Monday, May 20, 2019

"Blood Knot" at Pillsbury House Theatre

Despite being written almost 60 years ago in a country on the other side of the planet, Blood Knot, currently playing at Pillsbury House Theatre, feels very relevant to the here and now. Through the story of two brothers, one dark-skinned and one light enough to pass for white, South African playwright Athol Fugard explores the complex issues of racism and white privilege, before that term was in our collective consciousness. It's remarkable that this play was performed (for one performance only) in Johannesburg in 1961, with it's strong anti-apartheid message. But even in Minnesota in 2019, we still have lessons to learn from it. This is a powerful, intense, and sobering play, beautifully acted by two beloved #TCTheater veterans.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Caught" by Full Circle Theatre at the Guthrie Theater

When I took the elevator up to the Guthrie Theater's 9th floor Dowling Studio, accompanied by high school students dressed for prom*, I didn't know what I was in for. I knew I was attending my third Full Circle Theatre show, and I knew enough about them to expect it to be something thoughtful, well done, and relevant to the world we live in. And I knew this play had something to do with Chinese political art. All of those things are true, but Caught is so much more. It's a Russian doll of a play with layers upon layers of truth, reality, and artifice. By the time it was over I didn't know what was real, where the play ended and reality began. And that's the point of Caught, to make us question truth, reality, art, politics, even theater. It's a brilliantly written play (by California based playwright Christopher Chen), perfectly executed by director Rick Shiomi and the team. I'm not going to be able to tell you too much about it because I don't want to spoil the surprising and delightful trip, but just trust me - you need to see this play. And with all tickets just $9 as part of the Guthrie's Level Nine initiative, you have no excuse not to.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

"The Sins of Sor Juana" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

Ten Thousand Things' first post-MH season is in its conclusion, and we can now safety declare that TTT's retired founder and Artistic Director Michelle Hensley has taught us well, and her legacy of accessible, entertaining, engaging, meaningful theater for everyone lives on. From the hilarious Scapin, to the most moving Into the Woods, to the currently playing The Sins of Sor Juana, this season has been classic Ten Thousand Things. That is to say theater in its purest form without distraction, stripping away all the fluff to get to the purest heart of the story, and delivering it directly to the audience in a playful and immediate way. The Sins of Sor Juana is a fictionalized telling of the life of an inspirational woman ahead of her time, 17th Century Mexican poet and scholar Juana Inéz de la Cruz. It's a story that feels so relevant, as girls and women around the world are still denied opportunities for education. Sor Juana is a heroine for today.

Friday, May 17, 2019

"Mary Poppins" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Do you know who your local community theater is? There are so many great community theaters in the #TCTheater area that it's impossible to keep track of them all. But I encourage everyone to find one in your area and support them. There are so many people working so hard for little reward other than seeing your smiling face in the audience. My local community theater is Lakeshore Players Theatre* in White Bear Lake, which opened a gorgeous new building about a year ago. The final production in their first full season in their new space is Mary Poppins, a show that celebrates imagination, determination, play, and family. I'll admit that the biggest draw to see this show was seeing one of my #TCTheater favorites Quinn Shadko as Mary Poppins, but the whole show is just darling. If you're in the Northeast metro be sure to visit them in the Hanifl Performing Arts Center, or check out what theater is happening in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Peter and the Starcatcher" at Daleko Arts

DalekoArts, a professional theater in New Prague, Minnesota on the very southern edge of the metro area, is closing out their seventh season with the multiple Tony-winning Broadway play-with-music Peter and the Starcatcher. It's a charming, quirky, innovative little play, and therefore a great choice for Daleko. This is my fourth year attending their spring musical(ish) and I continue to be impressed with the care and energy they put into the work that they do. Season 8 looks just as promising, with a walking ghost tour around historic downtown New Prague, a Scrimshaw Christmas comedy, a play about 19th Century mathematician Ada Lovelace, and the hilarious musical Spelling Bee. If you're in the mood for a theater road trip (about an hour from the cities), head south to Daleko.

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Hurricane"

It's the second week of the month, and that means it's time for another "Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater. I'd go to every one if my schedule would allow, so fun and fascinating it is to experience a new work of music-theater in development. Fortunately this week is a fairly light one for me (only four shows on the schedule), so I was able to make it Nautilus' Lowertown St. Paul studio space to see a reading the new musical Hurricane, by L.A. based Cory Hinkle (libretto) and Carla Patullo (music). The performance will be repeated tonight (likely with a few tweaks, as workshops go) across the river at the Playwrights' Center. For a suggested donation of just $5, you too can experience this lovely new musical performed by some of #TCTheater's best. See Nautilus' Facebook page for details and to be informed about upcoming "Rough Cuts" (the next one is a selection from their annual composer-librettist studio on June 3-4).

