Sunday, February 19, 2017

"As You Like It" by Classical Actors Ensemble at the Crane Theater

Classical Actors Ensemble is "dedicated to engaging audiences by capturing the spirit in which the plays of the English Renaissance were originally performed - with immediacy, passion, and as popular entertainment." This is something they do beautifully with their summer Shakespeare in the park; I was charmed by their fun and playful Two Gents and Midsummer in recent years, and look forward to The Comedy of Errors this summer. This is my first time seeing CAE indoors, and I'm happy to report that they retain their playful spirit in a more traditional theater setting (although with the crazy warm February weather we're having, they might as well do it outdoors!).

"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Four Humors at the Southern Theater

"Why would Four Humors do The Importance of Being Earnest? We acknowledge what is happening in the world right now, and we do not believe in running from our problems. However, we do believe taking a break from our problems is a very healthy thing. There is a theory that when we laugh, our mind is cleared and we are able to see our problems with fresh eyes. We hope this production will achieve this renewal and allow all of us to leave the Southern Theater with our heads held high, ready to tackle our challenges with renewed vigor and purpose. The act of art alone is worth fighting for. We hope you come play with us today, so we can continue our work tomorrow." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement by Four Humors, and their perfectly delightful production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest definitely meets this goal. In this classic play, subtitled "a trivial comedy for serious people," Wilde brilliantly satirizes the high society of Victorian England in this absurd comedy of mistaken identities, and the consistently funny theater troupe that is Four Humors is the perfect company to bring us a good laugh in these... unusual times.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Fiddler on the Roof" by Ten Thousand Things at Augsburg College

It never fails. Whenever I go to see a Ten Thousand Things show, the storytelling is so clear it's as if I'm truly seeing it for the first time, even if it's a piece I've seen one or many times before. In their signature bare bones theater style, they've cut out all the fluff from the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof (and let's face it, there's a lot of fluff in this show that often feels too long) to get right to the heart of the story. Even though I've seen the show twice in recent years (at the Chanhassen and Artistry), I've never been so caught up in and felt so deeply the story of one man's struggle with holding to his traditions, while still loving his family as they begin to change and grow out of those traditions. The brilliant Steve Epp makes Tevye so real and human, and along with the other eight members of this terrific ensemble playing multiple characters, makes the world of Anatevka palpably real and somehow modern, despite still being anchored in time and space. Because 50 years after it was written, this story about a family of refugees fleeing persecution and violence in their beloved homeland to find safety in America is as timely as ever. Fiddler on the Roof continues through March 19 at various locations and it is a must see.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Grace" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre's production of Craig Wright's very dark comedy Grace starts with a bang (literally) and doesn't let up. Yes there are comic moments, but it's very intense and heavy. After less than 24 hours of letting it settle I'm not sure how I feel about the play (violence is difficult for me to watch, especially in such a small space), but I am sure this is an excellent production. You couldn't ask for a better cast than these four - two familiar Yellow Tree faces and two faces new to this stage. Director Terry Hempleman (who also directed Yellow Tree's last Craig Wright play, The Pavilion), clearly lays out the issues of faith, forgiveness, and connection that the play explores, and walks that fine line of subtle comedy in the midst of great tragedy. This is a tough play to watch (which is maybe why there were more empty seats on a Wednesday night in Osseo than there usually are), but if you can make it through the ugly violence of the play, there are moments of beauty to be found, and plenty of ideas to be left contemplating as the lights come up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" on tour at the Ordway

Friends, there's a very special and unique person sharing her story at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts this week. I attended opening night of the Broadway tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Valentine's Day, a day that's supposed to be about love but is often more about commercialism and feeling bad if you're not coupled off, or pressured to buy the right gift if you are. What better day to contemplate the very nature of love, both of others and more importantly, of oneself, with an East German transgender rock star? Hedwig shows us that it's OK to be authentically who you are, even if who you are doesn't fit into the neat labels and boxes society pressures us to fit into. As Ordway's Producing Artistic Director James Rocco notes in the playbil, "She's more than a woman or a man, but she really is her own gender - a gender that, by accident, defines individualism and the beauty of authentically being who you are." This idea of beautiful and worthy humanity no matter what body parts we have or whom we choose to love, is perhaps more important now than ever (as is pretty much everything, I'm finding). Hedwig is only in St. Paul for a week, do not miss this transformative theater experience!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Nina Simone: Four Women" at Park Square Theatre

Fans of meaningful, relevant, timely theater - rejoice! Last year's smash hit new play with music, Nina Simone: Four Women, is back at Park Square Theatre! The Twin Cities Theater Bloggers chose this show as favorite in two categories: musical performance by an ensemble, and music direction (Sandford Moore). If you didn't see it last year, please don't miss this chance again. And if you did see it last year, you might experience it differently this year as a lot has happened in the past year that makes this show even more important to be seen. I've copied my original review below, but what really struck me this time is the idea of arts as advocacy. Nina Simone made a conscious choice to pivot her career from performing black classical music to mostly rich white audiences, to writing her own songs that spoke to the current black experience, putting her at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. There's been much debate recently about the role of art and artists in politics and our national conversation, and Nina makes it clear that art was, is, and always will be political. The role of arts in society is to hold up a mirror, tell untold stories, engender empathy with our fellow human beings, and start conversations. Nina did that, and continues to do that through Christina Ham's brilliant new play.

