THEATRICAL TENDENCIES PRESS
This handsome, well-mounted production is the inaugural show for Theatrical Tendencies, yet another new Milwaukee Theater company in a year of ambitious openings. TT aspires to focus on LGBT theater, but you don't have to be gay to find a lot to like here. The show looks and sounds great: David Carter's hanging array of old-style light bulbs creates the period, Kevin Czarnota's lighting captures the moody ambiance of conspiracy; Sharon Sohner's costumes are flawless, and Director Mark E. Shuster's sculptural set conjures the abandoned haunts of secret trysts. Dan Harmon's sound design is warm, full and never intrusive. In short, this production crew really knows their stuff.
Ditto the talented, charismatic cast. As the handsome Richard Loeb, Milwaukee regular Marty McNamee is chilling and believable, showing us a Mephistophelean mask, alternately charming and petulant, with the unrestrained grandiosity of an immature child -- much in the line of pop culture psychopaths that has been well-traveled in recent years. As his besmitten lackey, UWM student Matthew Walton brings emotional intensity and impressive vocal training to the difficult job of making us believe that Leopold is so intoxicated he'll do anything to satisfy the object of his passion-- including taking an innocent life. Under the musical direction of Donna Kummer, the two singers bring blood to the competent, rather generic score, easily filling the intimate space of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center...
...The dedicated folks of Theatrical Tendencies have pulled off their first show with technical savvy, professionalism and grace, instantly putting them in a league with In Tandem, Milwaukee Chamber Theater and the Rep's Stackner Cabaret shows-- that's no small accomplishment.
- Jeff Grygny, Milwaukee Examiner, September 19, 2010
...This show is all about the actors, and it worked. We could hardly tear our eyes away from them for even a moment.
McNally’s reinterpretation of the story of Jesus is passionate, as is this staging. Each of the disciples displayed personality, character and enthusiasm, even as they shed their main roles to play such peripherals as Lazarus, Pharisees, schoolgirls, thugs and priests.
James Skiba played Joshua like the love child of William Shatner and Jim Carey, accentuating every syllable as if it would be his last. Joshua Devitt’s Judas was fast and dangerous and sexy, a man born to make bad decisions. The emotion between the two might be the most convincing on-stage display of affection I’ve ever seen...
The character of Philip also stayed with me. Brian Firkus was fluid, dramatic, and always just out of reach. Amid the certainty of the other disciples, he doubts — and reminds us of freedom and the ability to adapt and change.
Corpus Christi is frightening and fun, earnest and emotional. Corpus Christi is more than a gay passion play. It mixes the age-old story with the reality members of the LGBT community face even today. It sends an urgent message.
- Rosy Ricks, Urban Milwaukee Dial, March 12, 2011
...there’s a pleasantly casual sense of camaraderie. Director Mark E. Schuster has done a really good job of fostering a rapport between the actors that makes it genuinely feel, for the most part, like these thirteen people would be hanging out in the space even if they weren’t performing the play...
...James A. Skiba holds a peaceful kind of charisma about him in the role of Jesus—referred to in the script as Joshua. The challenge of playing one of the single most towering characters to come out of the past couple of millennia is nothing to take lightly. Skiba plays it with a simple charisma that has the distinct feel of Jimmy Stewart in an old Frank Capra film. Skiba has an idealized nice-guy charm that it would be very difficult not to empathize with.
Joshua Devitt plays Judas to Skiba’s Jesus...Devitt’s performance here is...cleverly-rendered... Devitt’s strength here is his ability to act in silence without making it seem at all forced...
The rest of the cast provides a very dynamic backdrop for the show. Michael Endter, Mark Neufang and Jeffrey Berens provide some of the more outstanding moments in the periphery of the plot. Berens’ Thaddeus is a diva with a few moments of clever comic punctuation. Endter carries a vibrant energy onstage as Peter. There’s a clever moment between Endter and Skiba when Joshua meets Peter . . . the visual of fish mongering is brought across with a McDonald’s bag and filet o’ fish boxes. Like the better parts of the staging, it’s a sharp, hip anachronism that delivers the story in clean, dramatic simplicity...
- Russ Bickerstaff, Curtains/Shepherd Express, March 12, 2011
THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED
Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed is a staggeringly well-balanced contemporary comedy that finds a remarkably well-executed production with Theatrical Tendencies at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center this month...
David J. Franz plays Mitchell—a rising Hollywood star struggling with his sexuality. It’s difficult to play that sort of thing without over-playing it in gasping indie movie-of-the-week style melodrama. Franz does a really good job of balancing the drama with a dazzlingly precise comic timing.
