By Mary Boyle
Back in 1992, Starbucks, a coffee shop chain that began in Seattle in 1971, had just gone public, and though the cafe culture had taken the West Coast by storm, it was largely unheard of in the Midwest until David Monroe opened Ozaukee's very first one on Washington Avenue in Cedarburg that same year. Twenty-six years later, the Java House has remained a mainstay on Cedarburg's main street, despite the addition of three more coffee houses in downtown Cedarburg, including a Starbucks, and despite the fact that there have been three different owners over that period of time; now, there's a fourth one.
When Lisa and Dan Bostrack and their two daughters, Ali and Annika, arrived in Cedarburg in 2010, the circumstances were not ideal; the urgent need to be close to Dan's aging parents and major health issues within their own family forced them to abruptly leave behind a very close-knit community and Lisa's family in Colorado. To say they were homesick was an understatement, but they found one place in town that felt like a home away from home in the Java House, which reminded Lisa of the coffee shops in Boulder that she spent time in as a teenager and young adult.
"We have some serious food sensitivities in our family and, at the time, Java House was one of the few places that had gluten-free bakery, and it was good. It was a great place to connect with the kids, and a safe place they could go to and work or read a book," Lisa said. "Every time we would go, we would daydream about what we would do with it if we owned it, but I didn't mean it. I'm still shocked when people ask and I say, 'Yes, I own Java House.'"
Then again, Java House had felt like "their place" for years; in fact, when Ali went off to Madison for college, Lisa knew she was going to be fine when she called home to tell her mother the news that she had found her Java House. This past summer, Lisa began working part-time at the Java House to make a little extra money at a place she loved being at and, when the current owner offered her the chance to take over, she realized it was something she could be good at. "I take care of people. My children are about to fly, and I want to continue doing what I do best, which is being a hostess and taking care of people, and I can do that here."
Java House has always roasted their own coffee, and this information has been passed from owner to owner. Lisa's husband, Dan, and one of their employees, Brad, have taken over the roasting, and they are gradually making the place their own, while trying to maintain consistency where it matters. They've brought in Anodyne for their espresso, new bakery and food options, and they just brought in gluten-free soups that are made fresh each day.
Moving forward, Lisa hopes to make the place even more family-friendly and teenager-friendly, along with continuing to add more healthy food options, particularly for people with food sensitivities. The relationships, though, are the part of Java House that she has already come to value the most. "The relationships with the kids that work for me, the regulars, and everyone who comes in the door; I love witnessing their life and their connections, and getting to be a part of that."
The Java House is located at W63N653 Washington Avenue in historic downtown Cedarburg. Hours are 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
By Mary Boyle
The British playwright, screenwriter, and director, Martin McDonagh, has a flare for writing black comedies; dark, violent, works that, like a Grimm's fairytale, sometimes seem to have no point but to illustrate the evil in the world. Like an English version of Quentin Tarantino, McDonagh has a strong following of devoted fans of both his plays and his films, and he tends to attract famous names to act in both. His play, The Pillowman, made its world premiere in 2003, and starred David Tennant and Jim Broadbent. When it made its Broadway debut in 2005, Billy Crudup and Jeff Goldblum were among the cast. Clearly, there is an audience for this type of work, but it takes a unique theatre company to be up to the challenge of a play of this nature. The Constructivists, a relatively new company that was recently named the 2018 Best New Theatre by Milwaukee Magazine, were up to the task, and their production of The Pillowman at the Underground Collaborative in Milwaukee is shocking a whole new generation of audience members.
Katurnia (Rose Grizzell) sits under the light in a concrete block-walled interrogation room in an unnamed Totalitarian State. Menacing Detectives, Tupolski (Jamie Jastrab) and Ariel (Rob Schreiner), seem to be in no hurry to explain to her why she's been hauled in for questioning, but since a file with all of the stories she's written sits on the table in front of her, she has an inkling: Totalitarian States don't like writers. As the play progresses, we learn that Katurnia has written many stories, nearly all of which involve horrific abuse and violence against children; the detectives have discovered three dead children whose deaths are eerily similar to two of Katurian's stories; and, the detectives also have her intellectually disabled brother, Michal (Logan Milway), in custody.
Though I'm no stranger to violence in a play, this one was particularly difficult for me. Grizzel and Milway's acting, in particular, was stellar. The costumes and lighting were spot on. The set was enhanced by the gritty intimacy of the basement theater space that is the Underground Collaborative. The writing is engaging and thought-provoking, with a sustained suspense that is almost uncomfortable and situations that require the viewer to wrestle with topics such as free speech, morality, and more. They hit all the marks of a great production, and yet this level and type of violence is, to me, almost too difficult to bear. I walked out of the theater feeling more disturbed than anything else; I didn't like it, yet I didn't hate it and, because it raises so many questions, I feel compelled to see it again.
Directed by Jaimelyn Gray, who has worked with a number of small, avant garde theatre companies in the Milwaukee and Chicago area and is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Constructivists, The Pillowman is suited to The Constructivists' mission to create "accessible, viscerally-driven live theatre, exposing and exploring the complexity of human nature and the perils it creates." If you want to be entertained by theatre, this may not be your production; but, if you wish to be challenged and pushed out of your comfort zone, this show will do the trick.
