'Old Garde' examines small theater challenges

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 27, 2013


MILWAUKEE - Many a live theater has come and gone. Clavis, Nevermore, Bialystock and Bloom, the Brookfield Players, the Milwaukee Shakespeare Company and Theatre X are just a few names that come to mind. 

The Boulevard Theatre’s present offering of “The Old Garde” explores the many challenges that beset a theatrical company, especially a small one with a specific mission. The Boulevard should know, and that may be one of the reasons that director Mark Bucher was attracted to this new work by Bruce Murphy, a local playwright.

In a format of many dramatic snippets, the actors explore some of the problems that beset those involved in theater - choosing between your aesthetic taste and the demands of an audience, keeping your relationship with other actors separate from your personal life, finding financial supporters to supplement ticket proceeds, attracting talented actors, techies, directors and playwrights, not to mention people with business and marketing skills. It is a complex venture, and “The Old Garde” captures some of that, even the old standby of art for art’s sake versus art for profit.

Each character represents some of the stereotypes regarding theater people - the struggling founder of the company, the playwright, the self-centered actor enamored with his own ego, the woman who wants a career but also wants a family, the rich patron who feels needed but used, the actor who turns to commercialism to survive, and the actor who blurs the line between her role in a play with her other roles in her life.

The somewhat disjointed first act might have been better served by using spot lighting, so one short scene could more quickly transition into another. Act II had a better flow to it. The music between scenes was well-chosen and helped to fill the gaps.

One definitely got a feel for the intricacies of running a successful theater and the compromises inherent in the process. It’s a wonder that we have as many theater companies in this area as we do that are somehow managing to stay afloat.

The six actors are all convincing in their roles - Nigel Wade as the harried producer and playwright; Marion Araujo as the actor somewhat torn between her husband and the flatteries of her fellow actor; Don Lobacz, the handsome stud very interested in his next exploit; Nicole Gorski-Ray, the actor sick of type casting who would rather take on her role as a mother; Jason Will, the performer  who is sick of working for a pittance when he can make more money doing ads on TV; and Bucher, who represents the dreaded critic, although he ends up being right on in the end; and Christine Horgan, the devoted financial supporter.

It is a generous gift to a playwright to give him a showcase for his new work. “The Old Garde” needs some tweaking, but it shows great promise. It is easy to be critical, but one is usually less so if one has actually been in the fray. This show has three more performances this weekend. 

“The Old Garde” stages 8 p.m. shows today and Saturday and a 2:30 p.m. matinee Sunday at the Boulevard Theatre, 2252 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee. Call 414-744-5757 or visit for tickets.