Saturday, September 25, 2021

"The 39 Steps" at Lyric Arts

The last time I saw a play at Lyric Arts was January 2020, the bittersweet Irish love story Bloomsday. Returning to their Main Street Stage in Anoka 21 long months later felt like coming home, even without the familiar smell of popcorn, and with the new normal of showing proof of vaccination and wearing a mask. They haven't been silent during this extended intermission, producing several virtual cabarets and even a fully staged production of Lauren Gunderson's The Revolutionists for virtual viewing. But it's great to be back in that space again. This little theater in the 'burbs has an exciting and ambitious season planned, culminating in yet another regional premiere next summer, the hilarious 2015 Tony-nominated musical about musicals Something Rotten. But first, they're opening the season with the very fun and clever British mystery/comedy The 39 Steps. Welcome back, indeed.

Friday, September 24, 2021

"Sherwood" at Yellow Tree Theatre

The last play seen on the Yellow Tree Theatre stage was the powerful drama Skeleton Key in February of 2020, a co-production with New Dawn Theatre Company. Their next scheduled show, the new Robin Hood comedy Sherwood, was cancelled due to the pandemic, and now, almost a year and a half later, it's finally onstage at Yellow Tree. But things have changed since then, in the world and in theater. Audiences have to show proof of vaccination (or negative COVID-19 test) and wear masks, and New Dawn Artistic Director Austene Van, who directed Skeleton Key, is the new Artistic Director of Yellow Tree (following the departure of co-founders Jessica and Jason Peterson to the North). But what hasn't changed is that this cozy little theater in a strip mall in Osseo is a warm and welcoming place with wonderful theater that entertains and challenges audiences. The super fun and playful Sherwood is an excellent start to this new chapter of life, theater, and Yellow Tree.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

"Rondo '56: Remembering St Paul's Black Main Street" at Crooners Supper Club

The story of Rondo, St. Paul's thriving Black neighborhood that was destroyed with the construction of I94 in the '50s and '60s, has been told before (e.g., in History Theatre's 2017 play The Highwaymen), and now it's being told through music. Created by Dan Chouinard in collaboration with T Mychael Rambo, Thomasina Petrus, and Charmin Michelle, featuring music of the era, and utilizing historical photos, Rondo '56: Remembering St Paul's Black Main Street is a celebration of what we had and a memorialization of what was lost. One wonders what our community would look like today if Rondo had been allowed to continue to flourish as an integral part of the greater Twin Cities community, instead of literally splitting it in two and displacing hundreds of Black families. The celebration of Rondo continues today with two performances (click here for details and tickets).

Saturday, September 18, 2021

"Animate" by Mixed Blood Theatre at the Como Zoo

photo by Rich Ryan
Earlier this year, Jack Reuler announced his retirement as Artistic Director of Mixed Blood Theatre, a company he founded in 1976. Mixed Blood has truly become a model of inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility in theater, amplifying often unheard voices on stage and off, and making sure everyone is able to be in the audience with its Radical Hospitality program. But before he retires, Jack is directing another incredible site-specific piece. The new play Animate, written by Ken LaZebnik, is an immersive ambulatory play at the Como Zoo that is, of course, about a zoo. Specifically about the ethics of zoos, accepting donations from wealthy people of questionable character, and "does the good of the many supersede the good of the individual," human or animal. It's an impressive logistical feat, features a ton of #TCTheater talent, and asks some big questions without providing easy answers. In fact, the audience is asked to provide their own answers to the big questions of the show. Unfortunately, the entire (free) run is sold out, but stay tuned in case more dates are added (click here for details).

Friday, September 17, 2021

"You Who I Always/Never/Once Loved" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at the Crane Theater

Last fall, Fortune's Fool Theatre presented a beautiful collection of storytelling pieces by local artists around the topic of having or not having children. They did it as safely as possible, but since the pandemic was still raging I watched the video recordings of To Breed, Or Not to Breed at home. Their follow-up this fall is stories about love in all forms, and since I'm comfortable going to see theater in a vaxxed and masked audience (as most are these days), I was happy to see the first weekend of You Who I Always/Never/Once Loved at the Crane Theater, which is another collection of beautifully honest stories. Performances continue through this Saturday, with another set of storyteller and stories next weekend (click here for details). After the run, they will also make the video recordings available to view online.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

"Minne-Musicals" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at The Hennepin and The Chambers

A year and a half after their exquisitely lovely production of the sweet two-person musical Daddy Long Legs at the James J. Hill House (which I saw one and a half times, thanks to the joys of parking in St. Paul in the winter), Minneapolis Musical Theatre is back! Unfortunately, the fun and Fringey Minne-Musicals only ran for one weekend, so if you missed it, you're out of luck. But keep an eye on MMT as they continue to bring us "rare musicals, well done."

