Sunday, August 18, 2019

"When the Shark Bites: Hauptmann & Brecht, Lenya & Weill" by Chronofon Productions at Open Eye Theatre

The team behind the musical historical revues of Leonard Bernstein and Jacques Brel, among others, now turns their talent for crafting a well-told historical story with music to the famous German music-theater team of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, along with their lesser known female collaborators (and sometimes romantic partners) - actor Lotte Lenya and writer Elisabeth Hauptmann. These women were not only muses, but especially in the case of Hauptmann, made important uncredited contributions to their work (see also the excellent FX series Fosse/Verdon). But thanks to Chronofon Productions (aka Bradley Greenwald, Dan Chouinard, Diana Grasselli, and Prudence Johnson), these women are now known and recognized, at least by those of us lucky enough to be in their sold-out audience over the short two-week run. The show closes today, but follow Chronofon's Facebook page for the latest on upcoming performances of these highly entertaining and informative historical musical revues.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

"Hot Asian Doctor Husband" by Theater Mu at Mixed Blood Theatre

Theater Mu commissioned a new play from Japanese-American playwright Leah Nanako Winkler, author of the hilarious Two Mile Hollow seen in a Mu/Mixed Blood co-production last year, and the result is more hilarious and biting social commentary. Hot Asian Doctor Husband explores the journey of a young biracial woman who has an existential (and identity) crisis when her Japanese mother dies, and she decides she has to break up with her white boyfriend because she wants her children to look like her and her mom. It's a very smart, modern, and funny look at race, identity, stereotypes (see: title), family, grief, and love. NYC-based director Seonjae Kim and this brilliant seven-person cast (three of whom also appeared in Two Mile Hollow) bring out all of the humor and emotion in this exciting new script.

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Agatha Christie: Rule of Thumb" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre's final show of their 2018-2019 season opened during a busy July, followed by a busy Fringe Festival, so I'm finally seeing it now in the final two weeks of its run. As has become tradition at Park Square, they're presenting a fun summery mystery. Or in this case, three fun summer mysteries. Agatha Christie: Rule of Thumb is a triptych of short plays written by the famed mystery writer. They're performed by a talented and diverse nine-person company of actors, on the same set with some tweaks, all under the directorship of Austene Van who keeps the tone light, fun, elegant, and very dramatic. It's a delight to watch this team play together in this yummy summer mystery.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"RENT" 20th Anniversary Tour at the Orpheum

RENT gets me every time, even the 16th time. I first fell under the spell of Jonathan Larson's singular creation of hope, love, and community while watching the 1996 Tony Awards, which, five years before my first trip to NYC and in the very early days of the internet, was how a Midwestern girl like me learned about Broadway musicals. For those of you too young to remember 1996, RENT exploded on the pop culture landscape similar to how Hamilton did a few years ago. Not only did it win four Tony Awards and a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Jonathan Larson, the original cast of unknowns (most of whom are still working today on Broadway and in TV and films) made the rounds of all of the TV talk shows. At the time I had just graduated from college and was living on my own for the first time, existing on a grad student budget without a car (literally riding my bike midday past the three-piece suits). I was the same age and in the same situation as the RENT characters (well, sort of, if getting a masters in statistics in St. Paul is like being an artist in the East Village). Perhaps this is why I fell so hard for RENT, in a way I haven't for any musical before or since. In short, RENT was my first musical love, and you never forget your first love, even if people tell you it's dated. Sure, maybe it's a period piece now with its quaint answering machine references. But here's where I remind you that there are currently over a million Americans living with living with living with HIV, with nearly 40,000 new cases every year. So until AIDS becomes the polio of the late 20th/early 21st Century, a disease of the past completely eradicated, RENT will never be dated. And even on that happy day, this story of young people struggling with disease, poverty, drug addiction, and loss, yet persevering through it and celebrating life and each other, will always be relatable. No day but today!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: Wrap-Up and Favorites

Is it just because I'm getting older, or did the 11-day Minnesota Fringe Festival fly by even faster than usual this year? I saw a record low (since I've had a press pass) 29 shows, taking (almost) three days off of the festival (because life), and forgoing the 10pm timeslot (because #morningperson). But still, I saw some incredible shows that made me laugh, cry, and think, and that's all I ask of theater. And like last year, it was a great #feministfringe, with many shows written, directed, and/or performed by women.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Operation: Immigration"

Day: 9

Show: 29

Category: COMEDY / DRAMA / SOLO SHOW / SPOKEN WORD / STORYTELLING / HISTORICAL CONTENT / RELIGIOUS CONTENT

By: Wandering Jew Productions

Created by: Avi Aharoni

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: A solo show by #TCTheater artist Avi Aharoni about his father, a two-time immigrant.

