Women I have Loved
Crocker Memorial Church

For decades Carolyn Michel has brought women to light on national stages, but she’s been a special favorite shining the spotlight in Sarasota on individual women. We don’t have to take her word for the love she’s given to portraying some of them. The proof she brought onstage before a packed audience—many of whom have performed with her in larger cast plays—on the first night of SaraSolo 1016.

Marie J. Kilker
London Wall
The Den

The entrance of women into the clerical workforce properly dates to 1868 (when the first Remington typewriters featured casings decorated with flowers), but the shortage of men following World War One precipitated increased numbers of females hired to fill the vacancies. Victorian attitudes still lingered, however—among them, perception of the "office girls" as analogous to household servants. Presumed to reside with family members, and thus, not reliant on wages for their livelihood, they could be grossly underpaid.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Devil's Music, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

Biographical musical revues are a mainstay on the roster of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret. The intimate space, dotted with tables and chairs that seat from two to eight people, is perfect for small-scale productions that feature from two to a half-dozen performers. Prior to show time, servers bustle about, delivering drink orders and desserts to the patrons. Other theatergoers spend their time chatting, scanning their theater programs or admiring the glazed brick walls, a restored remnant from the days when the space was part of Milwaukee’s old electric company.

Anne Siegel
Sunset Baby
United Church of Christ - Baird Hall

"There's nothing sentimental about a dead revolution!," snaps the heroine of Sunset Baby, thereby refuting our presumptions of youth as starry-eyed romantics. Her assessment arises from a childhood overshadowed by a father imprisoned for crimes committed in the name of Black-power separatism during the 1960s, and a mother whose grief drove her to addiction.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Fairytale Facts
Crocker Memorial Church

To piano music from behind a back curtain, Lisa Seldin Dontzin can be heard suffering: “I’m trapped in this f...ing dress!” When she appears out front, wrapped in strapless white organdy dotted with aqua leaves, she wears an astonished look. But short, curly-hair dusted with sparkle accent her neck surrounded by jeweled stones as spotlight-catching as her earrings. Quite a contrast with the predominantly chartreuse gym shoes under her billowing skirt. Fitting, though, for a person pointing out contrasts between her present status as actress and certified fashion stylist and her past.

Marie J. Kilker
Crocker Memorial Church

Always ready to take a chance, Christine Alexander, Sarasota’s uncrowned but not unappreciated Improv Queen, launched SaraSolo 2016, two weekends of solo performances with a Betwixt Week of workshops, tutorials, and performance development. In this gig, Christine Alexander becomes a radio hostess taking a chance on (maybe) audience Twitter feeds, call ins, and call outs. Just in case she needs a script, she’s brought along her imaginary diary from age 18.

Marie J. Kilker
Agnes of God
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Milwaukee’s only women-run theater company, Renaissance Theaterworks, continues its 22nd year with Agnes of God . John Pielmeier’s searingly intense 1982 drama has attracted an all-star cast of local actors, under the direction of company co-founder Suzan Fete. The result falls into the “don’t-miss” category of the early spring theater season.

Anne Siegel
No Wake
The Greenhouse

Anyone wondering why white people are projected to become a minority in the United States need only look at the abundance of recent plays focusing on the impaired child-rearing capabilities of WASPs. Ineptitude doesn't mean that divorced parents of a suicidal runaway daughter are any less to be pitied, but for them to generate the level of sympathy that playwright William Donnelly strives to achieve in No Wake requires patience.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Noises Off
American Airlines Theater

Andrea Martin is an actor who can do no wrong. So it comes as no surprise that in Noises Off, she effortlessly leads the company to glorious comic heights, and the audience to a fevered pitch of laugh-out-loud delight. Noises Off is both a door-slamming French farce, and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a play that starts out being not so great and ends up in shambles.

Michall Jeffers
Of Mice and Men
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

Man is not a solitary creature, as repeatedly emphasized in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The 1937 play is being produced by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatrer and the Arizona Theatre Company. After winning some local awards in Arizona (where it played first), the production already was causing local buzz before it opened here in January. Under the firm direction of the Rep’s artistic director, Mark Clements, the play takes a strong, linear path to its devastating conclusion.

