Monday, May 22, 2017

"Intimate Apparel" by Ten Thousand Things at Minnesota Opera Center

I saw recent two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage's play Intimate Apparel at the Guthrie almost 12 years ago. I usually don't remember anything about shows that I saw before I started blogging in 2010 (that's why I started blogging, to keep a record of my theater experiences), but I clearly remember loving this play. I even remember the basic plot, although not a lot of details. But what I remember most clearly is that feeling you get when you see a play that really touches you, really gets under your skin, and stays with you - even for 12 years. Last weekend I saw Ten Thousand Things' new production of Intimate Apparel, and now I remember why I love this play so much. It's a beautiful story of a woman discovering her strength through friendships, a failed relationship, and her own sense of self-worth. And as always, Ten Thousand Things brings us the truest version of the story, with little in the way of sets, lighting, or other theater magic to get in the way. Along with beautifully real acting, clear direction, and an intimacy with the story that only the specific TTT "all the lights on" up-close-and-personal style can bring, this Intimate Apparel is one I will remember.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Amy's View" at Park Square Theatre

Shortly after Mother's Day, Park Square Theatre brings us a mother/daughter story that is just one of the "complicated relationships" (the name of the signature drink accompanying this show) in Amy's View. Theater, criticism, art, finances, and messy relationships of all sorts are exposed in this play that spans 15 years. The play perhaps tries to cover too much, in time and topics, but the excellent cast and design make it worth the ride.

"Broadway Songbook: Hollywood and Broadway" at the Ordway Center

Thursday night I attended my 13th show in the Ordway's Broadway Songbook series, an edutainment series about musical theater (I think I've only missed one, maybe two). Starting way back in 2011 (aka the good old days) with "The Words and Music of Irving Berlin" in the dearly departed McKnight Theatre, the series has traveled to the stage of the main theater and now to the swanky new concert hall, and gone on to cover such composers as Stephen Sondheim, Comden and Green, and Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hart, and such topic or eras as musicals of the '50s and rock and roll on Broadway. Each has been a fun, entertaining, and informative history lesson about musical theater (which happens to be my favorite thing in the world). Which brings us to the current installment: "Hollywood and Broadway." A topic so vast (there was a time when every successful Broadway musical was made into a Hollywood movie, and now it seems every successful Hollywood movie is made into a Broadway musical), that it's impossible to cover in two quick hours. But co-writers Jeffrey P. Scott and the Ordway's Artistic Director James A. Rocco, who also hosts, managed to put together an interesting story that was perhaps a bit too much Hollywood and not enough Broadway for my taste, but was still a wonderful evening of musical theater history and performance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Red Velvet" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Southern Theater

In just four days, I saw two plays in which an actor of color donned white face. A little strange, a little disturbing, but a very good sign that the #TCTheater community is telling some important and relevant stories right now. Mu's Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery deals head on with the practice of yellow face and Asian American stereotypes in media, while paying homage to real life pioneers of Asian American theater. Walking Shadow's Red Velvet deals with art, politics, and race in theater while telling the story of a real life pioneer of African American theater who had a successful career doing Shakespeare in Europe in the 19th Century. Both plays provide astute social commentary through historical stories that are also engaging and entertaining, and are both well worth seeing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Little Wars" by Prime Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

British mystery writer Agatha Christie. American playwright Lillian Hellman. Activist Muriel Gardiner. American author Dorothy Parker. It's debatable whether or not these four accomplished women met in the home of the equally accomplished women Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the French Alps in 1940, but it sure makes for a fascinating play. One with these many roles for women in their prime. A perfect choice, then, for the debut of the new theater company Prime Productions whose mission is "to explore, illuminate, and support women over 50 and their stories through the creative voice of performance." As a woman who's approaching that age (at a seemingly greater speed with each passing year), it's a mission I whole-heartedly support. And the Twin Cities is the perfect location for such a company, as we are lucky enough to have many female theater artists in their prime. Little Wars, a play about fascinating real-life historical women*, is an exiting debut for this company. I look forward to seeing what else the amazingly talented women in their prime in the #TCTheater community can do, when given the opportunities they deserve but are often denied by our ageist and sexist society.

"Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery" by Mu Performing Arts at the Guthrie Theater

With their new production of Lloyd Suh's recent Off-Broadway play Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery, Mu tackles the issue of yellow face and the stereotypical portrayal of Asian Americans in media head on. Like Branden Jacobs-Jenkens' Octoroon (recently produced by Mixed Blood Theatre), the play includes yellow face and white face, a play-within-a-play format, and a weird human-sized animal. While Jacobs-Jenkins satirized the "antebellum melodrama," Suh satirizes the many stereotypes that have dominated the depiction of Asian Americans in popular culture, and specifically the dozens of movies from the '20s through '40s featuring detective Charlie Chan (played by a white man, natch). The result is a weird and trippy mash-up of stories, often told in exaggerated style, that effectively and poignantly exposes and skewers the stereotypes surrounding us while paying homage to the pioneers of Asian American theater.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Ragtime Women" by Theatre Elision at Dreamland Arts

I'm usually not a fan of the jukebox musicals, but when the songs used are little known ragtime gems from female composers, I approve! In just a brief 75 minutes, Ragtime Women manages to tell a compelling story about four real life women who composed music in the early 1900s, while sharing over two dozen songs of the era, many of them written by these women. It's smartly constructed (by Theatre Elision founder Cindy Polich), well performed, and a promising debut for this new company. But it's a short run so act quick to see this short, sweet, and musically delicious little show before it closes on Sunday.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Minnesota Fringe Festival: Five-Fifths of Jurassic Park at the Ritz Theater

Hey theater friends, the Minnesota Fringe Festival is less than three months away! The largest unjuried theater festival in the nation begins August 3, runs for 11 days, and usually includes about 170 shows at a dozen or so venues around town. The kick-off event (after the lottery, which was held earlier this year and determined who will perform in the festival) is the annual Five-Fifths show, a fundraiser that showcases all that is wonderful about MN Fringe. The crazy brilliant people at the Fringe take a popular movie, slice it into five parts, and give each part to a company to do a Fringe-style adaptation. Then the five fifths are mashed together to make one crazy whole. It's great ridiculous fun and really gives you a taste of what the Fringe has to offer, in addition to raising money to help "adventurous artists meet adventurous audiences."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Wit" at Artistry

I don't know where to begin with this one. Artistry's production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit is simply devastating. But it's also funny, and smart, and philosophical, and enlightening. This is my first experience with the play, and I really can't think of anyone I'd rather see in the lead role than the incomparable Sally Wingert. She gives a masterful performance in what has got to be one of the juiciest roles in theater - a smart, educated, independent, confident woman who experiences life in a whole new way while approaching death from cancer. This professor who is an expert in the metaphysical poetry of John Donne has spent her life contemplating life, death, and the afterlife in theory, and has to rethink everything she believes when faced with the stark reality of it. It's a brilliantly written play given an excellent and interesting staging by Artistry, and Sally's performance is one not to be missed.

Monday, May 8, 2017

"The Rink" at Daleko Arts

This was my weekend for seeing rarely produced musical theater gems. First I saw a charming production of 110 in the Shade at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis, then I headed down to the very southern edge of the seven-county metro area to see the Kander and Ebb musical The Rink at Daleko Arts in New Prague. I found both of these musicals to be really great and I don't understand why they're not produced more, but I'm grateful for the wonderful Twin Cities (and beyond) theater community for giving me the chance to experience shows like this. On my second visit to Daleko Arts I continue to be impressed with the work that they do in the tiny Prague Theater on charming Main Street in New Prague. Part of Daleko's mission is to "help decentralize professional theatre in Minnesota," a mission that I support in theory but in practice is a bit challenging; I'd like to see all of their shows but the distance can be prohibitive. But if you live in the Southern Metro, or don't mind a road trip through some of the prettiest country in Minnesota (I may be biased because I grew up in the area), Daleko should definitely be on your radar as a destination for quality theater that includes classics, new works, and interesting unexpected choices like The Rink.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

"110 in the Shade" at Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round doesn't do many musicals, so I'm glad they chose the rarely produced gem 110 in the Shade this season. It originally premiered on Broadway in the '60s and ran for less than a year, and has been revived only once, for a few months in 2007 - a little surprising because the score is beautiful. Not only is this an excellent choice in musicals, but it's such a thrill to hear a lovely score such as this in TRP's small arena space with a small band and the singers not miked, so there's no amplification to get in between the music and your ears. The music sounds richer, the story feels more immediate in that intimate setting. They've assembled a strong cast; in particular the two leads have gorgeous voices and wonderful stage presence. If you appreciate beautiful musical storytelling, check out 110 in the Shade at Theatre in the Round, the longest running theater in Minneapolis.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Redemption" by nimbus theater at the Crane Theater

nimbus theatre's latest original work, Redemption, deals with the tricky issue of reentry into civilian life after time spent in prison. Playwright Josh Cragun and director Mitchell Frazier researched the topic extensively and talked with people affected by the issue. The result is a thoughtful look at the lives of two recently released prisoners and how their release affects their family and their victims (sometime one in the same). We're facing so many problems in this country right now that our flawed prison system (nimbus quotes a few statistics in their program, including "the US holds only 4.4% of the world's population, but we have 22% of the world's prisoners" and "we incarcerate at a higher rate than any other country in the world") seems to have taken a back burner. Not at nimbus, where Redemption doesn't offer any answers, but rather calls for compassion and understanding on all sides.