Milwaukee Entertainment Group’s ‘Jack of Hearts’ Romps in Steampunk Dystopia
Milwaukee Entertainment Group opens its season with a strong, immersive offering called Jack of Hearts, an original piece by J.J. Gatesman staged in the intimate basement theater of the Brumder Mansion. Gatesman describes his premise: “What if we had lost half of our country to drought or some other destructive force? What would that destroyed half look like and what kind of people would survive there?” The story follows a vivid cast of characters all somehow affiliated with the Heart’s Club, a saloon/brothel that conjures the Old West but also features steampunk décor, timely contests over energy resources and “mechas” (humans sporting robot parts where their original appendages have been blown off in gun fights). The script could use a little trimming, but the overall story is timeless and well executed.
A standout performance came from Josh Krause in the title role, Jack Hart, the young sharpshooter who owns the saloon and wants nothing more than revenge against his outlaw father. Krause brought to the role the sparkle of a dashing cowboy along with the gravitas necessary for the story’s noir-ish feel. Among the many fine female actors involved, Brittany Curran shone for her performance as Dodo, a seductive but childlike saloon girl with considerable courage and a heart of gold. Playing opposite her is Josh Perkins as Yorik, the club’s buffoon-like emcee. Perkins’ background in puppetry and voicing is evident in his excellent physical choices and humanitarian characterization of the “wise fool.” The show also features a great deal of multiple casting; Jason Nykiel and Liz Whitford excelled in this area, bringing distinct mannerisms and voices to each of their several characters.
A show like this would suffer greatly from a lack of creative and colorful production values. Thankfully, these needs were more than met. Artisan prop design by Kara Foster leant the show its steampunk edge; show up early to admire various clocks made from bicycle parts. Amanda Hull’s costumes similarly set the scene and music by Cole Heinrich was the perfect blend of classic Western guitar and modern angst.
Through Oct. 31 at the Brumder Mansion, 3046 W. Wisconsin Ave. For tickets, call 414-388-9104 or visit milwaukeeentertainmentgroup.com.