Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter
Next Act Theater

Milwaukee’s Next Act Theatre makes its season debut with Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, a play about a female Marine who returns home from duty in Iraq. Not quite ready to reconnect with her mother and two young daughters, Jenny (in a nicely nuanced performance by newcomer Chelsea D. Harrison) interrupts her journey in a rundown bus station. Jenny struggles to find out who she has become in a play aimed at building an understanding of US veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anne Siegel
This is Our Youth
Cort Theater

The revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 play, This is our Youth, by the Steppenwolf Company, now on Broadway, starts, pre-curtain, with some awful moaning music (a term I use advisedly) as an intro to this exposition of the lives of drug-infested, drop-out losers, supposedly in 1982, but to me it felt more like 70s.

Richmond Shepard
Good Father, The
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Nicely balanced at about half side-splitting comedy and half heart-breaking tragedy, The Good Father is an impressive effort by playwright Christian O’Reilly. His professional background as a screenwriter no doubt honed his keen gift for dialogue displayed in this two-character play. This production by Milwaukee Chamber Theater is the play’s Midwest premiere.

Anne Siegel
My Mañana Comes
Peter Jay Sharp Theater

In My Mañana Comes,playwright Elizabeth Irwin puts a face on the hidden world of restaurant kitchen workers. During long days of routine tasks and nonstop motion, four busboys at this upscale Madison Avenue eatery face perpetual problems of illegal immigration, poverty, cultural discrimination, and unequal pay scales. Director Chay Yew does an admirable job of keeping the characters vivid, their peppery humor underscored with apprehension even as they dream of something better and collecting small stipends for shift labor.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Wait Until Dark
Geva Theater - Mainstage

As far as I can remember about Frederick Knott’s thriller, Wait Until Dark, in its earlier, exciting play, film and TV versions, Jeffrey Hatcher’s new, 2013 changes to the script seem fairly minimal. The time is now 1944, not 1966; Mike is now a former Marine friend who served in Italy with the husband instead of just a former buddy; the hidden loot everyone is looking for is diamonds, not heroin, etc. But I can’t remember much of the original dialogue, and I’d like to think that the older versions made the characters more involving and entertaining.

Herbert M. Simpson
Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies
Times Square Arts Center

In this corny, campy comedy, loose with double-entendres, Laura Lee Handle and Jane Mann, two female impersonators in Paris, spot a diamond necklace heist. Out of work and almost pawning their glitter and boas, the pair receive a a telegram: the once-glamorous cruise ship, "The Queen Ethel May," needs two showgirls for its upcoming crossing to New York. What a break! One catch: the new showgirls have to convince everyone they are really girls.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Animals Out of Paper
David Henry Hwang Theater

Although Rajiv Joseph’s Animals Out of Paper doesn’t have the originality and power of his 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, the play is a worthy addition to his repertoire.

Willard Manus
Race
Kirk Douglas Theater

Race, David Mamet’s legal drama, flopped on Broadway in 2009, but that hasn’t kept the Center Theater Group from mounting its own production of the play, this one starring Chris Bauer, kingpin of the HBO series “True Blood.”

Willard Manus
Doyle and Debbie Show, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

A mainstay in Nashville, Tenn., The Doyle and Debbie Show is now entertaining Milwaukee audiences with its honky-tonk hijinks. Billed in its promotional materials as “a perfect blend of comedy and country music,” the show lives up to its hype with side-splitting lyrics to the songs sung by country-western duo Doyle and Debbie.

Anne Siegel
Wayside Motor Inn
Pershing Square Signature Center - Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater

An empty generic hotel room -- a blank canvas for countless probabilities. Guests register into the hotel with personal dramas, filling the empty room with tears, laughs, fear and joy. However, Signature Theater Company's production of A.R. Gurney's The Wayside Motor Innbrings a creative twist to the hotel. Gradually the room becomes a busy hive with an aggregate of ten characters’ individual stories and conversations, crisscrossing each other as they move around the room to the beds, the balcony or bathroom.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Bauer
59E59 Theaters

Influenced by non-traditionalists Chagall, Miro, and particularly Wassily Kandinsky, German-born Rudolf Bauer (1889-1953) helped pioneer the international avant-garde art world in the first half of the 20th century. He was devoted to free forms and an inspiration to the emerging American abstract artists. A consummate artist, Bauer worked relentlessly even after the Gestapo arrested him in 1938 for his "degenerate" art. In prison, he sketched on bits of paper with pencils.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Antony and Cleopatra
Tom Patterson Theater

Stratford’s latest Antony and Cleopatra is their usual first-rate reading of a Shakespearean classic with a cast of superbly trained classical actors and an elegant-looking production. But I was still less than thrilled by the experience; and, in fact, I’m beginning to think that despite all its great moments and beloved dialogue, I just don’t like the play.

