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"Peter and the Starcatcher" is a magical evening of live theater at the Rep.
"Peter and the Starcatcher" is a magical evening of live theater at the Rep. (Photo: Sandy Underwood)

Rep's "Peter and the Starcatcher" shows just how easy it really is to fly

Night has come, and the day is done. We cuddle in our PJs and hold our dearest stuffed animal close. Our head rests gently on the pillow, and we are ready.

Now is the time for the bedtime story.

A great bedtime story will make us giggle, it will make us wonder, it will help us get ready for dreams and, perhaps most of all, it will help us realize that we are safe in this world.

That’s the kind of story being told at the Milwaukee Rep, where "Peter and the Starcatcher" opened this week.

It’s a story that is full of laughter, some of the funniest stuff scene on a Milwaukee stage this season. It’s got everything that a bedtime story should have. There are heroes and villains, there is a secret mission, a secret treasure, a boy and a girl, threats, drama on the high seas, good and evil, and a happy ending as you close your eyes and drift off to a gentle and warm sleep.

The play is based on a novel written Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The adaptation by Rick Elice had a nice run on Broadway and won Tony awards. It's a story that carried an opening night audience on the wings of imagination.

The story is a prequel to the wondrous life of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

It’s such a simple story. A 13-year-old orphan with no name and no home takes off into a life filled with joys and sorrows, fear and courage. And as the play moves on, he gets a name, a name that gives full identity to the legend that he becomes.

This large cast of actors is sublime. They take turns moving the play along with bits of narrative that both seduce and amuse. The story bounces along on the a collective sense of humor where everyone laughs at the same time.

There is such joy in the humor, potty humor of flatulence and burps and sophisticated humor that takes much of it from our current lives.

We are transported to distant lands where an island king serenades us with a modern day rap, to ships being tossed by a roiling sea.

Se are fa…

The wild and crazy cast of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" at Theatre Unchained.
The wild and crazy cast of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" at Theatre Unchained. (Photo: Noah Silverstein)

Production of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is dangerously light on chuckles

When asked to come up with words that describe the work of Neil Simon, there are lots of choices, but on almost every list would be the word "funny." Think "Odd Couple" or "Barefoot in the Park" or "Promises, Promises." Simon has a body of work that is immense in quantity and quality.

He is so good that it’s almost impossible to take one of his plays and turn it into an evening of sleepwalking. The production by Broccoli Theatricals and Encore Theatre Company that opens this weekend, however, does the impossible.

Simon wrote the semi-autobiographical "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" in 1993. The playwright began his writing career during the golden days of television as a writer on "Your Show of Shows," which was the home of Sid Caesar and where Mel Brooks was also one of the writers.

The play Simon wrote is funny. It’s set in the writer’s room of the show hosted by Max Prince (Caesar). The trials, tribulations and antics of the writers carry this play along. There are nods to some serious stuff, like the Communist scare driven by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. But this play is about jokes – the jokes the writers try out for their show and the jokes that are designed to make the play-going audience laugh.

The conceit of the show is that NBC executives have ordered the show cut from 90 minutes to an hour and have created an observer to watch over the creative process to make sure the show is suitable for middle American homes. In reality, moves like this marked the beginning of what Fred Friendly would call "the vast wasteland" of network television.

There is no quarrel to have with the quality of this script, even if it is not one of Simon’s greatest works. But this cast needs to understand that just because your line is a joke, you don’t have to shout it or pause before you tell it or mug when you say the line.

Comedy is hard under the best of circumstances. When you have one actor in the play – Noah Silverstein who plays Max – who seems to have…

Dylan Bolin, Tim Palecek and Emmitt Morgans create horror and power in "The Pillowman."
Dylan Bolin, Tim Palecek and Emmitt Morgans create horror and power in "The Pillowman." (Photo: Amanda Schlicher)

"The Pillowman" is a brutal and gruesome tale of the precious power of stories

You start out by driving past an accident on the road and you slow down to see the ambulance and the cop cars and the flashing lights and  maybe, just maybe, a victim.

The next step is when you watch a program on public television about the Nazi Holocaust and you can’t take your eyes off the horror of the images you see.

The final step is when you hear about another Isis beheading and you search online until you find it, and then you watch it.

That kind of horror-filled escalation is part of the fascination  of "The Pillowman," the dark drama written by Martin McDonagh and running at Soulstice Theatre in St. Francis.

To call this play "dark" is an understatement.

It is about Katurian (Tim Palecek), a story writer who is arrested after a series of murders of children resemble murders in his stories. The totalitarian state police are Tupolski (Dylan Bolin as the good cop) and Ariel (Emmitt Morgans as the bad cop).

The interrogation of Katurian is brutal, almost from the very beginning. The first of three acts sees the writer trying his best to preserve his sense of himself and preserve his stories, because he believes they are important to the world.

The parade of gruesome is, well, gruesome. We have children killed in the following manners: one small boy has his five toes cut off with a cleaver; a girl is made to swallow apple slices with razor blades inside; another girl is abused by her foster parents because she thinks she is Jesus and she is eventually killed by being crucified and then buried alive; there are deaths by smothering (by the pillowman) and electrocutions.

At some point in this play you almost want to shout "enough, already." The trap here is to think that McDonagh has written a play that glorifies the kind of sick violence that we all around us.

But, in truth, the play is really about the fantasies we all create, the lies we tell and the way we all hope that our stories will live forever.

Everyone in this play has a story, especially…

Kay Allmand, Chris Klopatek, Chase Stoeger and Anna Cline (L to R) are part of the hilarity in "Jeeves Takes a Bow."
Kay Allmand, Chris Klopatek, Chase Stoeger and Anna Cline (L to R) are part of the hilarity in "Jeeves Takes a Bow." (Photo: Paul Ruffolo)

Chamber's "Jeeves" is a silly concoction that delivers lots of laughs

Borrowing a phrase from the famed Forrest Gump, silly is as silly does.

And nothing could be applied more accurately to the silliness that is "Jeeves Takes a Bow," the adaptation of the P. G. Wodehouse classic that opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theater Friday night.

Go to this play and forget about a lot of your normal theater-going experiences. There are no hidden meanings. There are no social implications. There is nothing that demands well-focused attention.

This is fun for fun’s sake. It’s the big bowl of trifle that you get even without stuffing yourself on bangers and mash or fish and chips.

And under the wise and detailed direction of Tami Workentin, this English delight moves along at just the right pace, allowing time for both laughter and breath without forcing a single moment.

At the heart of the story are high living joy seeker Bertie Woosteras and his manservant Jeeves, the two cloistered in an Apartment in New York. Joining in the early going is Binky, a member of the English mission to the United States.

The tone is set early when it’s revealed that Binky is in love with Ruby LeRoy, an actress who is starring in a new concoction called "Naughty Natalie." To further his love interest, Binky has told Ruby that he is really Bertie (hope you are with me thus far). And he has told her that his friend, Binky (who in this case is really Bertie) will write a special song for her show, even though in reality Bertie (who is being called Binky) doesn't know anything about music. 

Along comes Vivienne Duckworth, a tightly bound English dame who is in New York for two purposes: to write a book about the seedy side of the city and to announce her engagement to the real Bertie. We add to this mix the gangster Knuckles McCann, who turns out is Ruby’s dad, and you can see the ensuing adventures coming from a mile away.

It’s one thing after another, with Jeeves remaining both above the fray and the solver of problems and fixer of any dilemma that may ari…