By Mary Boyle
In the world of theatre, the genre of farce goes back to ancient times. From Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors to the brilliance of Monty Python, and on to modern-day versions such as television sitcoms like Seinfeld, a farce utilizes exaggerated verbal and physical humor, as well as a series of improbable events, to set the audience roaring and, though it may seem simple, it is possibly the most difficult type of theatre to pull off well: too much exaggeration and it's stupid slapstick, and one missed cue or delayed door slam can throw the whole joke into the gutter. Luckily for Milwaukee audiences, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's Unnecessary Farce is just the ticket for an evening of laughs.
The location of a farce is often key to the comedy, and playwright Paul Slade Smith called for this one to take place in a town outside of a major city so, of course, director Ryan Schabach simply had to set it in Sheboygan, the city we Milwaukeeans and suburbanites love to make fun of. The year is 2006 and the place is two adjoining motel rooms at the Sheboyg-Inn (clever, no?), where rookie cops Eric Sheridan (Ben Yela) and Billie Dwyer (Rachael Zientek) are on an assignment to use video surveillance to catch the Mayor (Jonathan Gillard Daly) admitting to embezzlement during a meeting with his new accountant, Karen Brown (Amber Smith). Everything seems to get off to a good start until Eric and Karen can't keep their hands off each other, and then Agent Frank (Tim Higgins), the Mayor's security guard, interrupts the interview, followed by the Mayor's wife (Jenny Wanasek), and where did the guy with the thick Scottish accent (Rick Pendzich) come from?!
Unnecessary Farce features a well cast group of Milwaukee favorites, including Jonathan Gillard Daly, who was recently seen in Skylight's production of Kiss Me Kate and delivers a great performance as Sheboygan's Mayor, and Jenny Wanasek, an MCT regular who is fabulous as the Mayor's wife. Rachael Zientek, who was splendid as Medium Alison in last season's Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home at Forward Theatre in Madison, is equally splendid in Farce, and takes the brunt of most of the physical comedy alongside the hysterical Rick Pendzich (Skylight's Hairspray; In Tandem's The Fabulous Lipitones), who is certainly no stranger to comedy on Milwaukee stages, and who gets a record number of doors slammed into his face over the course of his brilliant portrayal of "the Scottsman." Amber Smith, who shared the stage with Pendzich in Skylight's Hairspray this last season as the obnoxious Amber Von Tussle, is well suited to be the feisty accountant, Karen Brown, as are Ben Yela and Tim Higgins well suited to their roles as Officer Sheridan and Agent Frank.
A classic farce often utilizes doors on the set to create chaos; in fact, they are sometimes referred to by the number of doors (a four-door farce, a six-door farce, etc.); Unnecessary Farce has eight of them. Director Ryan Schabach explained that just getting the doors straight (how far each one needs to be opened, when they are shut, etc.), was the most challenging part of the play. Gillard Daly, who has been in a number of farces in his time, offered this on the nature of the play: "It's math. The timing of the laughs doesn't work if you mess with the math." Clearly, this cast is good with numbers.
Unnecessary Farce runs through August 25th at the Broadway Theatre Center's beautiful Cabot Theatre, located at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Tickets may be purchased at the Box Office, online at www.MilwaukeeChamberTheatre.com or by calling 414.291.7800.
About Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee's third largest non-musical theatre company, has long been recognized as producing first-rate, thought-provoking drama and a major contributor to the rich cultural and economic life of the community. One of the city's oldest, professional theatre companies, MCT was co-founded in 1975 by two local actors, Montgomery Davis and Ruth Schudson, who envisioned a space where audiences could open their minds to new theatrical ideas and Milwaukee's theatre professionals could broaden their skills and apply their craft. C. Michael Wright, a local director and actor, was appointed as the company's second artistic director in September of 2005 and, under his leadership, MCT has produced smaller, more intimate productions that feature emerging local talent, expanding its programming in order to develop new voices, such as the annual Young Playwrights Series and the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series, honoring the company's founding artistic director.
Join MCT for their 45th anniversary season, and C. Michael Wright's 15th and final season as producing artistic director, as they present Unnecessary Farce, Fires in the Mirror,Jeeves at Sea, No Wake and Gently Down the Stream.
By Mary Boyle
Sometimes it's fun to make fun of a tragedy. Well, as long as the tragedy is 400 years old, anyway. Milwaukee's Patrick Schmitz knows a thing or two about comedies, having worked as an improv teacher at both First Stage and Comedy Sportz, as well as performing comedy throughout the state, and turning Shakespeare's tragedies into comedies is something of a passion of his. Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth have all been reworked by Schmitz, and now the most famed of the Bard's tragic plays, those star-crossed lovers from Verona, have been written into yet another of his playful parodies in The Comedy of Romeo & Juliet...Kinda Sorta.
Romeo Montague (Josh Decker) could not be more depressed: his true love has lost interest in him. His cousin, Benvolio (Haley San Fillippo), and friend, Mercutio (Joey Chelius) are determined to cheer him up by crashing the party of their family's greatest enemy, the Capulets, where Romeo promptly falls in love with the Lord and Lady's only daughter, Juliet (Karah Minelli). With help from Friar Lawrence (Rollie Cafaro) and Juliet's nurse (Beth Lewinski), the young lovers wed in secret. Unfortunately, Lord and Lady Capulet (Rich Laguna and Laura Holterman) have already decided on another husband for their daughter: the much older Paris (Erik Koconis), and Juliet's cousin, Tybalt (Chris Goode), is determined to make Romeo pay for showing up at the Capulet's party.
Of course, we all already know what becomes of our unlucky couple (they say it right in the prologue, for Heaven's sake!), but this version of the tale is far less tragic than the original. Schmitz does a good job of exploiting both the language and the customs of Elizabethan times that seem strange to our modern sensibilities and poking fun at it, and this comes through best with the character of Paris, played by a hysterically creepy Erik Koconis, whose duet with Rich Laguna's Lord Capulet might be the highlight of the show. Josh Decker's over-the-top despair makes for a very entertaining, if not pathetic, Romeo, while Karah Minelli's Juliet is about what you'd expect a 13 year old girl to be. Rollie Cafaro as Friar Lawrence and Beth Lewinski as Juliet's nurse are well-written characters and fun to watch. Puns and pop culture references abound and, overall, the production is a good way to pack a lot of laughs into one evening and still feel as though you got a little bit of culture.
The Comedy of Romeo & Juliet...Kinda Sorta runs through Saturday, August 10th at the Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall, located on the west side of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts at 929 N. Water St. in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.marcuscenter.org/show/comedy-romeo-and-juliet-kinda-sorta or at the theater Box Office prior to the show.