamlet has been widely publicized for having a black woman in the title role, but this is not color-blind or gender-blind casting. Rather, those elements are used deliberately.

Steve Cohen
Devil's Day Off
Signature Ensemble

Chicago learned its lesson with the disastrous summer of 1995, introducing city-wide safety measures to more quickly remedy the hardships associated with unusually high temperatures. This is small comfort to the sweltering citizens in Devil’s Day Off, Jon Steinhagen's panoramic portrait of an urban landscape in 2014 under siege by 112-degree heat indices exacerbated by a 12-hour electrical power failure arising from overloaded cooling systems.

Mary Shen Barnidge
All-Girl Edgar Allan Poe
Zoo Studio

Edgar Allen Poe's copyright expired long ago, leaving its content open to any number of revisions (will we see a "Zombie Edgar Allen Poe" soon?), but though The Mammals's aesthetic fully embraces dark-romantic sensationalism, it rejects spooky-tunes parodies. Audiences looking for cheap giggles might enjoy roaming the shadowy corridors and creaking elevator of the Zoo Studio's industrial quarters but won't find them in this program of performance pieces based on the Father-of-American-Gothic's greatest hits.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Sotto Voce
Historic Asolo Theater

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” Archhibald Macleish famously wrote. But in Sotto Voce, Nilo Cruz wonderfully proves him wrong. His poetic play unites past and present. It subtly persuades us to uncover and learn from the past, to care about humans seeking asylum from evil, and to act on our knowledge. Poet-of-the-theater Cruz also presents us with romance renewed and, with it, life.

Marie J. Kilker
Taming of the Shrew, The
St. Stephen's Church

This is Shakespeare on strong espresso, as if to reflect the Italian setting.

Movement is the keynote. All the characters are in constant motion. Every spoken phrase in this Taming of the Shrew is accompanied by multiple gestures and facial expressions. The players project strongly except for one restful moment in the second half where Petruchio softly confesses his plan for making his marriage work.

Steve Cohen
A Red Orchid Theater

Abbie Spallen's Ireland is so rarely seen amid that country's U.S. exports that audiences may be forgiven departing the theater unsure of what they have just seen. Instead of an Emerald Isle where time stopped before 1948, the problems faced by the small coastal town along the Irish border that provides the setting for Strandline are more associated in our minds with those of Eastern Europe or the recently disbanded Soviet Union.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Picture Imperfect
Athenaeum Theater

The publicity for Picture Imperfect leads us to expect another jeremiad involving first-world families fretting over less-than-perfect offspring, but while its personnel includes a little boy afflicted with autism, the play is not about him. It's about his two patently unfit parents, abusive daddy George and enabling mommy Mary.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hammer Trinity, The
Chopin Theater

The Hammer Trinity myth is based on two assumptions: First, that what we call "history" is actually nothing more than stories, their adherence to facts determined by the storyteller—ahem, historian—and, second, that the dramatic question of this story is that of how best to govern a country.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Outside Mullingar
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Some stories have been retold so many times that they should come with assembly instructions, like IKEA furniture. Before his venture into issue-driven dramas, John Patrick Shanley's reputation rested on romantic comedies recycling the classic dynamic of discordant lovers—usually from urban blue-collar conclaves—bickering until love goes and fuckin' conquers all. Charged with writing a play about his auld-sod kin, what could be more natural for this Bronx-born-and-raised playwright than to revert to formula?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Alley Stage

When somebody offers to give you a large sum of money, the prudent response is either, "I'll believe it when I see it," or (more diplomatically), "That's very kind of you." Characters in plays, however, are presumed to proceed with sights riveted unwaveringly on the carrot at the end of the stick, never questioning the motives underlying such a transaction.

Mary Shen Barnidge
King and I, The
Music Hall at Fair Park

Dallas Summer Musicals is celebrating its 75 anniversary by self-producing the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, The King & I, for the first time in 50 years. The musical had its Texas debut on July 19, 1965 and was produced at the same venue by the late impresario, Tom Hughes, where it received a glowing review by the late John Rosenfield, then the arbiter of all the arts extant in Dallas.

