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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, July 28, 2014

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Jason Will, Libby Amato and Anna Figlesthaler star in "God of Carnage," the first production from the new Umbrella Group.
Jason Will, Libby Amato and Anna Figlesthaler star in "God of Carnage," the first production from the new Umbrella Group. (Photo: Maria Petrella)

"God of Carnage" is an impressive debut for Umbrella Group

There is something about watching people just like us begin to unravel and shrink into desperation and desolation that demands our attention.

Whether it’s watching Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in "Kramer vs Kramer," Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" or even "King Lear" where the man descends into an unrivaled madness.

That’s the attraction of "God of Carnage," the Yasmina Reza play serving as the first production of the new Umbrella Group. It opened Thursday night at In Tandem Theatre's 10th Street space and looked like anything but a brand new ensemble of actors.

Under the direction of veteran Bo Johnson, the cast of Libby Amato, Jason Will, Anna Figlesthaler and Matt Wickey melt down before our very eyes, each of them both sympathetic and horrid at the same time.

The married couple Amato and Will have gone to the home of Figlesthaler and Wickey to discuss the playground attack by their son on the son of Figlesthaler and Wickey that resulted in a bruised lip and two lost teeth.

The meeting begins like four civil people have a bit of a discussion. But it doesn’t take long for the first battle lines to be drawn. The first battle is sparked by parental protection, with each couple trying their best to keep their children from being dragged through the mud of accusation, although Will manages to call his son a "savage" between taking cell phone calls to handle a crisis at work.

As the discussion grows in intensity, Amato asks, "How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves." The answer in this play is every single one of them.

From the prim and proper opening moments to the increasingly savage meltdown, alliances shift and swing until everybody gets a chance to be angry and frustrated with everyone else in the play.

Part of this is very funny as each character is moved to ever more extreme behavior and language. But underneath the humor is the "God, I hope this never happens to me" river running through your blood.

These …

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Sean Grennan (from left to right), Matt Holzfeind, Joel Hatch and Erica Elam star in The Peninsula Players' new production of "And Then There Were None."
Sean Grennan (from left to right), Matt Holzfeind, Joel Hatch and Erica Elam star in The Peninsula Players' new production of "And Then There Were None." (Photo: Bruce Mielke)

Peninsula Players breathe new life into classic Christie play

One of the best things that can happen in the theater is when a everyone involved in a production breathes new life into something that has been around seemingly forever.

Across nearly 70 years, the Agatha Christie play "And Then There Were None" has become one of those old chestnuts, performed by high school and college drama clubs throughout the world. To say that it’s a tired play is a massive understatement.

But a sparkling new production that opened at The Peninsula Players Wednesday night and runs through July 27 proves that even the oldest of chestnuts can be reborn if all the pieces fit. And oh, how they fit in this production.

Under the direction of Linda Fortunato and her cast of 11 actors, the play came alive, eventually grabbing an audience of more than 400 people by their collective throats and not letting go until the final shot was fired and the good guys won.

The play is vintage Christie. You spend the first part of her story getting to know the people – in this case, eight people invited to a dinner party on a lonely island, along with the butler and the cook. If you are counting, that makes ten.

The very first mystery is when you wonder where the host and hostess are. Nowhere to be seen and then, we are off to the races. The plot of this mystery is a familiar one. Ten people are invited to dinner at a mansion on an island, isolated from the rest of the world. Eventually, they find that each of the ten has been involved in the death of another person.

Soon, as they say, the plot thickens. One by one, the guests each meet a mysterious death. Before too long, we are getting down to brass tacks, and there aren’t that many people left. Nobody can figure out who the mastermind is behind this plot to wreak revenge on the ten criminals who have escaped justice for so long

The language and the plot devices are nothing new to anyone who has read Christie or seen her plays. But this production is just a marvelous example of all the pieces fitti…

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Richard Ooms stars as the mad titular character in Door Shakespeare's production of "King Lear."
Richard Ooms stars as the mad titular character in Door Shakespeare's production of "King Lear." (Photo: Jason Fassl)

"Comedy," "King Lear" open an exciting Door Shakespeare season

"The Comedy of Errors" may well be the funniest of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and "King Lear" may well be the most tragic. Getting to see both of them in one startling day is to see the breadth of Shakespeare and the diversity of his canon that has given so much to the world for four centuries.

Door Shakespeare, the fourth of the Equity theaters in Door County, unveiled both plays Saturday in one action packed, startling few hours that drove home just how marvelous this company is.

The afternoon began with "The Comedy of Errors," a twisting tale of identical twins and mistaken identities that has all of the elements of a classic farce, except for crashing doors. It has doors, but they don’t crash.

One of the most difficult tasks for any company doing Shakespeare – and especially difficult for young directors – is how to make the language understandable while being true to the tenor and tone of the story.

"Comedy of Errors" has a tenor and tone of great humor, with lines and jokes that sneak up on you. You find yourself smiling, then chuckling and then laughing out loud.

Leda Hoffmann, a young Milwaukee director, leaves her imprint on the play with clear language and with every single laugh in the script. It’s a rare achievement for any director, especially a young one. She guides her cast with steady hand but doesn’t restrict the actors' freedom to play.

And play they do.

The story concerns a pair of identical twins: Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse, and Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse. As you can understand just from that set up, the entire plays is drenched in mistaken identities. The backdrop is the tale of woe from Egeon, who had the two pair of identical twins with his wife Emilia. At sea, a storm swept away his wife, one Antipholus and one Dromio.

Throw in a couple of merchants, a spurned courtesan, Adriana the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus and her sister Luciana her sister, and you’ve got enough characters all sp…

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Drew Brhel stars in Third Avenue Playhouse's production of "Talley's Folly."
Drew Brhel stars in Third Avenue Playhouse's production of "Talley's Folly." (Photo: Anya Kopischke)

"Talley's Folly" provides a moving opening for Third Avenue Playhouse

We all have secrets that are held close in dark places, kept from stretching into the light of day for fear that only trouble will come our way. But sometimes, and it’s hard for us to know when, shining light on a secret blazes a new path and opens a door that may well have been nailed shut for a long, long time.

That is the heart of "Talley’s Folly," the Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic comedy by Lanford Wilson that opened the season at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay, yet another wonderful theatrical option available in Door County.

Drew Brhel, a familiar face to Milwaukee audiences, plays Matt Friedman, a 42-year-old Jewish accountant from St. Louis who is trying to learn how to dance with the 31-year-old Sally Talley, played by Amy Ensign. The two had a brief time together a year ago, and after much anguish and fear, Matt has returned to Sally with a hope in his heart that is virtually overwhelmed by insecurities.

Matt’s sonata takes place under the moonlight in a broken down boathouse on the grounds of Sally’s home. She lives with her parents, unhappy and unfulfilled and afraid of the world around her. She has a brave – perhaps even brazen – front, but it’s simple to see the unease in her soul.

For Matt, this is lay it all on the line time. His life has been an empty shell, tortured by memories of an immigrant childhood and a loneliness only reinforced by his job as a business accountant. His pursuit of Sally is determined and overzealous, and he knows that nothing he does will win the day – or the girl.

The year is 1944, and the world around them is changing rapidly. The folly of Sally is the boathouse where Matt has returned, and she is determined to send him packing. The early part of the play is him saying "please" and she saying "please go."

The barrier between the two begins to crumble in a tender scene when Matt discovers ice skates, puts them on and stands on the porch of the boathouse, holding on to a post for balance. Sall…

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