One of the easy lessons to learn in life is that when you walk out onto the ledge make sure that there is something down below in case you fall.
Being out on the ledge is nothing new for Dale Gutzman and his tiny Off The Wall Theatre and he has never been afraid to walk out there without something to fall off.
Last year Off the Wall took on the controversy of "Trainspotting" and delivered a scathing and the visceral performance that was virtually unequaled in Milwaukee theater last season.
Gutzman is out on the ledge again with the opening of "Grey Gardens," a quirky musical based on an almost 30-year-old documentary film, of all things.
And he is proving, once again, that when you take a story with fascination and cast it with actors who are incredible, you end up with an absolute home run of a play.
The story of the play is about two women, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter – "Big Edie" and "Little Edie."
If the name Bouvier rings a bell, it should because these two women were related to Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis.
The story of the play spans 30 years. From the day of a party celebrating the engagement of little Edie to 30 years later when the two women have been consigned to live in Grey Gardens, along with dozens of cats, thousands of insects and empty cupboards and refrigerators.
This is the story of a mother and her daughter and the things they do to each other, born out of emotion and forged in a cauldron of jealousy and empty hopes.
In 1975 Albert and David Maysles were intrigued by the story of these two women who lived in an East Hampton mansion that was "unfit for human habitation." Their documentary film won awards and has been honored in American film lore.
Turning this film into a musical was a risky proposition. But it enjoyed great critical and even box office success during runs both off-Broadway and on Broadway.
Gutzman has directed a play that opened Wednesday night and that cast a spell in the tiny theater. The spell comes both from the story and in large measure from actors who are at the absolute top of their game.
Jack Forbes Wilson is a singer, piano player and actor who absolutely commands the stage. His portrayal of the dissolute George Gould Strong makes you cringe with curiosity and hold out your arms to support his weakness.
Alexandra Bonesho continues to climb into the upper regions of Milwaukee's acting talent with her portrayal of the daughter, Little Edie, during the first act.
I saw Bonesho for the first time last year in the wonderful "Microcrisis" at Next Act Theatre. She is a captivating presence on stage and can hold her own with the best that Milwaukee has to offer.
Put this play truly belongs to Niffer Clark, who never fails to dazzle in whatever role she has.
I saw this play on Broadway and Christine Ebersole won a Tony award for her portrayal of both Big Edie in the first act and Little Edie when the women had lost their minds.
Clarke brings incredible depth and intelligence along with a sparkling wit to a role that demands significant choices be made by the actor.
From the sparkling blue of her eyes to the dedicated movement of her body, Clark radiates from the stage like a sun around which we all circle.
Her ability to wrap her arms around the stage and around her role and to make it her very own is virtually unparalleled in this town.
One of the most surprising things about Grey Gardens is how sweet and pretty the music is. The story is so unusual and so bizarre that you would expect music that set your teeth on edge.
But there are some beautiful songs in this play and Wilson has arranged the music to get the very most out of his singers and the songs.
Grey Gardens runs through Sept. 22 at Off the Wall Theatre.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.