The Pillowman runs through November 10th at the Underground Collaborative, located in the basement of the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee at 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. Tickets are $15 in advance and are available by calling (414) 858-6874 or online at www.theconstructivists.org/. If seats remain, tickets may be purchased for $18 at the door. The three final performances are Friday, November 8th through Sunday, November 10th at 7:30 p.m.
By Mary Boyle
When we think of Broadway, we usually think big: big song and dance numbers, Fosse hands, shiny sequins, and pure entertainment; but, every once in awhile, a show comes along that follows a "less is more" motto; a show that is brilliant in its understatement; a show that is quietly profound, a cultural marker, and a testament to the power of theatre to make difficult topics accessible, to create social change, and to bring people together. This was the 2015, five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Fun Home, which has finally made its way to the Midwest with Forward Theater Company's production at the Overture in Madison through November 25th.
Based on the 2006 autobiographical "tragicomic" of the same name by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is the story of Allison's struggle to reconcile her own coming out in the 1970's and her father's death by suicide shortly after, not long after Alison finds out that her father was also gay. While the topic doesn't sound like Broadway Musical material, or that it would be any "fun" at all (especially when you realize that the "fun" in Fun Home is the nickname the family uses for their funeral home business), Bechdel's a witty cartoonist, and the book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori alternate between laugh-out-loud hysterical to heart-swelling, tear-inducing wonders.
In the show, Alison (played by Tony Award-winning actress, Karen Olivo) is writing her cartoon memoir as a 40 something looking back on both her childhood self (played by Chantae Miller) and her college self (played by Rachael Zientek). Sitting in her Pennsylvania childhood home, looking at old objects and reading her old diary, Alison revisits her relationship with her father, Bruce (played by Matt Daniels), an accomplished and well-respected historic home renovator, English teacher, and part-time funeral director who demanded the same relentless excellence from his wife, Helen (played by Clare Arena Haden), and his three children, as he does from himself. To all the world, the family appears as polished as their historic home on Maple Avenue but, as is often the case, appearances are deceiving.
While growing up, Alison always knew she was different, but didn't realize until college that she was gay. With a new love named Joan (Solana Ramirez-Garcia) and a supportive community on campus, Alison breaks the news to her parents, fretting that her perfectionist father will never accept or understand her, only to discover that her father had been having secret affairs with other men since before he married her mother. Hoping to finally have a genuine connection, Alison soon realizes that her experience and her father's were nothing alike; unlike her, her father had struggled to hide his true self and, in doing so, lived with private shame and anger that destroyed his relationship with his wife and, ultimately, caused him to take his own life.
Directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Fun Home is Forward Theater's very first musical, but follows their 10 year tradition of choosing "stories that speak to what we struggle with today." Uphoff Gray points out that the three Alisons look nothing alike: "one is black, one is white, and one multiracial. The truth is, we took great care to cast our Fun Home this way, because, in fact, it felt urgent to do so. Though Alison's journey is one of assuming a specific sexuality while a specific authority in her life models an opposing path, the heart of Fun Home feels intensely universal now. Because now feels like a time in which we're all a lot freer to...love who we truly love and to pursue that love with the intensity and passion and clarity that only song can rightly capture."
With a live orchestra directed by Mark Wurzelbacher, The Playhouse at the Overture Center is the perfect, intimate setting for this production, which is overflowing with talent. Now a resident of Madison, Karen Olivo, who originated the role of Vanessa in Lin Manuel Miranda's first hit musical, In the Heights, and played Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago production of Miranda's Hamilton, shines as the elder Alison, but Rachael Zientek and Chantae Miller are equally talented; while Zeintek's "Changing My Major" and Miller's "Ring of Keys" are the highlights of the show (the first made me laugh out loud, and the second made me cry), absolute magic happens when the three Alisons sing together. Milwaukee favorite, Matt Daniels, demonstrates his vocal chops are as good as his acting, and delivers an incredible performance as Bruce. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Donovan Lonsdale, who is an absolute scene-stealer as Alison's youngest brother.
Fun Home truly is a fun time, but it's so much more than that; as the world seems to become more and more divided, it's shows like this that shine a light in the darkness and give us all hope that we can love each other, despite our differences. Alison's father, Bruce, is a testament to what becomes of intolerance, while Alison is a testament to what becomes of acceptance; we have come a long way, but we can, and we must, do better. Forward Theater's production makes it easy to see how this unusual little show won the Tony Award for Best Musical — do not miss your chance to see it!
Fun Home runs through November 25th at The Playhouse at the Overture Center, located at 201 State Street in Madison. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 608-258-4141, in person at the Box Office, or online at https://www.forwardtheater.com.
About Forward Theater
Forward Theater Company is a not-for-profit professional theater company founded to provide exceptional theater experiences for area audiences and give professional actors, designers, and directors an artistic home. Forward Theater Company is proud be a resident organization in the beautiful Overture Center for the Arts, providing opportunities for artists and audiences to explore great dramas and provoke conversations about the issues that matter the most.