Monday, November 16, 2015


by Jake Voss

A retrospective glance at the life of LOVE STORIES reveals something innate about life: it’s never short on surprises. One must expect the unexpected. And what one carries forward from the past will undoubtedly influence the present and future. The LOVE STORIES of today was carried from the East Coast to the Midwest over the course of more than twenty years. It’s a journey of unexpected twists and turns, and of how artists fuse the old with the new to create the original. The story begins with a student.

Jennifer Uphoff Gray

Jennifer Uphoff Gray “read many, many, many, many, many, many, plays” in college. As an undergraduate, she unwittingly came across two of the one-act plays that would become part of LOVE STORIES: THE JEWISH WIFE and HERE WE ARE. Upon graduating, Gray did what one does with a degree in theater and moved to New York City. She carried those pieces in a mental library, and stumbled upon VILLAGE WOOING while perusing a collection of Shaw’s short plays.

In 1995, when Gray met some actors she felt compelled to collaborate with, the connections between the pieces began to resonate. Each featured one female and one male actor, were all written in the 1930s by playwrights of different nationalities, and each captured a special moment of conflict in the life cycle of a marriage. “I was particularly struck by the fact that all three didn’t name their characters,” said Gray.

Asked to describe the original production, she said, “This is one of those down and dirty when-you’re-in-New-York-as-a-director-in-your-twenties projects.” After a brief rehearsal period, Gray and her team assembled scenery, props, and costumes, and ran four or five performances. Gray didn’t necessarily intend the collection to have a life after New York. She had planted the seed of another production in a few close friends, but no opportunities took root. Audiences would enjoy LOVE STORIES again only after Gray played a central role in founding Forward Theater Company.

Forward’s third season presented an unexpected quagmire. Two plays had lined up well. Finding a third to unify them was proving problematic. “At one point I threw this collection of plays out on the table and had the advisory company read it,” Gray described. They resolved to produce it. Gray thought she would direct LOVE STORIES in its reprise, but the nebulous task of plotting the season’s order called for a guest director, instead. “I knew Paula [Suozzi] pretty well at that point,” Gray shared. “I thought, ‘If anyone is going to do the right job with this, it’s Paula.’”
Paula Suozzi

The two had what Gray called “a lovely conversation” in which a shared conclusion revealed itself. In New York, Gray had collaborated with an ensemble of actors to stage the pieces. But now, a decade later, in a new state, and with a new director, the pieces seemed to be saying something new. Gray and Suozzi paid attention to their instincts and sought to stage the piece with just two actors. They were looking for a pair.

They asked James Ridge and Colleen Madden, and were thrilled when they accepted the roles. “The fact that they were married in real life was a huge bonus,” said Gray, “but really their facility with pieces from this period, and their ability to do Shaw, that was real.” Now a decade later, in a new state, with a new director, and new actors, Gray worked with Suozzi on the onerous task of setting a new order.

In New York, Gray broke VILLAGE WOOING into three sections that served as the show’s opening, middle, and closing. After much deliberation, the collaborators settled on a new order and prepared for first rehearsal. It arrived with something neither Suozzi nor Gray anticipated. As Gray shared: “She and I [were] talking after the first read-through we did with Jim and Colleen. Our first rehearsal. You know, when we’re opening in three and a half weeks. We did the read-through, and we looked at each other at the end and said ‘They’re in the wrong order!’ So we changed the order they were going to be in that day.”

Gray credits Suozzi with the final concept: the first two scenes were progressing points in a rehearsal process; the final piece was the realized performance. “It was wonderful to see what Paula, and Jim, and Colleen created, what they put in of Jim and Colleen’s actual lives, their life experiences as a couple, as a working couple of actors,” Gray said. After what Gray called “a gorgeous production” that magnified the symmetries she first felt in New York, no chapters would be added to the story of LOVE STORIES for another ten years.

With the entrance of C. Michael Wright, Artistic Director of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, LOVE STORIES became part of a history of co-creation. As Wright recalls, it all started over a fated lunch. The docket: collaborations between Forward Theater and MCT. “She pitched a few ideas and I pitched a few ideas,” said Wright, “and one of the ideas she brought up was three one acts that she had done in New York.” The Artistic Directors put the one acts on hold in favor of producing a new work by local playwright Gwendolyn Rice, followed by COLLECTED STORIES by Donald Margulies.

