• String of Pearls

    Michele Lowe’s String of Pearls follows the title object through 30-years, as it passes from owner to owner to owner. Slowly, the necklace makes its long journey full circle as it leaves its mark on the lives of a large number of characters. Featuring some impressive talent in a small space, Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of the play is an enjoyable collection of dramatic moments. For the most part this is a string of disjointed moments held together by a single prop. The prop itself isn’t always extremely prominent in each of the stories that the play consists of, so it ends up feeling like more of a symbolic gimmick than a character that mixes with the rest of the play. The action onstage is largely spoken directly to the audience, making String of Pearls feel like a collection of monologues that aspires to be a single, cohesive play. It may not quite make it, but there are so many genuinely touching moments here that it hardly seems worth the effort to string them together at all. Renaissance has put together a cast for its production that not only captures attentions and imagination throughout the play’s many stories, it also manages to keep things flowing gracefully enough that each story seems to naturally flow from the one before it. And though we are, for the most part, watching a string of monologues, the actresses here have a strong enough chemistry as a whole to make it feel like they are all interacting with each other in a single story. Each actress holds several roles over the course of the play. None are so pleasantly wide-ranging as those performed by long-time Milwaukee stage actress Mary MacDonald Kerr. The butch, overweight lesbian gravedigger she plays at the end of the show may not fit her physically, but she plays it sympathetically with more than enough heart to make her performance truly engaging. Earlier on, she plays a comically annoying mother of an adult daughter, the comically hip mother of a much younger daughter and more. Kerr stands out in a script that hands many of the fun roles to her with only a smattering of truly heavy drama. While Tracy Michelle Arnold plays a number of roles herself, nowhere is she more memorable than in the role of an Irish funeral home employee who is looking after her aging mother. Arnold plays both high comedy and endearing drama from the subtle, Irish intonations of a woman whom seems to have spent a great deal of time pummeling. She’s brilliantly reserved in the role. So much comes out of so little in her performance here. Making her Renaissance debut in this production, it’s nice to see the American Players Theatre actress on a much smaller local Milwaukee stage. Tammy Workentin and Laura Birmingham round out the cast. Birmingham renders some really powerful moments as a woman looking back over her life at the beginning of the play and perhaps looking forward to new life […]

  • Trudy Blue

    By Jill Gilmer “Can I speak to them?” Ginger Andrews asks, referring to her family as she watches them weep at Ginger’s funeral. She poses the question to a fellow angel who is watching the funeral with her from their heavenly perch. “No,” the other angel replies. “That is what your life was for.” Talk to the people you love while you are still alive. This is the simple yet provocative message of Trudy Blue, a play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marcia Norman presented by the Dramatists Theatre. The play is based on Ms. Norman’s personal journey after she learns that she has two months to live. Like Ms. Norman, lead character Ginger Andrews, a novelist, later learns that her doctor’s diagnosis of lung cancer is wrong. Thus, she will have to continue living her dreary life, a fate more devastating to Ginger than the death prediction. The play takes place nearly entirely in Ginger’s mind as she contemplates conversations with her family and with Trudy Blue, a character from one of her novels who also represents Ginger’s alter ego. The play mingles these “real conversations with imaginary people and imaginary conversations with real people” interchangeably, an intriguing technique that is at times confusing to the audience. Despite the erratic effectiveness of this dramatic technique, the play succeeds in illustrating the results that ensue when a writer channels painful thoughts and feelings into fictitious characters and stories instead of sharing them with the people involved. As a series of surprising revelations unfold over the course of the play, the audience witnesses the potential damage to relationships when a person conceals their true persona from the people they love. It’s a dynamic that is likely experienced by introverts and artists of many types. The Dramatists Theatre’s production of Trudy Blue is a commendable adaptation of a difficult story. Unfortunately, its overall impact is diminished by an inexperienced cast, which offers the audience minimal assistance in understanding or caring about the two central characters, Ginger and her alter-ego, Trudy Blue. A tedious first act may lose some audience members while the stage is set for the more compelling second half. This notwithstanding, a play of this complexity is an impressive accomplishment for a theatre company in its second season, operating on a shoe-string budget. (The actors were not paid, and artistic director Marjorie Shoemann also manned the box office and snack bar.)VS Trudy Blue is the second installment in the Dramatists Theatre’s series of plays by Marcia Norman. Each season, the company showcases the work of a single playwright. Trudy Blue runs through Saturday, November 18 at the Marian Center for Non-Profits, 3211 S. Lake Drive. Tickets are $16. For reservations, please call 414-243-9168.