Brian Jacobson

Moon Over the Brewery at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

By - Nov 20th, 2009 09:04 am

Melinda Pfundstein as Miriam, Travis A. Knight as Randolph and Amanda J. Hull as Amanda. Photos by Mark Frohna.

It’s a bit strange to walk into the Broadway Theatre Center’s studio stage and find the front porch and living room of a Pennsylvania country home stretched the long way, with stadium seats on either side and a narrow two rows in the middle. The effect of sitting in the middle section is to stare at buttons — close-up — on everyone from the mailman lover Warren (Dan Katula) to single mom/waitress Miriam (Melinda Pfundstein) and smarty-pants daughter Amanda (Amanda J. Hull). It’s a bit uncomfortable, much like the nervous laughter emitted from the affable, sweaty suitor.

Luckily, it also puts you right next to Randolph, a charming devil rogue played by Travis A. Knight. Randolph is model-handsome clad in a Gatsby cream-linen suit, a pirate uniform and a shimmery samurai costume. Did I mention that Randolph is not real?

Travis A. Knight as Randolph and Amanda J. Hull as Amanda

Travis A. Knight as Randolph and Amanda J. Hull as Amanda

This is the supporting character at the center of strife in the Waslyk home. Bruce Graham‘s 1989 script revolves around an aspiring moonscape artist and her brainy 13-year-old daughter. As signs emerge that the single mother is dating again, her only child inadvertently summons imaginary friend Randolph. It was cute when she was little, but by the time Amanda was 9 years old and got help from Randolph to sabotage relationships — he was banished by the girl’s terrified mother.

It’s a seemingly simple play with four characters, but Graham has embued a lot of psychological woe in the interaction. The fact that each of these actors ‘got it’ may be due to the guidance of veteran actress and first-time stage director Angela Iannone (last seen in Tea at Five). College student actress Hull is almost believable as a 13-year-old girl in posture and petulance, so much so that her tics and delusional activity seem to genuinely worry Warren and Miriam. Katula takes a while to warm up to and root for as the paunchy, pushy love interest, but this may point more to the writing than acting. By the time he reaches a remarkable scene involving a birthday cake and phone call, you want him to win. Pfundstein is a bit hysteric-prone for a veteran diner waitress and country person, but her ability to tear up when worrying about her daughter’s mental state is admirable.

Travis A. Knight as Randolph, Amanda J. Hull as Amanda and Dan Katula as Warren

Travis A. Knight as Randolph, Amanda J. Hull as Amanda and Dan Katula as Warren

Then there’s Randolph. As he’s written, he’s all ID-wrapped in superego. We don’t get to see what he was like when Amanda was age 5 or 9; but when she turns age 13, he is a young woman’s idea of a sexual man-figure. He strokes her face and mental lobes with compliments and asides. He challenges her about talking to other boys and makes fun of almost everyone. The same role could have been played as a gay best friend, but then there would be less danger and more compassion. Knight’s take on the character makes him a real challenge to love, the same way we can’t believe when a woman falls for the bad boy.

While the staging is a bit cramped and the conversational rhythm took awhile to find its berth, Moon Over the Brewery is a satisfying little piece that fits nicely in Chamber’s complex season.

Moon Over the Brewery continues Wednesdays through Sundays, now through Dec. 13 (excluding Thanksgiving), with matinees on Saturdays and various Talkback events. Consult the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre website for details or call the box office at 414-291-7800.

Categories: Theater

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