But, firmly attuned to the pulse of Wisconsin’s theatrical heartbeat, Wright couldn’t help but take notice of Forward’s LOVE STORIES in 20
12. Profoundly fascinated, he reached out to Suozzi and asked her to share her experience over breakfast. “And she loved it,” he recalled. “Colleen and Jim loved it. Everyone who saw it loved it. I got excited by the possibility of doing our version of it.” But it would be several years before the right season for LOVE STORIES came along.

Real-life couple Tami Workentin and
James Pickering star in MCT's LOVE STORIES

For Wright, LOVE STORIES had all the right characteristics, like an inherent eclecticism. “I really like the idea of that blend of styles,” he said, “the Brecht, the Shaw, Dorothy Parker. I always like to get a mix of old plays [and] new plays.” Similarly, the plays commented on love, an idea with vast programming potential, and one Wright hoped to one day explore in an entire season. Given MCT’s history of producing Shaw, the line-up was impossible for him to put off any longer. Just over a year ago, he reached out to Suozzi.

With credits at Skylight Music Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare, and Florentine Opera Company, freelance director Paula Suozzi was and is no stranger to Milwaukee’s theatre scene. Approached by Wright to direct the third iteration of LOVE STORIES, her first thoughts considered the city. “We will reorder them for Milwaukee,” she said. “They’re going to be in a different order and have a very different thrust.” But there are a few elements from Forward’s production that MCT will retain.

A married couple of actors, local stage veterans Jim Pickering and Tami Workentin, fill the various roles. Similarly, Wright wanted to riff on Suozzi’s concept of staging the plays in rehearsal. Compelled to share life in rehearsal with the audience, Wright sought to use the plays as a way to open a door. He wanted to “...give the audience a chance to see what it’s like before they get there.” Audiences should expect to see substitute costume pieces and props, tape on the floor, and, most importantly, a snack table.

“I still have a set of fabulous red Amelia Earhart luggage that I bought at a thrift shop for the train ride in HERE WE ARE,” Gray shared. “And I just haven’t been able to get rid of it because...I’m very sentimental about it.” Likewise carried forth for reasons sentimental and artistic, LOVE STORIES contains compelling perspectives. Its journey seems to argue that one’s life takes shape in how one mixes what is brought with what is found. In his famous PYGMALION, George Bernard Shaw said, “What is life but a series of inspired follies?”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents LOVE STORIES November 25 - December 20, 2015 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Tickets 414-291-7800 or

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


By Trevor Kearns
Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell

If one were to look for two poets to represent two strikingly different faces of American poetry in the twentieth century, one could hardly do better than Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. The two faces in question are two aspects of The Poet, that semi-mythical figure of vapors and swoons, the dusk and the dawn, into whose ear the Muses whisper or remain devastatingly silent, when the bottle starts to call instead . . .

But of course, this figure is a romantic fiction. In truth, poetry does not emerge whole-bodied from a divine source like Athena from Zeus, but rather arrives piecemeal and with great difficulty, through a challenging process that demands a keen mastery of craft. Real poets struggle with materials as elusive as they are familiar: language, and the prosaic details of everyday life, and the prolific ephemera of our mental lives.

The romantic myth of poetic creation persists, however, and we may start to see why when we look at lives like Bishop’s and Lowell’s. The intensely private Bishop, who for nearly her entire career was known and admired mainly by other poets – she has often been described as a poet’s poet – seems to exemplify the inward-looking recluse familiar to us in figures like Wordsworth, lying on his couch and soothing his nerves by plunging into a vision of dancing flowers that would be at home in Disney’s Fantasia.

Bishop preferred a private life, out of the glare of the public’s gaze, where she could polish her work until it gleamed from within like a perfectly cut gem. Her National Book Award-winning Collected Poems barely occupies half an inch on the bookshelf; she would spend months polishing a few verses at a time, changing single words here and there or starting entirely from scratch, and keeping the latest drafts tacked to her refrigerator. The apparent simplicity and spareness of her diction belies a subtlety of structure, thought and verbal music that even today keeps her on the short list of most influential American poets.

For example, in one of her most celebrated poems, “One Art,” we see a rare glimpse of the tension between her private life, which was full of heartbreak, pain, loneliness, and loss, and the flawlessly ordered execution, so seemingly offhand, that was typical of her work. The form she uses here, the villanelle, is one of the most demanding in English verse; it began life as a kind of semi-improvised song in rural Italy, then developed into a compressed yet complicated structure that requires a strict meter and rhyme scheme as well as repetons (repeating lines, though Bishop cheats the form a bit by altering these). Such is her skill with formal verse that many first-time readers of this poem overlook the fact that it is in a form at all.

