Thursday, January 17, 2019

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2019

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year: "Raw Stages" weekend at the History Theater in downtown St. Paul. Most of the work produced by the History Theatre is new work that they develop, a claim few theaters of their size can make. Specifically, they produce plays and musicals inspired by local history. Usually some part of history that's not well known, but somehow relates to the modern world and helps us gain insight into where we are by looking back at where we were. An important part of the development process is their annual new works festival, in which four new pieces receive a director, cast, workshop, and public reading. I was able to attend two of the four readings this year, both exciting and promising works that I hope to see on the stage next season. But first, History Theatre's current season concludes with three HERstory plays - world premieres by and about women (click here to find out more).

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at Playwrights' Center

Since I "discovered" it a few years ago, the Playwrights' Center has become one of my favorite places to experience theater, specifically - new works of theater still in the development process. PWC supports something like 2000 playwrights a year in various different ways. Their "Ruth Easton New Play Series" runs the first (or sometimes second) Monday and Tuesday of the month, December through April. This 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." I attend every one I can, because the plays are always interesting and the casts are always dreamy. It's really fun to be part of the first audience to experience a new play, and I highly encourage you to check it out if you haven't yet. Warning: attending readings at PWC can get addictive, but the good news is it's free! Below is some info about the current reading, which continues TONIGHT, and upcoming readings in the series (reservations recommended, but if you show up they'll usually be able to get you in).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

"These Shining Lives" at Theatre in the Round

"Dip this paintbrush in radium and then put it in your mouth. Don't worry if it gets all over your skin, clothes, and hair, you'll be fine!" If any of our employers told us this today, we would all likely walk out the door. But in the 1920s, when workers had much fewer rights than we do now, if you needed the job to feed your family, and especially if you were a woman and your bosses were men, you likely would have accepted it. These Shining Lives tells the true story of women who did just that, until their hands started glowing and their bones started aching. It's because of a couple of lawsuits brought by the real life "Radium Girls" against their employers that companies are held responsible for injuries or illnesses their employees acquire on the job. Theatre in the Round tells these pioneering women's story, via a female playwright and director, with humanity and grace.

"The Children" at Jungle Theater

The Jungle Theater produced some of my favorite work in #TCTheater last year, and they're showing no signs of stopping that trend in 2019. Their first show of the year (my fifth, but who's counting), is the first post-Broadway production of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood (not to be confused with the re-imagined Medea play The Children by Michael Elyanow produced by Pillsbury House a few years ago). In a pre-show speech by Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen (who has only made the Jungle better in her short tenure), she said that this team of actors, designers, and director are a master class of putting together a piece of theater. I couldn't agree more. Everything about this play is impeccable, from this very specific design that transports the audience to a seaside cottage after a nuclear disaster, to the three-person cast of beloved veterans of stage and screen, and everything else that allows this magic to happen. Get yourself to Uptown (as much of a pain as that sometimes is) to see this brilliant work of theater that will leave you contemplating life for days to come.

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Dead Man's Cell Phone" at Lyric Arts

In 2007, playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote a quirky, fantastical, and painfully real play about our relationships with our cell phones and with each other. A play that seems even more relevant now, 12 years later, as smart phone technology and usage has increased. Lyric Arts' production of Dead Man's Cell Phone captures this struggle between technology and connection, and entertains with a charming six-person cast and ambitious design. This odd and amusing comedy that speaks to the world we live in officially opens tonight and runs through January 27 in downtown Anoka.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Fidgety Fairy Tales" and "Heroine"

On the second Monday of (most) every month, in a little studio space in Lowertown St. Paul, you can listen to exciting new works of music-theater. The place is Nautilus Music-Theater, a company committed to developing new works. Once a month (typically repeated on Tuesday at a location in Minneapolis), composers and playwrights have the opportunity to see their work read by talented local actors, and we the audience have the opportunity to witness a new work in the making and provide feedback to help the creators in their process. That's a pretty cool thing. Here's what I experienced at Nautilus last night, to be repeated tonight at Open Eye Figure Theatre (for a suggested donation of $5, which includes milk and cookies!).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Twelfth Night" by Orchard Theater Collective at Calvary Baptist Church

New #TCTheater company Orchard Theater Collective, founded by a quartet of U of M/Guthrie BFA grads, has brought us some interesting and innovative shows over the past year or so. They continue that tradition with Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, a clever choice to stage in early January when this actual holiday (aka the 12th day of Christmas) falls. And they've made it feel like a holiday. What is essentially a church basement theater has been transformed into a warm, cozy, festive space with lights and colorful decorations, as well as drinks and a lovely spread of cheese, hummus, bread, and cookies, all included in the price of admission. The intrepid cast of eight brings many more characters to life in this gender-swapping mistaken identity romantic comedy, performed on the small stage and in a square in front of it, with the audience sitting at tables on three sides. This Twelfth Night is playful and fun, an evening of pure frivolity. Fortunately this show runs a little longer than their previous shows (sometimes one weekend only); you have until January 19 to celebrate Twelfth Night with Orchard Theater Collective (click here for info and tickets).

