Three Kinds of Love

Chamber Theatre offers a real-life couple performing three different one acts about love.

By - Nov 24th, 2015 01:14 pm
Love Stories. Tami Workentin & James Pickering; Photo by John Nienhuis.

Love Stories. Tami Workentin & James Pickering; Photo by John Nienhuis.

With a starting lineup of George Bernard Shaw, Dorothy Parker and Bertolt Brecht, you’ve got a team capable of winning it all.

Love Stories weaves together three separate one-act plays and opens tomorrow at the Milwaukee Chamber Theater. The production is comprised of three short plays by Shaw, Parker and Brecht involving relationships at various stages of development and devolvement. Love Stories incorporates Village Wooing, written by Shaw, The Jewish Wife by Brecht and Here We Are, penned by Dorothy Parker.

The production slips in improvisational moments while actors rehearse the play within the play. That’s to say they break character when rehearsing a play and interact with each other–a blurring of the lines between fiction and reality.

Paula Suozzi makes her MCT directorial debut with Love Stories. She was formerly the Artistic Director of Milwaukee Shakespeare and Associate Artistic Director of Skylight Music Theatre. Suozzi’s impressive directing credits include work with Illinois Shakespeare Festival, the Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago,

Suozzi says each of the three plays in Love Stories emanates from a different point of view. “From one angle we see a married couple on a train on their way to their honeymoon,” Suozzi says. “Another couple is at the end of their relationship and it has been affected by world events.”

The two leads in each of the plays present a clever bit of casting. Real-life husband and wife team, James Pickering and Tami Workentin, play the roles. The thespian couple first crossed paths while performing in 2011 play titled Exonerated.

Suozzi explained the logic in casting a real-life husband and wife with Pickering and Workentin.

“They’ve already been through the process of wooing, getting married, being in a relationship,” Suozzi says. “I think those experiences help inform how they play their roles. Then we lay a story over that so it becomes kind of a fourth story.”

Brecht’s The Jewish Wife is more of a vignette than a play. It represents slices of life in the early years of Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror.

“I think with these stories we’ve melded a distinct set of characters,” Suozzi says. “Our viewpoint is we are rehearsing these plays so the audience is getting a window into the rehearsal process. All scripted, including outside story. Everything we are doing in this play actually happened.”

Suozzi says she was terrified at the idea of working with Shaw’s material. “At first I didn’t feel comfortable in that milieu. But while working with it I fell in love with it, as I did with all the material.”

As for the Parker play, Suozzi says, “Nobody writes text like she does with a biting humor.” Parker is more ironic in the way she looks at love. “Her dialogue is fast paced, funny. I always think of His Girl Friday [the 1940 screwball comedy] when I read the work.”

Parker’s play takes a look at a newlywed couple traveling by train to their honeymoon – but not without revealing a few of their insecurities and guarded thoughts.

Shaw’s Village Wooing takes place on the deck of a passenger ship where a travel writer is the love target for a phone operator with the intention of marrying him.

Suozzi says Shaw’s language is more concentrated than Brecht’s or Parker’s. “It doesn’t cut right to the point. It’s a big circular argument, then you finally get to the nut of it. With Brecht, he gives you a lot of hints as to where he’s going but doesn’t reveal the nut until you get immersed in the play. He keeps giving you bits and pieces and then it kind of hits you.”

Workentin and Pickering are asked to portray three different characters every night, which requires versatility and a level of virtuosity.

“I personally love theater because of the virtuosity,” Suozzi says.

“When I’m in a theater I want to see a masterful performance. Just the sheer amount of text they have to memorize is daunting, then add the complex story arrangement. It’s like constantly switching gears.”

Love Stories is also a collaboration with the UW-Milwaukee Theatre Department. Three UWM students are involved with the show. This collaboration is an example of MCT’s mission to nurture the next generation of theater artists.

Suozzi says the biggest challenge with this production is the improvisational aspects. “The actors have to be comfortable revealing some of themselves. It’s my job to get them comfortable and the actor will only reveal when they feel safe. They are baring their souls for this production.”

Yet they also need to capture the comedy. Should be a lot going on at this production, November 25 through December 20, at the Broadway Theatre Center’s smaller stage, the Studio Theatre.

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