2007-08 Vital Source Mag – August 2007

Rufus Wainwright at the Pabst – August 26, 2007

Rufus Wainwright at the Pabst – August 26, 2007

It’s always a little surprising that rock bands look and sound as good as they do at the Pabst, a gilded German theater full of red velvet, Italian marble, and busts of famous Austro-Hungarians (Beethoven, Wagner). But it never fails – dirty, dance-y, pounding shows are exalted by the baroquerie of the opera hall, not diminished by it. What a venue like the Pabst does for a performer like Rufus Wainwright, though, is something else entirely, something remarkable. For nearly ten years, the troubador has been crafting exquisite chamber-pop informed by opera, cabaret, lyricism, late-Victioriana, early modernism – melding every manner of anachronistic influence into something metropolitan, contemporary and very intelligent. We had gallery seats – eye-to-eye with the 2-ton Austrian crystal chandelier – but there is intimacy, maybe even privacy, in the vertigo of the second balcony. From way up high, with glasses of wine (actually, I had a glass of wine; my date had a PBR), we enjoyed the sonorous, humble sounds of opening act A Fine Frenzy, a pleasant piano/drum/synth trio that did not in any way overstay their opening act welcome. Not so for The Magic Numbers, a jumpy, bass-heavy band from England that started out fun and stayed on to the point of anxious tedium. Rufus took the stage elegantly late, attired in a patchwork suit, backed by a full band (including three horn players) dressed in stripes. The concert opened with the title track from his new album, Release the Stars; at each chorus, the disco ball over the stage – a grand foil to the crystal chandelier – showered us with hundreds of points of light. He is every inch a star, and probably always has been. His demeanor is classical, his presence hypnotizing. He played brassy, jangly songs with his acoustic guitar and wrought, rich songs on the grand piano: one from his new album, “Going to a Town,” aches with a weary refrain: “I’m so tired of you, America”. The concert was being taped, so some of the songs – notably “Art Teacher,” another sad little aria about a schoolgirl who falls in love on a field trip to a museum – had to be performed twice, which was no cause for complaint. It was almost like a salon, a parlor soiree – another welcome effect of the Pabst’s relative smallness – and Mr. Wainwright was the charming host, endearing us to him with fluttery banter and an uncanny command of the mood, from goofy (performing “Between My Legs” perched atop his boyfriend’s shoulders with a handful of giggly front-row fans dancing around him) to gorgeous (channeling Judy Garland in a lone spotlight) and exuding a certain tenderness for the audience (wearing liederhosen after his first set — this is, after all, German Athens). I felt like an honored guest, even up in the nosebleed seats. I left before the end of the concert, more than two hours into his performance. It was getting late, the dim lights were making me […]

Moonlight and Magnolias

Moonlight and Magnolias

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Watch the closing credits of any film and you’ll see a long list of people who lived, breathed and sweated a massive creative project for days, weeks, months or more. Every name on that list has a story behind it that might be just as interesting as the story the film tells. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre opens its 2007-2008 season with Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias, a comedic tribute to the hard work and dedication of three men striving to finish the final script of what would become the single most commercially successful film of all time – Gone With The Wind. Actor, musician and high school teacher Tom Klubertanz stars as legendary film producer David O. Selznick. Selznick finds himself in the unenviable position of lacking a director on one of the most expensive films in history – a film eagerly anticipated by a legion of fans who have read the book and expect something good. Selznick pulls acclaimed director Victor Fleming (Dan Mooney) off his current project (The Wizard of Oz) to pick up where exiting director George Cukor left off. With a new director in place, Selznick decides to start over with a new script. Bringing in screenwriter Ben Hecht (Michael Herold), Selznick locks himself, Hecht and Fleming in his office to bang out a completely new script in five days. Selznick is aided by a seemingly endless flow of peanuts and bananas brought into the office by his secretary Miss Poppenghul (Marcella Kearns). Klubertanz doesn’t quite muster the emotional weight onstage to play the mighty film producer convincingly. The gravitas is hardly missed, however, as Klubertanz has a compelling nice-guy stage presence that makes the role work. Michael Herold gives a shrewd, intelligent turn as the last screenwriter to work on Gone With The Wind, performing with a deft comedic perspicacity that unleashes itself from some of the best lines in the script. Dan Mooney summons a great amount of arrogance for his initial appearance onstage as big-name film director Victor Fleming, which gradually erodes throughout play in a hugely entertaining performance. Kearns is perfectly conservative in the role of Selznick’s secretary until just the right moment at the end of the play. More than merely a comedy about the golden age of Hollywood, this is a play about three men working themselves to the brink of death. When everything else fades away, we’re watching three men nearly destroy themselves to build the foundations of what is destined to be an unparalleled success. As the characters’ sense of sanity and decorum start to deteriorate, we see the deeply affecting comedy of three men losing their minds, learning something about the nature of their business in the process. It’s a brilliant opening to what looks like a very promising season with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. VS Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Moonlight and Magnolias runs now through August 26th at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling the box […]

