Monday, June 24, 2024

"Only Ugly Guys" at Open Eye Theatre


After adapting/directing/producing a play last fall that was "unlike anything I've ever seen before" (an adaptation of the Norwegian novel Naive. Super, with a different actor performing the solo play each night), Kurt Engh returns with an original play that once again inventively uses sound, video, and technology to tell a story. In this case, it's the story of four young gay men in a modern rom com that's very funny and engaging, and well performed by this cast of new-to-me young actors. Only Ugly Guys is presented as part of Open Eye Theatre's Guest Artists Series, which has already brought us Madeleine Rowe's charmingly odd solo piece Honey, I'm Home. It's great to see this established theater host the next generation of theater makers on their sweet little stage, and the group of artists behind Only Ugly Guys makes the future of #TCTheater look bright. The short run concludes on June 30.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

"Romeo and Juliet: Love in a Time of Hate" by Teatre del Pueblo at Luminary Arts Center

The cancellation of one show (see you in August, Skylark Opera Theatre's Marry Me a Little) allowed me the opportunity to attend opening night of Teatro del Pueblo's new adaptation of the classic tragic love story Romeo and Juliet, which they call Love in a Time of Hate. They've reimagined the Capulets and the Montagues in a border town with Latin American characters, the Capulets a powerful and wealthy political family, the Montaguez revolutionaries fighting for the people. The general story is the same, with some differences in details and characters (Romeo's a street artist, the friar is now a lawyer), and more agency given to Juliet (although not enough to refuse her parents' choice of husband). The result is a powerful and engaging retelling of this familiar story, infused with Latin American culture. I'm glad my schedule opened up so I could see it. The short run continues through June 30 only at Luminary Arts Center in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis (use code TEATRO for 35% off).

Friday, June 21, 2024

Blackout Presents: Juneteenth at the Ordway

This week I attended my first celebration of Juneteenth National Independance Day, a holiday long celebrated but only recently made a federal holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. And I can think of no better way to celebrate than with Blackout Improv. Blackout has been performing at various venues around town since 2015, and was the first Black improv troupe in Minneapolis. There are more now, many of which perform at the annual Black and Funny Improv Festival which they started, bringing in BIPOC improv performers from all over the country (and Canada!) to perform at HUGE Theater. I've seen Blackout perform a number of times over the years, and they're always "funny, smart, relevant, and topical" (as I wrote one of the first times I saw them). This was the biggest venue in which I've ever seen them perform, the Ordway's gorgeous Concert Hall, and it was a thrill to see them in front of a large and supportive audience in what felt like a usual Blackout show, but also elevated and special.

Friday, June 14, 2024

"Once Upon a Time... Josephine Baker!" at Yellow Tree Theatre

In the new play with music Once Upon a Time... Josephine Baker! at Yellow Tree Theatre, written by and starring Artistic Director Austene Van, we get an overview of the fascinating life of Josephine Baker. It plays out like a dream, which leads to more curiosity about this inspiring and ground-breaking woman, who left the racism of America behind to become a star in Paris in the early 20th Century, while still continuing to fight for Civil Rights. This production gives us a glimpse into her difficult childhood, her many marriages, her work as a spy during WWII, her talent, and the human behind the legend. See it in Osseo Wednesdays through Sundays until June 30.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

"Eleemosynary" by Spacetime Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

There's a new theater company in town, and they're making a strong debut with Eleemosynary, a play by prolific local playwright Lee Blessing commissioned by Park Square Theatre in the '80s. It's such a great play, delving into the complex relationships between mother and daughter (and grandmother and granddaughter), that I wonder why I've never seen it before. But I'm glad that Spacetime Theatre (helmed by Christopher Kehoe, who's been working in #TCTheater for a couple of decades) has chosen it as their first production, and cast these three talented actors. Check it out at Gremlin Theatre weekends through June 23.

"Come from Away" Broadway Tour at the Ordway Center

I truly believe that Come From Away may be one of the best musicals ever written. It's the perfect marriage of music, text, and performance, brilliantly constructed into 100 solid minutes of constant storytelling, flowing from music to dialogue and back again, with only two applause breaks to break the spell. And the story it tells is remarkable: the heart-warming true story of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7000 strangers when their planes were diverted there on 9/11. Canadian married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein (and producer Michael Rubinoff) have woven the true stories from dozens of people who were there, gathered at the 10th anniversary in Gander. Now, past the 20th anniversary of the unfathomably horrific events of that day, and the extraordinary actions of ordinary humans in its wake, this musical continues to be necessary. It reminds us that despite what we see on the news every day, the human capacity for good knows no bounds, if only we could remember that we all have the same wants and needs, and helping each other is the only way through. The first time I saw this musical on Broadway in 2017 I had tears streaming down my face for the entire 100 minutes, not because of the tragedies of that day, but because of the inspirational and beautiful stories of, as Mr. Rogers says, the helpers. My fourth time seeing Come From Away* and I only needed one tissue, but I can never see this musical enough times. The world needs it, so I hope it continues to tour, and maybe one day be available for regional productions across the world, celebrating the best of humanity. This time it's in town for two weeks, so head to the Ordway soon!

