Claire Nowak

How to Find the Best Crematorium

In Tandem’s world premiere of Come Back finds humor in a deadly serious subject.

By - Feb 24th, 2015 03:17 pm
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L-R -  Carrie Hitchcock (Val), T. Stacy Hicks (Mel), Sara Zientek (Sky). Photo by Ross Zentner.

L-R – Carrie Hitchcock (Val), T. Stacy Hicks (Mel), Sara Zientek (Sky). Photo by Ross Zentner.

Jane Flieller has no idea how audiences will react to her latest show.

The managing director of In Tandem Theatre is directing the world premiere of local playwright Neil Haven’s show, Come Back. The plot: Sky (Sara Zientek) has just lost her best friend, Erin (Tiffany Vance), who put her in charge of her final request—find the country’s best crematorium to store her ashes. The road trip is eventually interrupted by Erin’s mother (Carrie Hitchcock), who insists her daughter rest in their family plot despite their distant relationship.

Under different circumstances, the subject matter would make for a somber, contemplative play. But Flieller calls it “a quirky comedy.”

“Not a roll-in-the-aisles, yuk yuk, laugh-a-minute kind of thing,” she clarifies, “but it’s got a lot of humor in it while dealing with a really serious subject.”

Keeping a delicate balance between humor and the gravity of death wasn’t hard for Flieller. Haven did most of the work for her in his well-crafted script, which makes the circumstances of the play natural and relatable without striving to shock. The director simply followed Sky’s journey through the grieving process for a balanced reading of a tough issue.

“There was nothing that went ‘Oh my goodness you shouldn’t joke about that,’” Flieller says. “He doesn’t get irreverent. He doesn’t go over the top. He doesn’t do anything that would make most people, I imagine, uncomfortable.”

The play does raise several end-of-life issues, but not with the purpose of preaching. Haven’s script just tells an interesting story, one of its stronger characteristics, according to Flieller.

If Come Back were to make a point, it would likely be that death and loss is best dealt with humor and in the company of other people. That’s the way Flieller handled hard times within her own family from an early age, she says, and now she can share that with her audience. “Dealing with something like grief and loss through humor just makes total sense to me because that’s how I’ve always dealt with it,” she says.

One of the perks of working on a new piece is having a say in how it should be interpreted or performed for future productions. Since Haven is local, she can call him and talk about ways to alter the script and better tell the story.

“I really feel like I’m on the ground floor of finalizing a script that can then go out to the world and be produced again,” Flieller says. “We were the Lewis and Clarks of it.”

The production fits in well with In Tandem’s eclectic repertoire. The company previously worked with Haven in 2010 on the world premiere of his play Stuck, featuring an agoraphobic elevator operator living in her elevator who becomes entangled in a complicated marital situation.

Though she can’t know how audiences will react to the new show, Flieller is very confident about it. “That we’re able to give a professional production to an emerging playwright, and a local one at that,” she adds, “is all icing on the cake.”

Opens 8 p.m. Feb. 27 and runs through March 22 at In Tandem Theatre, 638 N. 10th St. Tickets are $25, available online or by calling 414-271-1371.

Come Back Gallery

Big Nate: The Musical

It began as a comic strip. Written and illustrated by Lincoln Pierce, Big Nate followed the middle school adventures of Nate Wright. Like most sixth-graders, Nate considers school the least of his priorities, as evidenced by his self-proclaimed title, “King of Detentions;” he’s earned the most in his school’s history. He’d much rather pull pranks with his best friends Francis and Teddy or dream about his crush Jenny. He despises his social studies teacher, Mrs. Godfrey, and his arch-nemesis Gina, who constantly sucks up to Mrs. Godfrey.

As the comic gained popularity, it inspired numerous book adaptations and eventually a musical from Jason Loewith and Chris Youstra, which debuted in May, 2013 in Maryland. That show makes its way to First Stage this weekend. In this production, Nate decides to enter his garage band, Enslave the Mollusk, in a Valentine’s Day Battle of the Bands competition. But there’s a catch. If Nate gets too many detentions, the band will be disqualified. It’s a battle between determination and rebellious habits as Nate tries to win the competition and the girl of his dreams.

Opens 7 p.m. Feb. 27 and runs through March 29 at the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $12-32, available online or by calling 414-267-2961.

The Train Driver

Based on an actual event in South Africa, Athol Fugard’s “The Train Driver” tells the story of a man (David Daniel) who accidentally hits a mother and her child with his train, killing them both. He hopes to find closure once he learns the identities of his victims, requesting the help of a local gravedigger (Michael A. Torrey). Under the direction of C. Michael Wright, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents this play about guilt and racial divides stretching South Africa and across the globe. You’ll find a complete story about the play here.

Opens 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 and runs through March 15 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. Tickets range from $28.50-41.50, available online or by calling 414-291-7800.

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