2007 Short Fiction and Poetry Contest

2007 Short Fiction and Poetry Contest

Intro by Jon Anne Willow It’s possible that only a writer can understand the difficulty of being one. It is not a skill or avocation, but the most primal of callings, an obsession at least as deep-rooted as any felt for love or high ambition. Writing is a cruel muse, leaving you when you need her most, clawing at your back when your thoughts should be turned to other things. Follow her and you may, through a tortuous process, eventually taste the manna of creating something that isn’t truly awful; turn your back and you will surely be left in peace to wade eternally in the tide pool of regret that you did not listen when you had the chance. Just the act of writing consistently takes courage; to actually put your words out there for others, even more: any “writer” who does not know this is either a rank amateur or an imposter. With this belief, VITAL would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who submitted their work to our first Short Fiction and Poetry Contest. Their work was judged blind by talented working professionals who all used the same criteria to score each piece up to 100 total points in different categories. Both first and second place winners in each category are printed here; first place winners will also receive a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble, whose Mayfair store helped to sponsor this competition. Enjoy. —Jon Anne Willow FICTION WINNER “Confitero” By Anne M. Rice Like savoring a last cigarette before the executioner’s blindfold, I hold the gold cufflink between my fingers, tracing the engraved initials repeatedly with my thumb. The arc of my fingernail revisits the path of the engraver’s pen in lines and curves. Whether I do this to scratch the initials out of existence or because I feel them branding my being, I do not know. I stand motionless – except for this tiny, recurring gesture – in the middle of the bedroom, staring out the leaded glass windows, for what might be hours. Again, I do not know. Time seems almost intractable. Below, the light is reflected on the wet pavement where milky shafts glare up at me. He was in a desperate hurry to leave this evening, choosing to wear the lapis pair – barely securing his French cuffs, grabbing his suit jacket, knocking this offending monogrammed piece onto the Oriental rug near my toe as he flew past, the scent of Kiel’s almond lotion lingering behind him. “Don’t wait up,” he offered, not unkindly, but unnecessarily. I know better than to do that. These evenings have become a part of our routine, even if they are a charade. And I am very clear about how to carry out my role. Early on in this arrangement, I would boast of a busy schedule and a vibrant, separate social life that also kept me out on evenings such as these. And occasionally, I indeed had penciled things in on nights like […]

Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara

Like the “HeadOn: apply directly to the forehead” commercial, Tegan and Sara’s “Walking With a Ghost” (from 2004’s So Jealous) proved that repetition equals retention. The simplistic and cyclical single earned an EP dedication by The White Stripes; the Canuck twin songwriters took note. On The Con, “Walking With a Ghost”-equivalents “Back in Your Head” and “Hop A Plane,” which are filled with pop hooks like “every record between ’93 and ’97,” act as a safety net for exploration elsewhere. While royalty checks must be added security, thankfully this is not another album ripe with lackluster Grey’s Anatomy ballads. More mope than mush, “Knife Going In” and “Relief Next to Me” are unprecedentedly dark, dwelling on the loss of their “grama” and the insanity and loneliness that came with it. Though apart while writing, the sum of their individual contributions is consistent in both lyric and mood – twin telepathy? Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla and Jason McGerr, The Con’s co-producer and drummer, respectively, make their presences known – if not blaringly obvious – through delicate electronics and calculated percussion. “Floorplan” and “Burn Your Life Down” are giveaways. “Nineteen,” “Call It Off” and the title track best meld the sisters’ aesthetic of earnestness and interwoven vocals with the collaborators’ marks, making those three songs particularly accomplished. When they aren’t adopting English accents on “Are you Ten Years Ago” or sounding like bingo callers on “Like O, Like H,” they put forth their most substantial material to date. If only it could speak louder than their damn undying scenester haircuts… VS

