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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014

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Chelsea D. Harrison stars in Next Act's production of "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter."
Chelsea D. Harrison stars in Next Act's production of "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter." (Photo: Alex Clark)

Next Act's "Jenny Sutter" a troubling welcome home from Iraq

When Marine Jenny Sutter was in Iraq, she worked at a checkpoint, looking for explosive devices.

But she missed one.

It was hidden in the diaper of a baby, and Jenny watched helplessly as the baby’s head was blown off, 15 people died, and Jenny herself ended losing the bottom of her right leg.

19 months after she left her two children in the care of her mother, Jenny is finally back on home turf. Like so many veterans, her return is filled with something other than a parade.

"Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter."

That’s the name of the play by Julie Marie Myatt that opened over the weekend at Next Act Theatre and runs through Oct. 12. It’s a play that should be seen, worried over and savored by everyone who ever thinks about what it means to be an American.

Jenny, complete with prosthetic right calf and foot, is filled with enough demons that she can’t quite bring herself to crawl back into the bosom of her family. Instead, she dawdles at a bus station and is finally emotionally and intellectually seduced by addiction addled Louise, who persuades Jenny to follow her to Slab City, a camp on a former military base populated by a rag-tag band of the needy. There, she meets others who have dropped out of life and dropped into a place where answers are much more important than questions.

Jenny, played by Chelsea D. Harrison, is gradually and hesitatingly nursed back to something resembling a healthy emotional state. But her journey in Slab City is anything but smooth as her insecurities and pains both ruffle feathers and create challenges.

John Kishline and Deborah Clifton play a Slab City self-styled preacher and a Slab City self-styled psychiatrist, respectively. Ryan Schabach plays a disinterested truck driver, and Nate Press is the slovenly custodian of the bus stop.

But the towering achievement of the evening belongs to veteran Milwaukee actor Tami Workentin. Her task in this production is simple: play the United States of America.

As Louise, Workentin is …

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Jonathan Wainwright and Laura Gray star in "The Good Father."
Jonathan Wainwright and Laura Gray star in "The Good Father." (Photo: John Nienhuis)

Spectacular acting lights up MCT's "The Good Father"

It took awhile to get there, but when the moment finally arrived, it was absolutely astounding and surprising.

Tim (Jonathan Wainwright) and Jane (Laura Gray) had lost a baby after seven months of pregnancy. The baby had died inside her. Watching Wainwright’s face, I found myself thinking that the two of these actors could have done "The Good Father" without any words, and it would have been just as powerful as it was with the full script.

"The Good Father," which opened over the weekend at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and runs through Oct. 12, was the first play by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly, and it has rarely been produced in this country. But it’s a first rate story about a young couple and their year-long journey that carries them from the ultimate casual to the significantly meaningful.

Tim and Jane meet on New Year’s Eve. She is a recently jilted upper-class sexpot, and he is a hopelessly middle-class lecher who can’t take his eyes off her long legs. Both are drunk.

As the fates would have it, they have one night of spirited sex. A month goes by, a month during which he promised to call and didn’t. Finally she calls, and they meet. She drops the bomb that she is pregnant. It has to be yours, she tells him. Despite some scientific twists and turns, he comes to accept his impending fatherhood.

It’s a conflicting role for him, especially since his own father was the exact opposite of what good parenting is all about. Jane is determined to have the baby and to be a single parent. Tim is equally determined to become not only a good father but a husband to Jane.

I don’t want to reveal any of the secrets of this play, but the dance to the end between Wainwright and Gray, who are married to each other in real life, is full of sensitivity, emotion and rollicking good humor.

Gray is a formidable actor with a profound skill set. She can be a slinky slattern one minute, turn into a huddled mass of insecurity and then into an an angry a…

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LaMarcus Miller and Sishel Claverie star in "Cinderella."
LaMarcus Miller and Sishel Claverie star in "Cinderella." (Photo: Mark Frohna)

Skylight's "Cinderella" joyously turns a Disney classic on its ear

Walt Disney turned over in his grave Friday night, shaking the ground in Southern California as the tremors roiled through his crypt.