Anne Siegel
Ah, Wilderness!
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

Ah, Wilderness! is the kind of classic play Asolo Rep does best and its present production even enhances that reputation. It’s Eugene O’Neill’s only comedy, an imagined 1906 family story that’s partly autobiographical. Mainly, though, it reveals the family he wished he had in a young, hopeful, rather innocent America. But just as Robert Lowell, another New Englander, created influential confessional poetry, O’Neill brought his always inventive genius here to establish coming-of-age drama.

Marie J. Kilker
My Funny Valentine
Starlite Room

Two 30-or-so-minute comedies start and end the program, My Funny Valentine, with the same stars (Rafael Petlock and Jamie Lee Butrum), but their appearances, tone of voice, demeanors, and relationship to each other differ distinctly, given sophisticated encouragement from director James Thaggard. In between, in Julian Off’s 1-900-Sex-Date, Petlock’s lonely Milton revs up enough gumption to call practiced sex worker Veronique (aka Ronnie), and that sets up a most unusual sexy-but-humorous romance. Jamie Lee Butrum may drop the laundry she’s sorting but not her come-on voice.

Marie J. Kilker
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
WBTT Theater

”Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” refers to the signature song of Ma Rainey, “Mother of the Blues.” She’s a singer in 1927 whose records have made big money and, in August Wilson’s only play set in Chicago, she still has power, if waning, against racists who exploit her. Her control sets her apart from the black musicians who accompany her and, like the white businessmen, depend on her. Only one young black aspires beyond his present role, and Wilson’s tragedy mainly follows him.

Marie J. Kilker
Hudson Guild Theater

Tim Realbuto’s play, Yes, though billed as one act with two scenes and an epilogue (it runs nearly 90 minutes) has the feel and heft of a full-length play. I can’t imagine a second act. But on the other hand, given the obvious genius of Realbuto—he wrote, directed, and acts to a faretheewell in this riveting play—I wouldn’t put it past him. More to the point, this one-act was so wonderfully executed and so beautifully realized that I left the theater craving more Realbuto, as well as more from his equally brilliantly co-star, Joe Blute.

Edward Rubin
Marcus Center - Todd Wehr Theater

First Stage, Milwaukee’s long-running children’s theater company, is reviving its 2004 hit, Holes. The play, based on a Newberry Award-winning book by Louis Sachar, is an engaging tale of a boy mistakenly sentenced to a detention camp in the desert. It’s called Camp Green Lake, but it is neither green nor contains a lake. It is located near a dry riverbed.

Anne Siegel
What I Learned in Paris
The Athenaeum

The title of Pearl Cleage's What I Learned in Paris initially suggests coming-of-age erotica in the Anias Nin mode, or perhaps a Lost Generation roman a clef. Her play's chronological setting on the day in 1973 (when Maynard Jackson was elected Atlanta's first Black mayor) leads us to anticipate political hijinks—a reasonable assumption when all but one of the characters were, a few hours earlier, part of the winning candidate's campaign staff.

Mary Shen Barnidge
My Sister
Odyssey Theater

The despicable treatment of disabled people in Nazi Germany sets the historical context for My Sister, Janet Schlapkohl’s two-character play which just opened at the Odyssey Theater. The piece was first produced in L.A. at the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival where its strong reception attracted the attention of the Odyssey’s artistic director, Ron Sossi, who optioned the play for his company and came aboard as co-director. Changes were made to the script and period songs were added, resulting in a longer, more atmospheric and nuanced story.

Willard Manus
Living on Love
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

Where Living on Love fits into Asolo Rep’s five-year exploration of the American character is a mystery. To say that the two sets of major characters pursue the American dream (whether as successful diva and conductor or as major writers) is less accurate than to say silly pap will draw in more bourgeois buyers of “culture” (that is, tickets) to see a cheap-laugh-a-minute comedy than will a classic one with substance. Living on Love departs from the first comic type in one significant way at Asolo Rep: its production is not cheap, but lavish.

Marie J. Kilker
Thom Pain
Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

Rainn Wilson (“Six Feet Under,” “The Office”) tackles Thom Pain: based on nothing, a quirky monologue written for him by Will Eno, a highly regarded New York playwright attached to the Signature Theater Company. Actually, the piece was first performed at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival before it made its way across the pond. Now it has opened for a brief run in L.A., where it is sure to attract much attention.

