Location, location, location. It counts in theater, too. Most of your venue options are offering wonderful shows in the upcoming months, but let’s try to sort out the best of the best.
But first things first: Mark a new X on your mental map of Milwaukee theaters at 255 S. Water St., on the border of the Third Ward and Walker’s Point. It marks the spot of the new permanent home of Next Act Theatre. The company is putting the finishing touches on a brand new theater, a new, $1,000,000 building nested within a venerable industrial building at . It changes the game for Next Act and for other companies seeking an affordable, fully functional, elegant performance and rehearsal space. And when it opens in October, they’ve got a hell of a show to start it with: The Exonerated (Oct. 6-30), a powerful tale of six innocent people sent to Death Row and their struggle to win their freedom. The play has that up-close edge Next Act is known for.
Last year, the Milwaukee Rep was the big story of the season, thanks to the arrival of artistic director Mark Clements. In Clements’s sophomore year, the Rep will give six plays their local premieres in three theaters this fall. First up, at the Powerhouse Theater, is next week’s Midwest premiere of Ten Chimneys (Aug. 30-Sept. 25), a look into the lives of renowned theater couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and their Genesee Depot retreat. The bigger coup is their second show, Lombardi (Oct. 13-Nov. 13), about the renowned coach himself, coming straight from Broadway and making the Rep the first regional theater in the country to perform the play. The crossover into wintery months gives us Next to Normal (Dec. 6-Jan. 15), the 2010 Pulitzer-winning musical that’s only recently begun making the rounds at regional theaters.
Also offering three solid shows this fall is Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, whose season began with Crimes of the Heart (through Aug. 28) earlier this month. Choosing the play fulfills artistic director C. Michael Wright’s desire to produce one Pulitzer-winning play a year, but choosing its successor, the classic Driving Miss Daisy (Oct. 13-30), doubles the prestige. They’re hard acts to follow, but Tom Stoppard’s Heroes (Nov.23-Dec.18), about a cantankerous trio of World War I soldiers dreaming of escaping their veterans’ hospital, might be up to the challenge.
And then there’s places where the location makes the show. The most dynamic example of this in the coming months is Faust: An Evening at the Mephisto Theatre (Sept. 29-Oct.15), put on by the Alchemist Theatre. It’s the latest in the company’s series of whole-theater shows, where action occurs both onstage and in other portions of the building, but Faust takes it up a notch: The production takes place simultaneously throughout the building, and your experience is dependent on where you wander. Location, location indeed.
Not every great Milwaukee company is always in the same place though. The itinerant Youngblood Theatre, which recently continued its string of acclaimed shows with Gruesome Playground Injuries (through Aug. 27) and Minnesota Moon (through Aug. 25), have an knack for making theatrical magic in rough and unlikely places. Theatre Gigante will mount a multi-event series honoring the late Spaulding Gray. The show, Shades of Gray (Oct. 26-29), comprises events at their usual location, UWM’s Kenilworth Studio 508, and one at Boswell Books. Pink Banana Theatre will take joining Next Act’s new space for a spin with the surreal Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Nov. 3-12).
And that’s not all: In Tandem’s Ms. Mannerly (Oct. 7-23), a comedy about a nine-year-old learning etiquette from a disciplinarian with a dark secret; Boulevard Theatre’s Cowboy vs. Samurai (Oct. 5-Nov. 6), a tale of love and Asian identity; Off the Wall’s On the Beach (Sept. 15-25), adapted by Dale Gutzman from the original Nevil Shute novel; First Stage’s Seussical and — OK, time to stop, but just for now. A lot more theater is coming in Milwaukee, and TCD will be all over it.