June 22nd, 2009

Wings: Milwaukee County Zoo.

Zoos, like museums, have discovered the value of travelling exhibits,
and the Milwaukee County Zoo is no exception. Last summer, they had the
sharks and rays exhibit, and this year they have "Wings from Down
Under," an interactive experience that features two aviaries and
approximately 1000 birds belonging to three Australian parrot-type
species. These are the Grass Parakeet (very similar if not the same as
the parakeet that is kept as a pet), Cockatiels, and Eastern Rosellas.
The birds are free-flying in the large aviary cages that you get to
enter. You are also supplied with a food stick (a popsicle stick with
seeds stuck onto it with honey or something the birds like) and you can
entice them to come and eat from your hand. It is actually quite easy to
get a bird to perch on the stick and eat as you hold it, and we saw some
people get birds to perch on their fingers as well. The numerous
parakeets are boldest, where as the brightly colored Rosellas are both
the fewest in number and shyest, so getting one to come to you can be
considered an achievement. It's quite enjoyable to be in the cage with
the hundreds of birds twittering around you, although having a batch fly
past your head can be a bit unnerving at first.

We went May 31st with a friend who keeps parakeets, and she was quite
delighted. We had fun, too, and enjoyed the rest of the Zoo also.

Milwaukee Cream City Chorus: It's a SMALL World.

The Cream City Chorus gave its spring concert June 13th at the Unitarian
Universalist Church West. As usual for the spring show, this was more of
a "cabaret" style performance, with the chorus mostly breaking up into
small ensembles. Unusually, all the music in the concert was the work of
one writer, Fred Small, who is a folk singer, painter, attorney, and
Unitarian Universalist minister. I had been very slightly familiar with
Small's work, knowing chiefly the delightfully funny yet pointed "Hot
Frogs on the Loose," which is a mainstay at local filksings, and had
heard "Cranes Over Hiroshima" before, but that was about it. I was
surprised by the scope of his subject matter and the variety of his
styles. Some are very funny, like "Talking Wheelchair Blues," and "Dig
a Hole"; some, like "Cranes," are very sad. They all have a
well-expressed and very distinct point to make, though.

The singers were all in very good voice and showed obvious enjoyment and
involvement with the music, all of which we appreciated very much.

The other unusual aspect of the concert was that it was a food function,
or "dinner theatre light" as they called it. The Chorus has been working
with a company called "Tastefully Simple" for fundraising, and the
ticket price included a sampling of products. The items on offer were
mostly things that could be made up from mixes by adding a few
ingredients; cookies, cake, brownies, dips and spreads, sauces. In
general, not serious meal food, but the type of thing it might be useful
to have on hand for an impromptu party or gathering. The items we
sampled were very good, and evidently as simple to prepare as
advertised, since Chorus Artistic Director Kristen Weber made up enough
for the audience for two performances by herself!

The Chorus has information on its next season out now and we are looking
forward to it.

Historic Concordia Neighborhood Tour of Homes, 2009

The Historic Concordia Neighborhood is one of Milwaukee's well defined
neighborhoods, named for the college that once was located there. It is
bounded by Wisconsin Avenue on the south, Highland Boulevard on the
north, N. 27th St. on the east, and N. 35th St. on the west. In the
days when Wisconsin Ave. was still "Grand Avenue", it was the home of
many of Milwaukee's Beer Barons and other captains of industry and lined
with their mansions. The more northerly blocks also held many fine homes
as well as less august residences belonging to managers, bankers, and
other business people.

The fortunes of the neighborhood have had ups and downs. The lakefront
became the fashionable address, and the wealthy moved there, leaving
many of the great houses to be cut up into rooming houses during the
Great Depression or World War II, or to be removed to make way for new
developments or the expansion of the Marquette University campus.