If Bishop’s poems are gems, Lowell’s are chandeliers, bursting with an immense energy that glitters through historical, social, and theological facets. And if her life was like one of the frail yet intense candles in the fire balloons of her poem “The Armadillo,” his was like a Fourth of July fireworks show. Partly that was because of his family, Boston Brahmins going back for generations, so to a certain degree, it would have been impossible for Lowell to avoid a public life of some sort.

But partly, it was also him. Driven to extremes of behavior by his bipolar disorder and alcoholism (Bishop also suffered from this addiction, but in a quieter way, as was her wont), Lowell led an emotional life that was a sprawling series of passionate train wrecks, most of which he made little effort to keep private. After his turn toward what is called “confessional poetry,” his readers were made privy to his most tortured inner moments as well. Indeed, this style of writing, in which the poet lays what seems a torn and beating heart on the page, is more closely associated with the raw spontaneity of Beats like Ginsberg than with the cool, carefully wrought tradition Bishop represents.

And thus Lowell can be seen as another face of The Poet, the one so overcome with emotion that he is overmastered by it, forced into extraordinary articulation by personal agony. This is the essence of confessional poetry, which is piercing when well done, and blunt as Jerry Springer when not. It is unfortunate this phase of Lowell’s work has come to represent the whole of his achievement, however, since before his startling Life Studies, which marks his confessional turn, he produced two volumes of poetry that dazzle with their sonic, structural, and philosophical density. And even much of his confessional work resonates with dimensions that extend into the larger world of human history.

The frankness of Lowell’s portrayal of personal misery, so powerfully conveyed by his craft, is characteristic of the confessional mode. At the time, it was considered by most of the poetry establishment to be too vulgar, slack, and direct to be considered good. But even a casual comparison of Lowell’s poems reveals the degree of craft he brought to both approaches. And for all its seeming casualness, Bishop’s work too shows us an extraordinary degree of formal skill.

The friendship that developed between these two poets, so different in temperament and yet so similar in their devotion to craft, was a gift not only to each of them, but to their readers these decades later. The polarity of their styles and concerns serves to illuminate the breadth and richness of American poetry during the postwar period. And the very human ways they suffered, in public and in private, help to both demystify popular conceptions about the making of poetry and emphasize the striking achievements Bishop and Lowell managed during their writing lives.

Trevor Kearns is a poet, writer, editor, and Associate Professor of English at Greenfield Community College in Western Massachusetts.

Friday, August 21, 2015

An "industry" perspective on BOEING BOEING

by Gale Clapper
Anne Walaszek, Samantha Sostarich &
Amber Smith (Photo by Paul Ruffolo)
As a flight attendant for United Airlines, I expected to be amused by a play about a womanizer juggling three “air hostesses” at the same time. The performance of BOEING BOEING by the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre provided far more than mere amusement with almost three hours of belly laughs. The retro comedic farce was hilarious and the actors were appropriately over-the-top with their accents and actions in spot-on performances filled with witty dialogue and physical antics.

Representing TWA, Lufthansa and Air Italia, Gloria, Gretchen and Gabriella managed to override the sexist situation of philandering fiancé Bernard with their own strong personalities. Anne Walaszek, Samantha Sostarich and Amber Smith were picture perfect in and out of their uniforms while bantering with their fiance Bernard, played by a subtly lecherous Brian Gill.

The rapid scrambling as each flight attendant entered and exited, barely missing encountering each other, required impeccable timing on the part of the actors. The facial expressions of Berthe, the housekeeper played by Marcella Kearns, and Robert, the friend from Wisconsin performed by Ryan Schabach, were remarkably animated. The moments the two of them were together were delightfully uninhibited. Being familiar with global flight patterns and the erratic airline schedules, I had to suspend reality knowing such a juggling act would be practically impossible but I was also aware that numerous global relationships do take place. Flight attendants still hop the pond to meet with boyfriends overseas.

I strongly recommend that you fly to the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward and buckle your seat belt for a turbulent romp through this campy comedy. It’s a trip!

Thursday, August 13, 2015


By Nalee Praseutsack, MCT Intern

BOEING BOEING will be opening MCT’s 2015-2016 season. A French farce, the play is about a bachelor, Bernard, who has three air hostess fiancées and struggles to keep them from discovering each other with the help of his Wisconsinite friend, Robert, and maid, Berthe. I sat down with Ryan Schabach (Robert) and Marcella Kearns (Berthe) to talk about doors, characters, and cocktails.

