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James Pickering hears the Kreutzer Sonata in his mind as he tells his story.
James Pickering hears the Kreutzer Sonata in his mind as he tells his story. (Photo: Ross E. Zetner)

"The Kreutzer Sonata" is a sound of music with a story of love and treachery

There is something about being trapped in transit with a stranger who has a story to tell and how mesmerizing it can be and often, how personal it can become.

That’s the way it is in "The Kreutzer Sonata," the haunting one-man adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy novella that opened at Renaissance Theaterworks over the weekend.

James Pickering, one of the finest actors this or any other city has ever seen, is Pozdynyshev, acquitted by a jury and newly freed from prison, traveling in a cabin on a train bound for somewhere and coming from somewhere.

His tale is frank and shocking and brutally honest and, just like in real life, we can’t stop listening. It’s a story that makes you hope it will go on forever.

It is the story of man and woman and love and obsession and jealousy and shameless pleasure of the flesh and the role we all play in our own undoing.

The story begins with a narrative of his life as a roving bachelor. He is erudite and collected and full of good humor as the vagaries of sexual conquest pile one atop the other. His memory is accurate and full of detail, and we are whisked along on this endless journey of conquest followed by abandonment.

And then, unexpectedly, on a boat, he met a "wide-eyed creature with the amber curls" and he became, of all things, a husband. She, a wife. The glory of it was surprising, despite an occasional hiccup in the early going.

He had kept a detailed diary of his years of semi-debauchery and, wanting no secrets to exist between him and his bride, he gave her the five volumes. There was nothing about him that he didn’t want her to know.

"As it turned out, there were some things about me she didn’t want to know," he says, as she retreated for two days of tears in their bedroom.

From that moment on, knowing as we do that there is a crime in this story, the march toward that evil begins. Unabated we are taken through their five children, her withdrawal from the world, his purchase of a piano and her playing to brin…

A rendering of how a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks could look downtown.
A rendering of how a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks could look downtown.

Walker to include "jock tax" for financing Bucks' arena in his budget proposal has learned that Governor Scott Walker will include a so-called "jock tax" in his budget proposal in order to help pay for construction of a new arena in downtown Milwaukee.

A source with knowledge of the plan said that Walker is expected to make an announcement of the plan before Feb. 3, which is the date he is expected to release his proposed budget. The "jock tax" is levied against NBA players for the amount of money they earn while in Wisconsin. Under Walker's plan the revenue from that tax would be diverted to a funding mechanism for the arena.

The source also said he would be surprised if the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks did not join Walker in making the announcement and reveal the site they had settled on for the new arena. Walker had previously said he wouldn't discuss financing until the owners had their plans settled.

No official comment was available on the plan but the source said Walker didn't want his plan to take attention away from the main message in his budget proposal. 

David Sapiro (left) and Jason Will are troubled brothers in "True West."
David Sapiro (left) and Jason Will are troubled brothers in "True West." (Photo: Aaron Kopec)

Alchemist's "True West" is a tortured tale of brotherly love and hate

True love is sometimes hard to recognize, sometimes covered by combat, sometimes hidden by ego and sometimes mistaken for something else entirely.

But true love is what’s at the heart of a blistering production of Sam Shepard’s "True West," running at Alchemist Theatre. It’s hard to recognize the true love between brothers Lee and Austin, but it’s there, complete with all the warts of any troubled relationship.

And make no mistake about it. The relationship between this brothers is truly a troubled one, but under the deft and taut direction of Erin Nicole Eggers, the trouble never actually overwhelms the love.

Austin is a budding screenwriter, staying at his mother’s house while she is in Alaska. Lee turns up, not having seen Austin for five years. He has been living in the desert and has come to civilization to ply his trade as a petty thief.

The two could not be more different. Austin is studious; Lee has never finished a book. Austin has a reserve about him; Lee has no boundaries. Austin is quiet; Lee is loud. Austin is honorable, while Lee has only a nodding acquaintance with the truth.

There is nothing these brothers won’t fight over, from Lee’s cigarette ashes in the sink to Austin’s utter disgust at the cliched story Lee tells, hoping to turn it into his screenplay, just to show his brother he can do it, too.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Lee hits a home run with his story, and the ensuing contretemps is full of sorrow and humor as the brothers struggle to find a place where they might meet in peace.

The touchstone of this relationship is the never-seen father, a ne’er do well who has wasted away an untold sum of cash given him by Austin. Lee, on the other hand never even visits the old man. Lee is jealous of Austin's care for dear old dad, but not jealous enough to actually do anything about it. Like most things in life, Lee just talks about it.

Eggers shows incredible discipline with the two lead actors, David Sapiro, who plays Le…

"The Beautiful Music All Around Us" is a long and involved journey through the early days of American folk music.
"The Beautiful Music All Around Us" is a long and involved journey through the early days of American folk music. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

"Beautiful Music" at the Rep belongs more in a classroom than a theater

Stephen Wade should wear a tweed jacket with leather patches and carry a beat up briefcase and smoke a pipe and have dandruff dotting his shoulders.

Wade is the epitome of a college professor, complete with a wild head of white hair,  and he held a class lecture at the Stackner Cabaret at the Milwaukee Rep Sunday night as he opened "The Beautiful Music All Around Us."

Sitting through two hours of his show feels like nothing so much as the lecture all with a favorite professor in your sophomore year of college. Wade is an absolute fountain of knowledge about a special, and narrow, brand of music.

The problem with the show is that the fountain just keeps on pouring and pouring and never lets you have a chance to catch your breath. It’s almost like waterboarding for the brain.

Nobody would ever deny that Wade has a spectacular breadth and depth of knowledge of the folk music from the early part of the last century. He is wrapped in the banjo mythology of those days, the precursor to some of the early American blues and most of the early days of folk music of the '60s.

Wade is a researcher of immense accomplishment. He has dug and dug and dug, finding stories and following the twists and turns of those stories wherever the music led. Those stories are filled with people and places and events and musical instruments and more people and more places and more events and more musical instruments.

After the hour long first act of his show, which was accompanied by a wonderful slide show and great set design and lighting, I found myself virtually overwhelmed by the onslaught of stuff.

Because Wade’s show is filled with stuff. The endless parade of names is enough to keep you up at night. You think it was hard memorizing the state capitals when you were a kid? Try memorizing all the names and convoluted family ties that Wade drops into his show.

I don’t doubt the honesty and loving warmth of Wade’s show. He is truly and obviously a man who cares deeply about these…