Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Gertrude Stein and a Companion" at the Jungle Theater

American author Gertrude Stein may be more famous for the "salons" that she hosted in her Paris home with other American ex-patriot and European artists, including Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Similarly, the play Gertrude Stein and a Companion focuses more on this Parisian life than her work, specifically, her relationship with her companion of 40 years, Alice. The Jungle is very familiar with this play; it's their 8th production in the 25-year history of the theater. Before his retirement as Artistic Director this summer, Bain Boehlke has brought back Claudia Wilkins and Barbara Kingsley from the Jungle's first production in 1992 to perform this play once again.

The play begins on the day of Gertrude's death in 1946. Her spirit appears to Alice as they reminisce about their past, and follows her throughout the rest of her life until they can finally be together again. There's a dreamlike quality as we follow these two fascinating women across time and space. Their story is not told linearly, but over the course of the play we get a real sense of their relationship as they reenact their first meeting, the moment they decided that they would be together for life, their work together publishing Gertrude's books, and Alice's life as she continued to live in their home until she was almost 90 years old. It's a quiet play with not much in the way of action, but more of a character study of these two women and their relationship.

Gertrude and Alice on a picnic in Italy
(Claudia Wilkins and Barbara Kingsley, photo by Michal Daniel)
The over 20 years of history that Claudia Wilkins (Gertrude) and Barbara Kingsley (Alice) have with the piece and their characters is evident. There's no acting visible, they just are these two women, fully and completely. Their wit, intelligence, vivacity, and devotion to each other jumps off the stage. Director Bain Boehlke has also designed a set that perfectly matches and enhances the tone of the piece, as per usual. Columns and arches create the appearance of five nested frames retreating into darkness at the back of the stage. Gertrude has her chair with some frames and books stacked around it, and Alice has her desk with papers and things. But they appear to be floating, not anchored in space, in the same way that the story is not anchored in time.

Gertrude Stein and a Companion is a beautiful play that somehow condenses 60 years of a relationship into just over 90 minutes (including an unnecessary intermission). With 8 productions spanning over 20 years, the Jungle has honed and polished this play to a lovely little gem (playing now through March 8).

Monday, January 26, 2015

"La Cage aux Folles" at Bloomington Civic Theatre

The best of times is now.
What's left of summer but a faded rose?
The best of times is now.
As for tomorrow, well, who knows?
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love as hard as you know how,
And make this moment last,
Because the best of times is now.*

La Cage aux Folles is such a heart-warming show. Despite all the glitz and glamour of the drag nightclub in which it is set, at its core it's a simple story about love, family, and having the courage to be who you are. Bloomington Civic Theatre plays up both sides of this show, with big production numbers featuring men (and a few women) in drag with glitzy costumes and sets, but a really sweet heart beating underneath it. As my companion stated, it's "sheer joy."

If you've seen the 1996 movie The Birdcage starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams you're familiar with the story, which began as a 1973 French play called La Cage aux Folles, and then became a 1983 Broadway musical written by Harvey Fierstein (book) and Jerry Herman (music and lyrics). La Cage tells the story of gay couple Georges and Albin. Georges runs the nightclub where Albin is the star, performing as his alter ego ZaZa. Georges' son Jean-Michel, whom Albin has helped raise, comes home to announce that he's engaged to Anne, the daughter of a conservative politician who wants to shut down all drag entertainment. The in-laws are coming to town, and Jean-Michel asks Albin to leave for the evening, instead inviting his birth mother to pretend that they're a "normal" family. Albin is understandably hurt that the man he considers his son is ashamed to introduce him to his fiance. He can't stay away, and poses first as "Uncle Al," and then, in drag, as Jean-Michel's mother. Of course the deception doesn't last, but they're able to convince Anne's father to give his consent with some good old-fashioned blackmail. Jean-Michel realizes what a mistake he made and tells Albin he thinks of him as his mother. And they live happily ever after, for "the best of times is now."

