Variety in theater spices life

Diversity in theater continues to amaze me. The past week perfectly exemplifies that.

Goodman Theatre’s Latino Festival

For the second year, Goodman mounts a theater festival showcasing Latino companies from around the world. Under the direction of Goodman Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez, it draws an entirely new audience segment to the theater. The house at last week’s opening represented a broad spectrum of the city.

Culture Clash in AmeriCCa is based on interviews with people from every region of the country. Three amazing gentlemen—Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza—recreate characters from the real world to hold us enthralled. Running with no intermission, the evening includes outrageous transvestites describing their transgender surgery, middle-class Cubans from Miami whose business involves trashing the Everglades, and Asian gang members speaking the language of the streets and driving the latest Japanese car.

The background, a huge American flag, emphasized their message–we are all Americans. The festival closed July 24. Its tremendous success ensures an annual event.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Marriott

Theatre in Lincolnshire

Fats Waller’s music has become so much a part of my life. Since first seeing the original cast at the MetroCentre soon after its opening, then Chuck Hoenes’ Clock Tower production with friends Julian Swain, Dorothy Paige-Turner and E. Faye Butler, every lyric and movement evoke memories. A production at Victory Gardens used the most original staging–a home in Harlem complete with lace curtains as the setting for Waller’s rent party. No matter how Ain’t Misbehavin’ is presented, the ensemble is the key to success.

A highly qualified cast adequately performed as soloists. Their ensemble numbers left something to be desired. Doug Eskew, Eugene Fleming, Angela Robinson, Avery Sommers and Cynthia Thomas have years of experience in musical theater. Many have done Ain’t Misbehavin’ before. It might have been the familiarity with the work; the magic wasn’t there.

One of my favorites, “Jitterbug Waltz,” is a romantic duet. Staged with the entire cast, the focus is on an intoxicated lady center stage. It completely distracts. “Black and Blue” requires tight harmony and perfect timing. It needs work.

Marriott’s budget provides for the best costumes, sets and musicians. William Foster McDaniel, musical director, plays the score. He just doesn’t have Carl Cole’s magic touch.

Guys on Ice at the New Court Theatre

Marvin and Lloyd are not skaters. Sitting on crates in their ice fishing shanty, these two guys from northern Wisconsin discuss life and the importance of good bait, cold beer and the Green Bay Packers. Marvin (Michael Anthony Chase) and Lloyd (Erik R. Uppling) are lifelong buddies, satisfied with their lives and concerned about the big one that got away. Written by Jimmy Kaplan, it can best be described as “regional theater.” Wisconsin humor includes a specific dialect and an understanding of heaven as the place where ice fishing is always a success, and the Illinois toll booths pay instead of collecting cash.

If you haven’t been on a fishing trip with the guys in mid-winter, you may not know what a stringer to tip-up is, but there’s sure to be someone in the audience who will explain. Josh Burton injects humor as only he can. As Ernie the Moocher cadging bait and a cold Leine’s beer, his “Leine’s is the Best Beer” makes an appropriate intermission number. Chase and Uppling’s musical numbers, both solo and duo, are good, some comic and others touchingly personal.

Janine Vreatt’s fishing shack set is completely authentic. Everything is there—the wood-burning stove, the net for minnows, the Packer player, cribbage board and photos on the wall, with a cooler full of beer next to the hole in the ice.

Even if you haven’t been ice fishing, you’d enjoy Guys on Ice. Extended through Aug. 4; call (608) 363-2755 for tickets.

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