In the 1960's and 70's the area had a reputation as a "bad" neighborhood
and a high-crime area. The City of Milwaukee took steps to rehabilitate
this region so close to downtown, and in the 1980's bought, repaired,
and restored many rooming houses to desirable single-family dwellings.
Many of the people who bought those homes are still there today, and
have formed the foundation of a vibrant and cohesive community. The
process of reclaiming the beautiful old homes that fill the area still
goes on, with several having been turned into elegant Bed-and Breakfast

The most recent of these is the Schuster Mansion, at 3209 West Wells
Street. We immediately thought of the old Schuster's department store
chain, but evidently the builder of this mansion made his money in
tobacco. (Surprisingly, tobacco was, until the latter part of the 20th
century, a significant crop in southern Wisconsin, although mainly used
for chewing tobacco or cigar wrappers. Tobacco drying barns can still be
seen in the Southwestern part of the state.) The current owners still
have a bit of work to do, but have none an amazing job of restoring the
large Romanesque mansion (known as "The Red Castle" due to the color of
its stone) and making it a very distinctive and posh B&B. Georgie and I
were very interested to see this house since we have driven by it often
noting the progress of exterior restoration work.

This year "the Pink House", as it is known for its lamentable coat of
paint that covers the Cream City brick exterior, was formally on the
tour. Properly known as the "Walker Mansion", it is an otherwise
well-preserved example of a brick Gothic. It continues to be for sale at
a very reasonable price for such a house, and one can have a lot of fun
fantasizing about what could be done with it if one had both the money
to buy it and the money to restore it as it deserves.

This year's tour also included the Brumder Mansion (named for the owner
of the once-prominent Germania Publishing Company), one of the first
local houses to become a Bed and Breakfast; the Gettleman Mansion, named
for another brewer, since converted into offices; and eight other homes
that the owners shared with us. This was a fascinating and friendly
tour and we enjoyed it very much.

American Players Theatre: The Comedy of Errors

On Sunday, June 21, we drove over to Spring Green to see this season's
production of The Comedy of Errors, which we found excellent. If there
is a better way to spend a long afternoon of the summer solstice than
with a picnic and a Shakespeare comedy, I can't think of it. (Of course,
for real perfection, it could have been Midsummer Night's Dream, but we
were very grateful for what we received--.)

The plot is familiar: As we find out in the first scene, the chronically
unfortunate merchant, Egeon of Syracuse, was separated from his wife,
one of their newborn twin sons, and infant twin servant boy, in a
shipwreck twenty-five years ago. When his remaining son, Antipholus of
Syracuse, grew to manhood, he left home in order to seek out the fate of
his lost brother. The lonely Egeon followed him as far as Ephesus, where
he is taken prisoner and condemned to death as a consequence of recent
hostile relations between Syracuse and Ephesus. Meanwhile, Antipholus of
Syracuse and his man, Dromio, have entered the city with the help of a
friend, disguised as locals so well that they are immediately mistaken
for their twin brothers who actually live in the city. All kinds of
hilarity ensues in this most famous of mistaken-identity comedies.

What APT did with it that made it so particularly good was to update the
sensibility of not so much the play itself to that of a Crosby-Hope
"Road" picture, with all that that implies about slapstick,
wise-cracking delivery, and sometimes frenetic pacing. When Egeon enters
pursued by Ephesian policemen, he is costumed as "Indiana Jones," and
the chase/fight scene of his apprehension sets the tone. At a bit over
two hours including intermission, this was very fast, VERY tightly paced

Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus are played by real-life
brothers Marcus and Andy Truschinski, respectively, who do a good job
with the roles and being at the center of the sometimes almost literal
tornado of action. The real stand-out job of acting, however, was done
by Steve Haggard and Darragh Kennan as the Dromios. These two don't
really look very much alike, but they so overcame that by skillful
matching of posture, mannerisms, and tone of voice (and helped out by
their identical hats) that I had to look closely to tell which one was
on stage when. It wasn't until the end when they are both on stage
together that it even became noticeable that Haggard is significantly
taller than Kennan. The four were very ably supported by Carey Cannon as
the Ephesian's exasperated wife, Susan Shunk as her sister, and the rest
of the company as the officials, merchants, and street people of
Ephesus. (Georgie noted that the women deserved extra points for doing
all the dashing around in '40's style high heels--.)

All in all, this was certainly the funniest and liveliest production of
this play we have seen, and, as always with American Players, well worth
the trip.