Georges and Albin
(Jim Pounds and Rich Hamson)
At the heart of this piece is the relationship between Albin and Georges, and BCT has found two perfect actors to portray them. Acclaimed costume designer Rich Hamson has come out of the costume shop and onto the stage in a glorious and heartfelt performance. Perhaps it's appropriate for a costume designer to play a role involving so many varied and fabulous costumes, but his performance is about so much more than just the costumes. It's a beautifully real and tender-hearted portrayal of a parent, lover, and performer who just wants to be who he is ("I Am What I Am") and love his family. As Georges, Jim Pounds has never looked or sounded more suave, and the two men have wonderful chemistry and portray such a beautiful and real relationship of an old married couple who still love each other despite, or because of, their eccentricities. Everyone in the supporting cast is great, especially Michael Terrell Brown who is delightfully over-the-top as Albin's butler, er... maid.

Joe Chvala directs this fabulous ensemble cast and choreographed the Cagelles' fantastic dance numbers. And the Cagelles are all stunning. In the exaggerated make-up common to drag performance (which they each apply themselves), it's difficult to tell the experienced drag performers from the men who are donning heels and a wig for the first time or the women who are thrown in just to keep the audience guessing. Benjamin Olsen's sets are big, bold, and colorful. Ed Gleeman has designed the over-the-top nightclub costumes, as well as some fabulous '70s street wear that includes bell-bottoms, super wide lapels, hippie dresses, and one stunning orange/green/gold jumpsuit that I covet.

With the recent passage of marriage equality in Minnesota, and increasingly, across the country, it's timely to see a show that's about two men who have created a long-lasting, loving, stable family. A family that may be a bit more flamboyant that most, but one that's a model of love, support, commitment, and acceptance. La Cage aux Folles is a lot of fun, it's really sweet, and it has a great message - a message of acceptance of all kinds of family, and of being proud to be who you are. Playing now through February 15, BCT shows have a tendency to sell out, so get your tickets now (a few discount tickets remain on Goldstar).


*This sentiment can also be stated as "No day but today," from Jonathan Larson's beautiful creation RENT, which was on my mind because I happened to see this show on the 19th anniversary of his death.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Calvin Berger" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the New Century Theatre

"Rare musicals. Well done." Minneapolis Musical Theatre lives up to their motto, having given us great productions of such lesser known musicals as Steven King's Carrie and the controversial Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Their second show this season is the 2006 musical Calvin Berger, loosely based on the classic French play Cyrano de Bergerac, set in a modern day high school. Instead of a sword-fighting poet with a big nose, this Cyrano is an insecure high school student named Calvin who thinks he has a big nose. Whether real or perceived, it keeps him from living the life he wants. It's a clever adaptation of a classic story, relating the still relevant themes of being true to yourself and wanting to be loved for who you are in a modern and accessible way. And while the non-Cyrano parts of the story are a bit cliche and the characters familiar stereotypes, it's charmingly delivered by a strong cast of four and makes for a fun and entertaining evening at the theater.

Calvin Berger is your typical high school nerd, smart and funny in his way but lacking in self-confidence, in this case because he thinks nose is too big. Isn't that always the way, we see our flaws first and think that everyone else sees them too, when really they're too busy with their own lives to notice. In fact we learn in the opening number that all of these characters, even the ones who appear to have everything, are insecure about something. Calvin's best friend is a girl named Bret, who secretly pines for him (a plot point that's familiar to children of the '80s). But Calvin only has eyes for the pretty popular Rosanna, who worries that she may never be anything more. When Rosanna asks Calvin to help her get to know the cute new guy Matt, he reluctantly agrees. Matt's insecurity is his inability to talk to girls, so like Cyrano does for Christian, Calvin gives Matt the words he lacks to help him woo Rosanna. The story diverges from the original (spoiler alert: nobody dies), and the truth is eventually revealed. Everyone learns that it's better to be who you are than pretend to be someone else, and is happier for it.

