TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Plays can take us any place. Sometimes, the place is a place in reality. That’s the case with The Forst Inn Arts Collective production of “Stella and Lou,” a vibrant drama that takes place in a barroom and erupts with stunning acting.

The main entrance of the building leads to its pub. That entrance to the barroom is sometimes the entrance for a character. The person arrives from outside.

Sometimes, a character opens the door and yells toward the street.

This is you-are-there, in-the-moment and this-feels-real all wrapped together.

The actors are so experienced and sharp at what they do that theater’s suspension of disbelief comes easily.

Know how is infused in direction by Thomas Moore and performances of Doug Landwehr, Zach Lulloff and Vicki Svacina.

The production is the third in a series of plays-set-in-a-barroom with performances on Sunday afternoons only by The Forst Inn Arts Collective. Four chances remain to catch this gem.

The story is dense.

Lou (Doug Landwehr) runs a bar by his name in South Philadelphia. The bar is a bar bar, with no special theme aside from being a well-worn hangout. It has been a trying day for widower Lou and Donny (Zach Lulloff), a patron. The two have been to the funeral of a bar hanger-on who has left behind a large bill to pay in the form of the debris from his life. Stella arrives as the final customer at 11 p.m. on a hot summer night. Lou suddenly gussies up with a suit coat as Stella enters.

Stella is a regular but not a barfly. She is a registered nurse. Works in an emergency room. In Philly. She’s seen it all.

Stella is freshly back from visiting her daughter and a grandchild in Florida. Stella doesn’t take to her son, who lives in Philadelphia and is a clone of her crumb-bum ex-husband.

On the bar is a jar with “Help Bury Reilly” scrawled on a piece of paper stuffed into the jar. Reilly is the dead guy, unseen.

Donny is the first character seen. He is giving a eulogy for Reilly and having a hard time of it – “jerk” being one of Donny’s parting words.

Donny also is having a hard time with a wedding – his. For starters, his fiancée wants all sorts of nice, memorable, special things that Donny is fighting mad about. Lou and Stella offer advice: Cool it (Lou). Call off the whole thing to avoid misery (Stella).   

Every few minutes, a surprise turns up. Or a new twist. Or a discovery about Lou or Stella, present or past. Just when you think you know Lou or Stella, you don’t quite. And then another layer is painted onto/into their character. And Donny adds his complexities to their complications. This is engrossing storytelling.

The play gives a sense of workaday Philadelphia… and mavens of a neighborhood bar.

There is heavy lumber: Lou is an exceedingly moral person. He has loved deeply and loyally. He is faithful and kind. Suddenly, these are all problems for him. Lou is one part of a study of a quandary. Reilly’s jar comes into play. The audience learns from Lou and the jar. Lessons in life and living. Plays can teach lessons in life and living without being teachy.

When Stella asks who the funeral was for, Lou says, “Nobody important.” This being a play, such a toss-off line is a red flag: IMPORTANT. Later, Lou asks a rhetorical question: “Guy sits in your bar 20 years. That make him your friend?” The unseen Reilly is causing quite a churn.

The main churn is between Lou and Stella, with Stella being the churnee – all but taking a hammer to Lou to bring him to a realization. Stella and the play offer lessons in life about being single and solely single. Alone. To Stella, the greatest tragedy among the ER tragedies is the person in dire straits who comes in alone – no family or friend around. A takeaway from the play is a need to have somebody

Doug Landwehr, Vicki Svacina and Zach Lulloff keep up a steady beat in their performances. Their acting and reacting and inflection and expression and nuance and dynamic are all one can ask. Terrific.

In a barroom. All the world’s a stage, indeed.

***

Running time: 95 minutes (no intermission)

Remaining performances: 2 p.m. Sept. 18, Oct. 9, Oct. 23, Nov. 6

Info: forstinn.org

Creative: Playwright: Bruce Graham; director, technical design – Thomas Moore

Cast:

Stella – Vicki Svacina

Lou – Doug Landwehr

Donny – Zach Lulloff

***

The Forst Inn Arts Collective, 8.21.2022. (Warren Gerds)

THE VENUE: The pub in The Forst Inn Arts Collective building at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB in Tisch Mills includes a stocked bar on one side of the barroom, a small performance stage in one corner and historical photos and much more spread around. The floor is wood, as are tables and chairs in the room. Corinthian (almost) columns are prominent in the back wall behind the bar, with wooden scrolls spaced along on the face of bar service area. Flowery patterns brighten the dark green wallpaper. To the left and right of the bar are doorways to the theater where mainstage performances take place. Taking part in “Stella and Lou” are a service closet and the restroom to the left of the audience. The look of the space is a mix of ’20s and classical with the aura being “old-time bar.”