For the actors, the implied comedy in the script of this bedroom farce stood out right away. “When you read it,” said Schabach, “it doesn’t do itself justice because you have to visualize—the comedy lies in the odd set of circumstances that comes with people going in and out of doors.”

The doors are an integral part of any farce, but exceptionally so in BOEING BOEING, which surpasses the traditional number of doors. While there are typically three doors in a farce, the play calls for seven, which have been adapted to six for this production. “I’m sure it’ll feel like twelve [doors],” Kearns joked.

The actors also discussed their characters with me. Kearns described her French maid character as having “a stereotypical sense of superiority and ennui” and said, “I think of a lot of her humor—besides how just odd she is—comes from that.”

 I also asked about how Kearns has been developing her French accent. She has been working with Michelle Lopez-Rios, the production’s dialect coach, to “modify what might be a natural sounding accent for the stage.” She has also been building her French repertoire. “I spend 10-15 minutes every day speaking French. I can say things like ‘the men are calm and rich’ and ‘I am eating an orange with fish.’”

As Schabach delved into Robert’s origin story, some similarities between actor and character became apparent. “Robert was definitely raised on a farm in northern Wisconsin, so he gets to have the greatest accent ever. And he probably went to UW-Madison which, oddly enough, is everything that I really have done! So I get to use my own accent that I use in everyday speech and it’s wonderful.”

Bernard’s habits of keeping three fiancées is old hat for Berthe, but for Schabach’s character, Robert, it’s all new. “I think he’s a little…innocent,” Schabach said. “He comes into everything with overjoy. Everything is exciting, everything is new, kind of like a child seeing a toy for the very first time. I guess in my case it’s a dog playing with a toy for the very first time. It’s all new. It’s exciting. And the things that he’s never heard of that are scandalous are just beyond him.”

The play’s 1960s aviation theme is nothing new to Kearns, who comes from generations of military and commercial aviators. “I had grown up with pictures of people in uniform, but also of…the officers clubs overseas in Japan or hanging out in Hong Kong or Taiwan,” she said. “So the first impression I had of that era was of high fashion and flare and cocktails. It’s all about the cocktails. As soon as you walk in somebody hands you a drink. And I think that oddly enough really hits here in this play. There’s fashion and cocktails.”

To end our conversation on a high note, I asked the actors to compose their own dream trio in lieu of air hostesses. Rather than flight attendants, Kearns decided on pilots: Han Solo from Star Wars, Apollo from Battlestar Galactica, and the Wright Brothers (as a unit). Schabach went with a clan of influential women: Amelia Earhart, Cleopatra, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Join us for BOEING BOEING August 13 – 30.

Monday, July 27, 2015

From Page to Stage: Reflecting on My Young Playwrights Festival Experience

After the release of this year's Young Playwrights festival Top Ten, I took it upon myself to reflect on my own experience as a recent YPF Finalist. 

The Young Playwrights Festival enabled me to share a part of myself with an audience in an empowering and rewarding experience.  Targeted towards people under 18, YPF gives teenagers the opportunity to try their hand at writing an original one act play with the support and guidance of MCT Education, spearheaded by Marcella Kearns (Education and Literary Manager). Submitted plays have the opportunity to be one of three selected to be produced in the biennial YPF Showcase. My play, STORAGE SPACE, was chosen for the 2014-2015 season.
STORAGE SPACE follows three siblings in the wake of their mother’s death as they unpack her storage space, draw up memories, and deal with the estrangement between the two sisters. The very fact that I finished the play remains something about which I’m very proud. Originally assigned as a project for my high school theatre class, I had no idea that I would produce something that I would enjoy writing, let alone see it on the stage. I wrote a story that felt important and reflected myself. I wrote what made me sad and conflicted, and what made me laugh.
Because Rufus King participates in the YPF Residency, I had the chance to work with both Marcy Kearns, who runs the program, and with peers who were also endeavoring to produce their own works. While I’ve been writing recreationally since a young age, playwriting was a new genre to me and Marcy’s guidance helped immensely. She not only taught us the proper format, but also emphasized defining elements of the genre of one act plays. We focused in on realistic dialogue, a progressive, character driven story, and feasibility of production.
After STORAGE SPACE was selected, I read the feedback from the panel who reviewed the scripts. I found several very different opinions, which gave me a sample of the many thoughts and interpretations that would come with putting my work on display for an audience much larger than my theatre class. Theatre is highly dependent on how theatre makers such as the director and actors interpret the script, so I had to consider how others might understand the context and meanings of my dialogue. The gates of director, designers, and actors between myself and the audience was daunting. I worried that my meaning might get lost in translation to the stage, but I had faith in my interpreters.

