Last week I attended First Call for Sunset Playhouse‘s upcoming production of Twelve Angry Men.
A Reader’s Guide to the Above Statement:
- I attended: I had Friday night free, and when I walked into the theatre and sat down nobody kicked me out…
- First Call: The actors’ first on-set rehearsal. At Sunset the show’s volunteers are invited to watch this rehearsal to get an idea for the sort of help needed for the production.
- Sunset Playhouse: A vibrant community of theatre lovers working together successfully to create a fun story-telling experience.
- (A few past Sunset posts here on Locutus of Blog: Sunset Playhouse Q&A; Twerpshire Hathaway, a defense of community theatre; and “I got a river of life flowin’ outta me” wherein yours truly bloodied her own nose.)
The man behind the curtain is one Mr. Matt Daniels, the same dude behind Sunset’s heart-cockle-warming production of Tuesdays With Morrie, and its spooky dram-rom-com Prelude To A Kiss. An actor, director, and teacher he is busy all over the darn place here in Milwaukee. Click those links to check him out! I got to see his Assistant Director, Katherine Duffy, as the lead in Sunset’s Sweet Charity this past summer and I mean to tell you that girl is an absolute riot. Her delivery, her timing– loved it! It’s exciting to see such a talented pair teaming up to work on this powerful drama.
It was great seeing a few familiar faces in the production team when I arrived. Since what I saw was a rehearsal I didn’t get to experience anything in the way of lighting, sound, or costumes, though I am very much looking forward to seeing what their respective designers have got cooked up for this one. Alan Piotrowicz’s and Jan Pritzl’s award winning lighting and sound design (respectively) in previous Sunset productions assure me the twinkly and tinkly details I missed last week are ones I can very much look forward to when I finally see the whole thing put together. And I didn’t know Jennifer Allen even did costume design, so that was really a special treat to see her listed in that role!
The stage management team on the other hand… Oh where to begin?! Antoinette Stikl and Debi Mumford are rascals, and can only be described as mad as a couple of March hares, and probably flammable. They’ll lure you in with a hug hello, a few jokes, and boundless patience. But don’t be fooled! It’s all just part of their plan. And when I know what that plan is I’ll be sure to pass it along. Unless it’s just a plan to give hugs, tell jokes, and be patient, in which case: *points upward a few lines* You’re welcome. Also, props mistress Erica Ziino and I may or may not have become engaged, and planned out a road trip honeymoon, after First Call. I just hope fellow props mistress, Beth Bland, isn’t jealous. (We promise not to hit the road ’til after the show closes, Beth!)
The real draw for me on this show, though, is the cast. What a group this is. I could try to tell you how sorry I am that I can’t be up there acting alongside this group of lovely fellas, but you couldn’t believe how much I would mean it. What a fun group, this is. What a cast!
Foreman- Dustin J. Martin: Dustin and I go way back, and I’ve always known him mostly as a director. He introduced me to theatre proper, encouraged my love of acting, and taught me again and again the value of professionalism in every aspect of the craft; so of course whenever I get to see Mr. Director trod the boards it’s especially fun for me. One of the things that was particularly cool about seeing Dustin in this show was seeing him apply his own direction to himself. It was a bit like spending years listening to your parents describe how they used to hold you and rock you when you were a baby, and then finally getting to see them cradling some other child in their arms. You always believed their stories, but watching them live those stories is a different experience altogether. It adds so many adverbs to the tale that you never knew were missing.
Juror 2- Scott Jaeger: I knew Scott from his backstage work for show after show at Sunset, but it wasn’t until their production of The Underpants a few years back that dude finally auditioned to work on the lit side of the stage. Happily for all of us he seemed to enjoy the experience, because he has hit the stage several times since then, and frankly he’s just as charming on stage as he is off stage. There’s this pleasant, affable realism to his performance as Juror 2. It provides such a welcome island of contrast to some of the other jurors’ sound and fury, and I think that is exactly what this role requires.
Juror 3- Dan Esposito: It had been years since I’d last seen or read this show, so I forgot how abrasive this character is. This man’s noisome vitriol is that of a sad old man faced with the prospect that his anger at others is unfounded, his opinion unwanted, and his pain unmourned. Like all bullies he demands control and attention, yet deserves neither. For most of Dan’s scenes I found myself cringing at such a realistic portrayal of a heartless, broken man descending into uselessness, but at the end I cringed only that there are really people out there who could treat others this way. This is truly the saddest role in the show, and Dan does a remarkable job inhabiting it. I’d never seen him perform before, but I can absolutely see why he was cast here. Mr. Daniels has a clear eye.
