Matthew Reddin

Interns’ third “Rep Lab” makes a connection

The annual one-act cycle features a strong crop of plays and a stronger cast and crew of Rep interns.

By - Mar 2nd, 2013 01:25 pm
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The Rep’s 20-odd team of acting, directing and production interns come together to make this installment of “Rep Lab” a night to remember. All photos Josh Gren.

You never know quite what you’re in for with a show like Rep Lab, featuring a collection of one-acts strung together by the Milwaukee Rep’s intern ensemble. Two years ago, in its inaugural installment, Strini thought they were aces. A year later, too tragic.

This year? Aces again, with a strong portfolio of works and a stronger cast.

Connection seemed the word of the day – missed connections, making connections, connections affirmed, connections severed. All the plays but one touched on the idea, and it gave the cycle a cohesion that served the interns well.

The best plays in the cycle blended a clever, funny premise with an undercurrent of poignancy or melodrama. David Weiner’s Feeding Time at the Human House starts with “haha, J.R. Yancher and Jamie Rezanour are mated baboons who like to throw poop,” but evolves to address some very human concerns: aging, married life and growing old alone. In Double Take, author K.M. Chopin offers a smart conceit: a pair of friends who’ve slept together (Jessi Noel and Tyrone Phillips) chat in the morning-after, with their internal monologues (Rezanour and Trequon Tate) saying the things they really want to. Jonathan Altman, the lead in Patrick Gabridge’s Measuring Matthew, has a smile-inducing penchant for remembering and rattling off numbers, but grows far more compelling in his exponential decline after his girlfriend (Toni Linn Martin) dumps him.

Artistic interns (from left) Jess Prichard, Jonathan Altman and Mercedes White collaborate to make “An Examination…” one of the best plays in the cycle.

Altman was also a delight in the only play not to fit the Rep’s loose “connections” theme – when you see it, you’ll know why. Greg Kotis’ An Examination of the Whole Playwright-Actor Relationship Presented As Some Kind of Cop Show Parody is exactly what it sounds like and so much more. Jess Prichard and Mercedes White join Altman as the cops in this meta-play, overflowing with moments that’ll knock you out of your seat whether you have any foreknowledge of the playwright-actor relationship or not.

When the interns strayed from those comedic roots, things got shakier. Andrew Hampton’s The See Saw, for instance, was the evening’s exception that proved the rule, a hackneyed, almost childish metaphor that equated being in a relationship to being on a seesaw, a handicap neither Martin nor Lamar Jefferson could truly overcome.

Teddy Spencer and Bri Sudia emote a powerful connection that strengthens the otherwise-weak “Hum of the Arctic.”

Almost as stilted was Hum of the Arctic, by Sarah Hammond, a piece about a chance, quasi-romantic encounter between a painter (Teddy Spencer) and a deaf woman (Bri Sudia) who meet-cute when he barges into her upstairs apartment to turn off her air raid siren-level radio and finds her in the bath. Spencer and Sudia’s interactions have a truth and immediacy that are worthwhile, but I couldn’t help but wish the play lacked its pointless narrator (Emily Berman, making the best out of a bad role) or had been written as a short story instead, where such narration wouldn’t pull you out of the intimacy unfolding so drastically.

Spencer and Sudia also played opposite each other in Alone World, a one-act musical about neighbors whose connection to social media and the Internet has left them unable to connect in real life. The neighbors-who-are-perfect-for-each-other trope isn’t especially new – hell, it crops up in Measuring Matthew too, right after Alone World on the program – but Carl Kissin’s musical puts a neat spin on it. But the songs, by Rob Baumgartner, seem superfluous – not a good quality in a musical.

The nameless, ensemble-devised play that closes the show doesn’t seem like much at first. Actors playing students walk, wordlessly in slow-motion, into a classroom. Boring. Then there’s a moment where you can feel the audience’s collective heartbeat lurch into double-time. Not boring. Terrifying is a better word. And smart. It’s a sharp ending – in more than one sense.

The Milwaukee Rep’s Rep Lab cycle runs this weekend only, with remaining shows at 4 and 8 p.m. tonight (Saturday), 7 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday; tickets are $10. One-act directors include directing apprentice Lenny Banovez, directing intern Maggie Ellsworth, literary assistant JC Clementz, associate artist Lee E. Ernst and education coordinator Leda Hoffman. For a full list of cast and crew members, or to order tickets, visit the Milwaukee Rep’s website.

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