Matt and Calvin - "We're the Man!"
(Logan Greene and Gregory Adam, photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
The small cast allows for a greater focus on these four characters without the distraction of an ensemble. Director Joshua James Campbell brings out the best in the talented young cast; all four are extremely likeable and bring depth and color to roles that are familiar high school stereotypes. Gregory Adam is adorkable as the awkward Calvin, and has the most poignant moments of the show as he shows us Calvin's deep longing to be accepted. Logan Greene is perfect as the sweet but dumb Matt, and the two have a believable bromance that makes you think they kind of like and need each other, despite their odd arrangement. As Rosanna, Emily Madigan shows that she's more than just a great dancer, bringing a sweetness of voice and character to the role. Last but not least, Kecia Rehkamp is the quintessential funny best friend who wants to be more than just a sidekick. And happily, the two girls become friends in the end and overcome that tired cliche of fighting over a boy. All four actors have great voices singing these funny and clever, if not particularly memorable, songs, with some lovely harmonies in duet, trio, and quartet, accompanied by a four-piece band just barely visible behind the back wall of the set.

Calvin, Bret, and Rosanna in the home of the Cavaliers
(Gregory Adam, Kecia Rehkamp, and Emily Madigan,
photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
I was happy to see that they built out the usually wide and shallow stage, which can feel crowded and two-dimensional, to form a mini-thrust. It gives the characters more space to move around and even interact with the audience a bit as they hand out fliers for the big bachelor auction fundraiser. The set looks like a typical high school, with lockers and the high school colors painted on the floor (set by Darren Hensel). There's nothing noteworthy about the costumes, which is a good thing because these kids look like typical teenagers, each with a style specific to the character (costumes by Lori Maxwell, who doubles as the Music Director).

Calvin Berger is a really cute show, and I don't mean that in a condescending way; cute can be good and pleasant and everything you want sometimes. It's a sweet, charming, funny show, with a great young cast that is fun to watch. Playing at the New Century Theatre through February 15 (discount tickets available on Goldstar).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"The Color Purple" at Park Square Theatre

"I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love."

Alice Walker's 1982 novel The Color Purple is a story so beautiful, moving, inspirational, and epic that it needs to be seen and heard in as many formats as possible. If someone wants to turn it into a Saturday morning cartoon series I'm all for it, as long as it stays true to the spirit of the original. And the 2005 Broadway musical does that and more. I saw the Broadway tour in 2009 and wept like I never have at the theater, so overwhelming is the emotional impact of this story of a woman who is beaten down by life for so many years, yet somehow comes through it all and discovers her own strength, beauty, identity, and sense of self-worth, the emotional impact increased by the addition of music. Park Square Theatre is presenting the first local production of The Color Purple as part of an ambitious and exciting season that includes the addition of a second stage, partnership with theater companies and artists around town, and a greater commitment to diversity and the community. It's a wonderful statement, but more importantly, The Color Purple is a truly beautiful and moving production that brings to vivid life this epic and beloved American story.

The Color Purple is Celie's story, a young, poor, black woman living in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. At 14, she's had two babies by her father, who has "gotten rid of them" and then sells her to a widower who needs a wife to take care of his home and children. The only love Celie knows is that of her sister Nettie, from whom she is separated and not allowed contact. Celie is repeatedly told by everyone that she's ugly and worthless, so of course she believes it. But as the 40 year story plays out, she meets a few women who inspire her and teach her that life can be more than pain and drudgery. Celie's hard-working daughter-in-law Sofia is a strong woman who demands respect, the glamorous singer Shug Avery teaches Celie about love, and Nettie comes back into her life from far away. It's truly remarkable to watch this woman who has gone through so much choose to reclaim her life from those who have belittled and diminished her, and create a happy life with people and work that she loves, and a renewed faith in herself and the goodness of the world. In Celie's crowning moment, just after the woman she loves leaves her, she sings, "Most of all I'm thankful for loving who I really am. I'm beautiful. Yes, I'm beautiful, and I'm here!"