August 2007

August 2007

August 7th Peter Case Let us Now Praise Sleepy John Yep Roc Kat DeLuna 9 Lives Epic Drowning Pool Full Circle Eleven Seven Music Fuel Angels and Devils Epic June Make it Blur Victory Grace Potter and The Nocturnals This is Somewhere Hollywood The Pretty Things Balboa Island Zoho Music August 14th Peter Cincotti East of Angel Town Warner Collective Soul AfterwOrds El Music Group Junior Senior Hey Hey My My Yo Yo Rykodisc Mae Singularity Capitol Lori McKenna Unglamorous Warner Bros. Matt Nathanson Some Mad Hope Vanguard The Seldom Scene Scenechrnized Sugar Hill Linda Thompson Versatile Heart Rounder Turbonegro Retox Cooking Vinyl Paul van Dyk In Between Mute August 21st Adema Kill the Headlights Partnership/Immortal Architecture in Helsinki Because I Love It Columbia Peter Buffett Staring at the Sun BeSide Earlimart Mentor Tormentor Majordomo/Shout! Foreign Born On the Wing Now Dim Mak Idiot Pilot Wolves Reprise Minus the Bear Planet of Ice Suicide Squeeze The New Pornographers Challengers Matador Rilo Kiley Under the Blacklight Brute/Beaute/Warner Nikki Sixx The Heroin Diaries Eleven Seven Music August 28th Atreyu Lead Sails Paper Anchor Hollywood Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals Lifeline Virgin Kula Shaker StrangeFolk Sony Music Liars Liars Mute Lyle Lovett and His Large Band It’s Not Big It’s Large Lost Highway Meshell Ndegeocello The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams Decca Northern State Can I Keep This Pen? Ipecac

Found in translation

Found in translation

By Evan Solochek With so many misconceptions, half-truths and flat-out ignorance surrounding the Middle East, immersing yourself in its diverse culture and rich history for a weekend seems a good first step to enlightenment. In a time where stories of bombings and body counts are a nightly fixture on local and national news, it’s easy to overlook the positive and encouraging aspects of one of the oldest and most influential cultures in history. During Europe’s Dark Ages, Arab nations took in its “heretical” scholars, especially those practicing science and medicine, fostering their work and saving the world from losing invaluable knowledge. They gave us our system of numbering and have produced some of the finest architecture, artistic artifacts and textiles known to man. This month, Milwaukeeans can witness first-hand what we won’t be likely to see on television. Now in its ninth year, Arab World Fest is a multi-cultural celebration loosely grouped under the label “Arab World,” which is itself one of the biggest confusions. Much greater than just the Arabian Peninsula, the Arab world spreads across 22 countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and while most Arabs are Muslims, the Arab world also includes significant Christian and Jewish communities. Yes, there will be falafel and belly dancing and camel rides. But more importantly, there will be the opportunity to foster a better understanding of and appreciation for Arabian cultural heritage and the political awareness and sentiments of its citizens. To that end, one of the Fest’s newest and most highly anticipated attractions will be its film festival, highlighted by Occupation 101. “We brought this last year and were showing it in a small tent and there was standing room only,” says Ihsan Atta, President of Arab World Fest. “We were surprised at the overwhelming positive response, which led us to have a film festival this year.” A powerful and moving documentary, Occupation 101 details the current state and the historical roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From the first massive Jewish immigration from Europe in the 1880s and the 1948, 1967 and Yom Kippur wars to the Oslo Peace Process and Intifadas of 1987 and 2000, this film offers one of the most comprehensive analyses – along with first person testimonials – of this seemingly unending conflict. Other entries of note include Paradise Now, which was released in 2005 by Warner Independent. The harrowing story of two Palestinian childhood friends who are recruited for a suicide strike on Tel Aviv, Paradise Now chronicles their last two days together as they say goodbye to loved ones and family and prepare for their mission. While en route to meet a driver who will take them to Tel Aviv, the two young men are separated from their handlers and intercepted at the Israeli border by a young woman who, after discovering their plan, tries to make them reconsider their path. It’s a first-hand look at the lives and motivations of two would-be faceless martyrs. Most Westerners don’t really understand what the […]