The story opens as Mitchell is in a hotel in New York having hired Alex--a male prostitute played by Nathanael Press. Press has shown a striking ability to play both comedy and drama and here, like Franz, he is able to weigh-in on a delicate balance of both. Press is given plenty to work with playing a respectable, non-junkie male prostitute who thinks of himself as being heterosexual...
...[Karissa] Lade is absolutely irresistible in the role of a girl without much direction in her life... Though it’s written with delicate sympathy and a profound amount of intricacy on a very subtle level, the role could easily read like a simple vapid airhead. Lade keeps a comfortable distance from superficiality in a performance that is an exceptional amount of fun to watch.
The cast is rounded-out by Allie Beckman in the role of Mitchell’s agent Diane. Her performance is impressively precise... The fact that Beckman is able to bring across the face of sheer opportunistic manipulation without making it seem at all unpleasant is a tremendous accomplishment on her part...
It feels like a light comedy with bits of genuinely tragic romance so compellingly conjured by Franz and Press... It’s a breathtakingly complex story packaged in a brilliant script that is brought to stage with striking clarity by Theatrical Tendencies.
- Russ Bickerstaff, Curtains/Shepherd Express, October 8, 2011
...Mitchell faces the greatest conflict for most of the play, and [David] Franz plays him with a bewildered naiveté that works perfectly. Mitchell is so amazed to actually be happy he forgets what the consequences might be. Franz does his best work as his character relearns the hard facts of life.
[Nathanael] Press, on the other hand, plays Alex as trying to convince himself that he’s a jaded hustler only in it for the money. Press subtly shows us a softer side, a part of Alex that would give anything to stay in that hotel room forever...
...As [Allie] Beckmann plays her, Diane’s a star. The star, even. The play is as much about her struggle to keep Mitchell and Alex apart as it is about their struggle to stay together. We don’t root for her, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy every quip she fires or Beckmann’s self-righteous and powerful way of carrying herself.
Ellen is on the fringe of the play, more of an obstacle and plot device than a character, but [Karissa] Lade salvages the part. Her non sequiturs are more comic relief than manic digressions.
In a way, what Lade does with her underwritten part is an unintended metaphor for the moral of the story: Do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt...
- Matthew Reddin, Urban Milwaukee Dial, October 8, 2011
THE NORMAL HEART
Whether or not a cast and crew can tap into the [The Normal Heart]’s pathos and emotional depths is a wholly different question... LGBT-focused theater Theatrical Tendencies pulls it off, faithfully translating a play that has become both a window into a somewhat-distant past and a jarring reminder that the crisis it depicts is very much still with us...
..Ned Weeks, the [Larry] Kramer-esque activist, must be the focal point, and Mark R. Neufang is more than up to the task... Neufang easily captures Ned’s bombastic, impulsive personality, but keeps it from becoming a one-note role. Ned is not the never-wrong creation many writers would revise themselves into, and Neufang conveys his character’s complexities well, becoming neither a saintly crusader whose fiery rhetoric is quashed by his own organization nor an ambitious egomaniac trying to capitalize on the AIDS tragedy to make his own name...
...Also at the core of the play are Ned’s allies in his organization: closeted president and Citibank employee Bruce Niles (Marty L. McNamee), health department employee Mickey Marcus (Joel Marinan) and hospital administrator Tommy Boatright (James Nathan). They thrive individually (McNamee and Marinan in particular deliver moving monologues in the second act) but director Mark E. Schuster knew what he was doing when he put the four of them together. Their dynamic may be frequently explosive, but it’s an alchemical fusion that delivers gold.
Schuster’s best casting decision, though, is pairing up Neufang and Firkus, who have an on-stage chemistry that rivals the majority I’ve seen on stage. But Firkus doesn’t just improve opposite Neufang – he’s perhaps the most consistently strong actor in the cast, whether he’s displaying dry wit or terrified resilience. His strongest scene, in fact, features him with Brookner, a captivating glimpse into a vulnerable self he hasn’t yet shown Ned that takes your breath away.
It’s only one of many such moments in The Normal Heart, but the most significant indicator that Theatrical Tendencies has done well with the show is they don’t feel like an obligatory response to the words in the script. They feel earned.