Shug and Celie (Regina Marie Williams and
Aimee K. Bryant, photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)
This brilliant cast of local talent is led by Aimee K. Bryant as Celie, who brings such humanity, vulnerability, and strength to the role. Jamaica Meyer is a newcomer to the Twin Cities theater scene, but she more than holds her own on this stage full of veterans. Her Nettie is ray of light and hope. T. Mychael Rambo is menacing as the cruel Mister, and his portrayal of Mister's breakdown and rebirth make me forgive him against my will. Thomasina Petrus is perfect for the role of Sofia, so strong and funny and just a delight to watch. Darius Dotch is her equal as Harpo, and the two portray perhaps the most loving and healthy relationship in the story. Their duet "Any Little Thing" is especially charming. Last but not least, Regina Marie Williams fully embodies the larger than life character Shug, and the Shug/Celie duet "What About Love?" is a highlight. The entire ensemble (which includes local favorites like powerhouse Jamecia Bennett and the super smooth Dennis Spears) is fantastic in multiple roles, but special mention must be made of the Greek chorus of gossipy church ladies - Ginger Commodore, Shirley Marie Graham, and Samia Butler - an absolute hoot as they patter in gorgeous and intricate harmonies.

The score is a mix of gospel, jazz, traditional African, uptempo playful numbers, and moving ballads, and sounds beautiful under the musical direction of Gary D. Hines (with new orchestrations by Denise Prosek to fit the score to a smaller six-piece orchestra). The sparse stage allows room for the story and characters, with just a few simple set pieces moved on and off the stage to hint at the location. There's also plenty of space for director/choreographer Lewis E. Whitlock III's creative and diverse dance numbers, including a working man's dance dance, lively church dances, and lovely African movement.

The Color Purple is a big Broadway style musical in a more intimate setting with a fantastic local cast. This is such a story of hope, resilience, faith (not in an overly churchy way - this is Alice Walker, a self-described "born again pagan"), community, and love. It's a truly moving and emotional experience to go on Celie's journey of self-discovery with her, led by this awesome cast and creative team. Head to downtown St. Paul between now and February 15 to be inspired, moved, and uplifted by Celie and friends.

 the cast of The Color Purple (photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Friday, January 23, 2015

"U/G/L/Y" at Intermedia Arts

Accomplished local actor Shá Cage is presenting a three-part series of original works around the idea of identity. Last night I was fortunate to witness the world premiere of the second piece in the series, entitled U/G/L/Y, at Intermedia Arts as part of their Catalyst program. It's a truly unique and original creation, combining the arts of movement, storytelling, music, video, poetry, and visual art to explore the idea of beauty, particularly in women, particularly in women of color, but relatable on some level to all of us who live in this world. Shá's performance is, as always, powerful and moving, and she leaves the audience with plenty to think about.

Shá tells the stories of many women, easily slipping into their skin and bringing each of them specifically to life on stage. The stories are varied, some playful, some devastating, all told with the rawness of truth. At first it's a bit unclear on the surface how all of the stories relate to each other, but in the end they all sort of fall together to inform this idea of ugly vs. beautiful, ideas that are really just social constructs most of with struggle to break free of on a daily basis. The piece also incorporates video of women speaking about what they see and think when they look in the mirror, thoughts which are their own yet feel universal. When we look in the mirror, our eyes are typically drawn to our flaws, things that other people might not even notice. But as the women in the video look deeper, they are able to see the beauty in themselves beyond the supposed flaws.

I was completely fascinated watching Shá create little pieces of art on the floor with what I thought was sand, but later learned is actually grits (I'm from Minnesota, I don't think I've ever seen uncooked grits before). I have no idea what it means, but it's beautiful to watch. She also uses movement and dance, the rhythm of speaking, recorded voice, and a live violinist (Chastity Brown) to further develop the theme. This is more than just theater, it's performance art. It doesn't all make sense from a literal viewpoint, but it's not supposed to, it's supposed to engender thoughts and feelings and emotions, which is exactly what it does (judging from my own reaction as well as the very responsive audience).

