Claire Nowak

Love and Abandonment

Splinter Group offers world premiere of 3 For The Road, all about characters who leave their loved ones.

By - Feb 4th, 2015 04:48 pm
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3 For The Road Cast with  Jim Farrell (actor/director) on the far left and Tony DiMurro (playwright) is next to him.

3 For The Road Cast with Jim Farrell (actor/director) on the far left and Tony DiMurro (playwright) is next to him.

The newest production from Splinter Group, 3 For The Road, makes its world premiere this weekend, and co-director Jim Farrell has a bold statement about it.

“You’re not gonna find theater of this quality for $15 a ticket anywhere else in Milwaukee. I guarantee it.”

The show by New York City playwright Tony DiMurro is made up of three one-act plays. None of the characters cross over between the three scripts, yet all struggle with similar situations of loss. Many plays confront material losses, such as a loved one or a job. DiMurro chose more intangible losses that are harder to describe and  overcome: loss of time, love or opportunity.

But combining the three one acts was not the playwright’s original intent. Only when he brought the “self-contained, moment-in-time pieces” to a theater reading group did he realize they all shared common themes of loss and longing and had potential to form one production, DiMurro says.

“I didn’t feel the need to make them longer, to explain what I was working on,” he notes. “I felt that the power was already within the piece itself.”

The stories center on characters who are having trouble discovering themselves and need to get away to find out who they are. Unfortunately, the other people in their lives don’t understand their decisions. The scripts don’t elaborate on what specifically makes the main characters leave; DiMurro believes no explanations are needed, which compliments the format of shorter pieces. When someone abandons a family, no motivation can make up for effect on family. “All explanations pale in light of the damage caused by the abandonment,” DiMurro says.

Farrell plays one of these troubled souls as Chet, the lead actor in the first play (which Jake Brockmann directs); Farrell then quickly changes hats to direct the two remaining pieces. Chet’s opening monologue reveals that has regrets about leaving his family, but most of all, his son.

“He’s a very haunted guy who’s puzzling out loud about his life. You come to understand that it’s not been an easy road for him,” Farrell says. “The theatricality of the piece is terrific because at one point, his son appears in his mind’s eye but actually on stage. The audience actually sees him. So he has conversations with this memory of his son. It’s very powerful.”

This is the first time Splinter Group has produced a show of this style. Farrell and DiMurro met at the same New York theater company years ago and stayed in contact even when both left to pursue other avenues. They reconnected about a year ago, shortly after Splinter Group was formed. Farrell asked his friend if he had any material for the new company. DiMurro sent him 3 For The Road. Farrell found it similar to William Kennedy’s Albany Cycle, a collection of novels set in Albany, New York that shared a narrative of pain and redemption, and set out to do similar work on stage.

“We made a very strong effort to make these feel unified,” Farrell says, “so the three pieces are happening in the same world even though there’s no crossover with the characters.”

DiMurro admits he’s not the best judge of his own work and will be learning about the pieces as much as the rest of the audience when he sees them onstage for the first time. He simply puts the content out to the world and lets others take what they want from it. For DiMurro, the takeaway message is an optimistic one of love and absolution.

“I believe that eventually there is redemption that you can have,” DiMurro says. “You can have love. It is a mystery how love does find us.”

Opens 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 and runs through Feb. 22 at Splinter Group Theatre, located at The Marian Center for Non Profits on S. Lake Drive. Tickets cost $15, available online.

The Amish Project

School shootings are never easy to address, especially in light of their increasing frequency over the last few years. Jessica Dickey’s The Amish Project recollects the 2006 shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where Charles Carl Roberts IV took the lives of five young girls before taking his own. But instead of focusing on the tragedy itself, Dickey spotlights the incredible reaction that caught the attention of the country and world—the immediate forgiveness from the Amish community.

Milwaukee Rep associate artist Deborah Staples stars in the one-woman show and plays seven roles, including the shooter, Amish schoolgirls and other members of the community. The distinct style of the production required some trial-and-error decisions from Staples and director Leda Hoffman. Characters frequently interrupt each other in overlapping dialogue, so Staples has to change points of view without judgment at a moment’s notice.

That means not picking favorites when it comes to her multiple parts. In a story on such a “special kind of horrific event,” that’s not always easy. As she recalls her reaction when she first heard news of the shooting, Staples chuckles in disbelief at the thought of whether she, a parent herself, could forgive so quickly.

“You start to imagine what it would be like for you, and you don’t fully go there because it would be too awful,” she says, “but even if you start to go there in your mind, the thought of just saying ‘I forgive you’ to the person who did this—I mean, I really didn’t have the capacity to fully grasp that.”

Millions of others around the world shared her incredulity at the response from the Old Order Amish in Nickel Mines. But by immersing herself in the mindset of those people, Staples gained a different perspective. She could never adopt their way of life, but she better understands their beliefs about community and forgiveness. It also strikes a chord with one of her personal beliefs; sometimes, you need to forgive the unforgivable before it permanently poisons you and your way of life.

“Forgiveness as the Amish define it, it doesn’t mean that they are saintly people that don’t struggle with it,” Staples says. “They do. It’s not easy for them. The loss of their children is no easier for them than it is for the rest of us, which is also what makes it so extraordinary. They just know it’s something they have to do.”

Opens 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 and runs through March 22 at The Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio. Tickets range from $30-45, available online or by calling 414-224-9490.

Classic Rock 101

Enrollment is now open for Classic Rock 101, the next installment of UPROOTED Theatre’s Cabaret Series. Instructors Marti Gobel and local band Sorry, We’re Open use the stage as a classroom to perform rock n roll hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The syllabus includes works from David Bowie, Guns N Roses, Allman Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. Anyone who dances during class gets extra credit.

7:00 p.m. Feb. 9 at Next Act Theatre. Tickets cost $25, available online or by calling 414-278-0765.

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