Reviews & Press


Slow Food

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Showy acting.

That’s on the menu of “Slow Food,” a major tease of fine dining gone kaflooey.

The joke is… just about everything.

The fun is… watching kaflooeyness unfold through expert acting and directing.

The densely comedic/ironic/knowing play by Wendy MacLeod is running to June 5 as the first production of the first full season of the renovated Third Avenue PlayWorks. Changes, including those in artistic leadership, took place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Book Club Play

STURGEON BAYWis. (WFRV) – The catalyst for adventure in live professional theater: An international true-life documentary filmmaker is recording meetings of a book club.

That sounds innocuous. But soon excitable folks are letting fly warts and all.

“This book club is like ‘Lord of the Flies’ with wine and dip,” one fellow observes.

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I’m not sure whether Third Avenue PlayWorks’ (TAP) production of The Book Club Play has convinced me that I need to join a book club or avoid them at all costs. What I am sure of, though, is that The Book Club Play is a must-see for lovers of books.

In this play by Karen Zacarías, everything about Ana Smith’s life is just so: She has a perfect house, perfect husband, perfect job writing columns for a newspaper and, most importantly, her beloved book club, perfected to her standards. When a famous documentarian who wants to explore the phenomenon of book clubs in America approaches Ana, she jumps on the opportunity to show the world the importance and wonder of book clubs.

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The Last Five Years

STURGEON BAYWis. (WFRV) – Jazz by a combo bustles along as background sound.

On stage are invitations to explore. White parallel bands at an angle on the floor cross over brown parallel bands at a right angle to the eye. At the rear, white parallel bands seem to step their way up the backdrop, with the top band angling off. At the very top are wooden ceiling beams. Or so it seems. The beams are part of the magic of artistic perspective. The eye looks and looks and looks until what seems like a room of sorts is finally deciphered: Something flat is 3-D.

These sounds and images are saying something. Symbolic of lives that don’t quite meet, the images are part of the artistry of “The Last Five Years” as presented by Third Avenue PlayWorks. The images especially take the production to an enhanced level, adding to what the musical offers at its core.

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Birds of North America

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Many birds of North America are present, though only in their calls for the audience.

Two birders in the story see the birds… and hear them.

Please, use the term “birder,” not “bird watcher.”

Huh, sniff, “bird watcher” lacks the qualities of precision, perfection, passion, purity, purpose, profundity and power of “birder.”

Now you have an inkling of what one of the two characters in the play “Birds of North America” is like on the wings of words.

Playwright Anna Ouyang Moench seems deliberately painful in devising the persistence of the father. Any humor is darkly ironic. And dear ol’ dad has a problem with taking a joke, too.

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Other Press

During the pandemic, Third Avenue PlayWorks renovated its building, hired new leaders and changed its name, but its mission stayed the same.

The Third Avenue PlayWorks of today and the theater company of three years ago seem like two very different entities.

That’s courtesy of the pandemic, which shut down the theater – known as TAP to most – and forced its leaders to reassess their goals. Artistic director Jacob Janssen said that reassessment led to a complete style overhaul, including a renovated building, new leadership and a different name.

Still, not everything changed during the pandemic. TAP’s original mission has stayed the same, with the theater aiming to be an active, integral part of the Door County community while also making theater more accessible to both locals and visitors, Janssen said. His goal is to make the theater more like a library: a collective space where people of all walks of life can connect and share stories.

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Andrew Kleidon is joined by Third Avenue PlayWorks artistic director Jacob Janssen to talk about his return to Door County, his first season at TAP, the importance of bringing a community together through theater, and TAP’s upcoming Play Reading Club.

Listen here. . .

Wisconsin born Jacob Janssen went out of state to get advanced degrees in theater and had a busy career on the East Coast directing, producing and facilitating young playwrights.

He decided to chuck all this and bought a house in Door County and lives there with his wife – who works remotely for a social agency in Washington, D.C.  – and their young son, with another child on the way.

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Shooting Star

An airport in middle America is the setting, but the two characters in Steven Dietz’s Shooting Star won’t be flying anywhere. Instead, they travel back in time through the memories they forged together during their years (or, rather, 18 months) of dating two or so decades ago.

