One Acts with Cooperative Performance Milwaukee

Jun. 9, 2017
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Selena Milewski and Eric Scherrer in the original one act IMMORTAL written/directed by Bill Jackson

The unexpected. It’s one of the best things about a program of original theatrical shorts. You don’t know what to expect. The show begins. You don’t know what to expect. Then there’s a change in scenery. Then there’s another show where anything could happen. Nothing’s passed through a group of producers who were concerned about the complex intricacies of marketing art. It’s just an audience and a group of live performers. There’s the overall feel that anything could happen. 

This month Cooperative Performance Milwaukee presents a program of 7 short narratives that make for a generally fun and novel evening of programming that closes at mid-month. Of course, it’s really hard to talk about a show without taking away the magic of the unexpected. So at the risk of spoiling some of the unexpected for anyone interested in seeing the show, here’s a look:

Stephen F. Murray’s Nesting Dolls kind of an abstract fantasy to open the show on. Hesper Juhnke is reasonably charming as an evidently homeless woman looking for something in a messy mass of refuse. Kind of  an engaging opening. The deeper aspirations of the narrative seem to be searching for something as well. We don’t have to live the way we do. We all have a choice. The script never quite makes contact with the deeper theme it seems to be searching for, though. Still--Matthew M. Collie is charming as a mystical man in a jester’s hat who gives her a choice.

Posy Knight and Kirk Thomsen’s Grass is Greener is a dramatic glance into the nature of human tragedy that feels ver wistful. It’s abstraction searching for the heart of human emotion a bit more effectively than the opening piece. Two pieces like this right at the top of the program make it feel a bit like its beginning to swim into abstraction. Thankfully the third piece grounds the program in a very concrete conversation between characters. 

Bill Jackson’s Immortal has Selena Milewski playing someone who is accusing her fiancee of being immortal. Eric Scherrer plays the accused. A lot of the themes in Jackson’s script have been explored from a million different angles in fantasy fiction. (My favorite dramatic presentation of this had Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod in a certain cult hit film from 1986.) Jackson’s script is a tight, little communication between two characters which may or may not involve actual immortality and it’s fascinating to watch the exchange as a possible casual fantasy role play between two particularly dramatic fiancees. Taken at face value, though, Scherrer’s possible immortality isn’t quite as compelling as Lambert’s was onscreen 31 years ago. To be fair, it’s really, really difficult to make earthbound immortality feel authentic-especially live onstage. (It was difficult enough for Lambert in ’86.) What’s REALLY fascinating to watch is Milewski’s portrayal of someone trying to understand a fiancee who would keep such important personal details from her. Much of the focus both in the script and the direction seems to be on her. It’s kind of novel to see the entire thrust of a fantasy focussed on the mortal who is trying to understand it and not the fantastic individual himself. It’s a clever mutation of popular fantasy. 

Joel Kopischke’s Role Perversal rounds out the first act. Amie Lynn Losi plays a flat sitcom stereotype of liberal wife to Bill Molitor’s flat sitcom stereotype of a liberal husband. They’re trying to play against gender normative stereotypes, much to the general horror of Sara Laney as a flat sitcom stereotype of an exasperated young adult child of said parents who has more practical wisdom in the matter than either of them. It’s cute to see this sort of thing played-up as a light sitcom. I guess I was personally missing the laugh track. I think a cheesy laugh track in the background could have given the short a more appropriate feel. 

The program returns after Role Perversal and a 15-minute intermission with Zach Schorsch’s wisdom teeth--a somewhat fearless autobiographical piece involving singing, spoken word, dance and more. It’s about as clear and apparently comprehensive a distillation of one person’s life as a short dramatic presentation can manage. There’s a real gravity and density to  Schorsch’s performance.

Lillian Schley’s Vows is a conversation between a holy man and his atheist fiancee as they both get out of bed in the morning. Anna Murray and Matthew M. Collie’s charisma and chemistry go a really long way here considering so much of the script seems to be rotating through so much about spiritual life and religion. It’s exceptionally difficult to find genuine insight in a religious dialogue in the post-modern era, but Schley does a pretty good job of providing a compelling picture of two people waking-up in the morning. Murray and Collie bring that compelling interaction to the stage with a very organic feeling of emotion and human connection. 

Matthew Konkel’s Kate the Ultimate and Jane the Invincible: Earth’s Last Inhabitants walks through a casual dialogue between a couple of superheroes at the end of the world. Konkel likely wasn’t constructing the plot the way it came across to me, but it really feels like a Golden Age superhero with a Silver Age sidekick in a Modern Age situation. (The description works even if this wasn’t the intention.) Pam Scheferman plays a hero who has been circling the globe looking for any survivors. Wearing what appears to be a second-hand Amazon tiara, she’s got that Golden Age sense of righteousness and dedication. Zoe Schwartz is charming as a former hero unwilling to consider herself a sidekick. She’s got a Silver Age sense of angst and resignation as she tries her best to get on with her life. Echoing the overall feel of the end of Moore’s original Modern Age graphic novel Watchmen, heroes aren’t needed anymore. In this case it’s because there’s no one left to save. Its an interesting construction with lots of interesting opportunities. Konkel and company deliver on some of this potential with a somewhat satisfying conversation at the end of the world.  

The 2017 Cooperative Performance Milwaukee One Act Festival runs through Jun. 17 at the Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket requests and more, visit CPM online.

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