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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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George Webb's famous prediction.
George Webb's famous prediction.

George Webb's takes the high road in Brewers' burger giveaway

You really have to hand it to George Webb, the venerable Milwaukee restaurant chain.

There may be a "new" kid on the block, trying to mimic Webb’s claim to fame, but the Webb people aren’t all that concerned.

The deal is that for 65 years Webb has been offering free burgers if the Milwaukee Brewers win a certain number of consecutive games. Currently that number is 12.

This year, Sobelman’s, the popular bar/restaurant in the Menomonee Valley, offered a promotion to give away free burgers if the Brewers win 10 straight.

I’m a lot more bothered by this than Webb’s seems to be.

"Let them do what they want," said Ryan Stamm, whose dad used to own the chain. "We’ve been offering this for 65 years and paid off once, in 1987. Who cares what they do?"

Dave Sobelman, owner of the bar, said he wasn’t concerned about any criticism that he was playing off somebody else’s idea.

"We announced this two days before opening day," he said. "I really haven’t heard that much criticism from anyone … except that elite downtown crowd."

Well, at least one person isn’t all that enamored of his idea to replicate a Milwaukee institution, and at 70, I don’t consider myself part of this "downtown elite crowd."

That would be kind of like someone building a duplicate of the Calatrava and filling it with sunglasses stores and and a mini-mart. Or somebody who gets the monthly flavor of the day card from Kopp’s and does the exact same thing every day at his custard stand.

One thing Milwaukee doesn’t like is people who mess with our traditions. We revere our traditions.

I really admire Webb for taking the high road on this whole thing. They are going to keep on doing what they have kept on doing for over six decades. Good for them.

Sobleman makes a good burger, and for some, his restaurant is…

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JJ Phillips (left), Luke Brotherhood and Bob Amaral star in the Milwaukee Rep's production of "The History of Invulnerability."
JJ Phillips (left), Luke Brotherhood and Bob Amaral star in the Milwaukee Rep's production of "The History of Invulnerability." (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Rep's "History of Invulnerability" suffers from an identity crisis

Ever since he made his debut into the American pop culture world, Superman has been a character who made people wonder what he really was.  After all, he's technically an alien disguised as a human.

"Look. Up in the Sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman."

That was kind of the way I felt walking out of the opening night of "The History of Invulnerability" at the Milwaukee Rep, which runs through May 4. I wasn’t totally sure what I had just watched, but I knew whatever it was had made me a little uncomfortable.

Playwright David Bar Katz sets out to tell the story of Jerry Siegel, who along with artist Joe Shuster, created Superman.

It’s an interesting and even fascinating story, full of factoids sure to summon a lot of "I didn’t know that" crowd reactions in the early going.

Siegel and Shuster were Jewish. Jews also created Batman, Spiderman, Popeye, Tarzan, Zorro and the Incredible Hulk, among many others. Katz's script posits that it is their very Jewishness that drove Siegel and Shuster to create what may well be the most enduring fictional character ever made. 

And once that part of the door is opened – being Jewish – the door becomes a swinging door like the old time cowboy westerns used to have. The audience is dragged along, first one side, then the other, then back again, then once more through the door.

But I wonder about that initial claim. The two were teenagers when they had the idea for Superman, and it took them six years to get someone to buy in. Certainly the kind of person Siegel was played a big role in his signature creation.

"Make him everything that I wasn’t," he says. "Look me over, then draw the opposite."

The story has all of the elements of a good play: creativity, the struggle to escape obscurity, being ripped off by businessmen, years of suffering and a failed attempt to win back your hero, and an eventual moment of recognition, finally.

What happened was that Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to …

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Karen Estrada and Bryce Lord star in Splinter Group's production of "Mr. Marmalade."
Karen Estrada and Bryce Lord star in Splinter Group's production of "Mr. Marmalade."

"Mr. Marmalade" is a troublesome proposition for Splinter Group

Black comedy is a delicate art, an attempt to find humor in situations or issues that would make your skin crawl.

It’s a brave soul that even attempts to bring a black comedy to the stage, with pretty much even odds that the audience is either going to get and appreciate it, or not.

Jim Farrell, the artistic director of the year-old Splinter Group, does not want for bravery, as he stepped out on a ledge with "Mr. Marmalade," a play by Noah Haidle, one of the darlings of the au courant artistic set.

Farrell mounted this show with some outstanding Milwaukee actors, including Karen Estrada, Bryce Lord, Emily Vitrano and the always irrepressible Nate Press.

Estrada plays Lucy, a 4-year-old with an imaginary friend named Mr. Marmalade and enough personal complexes and issues to fill any psychiatric ward.

In a way, the theory behind the play is admirable. Take Lucy and give her a whole bunch of experiences that are more suited to adults on massive drug cocktails than to a 4-year-old, no matter how precocious.

Unfortunately, "Mr. Marmalade" – which runs through April 19 – is just too much of a one trick pony.

At some point, I whispered to myself, "Okay. I get it. She’s 4. She talks about suicide and sex and drug use and child abuse. Now, tell me something I can believe and care about."

The problem with this play – and this cast did all it could to lift it from its limbo – is that nobody did anything that made me give a hoot about what happened to them.

Zach Thomas Woods plays Mr. Marmalade, perhaps one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever seen. He moves from gentle tea parties to cocaine abuse, child abuse and creating the kind of tension that ends in the death of a baby. It’s impossible to see what Lucy sees in him.

It’s not enough that Lucy is just lonely and has created Mr. Marmalade to fill some vacant lot in the panorama of her life. If she created him, she would give him something that attracts her.

The cast does some heroic work to brea…

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Braden Moran and Leah Dutchin star in Renaissance Theaterworks's new production of "Skin Tight."
Braden Moran and Leah Dutchin star in Renaissance Theaterworks's new production of "Skin Tight." (Photo: Ross Zentner)

Renaissance rings the right bells with moving "Skin Tight"

The past weekend was one about growing older and the memory of lives together in Milwaukee theater, themes that lit up two poignant productions.

The first example – Next Act's "Three Views of the Same Object" – was a courageous and moving production about the end of our lives and how we face that time. 

I followed that with "Skin Tight," the remounting of the hour-long play by Gary Henderson at Renaissance Theaterworks. Ten years ago, I saw the Renaissance production, and this time the company brought back the original cast and its original director, Laura Gordon.

This new version, running through April 27, is even richer and more nuanced than the original. It’s as if Gordon and stars Leah Dutchin and Braden Moran have lived these roles each day for the last decade and have just decided to show us how very much they have learned about life in that time.

The story is about love, but it is even more about life, the life that Tom and Elizabeth had in a New Zealand hamlet.

They bring to life the memory of their courtship, their first time, the war that interrupted their lives, the affair that almost did, the child they had who drifted so far away she seemed like a stranger, the love for the land and the loss of the farm they loved so much.

And while they revel in the vibrancy and vitality of the days of their youth, filled with sensuality and passions, they also hold each other close in order to share the disintegration and inevitable end of their lives.

At one point, while Tom is washing her hair, she asks, "Will you wash my body when I die?" He is frozen and struck mute with the very thought.

There is a turbulence to love and life, and Dutchin and Moran ride those waves with both an unyielding force and an enviable grace. Their performances drip with passion and with the kind of fears and regrets that mark all of our lives.

There is a significant amount of joyful abandon in "Skin Tight" as the young people slide willingly into their lives together. L…

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