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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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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 is in the middle of the stage, wondering which fork in the road he should take. 

One of the perils of this kind of mixed-media production is that you need to be careful that one doesn’t overshadow the other. With a couple of veteran and special actors like Kishline and Clifton in a play, the danger of their talents outshining the rest of the cast is real. But in this production, each piece fits together easily, like a child’s puzzle.

All seven of the actors (the three couples plus Puck) are full of the kinds of delightful presence that Shakespeare created and that Kralj and Anderson have adopted. The dancing is both sensuous and chaste, with Edwin Olvera and Jessie Mae Scibek creating roles that not only have substance but are an integral part of the production. And the music, composed by Frank Pahl, is a straightforward engine that moves the story down a forward path.

With Daniel Mitchell on guitar and vocals and the serene Amanda Huff on ukulele and vocals, the moments between the frantic action onstage are clearly moments when we catch our breath and catch up to what’s going on.

Eric Appleton both designed the spare set and the incredibly effective lighting that created mood and attention.

When you hear the phrase "musical theater," it obviously conjures up visions of shows like "Phantom of the Opera," "The Music Man" and "Cats." 

What Theatre Gigante does is also musical theater, but with the kind of unique approach that makes them such a vital and valued member of the world of theater in Milwaukee.

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