Saturday, June 8, 2024

"devoured: notes on love and enmeshment" at The Southern Theater

devoured: notes on love and enmeshment is a meditation on codependency through three queer intimate relationships. Weaving text and movement, it explores complicated relationship dynamics between people who are struggling to love and be loved, but can't help but hurt each other in the process." This description of the new play by Playwrights' Center's Many Voices Fellow Liqing Xu is apt, but doesn't cover how beautiful, funny, and moving it is. Over the course of 70 minutes, we see three different relationships play out, with no happy ending in sight. But perhaps a bit of personal growth. There are only three more chances to see this fascinating, innovative, and thoughtful new work at the Southern Theater.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

"Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I'm not sure what I expected from the new work of music-theater Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything, based on Puccini's one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi, but it wasn't... that. #TCTheater legends Bradley Greenwald and Steven Epp have adapted the story about a wealthy man's family fighting over his will (with additional inspiration from Succession and Arrested Development) and written new English lyrics for the music. The result is the most ridiculous and delightful opera I've ever seen. If it can even be called an opera anymore; there's much more dialogue than operas typically contain. But whatever you call it, it's simply a joy to watch this outrageously talented cast sing this gorgeous music with modern, silly, and even sometimes crude words. It's a 100-minute wild romp of an opera. You have plenty of time to get to the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis and see it before it closes in early July. And if you like music, comedy, and creativity - you definitely should.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

"The Servant of Two Masters" at Lyric Arts

"On some evening 278 years ago, an Italian audience sat together and had an experience similar to the one you are about to have." So says Lyric Arts' Resident Director Scott Ford about their new production of The Servant of Two Masters, an 18th Century Italian comedy written in the style of commedia dell'arte. It's reassuring to think that as much as our world is vastly different than the world of this play's original audiences, we still laugh at the same things. At double entendres, at pratfalls and physical humor, at overly melodramatic emotions, at mistaken identities and near misses. Ford and his absurdly talented 15-person cast (plus one musician) are having a great time playing around with this classic piece and milking every comic moment, which translates to the audience having a great time too. I do wish the runtime were closer to the two-and-a-half hour mark than the three-hour mark, but take a nap or have a coffee and settle in to enjoy a few hours of classic timeless comedy at Lyric Arts in Anoka through June 23.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

"Machinal" by Clevername Theatre at the Center for Performing Arts

Machinal: mechanical, done without thinking, from force of habit. Early 20th century playwright Sophie Treadwell uses this word as the title of her her 1928 play about a woman caught in the mechanics of a woman's expected life path and the disastrous results. In Clevername Theatre's new production (my first experience with the play), it feels like it could have been written yesterday instead of almost 100 years ago. It's performed in the German Expressionist style with exaggerated, almost absurd, performances, which is a bit off-putting. But that's intentional, and how the play was written, and it beautifully and harshly exemplifies the experience of this woman. Even if the style feels unfamiliar to audiences used to modern American theater, the themes are resonant with modern life. The show is halfway through its short two-week run, with only three remaining performances at the Center for Performing Arts in Uptown.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Peter and the Starcatcher" by Duluth Playhouse at the NorShore Theatre

Duluth is my (and many Minnesotans') favorite spot for a Minne-cation. Not only is there that endlessly fascinating lake (which on this visit the winds churned up into wild waves), the best of Minnesota's 70+ State Parks, and tons of outdoor activities, food, and shopping, but it's also an artsy city, including a great theater scene. As soon as I bought my ticket to see the living legend that is Willie Nelson at Bayfront Festival Park, I checked out the theater schedule, and was thrilled to discover that I would be in Duluth for the opening of the charming play with music Peter and the Starcatcher by Duluth Playhouse (and also disappointed that I would be missing Zeitgeist Theater's POTUS, opening May 30 and running through June 8). This Peter features a talented 12-percon cast (including some familiar faces), playful and inventive storytelling, and a sweet story about home, family, and adventure; check it out if you're going to be in Duluth through June 2. And whenever you plan your North Shore adventure, see what's going on at the Playhouse or Zeitgeist, or better yet, plan a trip around it - like I may be during Duluth Playhouse's 110th season to see the gorgeous musical The Light in the Piazza, or Waitress - yet another musical that #DuluthTheater does before #TCTheater (see also Renegade Theater's lovely 2019 production of Fun Home, which is premiering in the Twin Cities at Theater Latte Da next season, and last summer's Kinky Boots at the Playhouse, with Mitchell Douglas reprising his role as Lola at Lyric Arts this summer).

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

"Men on Boats" at Theatre in the Round

As promised at the last Theatre in the Round show, their new production of Men on Boats includes neither men nor boats. Nothing against either, but having an all-female or non-binary cast telling the story of the first government sanctioned expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, with nary a boat on stage, is pretty clever. And it's utterly delightful - funny and playful, while still commenting on the ideas of Manifest Destiny, exploration, discovery, and masculinity. It's also a fun adventure tale, and having been on several wilderness adventures with all-female groups (including hiking in the Grand Canyon, and canoeing in the BWCAW), it kinda made me want to plan my next adventure. Maybe a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, although with better maps, equipment, and food than this group had. But if real-life adventuring isn't for you, you can safety join these non-men on their non-boat adventure at the oldest theater in Minneapolis, now through June 2.