Juror 4- Michael Chobanoff: I first met Michael in December of 2006 when we performed in Sunset comedy Jake’s Women together. Of every actor I’ve ever worked with, Michael seems to jump most consistently from comedy to drama, comedy to drama, comedy to drama. If I had my druthers I’d stick to thoughtfully chuckle-inducing pieces time after time, but this guy just really owns his own comfort with walking both sides of the fence. There is a strong, grounded air to his performance in this show, balanced with the kind of approachable reason Juror 4 cannot do without.
Juror 5- Jared Kuehn: What else can I say? I like this guy. He’s sweet, he doesn’t upstage, he doesn’t steal laugh lines, he’s memorized on time, his choices are clear and believable, and here on this stage of larger than life personalities his low-on-the-totem-pole character holds his own in every one of his scenes. We’ve only worked together once so far (Sunset’s 6 Degrees of Separation last season), but I hope to do so again. I just really like this guy.
Juror 6- John Roberts: I first saw John in Sunset’s Social Security a couple of years ago and oh! Oh! I died! Every time he appeared on stage I sat up in my seat, not wanting to miss a single twitch or sigh. This role here was quite a departure from that one. John brought a thoughtful intelligence to his portrayal of Juror 6, layering him in a detached toughness as a guard against all the poverty and hard work he’s lived through so far. He’s no threat until he threatens – - and I like that, because that is life.
Juror 7- Matthew J. Patten: I’ve been saying it for years and I’ll say it again: This guy is my favorite character actor both to work with, and to watch on stage. He has a tremendous gift for making real people interesting, and interesting people real. He also has a preference for comedies so I was initially surprised he was trying out for this show, but now that I’ve seen what he had in mind for Juror 7 I can’t picture anyone else in that role. Dude knows what he’s doing, doesn’t mug, doesn’t upstage, doesn’t horn in on other people’s time to shine, and makes memorable moments out of lines and activity that could easily have been missed entirely. Plus he walks and chews gum at the same time repeatedly throughout the show, so, you know, hats off to that.
Juror 8- Randall T. Anderson: I trust any stage that has this guy on it. This role must ground the entire piece, must set it in motion, keep it rolling, and catch it on its final descent. You don’t have to like Juror 8- though that helps- but you do have to believe him, and Randall gives the audience the opportunity to do both. I’ve watched this actor shine in comedies, dramas, and musicals, and from the other side of a shared microphone with Radio WHT (much to my own delight). He is ever the gentleman, ever the professional, and ever The Guy you want on your team to keep things afloat with you when the waters get choppy, and to enjoy the ride with you when the waters are smooth.
Juror 9- Doug Smedbron: He’s a sweetheart, Doug is. And somewhere out of all that he pulled up real force, a real “growl” for Juror 9. When he speaks he is standing even when he is sitting down, with a portrayal that commands respect from the other jurors in the room. I found his speech after his first “not guilty” vote particularly compelling.
Juror 10- Gene Schuldt: Juror 10 is a despicable, racist, loud-mouthed jerk. Gene, on the other hand, is an amiable, open-hearted, loud-mouthed actor, fight choreographer, Chicagoan, and professional Santa Claus. Hearing 10′s ugly words in Gene’s voice, and seeing 10′s quaking rage on Gene’s face was unsettling to say the least. As an audience member I felt sick hearing 10′s racism boil down farther and farther into a general “fear of otherness,” and as a friend I had to keep fighting the impulse to interrupt Gene’s rant to tell him he should be ashamed of himself! Good thing I remembered it was all just an act before jumping up and ruining the show. ;)
Juror 11- Ralph Frattura: Ralph’s was the only name on the cast list I didn’t know. I’d never met the guy, never seen him perform, but I figured if he was up there with the rest of these lugs then he must be the right man for the job. And wouldn’t you know it: He was. His behavior was real, his choices made sense, and– God love him for this– his accent was neither hokey nor inconsistent. I don’t attend shows like this one to see cartoons, to see caricatures. I attend them to see what Ralph did in his portrayal of Juror 11: He created a man with a unique perspective which he supported fully and which I bought entirely. Thanks Ralph.
Juror 12- Spencer Mather: This guy… Let me tell ya’ something: This guy is all right. I am so glad he and his wife decided to get involved at Sunset a few years back, and that they both loved it enough to keep on coming back. There’s not much they haven’t been a part of there, from working in the office to acting in shows to serving on the board. Watching Spencer is great, working with Spencer is great, talking shop with Spencer is great. But I digress. *ahem* Watching Juror 12 is great, working with Juror 12 sounds great, and talking shop with Juror 12 is also probably pretty darn great. Spencer’s 12 is easy-going but distracted, and while he cares enough about the case to have opinions about it, the ad man in him seems intent on going with whichever vote sells to the biggest audience of his 11 peers. When he finally took a stand I cheered inside because this was a guy I couldn’t help but like, so I wanted to see him on the right side of justice.
