December 29th, 2015

Milwaukee Public Museum, “Streets of Old Milwaukee”.

Sunday morning, December 20th, we went to the Public Museum to check out the renovated “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit.

The basic layout of the exhibit has not changed much, the major change being the streetcar “time machine” entry, which is quite cool. As you move through the car, each set of windows shows a different time period street scene scrolling by, with some of the same buildings in so that you can see changes over time. The vignettes are animated so people walk on the streets, smoke comes from chimneys, etc.

Although the street is still set at night, it seemed to me that the illumination level was slightly brighter than in the past, which made details easier to see. The soundscape has been augmented in a number of ways. The phonograph in “Granny’s” house wafts music onto the street. There are transient sound effects such as thunder, and the sound of horses’ hooves on the street. Some sounds, such as a conversations in the printers’ shop or the barber’s shop, are triggered when you stand in certain places.

A unique addition is the smell of bread which is quite noticeable in the vicinity of the bakery.

The restored police call box is the major addition to the exhibits, and the movie house is now open and running continuously (Melies’ Voyage dans la Lune was playing when we were there). The General Store has been opened up so that you can step in and look around, which gives you a much better look at the thousands of items on the shelves. Other than that, memory fails as to what else might be new or different from the last time we were there, there are so many details and things to see.

I remember coming to Milwaukee to see the museum when I was a boy, when the exhibit was still relatively new, and thinking it was just the neatest thing. I still think so. This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/282248.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Village Playhouse of Wauwatosa, “Santa’s Workshop”

Sunday afternoon, December 20th, we went to Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd St., to see “Santa’s Workshop,” a trio of new short Christmas-themed plays created as part of the Village Playhouse’s Young Person’s Playwriting Project.

The pieces were: “The Christmas Goose,” adapted by Rachel Czestler from “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Arthur Conan Doyle; “The Little Match Girl and the Prodigal Son,” adapted by Clayton Mortl from “The Little Match Girl,” by Hans Christian Andersen; and “Five Golden Rehearsals,” an original story by Rachel Czestler. We were interested to see how these worked out, since we had heard some news about the production and knew some of the actors had come on board to fill vacancies at very short notice. We were pleased to see that all of the young actors did very well with their parts, there were no detectable missed lines, and you could not tell that some had had only a week to rehearse.

“The Christmas Goose” was a very effective and compact adaptation of Conan Doyle’s story, which preserved the author’s dialog, containing some very famous Sherlock Holmes aphorisms. This story is one of Holmes’ more purely intellectual exercises, and that is where the fun is, since it is somewhat low on drama or action. Very nice performances by James Sullivan as Holmes, Nicholas Hightdudis as Watson, and Edward Cruz in the dual roles of Sgt. Lewis and Ryder.

“The Little Match Girl and the Prodigal Son,” adds an extensive frame to Andersen’s pathetic tale. The “Prodigal Son” of the title, Casimir, (Nicholas Hightdudis) in the confessional, gradually unfolds his anger, grief, and guilt regarding the death of his sister, Helena (Lusciana Gomez), the “little match girl.” The framing device made the story quite affecting, showing that callousness and shortsightedness are major causes of Helena’s death. That Casimir’s resentments include ethnic tensions between Irish, Polish, and Germanics (The play is set in 19th Century New York.) adds a dimension.

“Five Golden Rehearsals” gives us five vignettes from the rehearsal period of a new Christmas play, as produced by a small community theater group. In the process, the play morphs from a story about a playwright’s’ difficulty in writing a script (reflected by the actual struggles of writers Steven (Mr. Hightdudis) and Katherine (Emmah Gonzalez), to a pageant about unusual Christmas traditions, while the director (Brianna Sullivan) balances scarce resources, the demands of the local “diva” (Kate Warren), and the chorus’ preference for singing “Jingle Bells” ala Elvis. This was the longest play of the show, and quite funny (particularly for those of us with community theater experience--).

Overall, I was quite impressed with the production. Timing and cues were tight, and good use was made of the minimal set, kudos to producer/director Thom Zuehlke. The young cast exhibited impressive skill and ability, notably James Sullivan’s ability to muster four distinct accents (Holmes, Irish priest, Germanic mill owner, “Elvis”), Nicholas Hightdudis’ emotional agonies as the “prodigal son,” matched by Lusciana Gomez’ ecstatic transports as the “match girl,” and Brianna Sullivan’s controlling-but-coping director in “Five Golden Rehearsals.” Of course, there are the issues that one has to expect with a young cast, such as occasional enunciation and elocution problems, but these are things that can be overcome with time, and I would be glad to see any of these actors, or work by the playwrights, on stage again.

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Dining at "Antigua"

Sunday evening, December 20th, we had a festive dinner at Antigua Restaurant, on West Burnham St. in West Allis, and found it very good.

We came particularly wanting to sample the paella, which takes half an hour to prepare. So, we started off with some of the restaurant’s “small plates,” some of which are classic tapas, and some not. Antigua has what might be called a “Latin fusion” menu, with dishes from a number of different countries.

For starters, we ordered patatas bravas, a Spanish tapas, which are crisply browned cubed potatoes, seasoned with paprika, and served with both a spicy romesco sauce, and topped with a bit of cilantro aioli.

We also had an order of the “Yolanda Empanadas,” (named after the person they learned the recipe from) which are an Argentinian variation on the filled pastries. These had a light flavorful crust, filled with ground beef, seasoned with onions, red bell peppers, manzanilla olives, hardboiled egg whites and raisins, and which came with a chimichurri basil dipping sauce. Both the patatas and the empanadas were very good.

Antigua separates its paellas into Paella Valenciana, which has chicken and pork, and Paella de Mariscos, which has fish, mussels, and shrimp. We elected to go with the Mariscos. One order is assumed to be for two, and the dinner-plate sized pan was more than enough for both of us.

When it came, the paella was as handsomely presented as any I have seen, with shiny black mussel shells and lovely large shrimp arranged over the top of the rice. The rice was a rich orange color rather than saffron yellow. Saffron was definitely present, and I believe that the orange tint was due to paprika in the broth, making up for the fact that chorizo sausage, a common ingredient in paella, is not used.

The seafood was tender and perfectly cooked, but seemed bland to our taste. It appeared that the mussels and shrimp were cooked separately and then added to the dish at the last minute, which means that they will not be overcooked, but also that they don’t pick up flavor from the rice mixture. Taking a little bit of the rice on the fork with the seafood tended to remedy this, I would have liked it better had the mussels and shrimp had an opportunity to pick up some of the blended flavor on their own.

For drinks, I had a glass of the Sangria, which here is red Tempranillo wine, orange and lime juices, and brandy. This was not as strongly fortified with brandy as some I have had, which I consider good thing. I liked it quite a bit and would have gladly had another had I not been driving. Georgie had a glass of the straight Tempranillo, which is a mellow varietal we enjoy.

For dessert, we tried the flan. This was an unusual preparation, being stiffer than most we have had, and having been made in a Bundt pan or similar. We split a very generous serving, which had a nice vanilla-bean flavor accompanied by the traditional caramel sauce.

The service was quick, cheerful, and attentive. The restaurant is a bright and airy place, pleasant on a gloomy December evening. Latin music was nice and not obtrusive, and, although the Packers’ game was on the television, the sound was either off or low enough that it didn’t carry away from the bar.

We would definitely go there again. I’d like to try the Paella Valenciana, and there are a number of other good looking things on the menu, including Mexican and Peruvian inspired dishes, that look worth sampling.

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