Highlights: This lovely show was deservedly the highest selling show at Mixed Blood. Avi is so charming and disarming as he tells his father's story, and really his own story as the son of a Minnesota woman and a man who immigrated from Iran to Israel, and later to America. It's a scripted show, but he's very loose and playful with the audience, asking questions, and reacting to their reactions, which makes the show feel even more warm and personal. It's funny and poignant and relatable (because the more specific something is, the more universal it is), with great use of the space, well-chosen sound cues, and even a little rap. Director Robert Dorfman inserts himself into the action with comments, hilarious facial expressions, and the turning of the sign from one section to the next. This is a fascinating and inspiring immigrant story, about a man who sacrificed his whole life for his family's safety and security. But even more than that, it's a love letter from a son to a father, one that it was a privilege to witness, and a perfect ending to my 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival experience.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Director's Cut: Survivor"

Day: 9

Show: 28

Category: COMEDY / IMPROV

By: Smartmouth Comedy

Written by: Kendra Yarke, Bailey Murphy, Christine Pietz, and Kelliann Kary,

Location: Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A partially scripted and partially improvised spoof of Survivor.

Highlights: This was my first time seeing a "Director's Cut" by Smartmouth Comedy, a female-driven comedy troupe. They do these shows throughout the year at the Phoenix, in which they act out a classic TV script, but with the director (Kelliann Kary) calling pause and asking for an improved scene. For Fringe, they wrote not one but five original scripts of Survivor: Boundary Waters, that began with eight contestants in the first show and ended with one winner in the last (which I attended). There are really two elements here - the Survivor spoof, which was great fun for fans of the show (as I am) - and the improvised scenes, well played by the cast (Jacob Fate as host Jeff with Adam Boutz, Bailey Murphy, Drue Knutson, Edd Jones, Kendra Yarke, Kerri O'Halloran, Mickaylee Shaughnessy, and Mitchell Tilges as the survivors). They have a lot of fun paying homage to and gently mocking a venerable TV franchise, which is fun for the audience too. I enjoyed the show so much I wish I could have seen the build-up over all five episodes, I mean performances. And I hope to catch a "Director's Cut" sometime (if they do any that aren't past my bedtime). Follow their Facebook page for info on future performances.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Multiverse"

Day: 9

Show: 27

Title: Multiverse

Category: HORROR / IMPROV / SCI-FI

By: My Town Improv

Created by: My Town Improv

Location: Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: An improvised fantasty/sci-fi story that continued over the five shows to this conclusion.

Highlights: If I had seen the previous four shows, I might have understood what the deal with Jake Gyllenhaal's disembodied tongue was, as well as ghost Maggie Gyllenhaal, but no matter. With the audience prompt of someone's greatest fear (a big hole in the ground), this talented group of improvisers (Anna Tobin, Derek Landseidl, Marty Wessels, Michael Rogers, Shelby Schroeder, and Will Schroeder) was off, building on the previous stories to create this story of our heroes fighting foes (the perfume goddess and her henchman Mark Wahlberg) with the help of the Gyllenhaals. And something about parents and exes that kept appearing. The show is fun, inventive, silly, with haunting musical accompaniment by John Hilsen. Follow My Town Improv's Facebook page to find out where you can see them next.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Frankenstein: Two Centuries"

Day: 9

Show: 26

Category: HORROR / MYSTERY / SCI-FI / SPOKEN WORD

By: The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society

Created by: Shanan Custer, Joshua English Scrimshaw, Tim Uren, Eric Webster, and Joe Weismann

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: Two original radio plays done in the style of two real life radio series, Escape and Sanctum Mysteries.