I sat in on auditions where I met my director, Mallory Metoxen, and had my first introduction to those who would put real faces and voices to my characters. I remember being flattered that so many people wanted to share in this experience with me, that so many talented actors read my words. They gave me a small glimpse of what STORAGE SPACE could be.
I entrusted Mallory, the actors, and designers with my play, knowing that the version in my mind would never be a perfect reality, but excited to see what they made of it. Mallory and I corresponded with questions about the script and from her and the cast, which comforted me. It was good to know they cared about what I meant and checked with me before making changes.
In the end, I was awestruck by how well interpreted the performance was. I felt that the actors captured the essence of the characters and found something I hadn’t known was there. Perhaps the most impressive idea was the rotating set that switched from living room to cluttered storage space. I never imagined spinning the location away, but found it innovative and exciting to see the set change interpreted in such a creative way.
Sitting in the full Studio Theatre with acquaintances and strangers alike felt surreal. Though I had never seen the production like the rest of the audience, I felt like I knew secrets, I had an eye for moments to anticipate and excitement for how challenges were handled. Having 90 people in a room focused on the story you have to tell, empathizing with the characters you created, laughing at the jokes you wrote (and the ones you didn’t plan), and making people feel is one of my proudest moments.
STORAGE SPACE is a standing example of an idea that became something larger. I highly encourage people to write simply to have the accomplishment of doing it if nothing else. Even if your play is not selected, you accomplish a great feat by writing something complete. Write what you want to write about, what you feel deserves to be written, and you will learn as a writer and perhaps as a person.

Friday, April 10, 2015

An interview with Ruby

Anna Cline makes her MCT debut in JEEVES TAKES A BOW as the kooky chorus girl Ruby LeRoy-

Tell us a bit about your character, Ruby.

Ruby is nothing if not a fun, little spitfire. She is a starlet in the making, and isn't afraid to take matters into her own hands (sometimes literally) to get herself to the big time!

Briefly list the three best things about JEEVES TAKES A BOW:

1. The end of the Prohibition era in New York serves as a fabulous backdrop to the crazy scenarios these characters get mixed up in.

2. The combination of high British and gritty New York accents creates a kind of cacophony that is actually quite delightful.

3. The laughs! You'll get plenty of 'em...

Anything else you’d like to share with readers about the show, rehearsals, etc.?

Prepare yourself for an incredibly entertaining show. With music, action, and fun, there is a little something for everyone.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that make you who you are today?

I think in the theatre you can befriend not only truly talented artists, but some of the most warmhearted, humble, and generous people you could ever meet. This cast and crew are no exception.

Thanks Anna! See you April 16 - May 3 in JEEVES TAKES A BOW!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An interview with Bertie

Chris Klopatek returns to the character of Bertie Wooster after performing the role in the first play in the trilogy, JEEVES INTERVENES (2010). We asked Chris a few questions about his experience playing Bertie this time around.

You played Bertie Wooster in JEEVES INTERVENES. Tell us a bit about Bertie. What is it like revisiting a character you’ve previously played?

Bertie is a very rich English gentleman who enjoys a life of luxury and the pleasantries of being a carefree bachelor - all of which is usually thrown askew to his dismay by his family and friends.

Revisiting a character is something I don't always get a chance to do in theater, and when the opportunity arises I will always be pleasantly surprised. Having spent the years in between the two JEEVES shows doing many other types of acting, including receiving my MFA in Acting from UC-Irvine, I find I approach any role now with more maturity and experience. Even if the character of Bertie has very little of those. I basically hope to bring a more nuanced and complex version of Bertie Wooster to the stage this time around. 

Briefly list the three best things about JEEVES TAKES A BOW.

1. It will be fun and laughs the whole way through.

2. There will be silly stage fights! Chase Stoeger chasing people and people chasing Chase! Musical Numbers and more!

3. Matt Daniel's Jeeves always has a cocktail ready just when my nerves are at their breaking point.

L-R: Rick Pendzich, Chris Klopatek and Allison Mary Forbes in

Anything else you’d like to share with readers about the show, rehearsals, etc.?

We have the best rehearsal snack table in the biz.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that make you who you are today?

Acting in theater makes you into a more genuine, attentive and adaptable person.

Thanks Chris! We can't wait for JEEVES TAKES A BOW, April 16 - May 3.