Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An interview with Ryan Schabach

Ryan Schabach makes his MCT debut as Bill in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. In Wisconsin he has performed with Next Act Theatre, In Tandem Theatre, Door Shakespeare, Third Avenue Playhouse, Forward Theater Company and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.  A graduate of UW-Madison, he has also worked with Stages Rep, Utah Shakespeare Festival and Unity Theatre.

Ryan Schabach
Tell us a little about your character Bill? What are some of his key characteristics and motivations? 
Bill is high up on the corporate ladder in the management sector of the Seagram’s Corporation.  When we first meet him he has recently transferred his office (most likely a lateral move within the company) from the world headquarters in White Plains, NY to a condo unit a few hours drive west.  Organization is a key feature of Bill's day-to-day lifestyle.  It may appear to the outside eye that he is a bit OCD, but this character trait is a tool in which Bill is able to, at the very least, appear to have some sort of control in his life.  His marriage is on the rocks and he is emotionally lost in a sea of confusion.  Bill is a sensitive soul and kind almost to a fault...he takes to heart what people think of him and he is always aiming to please those around him.

Talk about the benefits and challenges of being part of a two-person cast. How has your experience been in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?
The format of the 2-person show is such a joy to work under.  It affords the artistic team the time to have serious and often times, personal conversations about their motivations.  Those conversations transfer to the stage in ways that only a small cast collective can accomplish.  The moment-to-moment acting is allowed time to create nuance in very specific acting/reacting beats.  One challenge that appears obvious would be the line-load for the two actors...but there is something wonderful about the added lines that allow the actor to better comprehend the playwright's intent.  I seem to have a better understanding of my character's needs, wants and desires with the added time on stage.  Because you have more time on stage to interact with your scene partner you don't have to create as much of a back story for your character...it's happening in real-time on stage!  And that is exciting not only for the actors but also for the audience.  This play is such a joy to work on because I feel so close to my character...I have the opportunity to wear him on my vest because we are so close in philosophy and sensibility.  The amazing team that makes up this production and those in the office that have created such a welcoming and positive environment to work under at MCT, are the real heroes behind this project...and I thank them everyday for this opportunity.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?
I have had the great fortune to create a character called Buttons in 4 BRITISH PANTOS at Stages Rep in Houston...during these four holiday productions I would bring children from the audience onto the stage to improve funny scenes with them....there is truth to the statement, "children say the darndest things." 

What is interesting to this story is that I am scared stiff when it comes to improv

If your character could spend a day in Milwaukee, where would they go and what would they do?
Coffee shop reading of some classic 18th century French romantic philosopher...at Colectivo (your choice of location...Bill loves them all); 6 hours at the Milwaukee Art Museum; wait in line for the opening of the HOBBIT at the iPic in the Bay Shore Mall (with buttered popcorn because Bill works out at the downtown YMCA every other day); and topped off with a local IPA at O’Lydia's.

An interview with Dan Katula

Dan Katula takes on the role of Jack Foster in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. He returns to MCT where previous roles include Will in BUS STOP, Warren in MOON OVER THE BREWERY, Buddy in KIMBERLY AKIMBO, Angus in THE DRAWER BOY and Charlie in DIRTY BLONDE. He has also worked with First Stage Children's Theater, Renaissance Theaterworks and Bunny Gumbo/Combat Theatre, Door Shakespeare and the Cleveland Playhouse. His work as a puppet builder was featured in the Milwaukee productions of WHO KILLED SANTA? and he built the elephant for MCT’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

l-r: Ethan Hall & Dan Katula in BUS STOP (2012)
Tell us a little about your character Jack? What are some of his key characteristics and motivations?
Jack suggests ordering a pizza early in Act One, this is clearly his motivation for the rest of the play.

Talk about the benefits and challenges of being part of a two-person cast. How has your experience been in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?
I like being able to guess who has been eating my food, but the massage chain is is hit or miss.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?
l-r: Travis Knight, Amanda Hull & Dan Katula
Meeting my wife Allison doing summer-stock theatre.

If your character could spend a day in Milwaukee, where would they go and what would they do?
Lakefront Brewery
tour (6:45 and 7:10) wander down to Water St. and end up at Arts Performing Center.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


by Ashley Argall 

Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change something, change your attitude toward it.”
Playwright Wendy MacLeod

Award-winning playwright Wendy MacLeod seemed to have these words in mind when writing some of her most famous works.

