Henry V
City Lit

"To be, or not to be" may come to mind initially, but this is not the question most often asked in Shakespeare. In play after play, from Macbeth to Coriolanus, the argument's focus is what best constitutes leadership in time of war versus desirable traits for leadership in time of peace. History — whether that of the author's country or our own — evidences the rarity of a single person possessing the talents for both.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Meatball Seance
Mary's Attic

By the end of Meatball Séance, a double portion of spaghetti and meatballs has been dropped on the floor, bread crumbs and fresh herbs have been scattered throughout the room, five audience members have been rewarded with on-the-house drinks in remuneration for gigolo/gigola services rendered, the rest of us have lifted up our voices in a call-and-response incantation, and the air is rich with the savory aroma of grilled beef and the gentle harmonies of vintage Fleetwood Mac.

Mary Shen Barnidge
If I Forget
Laura Pels Theater

Memory changes. The ways we regard memories — individual and collective — change. This message comes at you fast and strong in Steven Levenson's new play, If I Forget, at the Laura Pels Theater. While the playwright's Dear Evan Hansen enjoys an esteemed Broadway run, Levenson now engrosses audiences confronting the contemporary world's arresting sociopolitical issues and brings them firmly into the heart of one family.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Taking Shakespeare
Plymouth Church

Who loves a Shakespeare play the first time they read it? Not many high school students, and certainly not “Murph,” who’s now in college and trying to wrap his head around the Bard. Perhaps an intensive series of study sessions with the school’s premier Shakespeare scholar will help him live up to his mother’s expectations. That’s the premise of John Murrell’s Taking Shakespeare, which received its Midwest premiere in a production by Milwaukee’s Boulevard Theatre.

Anne Siegel
Fried Chicken & Latkes
The Braid

Rain Pryor’s autobiographical solo show, Fried Chicken & Latkes, deals with her mixed-race — and mixed-up — family in a frank, touching but always entertaining way. Now in its L.A. premiere, the show is something she’s been working on (and touring) for the past 15 years. She also wrote about her family in a published memoir, “Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love and Loss with Richard Pryor.”

Willard Manus
Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theater

To say that Glenn Close brings down the house during the musical Sunset Boulevard is almost an understatement, as the hoots, hollers, and applause — I even heard a bravo or two — offered by her admirers shook the very rafters of the Palace Theater after every number she sang. And that was not the end of it. At curtain call, the now-standing audience celebrating Close’s return to the iconic role of silent screen star Norma Desmond after a 22-year Broadway absence — both the musical and Close won a Tony in 1995 — just about refused to let Close leave the stage.

Edward Rubin
A Wonder in My Soul
The Biograph

No one disputes the importance of communal space in promoting social unity, whether the public baths of Athens and Rome, the trading posts of frontier settlements, or the galleys of seagoing vessels. If the barber shop represents the urban working man's agora, the beauty salon is its feminine counterpart. More than simply a grooming facility, these refuges serve as sanctuaries where confidences are exchanged, plans devised, and loyalties forged.

Mary Shen Barnidge
My Brother's Keeper
Steppenwolf Theater

Rueben D. Echoles wrote the script for this 41st-anniversary season revival of the show premiering in 2010. The Black Ensemble senior company member is also claims playbill credit for composing eight of the score's 21 songs, choreographing the breathtaking dance sequences, designing the dazzling costumes and wigs, and directing the athletic performers that make it all look so easy. He could probably play all the characters, too, but since this is live theater and not film, his onstage contribution is limited to a single role.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Object Lesson, The
New York Theater Workshop

Most of us know that no matter how much closet space we have, it isn't enough. Stuff accumulates. Some items may depict a significant moment in our life; others just find a place and settle there. As writer/performer Geoff Sobelle tells us, “There’s a fine line between vintage and crap” and at times, it all becomes overwhelming and we turn from an overstuffed closet to filling piles of boxes.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cirque du Soleil - Paramour
Lyric Theater

Paramour - a three-ring mélange of Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil Ziegfeld Follies and the Golden Age of movie musicals on one Broadway stage has settled in for a long run at the Lyric Theater. For $25-million, it blends the fantasia of the French Canadian circus extravaganza with musical theater, adding jaw-dropping aerialists and trapeze artists all frenetically competing against each other.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Fun Home
Ahmanson Theater

Fun Home, the Tony Award-winning musical, sheds light on the sad/funny history of yet another dysfunctional American family. In this one, the father, Bruce (Robert Petkoff), is a closeted homosexual, the mother, Helen (Susan Moniz), is a silent, sad witness, and the eldest daughter, Alison (Kate Shindle), is a mixed-up, teenaged lesbian.

