By Mary Boyle
The Constructivists, one of Milwaukee’s most recent theatre companies, began their first season in 2018 with Martin McDonagh’s disturbing play, The Pillowman. Led by the fearless Jaimelyn Gray, The Constructivists believe that “passionate theatre is the necessary catalyst for change” and have filled a niche in the Milwaukee theatre scene that most people probably didn’t know needed filling. Not only did they survive the pandemic, Jaimelyn helped to found the Milwaukee Theatre Alliance, a coalition of area theatre companies, artists and supporters coming together to support and strengthen Milwaukee theatre. This season, they return with Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s THE TOTALITARIANS, a 2015 political satire that was meant for their 2020 season but, as with most political satire, is still entirely relevant.
Directed by Jaimelyn Gray, THE TOTALITARIANS takes place in the unassuming state of Nebraska where a struggling campaign manager named Francine (Haley Ebinal) is trying to advance her career by any means necessary, even if it means getting the stupidest candidate she’s ever worked with, Penelope Clearwater (Maggie Marks), to win the State Senate seat. Francine’s husband, Jeffrey (Matthew Scales), is a doctor who just wants Francine to leave the campaign behind and start a family with him. When his patient, Ben (Ekene Ikegwuani), convinces him that there’s a plot to turn Nebraska into a totalitarian state and that his wife and her candidate are involved in it, chaos ensues.
Described by The Constructivists as a dark comedy, the show does offer plenty of laughs, but most of them are of the uncomfortable variety – either because the humor involves sex in one way or another or because the story is too ridiculous to be believed, until you back up and realize it bears an uncanny resemblance to real life. Marks channels serious and well-played Sarah Palin energy into Penny, while Matthew Scales, who is a strong and consistent actor, reminds me of Kevin James from the sitcom King of Queens. I saw Rebekah Farr as Francine, since Haley Ebinal had an illness that took her out of the first several performances, and I must give her another round of applause because I thought she delivered a very strong performance even without considering she was not an understudy for the role, but the Assistant Director.
In all, this production left me more confused than disturbed; it is full of contradictions to itself and, quite honestly, I can't decide if it is brilliant satire or utterly lacking in intelligence. Whatever audiences decide, the production will most certainly make you think about the state of politics in our country and, perhaps, how we might rise above it. The intimate Interchange Theater is a good venue for this production; they have a great bar area for before the show and during intermission, and it’s an ideal place to see and support smaller companies like The Constructivists who are often doing the kind of theatre that is too risky for the larger groups to support. This particular production includes violence and adult language, as well as sexual content, and is not intended for all audiences; viewer discretion is advised.
THE TOTALITARIANS runs through October 29, 2022, at the Interchange Theater Co-op, located at 628 N. 10th Street in Milwaukee. Tickets, which are always $20, may be purchased online at https://www.theconstructivists.org/ or by calling (414) 858-6874.
About The Constructivists:
The Constructivists believes that live theatre, and the human connection it provides, is needed now more than ever and are committed to creating accessible, viscerally-driven live theatre, exposing and exploring the complexity of human nature and the perils it creates in an effort to challenge, enlighten, educate, and entertain a diverse mature audience. Since 2018, under the leadership of Director Jaimelyn Gray, The Constructivists are working to strengthen and grow the local theatre community in the Milwaukee area.