MacLeod possesses a unique ability to examine the world’s misfortunes through comedy. Her plays do not shy away from challenging subject matter, but her uniquely lighthearted and comical characters create a tone that is positive, irreverent, and entertaining.

MacLeod says her main goal as a playwright is to fully express her outlook on life at a given moment.

Considering the themes of her plays, MacLeod’s outlook seems to understand that troubles exist in the world and that many cannot be easily fixed. However, instead of lamenting life’s miseries, MacLeod opts to poke fun at them.

Through her candid, witty, and intelligent writing, she provides audiences a unique perspective on human suffering, leading them to leave the theater uplifted, inspired and, most greatly, entertained.

MacLeod’s uplifting and comedic writing style has proven quite popular. Her 1990 play THE HOUSE OF YES became the second-longest running show at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and premiered oversees in both London and Berlin. It later was adapted into a Sundance award-winning film.

In 1994 and 1995, SIN and SCHOOLGIRL FIGURE, respectively, premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and in 1997, THE WATER CHILDREN premiered at The Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles where it earned six L.A. Drama Critics Circle nominations and earned recognition in L.A. Weekly, which called it, “the most challenging political play of 1998.” The play grapples candidly with the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.

In 2003, MacLeod wrote the two-man comedy THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE, which premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre and was produced at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. The Chicago production was so popular its sold-out run was extended twice.

Be on the lookout for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s rendition of the play running from November 20 – December 15, 2013!

"THINGS is a departure for me, in tone and form,” MacLeod said in an interview with Mark Howell in 2004. “It is a comedy, but more traditional, bittersweet, and REAL than my other plays.”

While the play deals with a variety of human troubles, including loneliness and infidelity, it takes on a much more relaxed an conversational style. Comedic lines are subtle and natural, as opposed to overtly dramatic. Audience members can almost picture themselves in the room with the two main characters, Bill and Jack, sharing in their conversation about life.

The play is written from the male perspective, a departure for MacLeod as a female writer. As the Chicago Tribune put it, “Despite (or maybe it’s because of) its origin in the female mind, this…play…probes the vulnerabilities of heterosexual, middle-class, decaying maleness….with good humor, affection, and incisive accuracy.”

MacLeod says the main theme of the play concerns the “restlessness and dissatisfaction” she believes many affluent people suffer.

“Once they’ve solved their basic problems – choices about their careers and mates – there’s this, ‘And then what?’ There’s this real yen for some kind of connection. The most banal choice is to flail around for a sexual connection. But in the second act of THINGS, two men make another sort of connection - a humane one.” 

Through this connection, MacLeod looked to end the play, as she always does, with an uplifting tone. “When one person treats another like a human being…there’s hope in that gesture.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The art of a 'bro-mance'

An interview with director Michael Cotey
by Matt Wickey

Michael CoteyAs most regulars around the Broadway Theatre Center know, MCT's mission is to produce intimate, high-quality, professional theatrical works while employing, supporting, and nurturing local talent.  It is this dedication and mission that allows both MCT and its friends to celebrate the work of artists like Michael Cotey, director of MCT's upcoming quirky, 'bro-mantic' comedy THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE by Wendy MacLeod.  Michael is a Milwaukee-based director and actor who enjoys an incredibly impressive resume, working in nearly every theatre company in the city.  His work has also been featured in places such as both the Utah and Illinois Shakespeare Festivals, not to mention Youngblood Theatre Company, where he was a co-founder and artistic director from 2009-2013.  As a young theatre artist myself, people like Michael Cotey truly inspire me, so I was thrilled to be able to talk with him and gain an insight to his perspective on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. Michael was generous enough to let me "pick his brain" on all topics regarding the upcoming production, where the special relationship between man and man is investigated and uncovered. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

For context on the conversation to follow, a bit about THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE's featured characters.  In the play, we first meet the character Bill McGinnis.  Bill is a seemingly stable and well-mannered man, and he has just moved in to a new condo with his wife, who we soon learn is "at her folks."  While Bill awaits her arrival alone in his new home, he hears a strange voice: "Hello?"  Jack Foster, his new next-door neighbor, has arrived.  And thus, our 'bro-mance' is born.

