Advertise on
Niffer Clarke and Max Williamson in Splinter Group's stunning "Bug."
Niffer Clarke and Max Williamson in Splinter Group's stunning "Bug." (Photo: Ross Zentner)

Splinter Group's "Bug" is a disturbing and frightening journey to madness

It’s a rare moment when the first sound of a cricket can herald a passionate and directed descent into a chilling madness with one victim leading the other into a complex version of hell.

But that’s what happens in the distinguished production of Tracy Letts' "Bug," which opened this weekend at Splinter Group under the direction of Jim Farrell.

That cricket is the spark that takes Agnes and Peter to places nobody ever thought even existed.

Agnes (Niffer Clarke) is a middle aged divorcee, living her life in a seedy Oklahoma motel and fearful of her ex-husband Goss (Rick Pendzich) who has just gotten out of two years in prison for armed robbery.

Her only ally in life is R.C. (Sara Zientek), a lesbian bartender who is the rock in the stormy seas of Agnes’ life. And R. C. brings the conductor of this train to nowhere, Peter (Max Williamson) into the motel room and into Agnes’ world.

Agnes is lonely. She is a lost sailboat without any rudder. She wants someone to like her, to show her some respect. Self esteem and Agnes live in different Oklahoma counties.

Suddenly there is Peter. Half her age, tall and taciturn. He is awkward around her, but he likes her. A lot. It’s been years since Peter has been with a woman, and there is a sense of being flattered when he confesses that to her.

But he is a man of mystery.

‘I don’t know why I love you," she says after their relationship has caught a rhythm. "I don’t know anything about you."

We know that phrase is just a wisp of a willow as it’s clear that Letts is going to let her, and us, know everything about him.

And it starts with the cricket.

In bed together, Peter hears the sound of the cricket. He slaps his arm and his head and his back. "Aphids," he tells Agnes. And they search for the offending sound the the cricket, stripping bed linen until they finally notice it is a battery-dead smoke alarm.

Not to worry as Peter’s obsessive fear of the bugs begins to slowly take over their relationship a…

"The Seeds of Banquo" opened at Theater Red Thursday night.
"The Seeds of Banquo" opened at Theater Red Thursday night. (Photo: Cassius Alexander Cox)

Love affair with long-dead man fuels Iannone's triumph

Angela Iannone, one of the finest actors ever to grace a stage in Milwaukee, has been engaged in a love affair for the past six years with a man who died when he was only 59 years old.

Not only that, but the man died in June 1893.

Edwin Booth was his name, the finest actor of his time, the brother of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln and the object of desire for Iannone who has crafted a series of play about this lover -- "The Edwin Booth Cycle."

Watching the latest effort, "The Seeds of Banquo," opened at Soulstice Theatre by Theater Red Thursday night, made me wish that I loved somebody so much that I could write a play like this.

In 2009 Iannone was going to direct Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," a play she didn’t really care for. But she began her research and finally found the prompt book for the play that belonged to Booth. It was a detailed and sensitive and clear guide to how she could make the play work.

Then she saw a picture of the handsome actor and it was love at first sight.

She has steeped herself in the life of Booth and has found his strength and weaknesses and has let her love flourish in this smart and sensitive and very funny production.

The setting is a rehearsal of "Macbeth," of course starring Booth as Macbeth.

Booth, played by John Mundschau Glowacki, is in rehearsals with his friend and actor Lawrence Barrett played by Cory Jefferson Hagen, who is unsure of exactly what role or roles Booth has in mind for him.

Mrs. Elizabeth Bowers, played magnificent imperiousness by Marcee Doherty-Elst is Lady Macbeth and Mr. Owen Fawcett, played by Bryan Quinn, stumbles into the rehearsal and is handed many other roles.

The story ranges far and wide, always focused on Booth who has a severe ego, a sly sense of humor and an enraptured love of the details of a theatrical production.  There is a confluence of lives, both private and personal, each of which provides both joys and sorrows for this magnificent talent.

Like a Brando or Ja…

Nino's brings a delicious taste of genuine Southern cooking to Shorewood.
Nino's brings a delicious taste of genuine Southern cooking to Shorewood.
JJ Harrison is the manager at Nino's Southern Sides in Shorewood.
JJ Harrison is the manager at Nino's Southern Sides in Shorewood.

Shorewood is the surprising home to genuine southern cooking at Nino's

Who would ever expect to find some of the best soul food in Milwaukee in the North Shore village of Shorewood?

The answer may be nobody, but you'd be wrong, especially if you haven't visited Nino's Southern Sides, 4475 N. Oakland Ave.

This tiny space, with only four tables, was opened last December by Odell and Gloria Robinson and Valerie Daniels-Carter. Carter runs about 100 fast food restaurants, but none of them can possibly match Nino's.

I've sampled a number of the dishes, fortunately not on the same day, because these are not diet foods. The fried chicken dinner comes with three pieces of deliciously moist chicken with a breading that is unlike anything I've had anywhere. 

It comes with two sides from a list of about  20, including collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and the best red beans and rice I've ever had, and I've eaten it all over the world. they also have a hash brown casserole that is packed with tender potato shreds and delicious melted cheese.

JJ Harrison is the manager and she says that once the festival season ends the restaurant is packed for lunch and for dinner. The best way to sample their food is by calling ahead and taking it home. 

I've also had the smothered pork chops, a distinctly popular southern dish that is a flavorful sample of real down home cooking. Harrison says they are working on opening a second location on Burleigh and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive but the opening date is still several months off.

Among the great things Black people who came north brought with them were the blues and Southern cooking. So far I haven't heard the blues at Nino's but the cooking is a real touch of home. 

Claudio Parrone  Jr., and Alexandra Bonesho star in "Spring Awakening."
Claudio Parrone Jr., and Alexandra Bonesho star in "Spring Awakening." (Photo: Dale Gutzman)

Off The Wall's "Spring Awakening" is a wrenching morality play

In a place that has hosted such decadent theater as a blistering "Cabaret" and a shockingly brutal "Trainspotting," it is stunningly surprising to find a morality play being staged in the tiny black box of Off The Wall Theatre.

But that’s what you get with the production of "Spring Awakening," the multiple Tony Award-winning musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik.

The show opened on Broadway in 2006 and won Tonys for Best Musical and eight other awards. It was billed as a "rock musical" about the angst of teenagers searching for the truth about the changes in their bodies, their outlooks, their desires and the raging of newfound hormones. It’s a sexy script and swept up New York when it opened.

Leave it to Dale Gutzman, the dangerous artistic director at Off The Wall and the director of this production, to turn a musical about teenagers into a play that is about so much more than horny kids.

Gutzman has staged a play about the exuberance of youthful passions, not just for a roll in the hay but also for a challenge to the status quo, the boundary the keeps the world from being a better place.

With a sparkling cast – headed by the charismatic Claudio Parrone Jr., and the marvel that is Alexandra Bonesho – this production is about honesty in all things, especially in the relationship between parents and children, teachers and students, and boyfriends and girlfriends. The moral is about truth in all things. 

We are introduced to the concept of the difficulty parents have being honest with their children when Bonesho, a young woman who is about to become an aunt for the second time, asks her mother (Jocelyn Ridgely) to explain how babies come into the world. After a tortuous and ever evasive journey, it all comes down to, as mom explains it, just loving your husband. Love him enough, and voila!, here comes a baby.

Already we see where this is headed. The schism between the adult world and the world of young people is dram…