Rita Faye Smith
Wallis Center for the Performing Arts - Brian Goldsmith Theater

It’s a pretty risky thing for a modern playwright to take on a sequel to MacBeth, but Scottish playwright David Greig more than rises to the occasion with Dunsinane, now on tap at the Wallis Center (as part of a national tour).

Willard Manus
Lady with All the Answers, The
The Bath House

It is a rare treat to attend a play in which the playwright, director, actor, and set, sound, lighting, and costume designers are all on the same wavelength. Such is the case for One Thirty Productions' staging of The Lady With All the Answers.

Rita Faye Smith
Field Hockey Hot
The Adrienne

In the midst of March Madness, the 11th Hour Theater has chosen to premiere a new musical about sports on a campus. But not basketball. Not even baseball (which is in the middle of spring training.) This tribute to school athletes, instead, centers on a girls field hockey team.

Steve Cohen
Lieutenant of Inishmore, The
Raven Arts Complex

First, there's Padraic, an Irish "freedom fighter" whose tactics are so brutally implemented that even the IRA rejected him—but whose most terrible revenge is reserved for the assassin sending his beloved pet cat to its untimely end. This is Christy, leader of a rival self-styled patriot band likewise indifferent to human slaughter, albeit uneasy with the notion of cruelty to animals. Then there's teenage Mairead, who's trained herself in BB-gun marksmanship so that she can now shoot out the eyes of both man and beast at 60 yards—and who also dotes upon her feline companion.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Inside, The
The Greenhouse

In the context of a linear plot, it would be called a "soliloquy"—like when Hamlet (or the King of Siam, for that matter) stops to mull over his next course of action. In The Inside, Lydia R. Diamond, however, dispenses with the frame altogether to base her entire play within the consciousness of a young artist—identified only as "Emma"—who surveys the participants of a party and wonders, "What am I doing here?"

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bright Room Called Day, A
Chemically Imbalanced

Moral exuberance" declares Zillah Katz, our story's narrator-guide, is the key to escaping creeping despotism. No playwright was more morally exuberant in 1985 than Tony Kushner, his outrage so great that it would require the two-part, seven-hour Angels in America to contain it. In the meantime, he contented himself with drawing parallels between the Reagan administration and the rise of the Third Reich, speaking through the device of an insomniac conspiracy junkie haunted by flashbacks of her Weimar Republic-era predecessors.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Tamer of Horses

William Mastrosimone's reputation as a playwright is based in bunker-dramas premised on a few people in a small space exploring a single underlying question until its possibilities are exhausted. The thesis for this three-handed exercise—premiering in 1985 and twice revised since—is a variation on the homily "there's no such thing as a bad boy" and its forum, a barn and kitchen in rural New Jersey, where dwell prep-school professors Ty and Georgiane Fletcher.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Women at War
Rivendell Theater Ensemble

Women at War does for the female front-line grunts in the Iraqi wars what Tracersdid for their male counterparts in Viet Nam, breaking from conventional depictions of women-in-uniform as wholesome all-American campfire girls—or, more recently, Hallmark-card moms skyping smiley greetings to adorable moppets. Instead, Megan Carney's tone approximates the gritty intimacy of a barracks snapshot, creating a collage of desert-camo scrubbed bare of soapy sentiment.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Dee Snider's Rock and Roll Christmas Tale
Broadway Playhouse

Paula Killen's Music Kills a Memory features a simultaneous harmony medley of "Superstar" and "Piece of My Heart"—a feat relying on the melodies sharing the same chord progression. After Dee Snider discovered similar structural parallels existing in certain traditional Christmas anthems and his own hit-making compositions for the 1980s rock band Twisted Sister—well, what could be more logical than a nostalgic mash-up combining both musical genres?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Lady Balls
Annoyance Theater

