'Love' springs inspirational for Madison's Forward Theater [REVIEW]
Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Photo by Zane Williams

MADISON - I wish I could tell you that the outstanding production on stage at Madison's Forward Theater was coming to Milwaukee some time soon.

But it won't and I can't, so here's the scoop: Gas up the car and head west, because you have just one chance to see two of Wisconsin's finest actors performing three short plays about how we fall in love and what it takes to stay there.

It's called "Love Stories," and it features Colleen Madden and James Ridge struggling to make marriage work in one-acts by Dorothy Parker, Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw.

Madden and Ridge are married in real life, and director Paula Suozzi makes the most of it, adding a framing device involving the lives of two married actors. It's lightly done, while nevertheless underscoring how work, routine and a thousand busy nothings conspire to derail any couple's journey. We begin our journey with two honeymooners in Parker's "Here We Are."

Like actors still learning their lines, "she" and "he" have not yet fully inhabited their newly married characters, making them self-conscious and anxious. The resulting discomfort ensures silly spats and tender reconciliations, reminding us that learning to love includes learning to fight - as well as compromise, forgive and move on.

In Brecht's "The Jewish Wife," the title character moves on by saying goodbye, to an Aryan husband who, like so many in Nazi Germany, lacks the courage to keep his commitments, with decency and to a marriage undone by circumstance and time - heard through a church clock and reflected in the sepia-toned marriage bed that dominates the set.

This is a society in which nothing can be said, making it all the more amazing that Madden's agonized face says so much during her final calls to family and friends. Staring in bemused wonder at the phone, she makes us aware of how easily and quickly even the strongest connections can be broken. In Shaw's "Village Wooing," we watch connections being forged between a prickly, stiff-suited travel writer who can't see what's right in front of him - including the colorfully attired and headstrong villager intent on marrying him (costumes by Holly Payne).

As with the first two pieces, it's the woman who is looking for answers, while the man is afraid of the questions.

You can sense the woman's yearning - in the barely controlled passion of Madden's voice, as well as her searching eyes and flitting hands.

It's a performance that could melt stone, and it transforms Ridge's initially reserved and evasive man, who unfolds his body and his mind to reveal the poet lurking there all along - in him and also in us, when we're privileged to live and watch a love story like this one.

Posted on 4-16-12