In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Mary MacDonald Kerr and James Ridge star in "The Few" at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. (PHOTO: Paul Ruffalo)

Chamber Theatre gives "The Few" a solid, sensitive treatment

"Hello. I'm in Eastern Washington, (509) 645-7842. Bradford. I am starting now. Seeking: one Christian lady for one man. I'm not a crazy fanatic or using God here. I am a one-man-to-one-lady man. True blue. Looking for healthy relationship through God according to King James Version, not perverted or twisted. No cussers."

The dreaded personal ad, a relic from the last century before Match.com, eHarmony and Tinder. When you put an ad in a paper and hoped like hell that somebody might actually get back to you.

It was a place for those with lonely or broken hearts, just as "The Few," the brilliant play by Stanley D. Hunter, provides a resting – or restless – home for three hearts that have been dragged through the mud of life and hung out to dry in a constantly crackling wind. And Milwaukee Chamber Theatre offers a wonderful treatment under the bright and sensitive direction of C. Michael Wright and a cast featuring two of the best actors in this state.

QZ (Mary MacDonald Kearr) and Bryan (James Ridge) used to be lovers and part of a threesome that founded a magazine for truckers called "The Few." It was a labor of love for all of them, a newspaper that was meant to give the long-haul drivers a place to "feel less alone."

But four years ago, two days after the third partner's suicide, Bryan walked out on QZ, the paper and his life. Nobody knew where he'd gone or where he was, but QZ picked up the pieces. She changed the paper into a forum for personal ads for drivers to make human connections and hired a lost local boy Matthew (Mitch Bultman) to help run the paper. She had just about retired the $12,000 of debt that Bryan left, and her life is back on track.

But like the dust bunnies that fly through their town, Bryan blows back through the door. He is a wreck – skinny, torn clothes, hair askew and attitude unpredictable. And his appearance is more than a mere prediction of the wreck of a relationship he has with QZ.

What the hell is Bryan doing back in town, and where has he been?

Matthew thinks Brian has been on a soulful sojourn, searching for truth in America. The 19-year-old, from a troubled home and with a troubled identity, has found a kind of peace in the ramshackle office of the newspaper and an unseen mentor in Bryan. He has saved every issue of the paper.

QZ doesn't really care where Bryan has been. She just wants him to know that even though he holds the deed to the trailer and the paper, she has established ownership that she isn't about to give up, much less share, in terms of either the paper or what's left of her heart.

She's seeing someone, she tells him: "I ran my own personal ad in the paper a while ago, we started writing one another. It's amazing, he's actually better than you in every way imaginable. I mean, there is not a single way in which he is not better than you."

That pretty much sums up the territory marked by each of these three dusty combatants. They are fighting each other and fighting life, and so far, it's been a draw.

Kerr and Ridge are among the finest actors this state has ever produced, and this production clearly shows why. The thing that sets each of them apart is not so much what they do, as what they don't do.

Both of them are comfortable with silence. Kerr can say more with a single discouraged glance at Ridge than you might get in a full page of dialogue. Ridge wears his forlorn life like a shroud, never once stepping outside of what we think he ought to be. They are both brilliant.

Bultman is new to me and an absolute delight. He's funny and sensitive and angry and not a single one of those traits strikes a false note. A moment with a BB pistol in his hands is as funny a scene as you are likely to see this year.

Hunter's play is a remarkable piece of work about the torture some people put themselves through. It's like you are waterboarding yourself in your own bathtub.

"The Few" runs through March 19 and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.


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