The Spitfire Grill

The Spitfire Grill

“Shoot the moon, life is hard and gone too soon,” sings Percy, Hannah and Shelby in The Spitfire Grill. Set in the north woods of Gilead, Wisconsin, this production was adapted from Lee David Zlotoff’s film. Fellow Wisconsinites Fred Alley, co-founder of American Folklore Theatre in Door County, and James Valcq, who started at the Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee, collaborated on the themes of hope and redemption. Those familiar with Alley’s music, including the often-produced Guys on Ice, will reconnect with some of the haunting lyrics in this piece of musical theater. Several include “A Ring Around the Moon,” “Wild Bird,” “Shine” and “Shoot the Moon,” which are all made more memorable by Valcq’s melodies. Brenda L. LaMalfa, who plays the poignant main character of Percy, captures each note perfectly. Her persona of the young girl being released from prison radiates every nuance. Struggling to create a new life, Percy is placed in Hannah Ferguson’s Spitfire Grill, the only restaurant in town. When Hannah breaks her leg, Percy and Shelby, another young woman imprisoned in a stifling marriage, carry the responsibilities of the grill as Hannah recuperates. But the town busybody, Effy, and Shelby’s husband, Caleb, complain as Percy continues to bring her rays of hope to Gilead. Throughout the two acts, every character tries to shoot the moon as secrets are revealed and light flickers through the windows of the Spitfire Grill once again. But full summer moonlight shines on this production. Elaine Rewolinski as the cantankerous Hannah acts with appropriate audacity while beautifully singing every measure. And only 18, Cherissse Duncan as Shelby is an admiral addition. But LaMaffa is a Percy the audience will remember, as even a faulty sound system during the first half refused to let her character or vocals dim. This trio enlightened the stage with a glow that gives life to Gilead, their performances enhanced further by live instrumental accompaniment. Acacia Theatre’s Spitfire Grill would make Valcq and Alley proud as it retains the spirit of their script and score. These were to be Alley’s last lyrics, and final time the two long time friends combined their talents. He was unable to receive the prestigious Academy of Arts and Letters Award for New American Musicals in 2001 that was given to this show as he died that spring of a heart attack, and for him life was indeed gone too soon. The tragedy of September 11 followed closely, and this musical resonated more deeply than ever as the then Skylight Opera produced the show the following fall. Six years later, the themes are ever timely and the ability to shoot the moon still illuminates hope. As the production continues until July 22, spend an evening in the light and shadows cast by this Spitfire Grill. VS The Spitfire Grill is presented by Acacia Theatre Company in the Todd Wehr Auditorium at Concordia University through July 22.For tickets or information call 414-744-5995 or visit www.acaciatheatre.com. .

