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Muskego Native Rediscovers Home From L.A.

Brett Ryback's upbringing in Muskego led him to a prolific career in acting and composing in Los Angeles, and now he finds home again through a performance that pays homage to his grandparents

You've got to wonder what's in the water in Muskego: we've been hearing about so many of our young residents taking their talent to the stage locally, statewide and nationally.

Brett Ryback is the latest to have called Muskego home, now living in Los Angeles and boasting a resume that has included television and stage acting, composing and now playwrighting. Although living elsewhere since he left for college at 18 (he majored in music composition at UCLA), he rediscovers home again at the age of 27 both figuratively and literally with a performance of a staged reading titled "The Tavern Keeper's Daughter."

"The play is loosely based on how my grandparents, Lenny and Wanda, met," Ryback explained. "It begins in Milwaukee as my grandfather returns from World War II, but wants more out of life, and he ends up moving to New York, where he meets Wanda."

Ryback was treading the boards since he was five, as part of First Stage, and kept active along with his school studies at St. Leonard's and then Catholic Memorial High School.  While acting was always "something that I enjoyed and excelled at", it was the piano lessons he began taking at the age of 10 that led him to choose his major once it came time to go to college. (His parents, Michael and Marcia still live in Muskego.)

However exciting the coast may be, Ryback saw that L.A. didn't have the same sense of community that he had been accustomed to.

"It sounds cliche, but I guess it's Midwestern values that I grew up with," Ryback said. "I felt a keen sense of community here, especially in high school, and in L.A. it's more difficult to find that; there's no real 'center,' so I began seeking that out."

Where Ryback found that was through his own family history, and The Tavern Keeper's Daughter, also being set in the 1940's, tapped into a nostalgia that many share.

"A door has been opened for me in rediscovering home, and it's allowed me to go back home spiritually to see how it shapes you," Ryback explained. "The setting also has a universal appeal in its nostalgia, and for me personally it's connected me to my grandparents."

While Ryback has no plans to re-establish roots in the area, he said he hoped to eventually write a play set in Eagle River, where his family has a cottage. He hasn't ruled out returning there to write from the source of his inspiration, either.

The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre is featuring the reading of The Tavern Keeper's Daughter on Monday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. The reading will be performed at the Chamber's Cabot Theatre and is free, with donations kindly accepted.

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