Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Tin Woman’ dynamic and purpose-filled in Oshkosh

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Oshkosh Community Players The Tin Woman cast_1555164397409.jpg.jpg

Photo caption: The cast of the Oshkosh Community Players production of “The Tin Woman,” from left, Jesse Tubeszewski, Jill Knetter, Jayda Messer, Brad Dokken, Barbara Carrol Pica, Kimberly Mueller and Ann Pleiss Morris. (Oshkosh Community Players photo)

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In the make-believe story of “The Wizard of Oz,” all that The Tin Man wants is a heart. In the realistic play “The Tin Woman,” a woman gets a heart.

The woman’s heart comes by transplant. That means there is a donor.

The recipient is not a nice woman, not a “heroine” type. Coming from a shabby upbringing, she’s headstrong and smarty-pants lippy. She – Joy – knows her failings, and along the way wonders what she has done to deserve her new heart/life.

Joy also wonders about the donor, who she knows was a male. With much hesitation, Joy tries to connect with the donor’s family. With much hesitation (grief hangs like cold, thick chains), the mother in the family tries to connect, too, much against the will of the surly father.

“The Tin Woman” reflects life.

Oshkosh Community Players has a production that is special in three ways.

One. The presentation calls attention to the importance of organ donation. Associated with the production is Donate Wisconsin Life – University of Wisconsin-Madison organ and tissue donation. There is a presence at performances, including a 50/50 raffle.

Two. Director L. Douglas Bord-Pire connected with playwright Sean Grennan, who supplied unpublished rewrites to the script (and supplied enthusiasm for the production). In his program notes, Bord-Pire writes that one of his friends died of brain cancer at the beginning of rehearsals. That friend had put Bord-Pire on to “The Tin Woman,” having loved the world premiere at the professional Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County.

Three. Because of the inspirational elements of One and Two, the cast is especially fired up and into “The Tin Woman.” The cast delivers a beautiful piece of theater.

Jill Knetter is quite expressive as Joy. A single woman in her 30s, Joy is filled with complexities. Knetter digs into Joy’s cracked-mirror personality/life and gives her a real feel.

Jesse Tubeszewski portrays Jack Borden. Jack is always around, mostly not speaking. Tubeszewski is always around, his reactive body English speaking volumes as the story unfolds through the soul of Jack and his relation to what is happening with other characters. Tubeszwski does a lot of acting not saying anything.

Barbara Carrol Pica portrays Jack’s mother. Alice Borden is nice and kindly and steadying, even though she carries the burdens of a dead son and an angered husband. Pica nurtures the role.

Brad Dokken portrays Jack’s father. Hank Borden is not nice or kindly or steadying as he carries the burdens of a dead son and regrets about his relationship with the dead son and a knack for not finishing what he has promised. Dokken is a FORCE that helps everybody else be convincing, for Hank is someone to certainly react off of.

Kimberly Mueller portrays Jack’s sister. Sammy Borden not only is a vegan, she is quite excitable and emotional. Sammy’s meeting with Joy is both a Niagara Falls of tears and laughter as Sammy miss-hears the word “corn” from Joy as “porn.” (There is humor in the play).

Ann Pleiss Morris portrays Joy’s best friend. Darla is the kind of BFF to have, very certain and caring and willing to give Joy what-for and head her on the right track. Morris powers up Darla’s color.

Jayda Messer portrays Joy’s intensive-care nurse. Messer taps such a nurse’s pesky, follow-the-procedure ways.

Added up, the performance as a whole is dynamic and driven by purpose.

Further thoughts: Plays are living things. That is why they are always written about (or should be) in the present tense. “The Tin Woman” has a life as it continues to be performed since its birth – that premiere at Peninsula Players Theatre that I attended and reviewed in June 2014.

It is a pleasure to have seen that first performance and now see that play down the road of time done so wonderfully by Oshkosh Community Players.

Oshkosh Community Players has advantages over the first production. First, Peninsula Players Theatre was dealing with an unknown. Bord-Pire’s friend told him the play was good. Also, Peninsula Players Theatre did not have a presence of Donate Life. The current production has an added meaning, which is palpable.

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Creative: Playwright – Sean Grennan; director/set designer – L. Douglas Bord-Pire; stage manager – Emily Miels; lighting designer – Nate Scheuers; Jenni Pire – lighting operator; sound designer – Joe Wiedenmeier; props mistress – Kylie Montee; master carpenter – John Rubino

Cast:

Joy – Jill Knetter

Jack Borden – Jesse Tubeszewski

Alice Borden – Barbara Carrol Pica

Hank Borden – Brad Dokken

Sammy Borden – Kimberly Mueller

Darla – Ann Pleiss Morris

Nurse – Jayda Messer

Running time: Two hours, five minutes

Remaining performances: 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 13

Info: oshkoshtheatre.org.

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THE VENUE: Located at 100 High Ave. in Oshkosh, the Grand Opera House is one of Wisconsin’s showcase surviving theaters. Built for live performance well before the arrival of movies, the theater opened Aug. 9, 1883. Designed by architect William Waters, the building reflects the opulence of the era and the strength of Oshkosh at the time. Roman influences abound in columns and support elements. Ceiling and wall artistry is elaborately detailed. See grandoperahouse.org/history for details on the theater’s rich history and ongoing challenges. When you are there, wander around the building – up and down stairways and in and around nooks and crannies – and savor the details along with vintage photos and displays. For instance, in the balcony are elaborate sections everywhere. In the rear ceiling are rectangles fringed by flowers and vines. The largest rectangle includes a crossing pattern with a square at the center that’s angled like a diamond. In the front ceiling, a crossing pattern in the central square leads to a circle which depicts cherubs at play, one riding a fly. The top edge on side walls is curved, with images being a series of potted trumpet vines interspersed with maize. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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