Willard Manus
The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage

From England’s Nottingham Playhouse and Almeida Theatre comes 1984, a reworking of George Orwell’s famous novel by the London-based Headlong company (whose artistic director is Jeremy Herrin). As adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, 1984 has been hugely successful at both of the above venues. Now L.A. has the opportunity to see this bold and brave version, which has come to the Broad Stage with its British cast and crew intact.

Willard Manus
Magic Lounge, The
Uptown Underground

The Arabian Nights might chronicle cup-and-ball or pebble-and-shell games promulgated by traveling players in marketplaces, and as a spectacle later migrating to medieval and Renaissance faires throughout Europe. However, in the United States, the birth of so-called "close-up" magic can be traced to 1925, when tavern owner Matt Schulien would amuse his customers with quicker-than-the-eye illusions, performed right at their tables, involving equipment no more complicated than ordinary coins and playing cards.

Mary Shen Barnidge
New York Theater Workshop

Ever since David Bowie came onto the scene big time, as a quasi-alien rock star with the rock ‘n’ roll game-changing album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in 1972, in which he blurred the lines between man and woman, most everything that he has touched, if not in reality, certainly in perceived memory—has turned to gold. Chalk it up to his chameleon-like ability to successfully ride the ever-changing waves of time.

Edward Rubin
All the Way
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

Covering November 1967 to November 1968, All the Way gives a history lesson in epic theater style of how “accidental president” Lyndon B. Johnson conducted political power plays to pass the Civil Rights Bill and be re-elected. In the ominous shadow of a foreign war, LBJ wages his personal battle to satisfy his ambitions for himself and his party, only to be ultimately abandoned by his “own” Southern Democrats. In LBJ’s case, biography—as shown by playwright Robert Schenkkan—became history.

Marie J. Kilker
Richard Rodgers Theater

What more can possibly be said about Hamilton, the toast of the town? The show has been praised to the heavens, and only the prospect of winning a billion dollars creates more of a frenzy for tickets. It’s original, educational, exhilarating, and acclaimed. It has shattered records for the amount of money it has generated. In the first three months of its run alone, Hamilton raked in $57 million in advance ticket sales. Celebrities are routinely reported to be seen in the audience; President Obama attended the sixth preview performance and later came back for another.

Michall Jeffers
Rep Lab
Milwaukee Repertory Theater

For the past six years, Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s acting and directing interns have gotten to show what they’ve learned in an evening of short plays. This year’s Rep Lab showcases eight short plays (each about 10-15 minutes) in a two-hour presentation. Although brief, each play is meticulously selected, fully rehearsed, and accompanied by props, lighting, costumes and sound. The labs always are held in the Rep’s smaller, more intimate Stiemke Theater.

Anne Siegel
Florida Studio Theater - Goldstein Cabaret

The Beatles and their music predominate in a recall of history, especially from the mid-1960s on, but the musical revue Yesterday also highlights them in relation to The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and even Chuck Berry. It’s a nostalgic look at their times of peak popularity, backed by scripted and projected historical notes.

Marie J. Kilker
How to Get Into Buildings
The Brick

Trish Harnetiaux’ play How to Get into Buildings jumps around in time – backward and forward (of course). New Georges produced it recently at The Brick in Brooklyn.

The main story – it’s not a plot, really – concerns a motivational speaker, Roger, who meets a woman, Lucy, at a convention center where he’s speaking. Her distinguishing characteristic is that she gets call-back phone calls from a new age-psychic. The second story is even more insubstantial, merely a portrait of a couple who end up, for some reason, in a duel with each other, pistols in hand.

Steve Capra
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

About a year after the national tour of Disney’s Newsies appeared in Chicago, Milwaukee gets its first look at this dazzling musical. Based on a true story – the newsboys’ strike of 1899 – Newsies demonstrates that historical fact can be entertaining if combined with some strategically inserted fiction.

Anne Siegel
Louis & Keely
Geffen Playhouse

Louis & Keely is the pride and joy of L.A.’s small-theater world. The musical, about Louis Prima and Keely Smith, started life in 2008 at Sacred Fools, an Equity-waiver company based in East Hollywood. Written and performed by Vanessa Claire Stewart and Jake Broder, the show caught on and had a sold-out run which attracted the attention of Taylor Hackford. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker (“An Officer and a Gentleman”), who had long been a Louis & Keely fan, saw the commercial potential of the Sacred Fools production and helped with changes and financing.