The cause of this disturbance was the two wicked stepsisters in "Cinderella" who opened the season at Skylight Music Theatre by going bowling, chain smoking cigarettes, slamming down booze straight from the bottle, taking a selfie and waking in a color-drenched bedroom, hung over and exhausted.

Right away, you knew this wasn’t Disney’s version of the folk tale but a modern mounting of the opera by Gioachino Rossini, running at the Skylight through Oct. 5. In its recent past, the Skylight has moved almost exclusively into the world of musical theater, consistently producing stellar productions of musicals usually familiar to an audience. Friday night’s performance was a clear indication that under the artistic direction of Viswa Subbaraman, opera is back.

Thank God!

After almost three hours of storytelling and music, I looked at my watch and wondered where the time had gone. It was an evening of spellbinding singing combined with disciplined and expertly directed acting that cast a magical spell on the audience. Just like one of Disney’s famous films.

In this opera, Rossini gave us the stepsisters, played by Erin Sura and Kristen Ninno; a fatuous, greedy and lustful stepfather, Magnifico, played marvelously by Andy Papas; a prince and his lackey played by Luke Grooms and Dimitrie Lazich; an advisor and spiritual guru to the prince, played by LaMarcus Miller; and, of course, Cinderella, played by Sishel Claverie.

This Cinderella doesn’t clean ashes from a hearth but ashes from the overflowing ashtrays of her stepsisters. She is burdened with picking up the seemingly endless stream of multi-colored gowns and accessories they wear and discard. And she is scorned by Magnifico and driven into a secluded corner to wistfully wonder her way out.

Then along comes Prince Charming, disguised as the lackey while the lackey is disg…

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Jeremy C. Welter plays the Emcee in Off The Wall's production of "Cabaret."
Jeremy C. Welter plays the Emcee in Off The Wall's production of "Cabaret."

Off the Wall delivers a dark and stormy version of "Cabaret"

Distraction is the name of the game in the well-worn musical "Cabaret" as we meander through the pleasures of the flesh in order to not notice the horror that the Weimar Republic is about to unleash on the rest of the world.

In Berlin, as the movement fueled by Adolph Hitler gains momentum, the seedy Kit Kat Klub stands as a wayside for tortured souls who want nothing more than to have a good time, even temporarily.

The Dale Gutzman version of "Cabaret," which opened Wednesday night and runs through Sept. 28, is a dark retelling of a story that mixed sex, violence, longing and fear into two and half hours of mesmerizing theater. The menace of the play at Off the Wall Theatre is as intimate as any I have seen before. Gutzman crowds a cast of almost 30 characters into a space seemingly no bigger than a boarding house room.

It may not really have been two and a half hours because the initial 90-minute first act is a setup for the powerful, moving and sorrowful second act. And Gutzman, theatrical maestro that he is, holds the reins tight until he unleashes the hounds on a rapt full house in attendance.

The story of "Cabaret" is well known: An American writer named Clifford Bradshaw (Claudio Parrone Jr.) comes to Berlin, hoping to find inspiration to write his novel. On his first night – New Year’s Eve – he visits the Kit Kat Klub and meets the sultry Sally Bowles (Laura Monagle), a British chanteuse who packs them in but who is about to be fired, just because it’s time for a change.

Their halting love affair is on a parallel line with the affair of Fraulein Schneider (Marilyn White), who runs a boarding house, and Herr Schultz (Lawrence J. Luksavage), a Jewish fruit merchant. The two elders fall in love peacefully and without histrionics until pressure from the Nazis force the fraulein to reconsider.

The early going is filled with sex, teasing, tension and ambivalent sexuality. The music is filled with earthy meaning. When White and Luksavage sing the song…

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