Herbert M. Simpson
Normal Heart, The

There is something obviously historic, but also mythic, about Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart,which recently concluded a noteworthy run at Eastline Productions in Wantagh, New York. The show, one of only a few well-known scripts about the advent of AIDS in America, tells the story of a man’s efforts to attract attention to the disease, even before it had a name.

Claude Solnik
Beaux' Stratagem, The
Stratford Shakespeare Festival - Festival Theater

The only time I had ever seen The Beaux’ Stratagembefore was in a knockout version in London starring a young Maggie Smith way back in January 1970. I suppose I can understand why this long, messy, expensive, early 18th century offbeat comedy is seldom produced in our time and has had very few major productions on this side of the Atlantic. It requires a half-dozen leading actors and a very large supporting cast, an elaborate staging with period costumes and changing sets, music, dancing and sword-fights.

Herbert M. Simpson
Jewish Chronicles
The Wee Coo

Daniel Cainer is the Jewish Tom Lehrer. With his satirical songs and clever story-telling, the British-born, piano-playing entertainer calls to mind Lehrer in his heyday — with one important difference: Lehrer lampooned the politics and social issues of his day (the threat of atomic warfare, the nefarious influence of the Vatican, etc.), while Cainer's targets are smaller and more personal: the Jewish world he grew up in.

Willard Manus
Minetti
Royal Lyceum

Thanks to the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival, English-speaking audiences had a rare chance to see a play by Thomas Bernhard, the celebrated (and controversial) Austrian playwright whose works are, unfortunately, rarely performed in the USA or UK.

Willard Manus
Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show, The
Pleasure Dome

Here's a perfect way to launch your day at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: make one of the daily 10.30 a.m. Bite-Size Breakfast Showsat the Pleasance Dome. Over fresh strawberries, croissants and coffee, you can enjoy an hours' worth of edgy, scintillating short plays with an international appeal.

Willard Manus
James Plays, The
Festival Theater

In what is a landmark achievement for the national theaters of Scotland and Great Britain, the Edinburgh International Festival has mounted an epic trilogy of plays that are surely deserving of the highest praise. Written by Rona Munro and directed by Laurie Sansom, The James Plays— James I, James II and James III — tells the bloody and tumultuous story of the trio of kings who consecutively ruled over Scotland in the 15th century. A 20-person cast of actors, led by such stalwarts as Blythe Duff, James McCardle and Sofie Grabol, brings to life a diverse range of characters.

Willard Manus
Master Class
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Milwaukee Chamber Theater kicks off its 2014-15 season by reviving one of its greatest hits, Terrence McNally’s Master Class. The theater company is to be applauded for bringing back local actor Angela Iannone to star in a part that has become her signature roll. This production marks Iannone’s eighth incarnation of opera legend Maria Callas, on which the play is based. Over the years, Iannone has appeared in productions of “Master Class” throughout the Midwest. But this is her first chance to play Callas in Milwaukee in 15 years.

Anne Siegel
Candy Barr's Last Dance
Theater Three

Actress/playwright Ronnie Claire Edwards' play, Candy Barr's Last Dance,opened on August 11, 2014 at Theater Three. Candy Barr, aka Juanita Dale Slusher, began her career as an underage stripper circa 1949 at the Theater Lounge in South Dallas. She went on to perform at the Colony Club in downtown Dallas and later in Las Vegas. Her colorful life included a friendship with Jack Ruby.

Rita Faye Smith
Tarzan
Manatee Performing Arts Center - Mainstage

Everyone seems to be having such fun onstage and regaling friends in the audience, especially when jumping up over them along railings and from seat fronts! The flying on vines and wires goes without a hitch. Costumes give new meaning to “camp,” while apes and Tarzan have dreadlocks. How could one not like the rock musical Tarzan?

