Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Reading of "Wink" at The Playwrights' Center

"Now in its 12th year, the Ruth Easton New Play 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."

And that it is! I attended the second reading of the new play Wink by New York-based Jen Silverman at the Playwrights' Center. It's so much fun to be part of the play development process and get a peek inside what it takes to get a play on the stage. Here's a description of the play:

Monday, December 5, 2016

"The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Camp Bar

And now for something entirely ridiculous (in a good way). There is a lot that's sugary sweet about Christmas, and Christmas-themed theater in Minnesota (of which there is much from which to choose). But none of it exists in Minneapolis Musical Theatre's contribution to the holiday theater scene - The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical. It's pure campy and irreverent fun. This is a sequel to The Great American Trailer Park Musical, which MMT did in 2009 (and played Off-Broadway in 2005). If you saw the original, you will recognize some familiar characters (and even one returning cast member). But if you didn't, no matter, it stands on its own in all its trailer trash glory. The songs are catchy and fun, director Ryan McGuire Grimes sets the perfect campy tone, and the terrific six-person cast completely commits to the stereotypical characters and nonsensical plot. Appropriately performed in St. Paul's Camp Bar, with readily available alcohol, it's great escapist fun (at least until that one reference towards the end that will sober you up right quick).

"A Christmas Carole Petersen" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

It's December in the Twin Cities, and that means there are a ton of holiday shows to choose from (Christmas sells well in Minnesota). I've seen six already, with six more on the schedule for the next few weeks (read about all of them here). And right smack dab in the middle of this holiday marathon comes one of my favorites of the past, Theater Latte Da's A Christmas Carole Petersen. After a successful nine-year run in the aughts, everyone's favorite Minnesota family the Petersens took an eight-year break, and are now making a welcome return this holiday season. I saw the show once near the end of its original run and was completely charmed by it, and am thrilled to see it again. Master storyteller Tod Petersen shares his unique family story and holiday traditions that may feel familiar to many Minnesotans. But even if your family traditions are different from the Petersens', even if you celebrate different holidays or no holidays, this show will make you nostalgic for the days of yore and grateful for the gifts of the present.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"The Crucible" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at Zion Lutheran Church

I first saw Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible last spring at the Guthrie, and was wowed at how this story about the infamous Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century, during which twenty people were put to death for the crime of witchcraft, speaks to the issues of the day. Things have changed a lot in the last year and a half, making the play's themes of religious fanaticism, mob mentality, and persecution of people who are different even more scarily relevant. How terrifying to live in a world where one person's false accusation can incite mass hysteria and result in the persecution of innocent people, a world that sadly isn't too far from the current reality. I'm not saying that our president elect is Abigail Williams, but I, and this excellent and intimate production by Theatre Coup d'Etat, am suggesting that we need to take a breath and look at the facts before we rush to condemn someone based on a spiteful rant. The Crucible dramatizes one of the greatest failings of the American, or rather pre-American, judicial system, and 60 years after it was written still remains a cautionary tale.

Friday, December 2, 2016

"The Lion in Winter" at the Guthrie Theater

There's no family more dysfunctional than the British monarchy. I've been hearing a lot about them recently through Shakespeare's history plays Henry IV Part I, Henry V, and Richard III. The Lion in Winter takes place a few centuries and generations before the earliest of these plays, but was written in 1966 by James Goldman, so it has a more contemporary feel. The family of Henry II on Christmas of 1183 is about as dysfunctional as it gets. And while hopefully our family members don't imprison, threaten to kill, and raise armies against each other, we can all relate to that awkward holiday dinner that goes awry. This contemporary and relatable feel, along with a truly fantastic cast of local and national talent, sharp direction, and a stunning set, make the Guthrie Theater's production of The Lion in Winter a highly entertaining evening, and a spicy counterpoint to the sweet fare across the hall.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

It's rare for Broadway plays to go on tour; typically it's the musicals that travel across the country. I'm not sure why that is, maybe producers think that those of us who live between the coasts would only go for the big splashy musicals, or maybe it's been proven that plays don't sell as well as musicals. Whatever the reason, when a play does go on tour (the only other ones I can remember are August: Osage County and Proof), you know it's something special. And The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is most definitely something special. The story of a 15-year-old boy with an unspecified autism-like condition who goes on an epic journey in search of the truth is fantastically told in a clever adaptation, with stunning technical effects and innovative physical theater techniques, the high tech and the low tech combining in a unique way. And there's math, and a puppy, which makes it a winner in my book!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"Baltimore is Burning" by Underdog Theatre at SPACE

