September 26th, 2012

Doors Open Milwaukee: Allen-Bradley Clock Tower

We didn't have much time for Doors Open Milwaukee this year, but decided to make time for one site: one of Milwaukee's most iconic and hard-to-access landmarks, the clock tower at the Allen-Bradley(now Rockwell Automation) plant that dominates the south side skyline.

The tour took us through the impressive wood-paneled lobby of the main building, and up an elevator seventeen floors. Although few people know it, I was aware that there was a Board of Directors meeting room at the top of the tower ABOVE the clock faces, and this was our destination. I was a bit disappointed that the trip did not include the clock mechanism, but after a moment's thought, I realized that there would not be much to see. Allen-Bradley/Rockwell are manufacturers of electrical controls after all, so the clock has to be electrically driven and consist of a large electric motor and drives. (Not that there's that much to see in most clocks, actually: even the works for the "great clock" of Big Ben, while interesting, take up only about as much space as a large car. No ten-foot gearwheels involved--.)

However, the trip was well worth it, as the all-round windows give a spectacular panoramic view that, in some ways, is superior to that of the 40-story US Bank building downtown. While much of the same area is visible from the bank tower, there is something about the lower angle that is more interesting. At forty stories, the view down on nearby streets and buildings is pretty much straight down and it's hard to make out anything but rooftops. At the lower altitude there's much more of a 3-D view at there range where it's close enough to see details. from the clock tower, there was a very good overview of the "port of Milwaukee," and views of south side landmarks like St. Joseph's Basilica, St. Luke's Hospital, "the Domes", and the Froedert Malt grain elevators that mark our neighborhood. It was interesting to see how visible buildings like the Journal/Sentinel printing plant and West Allis Memorial Hospital were.

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American Players Theatre: "The Admirable Crichton"

On Sunday, September 23rd, we went back to Spring Green to catch a performance of "The Admirable Crichton," by J.M. Barrie. Although a prolific author and playwrite, Barrie is by far best known as the creator of "Peter Pan," and most of his works have faded into obscurity. I looked up some of his other works prior to going to this play, and found plays such as "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," heavily based in post-WW I sentimentality, to be quite dated.

"The Admirable Chrichton" is set more in a Gilbert and Sullivan-like topsy-turvy world, whose time, due to the interest in "Downton Abbey", seems to have come round again.

Crichton (pronounced "Cryton", like "Jurassic Park" author Michael,) is butler to Lord Loam. In his sphere, he is stone-faced, absolutely correct, and a 100% believer in the "natural order" of things, in which, in England, he is proud to be a servant, and to have other servants under him. All this, however, is upset when Crichton, Load Loam, the Lord's three daughters, two male friends, and one maidservant, are shipwrecked on an uninhabited South Seas island, and the social structures supportint the order in which Crichton was wont to function are replaced by a very different, but no less "natural" order.

James Ridge plays the butler as a ramrod-straight elegant figure which makes him seem the natural master of any situation, much more so than either the typicaly out of his depth Lord Loam (Mark Goetzinger) or "The Honorable Ernest Wooley," (Steve Haggard) who is a "Bertie Wooster" ancestor, whose imagination far exceeds his competence.

All of the cast do a fine job of ringing the changes on their characters in the four scenes: The London of self-satisfaction and surety; the shipwreck, with its upset and shadows of things to come; the island home, with the settled new 'natural' order; and the return to England, wherein it is found that the old order is not as comfortable as once it was.

The play is quite witty, and makes fond fun of the British class system, which becomes inverted on "the island". In fact much is made of the argument that old rules do not apply on "an island," slyly gliding over the fact that Britain itself, as a quote from Shakepeare reminds, is an island.

Having read the script beforehand, I was genuinely uncertain that the Players could make this show work in this day and age; I am pleased to report that they did. This is in large part due to the fine actors and directors that make up the Players, but also to the troupe's tradition of attntion to detail and internalisation of the narrative to the point that all the action, however farcical, seems quite natural.

We enjoyed the performance very much, and it drew a large and enthusiastic crowd, particularly for a rather chilly Sunday evening.

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