Highlights: This group has perfected the old timey radio show performance, complete with classic microphones, sound effects, and smooth radio voices. Often they recreate actual historical radio scripts, but here they've written originals, and both are a delight. The first one is creepy cool, and continues after the ending of Mary Shelley's classic novel if Captain Robert Walton's sister Margaret went looking for the creature, whom she sees as wondrous, and instead finds the evil doctor himself reincarnated. The second one is, as the cast described in the informative intro (which they do for both plays), more silly and fun than scary. I honestly can't remember or make sense of the plot, but it involved lots of monsters and horrible/great puns, hosted by a darkly funny man along with the chipper but desperately unhappy Lipton Tea lady (as voiced by the Queen of the Minnesota Fringe, Shanan Custer). Check out their website to find out about future performances and to listen to their podcast.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Unproblematic Faves: Best of Ladybrain"

Day: 8

Show: 25

Category: COMEDY

By: Ladybrain

Created by: Ladybrain Sketch Comedy

Location: Strike Theater

Summary: A series of sketches by an all-female sketch comedy troupe called Ladybrain.

Highlights: Ladybrain (aka Emily Townswick, Gabby Vandenavond, Lauren Chesnut, Meredith Jacobs, and Nancy Linden) present a half dozen or so funny, silly, topical, smart, and sometimes stupid (in a good way) sketches. My favorites were the "brewpocalypse" - all of Minneapolis has been overtaken by breweries and men with beards and flannel shirts, and the "cat collar" - a new product for men to wear to prevent cat-calling, because it's so hard to be a man in today's environment (sarcasm). I'm happy to support women in the traditionally male-dominated field of comedy, and Ladybrain makes that easy. Their Fringe show is over, but you can catch them throughout the year at Strike Theater, your Northeast home for sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Booth's Ghost"

Day: 7

Show: 24

Title: Booth's Ghost

Category: COMEDY / DRAMA / HORROR / PHYSICAL THEATER / SOLO SHOW / STORYTELLING / HISTORICAL CONTENT / LITERARY ADAPTATION / SHAKESPEARIAN ELEMENTS

By: Andrew Erskine Wheeler

Created by: Andrew Erskine Wheeler

Location: Ritz Theater Mainstage

Summary: A ghostly and theatrical solo show about the Booth family - acting legend Junius Brutus and his sons, actor Edwin and presidential assassin John Wilkes.

Highlights: This is an all-engrossing performance by Andrew Erskine Wheeler, who stays in character(s) even through the moving curtain call that draws parallels between this story and the recent shootings, with a connecting thread of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and gun violence. But first, Andrew leads us non-linearly through the life of the Booth family primarily through the ghost of Edwin's assistant, but also taking on the form of the three Booth men. He makes great use of the Ritz Theater (where John Wilkes Booth was last seen in the person of Dieter Bierbrauer in Theater Latte Da's brilliant production of the Sondheim musical Assassins), walking through the audience and up and down the aisles, engaging the audience (but not quite interacting) as the house lights go up. The show is very thoughtfully put together and smoothly transitions from lighter moments to deadly serious ones (with direction by Matt Sciple). With a ghostly white face and dressed in period clothing, adding and removing pieces as appropriate to the story, using a few well chosen props, Andrew is the embodiment of the ghosts of these men that forever changed American history. The show is enlightening about the Booth family, steeped in history and nostalgia, and also relevant to today (see above). This is a truly impressive feat by Andrew Erskine Wheeler to create and perform this show that is thoughtful, thorough, entertaining, educational, moving, funny, and more. A can't miss of the festival (two more performances this weekend).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "ATLAS ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ : An Objective Musical"

Day: 7

Show: 23

Category: COMEDY / MUSICAL THEATER / ORIGINAL MUSIC / SCI-FI / POLITICAL CONTENT

By: Clevername Theatre

Created by: Alexander Gerchak & Bradley Kallhoff

Location: Ritz Theater Mainstage

Summary: A musical parody of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, turned into social satire.

Highlights: This was a last minute schedule filler because it was in the right pace at the right time; I didn't know anything about this book going into the show. From what I read on Wikipedia, this show turns the strong capitalist message on its head, and uses satire to bring the themes of the book into 2019. The wealthy businessmen and women believing that socialism is the biggest threat, fearing fair wages and mandatory health care for workers, these are all part of the daily rhetoric, making the show feel very timely. It's performed in an absurdist style which the strong cast (Aly O'Keefe, Carl Swanson, Christian Unser, Kayli McIntyre, Michael Burton, Sarah Platts, Todd O’Dowd, and Tyler Lanam) fully commits to. The props are charmingly DIY, with a live band performing the clever and scary songs, sometimes intentionally jarring and techy. Not my favorite show in the festival (absurdism isn't really my thing), but it's a clever concept well executed.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.