Marie J. Kilker
Somewhere Over the Rose
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

As somewhat of a fan for years of Kathy Halenda, I’m disappointed in her exploration of the music of her heroines Judy Garland and Bette Midler. Her script, noting bio facts comparing the two at various ages and stages of personal life and professional musical performance, is banal. She’s best musically displaying “brassy chops,” but they’re not always apropos or varied in arrangement or tone. She could use a director or at least a dramaturg.

Marie J. Kilker
Penny Arcade
Joe's Pub

Anybody who has ever seen Penny Arcade perform, be it in one of her own wildly unconventional extravaganzas or in a traditional play, which she has lately begun to explore, knows full well that she is a riveting force of nature, one that compels us, not only to hang onto her every word and action, but to examine the trajectory of both society and our own lives. Arcade is a kind of Everywoman, one who, no matter how personal or outlandish her truth-telling, lays it on the line. Her revelations, like arrows aimed at the bull’s-eye, fly straight and unerringly, into the middle our hearts.

Edward Rubin
Talking With
The Players Theater

Though the eleven women of Talking With mostly talk at us, their differing stories match differing persons who draw us in. Ostensibly feminist, the monologists are, in the main, not admirable. Nor do they achieve their potential to the fullest. But we’ve got to applaud them for trying.

“Fifteen Minutes” has Lynne Doyle as an aging Elaine Stritch-type of actress. She’d like to know her audience as they do her from program biographies. She’s tough enough to get to us under turned-up house lights. We wonder, then, will she go on? No spoiler here!

Marie J. Kilker
Collected Stories
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There are three story-tellers in Collected Stories.Ruth, a long successful writer of short fiction, now mainly teaches graduate students, like Lisa, who aspire to write good stories. Professing deep admiration for Ruth’s writing and teaching, a panting Lisa snags her as a mentor and then becomes her personal assistant. During their six-year relationship, playwright Donald Margulies poses dilemmas -- one of ethical import -- that arise from the give-and-take between teacher and student.

Marie J. Kilker
Wizard of Oz, The
Westchester Broadway Theater

It is altogether fitting that Westchester Broadway Theater is enchanting audiences with The Wizard of Oz.As legend goes, the author of the original book, L. Frank Baum, was told to “Follow the yellow brick road” to the William Henry Jackson military academy in Peekskill, N.Y. Baum was 12 years old at the time; he was not cut out for the military regime, and he became miserable at the institution.

Michall Jeffers
Dreams and Other Nightmares
Tron Theater

Edwin Morgan, the subject of Liz Lochhead's biographical play, Dreams and Other Nightmares, was a Glaswegian poet, teacher and translator (“Beowulf”) who lived two separate and contradictory lives, one conventional and cozy, the other secret and stormy. The psychic split stemmed from his closeted life as a homosexual; he didn't come out until he was seventy. That meant having to hide his true nature from his parents and the world, even as he was regularly prowling parks and cinemas for rough, anonymous sex.

Willard Manus
Phantom of the Opera, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

This summer marks the Phantom of the Opera’s first appearance since 2009. Better yet, Milwaukee gets an early look at this restaged version of the best-selling and longest-running show in Broadway history (in fact, it’s still running). The “new” version has some strong points, including a tightened script (the show has been shortened by 15 minutes) and a more fluid approach. By this, one means that there is rarely a “static” moment in which the characters are merely standing around, trading dialogue. One sees movement everywhere.

Anne Siegel
Taking Shakespeare
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

For a considerable amount of time during Taking Shakespeare, I thought John Murrell had titled his play ”Talking Shakespeare” because that‘s mainly what occupies the two characters. Murph, 24, a slacker addicted to video games, can’t “connect” to Shakespeare and thus “make it” in college. His mom, dean of humanities, sends him to her once-inspiring Prof, hoping she can link up boy and bard.

Marie J. Kilker
Marvin Gaye
WBTT Theater

Sheldon Rhoden looks, acts, sings and returns triumphantly to Westcoast Black Theater Troupe like the real Marvin Gaye as “Prince of Soul” music. Nate Jacobs’ revisal of an earlier version of Gaye’s story covers his career from 1950s to mid-1980s, reigning over developments in and of Motown music. The production boasts typical features that have audiences filling the space WBTT newly owns.