"Bad Dates" at Artistry

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! What better way to celebrate this greeting card holiday than with some bad dates? Specifically, Artistry's production of the one-woman play Bad Dates. Actually it's less about relationships and dating than it is about a smart, strong, independent woman who decides she wants to have a little fun in her life, now that her career and family are on track. I was prepared to get my feminist hackles up about this dating play, but it turns out it wasn't necessary. It's not about finding a man to be complete; Haley's life is already full and complete, she just wants to have a nice dinner and talk to an interesting person every now and then. The play is funny and relatable, and perhaps even a bit poignant at times. In addition to that, it's written by a woman, directed by a woman, and stars a woman, so I'm more than happy to support and recommend it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches The Musical" at Children's Theatre Company

Following a long history of work with one of America's most beloved children's authors, Dr. Seuss (they were the first theater in the world to adapt his work for the stage - 1979's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins), Children's Theatre Company is currently premiering another world premiere new work based on his timeless and imaginative writing, a musical adaptation of The Sneetches (published as part of The Sneetches and Other Stories in 1953). Although not without his own prejudices, Dr. Seuss wrote a beautiful story about the evils and nonsensicalness of racial discrimination, inspired by antisemitism in the post-WWII era but sadly relevant to many such prejudices throughout history, including the pervasive prejudices of the present time.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The Tragedy of Carmen" by Skylark Opera Theatre at the Midpointe Event Center

Welcome back, Skylark Opera! After cancelling their annual summer festival last year, something I had thoroughly enjoyed the previous five summers, they're back in 2017. Newly rebranded as Skylark Opera Theatre, but still committed to making opera accessible to neophytes like me (they always perform in English, for one thing), they've got a couple of shows on the schedule early this year (although no word on the summer festival). First up is The Tragedy of Carmen, a 90-minute English adaptation of one of the most well known and frequently performed operas, Georges Bizet's Carmen. With just six actors and a three-piece orchestra, performed in a small space, it's an intimate and thrilling up-close-and-personal take on a classic opera, even for those of us who maybe aren't that into opera.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"The Royal Family" at the Guthrie Theater

If you know me, you know that I'm a morning person who loves a 90-minute no intermission show - short, succinct, and to the point. The Royal Family, now playing at the Guthrie, is not that show. With its three acts and two intermissions, the show is pushing three hours. The good news is it doesn't feel nearly that long. In fact it's quite a delight to spend three hours with the wacky and extremely theatrical Cavendish family (as long as they're not your own). This 1927 Broadway play is a spoof of the real life Barrymore family of actors, a hilarious family comedy in addition to being an exploration of the sacrifices made by those in the theater. Directed by Rachel Chavkin (who also directed the new musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, currently on Broadway), the strong 15-person cast, made up of mostly local favorites with some national talent thrown in for extra spice, is a joy to watch. Continuing through March 19, The Royal Family provides plenty of laughter and a much needed escape.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Reading of "Eden Prairie 1971" at the Playwrights' Center

"Now in its 12th year, the Ruth Easton New Play Series gives selected Core Writers 20 hours with collaborators to workshop their script—to write, rewrite, experiment, and shape their work. For playwrights, this means great leaps forward for their plays. For audiences, this means a thrilling and intimate night of theater."

This was my third "thrilling and intimate night of theater" as part of the 2016-2017 series last night (see also December's Wink by Jen Silverman and January's queens by Martyna Majok), and it just keeps getting better and better! After first "discovering" PWC just last May when they kindly invited the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers to attend a reading and meet with playwright Lee Blessing, I have to admit I've become a little bit addicted. There's nothing quite like the rush of experiencing a new play for the first time. This month's new play receiving a workshop and two-night-only reading was Playwrights' Center Core Writer Mat Smart's very promising Eden Prairie 1971.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Musical Mondays" at Hell's Kitchen, February 2017

Kira: It is a peculiar thing about these mortals. They all know they will die, yet they are determined to create something. The "human spirit" is termed. It makes me feel... feel... oh Erato what is the word for which I search? You know, where something is so grand and so earnest yet ultimately so preposterous that one has to laugh. What does one call that?

Erato: Andrew Lloyd Webber?

Kira: There we are! The human spirit gives me great feelings of Andrew Lloyd Webber.