Playwright John Loos was once a photographer for his school yearbook—duty endowing him with an insider's view of the "unchecked aggression, emotion, joy, loss and friendship" associated with women's collegiate basketball. In Lady Balls, his account of the fictional Tallahassee Lady Fireballs encompasses all of these themes, paying homage to the tropes of sweat-and-soap epics while still delivering plenty of Annoyance's trademark bawdiness.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Low Down, Dirty Blues
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

When the night is almost over, the musicians come out to play. That’s the theme behind the marvelously constructed Low Down Dirty Blues at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s intimate Stackner Cabaret. The nightclub setting is perfect for an evening of fun that threatens to shake, rattle and roll the roof right off the theater.

Big Mama (Felicia P. Fields), a Chicago entertainer, has invited some musician friends to her makeshift jazz club. Three male friends show up to let off some steam after the evening’s performance.

Anne Siegel
Great Expectations
Concordia University - Todd Wehr Auditorium

Two centuries after his works first appeared, Charles Dickens is still one heck of a storyteller. Such is the case with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, a local adaptation of which is being produced by Acacia Theatre.

Anne Siegel
Sweeter Option, The
Strawdog Theater

There's this big cache of money, you see, or maybe a few people just think there is—it doesn't really make any difference. Once the alleged existence of a fortune in stray cash has been clearly established, it's only a matter of time before guns appear, fugitives flee for the border in the night, betrayal follows on betrayal, corpses pile up and at least one poor schnook is warned "you're in over your head" before succumbing to existential despair.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Glass Protege, The
Theater Wit

The contractual restrictions exercised by the studios over not only the careers, but the private lives, of its employees in the early days of the United States film industry is nowadays universally acknowledged. High-profile cinema celebrities were required by their employers to sign an agreement promising to behave in accordance with moral standards of the time.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Titus Andronicus
Edgwater Presbyterian Church

Long before Quentin Tarantino, David Cronenberg and Mehron Squirt Blood, there was Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare's attempt to cash in on the fashion for lurid sensationalism selling tickets in 1593. Featuring a revenge-driven plot cobbled together from the gorier episodes in Greek myths, this tale of filial perversion and misguided loyalties delivers a dozen murders (not counting warring soldiers and two unfortunate messengers), punitive amputation, cannibalism, rape, torture, suicide and enough frame-ups and double-crosses for a conspiracy-theory conference.

Mary Shen Barnidge
One Came Home
Lifeline Theater

What we have here is a historical-environmentalist fable set in Wisconsin as it was in 1871, before the extinction of the passenger pigeon. What we also have is a whodunit mystery, precipitated by the disappearance of a young lady and later discovery of a decomposing corpse wearing her clothes.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Full Monty, The
Theater Wit

Upstarts triumphing over adversity against seemingly impossible odds are a favorite theme of audiences in the United States, a country founded upon just such audacity. Our applause is even greater when the project involves straying outside conventional gender roles, but what we most approve are the empathy and acceptance engendered by venturing beyond comfort zones.

Mary Shen Barnidge
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

(see review(s) under "Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea")

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Strawdog Theater

The late Victorian period was the age of science and industry, all sorts of inventions opening new possibilities for the improvement of humanity. With hitherto unimagined concepts becoming manifest almost daily, each fresh innovation sparked a multitude of visions similarly inclined toward a seemingly limitless future. Tempering this optimism, though, were reminders of the human propensity for being, well, human.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Delaware Theater

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a classic and shouldn’t be tampered with, right? Who would dare to mess with it? Well, Ingmar Bergman. He compressed the three-act A Doll’s House into a one-act reduction with no intermission.

Steve Cohen
I'm a Stranger Here Myself
Florida Studio Theater - Keating

That the lighting is predominantly bright gold with magenta gives you an idea of the aura of Mark Nadler’s cabaret musical, I’m a Stranger Here Myself. It does get blue at times, though, when he’s talking about sad facets of the Weimar Republic era. That is supposed to be the main matter of his songs and patter but, like most of his show, it turns out to be about Mark Nadler.

Marie J. Kilker