Matt Wickey (MCT): What is it like working on a script that examines a 'bro-mantic' relationship, with the unique perspective of a female playwright?
Michael Cotey: I find it fascinating when a playwright captures a voice other than his or her own so completely.  And (playwright) Wendy has done that here with two distinct male characters.  Just as actors use their great capacity for empathy to understand and relate to unfamiliar circumstances and emotions, Wendy has successfully empathized with what it means to be a man-and further, with how two men, seemingly different from each other, will stumble upon what unites them if left to each other for long enough (with just the right amount of beer to lubricate the conversation).  I couldn't be more excited to begin working on Wendy's marvelous and well-paced dialogue with the two "bros" of this 'bro-mance': Ryan Schabach and Dan Katula.

MW (MCT): This unique opportunity to speak with THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE playwright, Wendy MacLeod, fascinates me.  What has this connection provided to the process?  And further, what has it been like, in general, to have the chance to communicate with the playwright of this unique work?
MC: It's always great to have the opportunity to speak with the playwright, and Wendy has been very receptive to any questions I toss her way.  In my experience, I have often found that playwrights, while willing to help, enjoy seeing how we answer the questions of the play through our own exploration of it.  I imagine that's part of the excitement of writing a play.  Unlike a movie, which exists in a more permanent medium, a play can be revisited and the same set of questions can be addressed with a wholly different set of answers by the simple virtue of putting different people in the room to work on it.  My conversations with Wendy have been primarily simple clarifications and gathering her thoughts on what worked or didn't with previous productions of the show.  The rest I'm leaving up to the fun of the rehearsal hall.

MW (MCT): What first struck you about this script/piece?  How does this script "speak" to you?
MC: I'm drawn to the exploration of the relationships Bill and Jack have with the women in their lives; specifically how much they stake their personal identity in the loves of their life.  That's something I absolutely relate to, and in the two and a half years I've been married, it has been strange (in a great way!) to see that line between "mine" and "hers" or "me" and "us" blur.  Part of this show questions who we are if we aren't defined by our relationships with others.

MW (MCT): How well do you envision this script translating to the Studio Theatre space at the BTC?
MC: This script is perfect for a space the size of the Studio Theatre.  Scenic designer Steve Barnes has transformed the Studio Theatre into what looks like the skeleton of the same generic condo you'd see in any city of any state in America.  It feels empty, a bit of a suburban wasteland with something essential missing, not unlike how both our main men are feeling in the show.

MW (MCT): What excites you most about working on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?  Also, what are some of the challenges that you face (as a director) with this production?
MC: This is a real genre shift from what I'm used to tackling as a director.  Many of the things I've directed either have had a lot of moving parts, multiple scene and/or time shifts, larger-than-life characters, or all of the above.  In THINGS, we have two people in the same room, measuring each other up through their conversation.  At first glance, I wondered what I would bring to this script.  Upon continued study, however, it became clear that the real gymnastics of the play lie not on the surface with theatrics, but deep in the thoughts and in the thread of the conversation.  Peeling away the layers of this story one by one and at the right time will be the challenge, and that is very exciting for me. Thankfully, Dan and Ryan are both exceptional actors and Wendy's script is a strong foundation for any production to stand on.

MW (MCT): What would you like the audience to take away from THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?  What would you like this production to accomplish?
MC: This show asks a number of questions about relationships, love, mortality, expectations, and preconceptions (among other things), but it offers few answers to those questions-and smartly so, in my opinion.  A major theme in this show is about taking honest stock of where we are in our lives, hence the title: THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE.  What we do with that knowledge after we cut through all of our defenses and deflections, and get to the honest, core truth of it…well, that's up to us to determine.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this play is hilarious!  It does all of the above with humor and wit.  Like any good comedy, honest revelations are sudden and slipped in at just the right moment to sneak up on us between the laughs.

THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE runs November 20 - December 15, 2013 in the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center, located in the heart of Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward.  Hope to see you at the show!

Monday, September 30, 2013

SLEUTHS! Mystery lovers!

Enjoy a beautiful, modest autumn walk in Milwaukee and hunt down a secret ticket deal to boot!  MCT has placed a letterbox with information about tickets to THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE and a chance to win a subscription to 2014-2015 for you to find.  Simply check out http://letterboxing.org/BoxView.php?boxnum=65911&boxname=THE_DETECTIVE'S_WIFE to get started.  Read the story, collect the clues—and we’ll see you at the theatre!