Willard Manus
Drunken City, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Before the curtain, three gal pals alternate between posing in their flowery pastel, swishy skirted dresses and speaking when displaying pictures of the guys they’re engaged to marry. They’re giggly. They’re warned: Don’t go into the Big City. But they have apparently done so, and a play in flashback shows their drunken adventure there.

Marie J. Kilker
Straight White Men
Steppenwolf Theater

They are so ubiquitous that we rarely even have to speak their name. They are the "baseline" against which metabolic functions, pharmaceutical dosages, and testimonial accuracy are measured. They are also often the loneliest creatures on earth.

Mary Shen Barnidge
By the Bog of Cats
Artistic Home

Euripides wasn't the first to recount the story of bad-mommy Medea, but his is the version best-known today: how the princess of Colchis eloped with Corinthian fortune hunter Jason, only to find herself alone and friendless in a foreign land, abandoned by her husband, who plots to take custody of their children and marry a rich heiress. Well, what did you expect in a time where royalty — abetted by gods, yet — pretty much did as they damn well pleased?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Regal Hollywood 20 cinema

With its story based on the New York City Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, Newsies rings with an involving dramatic authenticity that music and dancing make doubly appealing. The show, based on a (then) little-known Walt Disney film, achieved great acclaim in NYC and touring. It’s this version, produced by Disney and distributed by Fathom Events, that captures the importance of a historic strike while highlighting chief personalities involved. It’s also unabashedly celebratory and romantic.

Marie J. Kilker
Regal Hollywood 20 cinema

On a Japanese-American Day of Remembrance and the 75th anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order 9066, a special Encore of the Broadway performance of Allegiance came electronically to select American theaters and, at the one in Sarasota, strongly engaged the audience. The Order evacuated Japanese Americans, like the dramatized Kimura family of farmers, from their West Coast homes to a hellish internment camp. Suspected as possible enemies after Pearl Harbor, they lost their homes, possessions, rights, and their dignity as American citizens.

Marie J. Kilker
Gidion's Knot
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne Lab

It’s no surprise that the title ”Gidion’s Knot” may be confused with the phrase “Gordian knot” and the concept it expresses. Gidion is a kid who has committed suicide, possibly due to bullying. A Gordian knot refers historically to a knot in a rope, symbolically representing civilization, that Alexander the Great had to untie with a single sword stroke or the world would suffer from evil political power and nihilism. It now refers to a problem solvable only by hard action or, at times, to a tie between mother and child that is all but impossible to destroy.

Marie J. Kilker
Illusionists, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

One of Milwaukee’s premier performing spaces, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, has never seemed too big of a space for the Broadway plays and musicals (and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concerts, Milwaukee Ballet performances, etc.). But when The Illusionists: Live from Broadway took the stage, many of the “illusions” were more suited to an intimate space. Thankfully, a camera person also was onstage, filming the performance so it could be viewed on a large overhead screen.

Anne Siegel
Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theater

Glenn Close enters the stage, and with one look, the audience goes wild. It soon becomes obvious that she can do no wrong. This is a Norma Desmond who is far more camp, far more of the gargoyle, than in her previous incarnation. The bright red, nearly maroon fright wig is a giveaway, as are the super-arched brows and the eyes that open way too wide. But the costumes are glorious; there’s so much gold, Norma almost seems gilded. Big, bold statement jewelry any aficionado would covet completes the glamour festival.

