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Nino's brings a delicious taste of genuine Southern cooking to Shorewood.
Nino's brings a delicious taste of genuine Southern cooking to Shorewood.
JJ Harrison is the manager at Nino's Southern Sides in Shorewood.
JJ Harrison is the manager at Nino's Southern Sides in Shorewood.

Shorewood is the surprising home to genuine southern cooking at Nino's

Who would ever expect to find some of the best soul food in Milwaukee in the North Shore village of Shorewood?

The answer may be nobody, but you'd be wrong, especially if you haven't visited Nino's Southern Sides, 4475 N. Oakland Ave.

This tiny space, with only four tables, was opened last December by Odell and Gloria Robinson and Valerie Daniels-Carter. Carter runs about 100 fast food restaurants, but none of them can possibly match Nino's.

I've sampled a number of the dishes, fortunately not on the same day, because these are not diet foods. The fried chicken dinner comes with three pieces of deliciously moist chicken with a breading that is unlike anything I've had anywhere. 

It comes with two sides from a list of about  20, including collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and the best red beans and rice I've ever had, and I've eaten it all over the world. they also have a hash brown casserole that is packed with tender potato shreds and delicious melted cheese.

JJ Harrison is the manager and she says that once the festival season ends the restaurant is packed for lunch and for dinner. The best way to sample their food is by calling ahead and taking it home. 

I've also had the smothered pork chops, a distinctly popular southern dish that is a flavorful sample of real down home cooking. Harrison says they are working on opening a second location on Burleigh and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive but the opening date is still several months off.

Among the great things Black people who came north brought with them were the blues and Southern cooking. So far I haven't heard the blues at Nino's but the cooking is a real touch of home. 

Claudio Parrone  Jr., and Alexandra Bonesho star in "Spring Awakening."
Claudio Parrone Jr., and Alexandra Bonesho star in "Spring Awakening." (Photo: Dale Gutzman)

Off The Wall's "Spring Awakening" is a wrenching morality play

In a place that has hosted such decadent theater as a blistering "Cabaret" and a shockingly brutal "Trainspotting," it is stunningly surprising to find a morality play being staged in the tiny black box of Off The Wall Theatre.

But that’s what you get with the production of "Spring Awakening," the multiple Tony Award-winning musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik.

The show opened on Broadway in 2006 and won Tonys for Best Musical and eight other awards. It was billed as a "rock musical" about the angst of teenagers searching for the truth about the changes in their bodies, their outlooks, their desires and the raging of newfound hormones. It’s a sexy script and swept up New York when it opened.

Leave it to Dale Gutzman, the dangerous artistic director at Off The Wall and the director of this production, to turn a musical about teenagers into a play that is about so much more than horny kids.

Gutzman has staged a play about the exuberance of youthful passions, not just for a roll in the hay but also for a challenge to the status quo, the boundary the keeps the world from being a better place.

With a sparkling cast – headed by the charismatic Claudio Parrone Jr., and the marvel that is Alexandra Bonesho – this production is about honesty in all things, especially in the relationship between parents and children, teachers and students, and boyfriends and girlfriends. The moral is about truth in all things. 

We are introduced to the concept of the difficulty parents have being honest with their children when Bonesho, a young woman who is about to become an aunt for the second time, asks her mother (Jocelyn Ridgely) to explain how babies come into the world. After a tortuous and ever evasive journey, it all comes down to, as mom explains it, just loving your husband. Love him enough, and voila!, here comes a baby.

Already we see where this is headed. The schism between the adult world and the world of young people is dram…

Libby Amato, Linnea Koeppel, Anna Figlesthaler and Jade Taylor in "These Shining Lives."
Libby Amato, Linnea Koeppel, Anna Figlesthaler and Jade Taylor in "These Shining Lives." (Photo: Jason Fassl)

Powerful and passionate "These Shining Lives" shines with Umbrella Group

There is a triumphant kind of beauty when Libby Amato, resting in the arms of her husband, finally gives up her life and sails seamlessly from her children, her friends and her life.

It’s a moment that calls for tears, but it’s hard to tell if they are tears of sorrow, tears of joy, tears of peace or tears of bitter anger.

It is all of that and more in the splendid, powerful and touching production of "These Shining Lives," being staged by The Umbrella Group at Next Act Theatre in the Third Ward.

More than anything else, this play is eloquent testimony to the oft-lossed concept of modesty in a theatrical performance. There are not overt tugs at heartstrings nor overwrought shouting in the face of fatal injustice.

What we get, simply, is the story of the radium girls, women who worked at the Radium Dial Company in the 1920s. The women painted the faces of timepieces manufactured by the company, painting them with a delicate brush that contained radium. The delicate work provided jobs for women at a time when the earning power was dim. But these watches that glowed in the dark gave these girls a chance to make more money than they ever thought possible.

It isn’t long before we begin to suspect that something much darker than just painting watches is at work here. In order to get a fine point on the brush, the ladies twirl it between their lips, over and over during their lengthy shift.

The four women who work side by side for  years become a family of their own. Amato is the narrator and the newest of the workers. Anna Figlesthaler is the non-stop chatterer who becomes the closest friend to Amato. Linnea Koeppel is the bawdy jokester, and Jade Taylor is the moral compass of the group.

After just a few years, the women begin to notice that their hands glow in the dark – a moment that takes special notice of the evocative lighting talents of Jason Fassl. It’s a moment that makes you catch your breath, actually seeing the start of this tale of horror.

Nate Press (left) and Kirk Thomsen star in TWC's production of "Bent"
Nate Press (left) and Kirk Thomsen star in TWC's production of "Bent" (Photo: Ryan Blomquist)

World Stage's brutal and frank "Bent" sends chills up your spine

The first thing we see is a fully naked man standing frozen, while all around him figures in the dark shout at him, as if devils from inside his own mind.

Next we see the man, clothed now in pajama bottoms and a robe, head down and suffering from a horrible, memory erasing hangover. Then we see him rush off stage and vomit louder than you’ve ever heard before.

He comes back, wiping his mouth, flops on the floor and we are then greeted with another fully naked young man, striding seductively out of the bedroom, past our hungover hero.

This is just the first five minutes of the brave and terrifying production of "Bent" from The World’s Stage Theatre Company which opened Friday night at the 10th Street Theatre.

"Bent" is a 1979 play written by Martin Sherman about the Nazi persecution of gays. It is a brutal story, and the play is just as brutal.

TWC has a history of pushing the edges of the envelope to create theater that shocks and means something. They have both succeeded and failed in the past. This one is a clear success, even if there are minor quibbles.

The first half of the story is about Max and Rudy, German gay lovers. They are arrested by the Nazis, and on the train to Dachau, Max is forced to kill his lover to prove he is not gay.

To Max, it is better to be a Jew than a "fluff" forced to wear the pink triangle. On the train, Max meets Horst, who wears his pink triangle proudly. Max, with his falsehood a secret, wears the yellow triangle of the Jew. It is Horst who explains that the pink puts him, and others, at the bottom of the prisoner totem pole.

The shocking beginning of this play seems to suggest that there is nowhere else to go. If your most dramatic moments come in the early moments, is it all downhill from there?

The answer is, kind of.

I’ve always thought this play would be better and more powerful if it were a 75-minute one act rather than a two-hour two-act production. But there is an amazing climb back up the mountain top of dr…