Click HERE for more info on THE DETECTIVE'S WIFE letterbox!

Monday, September 16, 2013


By Deanie Vallone

Playwright Keith Huff
If you hadn't heard of Keith Huff a few years ago, by now you certainly should have. The struggling playwright garnered wild success with his Chicago cop drama A STEADY RAIN, which premiered in 2007 at the Chicago Dramatists Playwrights' Theatre and went on to Broadway featuring Hollywood stars Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. What followed for Huff included co-producing and writing gigs with award-winning shows “Mad Men” and “House of Cards,” multiple awards and fellowships, and a request to write a screen adaptation of A STEADY RAIN. Despite a leap in fame and paycheck, Huff continued writing for the theatre, including a second installment of an (un)official Chicago cop trilogy with the one-woman show THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE.
Daniel Craig & Hugh Jackman in Huff's A STEADY RAIN

THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE piqued the interest of MCT's Producing Artistic Director Michael Wright when he attended the play's world premiere at the Writers' Theatre in Chicago in 2011. He “was totally captivated by Keith Huff's gritty, naturalistic writing, his storytelling technique and the unique premise of the piece.”[1]

Certainly the same elements that made Hollywood mad about Huff made Wright
Huff is also a writer/producer
for "House of Cards"
attracted to the idea of including the play in an upcoming MCT season. But other details had to fall into place first. Around the same time, MCT was developing its Ruth Schudson Leading Lady Fund, hoping to use the fund to “underwrite one actress’s salary each season, thereby honoring other Milwaukee leading ladies.” Once Ruth Schudson recommended Mary MacDonald Kerr, a prolific Milwaukee actress and director, as a possible inaugural honoree, the idea really took off. THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE could not be a more apt piece for this endeavor. With a single-actress cast, all of the work falls on the shoulders of one talented artist. Wright considered Kerr “perfect” to play lead Alice Conroy.
Mary MacDonald Kerr
Capitalizing on MCT’s commitment to local theatre artists, Wright and director Jim Tasse drew from UW-Milwaukee's faculty members and students to work as designers and assistants for the show. This decision solidified “yet another phase in [MCT's] continuing partnerships with area universities.”

And so THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE came to Milwaukee. In an interview with RedEye Chicago Huff reported that he's shopping around to multiple networks a TV pilot based on the play.[2] While we wish Huff the best of luck in his further endeavors, we're excited to see a live production. The performance will take place in the intimate Studio Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center, drawing audience members deeper into this subtitled “ghost story.” We've got chills already!

[1]    Michael Wright. “Interview,” 3 September 2013. All subsequent quotes from Wright come from this source.
[2]    Julia Borcherts. “Q&A: Keith Huff,” RedEye Chicago, 19 June 2013. Web. 7 September 2013.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Question of Madness

By Deanie Vallone

“But I don't want to go among mad people,” Alice proclaims as she begins her fantastical journey into the now famous world of Wonderland. The Cheshire Cat, always one sentence ahead of her, coyly replies, “Oh, you can't help that […] we're all mad here.”[1]

Madness has been a trope of literature, especially theatre, since the work of ancient Greeks, who chart the wrath of gods that punished mortals by driving them insane. Madness in its many forms underlies many of Shakespeare's works, from Titus Andronicus' “miserable, mad, mistaking eyes”[2] to Macbeth's “strange infirmity.”[3] Jump ahead to the “madness” of isolated housewives and shell-shocked soldiers, Charlotte Perkins Gillman's “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and the prisoner-wife Bertha in Jane Eyre. Now, at the heart of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's upcoming production of THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, is once again the question of madness.

THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE is subtitled “A Ghost Story,” and the complicated antagonism of madness and the supernatural bring it closely in parallel with another classic, Shakespeare's Hamlet. The contemporary play is well aware of its heritage, making various direct references to what is considered Shakespeare's, if not the world's, best play. After Alice Conroy, the titular character of THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, sees the ghost of her dead husband, she makes it her mission to solve the last case he was working on, and to figure out why he was murdered in the middle of the investigation. Alice's family and doctors are, unsurprisingly, concerned that this mystery novel enthusiast has suddenly taken the fictions too far. Her son Mickey argues, “Mom, there is a body of literature out there arguing that Hamlet never actually saw his father's ghost. Not a real ghost. It was a psychologically manifested phantasm.”[4] Alice becomes a modern-day Hamlet, and the question of her sanity permeates the entire narrative.

