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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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Next Act Theatre has the perfect blend of wine, dinner and theater for your next Saturday date night.
Next Act Theatre has the perfect blend of wine, dinner and theater for your next Saturday date night.

Next Act combines dinner, wine and a provocative play in one package

For the eighth straight year, October is Dining Month on, presented by Locavore, the newest restaurant at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2014."

What could possibly deliver more fun than a night of cool food, great wine selected just for you and an evening of wonderful theater?

That’s the idea behind the Saturday Date Night package created by David Cecsarini’s Next Act Theatre.

Milwaukee’s theater companies are always looking for more ways to get people into the seats, and this one sounds like it should be right in the ballpark for young couples looking for a night out – and someplace other than a bar or a movie.

The evening, in the flourishing Walker's Point neighborhood, begins overlooking the Milwaukee River at Wine Maniacs on the River with a three-course wine dinner specially prepared for package holders by the chef staff. Each course will be paired with a wine personally selected by Head Wine Guy, Jeff Cox. After dinner, patrons will head to nearby Next Act for a night of thought-provoking entertainment in a modern, intimate performance space.

Saturday Date Night packages are available for the following productions: "Heresy" by A. R. Gurney, "No Child" by Nilaja Sun and "Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher about Evolution" by Stephen Massicotte.

Information about the package can be found at the Next Act website and you can take a look at the Wine Maniacs menu here.

Niffer Clarke stars in "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds."
Niffer Clarke stars in "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds." (Photo: Ross Zentner)

Dysfunctional family lies at the heart of Splinter Group's "Gamma Rays"

One of the greatest American plays ever written, "The Glass Menagerie" is about a controlling, difficult mother and her two children, both trapped by their own devils.

Take that famous play, shoot it full of steroids and you’ve got "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds," the Paul Zindel play currently getting a striking and emotional treatment by Splinter Group, 3211 S. Lake Dr.

Niffer Clarke, on of my favorite Milwaukee actors, delivers an unrelenting and powerful performance as Beatrice, whose natural maternal instincts have been ground into dust by a life filled with emptiness.

This is quite a family.

Beatrice is a slovenly drinker, awash in recrimination over what might have been but never was. She has no hopes, no dreams and no memories to bring anything pleasant into her life. She is in perpetual mourning, drenched in self-pity. At one point, she closes her eyes as she announces, "I almost forgot everything I was supposed to be."

Her oldest daughter is the perky and perpetually on-the-make Ruth (Megan Kaminsky) who suffers from epilepsy, a past nervous breakdown and a typhoon of desire to be the most popular, hottest girl in the class. Ruth is also an inveterate tattle-tale, reporting everything that happens at school to her mother, thereby deepening the chasm where Beatrice resides.

And finally there is Tillie (Kat Wodtke), the plain and beaten down youngest daughter. She has an insatiable curiosity about the world of science (hence the marigolds grown after being exposed to gamma rays) but is in such a shell built by her mother that she seems both unwilling and unable to break free of these freakish bonds.

Whatever hopes or ambitions Tillie has are constantly undermined by her mother. But Tillie manages a triumph when she is selected as a finalist for a prize in the school science project. Tillie tries to share the news with her mother, but the truth stays hidden until Ruth breaks through the door shouting about the good news. "Nobo…

Denis Malinkine (Don Quixote) and Valerie Harmon (Dulcinea) rehearse for "Don Quixote."
Denis Malinkine (Don Quixote) and Valerie Harmon (Dulcinea) rehearse for "Don Quixote." (Photo: Milwaukee Ballet)

Milwaukee Ballet dances "Don Quixote" into the Marcus Center

Michael Pink, the artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet, is an artist who has a great respect and affection for the literary and musical giants of past, just has he has a diligent commitment to encouraging and producing new works.

But more than anything else, Pink is a storyteller, a man in love with a good yarn that tells a tale of romance, adventure and the forces of good and evil.

It is his storytelling and his respect for history that drive the remounting of "Don Quixote," the ballet he created in 1987 for the respected Northern Ballet in England and introduced to Milwaukee audiences almost a decade ago.

Pink calls the Don and his sidekick Sancho Panza "the Laurel and Hardy of ballet."

"The situations they find themselves in in the story seem to always result in some comic outcome," he said. "I guess having one who is delusional and one who is chasing the next beer and nap makes for good humor, a little like visiting the relatives."

I sat through a rehearsal of "Don Quixote," and the excitement was palpable with a floor filled with soloists and couples flying through the soaring choreography that seems to fit like a glove over both the story and the music.

Pink’s relationship with "Don Quixote" goes back almost 30 years when he created a new version of the Russian ballet under the guidance of Christopher Gable, a famed British dancer and actor who was artistic director of The Northern Ballet.

"It was my first full length commission," Pink said. "At the time, I was just beginning my quest to try and bring more depth and narrative to my work. The challenges of the Don Q ballet story and music score are that they represent 19th century balletic convention. Lots of individual pieces/songs that were designed to showcase the many dancers in the original Russian companies.

"I took a few extra narrative episodes from the epic Cervantes' novel," Pink continued, "and added additional music by Glazunov and Philip Feeney to support the added material."

Some o…

Theatre Gigante retools a Shakespearean classic with "My Dear Othello."
Theatre Gigante retools a Shakespearean classic with "My Dear Othello."

Gigante's "My Dear Othello" is a spare, to-the-point production of a classic

Betrayal, revenge, a little more betrayal, a little more revenge, then even more revenge and a white lace handkerchief.

That’s about all you have to know about "My Dear Othello," the Theatre Gigante production opening tonight at the Kenilworth Studio 508 Theater.

The Moor of Venice is one of the greatest tragedies written by Shakespeare, and this reworking by Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson is no less a tragic, although the journey to that ending is shorter, simpler and far less complex.

The production combines the passions and emotions of the original play with an almost Kabuki-like style, with all the poses and freezes so common in the Japanese theatrical form. The only thing missing is the pounds of makeup worn by your average Kabuki dancer.

Kralj and Anderson are widely known for their blend of dance and theater, with the former's training as a dancer creating a theatrical experience that is unique in Milwaukee. The company staged a striking production of "Midsummer in Midwinter" last season, their take on another Shakespeare stalwart "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

I saw the preview performance of "My Dear Othello," and it was striking how strong this story is when it’s stripped down from all the extras, both people and subplots.

This is a story easy to follow. Othello marries Desdemona. His aide Iago, hurt by being passed over for a promotion, engineers a fanciful tale of Desdemona’s infidelity. Iago, the personification of the classic schemer, drafts his wife Emilia, who is also Desdemona’s handmaiden, to help create the tale of cheating.

And it all revolves around that white lace handkerchief. Othello gives it to Desdemona. Iago tells his wife to get it, and she does and gives it to Iago who then plants it in the room of Cassio, knowing that Othello will discover it and be convinced his wife has cheated on him. And, like any great tragedy, it ends with death.

This is not a linear production with a beginning, a middle and an end. Some of the t…