PostHeaderIcon The ATF Goes Fishing

For its newest play, Timeline Theatre tells a tale literally ripped from yesterday’s headlines. The setting for “To Catch a Fish” is Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, the time is Spring, 2013. Terry Kilbourn is a sweet, young black man who suffers with a traumatic brain injury. He’s mentally slow and finds it hard to keep a job but, when he is hired to distribute leaflets for a new shop in town, he gives it his all.

Terry (Geno Walker) and Rochelle (Tiffany Addison)

Terry (Geno Walker) and Rochelle
(Tiffany Addison)

The job lifts his self-confidence and his relationship with Rochelle, his girlfriend, gets better. The shop owners, though, are undercover ATF agents (the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency) and the shop is a sting operation, aimed at entrapping people caught selling guns. The ATF agents then enlist Terry to move from handing out leaflets to finding people with guns to sell. Terry, who trusts the agents as his “friends,” complies against the pleas of Rochelle and his brother, Dontre. Ultimately, the plot unravels with dire consequences for Terry.

Playwright Brett Neveu has turned the story, the basis of a months-long investigation by two Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters, into a rich melodrama filled with appealing characters, down on their luck, who are prey for illegal, get-rich-quick schemes. Neveu shows small fish caught up in an entrapment scenario and are the ones who suffer the consequences–a harsh indictment of our justice system. (However, as a result of the ATF’s misuse of a mentally-challenged figure in this case, the government changed its rules and suspended such entrapment tactics).

The play is both the first full production from Timeline’s Playwrights Collective and a world premiere. The acting is gripping all-around and elevates whatever weak spots exist in the writing. I found the revealing moment ATF agent, Regina ‘G’ Whitehall, learns Terry has an incapacitating brain injury came and went too quickly. Neveu might have been developed the revelation more fully. Instead, the play ends soon after and questions are left hanging. Oxverall, I enjoyed watching the story unfold and admired Neveu for injecting an impersonal news story with three-dimensional life.

Grandma Cameron and Dontre

Grandma Cameron and Dontre

The dramatist, with director Ron OJ Parson’s help, sets numerous affecting, explosive scenes between Rochelle and Terry, Grandma Cameron and Dontre and Regina and her two male counterparts. He also writes dialogue that rings true for its mostly black cast. Playgoers will get caught up in the drama and root for Terry and Rochelle to make it against the odds. Special plaudits go to Geno Walker, who conveys Terry’s innocence and sweetness convincingly and Stephen Walker who plays the gruff, terrifying shopkeeper/ATF agent to a tee.

See the trailer for the play here.

“To Catch a Fish” plays Wednesday thru Sunday evenings with a matinee on Sundays thru July 1 at Timeline Theatre, 615 West Wellington Ave. For tickets and information, visit or call the box office at 773/281-8463, x6.

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