With a title like "Packer Fans from Outer Space," it would be logical to expect an evening of frivolous fun, much like watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Who would think that a play like this would feature an important message and a tender love story between awfully different young people? Under the deft and gentle hand of Milwaukeeâ€™s Molly Rhode, the play pulls you into unusual places, all under the guise of the perennial battle between the Packers and the Chicago Bears.
"Packer Fans" gets a remounting by the American Folklore Theatre in their cozy outdoor space in Peninsula State Park in Door County. The show, written by the team of Frederick Heide and Lee Becker, was last produced over a decade ago.
This team has created such outrageously funny plays like "Belgians in Heaven" and "Guys and Does." "Packer Fans" could well be expected to follow in that same slapstick kind of vein, but it doesnâ€™t, as Rhode finds a heart in this play and puts it on full display with a marvelous cast of actors.
The story focuses on the Kiester family: Harvey, his wife Marge and their teenage daughter Peg. Peg wants to be a scientist, studying intergalactic phenomena and using her knowledge to bring about world peace. Her mom wants her to "find a nice guy and settle down."
Well Peg, who believes the sightings of flying saucers in Door County are true, does meet a man, although whether heâ€™s nice or not is open to question.
The man is "39," one of two Packers from outer space. He, his partner "24" and "Coach" â€“ who wears a coat a lot like Vince Lombardi â€“ have come to earth to take Harvey back so that he can rid the world of the horrible Space Bears. Harvey, you see, is an incredibly devout Packer fans, trapped in a marriage to a Bear fan.
The story focuses on Harvey, a character brought to life by Bill Theisen, the longtime artistic director at Skylight and a man who clearly needs to be on stage in Wisconsin a lot more.
Theisen, who is built kind of like a pear on steroids, brings hilarity wherever he goes and with whatever he says. The moment he put on a Packer colored bra â€“ complete with large green and gold breasts â€“ and managed a frightful shimmy on stage brought the house down.
He is also a marvelous singer who understands that in musical theater the words of a song are incredibly important, and he makes sure each word is sung just as it should be.
But this play is not all about laughs, even though they come frequently and easily.
Somewhere in this script, Rhode found a story about how different people have all kinds of Â mistaken impressions of people who arenâ€™t like them. Itâ€™s about how those mistaken impressions can make people act in ways that are self-protective and sometimes painful.
The journey of these characters toward something resembling peace and friendship is a halting one, but each obstacle â€“ from language to values â€“ is brushed aside in the Â unrecognized desire to be something other than enemies.
The main love story is between Peg, gracefully and earnestly played by a lovely Eva Nimmer, and "39," played by Chase Stoeger (who is married to Rhode). Stoeger is marvelous as an alien who not only doesnâ€™t understand anything about Peg, but is determined to avoid any contact with women of any stripe. The lovely song "Life on Earth" is a joyful collision of two worlds, both enlightened to the other.
The production helps to solidify Rhode as even more than the triple threat she had been at one point. She can act, dance, sing, play instruments, choreograph and direct with incredible depth and sensitivity. A cast in Rhodeâ€™s hands can be sure that they are going to find new places to explore, and the audience is the clear winner.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published May 4, 2017
There are many people in Milwaukee who lead very public lives. One of them, surely, is David Stearns, the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. We sat down with him to see what makes him tick.
Published May 2, 2017
With a May 8 deadline looming, the war of words over a proposed strip club Downtown is escalating. A coalition of powerful business interests remain opposed, with the mayor and members of the Common Council on the other side, using Minneapolis as an example.
Published April 30, 2017
Let us all agree about what Junie B. Jones is not. She is not a crook. She is not a nutball. She is not in love with Handsome Warren. What she is, though, is the center of a wonderfully funny story, "Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook."
Published April 29, 2017
Theater can make you feel a lot of things, most of them wondrous, but on rare occasion it can make me feel like a dummy. And that's what I felt like after seeing "Jane Eyre," the final show of the season at The Rep, which opened Friday night.
Published April 27, 2017
It's impossible to stop thinking about the production of "Carnival" currently being staged at In Tandem Theatre, which I reviewed on opening night last week and is a fascinating example of what can happen when you stretch yourself and dream big dreams.
Published April 25, 2017
Start with a girl, beautiful and rich. Then add in her uncle and guardian who wants to marry her so he can get the money and toss in a high-born stranger who also wants the girl's hand in marriage. What you have is Florentine's "Barber of Seville."
Published April 22, 2017
For 15 years, under the guidance of art therapist Lori Vance, ExYoMKE has gone one-on-one with some of the most disaffected children in Milwaukee, children of all races and genders, and tried to help them see the world through the eyes of an artist.
Published April 22, 2017
One of the most wonderful evenings at a theater is when the show starts on a high note and just keeps getting better and better until you get to an ending where your heart is lying on the floor and your eyes are clouded with tears. That's "Carnival."
Published April 21, 2017
"The Fantasticks" is a simple little musical, the longest running in history, about a boy and a girl and being in love. The problem in the Off the Wall Theatre production is that the boy can't hold up his end of the deal, and the whole production suffers.
Published April 20, 2017
When I'm moved, I write, and fortunately, with OnMilwaukee, I have a place for that writing. The series of Uber tales from the road have run intermittently, but this story, more than anything else, proved that words and social media have the power to spark action, to make a real difference.