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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Off the Wall discovers “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”

Off The Wall Theatre is the little engine that could of Milwaukee-area theater companies. Tucked away on Wells Street and not too far from Red Arrow Park, it is not hard to pass by the self-titled “biggest little theater in the Midwest.” There are no flashing lights or giant banners, but what Off The Wall lacks in glitz and glam, it makes up for in heart and dedication.

In the lobby, guests can review Off The Wall’s impressive repertoire of posters from past productions, and starting Oct. 27, “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” will be a welcome addition to that list.

The stage adaptation of “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” opens just in time for the Halloween season. Off The Wall’s version is based on the 1962 thriller starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

As the second show of the 2011-2012 season, “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” serves as a testament to the struggles and accomplishments of the people behind Off The Wall.

“Off The Wall is actually kind of an accident,” said Dale Gutzman, artistic director and founder of the theatre.

Before starting Off The Wall, Gutzman was close to retiring because of his unfortunate luck with theater at the time. With little money and little motivation to continue in the theater world, a friend suggested starting a small venue where money wouldn’t be an issue.  The idea of a venue that focused on the love of theater and talent, rather than making a profit, soon developed into Off The Wall.

In the beginning, none of the actors or staff members were paid, and a strict budget of $100 covered entire productions. Eventually, Off The Wall drew in loyal subscribers and actors from major Milwaukee theater companies who donated their time and talent for the sake of art.

Through these hardships, Off The Wall has developed a sense of family that can’t be said for all companies. However, over a decade later, Gutzman says Off The Wall still barely breaks even because all the profit from their shows goes straight towards future productions. Nevertheless, the pros outweigh the cons in a big way for Gutzman and other members of Off The Wall.

“It’s been a real labor of love and a great thing to do rather than retire,” said Gutzman.

That labor of love is what has kept Off The Wall going for the past 12 years, and what will continue to keep it alive. Their upcoming production of “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” reminds audiences of that very fact.

The original film follows the story of aging actresses ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) and Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford). Jane, a once successful child star, cares for her sister Blanche, the finer actress of the two. Blanche’s career outshines Jane’s as they grew older, and causes a great amount of tension between them.

In their mansion, Blanche is confined to a wheelchair, the result of her sister running her over with her car while driving drunk. As their relationship grows apart and Jane’s control over Blanche worsens, their mutual hate for each other comes to a head, and they slowly lose their minds.

The biggest challenge for Gutzman was bringing something new to the twisted tale of sibling rivalry people have come to know and love. Audiences needed a fresh take on the cult classic. Actors Jeremy Welter and Mark Hagen bring the extra oomph Gutzman sought out to capture.

Welter and Hagen play the characters of both Baby Jane and Blanche, alternating roles at each show. This unique dynamic guarantees that every performance will be different from the last. Two male leads playing two older women gives the production Off The Wall’s signature quirky flare.

“Whatever line other companies won’t cross we usually will,” said Welter. “We just don’t have that off button.”

Welter has worked with Off The Wall for six years and even wrote a dark, modern stage adaptation of “Alice In Wonderland” last season.

Hagen has been with Off The Wall for 11 years. To him, “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” is the perfect balance audiences are looking for.

“I like that we can incorporate some humor,” he said. “We made it a well-rounded show and really just want people walking out feeling that it was a great evening.”

Both Welter and Hagen have played female roles before, but “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” is different.

Even though they are men dressed up as woman, according to Gutzman, audiences could easily believe that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis are on stage. The actors are able to play their characters in a serious tone but also have the ability to make the audience giggle for all the right reasons.

“I knew right away that that’s how I wanted to do it,” Gutzman said. “In order for it to work, it had to have something more or different than the movie. Otherwise we’ll just be doing the movie, and what’s the point of that?”

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were often criticized for being masculine women, so Gutzman finds humor in having two men play them on stage.

After presenting heavier productions like the anti-war play “Mother Courage” and 19th century classic “The Idiot,” Gutzman decided “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” would provide his audience with the comic relief they needed.

“The show is wildly fun,” he said. “There’s not a deep, serious message. Just deep fun played for comedy.”

“Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” opens at Off The Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St., on Oct. 27. It runs through Nov. 6, excluding Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Curtain Times are 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 4:30 p.m. on Sundays and 7:30 p.m. and midnight on Saturdays. Tickets are $23.50 for general seating and are available online at or by phone at 414-327-3552. Marquette students receive a discount for the Nov. 2 performance at $18 a ticket.

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