Review: Sixth Annual Rep Lab Delivers Love for Accomplished Emerging Theater Residents

By: Jan. 12, 2016
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No stranger to acclaimed success, the Sixth Season of Milwaukee Rep Lab produced a fabulous evening of eight short plays in the Stiemke Studio. Fifteen to twenty gifted Emerging Professional Residents (EPR) enraptured the audience with their primarily comic offerings interspersed with several poignant themed stories--and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

The Rep Lab ticket has been a hot seller in Milwaukee the past few seasons, with performances continuing only over one weekend, this year January 8-12. The 2016 experience apparently has been selling quickly, and when audiences spread the word from this weekend, tickets will be difficult to buy, as well they should for this outstanding collection of young theater artists.

No wonder the event attracts this success with directors for the eight short plays named JC Clementz, Leda Hoffmann, Ryan Holihan, Nabrashaa Nelson and Dylan K. Sladky, and when combined with these emerging actors and respective playwrights captivate the audience's attention in the Stiemke Studio.To inaugurate the 2016 evening, a young woman reveals the tale of spreading her mother's ashes together with the ashes from her sister's cat Henry when she takes a hike up to Big Bear Mountain, California in the play I Think You Think I Love You. Hallie Peterson illuminates the stage with her fast paced banter while the confused Jared Davis plays a man who arrives at her door, a man who can barely edge a word in a reply to his distraught companion.. A bright twist to the story's end keeps the primarily monolgue script fresh and surprising.

Martin Hanna and Kammeran Tyree strike a neighborly cord amid opening and closing apartment doors in the Ballad of 423 and 424. These next door neighbors struggle with their relationship while the script uses each scene similar to a measure in a musical composition. Who knew living next to an eccentric novelist could be so rewarding over time?

An O. Henry story adapted for the stage titled While the Auto Waits brings the 1920's to life in a class-cultural meeting of a man and a woman on a park bench featuring Jared Davis and Arielle Leverett, with the turn the tables O.Henry ending in tact before the end of the first half offers a unique vision to the words "play group." Here several "boys" dressed in suits, and seated around a conference table discuss if they "should consider to stop hating and liking girls." This corporate view at puberty and burgeoning maturity gives a nod to Tom Hanks' character in "Big," the 12 year old mind in a man's body. When the "women," or girls, arrive in pencil skirts complimented by stilettos, the pair presents their offer, and they request: "The complete and undivided attention [of the boys] until the end of time." This hilarious business perspective on growing up gives another angle to bargaining for gender parity, even at the tender age of ten.

After the intermission, Bridgid Abrams directs the audience's attention to center stage playing a young Private Margaret Jensen on the brink of her first parachute jump in Airborne. The while nylon, or silk, of the parachute billows around Abrams' tiny body as she floats to the earth while revealing her emotions regarding this first jump, although male soldiers accompany her flight, and stand at each corner of the fabric. This heart wrenching, poignant and visually stunning short play unfolds a dialogue's microcosm of how young women may feel in the military when they only aspired to be '"brave and strong."

In Curse the Darkness, Hallie Peterson again shines her comedic abilities while trying to light a candle on a dinner table, of course, under barely there stage lighting, before Riley O' Toole gives a great take on the nuanced sexual orientation of a runaway Santa's elf in Eggnog Martinis and Cosmo-ho-hos. The short play also featuring Di'Monte Henning focuses on a late Christmas Eve in LA where two waiters serving people "who don't like each other," uncover a hidden meaning in the holiday through someone's first kiss.

In the final offering, a World Premiere devised by the EPR Ensemble produced a rich, layered view of Milwaukee, the theater and the strangers who meet and eventually become lovers. Who are these strangers locking eyes that first become acquainted on buses, in bookstores or restaurants where one meets "The Queen of the Sub" [A woman who loves her job making sandwiches], and even walking along city streets. This thought provoking and rhythmic play moves with split second timing, while in one scene uses the bottom of office chairs to rotate and resemble airplane propellers. Intelligent and inventive in the theme, the audience might hope to see this world premiere developed into a more complete or full length performance for the future.

Rep Lab 2016 proves these EPR artists will embrace success, no longer strangers to their chosen performing arts careers in the decades ahead of them. Two alumni from the Rep Lab program, Clementz and Hoffmann, have already begun to make a name for themselves as directors throughout the Midwest. This engaging January evening delivers a love for professional theater rarely accomplished by such a creative, talented young cast. Emerging Theater Professionals--Be strangers to Milwaukee and the greater theater world no longer.

The Rep Lab runs through Monday, January 12, and also features EPR designers Jane Reichard, Erin Paige, Aaron Lichamer, Adina Wells, Audra Kuchling and Rivka Kelly, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men directed by Milwaukee Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements opens in the Quadracci Powerhouse January 19. For further information or tickets, please visit: