At first glance, "Omnium Gatherum," the play opening Windfall Theatre's season, appears to be contrived. The static setting is an elegant dinner party attended by a contentious cross section of 21st century political and social types.
It is all talk, talk, talk. People posing, posturing and expounding. It looks and sounds like the chattering heads of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC with food in their mouths.
But the single-act piece, written after Sept. 11 by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, gradually grows on an audience. We become increasingly aware of cryptic cues and small signs that suggest this exercise in fine dining may not be as one dimensional as it initially seemed. Something strange is happening here.
The drive home from the theater is guaranteed to include discussion of the play, and that is a trusty indicator that your time has been well spent.
Here is the setup. A vapid hostess obsessed with social and culinary niceties – think Martha Stewart – is giving a dinner party in the wake of Sept. 11. The guest list includes a right-wing superstar novelist, a Cambridge- educated boozy blowhard, an aggressively vegan woman, a moderate Westernized Arab intellectual, an upwardly mobile African-American female minister and a firefighter.
The culture wars are being fought here on multiple fronts, from diet to American imperialism to condescension toward the heroic but working class fireman. The characters are arch and frankly annoying.
That changes as co-writers Rebeck and Gersten-Vassilaros stretch these human cliches into satirical proportions. The hostess' sunny cluelessness about the world outside of her perfect domestic bubble, the vegan's testiness over her growing hunger, the novelist's knee-jerk American exceptionalism and the Cambridge fellow's bloated blathering induce giggles.
This is "Saturday Night Live" territory, but the playwrights have enriched the script with better than "SNL" wit and creeping evidence that our perception has been skewed by assumptions we made. The play becomes quite intriguing.
Despite occasional moments of overacting, the eight-person Windfall cast is effective. Carol Zippel's starchy portrait of the dinner hostess is right on the money, as is Amy Hansmann's prickly vegan. Toni Martin is particularly expressive in her portrayal of the minister.
Marquette University theater faculty member Maureen Kilmurry, who should be receiving more directing opportunities from Milwaukee's professional companies, staged the show.
See All of Shakespeare's Plays
Travel to London next spring and you will be able to see all 37 of Shakespeare's plays staged over a period of six weeks. However, there is a catch. They will be performed in 37 different languages.
London's Globe Theatre, which was built on the site of the theater that premiered many of Shakespeare's plays, is producing the international festival, called Globe to Globe. The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is the American company participating in the event. It will mount a hip hop version of "Othello."
"Love's Labor's Lost" will be staged entirely in British Sign Language, and the new country of South Sudan is sending a production of "Cymbeline" in Juba Arabic. Other nations represented include Belarus, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The HaBima National Theater of Israel will mount perhaps the most ironically compelling production when it stages "The Merchant of Venice" in Hebrew. Check out this CNN.com story for more information about the festival.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.