Michall Jeffers
Book of Joseph, The
Navy Pier

Joseph A. Hollander was a hero.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Scottsboro Boys, The
Stage 773

The real-life story related in The Scottsboro Boys is of how nine African-American teenagers, one day in 1931, all happened to be freight-hopping on the same Chattanooga-to-Memphis train. Their discovery and arrest revealed two more illegal passengers on board — white women, who accused the colored men of raping them. Despite evidence of the latter's innocence, regional justice mandated a guilty verdict, repeated in several appeals over the next six years, while drawing national attention to the prisoners facing an uncertain future on Death Row.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Zoot Suit
Mark Taper Forum

Thirty-nine years after its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, Zoot Suit has been revived in a gaudy, brash, slick production at the same theater. Written and directed by Luis Valdez, founder of a Chicano theatre group which at one time was the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers, Zoot Suit was a break-through event in American theater, one that put Chicano history on a mainstage for the first time. The play became a major hit not only in L.A. and New York but around the world.

Willard Manus
My Fair Lady
Crighton Theater

It’s literally “off to the races,” for another Stage Right blockbuster with the arrival of My Fair Lady at the Crighton Theatre. Director, Manny Cafeo, has done it again with another splashy Crighton success in the tradition of his earlier productions of Lend Me a Tenor, The Producers, and one of my own personal favorites, 2015’s Singin’ in the Rain. That latter starred the gifted actress and talented songbird, Sara Preisler. How fortunate we are that Mr.

David Dow Bentley
Older than Dirt
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

Maybe the best possible tribute to give to the developers and performers of Older than Dirt is that they’re younger than most of their audience but can often pass themselves off as one of them. Sarasota, as projections remind, is known as “God’s Waiting Room” but those waiting yet watching seem to enjoy being kidded via clever portrayals and parodies.

Marie J. Kilker
Long Day's Journey into Night
Geffen Playhouse

The ghost of Eugene O’Neill hovers over the Geffen Playhouse’s production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Chances are O’Neill, seen between the scenes in a large super-imposed photo and heard on tape reading portions of the play (plus a relevant Swinburne poem), would, if he were alive, have approved of what transpires on stage. The Geffen’s production, directed by Jeanie Hackett, features an outstanding cast headed by Alfred Molina (as James Tyrone) and Jane Kaczmarek (as his wife Mary). The Tyrone family’s two sons, James Jr.

Willard Manus
Born Yesterday
Asolo Repertory - Mertz Theater

Though it is a laugh-out-loud comedy, director Peter Amster has made sure that Born Yesterday is no less a serious political revelation. As such, it belongs in Asolo Rep’s current line up of plays concerning America’s government. After two about executive and judicial branches, this one targets the legislative one. Highlighting the metamorphosis of a woman who’s never voted into a concerned citizen because a journalist teaches her about America’s history and government, Garson Kanin’s play set in 1946 D. C. illuminates today — same place, same problems.

Marie J. Kilker

See listing under Nine Hundred and Forty Six

Nine Hundred and Forty Six
Wallis - Bram Goldsmith Theater

Kneehigh, a Cornwall-based theatre company, reinvents musical theater with its latest touring production, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. Based on Michael (“War Horse”) Morpurgo’s young-adult novel of the same name, 946 employs just about every theatrical device imaginable to tell its complex story: drama, comedy, music & song, puppetry and dance. The show also breaks the fourth wall innumerable times, features adults playing children, men playing women (and vice versa), blacks playing whites (vice versa again).

Willard Manus
Assembled Parties, The
Raven Arts Center

Ben Bascov is New York Jewish, the pride of his Nassau County-dwelling kin. His wife, Julia, is Hollywood Jewish, a former teenage starlet raised by her single-mom fashion designer. On this Christmas day in 1980, their Central Park West apartment (so big that guests get lost in its many rooms) sports a decorated tree, gifts waiting to be exchanged, a kitchen emitting the savory aroma of roast goose, but nary a trace of religious tschotchkes.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hobo King

Theater scholars might detect hints of Maxim Gorky's pre-revolution Russian drama, The Lower Depths, in Javon Johnson's world premiere play for Congo Square Theater.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Schreiber Shorts 2017
Gloria Maddox Theater

Drama should be compressed. That’s why short plays – 10-minute or 15-minute plays – have such potential. But it’s a very challenging form, and most short plays fail. The playwright needs to make us care quickly, and a lot depends on the characterization being specific.

