From Russia with Love

The actor Edmund Kean saved one of his best lines for his deathbed: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” And since that great Shakespearean lived a few generations before Anton Chekhov, he probably never knew just how hard comedy could be. Director Jon Langs knows. He knows the challenges of The Seagull, Chekhov’s masterful chamber symphony on the nature of art and the flawed people who make it. And he knows how to tune the music of Chekhov’s characters and dialogue, and make his play resonate in that narrow register known as truly Chekhovian. His production of The Seagull—now playing…

The Divine Ms. C

For a play saturated with some of the most glorious and dramatic music ever written, it’s somehow fitting that one of the most memorable moments of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Master Class is a deep and harrowing silence. It’s late in the first act, and the legendary Maria Callas is recalling a conversation with Aristotle Onassis, with whom she had an affair late in life. Drunk with his power over her, Onassis dismisses her life of music and art and reduces her to his plaything, asking her to sing an obscene song about a whore’s exploits. Channeling Callas’s memory, Angela Iannone…

The Friday Farewell for the season

Culture Club goes on hiatus for a few weeks, but here’s a list of Don’t Miss events for the summer ahead. See you soon! JUNE Fine Arts Quartet at the Zelazo Center. Why? Because there’s still another concert left in the FAQ’s summer series, and it sports a program worthy of a gentle but grand finale. Cellist Alexander Hülshoff and violist Gil Sharon will join the quartet to play Tchaikovsky’s lovely Souvenir de Florence, and Richard Strauss’s string sextet drawn from his final opera, Capriccio. And there’s Mozart, to boot: his String Quintet in C-minor, based on a serenade for…

I’ve Got Rhythm

When is the last time you just listened to the sound of a play? Not the crashing music from the orchestra pit or the howling sub-woofer special effects, or even the words as they spin out the story. But the music of the language. Playwrights know their words are meant to be spoken aloud, and as such aspire to music, to poetry. But in some plays, the rhythm is the driving force, the main engine that keeps an audience nodding along in time to every iamb, every verbal accelerando. And every. Yes. Pause. Plays by two great musicians of the…

Last Call

Summer is upon us, and it’s time for Culture Club to step aside for a while and regroup to get ready for the next arts season. But there’s plenty to think about this week. And I’ll still post one last column that will alert you to some of the big performing arts events happening during the remainder of the summer. Until then, here’s some choices for this week.  #5: SummerStage’s Don’t Drink the Water at Lapham Peak, Delafield. Why? Because the official, celestial start of summer is upon us, and since not all of us can attend the biggest event…

Shakespeare Under the Stars

Is The Winter’s Tale one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”? I’ve never thought so. Jealousy pushed to its maddening limits? A heart-splitting and magical final scene of generosity and redemption? Some of the lushest, most beautiful, love poetry this side of Keats? No problem for me. And some of the play’s many treasures are on vivid display in the Optimist Theatre’s new production, playing this month at Kadish Park. It starts as tragedy–as relentless and single-minded as Shakespeare ever concocted. Leontes is convinced of his wife Hermione’s infidelity with his best friend, and will listen to no one—not even Apollo’s oracle—who…

“Winter” is Coming

#5: “The Art of Music in Milwaukee” at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts. Why? Because this innovative exhibit celebrates the diversity of Milwaukee’s music scene—from pop to jazz to experimental. It includes familiar names from the local art scene (Faythe Levine and Della Wells). But also features memorabilia such as vintage concert posters, Hal Rammel’s invented instruments, concert photographs of jazz and pop stars, and music-inspired work from a host of local artists and collectors. #4: Splinter Group’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead at the Marian Center, 3211 S. Lake Dr. Why? Because Charles M. Schulz’s…

Teenage Dream

There is no shortage of “all too brief” lives in the history of classical music: Mozart, of course, who died at 35. But also Franz Schubert, dead at age 31. And George Gershwin, Frederic Chopin and Vincenzo Bellini—all dead before age forty. But its hard to imagine a more tragic “what if” than the life of Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola, typically known as Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, who died in 1826, just short of his 20th birthday. A taste of Arriaga’s brilliant potential opened an enchanting concert Sunday night by the Fine Arts Quartet at UWM’s…

Friday Five for June 6 2014

#5: Pink Banana Theatre’s The Honeymoon is Over One-Act Festival at Next Act Theatre. Why? Because the play is the thing, and in this annual festival of work by national (like Joshua Cohen, Andrew Biss) and local (Liz Leighton) playwrights, you get seven plays for the price of just one. Familiar local performers—including Philip Slettleland, Clarence Aumend, Grace DeWolff–take you on a tour of the ups and down of love and romance. #4: Third Coast Percussion at UWM’s INOVA Gallery. Why? Because they wowed audiences in their collaboration with Present Music back in October. And now Chicago’s acclaimed and adventurous…