It's interesting that this show is playing the same weekend that Park Square is opening The Color Purple, a story about a woman who is told she's ugly from the time she's a young girl. Through her long life journey, she's eventually able to recognize and own her own beauty, identity, and place in the world, singing "Most of all, I'm thankful for loving who I really am. I'm beautiful. Yes I'm beautiful, and I'm here." Shá's piece speaks to this same idea in a really unique and profound way.

Only two performances of U/G/L/Y at Intermedia Arts remain, after which it will embark on a world tour.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"A Bright New Boise" by Loudmouth Collective at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Loudmouth Collective is closing their third season with another show that is firmly in their wheelhouse of smart, deep, intense, often funny, always thought-provoking, small cast, beautifully directed and acted plays. I've been with them since the beginning, when the surprisingly sweet and touching Gruesome Playground Injuries landed on my favorites list that year. Since then they've done a couple of stellar one-man shows, an absurd comedy, and a Fringe show about talking cats. A Bright New Boise fits in well with that group of plays and helps to further define Loudmouth's point of view, one that's definitely worth paying attention to. It's a beautifully complex play, at times funny, at times utterly devastating, and completely engrossing. I know it's only mid-January, but this is by far the best thing I've seen so far this year.

A Bright New Boise takes place in the break room of a Hobby Lobby in, yes, Boise. It doesn't take long to learn that new employee Will has a reason for being there - to reunite with his teenage son Alex, given up for adoption when he was a baby. Will has other secrets in his past that are slowly revealed throughout the course of the play, and is facing a big crisis of faith after the rapture cult he belonged to ended in tragedy. He's a broken man, trying to figure out a new way of living and having trouble letting go of the past. Having grown up in foster care, Alex has troubles of his own and isn't so willing to let Will in. He slowly agrees to, but on his terms, and protective older brother Leroy is there to intercede if need be. Will meets a new friend in fellow employee Anna, who tries to get him to open up. All of this drama is happening under the supervision of Pauline, who just wants to make this the best Hobby Lobby it can be and is frustrated when her employees' issues get in the way of that.

This isn't a play with a happy ending or really any sort of closure. It just ends, and life goes on. It's the kind of play where you can easily imagine these characters' lives occurring before, after, and outside of the space of the play. They all have lives fully lived, the details of which are merely hinted at in some cases, but the feeling of which is heavily present. The world of the play is so completely engrossing that intermission came as a shock, jarring me back to reality after being completely in this world. The play is long enough that it probably needs an intermission, but I wish it didn't because the typical intermission chatter and phone-checking just distracted me from this world and these people I found so fascinating.

The tone that director Natalie Novacek has set for the piece is so perfect, and walks that line between comedy and intense drama so well. I especially love how the scenes are carried into the scene changes. As the lights darken, the characters remain in the moment for a few breaths, before slowly picking up and moving towards the next scene. Nothing is forced or rushed, but plays out in its own time, with beautiful moments of silence and awkwardness. Open Eye features an adorably tiny stage with an arch, and usually things take place under and in front of the arch. But in this case the break room set is set behind the arch, giving the impression of peering through a peep hole into this perfectly specific and well-defined diorama of a world.

Anna Hickey, Spencer Harrison Levin, and Adam Whisner
This excellent cast is headlined by a beautifully subtle performance by Adam Whisner as Will. He's a quiet man with not a whole lot going on externally, but so much going on internally, all of it brilliantly conveyed by Adam in the hesitating way he speaks, the eye movements, the awkward way he moves around people. Will's past isn't fully explained until the end of the play, but it's clear from the moment we meet him that this is a man who's deeply damaged and lost. There's so much that's big and loud in theater, it's refreshingly lovely to see a performance that's so quiet but equally as dramatic and full of meaning.