A Play In A Day 2: Bunny Rabbit In A Box Of Chocolates
A Play In A Day 2

Bunny Rabbit In A Box Of Chocolates

As 8 p.m. neared on the night of July 21st, people milled about the Broadway Theatre Center. Casual conversation drifted through the lazy summer evening as show time approached. Alamo Basement had been at it for nearly 24 hours – writing and rehearsing the show that was about to make its debut that night. The Play In A Day concept is deliciously simple – get a group of people together (playwrights, actors, etc… ) and give them 24 hours to develop an entire feature-length play that they will then perform. Alamo Basement did something much like this last year. It was successful enough that they decided to do it again. Not long after the scheduled start time, Alamo Basement co-founder Michael Q. Hanlon and the play’s director Chris Scholke introduced the show. Taking suggestions from the audience, the title Bunny Rabbit In A Box Of Chocolates was chosen. Then the script was auctioned off to the highest bidder. A gentleman in the front row ended up winning the script, paying some $30 for something about which he, like the rest of us, probably knew almost nothing. After these small bits of business, the play began for the 50 or so people in attendance. A comedy set in a hotel in Transylvania, Bunny Rabbit In A Box of Chocolates was exceedingly entertaining. The script had been passed through a series of local DIY playwrights over the course of the 24 hours leading up to the performance. Pink Banana Theatre guru John Manno (Golden Apollo) got the script first. He worked with the actors to get a general feel for what the actors were interested in and went to work. The ensemble played characters they had a hand in developing, which made for an interesting stage dynamic during the actual performance. Alamo Basement co-founder Mike Q. Hanlon (who also served as one of the playwrights) played the hotel concierge, a classic comic straight man with a bit of a feral twist toward the end. The cast of characters parading through the hotel included a pair of honeymooning Wisconsinites with a sexual fetish for the history of warfare, a socialist hotel worker and his wife (a sexy maid with an inexplicable New York accent), a pair of dim-witted traveling thieves, a world-famous scientist and her eager assistant, a deposed Eastern European princess and others. In addition to Hanlon and Manno, playwrights included Peter J. Woods (Made In The Mouth) and Rex Winsome (co-founder of Insurgent Theatre). The script was remarkably coherent for something that four people took turns writing with very little sleep. Light comedies and farces try to capture a certain kind of mindless guilty fun, but something invariably gets lost in endless rehearsals. Impov comedy emulates freshness by giving the illusion of spontaneity, but all too often it’s simply actors forming pre-existing, pre-formulated characters and skits around audience suggestions. With Play In A Day, Alamo Basement seems to have hit on a sense of vitality that’s so glaringly missing in contemporary […]

Editor’s Desk:  Green is the new black
Editor’s Desk

Green is the new black

“In 60 seconds, you can make toast, water a fichus, take a power nap and, now, save the Earth.” That’s heavy stuff, especially coming from renowned global climate expert Cameron Diaz. She’s teamed up with Al Gore on his latest megalomedia campaign, 60 Seconds to Save the Earth, a contest where young people can submit video shorts meant to “inspire change.” “Because the planet needs a good publicist,” is the tagline, delivered with a big smile by JT’s sometimes main squeeze. Plus the winners earn neat, energy-consuming electronics or even a hybrid SUV! I feel better already. It seems like Al’s back on track to change the course of global environmental decay. His worldwide Live Earth concert was a total bust with its insanely high cost (the citizens of Hamburg, in fact, are stuck with a $1.3 million tab from their event), insulting resource consumption (the private jets for artists alone used enough fuel to fly around the world over nine times), unforgivable lack of focus (no money was raised) and even lackluster ratings. I was also a little worried when the news media outed him for his scandalous personal consumption of energy. It really was pretty lame when he justified his 20-room Nashville estate by bleating that he and Tipper both work from home. It doesn’t count anyway, he added, because they buy “carbon offsets,” paying to have trees planted elsewhere. And the zinc mine on his property continually cited for dumping toxic chemicals into a nearby river and from which he receives about $20,000 a year? Fear not, Green Warriors, the mine was closed in 2003 so he’s all done with that little embarrassment. Just don’t ask him about the shares in Occidental Petroleum he continues to manage for his family. That’s none of your business. And that’s what this is all quickly boiling down to, isn’t it? Celebrities jumping on yet another bandwagon, donning hemp t-shirts and organic cotton jeans to show their solidarity with Mother Earth. The “in” crowd is batting around terms like “carbon offsetting” and “biodiversity” at cocktail parties by chlorinated pools, having arrived in their Escalades. For the rest of us who want to appear socially conscious, there’s the industrious J.C. Piscine Company, also out of Nashville (they make both the Jesus fish and the Darwin fish – clever!). They can’t keep fake hybrid badges that go on the backs of cars on the shelves. The weekly shipping alone could probably supply Africa’s U’wa tribe with electricity for a year. Do I seem bitter? I am, a little. Everything we do as individuals will have negligible overall impact on our climate. Change must come from the big polluters, so it appears we’re pretty much at the mercy of commerce. What can we do while we’re waiting? First, it can’t hurt to familiarize ourselves with some popular terms from the Green Movement. Awareness begins at home, after all, and it’s always nice to be able to understand what the stars are talking about. It’s […]