- Matthew Reddin, Urban Milwaukee Dial, April 6, 2013
...Director Mark E. Schuster has brought the drama to life quite fluidly, thanks in large part to a very good ensemble. Mark R. Neufang channels a heartbreakingly real world-weary fatigue in the role of Ned Weeks--a man who is fighting to get the disease recognized as a serious problem in the early 1980s. Joel Marinan is compellingly conflicted as a gay activist who has difficulty dealing with the implications of AIDS in contrast to the open ideals of early gay rights activism. Marty L. McNamee wields considerable props in the role of the handsome uber-professional executive suffering from the dichotomy of wanting to be help out with the cause while simultaneously wanting to be firmly planted in the closet. James Nathan brings compelling compassion to the dynamic that rests halfway between the conservatism of McNamee's character and the revolutionary aggression of Neufang's character.
There is a tragic romantic end of the drama. Brian M. Firkus carries much of this in the role of a romantic interest. It's a delicate portrayal that finds him developing believable chemistry with Neufang early-on. The play progresses and he has to switch gears into something much more tragic and he does an excellent job of that as well.
It's nice to see this classic '80s stage drama finally brought out in a local production. That it's a compelling production that has an intense emotional gravity about it is kind of a huge relief. It's nice to see it resonate onstage so well.
- Russ Bickerstaff, Curtains/Shepherd Express, April 6, 2013
... [Mark] Neufang... sketches a nuanced and compelling dramatic arc as Harry, who grows more outspoken even as Rudi becomes more reticent.
Married with kids, Harry has spent years passing as straight, and Neufang's sardonic and tightly buttoned smile registers the cost.
Even so, coming into your own is never easy, and Neufang makes clear that Harry's smallest rebellions — much like the increasingly colorful scarves with which he accessorizes his conventional suits — involve a fiercely willed choice of who he is over what he's pretended to be.
In deft, quick strokes involving juxtaposed and sometimes overlapping vignettes, Marans frames Harry and Rudi's conflicted efforts to be themselves within the struggles of their movement, as fleshed out through three actors — Jacob Dougherty, Jim Lautenbach and Jake Mace — playing numerous parts, from various Mattachine leaders to Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli.
[Mark E.] Schuster's crisp direction allows these scenes to be informative without becoming overbearing docudrama; it helps that his cast is alive to Marans' witty, often dry humor.
Such understatement gives added resonance to this play's most moving moments — true to how the smallest touch can be electric, in a world where everything remains forbidden.
- Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 8, 2014
...Mark R. Neufang delivers fascinating conflict and nuance to his portrayal of political activist Harry Hay. Neufang has a nuanced hold on the gradual development of Hay’s personal transformations as he goes from being a closeted married man looking for equal rights to fully embracing his identity and becoming a vocal activist.
Neufang plays this transformation in the context of a complex relationship between Hay and his lover Rudi Gernreich, played by Joshua Devitt. Devitt is a charismatic presence onstage. There are moments between Devitt and Neufang that reach into a deeply conflicted interpersonal dynamic. The two are simplifying that dynamic for the stage in a way that allows the audience to peer into it and marvel for a few scenes. Love during oppression is never easy.
The story is brought to an intimate studio theater stage without much in the way of production. Director/Designer Mark E. Schuster draws all attention to the social and intellectual interactions of people struggling on so many different levels... the overall picture this production delivers is a truly captivating one.
- Russ Bickerstaff, Curtains/Shepherd Express, March 8, 2014
In those moments when Nauffts tries to get serious and say more, [Donna] Lobacz and [Amanda] Carson are most natural and convincing among the four minor characters.
As for Adam and Luke: [Mark Neufang]... and [Raymond] Sartler craft an appealing, funny and eminently credible relationship at the play's core.
- Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 12, 2014
As Adam and Luke, Mark Neufang and Raymond Sartler capture an easy, credible and entertaining rapport, full of urbane banter and witty interchange. Amanda Carson is poised, sweet, and thoughtful as their yoga-loving friend, while Donna Lobacz brings warmth and humor to the role of Luke’s voluble mother; the two women center the play between sky and earth. James Santelle avoids cliché as Luke’s conservative father, playing him as a rounded human being rather than a stereotype—and more vulnerable than we expected. If anything, under Mark Schuster’s direction, everyone is a bit too goshdarn nice; were it not for Neufang, who is not at all afraid to show his character’s negative side, the show might lack bite altogether. But if the script sometimes wanders into “made-for TV,” territory, its heart is definitely in the right place. Avoiding deep philosophical questions, it delves into the characters’ individual needs: there are no villains here, just flawed human beings doing the best (or not) with what they’re given.
Next Fall is a noble effort to span some of the culture war’s widest gaps. So doing, it displays true Christian charity towards all, while reflecting what may be the new mainstream view in the light of same-sex marriage's greater acceptance. And that’s not bad.
- Jeff Grygny, Milwaukee Examiner, October 14, 2014