Willard Manus
House Party 1923: Obsession
Annoyance Theater

From 1991 to 2005, an ensemble called The Free Associates affirmed, not only the existence of an audience well-versed in classic fiction but the willingness of those bibliophiles to return, night after night, to see a fully improvised long-form play referencing such literary icons as Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill and the sisters Bronte. Playwright Bill Meincke takes the do-it-yourself concept a step further—right over the fourth wall, in fact—by inviting our participation in a fantasy of flaming youth and the "Lost Generation."

Mary Shen Barnidge
Dynamite Divas
Black Ensemble Theater

After our brains and cardio-respiratory functions have absorbed the news that those four fine women sitting in a room that looks like a cross between a television talk-show studio and the bridge of the starship Enterprise are Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight, Nancy Wilson and Aretha Franklin, only then do we begin to wonder what brings these luminaries together.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Liar, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

How can exploits and love expressed by a liar be believed? Can friendship survive false impressions? When is the awful truth awe-full and even artificial but socially necessary? David Ives takes us to Paris, 1643, to explore answers given by a great French writer of Baroque plays and tests them in Ives’s own style through to our time. And a funny journey it is!

Marie J. Kilker
Incident at Vichy
Redtwist Theater

Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy might be set in 1942 France, but with our own would-be leaders in 2015 testing the boundaries of Godwin's Law, it's high time we were reminded of the wisdom in setting aside personal prejudices to unite with our fellow citizens—a major literary theme in the years following World War Two, before falling out of fashion in the wake of the 1960s' emphasis on ancestral ethnicity. As Martin Neimoller once famously warned, if we do not defend one another, who will defend us?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Drink! Sketch Comedy Drinking Game
The Cornservatory

In cultures embracing the consumption of intoxicating beverages as a socially beneficial activity, citizens rarely need an authority figure granting them permission to participate. However, when informality or sheer numbers preclude individual toasts, drinking games serve to lend structure to an evening of bending elbows.

Mary Shen Barnidge
View from the Bridge, A
Lyceum Theater

Even if you have seen other versions of A View From the Bridge, including the excellent 2011 Broadway production, you will leave the Lyceum Theater feeling as if you have never seen this American classic before. London's Young Vic production is re-visited by Belgian director, Ivo Van Hove, stripping away the extraneous and leaving playwright Arthur Miller's 1956 slice of naturalism tense with stunning suspense.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Steppenwolf Theater

One advertising campaign promotes Bruce Norris's new play as nudge-nudge-wink-wink political satire and another attempts to sell it as a battle-of-the-sexes romp. Don't believe either one. The dramatic premise might have its real-life counterparts, and it might have been Norris's intent to capitalize on the tabloid factor, but both representations are as fraudulent as a diamond mine in Dolton.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Baritones Unbound
Royal George Theater

The traveling theater companies of antiquity typically numbered seven actors: leading man and woman for the raisonneur roles, juvenile and ingenue for the youthful ones, "character" man and woman to play villains, elders or eccentrics—and a lone player called the "utility man" capable of stepping into any part as needed.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Once Upon a Mattress
Abrons Arts Center

For anybody hell-bent o ringing in the New Year in the most joyous way, I suggest that you hop over to the Abrons Arts Center in lower Manhattan where the always-hilarious and over-the-top comedic Jackie Hoffman as Princess Winifred and gender bender performance artist John “Lypsinka” Epperson, as the long-nailed Queen Aggravian – channeling shades of Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson with a wee bit of his own lip-synching thrown in – are camping it up to a faretheewell in the musical Once Upon A Mattress.

Edward Rubin
Heir Apparent, The
Navy Pier

Have you heard the one about the rich old man who wants a young wife to share his bed and nurse his ailments? Sure you have—every culture since antiquity boasts at least one story with this premise. Instead of laying false claim to its invention, however, playwrights nowadays freely admit to recycling dusty (and safely uncopyrighted) potboilers for their own purposes.

Mary Shen Barnidge