Matthew Reddin
The Season Ahead

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

C. Michael Wright talks about his company's season of "Our Friends and Neighbors," and gives an on-set video interview about their first show, "'Art,'" where he plays Serge. Video by Gene Cawley.

By - Aug 12th, 2013 12:22 am
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Each of the three friends takes turns stepping out of the action for quick asides, which reveal elements of their personality they unintentionally conceal while interacting with each other. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's producing artistic director C. Michael Wright has stepped onstage to play Serge in MCT's first 2013 show, "'Art.'" Photo by Mark Frohna.

Each of the three friends takes turns stepping out of the action for quick asides, which reveal elements of their personality they unintentionally conceal while interacting with each other.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s producing artistic director C. Michael Wright has stepped onstage to play Serge in MCT’s first 2013 show, “‘Art.'” Photo by Mark Frohna.

Confession: As much as I know it’s unnecessary for arts groups to lump all their productions for the year under one broad theme-umbrella, I’m a sucker for a good idea to hang a season upon.

It’s lucky that Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and its producing artistic director C. Michael Wright are full of those good ideas then, since they’ve been theming their seasons for a number of years now, from last year’s focus on “Rebels” to my personal favorite since I’ve been reviewing theater in the city: 2010’s “The Games People Play,” complete with board game-themed season art. This year, Wright and co. have taken some “familiar” faces for their inspiration: “Our Friends and Neighbors: Behind Closed Doors.”

It’s a subject that has great potential for both comedy and drama, and Wright said he zeroed in on the idea and the plays that fit into it because they deal with a common fascination with the other.  “What do our friends say, what do our neighbors think? What’s happening when we’re not around?” Wright said. “I just love the idea that we’re all voyeurs to a degree, and that seeing theater is voyeuristic; you’re watching people live their lives.”

That always-watching attitude is on display from the actors in MCT’s first show of the season, ‘Art,’ as well. (Check out our review here.) Tyler Marchant, who directs the Tony Award-winning comedy, places its three actors – including Wright, strutting the boards himself for a change – in chairs lined up against the stage’s back wall, so they remain onstage the whole time, even when they aren’t actively in scenes. “I love the idea that these friends are back there listening to their friends talk about them in private,” Wright said. “It was a wonderful way to kick off our theme.”

For more on ‘Art,’ check out this video interview, filmed by Gene Cawley on the Cabot Theatre stage itself. And after that, keep on reading, to find out about the rest of the “Friends and Neighbors” in MCT’s five-play season. To get even more info about the coming shows, or to buy tickets/subscribe, click on through to their website, or call (414) 291-7800.

MCT-Art‘Art,’ by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton

Dates: Aug. 8-25, Cabot Theatre

Synopsis: When their friend Serge buys an expensive painting, his two friends Marc and Yvan find themselves in the middle of a building confrontation that makes them question their relationship itself.

Production Notes: Director Tyler Marchant leads a cast consisting of Brian Mani (Marc), C. Michael Wright (Serge) and Tom Klubertanz. The production features an arresting scenic and lighting design by Keith Pitts and Jason Fassl, respectively, inspired by Piet Mondrian’s modernist works.

Michael’s Thoughts: “It’s definitely a comedy. It’s got layers, because she does touch upon pretty serious issues, but it’s really funny. … I’d love [audiences] to start discussions – what constitutes a good friend and what would cause a rift in their own friendships?”

MCT-DetectiveThe Detective’s Wife, by Keith Huff

Dates: Sept. 18 – Oct. 13, Studio Theatre

Synopsis: After her husband, a Chicago homicide detective, is murdered, mystery novel-lover Alice Conroy sets herself a monumental task: deduce who killed him, and why.

Production Notes: The Detective’s Wife is a one-woman show featuring Mary MacDonald Kerr, directed by James Tasse. Tasse, a theater professor at the Peck School of the Arts, will bring along faculty members and students from UWM to help design the play.

Michael’s Thoughts: “This is the second in a trilogy; [Huff] wrote A Steady Rain, which was on Broadway with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig some years ago. … We’re featuring Mary MacDonald Kerr, who is a great local actress we haven’t used in a while. It’s always exciting to bring someone back.”

MCT-ThingsThings Being What They Are, by Wendy MacLeod

Dates: Nov. 20 – Dec. 15, Studio Theatre

Synopsis: Bill is moving into a new condo, waiting for the arrival of his unfaithful wife. His divorced new neighbor, Jack, shows up looking for beer and a conversation, sparking what MCT calls a “quirky bromantic comedy.”

Production Notes: Ryan Schabach will play Bill, while Dan Katula will play the nosy Jack. Michael Cotey directs.

Michael’s Thoughts: “I consider this a warm-and-fuzzy. It’s another wonderful unpublished play that has sat on my shelf for quite a few years; I’ve been waiting for the right year to do it. … It’s a really funny piece about how disparate people can come together under certain circumstances.

MCT-OctoberOctober, Before I Was Born, by Lori Matthews

Dates: Feb. 19 – March 9, Studio Theatre

Synopsis: An explosion at the Tennessee Eastman Factory in 1960 puts three members of an Appalachian family – mother Martha, her wayward son Houston and her pregnant daughter-in-law Anne – into limbo as they anxiously await news of their loved ones.

Production Notes: This cast, directed by C. Michael Wright, features Raeleen McMillion (Martha), April Paul (Anne) and Ken Williams (Houston) – the same team that performed a staged reading of the play back in 2011, when it was a selection for MCT’s Montgomery Davis Play Development Series.

Michael’s Thoughts: “When I read it, I fell in love with the play immediately, and I knew that I wanted to produce it fully someday. … It’s a real slice of life, it’s an hour and a half of them waiting for word about this explosion.”

MCT-TenorLend Me a Tenor, by Ken Ludwig

Dates: April 10-27, Cabot Theatre

Synopsis: This classic farce is set at the Cleveland Grand Opera, where a world-famous tenor is hired to play Otello – and accidentally drugged and presumed dead, sparking a chain of events culminating in mistaken identity of operatic proportions.

Production Notes: C. Michael Wright directs a cast including Drew Brhel, Rick Pendzich, Steve Koehler, Rana Roman, Alexandra Bonesho and Linda C. Loving. The production will be a collaboration with Marquette University, with students filling both acting and production roles.

Michael’s Thoughts: “I think it’s perfect for the Cabot Theatre – it is an opera house – and coincidentally I directed it back in the ‘90s at Marquette. … We’ll have two student actors mixed in with the professional actors, a student lighting designer, an alumni set designer and an alumni actress, so we’ve got a wonderful mix.”

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