Monday, May 13, 2019

"The Pathetic Life and Remarkable Afterlife of Elmer McCurdy, the Worst Robber in the West" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

With their original work, nimbus theatre often brings us some fascinating but little known historical event or issue, typically in a thoughtful way that's somehow relevant to today. Their newest work, The Pathetic Life and Remarkable Afterlife of Elmer McCurdy, the Worst Robber in the West, does that too, but it's the first straight-up comedy I've seen them do, and it's great fun. Real life unsuccessful outlaw Elmer McCurdy would likely have been lost to history, if not for the strange tale of his corpse, which was preserved and made the rounds of carnivals, exhibits, side shows, and even movies, eventually stashed away in storage where it was discovered in 1976 and finally buried. He was the subject of an episode of Drunk History, and this play sort of feels like an extended episode of Drunk History. Silly and funny yet sorta kinda true.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Autonomy" by Mixed Blood Theatre at the St. Paul RiverCentre

Mixed Blood Theatre's latest project is wildly ambitious, and they accomplish it quite brilliantly. Reminiscent of Safe at Home, a walking play staged in nine locations at CHS Field with precise timing, Autonomy is a driving play staged at nine locations within the exhibit hall at St. Paul RiverCentre. It's a play about climate change, immigration, and autonomous vehicles (aka self-driving cars). A great guideline for making theater is "content dictates form," so when the content is about cars, why not surround the audience with classic cars and have them drive around in golf carts? A little on-the-nose, but it's quite effective. It's really too bad they're only running it for one weekend. There are four more groups of performances but only extremely limited tickets remain. Autonomy is a forward-thinking experiment in theater like you've never seen before.

Friday, May 10, 2019

"The Play That Goes Wrong" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

When something goes wrong at the theater, it can sometimes lead to a wonderful moment in which you get a peek inside the process and see how the actors react to the unexpected. When everything goes wrong, it leads to outrageous hilarity. Such is the concept of The Play That Goes Wrong, a 2012 British play (written by three playwrights from London's Mischief Theatre) that opened on Broadway in 2017, where it played for two years before moving to Off-Broadway earlier this year. Similar to Noises Off, it's a play-within-a-play that's so bad it's good. There's no subtlety in The Play, it's all super broad comedy, including pratfalls, spit takes, and falling scenery. They continue to pile it on until the whole thing collapses in glorious chaos. Broadway plays don't often go on tour, and the fact that this one is on tour points to the fact that it's a crowd-pleaser. The ridiculousness continues through Sunday only (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival: "Five-Fifths of Mary Poppins" at Park Square Theatre

We're only three months away from the most hectic, exiting, exhausting, wonderful week in #TCTheater: the Minnesota Fringe Festival! This year's festival will take place August 1-11 (with the related Family Fringe happening July 26-28 and August 2-4), but events have been happening all year. May brings one of my favorite Fringe events, the "Five-Fifths" benefit, in which a popular movie is divided into five parts and handed to five Fringe companies for them to interpret as they wish. It's a very clever concept, and one that really showcases what's unique about each company. This year's choice was Mary Poppins, and the results were, as my friend Jules from Minnesota Theater Love succinctly put it, "weird and fun." Just like Fringe!

"Tinker to Evers to Chance" at Artistry

You don't have to be a Cubs fan to know the exquisite joy and pain of loving a baseball team. I've been a Twins fan my whole life, so I understand the highs ('87 and '91 world champs!) and lows (too many to name) that come with being a die-hard fan. In Playwrights' Center core writer Mat Smart's play Tinker to Evers to Chance, now receiving its regional premiere with Artistry, he very cleverly draws parallels between that specific and complicated baseball sort of love with other sorts of love - that experienced in families and relationships. When you've been disappointed by love (whether that's your beloved Cubbies losing a chance at the World Series by the skin of their teeth, or watching your wife die a slow and painful death), how do you let yourself love again? Is it worth it? You don't have to be a baseball fan to relate to the very human emotions explored in Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Dirty Business: The Spy Musical" at History Theatre

As the final installment of their HERstory spring - true stories by women about women - the History Theatre brings us a new original musical (my favorite thing). Dirty Business: The Spy Musical, with book and lyrics by Laurie Flanigan-Hegge (Sweet Land) and music by Robert Elhai (C., The Lady with a Lap Dog), tells the stories of mostly forgotten female heroes of WWII. The piece was first presented at History Theatre's "Raw Stages" festival of new works last year, when it showed great promise, and it's exciting to see it now as a full production. Dirty Business is a whirlwind journey through pre-WWII Europe, with many players and missions, that's fun, educational, and inspirational.