‘Rey’ Returns to the Midwest with Mystery and Magic

The Rep hosts an experimental two-person drama from an unpredictable young playwright

By - Sep 24th, 2014 04:05 pm
Playwright  A. Rey Pamatmat

Playwright A. Rey Pamatmat

Call him Rey. Everyone at the Milwaukee Rep does. That may have started as some measure of self-defense – A. Rey Pamatmat sounds a bit intimidating. But the affable young playwright points out the last name, rather than being formidable, has the easy syncopation of a drumbeat. “It’s Pamatmat like – Pa-MAT-mat – but I prefer Rey.”

Given these modern times and the diversity of human behavior, he notes, playwrights can’t always know what will come out when facing blank paper. They are led by their eye, ear and imagination.

In person Rey laughs easily and is open about his desire to build his reputation, even a reputation for unpredictability. The Rep’s experiment-friendly Stiemke Studio space will host the world premiere of “after all the terrible things I do,” promoted lowercase and with scant plot details. It opens Oct. 3, and runs through Nov. 9.

The two-person drama centers on Daniel, an aspiring author who is gay, returning to his Midwestern hometown to regain his sense of self. He takes a job at a local bookstore owned by Linda, an émigré from the Philippines. There is pain and violence in their past, which Rey and the theater are keeping quiet.

“I encouraged the public relations department to say little about the way it unfolds,” said Rey. “A world premiere is the one chance for the audience to see the play without preconceptions.”

Rey, Filipino-American, grew up in Michigan and went to Yale. He then moved to New York and worked in the front office of the Public Theatre, while polishing his writing craft. Regional theater response and support from the LBGT community began to win him awards and staging from a range of companies, including the Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, the O’Neill Playwriting Conference and the Vortex Theatre in New York.

Plays short and long have been hitting stages since 2011 — Something in the Water, Some Other Kid, Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, Deviant and prolific more.

Thematically, he rather proudly admits, he is hard to categorize.

“Perhaps someday, someone will put all the plays side by side and pick out what they think motivates me,” he said. “But I’ve done plays with multiple time and scene changes and then plays like this, with just two people in a precise location.”

He has worked before with the director, Rep associate artist May Adrales, and she has explored the Studio Stiemke stage twice before, for The Mountaintop and Yellowman.  The cast is new to Milwaukee – Sophia Skiles, a New York based veteran of both experimental and classical plays, and Mark Junek, a founder of the Makehouse company in New Jersey and an experienced actor in classical productions.

Rey has had such success in regional theater that he admits rethinking New York City as his hometown. He is facing the reality of a vagabond life for modern theater people.

“It’s hard to set down roots as a young playwright in New York when you are more likely to get productions and earnings from regional theater,” he said wistfully, though he conceded that companies like the Rep “treat me royally.” He has been in town for the entire rehearsal process and admits to awaiting opening night “with a lot of nerves.”

He is also a bit bothered that there has been a move away from fantasy toward realism in regional theater.

“As a young writer you have to be aware of what is being accepted for casting and staging,” he said, “but I like to write both elements.  I think theater lends itself to that sense of change, of the unexpected. I like characters who are self-actualizing, motivated to take matters into their own hands.”

Our Town Forever and Again

It’s hard to believe the Helfaer Theater on the Marquette University campus is 40 years old. Particularly hard to believe for someone who performed at the predecessor indoor Teatro Maria and outdoor Paul Claudel Theater and was around and active when the new indoor home was built.

The first time “Our Town” was staged at Marquette University was 1957 with future drama teacher Joan Schwartz and the late John Loose -- probably by the famous photographer of Marquette productions at the time, the late Walter Sheffer.

The first time “Our Town” was staged at Marquette University was 1957 with future drama teacher Joan Schwartz and the late John Loose — probably by the famous photographer of Marquette productions at the time, the late Walter Sheffer.

This anniversary celebration is built around an enduring classic first performed by the Marquette Players in 1957 in a memorable production where future university theater teacher Joan Schwartz played Emily to the George of the late New York actor and teacher John Loose.

In a double cast in 1964, it featured leading society names from the Downtown women’s club mixed with students, the female cast members drawing a lot of press attention. In 1968, director Leo Jones created a mime version (to taped voices) at the outdoor Claudel and then at the Humboldt Park bandshell. In 1990, it finally went within the Helfaer where the current director, Debra Krajec, was the costume designer.

Such frequency was hardly unusual for so memorable a slice of small-town New England life. (Milwaukeeans may also remember how the Milwaukee Rep in 1973 turned to the same Thornton Wilder drama to propel attention to its ingénue at the time playing Emily, which worked out quite well for Judith Light.)

Opening Sept. 25 with a cast of current students, “Our Town” will launch a mainstage season built around the theme of “home” and run through Oct. 5.

But it’s the Saturday, Sept. 27, festivities that will formally celebrate the 40th anniversary of the building. The day will feature panels and breakouts of notable alumni and current students, an afternoon showing of “Our Town” and an evening variety memory show honoring past leaders such as Michael Price and Jones, who was director at the time of the Helfaer opening. More information at or (414) 288-7431

It could be quite an interesting crowd.

In my antiquity, the list of notables included many still working or teaching today such as Peter Bonerz, the dentist on “The Bob Newhart Show” who became leading sitcom director; actor and director Charles Siebert, formidable actress Helen Carey, film director Michael Schultz, and Hamburg Ballet leader John Neumeier. In later generations the theater program produced many more such as  Broadway actor Tony Crivello, TV actor Nicholas D’Agosto and the late Chris Farley.

Bronzeville on the Boards

The city of Milwaukee for the past few years, and in a cultural festival this summer, has been putting a lot of effort to raise consciousness about historically influential Bronzeville, the formative inner city district for Milwaukee’s distinctive black culture.

A new effort puts theater center stage at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, in the Youth Arts Hall at 325 N. Walnut Street. In collaboration with local youth theater First Stage, which begins its main season in October, three new short plays will be presented by the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, a not-for-profit company that cultivates arts that illuminate the black experience.

The works grew out of the Bronzeville ensemble’s 12-week playwriting workshop and consist of “Just a Conversation Over Chicken and Dumplings” by Michelle Dobbs (Sheri Williams Pannell, director); “Judge Not” by Josie Hymes (Chike Johnson, director) and “Posthumous Fame” by Don E. Pannell (Samantha Montgomery, director).

The actors are chosen from the arts ensemble membership of artists, educators and members. There is a suggested door admission of $10 ($5 for 12 or under). More information is available at the website or by calling 414-815-6721.

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You can find his blog here.

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    […] ‘Rey’ Returns to the Midwest with Mystery and Magic (Urban Dial, September 24, 2014) […]

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