Brumder is especially welcoming for ‘Heir’ 

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

Dec. 17, 2015


Photo by James Norris

The cast of “Return of the Heir,” from left: Tom Marks, Sophia Diliberti, Hayley San Fillippo, Marie Arndorfer, Cory Jefferson Hagen, Phil Stepanski, April Paul, Margaret Casey and Mark Flagg. The Milwaukee  Entertainment Group uses the Brumder Mansion in Milwaukee to good effect - before and during the play.

MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Entertainment Group, which performs at the Brumder Mansion, almost always makes use of the beautiful estate and playhouse in its productions.

In keeping with the gracious surroundings, one is greeted warmly at the door either by the artistic director, Tom Marks, or by the owner, Tom Carr. Wine or water is available for purchase in the foyer, and one is often invited to enter the dining room to indulge in some tasty confection before the performance. There are lovely parlors to enjoy a small repast and await an invitation to proceed downstairs to the theater.

Since this is their Christmas offering, the Carrs are especially generous in their offerings before the show.

Another custom used in many of the recent productions is to have the play begin in the foyer as we observe and interact with some of the cast. In this one, “Return of the Heir,” by Amanda Hull, we become the townspeople, anticipating the return of Alfie, the eldest son, who has been gone from the MacKenzie estate for a decade. One senses that his choice to leave home and live in London for 10 years was regarded with mixed emotions by his parents, his sister Dee and his almost-brother Dudley, who lives at the estate. How he will fit back in is the burning question throughout the story.

After standing in the foyer watching the MacKenzies’ dynamics for almost 25 minutes (a bit too long, I thought), we were invited into the living room of the MacKenzie home downstairs, where Christmas decorations, a lovely fire and a cozy atmosphere awaited us. There we became part of their holiday celebrations and began more to understand the characters and their family history.

As the story unfolds, we become attached to all the family members and their close friends and their past relationships as well as how they feel about each other now. I won’t reveal too much to avoid spoiling the twists and turns that every family has in its unique history.

All the actors are well-cast, including the little one, Marie Arndorfer, who played Dotty Fitzsimmons so skillfully. The others include Phil Stepanski as the charming Alfie, Haley San Fillippo as the lovable Molly, Cory Jefferson Hagen as the bombastic Dudley, Mark Flagg as the befuddled Harold MacKenzie, Margaret Casey as the devoted Marjorie MacKenzie, April Paul as the rebuffed Dee MacKenzie, and Tom Marks as the mysterious Walter Bradley.

There is audience involvement during the show, making us feel that we, too, are a part of their Christmas celebrations. Though the play itself is loosely structured, it is nonetheless a very entertaining experience, and we leave the theater feeling warm and satisfied.

Directed by Amanda Hull, “Return of the Heir” runs one more weekend.