The show previews this Thursday, October 25, at 7:30 pm. Show dates, times, and ticket* prices are all available by clicking here to view the production’s page on the Playhouse website. From there you can also get the goods on other upcoming Sunset fare, like next week’s 3 Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue Musical Mainstage show, or their mainstage Christmas production of A Christmas Story.
If you make it out to Twelve Angry Men at Sunset Playhouse I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below. Until then, happy theatre-ing!
*A quick note before you buy your tickets: Due to the nature of the set- trying to fit twelve grown men around a long table, the bottom of which is four feet up in the air on a stage- visibility is poor in the first four rows or so of the center and side sections. So don’t you go reading this post and then buying tickets in those rows, now. Not after I took the trouble to warn ya’! ;)
I’ve always enjoyed living near the heart of downtown Waukesha, WI, particularly in the week and a half it’s not covered in snow. It’s just such a casual, charming, friendly little town, and for all the complaints I’ve heard- and uttered- about how confusing it can be to navigate when you’re not used to the area, I even love the streets.
I’m a big fan of the direction the town is taking as it cleans itself up, brushes the dust off its dancing shoes, gargles a little mouthwash. It just feels safer, cleaner, and fresher than it did before. I have to say, though, that the one thing I wonder about is how a town this size can support so many coffee shops and art galleries.
They’re all great, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t walk a block without tripping over some quaint little someplace or other where you can grab a cup of joe (delicious, accompanied by friendly service) or buy a local resident’s latest foray into abstract painting. Some places even let you do both. And every time I see one of these places I think: Who the heck is around to drink enough coffee to keep each cafe viable? Who the heck is around to buy enough art to keep each gallery viable? This is Waukesha for crying out loud, not the Third Ward or Cedarburg! I know it’s changing, but is it changing quickly enough for these places to make it when they’re competing in such close proximity?
And then? I heard another coffee shop was moving into town. I couldn’t believe it. Even more unbelievable was that it was to be set up in the purple flower house on St. Paul Ave. where another coffee shop had just gone out of business last year. As nice as it is as a consumer to have the extra variety, I just couldn’t imagine what this place could offer to make it worth walking a block off the main drag for, especially in the exact place another coffee shop had failed.
But folks, I’m here to tell ya’: It’s worth walking a block off the main drag for.
The name of the place is Cafe De Arts and if you like coffee (or tea, or sandwiches, or salads, or desserts, or colors, or free wifi, or Turkish people) you are hereby assigned to check this place out. You owe it to yourselves. Really.
I stopped in this afternoon around 1 to see what the place was all about and was immediately struck by the warmth of the decor. The thickly painted wall art, the custom made doors and tables, the reds, oranges and yellows of the decorative fabrics, all set off by the natural beauty of sunshine and a fresh breeze, made the environment so welcoming I knew it was a place I could easily stay all afternoon.
While reading over the wall menu I was approached by the woman who would soon take my order. So charming, very pretty, all smiles. We met by the dessert case and I asked if the baked goods inside it were made there on site. She told me she makes them herself right there in the kitchen and then went over each one with me, giving me the names- none of which I could pronounce outside of “baklava“- and main ingredients.
I hadn’t been planning on ordering anything to eat, but the feta and parsley stuffed pogaca (pron. pogasha) on the top shelf looked too delicious to pass up so I ordered one to accompany my chocolate and vanilla blended mochaccino.
While waiting for my order I made myself comfortable on one of the leather couches by the flat screen TV which at the time was playing Turkish music videos, one of which was this video by the adorable Turkish pop star Yalin. Isn’t he cute?! The woman I’d spoken with before, who I later learned was Gulten Munzur, wife of owner Ayhan Munzur, soon brought out my pogaca and coffee and I was instantly in cafe heaven.
My drink was strong; very flavorful, very rich, very drinkable. It lacked the “coffee bitterness” I’m accustomed to, without tasting as though the bitterness was perhaps still there but masked by sugar and flavored syrups. As a testament to the freshness of the ingredients and the fact that they had no fancy additives to hide behind, I found myself having to swirl my cup once or twice to mix things back together a bit. And the pogaca, which I’d expected would be cold and flaky, was actually warm and quite soft much to my delight. It’s like a very moist roll that looks like dense bread but tastes like fresh feta cheese. And the glazed top was more than just a nice visual touch– it was delish.
