Great Stories Come to Life at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
New season brings ‘Deathtrap,’ ‘Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune’ and more
As the new season is about to start, the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre announced its first rebranding after 42 years. Labeled “Where great stories come to life,” the initiative is both the campaign’s title and the company’s motto going forward.
Milwaukee is blessed to have an active theater scene, but this also makes it hard for each company to set itself apart and justify why it exists. “A lot of times people have no idea that they are watching a Chamber show,” Managing Director Kirsten Finn says. “We have some identity issues. It has been a problem that people don’t know what our guiding principles are.”
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre shares the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward with two other companies—Skylight Music Theatre, which specializes in musical theater, and Renaissance Theaterworks, a women’s theater company—but what about Chamber Theatre? According to their new campaign, the quality of the writing in their plays is what makes them unique.
“It has always been the writing first,” Finn explains. “What we are always looking for are good plays, not something that will sell tickets, or something we can cast a certain person in. This is what the tagline ‘Where good stories come to life’ means. Primarily, we are storytellers.”
When MCT was established in 1975, founders Montgomery Davis and Ruth Schudson wanted it to bring great works of literature to the stage, starting with George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell. Although MCT has changed a lot since their founding days, they still aim to bring meaningful stories to Milwaukee audiences. Rather than a new beginning, MCT’s branding initiative is the reaffirmation of the principles that have led the company since its foundation.
The Mysteries of Life
The new season of MCT, starting Aug. 10 and named “The Mysteries of Life,” aims to embody the principles of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Ira Levin’s Tony-nominated play Deathtrap opens the season with a bang. The story, showcasing cash-strapped author Sidney Bruhl contemplating murder to steal his student’s work, is known as Broadway’s longest-running comedy-thriller. Brought to life by director Michael Cotey, the play will take the audience by surprise by subverting expectations at every turn.
Like every MCT production, Deathtrap will play every day except on Monday and Tuesday. Those who can’t afford a regular ticket can attend a Community Building Night at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, where all tickets will be half-price. (Tickets are also always half-price 30 minutes before every regular show.)
Theater enthusiasts may take advantage of the offer to watch the season’s other shows, including Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, Terrence McNally’s bittersweet comedy about coworkers revealing themselves to each other after a night spent together. They may also want to see Tom Dudzick’s Miracle on South Division Street, a holiday comedy about the bonds that tie a family together.
The Brothers Size is another highlight. Written by critically acclaimed playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, co-author of the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, The Brothers Size, a tender drama about brotherhood, stars African American actors brought together by, in Finn’s words, a “gorgeous script.” Director Marti Gobel also brought the first part of McCraney’s trilogy, In the Red and Brown Water, to Marquette University’s stage in 2014. The final part of the trilogy, Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, will be read during the run of The Brothers Size on Monday, March 12 at the Skylight bar, giving Milwaukee audiences a chance to hear the whole story; the reading is pay-what-you-can.
The Brothers Size, maybe more so than the season’s other plays, embodies the theme of “great stories come to life.” During their annual Young Playwrights Festival, in which the company teaches playwriting in high schools, members of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre found a pool of talent in unexpected places. “As we reached into inner city schools, we had so many playwrights of color writing about people of color that we had a hard time casting them,” Finn says. “We are maintaining our priorities in terms of what we have always done, but we’re also trying to better represent the community we are serving. We need to have professionals of color on our staff.”
The 2017-2018 season will come to a close with John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Doubt, concerning a nun’s crusade against what she believes are the sins of a parish priest.
Deathtrap runs Aug. 10-27; Frankie and Johnny runs Sept 20-Oct 15; Miracle on South Division Street runs Nov 22-Dec 17; The Brothers Size runs Feb 21-March 18; Doubt runs April 12-29. Visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com for more information.