The Quasimondo stakes its claim in Milwaukee
With "Halloween Tree," the new physical theater troupe continues mixing unconventional ideas with traditional forms.
Heads up, Milwaukee—if you haven’t checked out a production from new physical theater troupe The Quasimondo yet, change that ASAP. The company, led by artistic director Brian Rott, is performing shows unlike anything Milwaukee’s used to seeing.
The team at The Quasimondo takes its cues from whatever most inspires them. They incorporate different forms of entertainment into their breed of physical theater, often using interpretive dance, dialogue, puppetry, ballet, and innovative set design all in one production.
“It’s a devising process,” says Rott, “coming from a simple idea, a text, poetry, a complex theme … what is it that makes the idea interesting? Theater should challenge everyone involved — the actors, directors and the audience, with no simple antithesis. We want people to really look at the world around them.”
It’s a philosophy that’s not just theoretical. Their first show, Paper or Plastic, staged in June, had no dialogue. And in The Seagull 3D, the official opener to their inaugural season, the troupe cheekily promised a “fully interactive spectacular 3D environment, glasses included.”
The Quasimondo’s most recent production, Halloween Tree, is a fun, complex, visual treat. It combines drama and comedy through the viewpoints of six young boys on a trick-or-treating adventure.
Halloween Tree is inspired by a Ray Bradbury story, itself based on a book of German children’s stories. The Quasimondo shaped it to fit their aesthetic, with an adaptation by ensemble members Jessi Miller and Chris MacGregor, both in the play as well.
From the start, it’s clear that this company is having fun with what they’re creating. But it’s not an inside joke, or the type of creativity that’s “out there” just for the hell of it. The narrative and choreography were thoughtful, coordinated, and interpretive.
We meet the six boys who trot out in nothing but tighty-whiteys to Ween’s weird and poppy “Boys Club.” They wiggle into costumes waiting on the floor: a witch (Jessi Miller), an ape man (Kyle Tikovitch), a skeleton (Cleary Breunig), a devil (Cody Anderson), a ghost (Sarah Ann Mellstrom), and a mummy (Ben Yela). Each makes a brief introduction to the crowd that in one short moment sheds light on their personalities.
They find their way to the “House of Horror,” where we first meet Moundshroud (Simon Andreas Eichinger), a thinly veiled Death stand-in with white makeup, sallow eyes and a well-groomed suit. He’s the play’s narrator, and its stand-out star. Eichinger has a commanding presence and effortless comedic timing, and flawlessly delivers brief but heavy monologues on the topic of mortality (he also plays the accordion, so there’s no beating that).
From there, we follow the boys through mishaps and time travel as they look for their beloved friend Pipkin (Chris MacGregor) who failed to join them on Halloween, his favorite holiday. There’s a lovely scene in ancient Egypt in which the cast takes great care wrapping a mummy, who we assume is their dear Pipkin. The movement is graceful and harmonized.
Along with hypnotic choreography, the cast also knows how to use their bodies for comedic effect. We see them in a Catholic mass, standing, kneeling, sitting, over and over at unmatched intervals, then moving through the audience offering “peace be with you”s.
The more poignant moments come from the characters sharing their stories about Pipkin. Each takes a turn sitting outside his front door, reminiscing on good times and contemplating Pipkin’s fate, as well as ruminating on human nature in general. There’s a moment in which the devil (Anderson) asks the audience, “Do you think people sometimes like being sad?” It was kind of a “whoa” moment, where the play managed to present a super-adult idea through the eyes of a child.
Moments like that are what Rott believes make The Quasimondo special — that live theater should trust the audience to calculate and contemplate.
“Two things I dislike are when a production is boring, and when it’s spoon-fed,” Rott said. “I think it should be ephemeral, visceral, provocative. There should be a possibility for real engagement. It should appeal to everyone. We can’t define our reactions to the world, we can only apply our own experiences.”
The Quasimondo performs at The Milwaukee Fortress, 100 A E. Pleasant Street, in Brewers’ Hill. Halloween Tree will be performed three more times: Thursday, Nov. 1, Friday, Nov. 2, and Saturday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. Call 414-702-0392 for tickets ($13).