Misalliance

Misalliance

The first non-Shakespeare show in this year’s American Players Theatre season, George Bernard Shaw’s early 20th century dramatic debate, Misalliance, works much better on paper than it does on the stage. In principal, the idea of a play consisting almost exclusively of characters having lengthy discussions about love, marriage, justice and so on without much real action is a very clever one. In practice, it can be very difficult to sit through. Chicago actress Carrie A. Coon (who starred in Anna Christie with the Madison Rep last year) stars as Hypatia Tarleton, the restless daughter of the wealthy underwear magnate John Tarleton (Jonathan Smoots). Things seem perfectly dull in the house as things begin. All the characters seem nearly content to play out Shaw’s debate with only the slightest hint of any real action. True, there is a great deal of wit in what’s being sad, but it merely feels. Characters lounge around inside talented actors dressed in conspicuously tidy Rachel Healy costumes as everything rests in a tasteful early 20th-century Takeshi Kata set. Then a plane crashes into a building offstage and everything gets considerably more interesting. The play is an intellectually lively ensemble piece and the APT manages its usual magic of arranging a highly talented and cohesive cast. Chris Klopatek is pleasantly intolerable as the nuisance Bentley Summerhays. Bentley is that annoying brat with deafening smugness who always seems to know exactly what he can get away with. As the play opens he’s engaged in some sort of general frustration with Hypatia’s conservative brother Johnny (Marcus Truschinski). Truschinski is sharp in the role, which limits him to smooth, controlled bursts of passion accompanied by occasional bits of wit. Truschinski gives the character precisely as much range of emotional movement as he needs to get through the play without over-exaggerating any of his finer personality details. At some point early into the play’s first stretches, Bentley goes offstage to be intolerable elsewhere and in comes Lord Summerhays (Brian Mani) – a friend of the family. Mani is fun here. His character has a tendency for the type of humor Mani is so good at delivering . . . sparkling, little unassuming bits of semantic cleverness that creep up in response to things other characters say. Lord Summerhays has some entertaining bits of dialogue with Hypatia. He’s an older man taken with the younger woman who seems a bit taken with him as well and marriage is proposed between the two of them. Actually, marriage is proposed quite often in Misalliance – it’s a refreshing little parade of diversions the playwright has concocted to pass the time between the play’s beginning and end, which ends up being a central part of the play. Shaw seems intent on exploring the nature of love and marriage between many different pairings within the ensemble. There’s also this whole theme of women beginning to become individuals that Shaw wanted to explore. Apparently, he felt as though men at the turn of the last […]

