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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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In Holiday Guide Reviews

Chris Flieller (Stasch) and Nathan Wesselowski (Pee Wee) in "A Cudahy Caroler Christmas." (PHOTO: Mark Frohna Photography)

"A Cudahy Caroler Christmas" an out-of-touch slice of old Milwaukee


There's not much that can drag people in Milwaukee away from a Packer-Viking game that is more like a religious experience than a football game.

But "A Cudahy Caroler's Christmas," which is rapidly becoming a holiday tradition in this town, managed to fill the house at In Tandem's 10th Street Theatre Sunday, the opening weekend of the show.

And there's good reason the house was packed. This show – what many call a send-up of everything Milwaukee – is full of jokes, slapstick, pretty good comedic timing and some gorgeously beautiful singing.

Crowds love this play, being staged for the seventh time by In Tandem. And the reason they are staging it again is clear – this one makes money for the small organization.

But, I can find almost nothing about this play that is meaningful or interesting or even entertaining.

Early in the play we hear a joke when the character named Stasch tells the character named Pee Wee, "You don't know your butthole from a hole in the ice."

And from then on, it's a race to see how many jokes they can tell about butts, boobs, beer, bowling, big farts and being horny. And what we find out is that the supply seems endless.

If you got stuck in the locker room with a group of sixth-grade boys, this is the kind of humor you might get, complete with the snickering.

The trouble with this play, which is one only people in Milwaukee would get, is that this is a Milwaukee we don't even recognize anymore.

Laverne and Shirley may, at one time, have been rooted in a stereotype of brewery workers in Milwaukee.

But this cast says "tirty" instead of "thirty." They say "Ach, ya 'dere once." They say "aina." They are passionate about their bowling and their beer. They think fart jokes are high-minded humor. They think the Wisconsin Dells is the greatest vacation spot in the land and that Whitefish Bay is the only home to breeding and culture.

The thing is, I don't know anybody like this. I know lots of people who live on the South Side and in Bay View, and they have just as much culture and sophistication as people anywhere in this area.

We've spent a lot of time and effort in this community to shake this absurd image that we think people have about Milwaukee. Then we trot out something like this as our idea of humor. No wonder people elsewhere think we might be small-town hicks.

Really wonderful humor is always rooted in truth. There are no truths here. Maybe once, decades ago. But not anymore.

It's not to say this production is totally without redeeming moments. Three members of the cast are really great singers – Kelly Cline, who is stuck playing a girl who wants to be a water ski queen with the Tommy Bartlett show in the Dells; Nathan Wesselowski, who plays her father and Stasch's former friend; and Alison Mary Forbes, who is just as good an actor as she is a singer.

But even those performances can't lift this show out of the common and mundane.
If you are a person who believes that Milwaukee's best days are yet to come and you are working to create a sophisticated image, then you might actually be insulted by this play.

It's unfortunate that "A Cudahy Caroler Christmas" has become the signature production for In Tandem. This is an exciting theater company, and they opened their season with a brilliant production of "The Nightmare Room." Next up for In Tandem is the moving "Beast on the Moon," a play that demands drama and facing the ultimate of truths.

We can all be confident that they will come back from this wallowing in sophomoric comedy that seems beneath them.

If there is one thing that makes me ill, it is those stupid yellow foam wedge cheeseheads that you see all over the place. They scream bush league to me.

"A Cudahy Caroler Christmas" is a yellow foam wedge cheesehead of a play.


Talkbacks

cassielee_83 | Dec. 3, 2012 at 9:51 a.m. (report)

My grandfather says tirty and bat-trees. I know people who bleed green and gold. I and many other of my South Side brethren call White Fish Bay, White Folks Bay. And I think there is nothing wrong with loving the blue collared, possibly even low browed "way of thinking" a lot of people in this area come from. It's a popular play for a reason, Dave. I have seen other productions at the In Tandum that I've enjoyed. I do truly have faith in my city's possibilities and it's achievements of being more than beer and brats, but whether you like it or not under all the sophistication and culture we've developed is some guy named Butch, married to some lady called Deb or Nan, who drinks PBR (and so do the hipsters Dave) at the corner tavern. You may want to think "we" are so far beyond that and that to move forward we must run screaming from the past. But the stereotypes you see are not so far gone as you'd like to think.

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