"The Father" at Gremlin Theatre

After a nearly two-week hiatus (during which I wrote about my favorites of the 200-ish shows I saw in 2018), I returned to the theater on Friday night. It was good to be back doing my favorite thing, and Gremlin Theatre's production of The Father was an excellent way to start 2019, setting the bar quite high for all the shows to follow. A smart and twisty script (adapted by Christopher Hampton from French playwright Florian Zeller's original), an excellent six-person cast, thoughtful direction, and meaningful design. Subtitled "a tragic farce," this story of a man descending deeper into dementia is so sad to watch, but beautiful and amusing at the same time. Start your year of theater at Gremlin and you won't be disappointed (continuing through January 27).

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Most Viewed Posts of 2018

Happy New Year, #TCTheater friends! Because I like numbers, I like to look at what posts had the most page views each year. Here are the results from 2018. Two of my most popular posts are about the Minnesota Fringe Festival, proving that people are fanatical about their Fringe. Also for companies big and small, musicals and plays, and even some readings (yay new work!).
  1. MN Fringe Festival: Five Fifths of the Matrix
  2. The Legend of Georgia McBride (Guthrie Theater)
  3. The Book of Mormon (Broadway Tour)
  4. Newsies (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)
  5. MN Fringe Festival: Must-See List
  6. Words Do Move (Sandbox Theatre)
  7. Assassins (Theater Latte Da)
  8. Mamma Mia! (The Ordway)
  9. The Great Gatsby (Collide Theatrical Dance Company)
  10. The Ruth Easton New Play Series (Playwrights' Center)
  11. My Mother Has 4 Noses (Jungle Theater)
  12. The Laramie Cycle (Uprising Theatre)
  13. Raw Stages New Works Festival (History Theatre)
  14. The Royale (Yellow Tree Theatre)
  15. A Crack in the Sky (History Theatre)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018: The Year that Was in #TCTheater

Dear 2018, it’s been a wild year. You’ve brought us highs and lows, tragedies and triumphs. I’m sure many people are happy to say good-bye to you. But in the Minneapolis/St. Paul theater world, you’ve been grand, truly grand. And I now have the very difficult job of summarizing the approximately 190 locally created shows I’ve seen by over 80 theater companies (not counting 36 Fringe shows; click here for my festival favorites). For the first time since I started blogging eight and a half years ago, this is a slight decrease from the previous year – I’ve definitely found the saturation point. Even still, I’m at the theater more days than not, and I like what I see much more often than not. I started out with a list of about 50 shows I loved this year, which I attempted to whittle down to something a little more manageable. Keep reading for my 2018 #TCTheater favorites, in roughly alphabetical order.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Holiday Inn" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Christmas may be over for another year, but that doesn't mean we have to stop celebrating. After all, Christmas is only one of many holidays celebrated around the world, and only one of the seven holidays celebrated in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' gorgeously fun production of the Broadway musical Holiday Inn. Based on the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie of the same name, the musical debuted on Broadway in 2016, and is now receiving its Minnesota premiere. This is the kind of thing that Chanhassen does best - a big splashy musical with wonderful recognizable music and fantastic dance numbers. If you didn't see it this holiday season, don't worry, it's still playing through February 23, and there are still plenty of holidays to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"Les Miserables" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Fresh off of a successful Broadway revival, the music-theater phenomenon known as Les Miserables is on tour, stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre for the final two weeks of the year. I'm not one of those Les Miz fanatics (like my friend Laura at Twin Cities Stages), I save the fanaticism for RENT. I saw the tour 18 years ago, but it was the #TCTheater production at Artistry (formerly known as Bloomington Civic Theatre) five years ago that production that really won me over to the beauty of the story, writing, "Les Miserables is such an inspiring story. Through a moment of kindness, a man's life is changed and he goes on to affect others' lives by passing on that kindness. But through it all he's still just a man, with doubts and regrets and struggles. In short, it's the human experience." So I was ready for this large-scale Broadway production, re-invented from the original. And I loved every minute of it (approximately 180 of them).