Windfall ‘Nurtures’ a dark, topical comedy

"Nurture's Wonders" follows an American family unexpectedly thrown into crisis. Photo courtesy of Windfall Theatre.

We all love a good oxymoron. It’s that push and pull of opposites that catches our eye: jumbo shrimp, same difference, Microsoft Works.

But there’s one oxymoron in the city that should do more than just catch your eye — it should draw you in. “Disturbingly depressing comedy,” the tagline attached to Windfall Theatre’s new play “Nurture’s Wonders,” makes its premiere tomorrow at Village Church, 130 E. Juneau Ave.

The play, written by ensemble member Thomas Rosenthal, tells the story of Marti and George Parker, a married couple raising two teenage boys in your average American town. Their normal life is thrown into chaos when the school principal shows up at their house with a gun, found in their oldest son’s locker.

The story is further complicated when a mysterious young manwith aspirations of being a rap star named Marshall (played by Marquette alumnus Michael Gau) comes into town the same day.

Director Maureen Kilmurry, also a theater professor in the College of Communication, said the topics within the play are quite serious, but are dealt with in a very edgy, comedic way by the actors.

“There’s an interesting contrast between the serious subject matter and the dark, comedic side of the situation,” Kilmurry said.

She said the play’s comedy comes out of the seriousness of the characters, the extreme dilemmas they’re faced with and some of the bad choices they make in response.

Kilmurry said one of the biggest challenges faced by the cast had nothing to do with “Nurture’s” newness. In fact, playwright Rosenthal was present throughout the entire process of putting the play together, attending more than half the rehearsals to tweak the play as necessary.

Instead, Kilmurry and the cast faced the challenge of maintaining the difficult balance between drama and comedy. Preserving that tone, comedic overall with serious underpinnings, meant making choices about moments that could take the play too far in either direction.

Keeping this tone on track are the leading actors: Amy Hansmann and Robert W. C. Kennedy, playing Marti and George, respectively. Kilmurry said Rosenthal wrote the play with the two non-ensemble members in mind, having worked with them in the past.

Kennedy admitted he’s unsure exactly what made Rosenthal certain he was the actor for the job. He plays a police officer in a small town in the Midwest who’s not quite as connected to his family as he should be.

In addition to the struggles of family dynamics, Kennedy said “Nurture’s” deals with other heavy topics, such as school violence and moral decision-making.

“The play doesn’t offer any happy resolutions to those things,” Kennedy said.

Hansmann said her character’s struggles “hit home” for her as a wife and parent.

“For me, (“Nurture’s”) poses the question: What makes a good parent and what does it take to be one today? Am I letting outside forces raise my child, or am I raising him?” Hansmann said.

Kilmurry said the production will take the audience on “a roller coaster ride,” one made more potent by the recent assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz.

“There’s something about the real contemporary nature of the piece that really speaks to the here and now,” she said. “There probably isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t kicked themselves for a choice they made in regards to their kids. In a way, this play takes that premise to the extreme.”

The Windfall Theatre’s production of “Nurture’s Wonders” begins tomorrow and runs through March 5 at Village Church, 130 E. Juneau Ave. Tickets are $20 and are available at 414-332-3963. For more information, visit windfalltheatre.blogspot.com.