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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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The cast of the Windfall Theatre's production of "An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf."
The cast of the Windfall Theatre's production of "An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf."

"An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Beouf" is an unsatisfying dish

A strikingly disheveled David Flores, as Victor, a multi-millionare expatriate in Paris, walks into his own cafe and announces to his private staff that he is going to stop eating until he finally dies.

Given that the cafe is owned by Victor, is open 24 hours a day and serves only him, this strikes his staff as a painful and perplexing decision.

That’s the start of "An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf," the season opener for the Windfall Theatre, 130 E. Juneau Ave.,  at its intimate spot in the Village Church downtown.

After announcing his intention, Victor's staff decides to tempt him with an imaginary seven-course final meal.

Enter the empty plate, each one placed precisely in front of Victor and accompanied by a mouth-wateringly detailed description of each dish.

What follows is either a comedy (there are jokes), a personal drama (we ought to feel sorry for Victor), or a morality play (the world of excess and bullfighting that was Ernest Hemingway, who has just killed himself in Idaho).

The Windfall cast struggles mightily against a relatively thin and superficial script that requires a suspension of disbelief if you want to get into it.

A big part of the play is that, while his staff is running around furiously and we're called on to laugh at obvious jokes, we never get to know why Victor is so distraught until near the very end of the play.

It turns out that he thinks he has been jilted by the woman he loves, and Hemingway has blown his brains out.

I’m not going to give away the reveal at the end of the play, but let it be sufficient to say that nothing is much of a surprise.

Flores is, as usual, a deft actor who wears the sorrow and pretension of Victor on his jowled visage. His best moments are early when his slow-moving end of life plan is revealed.

His performance is a stark counterpoint to some severe overacting by Claude, his maitre d, played by Matt Wickey; Mimi the waitress and Claude’s wife, played by Lindsey Gagliano; and the ch…

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Reese Madigan and Greta Wohlrabe star in the Rep's production of "Venus in Fur."
Reese Madigan and Greta Wohlrabe star in the Rep's production of "Venus in Fur." (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

"Venus in Fur" is a fascinating play within a play

She got the part.

Greta Wohlrabe, a Vanda who plays Vanda, auditioned for a role for Thomas the director.

And she got the part.

It’s the play within the play of "Venus in Fur," the dazzling David Ives play that opened at the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio theater Friday night.

Wohlrabe and Rep Associate Artist Reese Madigan weave a spell on this stage that when the play was over, I felt myself blinking back to reality.

Madigan’s Thomas is the playwright and director of a production he has adapted from a 19th century novel that's focused on both sadism and masochism. He's been cloistered for the whole day in a dank room, conducting auditions. And so far, none of the 35 actresses he’s seen are right for the role of Vanda von Dunayev.

He is about to leave for home when  a rain-soaked blonde comes crashing through the door. It is Vanda (coincidentally) Jordan, one of thousands of New York hungry actors. She caught a heel in a sewer grate, was semi-molested on the train and is hours late, but she's determined to make Thomas give her a chance. As she strips to a black corset, garter belt and black stockings, she raises peals of laughter from the audience. 

She also raises Thomas’s interest enough that he gives her a chance. He reads the part of Severin von Kushemski; she reads Vanda.

And it turns out that Vanda has a grip on this character and talent that makes Thomas’s heart beat faster. They continue to read, alternating between Kushemski and Thomas and Vanda and Vanda. 

The simple thing to do would be to look at this as just another story of seduction with a little S&M thrown in for good measure. Lots of laughs plus some sexy skin and lingerie.

But the play is so much more in the hands of director Laura Gordon. 

She has a clear understanding that "Venus in Fur" is really a mysterious portrayal of the battle between the sexes and the battles we fight with ourselves. There are so many complexities and layers to this play that I intend to see …

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Youngblood Theatre Company's run of "Dying City" lasts through Oct. 12.
Youngblood Theatre Company's run of "Dying City" lasts through Oct. 12.

Superb acting brings "Dying City" to life

Some people can go through an entire life with small troubles but avoid the huge catastrophe that all but makes you want to cash the whole thing in. These are lucky people.

Those who are slightly unlucky will face one of these cataclysmic events and will struggle to survive.

And then there are those whose only kind of luck is bad luck. They may face two, or even more, of these spine-chilling events during their lifetime.

"Dying City," which opened at Youngblood Theatre Thursday night, is about three of the last group. Three people who couldn’t get off the track as the grief train kept roaring down on them.

This is a play about memories, both the honest ones and those created out of whole cloth.

Christopher Shinn’s play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and it’s easy to see why.

It’s the story of Kelly (Tess Cinpinski), a therapist and widow of Craig (Andrew Edwin Voss), who who was killed in Iraq. It’s also the story of Peter (also Voss), Craig’s identical twin, a gay Hollywood actor.

Craig has been dead for a year in what the army reported as a training accident.

The day of his funeral, Peter and Kelly bonded over a long, long talk and promised to stay in touch. But Kelly couldn’t face Peter and even ignored his presence in New York where he was doing a play.

The action begins when Peter surprisingly arrives at Kelly’s as she packs, preparing to move away.

The rest of the play alternates between the last night Craig and Kelly spend together before he leaves for Iraq, and the night that Peter comes to see Kelly.

It is an emotional play and a sad story of broken dreams, broken promises and broken spirits.

Voss sparkles in the dual roles of Craig and Peter. As he matures as an actor, his talent is catching up with his charisma.

Her has as much stage presence as anyone in town and is handsome beyond belief. In one 75 minute play he brings Peter’s longing and Craig’s uncertainty to life.

Cipinski, who along with Voss is one of the founders …

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Mary MacDonald Kerr stars in the one-woman show "The Detective's Wife" at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Mary MacDonald Kerr stars in the one-woman show "The Detective's Wife" at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

"The Detective's Wife" is a captivating one-woman tour de force

It becomes ever more clear as the journey takes us along that you better beware when you search, for what you find may well not be what you expected.

That’s at the core of the fascination with "The Detective’s Wife," the one-woman show that had a triumphant opening over the weekend at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

Director James Tasse and actor Mary MacDonald Kerr are no strangers to each other on Milwaukee stages and they combine here to create a masterpiece.

Kerr plays Alice Conroy, the 52-year-old widow of a Chicago homicide detective who was recently killed in an alley behind an aging movie theater.

Conroy has lost her voice after the murder but she has not lost anything else, including her driven curiosity that has made her an addict of pulp mysteries. She figures she has read over 14,000 of them during the 30 years of her marriage.

That addiction is a driving force behind her on-again off-again search for the particulars of her husband’s killing.

This play revolves around the journey she takes to the final riveting 20 minutes when all truths are revealed. I’m not going to reveal the ending, so as not to ruin the evening for those wise and fortunate enough to see this production.

But the trip she takes is full of sorrow, psychological meanderings and a good measure of humor, most of it self-deprecating.

The phrase "tour de force" is overused in the world of the arts, but it certainly applies here to Kerr’s performance.

Understand here that Kerr is alone onstage for two hours, with only the wonderfully comfortable set designed by Sandra J. Strawn as a space to play.

But Kerr has a range virtually unmatched in this city and her marvelous ability to connect with an audience is wonderful to watch.

She can make you laugh one moment, tear up the next and then breathe with comfort a moment later.

Kerr is the first winner of the Ruth Schudson Leading Lady award, named for the co-founder of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

A visit to see her in "The Detect…

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