Sunday, September 12, 2021

"The VAXXED and the Furious" at Bryant-Lake Bowl

It feels so good to return to Bryant-Lake Bowl and Theater, the quirky little theater behind a bowling alley in Uptown, 19 months after seeing my last pre-pandemic show there. It's primarily a home for comedy, although I've also seen plays and musicals by small theater companies there over the years. The restaurant and bowling alley have been open for a while, but they're just now returning to live programming in the theater (with proof of vaccination required). You can see their full schedule here, which includes one more weekend of performances of The VAXXED and the Furious, featuring some of my (and your) favorite funny people in town.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

"Songs for a New World" at Artistry

There's no question we're entering into a new world, after a tumultuous year and a half that included a global pandemic we're still very much in the middle of, but starting to learn how to safely navigate; a racial reckoning; a contentious election and attempted coup; and fires, floods, and other natural disasters occurring at an alarming rate. So what better way to begin the 2021-2022 #TCTheater season (which can hopefully continue with the help of vaccine and mask requirements for many venues) than with Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World. His first produced musical from 1995 feels every bit like it was written for this specific moment. But that's great art - it takes on new meanings as our world changes. Especially when interpreted by great artists to speak to the now of it, like this incredible team at Artistry. They've expanded the cast from four to nine, expanded the typically small band to seven, and even hired three directors. Adding these additional voices to the piece only makes it richer, fuller, and more meaningful. If you feel comfortable going into a vaxxed and masked theater (and I understand if you don't; I moved at intermission to a less crowded location in the theater), go check out this beautiful and incredibly moving production, continuing through September 26. Bring your vaccine card, mask, and tissues.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

"Hopscotch: Pop-Up Plays about the Future" by Wonderlust Productions at Frogtown Farm and Park

Wonderlust Productions' newest project is popping up in St. Paul parks this weekend and next. They asked an intrepid group of playwrights to imagine a future world. Which, as co-Artistic Directors Leah Cooper and Alan Berks admitted in their pre- and mid-show talks, is a difficult thing to do right now. But these ten playwrights, some of #TCTheater's best, did just that. The result is Hopscotch, a series of ten ten-ish-minute plays presented in two sets. I caught one set on a perfectly gorgeous late summer afternoon in Frogtown Farm and Park, and it was an entertaining, inspiring, and at times worrisome look at our future, and through the imagined hindsight, our present. Click here for more information and to make a pay-what-you-will reservation for today's two sets at Frogtown, or next weekend at Newell Park.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

"A Pickup Truck Opera; Volume One: The Odyssey" by Mixed Precipitation at Various Outdoor Locations

While Mixed Precipitation's annual tradition of the "picnic operetta" is on hold due to the pandemic, last year they premiered a new fun and accessible opera mash-up experience - the Pickup Truck Opera. Driving a 2011 royal blue Ford pickup to parks around and outside of the Twin Cities, and performing out of the bed of the truck (have opera - will travel), they mash up Monteverdi's 17th Century opera The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland with the songs of Dolly Parton. Last year they teased us with Episode 3, but this year they're presenting the full three-episode saga, and as always with this troupe, it's sheer delight. I caught them near the end of their two-month run in a nearby park, but you can still see them today at Cedar Lake, next weekend in Hastings, or their closing weekend September 11-12 in St. Paul and Minneapolis (see details and schedule here).

Saturday, August 28, 2021

"The Uncertainty Principle" at Open Eye Theatre

Live performances at Open Eye Theatre's charming and intimate stage in South Minneapolis returned this week. Whether it's one of their work, or one of the guest artists they support, a show at Open Eye is always going to be unique and interesting. Teresa Mock's solo piece The Uncertainty Principle fits the bill. It's a memory play, not just about her memory, but also her father Paul's, a Vietnam vet. In this funny, poignant, moving, and very personal play, she explores the idea of memory, legacy, and multi-generational trauma. And since this is Open Eye (formerly Figure) Theatre, there is also puppetry to help tell the story. Only three performances of this moving piece remain (click here for details).

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Storyhill Fest 2021

On the Monday of Labor Day Weekend of 2014, I drove away from Storyhill Fest at Clearwater Forest Camp, as I had the previous four years, but this time not knowing when I would return. What used to be an annual festival was no longer going to be a regular event. It took seven years (including one pandemic postponement), but this year we finally returned to the idyllic folk music festival in the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota. And in the weird way that time and memory work, it felt like I had never left. Settling into my dorm-like room in the lodge, walking the beautiful hiking trails on the grounds, going for a swim, sitting around the campfire (faux this year, because drought), and most of all sitting in a camp chair on a warm (or cool, because Minnesota) late summer day listening to an array of incredibly talented singer/songwriter/storytellers, it all felt so familiar, so real, so right. It felt like coming home, like coming out of a long drought, not of rain but of performing arts. As one of the performers said, we're not out of the woods of this pandemic yet, but for a few days, in this one place, we all came together (with appropriate safety protocols) to share and celebrate music and humanity.