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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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The mystery of "Who Killed Santa" is playing out this Christmas season.
The mystery of "Who Killed Santa" is playing out this Christmas season.

"Who Killed Santa" proves again there's never too much raunchy fun

Ah Christmas, the time of good cheer. Pastoral visions of snow dappled hills and gentle shepherds tending their flocks with families nestled around a crackling fire and the peace of the holiday wrapping all of mankind in a spiritual warmth.

That’s one Christmas.

And then there is Rudolph, that loveable baby reindeer who is confused about his sexuality but is also convinced that whatever he is, he likes sex. Toss in Tiny Tim in a desperate search for someone to take his virginity and the Little Drummer Girl, who can help Tim and just about any other man who asks. And of course, we have a drunk Santa, a Christmas party where at least one guest is fearful of melting and a mystery that has no obvious ending.  

Welcome to the sixth edition of Neil Haven’s "Who Killed Santa," a holiday gift to the warped and twisted.

The stars of this show are the brilliantly conceived rod puppets created by Dan Katula. They are manipulated by visible on-stage actors. Those are the mechanics.

The only typical character (or actor in costume) is Bo Johnson's take on Santa, who could probably make a slattern out of Mother Theresa. Johnson also manages to throw in Detective Tannenbaum, the Tooth Fairy and Mrs. Claus.

His Santa attacks every girl in sight, insults all of the guests to his workshop and if he was the one in the mall, instead of getting a picture after your visit, you’d meet a lawyer ready to file a sexual assault lawsuit.

The range of characters here is breathtaking. We start with the impossibly dense Frosty the Snowman (Nate Press) who is, as they say, dumber than a box of rocks. He can’t figure out how to avoid heat sources that will make him melt.

There is Rudolph (Sarah Zientek) who exacerbates her/his sexual confusion with a fondness for all things alcohol to either numb or heighten the senses. Rudolph may be gay or may be straight or may even be both or, well, you get the point.

Steve, the Little Drummer Boy (T. Stacy Hicks), seems like he might be the mo…

Marques Causey and Sasha Katherine Sigel star in "Dutchman."
Marques Causey and Sasha Katherine Sigel star in "Dutchman." (Photo: Maria Pretzl/Nathaniel Schardin)

World's Stage takes a long subway trip to nowhere in "Dutchman"

The country is currently engaged in a discussion about race and politics with a depth and passion not seen since the civil war battles of the 1960s

It would seem the perfect time to stage "Dutchman," the hour-long play by LeRoi Jones that was an incendiary sensation when it first appeared in 1964. The play is a metaphor for all that is white about America and what it means to be a black man in that America.

Even though this is 50 years old, the story has a special resonance in today’s world. It is America the temptress in the character of Lula and the tempted black man in the character of Clay.

The play takes place on a subway car where Clay, studious and buttoned up in his black suit and tie, sits reading a newspaper. Enter Lula, the carnal vixen who sets her eyes on Clay to lure him into a web of something resembling deceit and betrayal.

There is such a misogyny about this that it turns the stomach. Clay succumbs to the blandishment of a promise of getting laid at the end of a long and tortuous night following Lula through the streets of New York, up five flights to her tenement apartment and finally, at long last, doing the nasty.

There is nothing subtle about this play. It hits you right between the eyes and fulfills the mission of The World’s Stage Theatre Company, a troupe that delights in pushing the envelope. An empty envelope, however, is nothing more than an empty envelope.

This is a play that is all about momentum, leading us along, recognizing ourselves and people we know, until the end when Clay explodes with all the rage of the black man buried under oppression.

It is that very momentum that is missing from this production. Instead of weary and frightening seduction, it plays instead like some kind of parlor game where I pretend I’m a slut who wants to take you home and you pretend you are a horny young guy wanting his ashes hauled. Especially with a white ash hauler, always the most forbidden of fruits for a black man.

The problems be…

Jonathan Smoots as Scrooge comes face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Jonathan Smoots as Scrooge comes face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Future. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

The Rep continues to unveil new angles in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

Little did Charles Dickens know over 170 years ago that his little novella of just over 100 pages would provide a magical evening of live theater that would captivate audiences for more than a century – even though they already know the entire story.

For the 39th year, the Milwaukee Rep is staging "A Christmas Carol" in the gorgeous confines of what is arguably the most beautiful theater in Milwaukee, The Pabst.

The production was a coming out party of sorts for the marvelous Milwaukee actor Jonathan Smoots, who sank his teeth into one of the greatest roles any actor could play, Ebeneezer Scrooge. There is a long history at the Rep of wonderful actors who have played the miserly meanie who finds redemption at the end.

Smoots brought some new things to the role. There was more humor in this Scrooge, mixed with his Scroogeness. Smoots has a way with a glance and a grimace that gives you insight to his soul, both the determined tightwad and eventually the gracefully changed philanthropist.

The thing that has always marked the Rep’s productions has been the incredible strength of all the characters around Scrooge. And this year is no exception, led by Hollis Resnik, the Chicago actor who dazzled Rep audiences last season in the Judy Garland bio-play, "End of the Rainbow."

She played three parts: Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the slightly alcohol addled Madeline at a Christmas party. If you didn’t pay real close attention, it would be difficult to see that it was Resnik in all three roles. She has a facility to move through characters like ice melting in the hot sun. Her brief turn with the cup of liquor was perhaps the comical highlight of the evening.

Jonathan Wainwright and Marti Gobel reprised their roles as the Cratchit couple, and two of Gobel’s children, Freedom and Jamaica, play members of the family.

One of the most impressive things about this production is the wonderful mix of actors of color with whi…

Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin are helping the homeless program at Tippecanoe Church.
Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin are helping the homeless program at Tippecanoe Church.

Pickering reading to raise funds for tiny Tippecanoe homeless programs

The period between Thanksgiving and the new year is a time when our conscience begins to twitch and when hundreds of places and thousands of people move a higher plane than normal in order to help the less fortunate.

Milwaukee has always been a giving city and I’m not talking about the mega-gifts or the headline grabbing good deeds.

The real strength of this community is the small stories that unfold as pastoral promises filled with both the hardships and joys of helping others. It’s impossible to pick one story and shine a light on it. To do so would seem to cheat all of these acts out of their moment in the sun.

Two people important to Milwaukee have become involved in a little program at a little church on the South Side and, let me be blunt about it, because of who they are, I am going to tell their story.

Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin, now husband and wife, are two of the very best actors this city has ever seen or probably ever will see. They have brought laughs and tears and heartthrob and heartache to thousands and thousands of people.

They now work with the small 52-member Tippecanoe Church which has a program to help the homeless that seems huge in comparison to the size of the church.

Resources are always a difficult proposition for small groups like this but a very special treat is coming to help raise funds.

Pickering will read "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote and "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry in a benefit performance to help fund the programs run by the church. The date is Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. and the suggested donation is $10. I’m going and I will be donating more than $10.

The church has a Contemplative Healing Center attached, where a variety of services are offered. Workentin is on the staff offering healing arts and massage therapy. you are on staff of Living Waters-a Contemplative Life Center, a mission of Tippecanoe, offering healing arts/massages therapy.

The church is located at 125 W. Saveland Ave., near the intersect…