#5: As Goes Janesville at the UWM Union Theatre.
Why? Because Brad Lichtenstein’s portrait of a middle-American city became a lightning rod during the 2012 Presidential campaign—mostly by zeroing in on the hometown of Paul Ryan, who would eventually be the Republican nominee for Vice President. But it’s much more than a political tract. A deeply felt portrait of an American community, it’s a trenchant analysis of the current state of the American idea, and its future.
#4: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at First Stage.
Why? Because, admit it, you wish Yukon Cornelius had a more prominent place in the Christmas pantheon. Sure you know Prancer and Dancer and, well, all those four-footed wage slaves. And there’s Santa and Joseph and Mary and George Bailey and Linus (“I bring you tidings of great joy”) and even Jackie Vernon’s Frosty. But the scratchy-voice prospector never really took off. First Stage’s play—inspired by the animated classic—offers you the chance to root for Yukon again. And we’re looking forward to seeing Drew Brhel’s take. The cast also features Bobby Spencer, Lee Becker, Matt Daniels and Karen Estrada as Mrs. Claus.
#3: ”Treasures of Kenwood House” at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Why? Because there’s no greater respite from Black Friday mayhem than the heavenly serene confines of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Pay your necessary homage to Rembrandt’s great 1665 self portrait and Van Dyke’s “Princess Henrietta.” Or see Isaac Julien’s lush and gorgeous explorations of the global village. Or stroll through the Bradley Galleries for a necessary dose of color amid the gray November days. Wherever you go, you can be sure that no one is going to knock you over with a shopping cart full of Barbie Dolls.
#2: The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s A Christmas Carol at the Pabst Theatre.
Why? Because there are changes afoot at this annual holiday tradition. Aaron Posner, known here for his great production of To Kill a Mockingbird, takes over the directing reigns. And for the first time in a long time, Ebenezer Scrooge will be played by an out-of-town actor, Christopher Donahue, making his Milwaukee debut. But it is still Dickens. It is still the Milwaukee Rep. And it’s still the best holiday show in town.
#1: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Collected Stories at the Broadway Theatre Center.
Why? Because we last saw Donald Margulies great examination of the anxiety of influence at the Milwaukee Rep 12 years ago—before Ebooks and social media transformed the literary landscape and pummeled the publishing industry to within an inch of its life. But there’s still life in Margulies drama about the shifting relationship between a writer and her protégé. In fact, the stakes are even higher in a world in which the written word is itself struggling to maintain its prominence.