As I was finishing up, Gulten came by to ask how everything was and I could only tell her it was wonderful. Ayhan soon came around to tidy up a table two other patrons had just vacated and also asked how I’d liked everything. We chatted a bit and he was just so personable and friendly it would’ve been impossible not to like him as instantly as I’d liked Gulten.
He asked if I had seen their roaster on my way in and when I said I hadn’t he brought me up to the front of the cafe and showed me a machine I’d've sworn was part of an old locomotive refurbished to decorate the living room of a steampunk afficionado. I don’t know how I managed to miss it when I first arrived. It was this enormous black and gold… thing which he was clearly quite proud of and which really was quite impressive.
He went through the process with me of how the roasting is done, showing me the small, green coffee beans as they appear before roasting, how the hopper is filled, how the temperature is controlled and varied to alter the strength of the roast, and a handful of the final product. Amazing. I told him if he ever decides to sell the beans dipped in chocolate I’d buy their first pound.
And in case you were wondering, you can purchase (non chocolate covered) pounds of their coffee beans for somewhere in the neighborhood of $9. (Don’t quote me. I’ll get the actual price and update here soon.) Another ‘variety is the spice of life” part of the whole gig is they import their beans hundreds of pounds at a time from all over the world, and roast them fresh every couple of days so you’re never drinking last week’s brew.
They’re celebrating their Grand Opening (link is to Facebook event page) this Tuesday, June 30th, from 6 – 9 pm and I am definitely going to be stopping in. If you live in the area this place absolutely must make it onto your “must visit” list; I cannot recommend it highly enough. And since they’ve just opened recently after moving here from Turkey-by-way-of-New-Hampshire I cannot recommend highly enough that you visit sooner rather than later to be part of jump starting this promising addition to the local small business community. I get the impression they already have a loyal customer base, which is not at all surprising, but they really deserve your patronage too. No foolin’.
After my impromptu guided tour of Cafe de Arts I headed across the Waukesha State Bank parking lot to check out “The Cemetery Club” at Waukesha Civic Theatre for their 2pm pay-what-you-can performance. Sunset Playhouse put on this show last season and I heard it was wonderful but wasn’t able to make it, so I made sure not to let it pass me by again. Especially not on an afternoon when I could name my own ticket price!
The entire experience was absolutely engaging. Director Brian Zelisnki pulled together a remarkable cast of delightful and talented actors who connected so dearly with their characters it truly felt as though they were living out each moment for themselves on that stage.
Joan End’s “Lucille” was loud and funny and wild, and just perfectly drunk enough in Act II that you had to wonder what was really in the tea props. One of her closing scenes had tears rolling down my cheeks it was so touchingly well played. I hate crying in public, but in that moment there was no stopping me. Thank you, Joan.
Fran Klumb’s “Doris” was humanly solid, comedically smooth, and professionally real. She has this great way with a line where you’re so floored for a moment by her timing and delivery that you can’t even laugh right away because you’re too busy thinking “Wow!” She was perfectly cast in that role. Loved her.
Gladys Chmiel’s “Ida” was a particular treat for me as I am quite the Gladys Chmiel fan. It was all I could do, all anyone could really do, to keep from wanting to run up on stage and hug her throughout the show. Her performance was so tender, her focus so devoted, her dancing so cute, that I cheered for her all the way. Gladys never disappoints, and this show was no exception. Brava, friend.
Supporting this central threesome were Doug Smedbron as “Sam” and Rhonda Trickey as “Mildred.” I’d only ever seen Doug in “Social Security” and “Season’s Greetings” at Sunset Playhouse so I was excited to get to see him in something with a little more stage time. His portrayal of Sam was perfect. Just perfect. Cute as a button without being schmaltzy, cautiously dedicated without being detached, and believable believable believable. I can’t work with him soon enough.
Rhonda’s “Mildred” only appeared in one scene, but watch it and tell me you had any idea she hasn’t been playing roles like this for years. She balanced giggly, oblivious flirtatiousness with respectful stage sharing like a pro. This was her first play ever, but you’d never know it. No rookie hamminess, no “backting.” Good on ya’, Trickey. Keep acting.
Good on all of ‘em, really. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next I was gasping in shock, leaning in for more, or brushing away enormous tears. I only wish I could’ve seen it sooner so I could’ve encouraged more people to check this show out for themselves. There are still two performances left, but one starts in 12 minutes so I’m thinkin’ this blog won’t be directing anyone out to Civic for that one. But if you’re free for their closing performance tomorrow, Sunday June 28th at 2 pm, do attend. It’s guaranteed to please.
And I’m guaranteed to be late if I don’t wrap this up and head out soon! Such is the life of a busy Waukesha socialite. ;)