Unlike Hamlet, this story centers entirely around Alice. A one-woman show, Alice is the protagonist, narrator, and guide, and all exposition and dialogue is related through her storytelling to the audience. This set-up adds an interesting twist to the mystery of Alice herself. How much of what she's telling us can we trust? Are we dealing with an unreliable narrator, the conspiracy theories of a madwoman? The audience must place themselves in Alice's hands as she—and we—tumble down the rabbit hole. Though not a crime mystery, Alice in Wonderland acts as another complimentary narrative to Alice's story. Some references—from Alice's name to the scene of the crime, the movie palace Wonderland—link us directly to Lewis Carroll's novel, but it is the theme of madness that works as a subtler but evocative allusion throughout the play. “Are you awake, Mrs. Conroy?”[5] Alice's speech therapist asks. Alice in Wonderland plays with the uneasy divide between reality and dreaming, and in THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE madness rests on this same divide. What does it mean to be awake? All three texts suggest that madness can itself be a form of waking oneself from the sleep induced by closing one's eyes to the Truth (capital T, as Alice notes). Reality—madness, for that matter—is all about perspective. And Alice is giving us hers.

THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE is a well-wrought mystery. Like Hamlet, Alice slowly stumbles upon more and more evidence that suggests the people around her are not what they seem. At one point her daughter Carrie exclaims, “You want to bring this whole house of cards down on all our heads?”[6] and that is a question Alice must seriously consider. Once down the proverbial rabbit hole, it's hard to get out again. Mickey reminds her as well, “Regardless of whether Hamlet's ghost was real or not, the play ended in tragedy.”[7] But is Hamlet really a tragedy? It may be a controversial question, with everyone crying out, “What are you talking about? Of course it is!” But think about it: Hamlet finds out the Truth and gets revenge on those who were responsible for his father's death. Some innocents, including Hamlet himself, die in the process, but for Hamlet, is his ending tragic, or just necessary? His dying wish to Horatio is “tell my story,”[8] and his story has been told for centuries. The pain, the sacrifice, has not been for naught.

Storytelling is at the core of THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, not just in the narration-heavy style of the script. The first sentence of the play is “When my husband was gunned down on duty, I lost my voice.”[9] Though Alice's voice is truly the only one we get throughout the play, the story chronicles the literal voicelessness she experiences while trying to solve her husband's murder. Yet, despite whatever comes from her investigation, Alice reminds us, “You know I get my voice back.”[10] That she does, and like Hamlet, her story is told. Perhaps a happy ending after all?

Carroll's Alice did not want “to go among mad people,” but that is what literature does: bring us among the mad. Theatre especially puts the audience into a unique setting, an enclosed environment where we can experience with all of our senses the madness of another. Attending the theatre is a willing descent into Wonderland. But theatre-goers and literature-lovers are a unique breed. We revel in the folie √† deux, willingly taking on the madness of another. And why not? We're all mad here anyway.

[1]    Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. 2007 (Ann Arbor), p. 49.
[2]    William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. 2000 (New York), p. 93.
[3]    Ibid. Macbeth. 2000 (New York), p. 53.
[4]    Keith Huff. The Detective's Wife. 2011 (New York), p. 16.
[5]    Ibid., p. 25.
[6]    Ibid., p. 34.
[7]    Ibid., p. 16.
[8]    William Shakespeare. Hamlet. 2001 (New York), p. 146.
[9]    Huff, p. 1.
[10]  Ibid., p. 16.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never Give Up: An Interview with Playwright Keith Huff

MCT Education confesses unabashedly to falling in the ranks of Keith Huff fandom.  After the playwright visited MCT for the first rehearsal of THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, he graciously consented to an interview so that our patrons might also get to know the artist behind the words just a bit better.  Enjoy!

MCT: What is your personal attraction to the mystery as a genre?  Is it the search for Truth, as your character Alice Conroy puts it; the lure of constructing a puzzle; or something else altogether?