T. Schreiber Theater, Off-off-Broadway, has presented ten short plays in its program Schreiber Shorts 2017. The evening is a success. Most of the scripts are quite good. The directions is uniformly adroit, and the acting throughout is first-rate.

Steve Capra
Shirley and Me
Crocker Memorial Church

A native of England, Jan Wallace went to acting school there and, right after finishing the course, she was hired by a small London Rep Company but never got on stage. That was life for her, even through marriage and raising children. She didn’t act until the family moved to the United States. She finally got parts in New York and other regional theaters, but the play that made a difference to her career on stages is Shirley Valentine. And that’s extended to her life.

Marie J. Kilker
Stopping Place, A
Crocker Memorial Church

A beginning glitch in the sound system did not bode well for the entrance of Stephen Powell’s persona, coming onstage barefoot and backward. After putting on a tie, he faced the audience to proclaim that the sounds (apparently of a storm) “connect us.” He then moved forward to an imagined edge of a roof of a tall building where he could have “a private view of an urban place.” That he had intended to fall to his death from there was his sole absolutely clear communication.

Marie J. Kilker
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater comes to the rescue with a perfect date-night treat: the wacky musical revue, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

The show, written in 1996 by Joe DePietro, takes audiences through a series of loosely linked vignettes. Most of them only last for 10 minutes or so as they follow the rituals of the mating dance. The show progresses from first date through marriage, having kids, and pick-up tips for singles over 75.

Anne Siegel
Longing Lasts Longer
St. Ann's Warehouse

I have always appreciated the bravery, as well as the chutzpah, of those performers who choose to go it alone in a one-man or one-woman show. Not unlike comedians who stand totally exposed before an audience hoping to avoid the slings and arrows, or for that matter the stink of rotten tomatoes, these all-but-naked actors rely, ultimately so, on the sheer force of their god-given personality, and well-honed talents, to wow their audience, and in the best of cases, bring them to their feet amidst thunderous applause.

Penny Arcade
Crocker Memorial Church

Tim McCown Reynolds gives a tour de force performance as a metaphorical “tourist” traveling in his own home and body through the persona of a man with Tourette’s Syndrome. Because of what that does to a person mentally and just as absolutely excruciatingly physically, Reynolds must perform acts and attitudes that make extreme actors’ exercises seem like preschool activities.

Marie J. Kilker
Top Drawer
Crocker Memorial Church

Adelaide Mestre has turned her life story into the book of her musical, and it ends up being a comedy. In the path, though, come serious problems and tragedy.

Pretty in a deep pink evening dress, Mestre both sings and says how, in overcoming what she viewed as the need to be “Top Drawer” in life and art, she actually reached her own transcendence of early strictures and being set up for crises on and off stages.

Marie J. Kilker
Guidance on Demand
Crocker Memorial Church

Flanked by her audience, Kaylene McCaw walks, waving two large flags of quasi-transparent gold material, down the central aisle. She sings “O-le-o-le-ocean-free” until taking to the stage. Another wave and she stresses that “free” was her important word. She next calls attention to her blue hair. At a Masonic temple, she fell in love with a gal with blue hair and decided to be “magical like her...and tell stories that change the world.” They’re revealed in rites and ceremonies such as will follow.

Marie J. Kilker
Late Company
Reuben Cordova Theater - Theater 40

Theater 40 introduces the work of Jordan Tannahill, who one Toronto-based critic called “the future of Canadian theater.” In Late Company, the first of 28-year-old Tannahill’s plays to be produced in the USA, we sit through a dinner party at the upscale home of Michael Shaun-Hastings (Grinnell Morris) and his wife Debora (Ann Hearn), whose late teenaged son Joel was bullied and humiliated in high school — to such an extent that he committed suicide.

Willard Manus
Becoming Mia Rose
Crocker Memorial Church

The title, Becoming Mia Rose, may be misleading or mysterious like the text. Both it and the production are a mishmash apparently linking a character named Mia Rose with Marilyn Monroe. The soloist Clara Francesca is good to look at in her silky teal dress and she can move like crazy. Purveyors of an illogical theatrical fad call this, I think, abstract movement. It seems to try for artistic credibility by linking it with modern ballet that’s abstract, but here there’s little music.

Marie J. Kilker