Star actresses, fictional and real
Most of Milwaukee's professional theaters are generalists. They offer their audiences some of this and a dab of that. A dark comedy here, a classic American drama there, and a bit of the abstract and absurd occasionally thrown into the mix.
It makes for varied seasons, but rarely does a troupe shift gears as radically as In Tandem Theatre Company has done in the last two months. The group has gone from a beautifully staged and acted production about respecting spiritual and cultural differences ("The Chosen") set in Brooklyn during World War II to a late 20th century drawing-room comedy that evokes the frothy wit of Noel Coward.
That is "Veronica's Position," which opened last weekend at the Tenth Street Theatre. The show is a pleasant and entertaining diversion, well timed for the lightness of spring.
Dramatist Rich Orloff grounded his play in show business history. Seven years after their second divorce, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appeared on Broadway in a production of Coward's "Private Lives," a comedy about a couple of ex-mates.
Taylor had limited stage acting experience, and if you want to take the word of then New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, the production plodded in a most un-Cowardly way. The year was 1983.
Set in late 1989 and early 1990, "Veronica's Position" is about a screen star famous for her supermarket tabloid personal life. Lots of men and marriages.
She is cast in a Broadway production, with one of her exes as her co-star, while she is being romanced by a U.S. senator. (Taylor was married to Virginia Sen. John Warner for a while.)
The show is dreadful, the formerly married stars spar and spoon, and the senator turns out to be narrow minded and controlling as he attempts to censor federally-funded arts projects.
Forget the plot. This is all about the larger-than-life characters and the zingers they trade. The "Veronica's Position" actors must take their characters to the brink of going over the top, maintaining sharp comic timing with the one-liners.
In Tandem's production, under Jane Flieller's direction, accomplishes that.
Tiffany Vance, who resembles a 40-ish Taylor, hits a difficult and necessary mark. She is a convincing diva, wielding her stardom and its perks with relish, but she is also likable.
That is important. Vance keeps us in the game.
Richard Ganoung delivers a deliciously sardonic portrait of the co-starring ex-husband, on the wagon for most of the play until a spectacular fall from sobriety. It's the best, most inventive depiction of a drunk I have seen on a stage.
"Veronica's Position's" humor is driven by the actress' very gay personal assistant, and T. Stacy Hicks nails it. Pity Steve Koehler, who must be senatorial and play the heavy and straight man here. He does it well.
Joe Fransee is strangely stiff as a visual artist whose work offends the senator, and Libby Amato is miscast as the Broadway director attempting to turn a turkey into a swan. Regally pretty, Amato looks uncomfortable playing a scheming manipulator, even if the conniving is for a good cause.
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