Playwright Keith Huff
HUFF: All of those things, really.  In addition to being a bit of a mystery junkie myself, the personal attraction of the mystery genre in a theater piece is its immediate accessibility.  As Alice Conroy, contemplating the appeal of popular mysteries and the nature of mystery itself, says in the play: “In canned mysteries, nobody ever gets away with murder.  The investigator always sees through the ruse.  It’s the single inviolable law of the genre.  Break that law and whoever’s pulling the levers behind the curtain will be called out as a fraud.  An imposter.  More of a criminal than the criminal or criminals of his or her creation.”  As audience members, we know the rules going in.  A body drop at the outset.  A solution to the whodunit (and why) by the end.  More to the point, I’ve been very interested lately in exploring popular genres theatrically.  A STEADY RAIN, which went to Broadway (with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig), was shaped by the rules of the buddy-cop genre.  BIG LAKE BIG CITY, which recently premiered at Lookingglass Theater this summer (directed by David Schwimmer), was shaped by the rules of noir crime genre popularized by James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler.  I have a new play in development TELL US OF THE NIGHT) that is a police procedural and THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, of course, is a murder mystery.  My interest, however, does not begin and end in merely emulating these genres to tell stories theatrically.  Implicit in the form of each piece are larger questions.  In THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, for example, Alice asks why people find the mystery genre so appealing.  Is it because our very lives are so hugely mysterious and unsolvable?  Alice poses this question in the play, but she’s also living it.

MCT: Do we like our fictional mysteries packaged this neatly because the mysteries we encounter in real life never come to us as neatly packaged?

HUFF: That depends on the person.  The mysteries we encounter in real life cause some of us a great deal of anxiety.  Others, though, find real life mystery intriguing.  Keats called the capacity of a person to live in Mystery and Doubt “negative capability."  Some people have more “negative capability” than others. 

MCT: A playwright’s process is a solitary one.  Where does your process as a writer in this medium start, and how does it unfold?

HUFF: The playwright’s process is solitary.  But that’s what I love most about writing plays.  I wrote THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE straight through.  What I mean by that is Alice spoke her first line (“When my husband was gunned down on duty, I lost my voice.”) and I just wrote it down and got out of her way – I let her tell her own story.  I did not outline the play first.  Alice had a mystery to solve so I followed her down dead ends and all the way to the end.  My process of discovery of Alice’s story was the same journey she takes, the very journey she takes the audience on.  I try to write plays that are “experiential” – an experience.  I experience the story while I write, so I want audiences to have that experience as well.

MCT: Chicago’s home for you and your family.  The city also features in many of the stories you have crafted or have in development, both for the stage and television.  What about Chicago inspires or flavors your work?  What do you think it is about Chicago that draws audiences?

HUFF: I get asked this a lot and I answer the question differently each time.  Today I’d have to say I really enjoy the way Midwestern people speak, the way we put together ideas, the way we express ourselves.  Language is so integral to identity.  Midwestern speech has an enjoyable musicality all its own, just as East Coast plays are “so New York” and West Coast plays are “so L.A.”

MCT: What’s on your bookshelf or in your Netflix queue?

HUFF: I’m currently reading The Revolution Was Televised and The Accountant’s Story (Pablo Escobar’s story told by his brother Roberto) on my Kindle.  I just read Power Systems by Noam Chomsky.  NetFlix: “Orange Is the New Black,” “Portlandia,” “Luther,” and “Derek.”

MCT: What advice would you give to writers in the trenches?

HUFF: It’s clich√© but: Never Give Up.  My manager said to me again the other day: Keith, it took you 30 years to become an overnight success.  It’s a little embarrassing to think of it that way, but it’s true.  While I was writing, trying to get my plays produced, I had another career.  I was a Medical Editor for more than 25 years.  When A STEADY RAIN went to Broadway in 2009, I was finally able to leave that career track and make a decent living as a writer, something I’d always hoped for (but at times seemed impossible).  After Broadway came offers to write for “Mad Men” and “House of Cards.”  I sold original TV pilots to HBO, AMC, and STARZ.  It all still seems surreal (and a little bit crazy) to me.  But I broke through because I never gave up.  And when additional opportunities presented themselves, I was ready for them because I never gave up.  So Never Give Up!