There's another new theater company in town, and they're coming out of the gate with a strong message and a powerful new play. Underdog Theatre hopes to be a voice "for the underserved, the underrepresented, and unheard." Founder Kory LaQuess Pullam, a talented young actor who's made quite an impression on several stages around town in the last few years, has written a great new play about the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore last year. While Baltimore is Burning is about this one specific incident, on a larger scale it's about the many such deaths that have occurred around the country, even right here in Minnesota, and the need to have a conversation about why it's happening and what can be done to change it. At its best, theater brings attention to issues and starts a conversation about them, which is exactly what this play does.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Orphan Train" at History Theatre

The History Theatre excels at telling often unknown Minnesota stories, as they did in 1997 with the original musical Orphan Train. At the time, most people hadn't heard of the so-called orphan trains, in which from 1858 to 1929 some 200,000 children were sent west from the East Coast to new homes across the country. The recent New York Times best-selling book Orphan Train has brought more attention to this fascinating bit of American history. Perhaps that's why the History Theatre is bringing back Orphan Train this season. The musical tells fictional stories of orphan train riders based on real events. While it's a bit cheesy and, well, Disney (for lack of a better word), the stories and music brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion. The wonderful ensemble of seasoned pros and children alike, the excellent folk/Americana score played by a sparse but lovely orchestra, and the moving stories about immigrant orphan children in search of a home is a very affecting combination.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"The Averagers: Christmas War" by Comedy Suitcase at Bryant Lake Bowl

Last year's smash hit Fringe Festival show The Averagers returns with a Christmas special, because 'tis the season. Our favorite average people turned superheroes are back, and while the show may not have anything to do with Christmas (other than one scene that takes place in the Target Christmas aisle, a scary place indeed), it is hilariously funny, family friendly, chock full of local references, only an hour long, and a whole lot of fun.

"What Fools These Mortals Be" by Interact Theater at the Lab Theater

Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts is celebrating 20 years of "creating art that challenges perceptions of disability." In one of the finest examples of inclusivity in theater, Interact provides opportunities for artists with disabilities to share their work, which allows the audience to see beyond the disability to the artist and the art that they create. I attended a performance by Interact Theater for the first time this weekend, a mish-mash of Shakespeare plays called What Fools These Mortals Be, written by and starring beloved local storyteller extraordinaire Kevin Kling. I was completely charmed by the performance. It's such a beautiful thing to see people of various abilities working together to create art. What Fools is filled with much humor and heart, and a spirit of playfulness often lacking in Shakespeare. Ten Thousand Things shows us that "theater is better when everyone is in the audience," and Interact shows us that theater is better when everyone is on the stage.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"A Gone Fishin' Christmas" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Original Christmas plays at Yellow Tree Theatre have become a beloved tradition in the last 9 years. Due to a happy accident, Yellow Tree was forced to produce their own play (written by co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson) when they lost the rights to the play they were intending to do their first season. This was the basis of the plot of that first play, Miracle on Christmas Lake, which after three successful runs inspired a sequel Miracle of Christmas Lake II that also ran for a couple years. Then came A Hunting Shack Christmas, and now this year we head to the icehouse for A Gone Fishin' Christmas. All of these plays follow a similar blueprint - a small Minnesota town with adorably quirky characters, the "citiots" who return to the small town they grew up in and make some sort of a life change. It's not the most original of plots, but it works, and provides a framework for Minnesota humor, outrageous antics, and lovely quiet moments of family and connection. There's a reason that Yellow Tree's original Christmas plays are so popular and sell out virtually every performance - they are a perfect mix of heart and humor wrapped up in local jokes that we love so well, with a talented cast that makes these characters and the sweet and silly story sing (literally and figuratively). And Gone Fishin' may be the best of the bunch. A few tickets remain (with best availability at weekday matinees) so get your tickets now to experience this hilarious and heart-warming tale.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"A Christmas Story" at Lyric Arts

The 1983 movie A Christmas Story has become a holiday classic, thanks in part to TBS running it for 24 hours on Christmas Day every year. Full of humor, nostalgia, and heart, this story of 9-year-old Ralphie and his quest for a very special BB gun for Christmas is a charmer. Fans of the movie are sure to enjoy Lyric Arts production of the play version of the movie, written in 2000 by Philip Grecian (which is different from the musical version that the Ordway did a few years ago). While this story based on a 30-year-old movie based on memories of a time 40 years before that is a bit dated, and viewed a bit differently in today's environment, the heart of the piece is still there. At the Sunday matinee performance some of my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (from Artfully Engaging, No Filter Reviews, One Girl, Two Cities, and Twin Cities Stages) and I were greeted with a Christmas cocktail, and after the show we chatted with the adult members of the cast and toured the set, with more Christmas cocktails of course. We bloggers always welcome the opportunity to talk to artists about their work and to learn about what happens behind the scenes.* Lyric Arts is one of the top community theaters in town (along with Theatre in the Round), and it was a treat to get to know them a little better and enjoy this festive and fun holiday show.