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'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