More about THE DETECTIVE'S WIFE Playwright Keith Huff:

Chicago resident Keith Huff grew up in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin and graduated from Wilmot Union High School. He most recently served as a writer/producer for the first season of the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” The series has been nominated for nine Emmy Awards, including Best Drama Series.  He was also a writer/producer for the 2010 season of “Mad Men.” In 2009 his play A STEADY RAIN had a sold-out Broadway run starring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. A screen version of that play is also in development. THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE premiered in 2011 at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois. Huff has also written a television series pilot based on THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE. His latest play, BIG LAKE BIG CITY, premiered in June at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, directed by David Schwimmer. His other plays include DEEP BLUE SEA, DOG STORIES, GRAY CITY, HARRY'S WAY, PROSPERITY, PURSUED BY HAPPINESS, THE AGE OF CYNICISM and THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS and have been produced off-Broadway, internationally and nationally. He has an MFA from the University of Iowa's Playwright's Workshop and he also briefly attended Marquette University. An emeritus playwright of Chicago Dramatists, he is the recipient of a Writers Guild Award, a Jeff Award, the Cunningham Prize, the John Gassner Award, the Berrilla Kerr Award, and three Illinois Arts Council Playwriting Fellowships.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mary MacDonald Kerr

In THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, Alice Conroy is wife, mother, frame shop owner and an avid fan of murder mysteries. So when her husband, a Chicago homicide detective, is gunned down, she sets out to uncover who did it…and why.

This one-woman show features Milwaukee favorite Mary MacDonald Kerr as Alice Conroy. Mary has been a theatre artist in Milwaukee for 19 years. She made her debut  as Seta in BEAST ON THE MOON at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE marks her twenty-first role at MCT, other roles here include Dana/Darryl in THE SWEETEST SWING IN BASEBALL, Sheila in JOE EGG, Lina in THREE DAYS OF RAIN, Hermione/Perdita in A WINTER’S TALE, Karen in DINNER WITH FRIENDS, Vivie in MRS. WARREN’S PROFESSION, Harper in ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA and Sally in VOICE OF THE TURTLE.
Mary MacDonald Kerr in MCT's

She has also performed as Terry Glimmer in SIDE MAN, Maggie in RED HERRING, Frankie in VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE and Li'l Bit in HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE at Next Act Theatre; Anna in BURN THIS and woman number three in STRING OF PEARLS at Renaissance Theaterworks; and Barbara DiMarco in four different runs of SHEAR MADNESS with Milwaukee Repertory Theater.  

She has been a stage director for ten years, directing CRIMES OF THE HEART for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre; BEAST ON THE MOON for In Tandem Theatre; WOMAN IN BLACK at Renaissance Theaterworks; and THE CLOCKMAKER, VIGIL, PURGATRIO, GREETINGS and GOING TO ST. IVES for Next Act Theatre.


Mary MacDonald Kerr is also the first actress to be honored as a “Ruth Schudson Leading Lady.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre was founded in 1975, the brainchild of two local actors, Montgomery Davis and Ruth Schudson.  Throughout Ruth’s career, including 65 productions with MCT alone, she has served as a mentor, role model, and friend to countless aspiring and established actors.  

The MCT board of directors, staff, and friends have honored her achievements by raising over $100,000 to establish The Ruth Schudson Leading Lady Fund.  The Fund promotes the work of women on the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre stage, and embodies MCT’s mission to employ and nurture local theatre artists by supporting the salary of one actress each season. 

When asked about Mary’s designation as the first Leading Lady honoree, Ruth Schudson said, “Over the years Mary and I have shared the MCT stage nine times and each of those plays stands out in my memory because her talent, passion and generosity raised the bar for all of us. So - it is so right that the very first Leading Lady honoree is this shining light of Milwaukee theatre - Mary MacDonald Kerr.”

Ruth Schudson and Mary MacDonald Kerr

An essential part of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s mission is to employ and nurture local theatre artists.

Jim Tasse, the director of THE DETECTIVE’S WIFE, has also directed Mary in her 1995 MCT debut, BEAST ON THE MOON, as well as in THE GUYS and TEDDYKINS. In addition, Jim and Mary have appeared onstage together in MCT’s DINNER WITH FRIENDS, TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL and TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD. 

We are thrilled to not only welcome Mary MacDonald Kerr back to the MCT stage but also to reunite her with fellow MCT veteran Jim Tasse and to honor her as our first “Ruth Schudson Leading Lady.”