Marie J. Kilker
Sharon McNight
Metropolitan Room

Sharon McNight at The Metropolitan Room in Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Farewell Tour really is hot – a conflagration. Tucker, the blonde, zaftigsinger/comedienne, who was the rare performer doing “blue” material in the 20’s and 30’s, is powerfully portrayed by McNight, who has the vocal power and musicality for the songs, and the pin-point comic timing and the pizzazz for the slightly “off color” comedy delivered with the authority and voice of a master. It’s a marvelous re-creation of a unique legend.

Richmond Shepard
Sty of the Blind Pig, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There are many things going on in The Sty of the Blind Pig but all so s-l-o-w-l-y. This despite the play being altered from three acts to two. With the change come constant blackouts or dimmed lights to the tunes of jazz or, in a jarring switch toward the end, train sounds. Lost in the change is the fundamental structure of exposition, embroilment, resolution that author Phillip Hayes Dean’s text would seem to demand.

Marie J. Kilker
Persuasion
Concordia University - Todd Wehr Auditorium

At first, it’s difficult to see the connection between Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion, and the Christian themes within it. But trust Acacia Theater Company, the area’s only Christian-based theater, to detect them.

Anne Siegel
When We Were Young and Unafraid
Manhattan Theater Club - Stage 1

Manhattan Theater Club's production at City Center Stage 1 is called, When We Were Young and Unafraid,yet a climate of fear shrouds the characters, both young and old. Playwright Sarah Treem sets the time in 1972, when the Women's Movement for equal rights was a controversial buzz through society. It was the tail end of the era when getting and/or performing an abortion in the United States was still a crime.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Sarasota Improv Festival 2014
Florida Studio Theater - Keating, Gompertz & Goldstein Theaters

Florida Studio Theater’s 6th annual Sarasota Improv Festival proved the best yet of its yearly performances of theater made up mostly on-the-spot. In general, the most experienced troupes showed that practice makes more perfect, and those who practiced a variety of short skits and games came off better than long-form practitioners. An exception to the latter was Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company, this year’s featured long-form troupe, cast from Chicago and NYC improv stars.

Marie J. Kilker
Clearly Invisible
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Carl Seiger holds his audience in and with his sleight-of-hand via illusions, magic tricks, humor, and storytelling. He also brings his audience into most of his acts with grace and good reasons, not as a cheap way to amuse. No wonder he’s been brought back to Florida Studio Theater after being one of its entertainments in its first cabaret.

Marie J. Kilker
Dixie's Tupperware Party
Geffen Playhouse

Like most men, I’ve never been to a Tupperware Party. After seeing Dixie’s Tupperware Party, nothing will ever change in that regard. That’s not to say, though, that I didn’t enjoy Kris Andersson’s send-up of that venerable American institution (which just celebrated its 65th anniversary).

Willard Manus
Fuerza Bruta
Daryl Roth Theater

Fuerza Bruta: Wayrais the best spectacle/experience in town — maybe in the world. You stand for eighty minutes, and the show takes place over you. Figures fly, gymnastics, romance, swimming, music by Gaby Kerpel, all directed by Diqui James. The music has the rhythmic beat I have heard all over world in all societies and countries, from African tribes to Australian Aborigines, to Scotland — dum dada dum dum, dada dada dum dum; dum dada dum dum, dada dada dum. Our bodies move to its rhythm as the breathtaking action goes on over us.

Richmond Shepard
Just Jim Dale
Steinberg Center - Laura Pels Theater

The amazing Jim Dale has written and performs in his one-man, autobiographical English Musical Hall show, Just Jim Daleat the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater. As he recounts his show-business life story as a singer, dancer, comedian, actor, impressionist and mime, Dale illustrates with numbers from his Broadway and other shows. He has a vivid physical agility that is very rare today, especially for a man nearing his 79th birthday.

Richmond Shepard
Three Irish Widows vs. The Rest of the World, The
Ryan's Daughter Pub

The Three Irish Widows vs. the Rest of the World, written and nimbly directed by Ed Malone, stars the agile, versatile Fergal Titley. He plays the three women and others in an Irish town and snaps from character to character physically, vocally, emotionally, in a bravura performance.

Richmond Shepard

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