Three Acts, Connected By Love
Mike Muckian, Wisconsin Gazette

Effective communication is the heartbeat of any relationship, and its absence can extinguish even the most passionate coupling. The connection among couples – and its lack – thread together the three one-act plays that comprise “Love Stories,” the final 2011-2012 seasonal offering of Madison’s Forward Theater Company. The three-plays-as-one runs April 12 to 29 in The Playhouse at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts.

Forward’s “Love Stories” include Bertolt Brecht’s “The Jewish Wife,” Dorothy Parker’s “Here We Are” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Village Wooing.” Although being presented for the first time in Wisconsin, the combination of works was something that Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Forward’s artistic director, first assembled some 20 years ago.

“The three classic plays in ‘Love Stories’ were ones I had first paired up in an Off-Off-Broadway production I created when I was just out of college and new to New York City,” writes Gray in her blog on the Forward Theater website. “I knew they were great pieces that complemented and informed each other in interesting ways, but I certainly had no relevant life experience then to help me interpret what they had to say about marriage.”

Gray’s domestic situation and her understanding of the rigors of relationships has since changed. But the three works have endured in their interconnectivity and appeal, according to Milwaukee Shakespeare’s Paula Suozzi, who directs Forward’s production.

Casting James Ridge and Colleen Madden, American Players Theatre company members who are married in real life, brings a twist to Forward’s production, she adds.

“We were thrilled when Jim and Colleen agreed to do these plays,” Suozzi says. “The rehearsal hall was completely comfortable from Day One because they know each other so well.”

The three individual works all focus on the importance communication plays in supporting and nurturing relationships, the director says. The female character in “The Jewish Wife” talks to friends on the phone, telling them what they want to hear. She then says what she really feels to an absent husband, but remains silent when he enters the room. In “Here We Are,” a young couple, terrified for their future, converse freely but about nothing that has any importance. In contrast to the other works, in “Village Wooing” the characters are open and say what’s on their minds.

“Most married people would put communication as being the fundamental component to a successful relationship,” Suozzi says. “These plays are a study in communication, or the lack thereof. It’s a fantastically diverse evening examining how people communicate.”

Suozzi sought a larger narrative to weave the three works together and bring a fresh approach to some classic texts. Ridge and Madden delivered the over-arching dynamic as two professional actors trying to manage both their careers and family while maintaining their relationship as husband and wife. That gave Suozzi the structure she sought.

“We can each speak to that challenge out of our own life experience,” Suozzi says. “I think it’s going to be a really interesting frame for the piece, one that much of the audience can relate to.” Each of the three plays retains its original and distinct characteristics. Brecht’s realism is accompanied by unspoken emotions that roil just below the surface. Parker’s characters speak in fits and starts, never saying what they really mean, while Shaw’s dialogue is verbose and direct, something that fans of the Irish playwright savor.

“There is a pacing that comes into play in each work that we use as a jumping-off point to pace the conversation,” Suozzi says. “Part of what will make the evening fun is to see the same actors embrace very different styles, and we’re leaning into that to make the performances come to life.” Does Suozzi have a favorite play from among the three? She did, she says, but since becoming involved in the project, her preferences have changed.

“Several weeks ago I would have said “The Jewish Wife” was my favorite, because I have always enjoyed realism in theater,” she explains. “But now I would say ;Village Wooing,’ because I am falling in love with each of the characters in the play, and I owe a big part of that to Jim and Colleen’s amazing skills.”

Posted on 4-5-12