A Midsummer Night McGivern

By - Jul 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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One of the most popular people in local theatre, John McGivern has a huge following. Just to see the guy standing there onstage, the uninitiated could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. On the surface, McGivern seems like anyone else you might see walking around the East Side. Seeing him perform adds to the mystery of his success a bit at first. He’s a very talented storyteller, yes, but the autobiographical work he performs in his one man shows isn’t the kind of genius one would expect from a man who has reached McGivern’s level of success. It feels much more like the type of thing that might go over well at a comedy club somewhere. Why is it that he’s playing rooms as big as Vogel Hall?

Somewhere in the rhythm of McGivern’s delivery, one begins to understand what makes him so popular: he’s a nice guy. His overall presence makes people feel at ease. He’s made this his profession. He’s made a career out of being professionally nice. McGivern isn’t professionally friendly in some synthetic customer service way. His amiability isn’t the kind you’d get out of a politician, a waitress or even that guy who tried to sell you insurance. McGivern has gotten to be as popular as he has because he has a genuine passion for being a nice person. And that friendliness translates extremely well to the stage in the parade of comedy and nostalgia that is his summer show: A Midsummer Night McGivern.

The show features a number of stories and a couple of readings from McGivern’s childhood experiences growing up on Milwaukee’s East Side. Laid out generally in chronological order, the stories begin with McGivern’s memories of Memorial Days as a child and gradually work their way through to the end of the season. McGivern delivers these stories with a heartfelt enthusiasm that is so strong one gets the impression that he’d be telling these same stories to friends and family at some placid park somewhere if he weren’t onstage.

McGivern’s stories run nostalgically through a greater Milwaukee County of several decades ago. Various bits of Americana are seen through the very specific eyes of a man who remembers his father taking him and his brothers to visit the graves of soldiers as fresh ones were being dug for those still returning from Viet Nam. There’s a bittersweet quality to some of McGivern’s stories, but the overall feeling here is one of comedy. McGivern’s specific kind of enthusiasm pairs exceedingly well with stories told from a childhood perspective. One of his more poignant bits involves him relating what it was like to be interviewed for the Weather Channel about life in Milwaukee as the seasons change.

The set McGivern performs on was put together by longtime Milwaukee Rep fixture Edward Morgan. It’s a summery collection of items tastefully lounging around the stage to help set the mood. But McGivern could easily do this on a more or less empty stage. His popularity amongst a vast group of Wisconsinites as That Guy Who Does Comedy About Us is as strong as ever. Opening night he opened the show by asking people in the audience about summertime. Almost everyone in the audience who spoke up mentioned different towns in Wisconsin. McGivern’s stories are bursting with references to different places in Milwaukee and beyond. When he talks about decorating his bike as a kid on the Fourth of July, he talks about the exact streets he traveled with such precision that anyone familiar with the East Side could vividly picture the route. VS

A Midsummer Night McGivern runs now through July 1 at Vogel Hall in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For more info call 414-273-7206 or visit www.marcuscenter.org.

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