Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Twisted Apples: Stories from Winesburg, Ohio" at Nautilus Music-Theater

I first experienced Nautilus Music-Theater's lovely new piece of music-theater Twisted Apples: Stories from Winesburg, Ohio about five and a half years ago, when they presented one of the three acts at the 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival. It was actually the first time I saw Nautilus' work, and I was immediately hooked. I saw another piece of the work at the 2012 Fringe Fest, and have been waiting for the full three-act work ever since. The wait is over! Nautilus specializes in developing new works of music-theater (a term that I've stolen because it can be used to describe anything on the spectrum of play with music/musical/opera without forcing it into a box). To that end, they hold classes and workshops for composers and playwrights, and present readings of new works roughly the second Monday and Tuesday of every month in their "Rough Cuts" series (watch their Facebook page for details, usually announced a week or two prior). Every once in a while they mount a full production of one of these new works in their tiny studio space in Lowertown St. Paul, and now, finally, it's Twisted Apples' turn to have its moment. But hopefully not its last; it's a gorgeous piece that I hope will live on and continue to be performed beyond this nine-show small space run that closes this weekend.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Citizen: An American Lyric" by Frank Theatre at Intermedia Arts

Frank Theatre describes their latest production as follows:
A searing representation of the current American zeitgeist, CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC [by Claudia Rankine] is a boundary-bending work of poetry/prose/criticism, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. A 6-member "ensemble piece... floats between dream and reality, narration and performance, and challenges its audience's perceptions," as it examines the ways racism pervades daily life in America, from highly visible news accounts to the daily microaggressions that render certain citizens invisible in our culture.
That's a pretty apt description for this piece that is more than theater, it's a lesson for how to be in this world. But it doesn't feel like a lesson, it doesn't feel preachy, rather it lays bare the flaws in our society in the way that we deal with race, historically and currently. Only four more performances remain this weekend, and if you're interested in a powerful, disturbing, and transfixing piece of theater that goes beyond mere performance, I recommend that you reserve your tickets now (the show I attended was sold out).

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Goodbye Cruel World" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Theatre Pro Rata's Goodbye Cruel World closes today so if you haven't seen it already, I'm afraid you're out of luck. (Sorry about that, blame NYC.) But for the record, it's a fun and wacky ride ably driven by six actors playing multiple characters, often in the same scene. A modern adaptation of Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide, which was banned by the government and not produced until after his death, it's a farcical look at a man down on his luck who offhandedly wonders if he would be better off dead, only to be taken seriously by his wife, neighbors, and eventually the whole town. Everyone from the church to the intelligentsia, a post man to an artist, wants Semyon to promote their cause in his suicide note. His neighbor decides to turn it into a lottery, but in the end Semyon realizes he doesn't want to die, much to everyone's disappointment. Read on for some highlights of the show.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Macbeth" at Park Square Theatre

Macbeth. There I said it. In addition to being one of Shakespeare's darkest, bloodiest, and most violent plays, Macbeth has also inspired a silly theater superstition in which it's bad luck to say the name in a theater. But it's certainly not bad luck to produce it, also being one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. Wikipedia tells me that "it dramatizes the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake." Which is something we still see examples of today. While it's not as bloody good fun as I remember the Guthrie's 2010 production being (one of my favorites of that year), Park Square Theatre's Macbeth is intense, intimate, and striking.

"The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin" at History Theatre

I just got back from my annual trip to NYC, "center of the universe," where I saw six Broadway shows in five days (read my mini-reviews here). While I was there, I also took a walking tour of the Lower East Side through the Tenement Museum, which I highly recommended if you're in the city. The tour was fascinating and served to reinforce the idea that the history of the Lower East Side, the history of New York City, the history of America is an ever-changing story of immigrants. Immigrants who have come to this country in search of better opportunities and better lives for their families. Unfortunately, our history also includes an ever-changing story of prejudice and discrimination against immigrants. Today, it's Muslim and Mexican immigrants that face the brunt of it. But the idea of keeping immigrants out due to fear is not a new one; in 1882 the first legislation against the immigration of a specific race was passed - the Chinese Exclusion Act. Local playwright Jessica Huang's new play The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin tells the true story of one Minnesota family affected by this legislation. In keeping with the History Theatre's commitment to tell the untold stories of all Minnesotans, it's a beautiful and affecting look at the very timely and relevant issue of immigration through the very specific story of one family.

Monday, March 20, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Coment of 1812" at the Imperial Theatre

Show*: 6

Title: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Coment of 1812

Location: Imperial Theatre

Written By: Dave Malloy

Summary: A musical adaptation of Tolstoy's novel War and Peace that is neither about war nor peace, but rather focuses on the love triangle between Andrey, Natasha, and Anatole, told in an immersive style.

NYC 2017 Trip: "Sweat" at Studio 54

Show*: 5

Title: Sweat

Location: Studio 54

Written By: Lynn Nottage

Summary: A new play about a community dealing with the closing of a steel plant in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2000.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Come From Away" at the Schoenfeld Theatre

Show*: 4

Title: Come From Away

Location: Schoenfeld Theatre

Written By: Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Summary: An incredibly moving new musical telling the untold stories and singing the unsung heroes of 9/11 in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes carrying 7000 people (and a few animals) were diverted.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Music Box

Show*: 3

Title: Dear Evan Hansen

Location: The Music Box

Written By: Steven Levenson (book), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics)

Summary: A brilliant new, original, and thoroughly modern musical about grief, loneliness, the pain of growing up, and finding connection in the social media age.

Friday, March 17, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Hello, Dolly!" at the Shubert Theatre

Show*: 2

Title: Hello, Dolly!

Location: Shubert Theatre

Written By: Michael Steward (book), Jerry Herman (music and lyrics)

Summary: A yummy new revival of the 1964 classic musical based on Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker, about an ambitious woman in NYC at the turn of the last century who "meddles" in everyone's life, and is also looking for some happiness for herself.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "War Paint" at the Nederlander Theatre

Show*: 1

Title: War Paint

Location: Nederlander Theatre

Written By: Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music), Michael Korie (lyrics)

Summary: A new musical from the Grey Gardens team about Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein, two pioneers of the make-up and skin care industry who were among the very few women who owned their own company with their own name on it in the mid 20th Century.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Six Degrees of Separation" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da "we do theater musically" is closing out their brilliant 2016-2017 season (which also included an exquisite Ragtime, the return of favorites A Christmas Carole Petersen and All is Calm, and a delightfully playful Peter and the Starcatcher) with Six Degrees of Separation. If you're thinking - wait, that's not a musical - you're right. But Latte Da has added music sparingly and organically to make the storytelling better and clearer. There's so much depth in this piece that I haven't yet been able to unpack it all. It reminds me of Mad Men - the highest form of the art we call television. Watching Mad Men, I always felt like everything meant something - every prop, every costume detail, every camera angle, every word, every pause. I may not have known what it meant, but I could tell that every detail was intentional. That's how I feel about Theater Latte Da and director Peter Rothstein in general, and this production in particular. Every detail of design, direction, acting, means something. I might not know what it all means, at least not upon first viewing, but I appreciate the amount of thoughtfulness that goes into every choice.