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In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Tess Cinpinski and Rob Maass in "Gruesome Playground Injuries" (PHOTO: Megan Peters)

Youngblood Theatre's important role in Milwaukee

My current stage heroes are the kids at Youngblood Theatre. All graduates of UWM's theater department in recent years, they are maintaining Milwaukee's status as a major league stage town.

We are blessed here with an abundance of mature theater companies that produce superb work. A professional sheen glistens on most everything Milwaukee audiences see.

But along with that kind of longterm success comes a certain loss of quick-footed nimbleness, what-the-hell sense of adventure and the ability to explore muses. Budgets, box offices and boards of directors have a taming influence on all of that.

Without those qualities, a theater community is in danger of settling into staid middle age, becoming predictable and establishment. Risks are avoided. Impulses are thwarted. Art's sharp edges are rounded off.

Almost any city the size of Milwaukee will have theatrical agitators scrambling to poke the artistically comfortable. They are usually long on zeal but short on talent and experience.

Youngblood has been pulling on boundaries and getting in our face with the energy of youth, but the company also possesses a skill and savviness well beyond its years. That is exactly what a town like Milwaukee needs to be theatrically complete.

Two projects this month add to the rapidly growing body of Youngblood work. The company is introducing rapidly emerging playwright Rajiv Joseph to Milwaukee with his 2009 piece "Gruesome Playground Injuries" in a production scheduled for Aug. 12 to 27 in the Kenilworth Studio Theatre, a space owned and operated by UWM.

Joseph received national attention this spring when his savagely dark and funny "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" opened on Broadway starring Robin Williams.

"Gruesome Playground Injuries" follows a couple for 30 years, tracing their emotional traumas by examining their physical wounds. Along the way, we see the two people in hospital rooms, a mental institution and a funeral home.

"It is very intimate, a love story – unrequited love," explains Youngblood member Benjamin Wilson, who is directing the production. "The language is so good. (Rajiv) Joseph plays with language a lot.

"The play also provides two great roles." Company members Tess Cinpinski and Rob Maass play the couple. Check the Youngblood website for ticket information.

Three days after "Gruesome Playground Injuries" opens, Youngblood debuts "Minnesota Moon" in a free outdoor production at Trimborn Farm, a Milwaukee County Historical Society facility in Greendale. A 45-minute, one-act comedy by veteran dramatist John Olive, "Moon" dates back to the late '70s, when Jeff Daniels appeared in an off-Broadway production at the old Circle Rep in New York.

In the play, a couple of high school buddies share stories, drink beer and say good-bye the night before one heads off to college and the other faces the prospect of going to war in Vietnam. The year is 1968.

Youngblood's penchant for site specific productions will be realized again, as Olive set his play in the moonlit yard of an abandoned farmhouse. Andrew Edwin Voss and Evan Koepnick will portray the two friends, and Jason Waszak directs. Voss and Koepnick will flip a coin every night to determine which character each will play.

"We've been itching to do something outside," Youngblood artistic director Michael Cotey recently said. "Minnesota Moon" will be performed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays Aug. 15 to 25.

About 40 persons can be accommodated at Trimborn Farm, and although some seating will be available, it is advisable to bring blankets or sling chairs. Reservations can be obtained by joining the Youngblood email list or buying tickets to "Gruesome Playground Injuries."

Speaking of "Minnesota Moon," Cotey said, "The weight is in the silences, in how the two characters interact and what they don't say. They spend a lot of time beating around the bush.

"It's about the natural ebb and flow of friendship." The artistic director added, "We are doing two very different plays this month, but both deal with relationships."


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