The pair first met as their younger selves while attending college in Madison – back when the world was still largely a mystery to them and their futures were blank slates. Now, in a two-act play directed by James Valcq, they meet again unexpectedly, launching into an awkward, nostalgic and bittersweet experience.

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The Dig

STURGEON BAYWis. (WFRV) – The simplest thing about “The Dig” is its title.

The play is a detective story of sorts. A sister searches for clues to why her brother became unhinged during an archaeological excavation 30 years past in Lebanon.

She is looking back from 1998. From Chicago.

She – Mattie – is forced into the search because Lebanon demands the return of an ancient vase found during the dig, and her schizophrenic brother likely will have to answer questions about how the 5,000-year old object came into his possession. Mattie feels a need to protect her beloved brother, Jamie, because of his fragile, frazzled mental state.

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The events of a family’s history and the events of a nation’s history, refracted through the prism of time, are the themes of Marie Kohler’s play The Dig, as directed by Alex Coddington.

Sturgeon Bay’s Third Avenue Playhouse is a cozy space, but the play’s imaginative arc moves across decades—1950s, ’60s and ’90s—as Mattie and her older brother Jaime attempt to recount what happened when Jaime participated in an archaeological expedition in Lebanon. His mental break was preceded by the collision of familial expectations and the path of his dream career. In flashbacks, Mattie is the apple of his eye.

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Traversing time, memory and myth, The Dig – now on stage at Sturgeon Bay’s Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP) – follows Mattie and her older brother, Jamie, as they struggle to piece together the truth about themselves and the provenance of a hotly contested Lebanese pot. Throughout the play, Mattie’s exploration of her brother’s schizophrenic break while on an archeological dig 30 years prior is layered with her struggle to come to terms with her brother’s mental illness and his coded attempts to explain the past to his sister. Incorporating these layers and more, The Dig tells an authentic story that keeps the audience guessing, laughing and, at times, aching.

The stage is sectioned into loosely delineated settings, with present-day Jamie, played by Peter Reeves, on the left; young Jamie, played by Christopher Sheard, on the right; and present-day Mattie, played by Sturgeon Bay native Karen Moeller, caught in between.

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La La Lucille

by Amy Frank, Managing Director, Third Avenue Playhouse

James Valcq, Third Avenue Playhouse’s co-artistic director, learned about George Gershwin at a very early age – so early that when he was 10 years old, he found a manila file folder at an antiques fair in Milwaukee that was marked “La La Lucille Selection by George Gershwin,” and he was instantly intrigued. Inside the folder he found sheet music for a lengthy, overture-like medley, including the music for six songs. Curious, he convinced his mother to buy it for him, and he’s kept it ever since. In the same manila folder.

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Third Avenue Playhouse will present George Gershwin’s “La La Lucille” starting with a pay-what-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m. July 24 in Studio Theatre of the playhouse. Regular performances run July 25-Sept. 1. Info:

According to the website: This is George Gershwin’s first musical, which has not been staged since its Broadway premiere in 1919. The adaptation and restoration are by James Valcq, co-artistic director of Third Avenue Playhouse.

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John Smith is caught between a rock and a hard place.

“It’s your money or your wife,” the destitute dentist is told.

And so the kernel of a romp is born.

Or was born.

This romp… or musical comedy… or dance-happy farce… or merry burst of theatricality is from 1919.

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After a record-breaking run of its last musical, Third Avenue Playhouse is presenting Tomfoolery, a musical revue of the witty, wicked, cynical and thoroughly twisted world of famed satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer.

In concerts, television appearances and a series of now-classic recordings, the Harvard-educated math professor delighted millions of fans during the 1950s and ’60s with his dry and sarcastic attacks on the A-bomb, racism, pollution, pornography, the military, the Boy Scouts and, of course, mathematics. Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray recognized this genius, compiled 28 of Lehrer’s greatest songs and added a linking narrative to produce an evening of humorous delights.

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“Tomfoolery” is a joyful tap-dance of satire.

Characters include:

An academic who revels in plagiarism…

“The Old Dope Peddler,” whose free samples to kiddies today lead to tomorrow’s clientele…

The quick-shot hunter who bags two game wardens, seven hunters and a cow…

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