Total Rating: 
April 13, 2017
April 17, 2017
Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Theater Type: 
Milwaukee Repertory - Stiemke Studio
Theater Address: 
108 East Wells Street
Running Time: 
2 hrs
Adam Peltzman, G. Flores, David Ives, Matthew Kelly, Matthew Lopez, Steve Yockey, Gabriel Jason Dean, Erica Saleh, Don Nigro.
Marina Bergenstock, Frank Honts, Nabra Nelson, Brent Hazelton, Dylan Sladky, Leda Hoffman, Daniella Wheelock.

Of all the shows offered this season by Milwaukee’s flagship theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the toughest ticket to get may be the Rep Lab. Consider this: the actors are all emerging artists (unfamiliar to audiences), and the names of these short plays aren’t announced before the programs are handed out when audience members walk into the theater.

So why are local audiences so wild about this show, ensuring a complete sell-out before the curtain ever rises? For those curious about the next generation of actors, directors and technical artists, there’s no better place to find them than the annual Rep Lab. These hard-working emerging artists (formerly called interns) have labored all year to learn their craft. Earlier in the season, about all audience members see of them are nameless players carrying furniture and props during scene changes, and those who appear mainly in crowd scenes. (However, if a leading actor is unable to attend a performance, the younger set must be ready to take his or her place – a daunting enterprise.) So being an emerging artist is harder than it may look to the casual bystander.

In this “class” of emerging artists, the youngest is 22. Most of the artists are in their 20s (a couple of them are slightly older). They are an eclectic mix: Some are white, some are black, at least one looks to be Middle Eastern. Some are rail-thin, and others are pudgy. But their passion for theater draws them together.

This is the seventh version of Rep Lab, but they all resemble a familiar format: a collection of short plays, bunched together into two acts. Sets are minimal, so they can be swept away quickly for the next play. The costumes, sound and lighting elements, however, are far more apparent.

It is impossible to comment individually on each skit, although one must recognize that these issues presented in them reflect the issues these young people most identify with. As you might imagine, cell phones are omnipresent onstage.

The opening skit takes a historical tone, as John Addams and Benjamin Franklin find themselves sharing a hotel room. Matt Frye (as Franklin) is very full of himself, noting each of his inventions to the irritation of Addams. One hears about the Franklin stove, bifocals, lending libraries, and all the things Franklin created. Interestingly, when Addams (Tanner Medding) complains of the sniffles, Franklin points out that the brisk night air – formerly thought to cause colds – is, in fact, something that will prevent them. His theory – that colds are transmitted by humans who share tight indoor spaces – turns out to be exactly right. The skit is peppered with humor, and things are off to a good start. Marina Bergenstock directs.

Some of the offerings in this year’s Lab range from scary (The Blizzard by David Ives), to heartbreaking (Darrington Clark in Gabriel Jason Dean’s Pigskin). Same-sex relationships pop up in The Coyote Strategem; and racial insensitivities (Candace Thomas plays a convincing Hattie McDaniel to Matt Frye’s spot-on impression of David O. Selznick in Opening). In this piece, Selznick offers to nominate Hattie for an Oscar if she’ll duck out of the Atlanta premiere of “Gone with the Wind.” This is among the better-realized efforts, which was directed by Nabra Nelson.

The funniest skit has to be Alien Monster Bowling League by Matthew Lopez. In this future world, monsters have emerged from caves and learned to make peace with humans. In fact, they now belong to the same bowling leagues. The furry-headed monsters (Gia Erichson and Matt Frye) have developed some very human-like qualities. Frye is incensed that a group of much smarter aliens (represented by Darrington Clark) have picked up the game of bowling so quickly, taunting the monsters about their superiority. This tongue-in-cheek play was directed by the Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Brent Hazelton (who obviously is not an emerging artist, although he is a graduate of the program).

Like spring flowers, the Rep Lab fades quickly after a few days of glory. But when it’s here, there’s nothing better in town that showcases a combination of young talent and passion for theater.

Jesse Bhamrah, Darrington Clark, Christie Coran, Gia Erichson, Matt Frey, Tanner Medding, Kat Moser, and Candace Thomas
Costumes: Olivia Kraus, Emily Strohmenger; Lighting: Shane O’Neil; Sound: Erin Paige
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed: 
April 2017