The other star of the show is Spencer Harrison Levin as Alex. He's only a senior in high school (although a performing arts high school), but it's already obvious that he's a true talent. His performance as this troubled teen is so believable and natural, funny and heart-breaking. As Pauline, Karen Weise-Thompson is, as always, hilarious, providing much needed comic relief, but she also makes this woman who's proud of her work and her store real and not just a caricature. Rounding out the cast are Zach Garcia as Leroy and Anna Hickey as Anna, who also give great performances in these supporting roles.

Loudmouth Collective does consistently great work - smart choices, excellent casts, and cheap tickets - just $15 with special savings on some nights. The only thing I don't like about Loudmouth Collective is that they only do two shows a year with typically short runs. There are only eight performances of A Bright New Boise over two weekends. If you've never seen Loudmouth before, I highly recommend you check them out to see some smart, funny, thought-provoking, devastating, beautiful theater. This is the kind of show that will stay with you for a while.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages"

I love history. I love my beloved home state of Minnesota. I love new works of theater. So of course there's nowhere else I'd rather be this week than in lovely downtown St. Paul for The History Theatre's "Raw Stages" new works festival! One of the unique and wonderful things about The History Theatre is that most of the work they do is new original commissioned plays and musicals. "Raw Stages" is an important part in their development process (two of the works in last year's festival have full productions this season - last fall's Radio Man and this spring's The Debutante's Ball). From the audience perspective, it gives you a sneak peek at what may be coming up in future seasons and gives you the opportunity to give feedback about what you'd like to see. I was lucky enough to attend all four readings, and all are wonderfully interesting and entertaining looks at important facets of Minnesota history. The History Theatre gathered a stellar group of actors and directors to breath life into these readings, making it easy to see the potential they all have to be great plays.

Stewardess by Kira Obolensky (cast: Tracey Maloney, Charlotte Calvert, Anna Sundberg, Mo Perry, and John Middleton)
I feel like I should have heard the name Mary Pat Laffey before, but I have not. Thanks to Kira Obolensky's new play, I now know that Mary Pat was a pioneer on the forefront of equal rights for women in the workplace. She was hired by Northwest Airlines as a stewardess in the late '50s, a time when it was perfectly acceptable to hire and fire women based on their weight, height, age, marital status, and hairstyle. It's so outrageous now it seems almost quaint, but it was an extremely unjust system that also did not pay or promote women as much as their male counterparts. Mary Pat joined the union and fought for changes, some of which were accomplished. But when working through the union no longer worked, she filed a lawsuit against the company that took 15 years to resolve and eventually ended in Northwest paying millions of dollars to Mary Pat and the other women who joined her in the lawsuit.

The play mostly takes place in various hotel rooms as the stewardesses talk about their life and work. In addition to Mary Pat, we follow a few of her friends, including naive farm girl Primmie, and wealthy Fran who aspires to be a pilot. The characters are well-defined and all have their arc as the story moves from 1958, through the '60s, and into the early '70s. It's similar to The Heidi Chronicles in that it follows a woman through the equal rights movement; it's one specific story that represents a larger, more universal story. The play is a bit talky, and I like talky plays, but it verges on pedantic at times. A full staging and a few scenes in other locations with other characters could add some of that dramatic punch. And is it wrong that I really want to see those uniforms, especially as they change over time?

Highwaymen by Josh Wilder (cast: Pearce Bunting, Stephen Yoakam, Allen Hamilton, and James A. Williams)
What's so interesting about the building of a highway?, you might ask. When that highway is the long anticipated and needed link between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and its construction destroys an important and close-knit African American community, it's more than interesting, its a brilliant example of the race and class issues that have long plagued this country. Just because we're well north of the Mason-Dixon line doesn't mean that Minnesota doesn't have ugliness in its history too. Josh Wilder has written a dramatic and compelling play that focuses on the (white) decision makers in the building of I-94 through the Rondo neighborhood in the late '50s.

