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Chamber's 'Things Being What They Are' delves into how men communicate

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 27, 2013

 

MILWAUKEE - When men get together to talk, it is usually a far different event than when women do. Politics, sports, work and the stock market often comprise the topics bandied about. The production now playing in the Studio Theatre on Broadway is a rarity. The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre has found a gem in “Things Being What They Are” by Wendy MacLeod, a very clever playwright who has given us a strikingly realistic look at how many men communicate with each other. Countless studies have shown that if men ever open up at all, it’s to a woman, not to another man.

The situation involves two men, new neighbors. Bill has just moved in to an apartment that abuts Jack’s dwelling. Jack bursts in unannounced to welcome him, helping himself to a beer and the only chair in the house. Two very different characters begin their collision course, and we watch, fascinated by what we’re seeing and hearing. Each act portrays one long conversation, and by the end of the play, we realize how much self-disclosure has occurred and how well we have come to know these two guys, and they, each other.

The contrast between Jack and Bill is momentous. Jack is a divorced accountant with children, and Bill, a marketing rep for a liquor company who is married to an actress. Despite the chasm between them, as the revelations begin to unfold, they discover some common ground. Jack is blustery, macho, blunt and defensive; Bill, an uptight personality with a tendency to stonewall and hide behind his proprieties. Eventually both men begin to trust each other, and then all sorts of unexpected things happen.

I’ve never seen another play quite like it. It’s absolutely intriguing to eavesdrop on this all-too-rare process. Even though the play involves little action as such, it develops into quite a journey for both men and for us. Even the unfurnished apartment, the backdrop for Act I, versus the carefully furnished one in Act II, reflects the changes that are occurring.

Dan Katula is a perfect fit for Jack. He exudes the subtlety of a bulldozer as he enters the privacy of Bill’s life, and yet as time passes, he’s able to convey the complexity of this character. He’s a dynamic storyteller who exaggerates everything, and we enjoy his comic flair. Bill, precisely rendered by Ryan Schabach, is also somewhat one-dimensional when we first meet him, but as the layers peel off, we see a surprisingly multifaceted person. That is the draw of this play - wonderful dialogue, sometimes quite funny, diverse three-dimensional characters, and some pointed insights into male versus female communication styles as well as human beings’ ability to change, albeit with great difficulty.

Seemingly a comedy, it, like most good comedies, has some depth. Things that we often laugh about are also many times the things that can make us weep.

“Things Being What They Are” is skillfully directed by Michael Cotey.  

“Things Being What They Are” runs through Dec. 15 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Call 414-291-7800 or visit www.milwaukeechambertheatre.com for show times and tickets.