The legends live on…

The legends live on…

Photos by Kat Jacobs It’s a warm dusk, and the SV Mai Tai, a handsome catamaran, is cruising away from the harbor. With Milwaukee’s silhouette behind us, Captain Rick Hake is steering us into the streaks of a storm. We are less than a mile and a half from the dock. Captain Rick – a lanky, youthful man with an exuberant mop of hair – assures me that the boat can handle a spate of pretty bad, even vicious, weather. This is a good thing to hear, as in a matter of minutes the wind has kicked up from four knots to 22. The boat is dipping and rolling, and the water is capped white. The sturdy, luxurious craft is Rick’s second home. It’s also home to Adventure Charter Boats, Rick’s dive charter business, and several times a week it ferries divers out on Lake Michigan to see the bones of less fortunate crafts. Milwaukee is a city of well-kept secrets, and the diving that draws in-the-know dive tourists from around the world is one of them. Few realize just how many sunken ships are pinned down in the Great Lakes; thousands have slipped under since the very first ship to sail them, Rene La Salle’s Griffin, sank after leaving the Door Peninsula piled with furs in 1679. Some divers have dedicated their lives to finding the wreck of the Griffin. Others seek less tangible prizes – adventure, mystery, serenity – in Lake Michigan, a body of water the size of Croatia with a fickle and very cold heart. The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead Lake wrecks are incomparable. The water lacks the corrosive properties of salt and destructive saltwater organisms, and the near-freezing temperatures refrigerate everything, slowing down the process of rust and decay. Milwaukee, in particular, has a higher concentration of wreckage than other shores, and conditions are ideal for divers –unlike, for instance, Chicago which, despite a number of spectacular wrecks, is too shallow and heavily trafficked. Jerry Guyer, with a white beard and a grizzled manner, is something of a freshwater cowboy. He started diving out of casual curiosity after a high school classmate told him about a scuba class he was taking. Forty years later, after decades of marine salvage, training dive rescue teams and running charters, Jerry knows the bottom of Lake Michigan better than anyone. He’s discovered more than 20 vanished wrecks in the Great Lakes. Diving is about pushing frontiers for him. “What’s beyond the next rock?” he asks. “What can I find out there that no one else has seen?” He shows me a map of the shoreline with Xs on the wrecks and several tiny ultrasounds that make the boats look like creatures growing in the womb of the water. “Every one of these wrecks is something different,” Jerry explains, and points to each as he tells their stories – unsophisticated navigation technology, bad lighting, old boats, freak accidents. The Hiran Bond was run over by […]

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

The American Player Theatre delves into sticky realms of ambiguity with its production of what is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most questionable plays. The Merchant of Venice concerns money lent to a man by a Jewish moneylender named Shylock. If the money is not paid back in a timely fashion, Shylock has the legal right to one pound of the debtor’s flesh. It’s not an overriding problem unless one happens to be exquisitely sensitive, but there are enough allusions to anti-Semitism in the script to make modern audiences cringe. The APT glides its way gracefully through what is essentially a courtroom drama with as much style as it can muster. This includes some of the best acting in the state filling a comfy outdoor theatre in the middle of a wooded area west of Madison. Sadly, however, the biggest disappointment in the acting here is James Ridge in that oh-so-central performance as the Jewish moneylender, Shylock. It should be pointed out before this review goes any further that James Ridge is a phenomenal actor. In 2005, his performance as Tartuffe was exquisite and insightful – something of a revelation. This past year as the title character in Dickens In America with Next Act (which he picks up again this summer with the APT and next December with the Madison Rep), Ridge put forth a spellbinding, highly charismatic performance. In light of these recent successes, Ridge’s performance as Shylock is a colossal disappointment. Ridge affects an accent, which may serve to distinguish a sense of otherworldliness in the villain, but it never quite feels natural enough to make the character entirely believable. Ridge goes a long way toward making up for this lack of realism by playing the role sympathetically. We see depth in Ridge’s performance as Shylock. His motivations for behaving as cold as he is seem firmly defined in Ridge’s portrayal, but the larger picture of who the character is never fully resolves, leaving this production’s Shylock feeling like more of a shallow villain than Ridge’s efforts should have allowed. The rest of the performances here live up to the play quite well. James DeVita plays the title character who borrows money from Shylock to give to his friend Bassanio (Matt Schwader) so that he may have a chance at marrying his one true love, Portia (the charming Colleen Madden). As the play progresses, Bassanio gets ever closer to his dream as Portia plays reluctant host to a series of wealthy suitors played by frequent Rep actor Jonathan Smoots. Madden is in particularly good form here playing subtle comedy in perfect timing and DeVita plays the title role as a very rational man in very real peril. The best part of his performance is the intrinsic believability of his friendship with Bassanio. It would seem all too easy to play a friendship between two men in which one is willing to risk his life for the other’s well being as some kind of mysterious male code of honor for […]