Most of this play takes place in a city hall meeting room, with a few scenes in a Rondo barbershop. The four main characters are soon-to-be Deputy Commissioner of Highways Frank Marzitelli, St. Paul chief civil engineer George Shepard, retiring St. Paul city planner George Herrold, and Rondo resident, activist, and barber Timothy J. Howard (all historical figures, the latter combined a bit with Reverend Floyd Massey for dramatic purposes). The three city officials are attempting to finish the budget for the proposed highway when they're interrupted by a protest outside. Herrold invites one of the men in to plead his case. The three men have different reactions to his proposals, and reasons for wanting what they want. Herrold goes to Howard's barbershop to discuss things and is not welcomed with open arms. Each of the four men gets a monologue in which their character motivations are more fully explored. It's all much more compelling and dramatic than I'm making it sound. In addition to the race and class issues, the play makes some pretty profound statements about the price of progress (and who usually has to pay that price) and the way that technology advances at a rate faster than our ability to process and deal with it. Trust me, you'll be seeing more of this one.

Ernest & The Bull by Kevin Kautzman (cast: Bob Davis, Charity Jones, Charles Hubbell, Paul Rutledge, Aeysha Kinnunen)
I had no idea that the great American author Ernest Hemingway had any connection to Minnesota. But as we learn in this new play by Kevin Kautzman, he spent several months of the last year of his life at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, receiving ECT for depression and paranoia. Sadly, the treatments did not work and he committed suicide shortly after being released. This play weaves together dreams, fantasies, and hallucinations to create a picture of a talented but sick man.

This one was quite interesting and a bit confusing. I'm very curious how this would be staged; it would require much stage "magic" to accomplish the stage directions of people appearing and disappearing, or turning into bulls or beards, or scenes changing as if in a dream. The main characters are Ernest and his last wife Mary, at their home in Cuba and later Idaho. Ernest's colleague Hotch visits him to help with his book, but he also appears as a sort of narrator/hallucination, as does another aspiring writer from thirty years earlier. The tone is playful as the characters occasionally acknowledge they're in a play ("I hate the theater," mutters Hem). Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the post-show feedback session; I would have loved to have heard a bit more about the work and other people's thoughts. It's surreal and complex and fascinating.

Complicated Fun: The Minneapolis Music Scene by Alan Berks (cast: Brandon Brooks, Stephanie Bertumen, Nathan Cheesman, Dustin Bronson, Clarence Wethern, Erik Hoover, Anna Hickey, H. Adam Harris, Darrick Mosley; band: Nic Delcambre and Blake Foster)
Apparently there was some important and ground-breaking music happening in Minneapolis in the early '80s. Bands like The Replacements, The Suburbs, Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, and The Jayhawks all got their start during this period. While I've heard of most of these bands, I'm not familiar with their music (I'm not nearly cool enough to be aware of that scene). Not to worry, this new play with music tells the story in a fun and entertaining way, regardless of any prior knowledge of the music. It's a story of a music community, a bar, a record store, musicians, and music lovers all coming together to create a new sound.

Playwright Alan Berks has done a great job constructing the play around the music. This is not your typical jukebox musical in which a story is made up and forced to fit within a group of songs. Rather it's a play with music, that tells the real story around the creation of the music and the community, with the music occurring organically - in a bar, party, or record store. In a world populated with real-life figures, two fictional characters, known simply as boy and girl, lead us through the story. They meet as kids, just wanting to listen to music. Each of their lives are changed in different ways by each other and the music. It's a sweet relationship, and these characters give the audience a way into this world. We also witness the evolution of First Avenue, from a club that helped to discover new bands, to a tourist destination for Prince fans, and beyond. The story moves from the club, to parties, to the next door record store where music nerds passionately debate the intricacies of their favorite records. Even though I'm not a fan of this music, and probably won't become one, I found this piece to be well-written, compelling, and great fun, especially in the hands of this fantastic cast. I look forward to seeing a fully staged production with a full band and the music more fully integrated into the story.