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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, April 21, 2014

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YPs are engaged and connected in Milwaukee.
YPs are engaged and connected in Milwaukee. (Photo:

An OP reflects on YP Week

Today ends YP week in Milwaukee, co-sponsored by, where I work, and a creature of Newaukee, the organization of young professionals that is working to make this a better place to live and work and play. In fact, and its co-owner Jeff Sherman helped found the city's first young professions group, Fuel Milwaukee (formerly YPM).

I didn't participate in YP week, but it was open to everyone. If they had an OP week, I could probably go. Weeks and events aside,  I do have a couple of words of advice for the young people who are gathering and participating.

You guys don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What you really have to do is make the road smoother for that wheel to roll on.

You are not the only people who are making important decisions about this city. I’m part of the generation that has made, and continues to make in many cases, crucial decisions about politics, business, the arts and living.

Don’t forget about us. We are eager to share with you the things we’ve done and the things we’ve learned over decades. We’ve made mistakes, and you can learn from ours. We’ve done things right, too, and  you can also learn from that.

Many of  us have families and children who are your contemporaries. We care about them, about all of you, a great deal. We know how intractable some of the problems are here. We know that there are no easy or quick answers for a lot of them.

But we also believe that there are some quick answers to some of the issues. We sometimes haven’t had either the skill or the will to get some things done we know we should have.

But we believe in  you. We want you to be successful. We admire your passions and your energy and your ability to work in a cooperative way. That’s something a lot of us could have learned from you. Our generation was good at protecting our own interests, but not so great at working with people who had different agenda.

So, don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve been involved in the arts…

George Webb's famous prediction.
George Webb's famous prediction.

George Webb's takes the high road in Brewers' burger giveaway

You really have to hand it to George Webb, the venerable Milwaukee restaurant chain.

There may be a "new" kid on the block, trying to mimic Webb’s claim to fame, but the Webb people aren’t all that concerned.

The deal is that for 65 years Webb has been offering free burgers if the Milwaukee Brewers win a certain number of consecutive games. Currently that number is 12.

This year, Sobelman’s, the popular bar/restaurant in the Menomonee Valley, offered a promotion to give away free burgers if the Brewers win 10 straight.

I’m a lot more bothered by this than Webb’s seems to be.

"Let them do what they want," said Ryan Stamm, whose dad used to own the chain. "We’ve been offering this for 65 years and paid off once, in 1987. Who cares what they do?"

Dave Sobelman, owner of the bar, said he wasn’t concerned about any criticism that he was playing off somebody else’s idea.

"We announced this two days before opening day," he said. "I really haven’t heard that much criticism from anyone … except that elite downtown crowd."

Well, at least one person isn’t all that enamored of his idea to replicate a Milwaukee institution, and at 70, I don’t consider myself part of this "downtown elite crowd."

That would be kind of like someone building a duplicate of the Calatrava and filling it with sunglasses stores and and a mini-mart. Or somebody who gets the monthly flavor of the day card from Kopp’s and does the exact same thing every day at his custard stand.

One thing Milwaukee doesn’t like is people who mess with our traditions. We revere our traditions.

I really admire Webb for taking the high road on this whole thing. They are going to keep on doing what they have kept on doing for over six decades. Good for them.

Sobleman makes a good burger, and for some, his restaurant is…

JJ Phillips (left), Luke Brotherhood and Bob Amaral star in the Milwaukee Rep's production of "The History of Invulnerability."
JJ Phillips (left), Luke Brotherhood and Bob Amaral star in the Milwaukee Rep's production of "The History of Invulnerability." (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Rep's "History of Invulnerability" suffers from an identity crisis

Ever since he made his debut into the American pop culture world, Superman has been a character who made people wonder what he really was.  After all, he's technically an alien disguised as a human.

"Look. Up in the Sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman."

That was kind of the way I felt walking out of the opening night of "The History of Invulnerability" at the Milwaukee Rep, which runs through May 4. I wasn’t totally sure what I had just watched, but I knew whatever it was had made me a little uncomfortable.

Playwright David Bar Katz sets out to tell the story of Jerry Siegel, who along with artist Joe Shuster, created Superman.

It’s an interesting and even fascinating story, full of factoids sure to summon a lot of "I didn’t know that" crowd reactions in the early going.

Siegel and Shuster were Jewish. Jews also created Batman, Spiderman, Popeye, Tarzan, Zorro and the Incredible Hulk, among many others. Katz's script posits that it is their very Jewishness that drove Siegel and Shuster to create what may well be the most enduring fictional character ever made. 

And once that part of the door is opened – being Jewish – the door becomes a swinging door like the old time cowboy westerns used to have. The audience is dragged along, first one side, then the other, then back again, then once more through the door.

But I wonder about that initial claim. The two were teenagers when they had the idea for Superman, and it took them six years to get someone to buy in. Certainly the kind of person Siegel was played a big role in his signature creation.

"Make him everything that I wasn’t," he says. "Look me over, then draw the opposite."

The story has all of the elements of a good play: creativity, the struggle to escape obscurity, being ripped off by businessmen, years of suffering and a failed attempt to win back your hero, and an eventual moment of recognition, finally.

What happened was that Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to …

Karen Estrada and Bryce Lord star in Splinter Group's production of "Mr. Marmalade."
Karen Estrada and Bryce Lord star in Splinter Group's production of "Mr. Marmalade."

"Mr. Marmalade" is a troublesome proposition for Splinter Group

Black comedy is a delicate art, an attempt to find humor in situations or issues that would make your skin crawl.

It’s a brave soul that even attempts to bring a black comedy to the stage, with pretty much even odds that the audience is either going to get and appreciate it, or not.

Jim Farrell, the artistic director of the year-old Splinter Group, does not want for bravery, as he stepped out on a ledge with "Mr. Marmalade," a play by Noah Haidle, one of the darlings of the au courant artistic set.

Farrell mounted this show with some outstanding Milwaukee actors, including Karen Estrada, Bryce Lord, Emily Vitrano and the always irrepressible Nate Press.

Estrada plays Lucy, a 4-year-old with an imaginary friend named Mr. Marmalade and enough personal complexes and issues to fill any psychiatric ward.

In a way, the theory behind the play is admirable. Take Lucy and give her a whole bunch of experiences that are more suited to adults on massive drug cocktails than to a 4-year-old, no matter how precocious.

Unfortunately, "Mr. Marmalade" – which runs through April 19 – is just too much of a one trick pony.

At some point, I whispered to myself, "Okay. I get it. She’s 4. She talks about suicide and sex and drug use and child abuse. Now, tell me something I can believe and care about."

The problem with this play – and this cast did all it could to lift it from its limbo – is that nobody did anything that made me give a hoot about what happened to them.

Zach Thomas Woods plays Mr. Marmalade, perhaps one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever seen. He moves from gentle tea parties to cocaine abuse, child abuse and creating the kind of tension that ends in the death of a baby. It’s impossible to see what Lucy sees in him.

It’s not enough that Lucy is just lonely and has created Mr. Marmalade to fill some vacant lot in the panorama of her life. If she created him, she would give him something that attracts her.

The cast does some heroic work to brea…