THE DETECTIVE'S WIFE, by Keith Huff, performs September 18 - October 13, 2013. Tickets and information: 414.291.7800 or milwaukeechambertheatre.com

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

PRIMARY COLORS: An Interview with Tyler Marchant

A Director's Inspirations

In 'ART,' the character Serge purchases a piece of contemporary abstract art: a white painting with white diagonal lines.  His substantial investment in the piece sparks a debate that threatens to shred three men's friendships with one another.

The play raises more questions than it answers.  What kind of piece could cause an argument which devolves rapidly from the quality of a canvas to the worth of a human being?  Does a strong reaction to a work of art, positive or negative, automatically imply quality?  Does a strong reaction to a friend's choice imply care or its opposite?  What lies in the space between?


As MCT rehearses Yasmina Reza's provocative piece, director Tyler Marchant took a few minutes to share his own passion for 'ART.' In initial conversations with the production's design team last December, Marchant confessed that he has loved the play since he first became familiar with it.  MCT Education, irresistibly curious as to why, couldn't resist mining the story behind the work in process in the rehearsal hall:

This is Piet Mondrian's Composition of Red, Blue, Yellow, and White: Nom II, 1939. At The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Found at

MCT: What first captivated you about this play? MARCHANT: I've always wanted to direct this play.  You could say it was on my "bucket list" of plays which I desperately wanted to direct.  I think the play is stylish, smart, and incredibly funny.  It also uncovers a wonderful metaphor between art and friendship.  I've always connected to the play in terms of the three men having to re-define and re-imagine their friendships-if they are to survive.

MCT: 20th century artist Piet Mondrian's work is a fundamental influence on the design of this production and on how you have framed (no pun intended) the relationships among the characters therein.  How did you come to connect to this specific body of work as inspiration for exploring the style and design of this work?  For you, in what way(s) does Mondrian's work illuminate the story of 'ART'? MARCHANT: In investigating the play, I started to think of the metaphor of art and hit upon the idea of distilling it down to the primary colors.  3 men… 3 primary colors…  I started to muse on this, and eventually it took me to the work of Piet 51.1309_ph_webMondrian.  I had always admired Mondrian's work without ever fully grasping it entirely.  I loved the search his art brought out in my own work and imagination.  It started to make sense when I thought about the play: a white space separated by black lines started to look like a myriad of canvasses.  I started to see how the three men could become the primary colors that so often permeate the work of Mondrian's canvas.

This is Piet Mondrian's Tableau 2, 1922.
Copyright 2007 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust
Found at http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/3013

MCT: Are you a fan of abstract art in general?  Who are your favorites, if so? MARCHANT: Yes.  I have to say my first real visceral connection to it was the Mark Rothko room in the Tate Gallery in London.  I was studying there as an undergrad, and when I stepped into the room, his paintings seemed to dance.  I sat in that room for a long time, and a new sense of awe about the art world started to come into my 180px-Rothko_No_14being.  Rothko's paintings taken in alone are one thing, but when one is completely surrounded by them, it becomes another experience.  That was the beginning.  I love art that challenges me intellectually and emotionally-Rothko did that in every way.  I still search that out, and I still am thrilled when I encounter it.

This is Mark Rothko's No. 14 Held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtImage found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Rothko

What Will We See?

Are you a fan of contemporary, abstract, and/or contemporary abstract art?  Enjoy the following inspirations and leads which both the design team and MCT friends have shared on the kind of work we might expect to see onstage in Serge's purchase:

  • For initial designs, Tyler Marchant recommended seeking out the work of artist Robert Ryman, who works in white and texture.

  • Visit YouTube.  Barbara Brown Lee, former Chief Educator at the Milwaukee Art Museum, hosts a series of fascinating short lectures on works held by the MAM.  Episode 1, "My KID Could Do That!," features work resonant of the style of Serge's painting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QonQkYQkQY.

  • Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.  If on display, the works discussed in Barbara Brown Lee's lecture are held right down the street from MCT, from Agnes Martin's white canvas Untitled #10 to Ellsworth Kelly's Red, Yellow, Blue II, featuring three panels of primary colors.

  • Michael Wright turned up an article about abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman, whose blue canvas garnered over $40 million dollars at auction.

See you soon-when visual art takes center stage-in the Cabot Theatre!