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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

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Philip Sletteland and Amy Hansmann star in "Phaedra's Love."
Philip Sletteland and Amy Hansmann star in "Phaedra's Love." (Photo: Jason Fassl)

"Phaedra's Love" has lots of sex and shock, but not much else

So, let’s see where we should begin talking about "Phaedra’s Love," the shocking play by British playwright Sarah Kane, which the World Stage Theatre Company opened Friday night at an empty store space at Grand Avenue Mall.

Let’s start with the fact that Kane, who committed suicide in 1999 at 28, killed herself in a hospital where she was being treated for depression. She was then, and even still now, regarded as "L’enfant terrible" of the world of British theater. She wrote this play as a modern reworking of Seneca's ancient story "Phaedra."

So, we’ve got that out of the way. Next let’s look at the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, wrath, envy and pride. This play has six of the seven, with envy somehow getting a pass.

But it’s not just those sins that make up the play. We also have incest, oral sex, rape, masturbation, mutilation, mob violence, suicide (twice) and even a little bit of masochism. We also hear almost every swear word on the list of things you shouldn’t say in mixed company.

Sounds like your basic Friday night at the theater, huh?

This is the story of Phaedra, the second wife of Theseus. Strophe is her daughter, a princess; Hippolytus is his son, a prince.

Phaedra is in love with her stepson, who is a lazy sloth for whom the only joys seem to be television, food, masturbation and a remote controlled truck. Strophe warns her mother not to get involved with her stepson, and she knows whereof she speaks, since she also had sex with him. She also had sex with her stepfather.

Phaedra finally hooks up with Hippolytus with a scene of simulated (I’m sure) oral sex. Afterward, he tells her that he doesn’t love her at all and that her husband slept with her daughter on their wedding night. Distressed, Phaedra kills herself, leaving a note that claims Hippolytus raped her. He leaves the palace and finds a place with a priest who ends up giving oral sex (simulated, I’m also sure) to Hippolytus. 

We then move t…

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The cast of "Hair," now at the Skylight Music Theatre through June 8.
The cast of "Hair," now at the Skylight Music Theatre through June 8. (Photo: Mark Frohna)

Skylight's "Hair" is a tangled retelling of a slice of Americana

The tribal musical "Hair" has returned to Milwaukee almost half a century after it first sent shockwaves through the country.

It was groundbreaking stuff back in 1968 when it opened on Broadway with a cast of young people, a duffle bag full of great songs and a profound desire to poke fun at almost every institution in America.

Skylight Music Theatre has resurrected the musical for its final performance of the season. The show opened Friday night with roaring applause from an audience filled with people (I being one of them) who were around when the world of hippies was in full flower.

The production, which runs through June 8, is an interesting one from several perspectives. First of all, almost all of the actors are local actors, which is somewhat of a surprise. Many have very little experience in the world of professional theater.

Having said that, the cast acquitted itself with the kind of raw enthusiasm demanded by "Hair." This is not an actor’s play. It’s a play for singers and dancers, and Viswa Subbaraman – the artistic director of the Skylight, as well as music director for this show – led them in comfortable places for each song.

Jeremy McQueen created the wild choreography that captured the spirit of the times and the unbridled nature of the world of peace and love.

"Hair" is a musical about a special time period in our history. The world of hippies flourished in the mid-1960s, and it was a peaceful world. The spectacular opening number "Aquarius" clearly spells out what it was like.

"Harmony and understanding,
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation"

It is this slice of Americana that is the strength of "Hair." With songs like "Aquarius," "Hair," "Easy to be Hard" and "Good Morning Sunshine" all making the Billboard charts in 1969, this music has achieved a mark not matched by any other musical ever.

But there are 33 songs in this…

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Ma Fischer's, an East Side staple, made Dave's list of the five best greasy spoons in Milwaukee.
Ma Fischer's, an East Side staple, made Dave's list of the five best greasy spoons in Milwaukee.

5 greatest Milwaukee greasy spoons

Milwaukee is a city on the cutting edge of restaurants, with all kinds of places opening and flourishing, and chefs winning prestigious awards. No matter what it is you want, you can find it well prepared and well served in this city.

But there is another type of restaurant that also goes into the culinary reputation of a city: the greasy spoon.

I love greasy spoons. I’ve been in hundreds of cities and wherever I am, though I like the fancy places, I love the greasy spoon. And I have a pretty clear definition of what qualifies.

The food can’t cost much. It has to have lots and lots of fried stuff. It needs an expansive menu with a greasy spoon version of well-known ethnic dishes. It needs to have Formica and vinyl, and a counter is nice. It needs friendly female servers and pictures of food on their menu. And it needs to serve bottomless cups of coffee. 

Breakfast served at any time of the day is a bonus if you get it.

Milwaukee has its share of greasy spoons, and here are five dotted around the city that lead my pack. I have left George Webb restaurants off this list because I don’t think a chain restaurant should qualify. 

Ma Fischer’s: This is the gold standard. It has everything, plus it’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can get everything from barbecue ribs and eggplant parmigiana. Go to Ma Fischer’s at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night, and the scene is like the best, craziest reality show you ever saw. There is also a secret about this place: It makes fantastic soups. The split pea soup is the best I’ve ever had anywhere.

Pegasus Restaurant: This West Allis favorite has the biggest menu I’ve ever seen. They have 18 different salads, 20 specialty sandwiches, 14 pasta dishes, six Greek dishes and eight Mexican dishes. And that’s just for starters. It has very friendly female servers, and the words "portion control" have never been uttered in the place.

Paul’s Omega Restaurant: This South Side spot seems like it’s always cr…

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The cast of "Midsummer in Midwinter" at Theatre Gigante.
The cast of "Midsummer in Midwinter" at Theatre Gigante.

Theatre Gigante finds big success with "Midsummer in Midwinter"

It was one of those message moments when the message didn’t slide by, but landed with full force in the middle of your mind.

"We live only as much as our imaginations will allow."

And that line perfectly sums up "Midsummer in Midwinter," the imaginative sojourn being staged by Theatre Gigante through May 17.

The company does the kind of work nobody else in Milwaukee does, and they hit it again with this production, which owes much to William Shakespeare but even more to Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson. 

Kralj and Anderson are the dedicated couple that drives this hybrid form of theater, combining dance, text and music. The goal of it all is great theater, and as with any hybrid, sometimes the results can be uneven.

Not in this one.

The story is familiar to anyone who knows a bit about "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." But the script, written by Kralj and Anderson, has its own twists and turn.

There are two couples, Kralj and Anderson (who are really married) and John Kishline and Deborah Clifton (who are also really married). Each couple had a child. Jimmie, played by Evan James Koepnick, and Tina, played by Megan Kaminsky, are the offspring.

Both sets of parents get divorced and marry the other spouse. To make it clear, Anderson marries Clifton and Kishline marries Kralj.

The kids announce that they want to marry each other much to the horror of each parent, and the hilarity completely takes off with searches through a forest, sudden realizations of true love and the running commentary and magic of Puck, played with stunning matter-of-factness by Molly Corkins.

Like Shakespeare’s work, "Midsummer in Midwinter" is an examination of the kinds of folly that love can bring. It’s about choices that we make, both every day and those choices that we might make once in our lifetime.

Bo Johnson takes a turn here as Nick, and he explains the process of making choices, with all the confusion that each of us knows all too well. It’s easy to laugh when Johnson i…

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