Friday, October 12, 2018

"The Great Society" at History Theatre

I'm not sure I've ever seen a play that feels (and is) as much of a direct sequel as History Theatre's production of Robert Schenkkan's The Great Society, a sequel to All the Way that History Theatre produced just a year ago. This play continues right were the last one left off, with Lyndon B. Joynson's second term as president (or really, his first full term after taking over for JFK halfway through his term). History Theatre reunites most of the cast and creative team from last year, including director Ron Peluso and Pearce Bunting as LBJ, a performance even more powerful than last year. What also continues from the last play is "political machinations, the Civil Rights movement, and the ugly opposition to freedom and equality for all," with a bonus - the rapid escalation of the Vietnam War. The rhetoric used by everyone on stage is disconcerting in a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" kind of way, as is the divisiveness of a country torn in two by politics. The Great Society is long, dense, and kind of depressing, but it's also extremely rewarding, and important to examine our history to give insight into the issues of today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"Elephant and Piggie's 'We Are In a Play!'" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre just opened their shiny new theater space in White Bear Lake this spring, and now they're starting a new "Kids and Family Series." To be honest, this isn't something I'd normally be interested in; I don't have children and haven't worked with children in over 20 years. But the cast of their first production, Elephant and Piggie's "We Are In a Play!", is one I couldn't pass up. My super talented cousin is making her #TCTheater debut, so of course I had to see it! In addition to her fantastic performance, I found the one-hour musical to be delightfully clever, and the kids in the audience were completely enraptured. It's never too early to introduce the little people in your life to theater, and this show is a great start. But note there are only a handful more performances and seating is limited in the intimate black box space, so make your plans soon (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Heartless" and "Heroine"

Nautilus Music-Theater, which focuses on new or reimagined works of music-theater (a term I love because it covers the wide range from "play with music" to "opera," without having to put a label on it), kicks off their 25th season of their "Rough Cuts" series this week. Typically held on the second Monday and Tuesday of the month, "Rough Cuts" presents readings of new works in various stages of development. This allows the creators to see their work in front of an audience, an important part of the theater development process. For a suggested donation of $5, you can be part of the process, and enjoy free milk and cookies! I always want to go to "Rough Cuts," but am usually too busy, so I took advantage of a quieter week to visit the Lowertown St. Paul studio (next door to Black Dog Cafe, for those who want something stronger with their cookies). They perform again tonight - this and any other "Rough Cuts" is highly recommended for those interested in the development of new works of music-theater.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"Mary Poppins" at Artistry

Artistry's Mary Poppins may be just the thing you need right now. That is, an escape from reality into the magical world of everyone's favorite nanny, filled with talking dogs, moving statues, high-flying kites, and fantastic dance numbers. Watching the show is, indeed, a jolly holiday as Artistry's large and talented cast brings the beloved movie to life with unstoppable energy. This is my third time seeing the 2004 stage adaptation of the 1964 classic movie and P.L. Travers' series of books, with book by Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton Abbey) and about a half dozen new songs added. I still think it's a bit long and bloated, with several scenes, songs, and characters that could be cut to make the runtime more child (and me) friendly than the current nearly 3 hours (which of course is no fault of Artistry, they have to work with the piece as written). But on the whole it's a heart-warming and smile-inducing show filled with moments of magic and delight for any age.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Two Degrees" by Prime Productions at Guthrie Theater


In just their second production, new #TCTheater company Prime Productions (whose mission is "to explore, illuminate and support women over fifty and their stories through the creative voice of performance," hooray!) brings us the regional premiere of the new play Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist. If their goal is to provide interesting and complex roles for women of a certain age that aren't that of merely the wife, mother, or best friend, then this play is a resounding success. Norah Long is one of our best actors, period, and it's wonderful to see her tackle the role of a smart, mature, vibrant, messy woman (think Shonda Rhimes heroines, but on stage). The play is a nice balance of stories global (i.e., the dangers of climate change, from whence comes the title) and personal.

Friday, October 5, 2018

"Understood" by Trademark Theater at Soma Studios

"People by and large are idiots." Wow, does this ever ring true, especially on a day when some of my fellow Minnesotans showed up and cheered for the current White House resident despite all the ugly things he's said and done. How can people do that?! It's completely incomprehensible to me; they are completely incomprehensible to me. This feeling is at the core of the new play Understood by Tyler Mills, which Trademark Theater is intentionally producing running up to next month's midterm election. Director Tyler Michaels notes in the program, "This play swirls around these two ideas: A broken couple and a broken country." In this thoughtful and thought-provoking two-hander, a married couple is looking to be understood by each other, the one that is supposed to know and love them best, and also by a stranger whose beliefs are inexplicable to them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"Frankenstein - Playing with Fire" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater is opening their 56th season (my 16th as a subscriber) with a play they commissioned 30 years ago. Minnesota playwright Barbara Field (who also provided the adaptation for the Guthrie's first A Christmas Carol, that they used for over 30 years) adapted Mary Shelly's famed novel Frankenstein as Frankenstein - Playing with Fire, premiering in 1988. About her work she says, "the animating spirit of this play is a hunger for science and knowledge that motivates the questions these two old men ask each other." One big long conversation between two people about science, philosophy, life, and death is a play that's right up my alley (bonus: mathematical equations!), especially when so beautifully designed and acted as this.

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Spinster Stories" Hosted by Heather Meyer at Strike Theater

I was at the dentist today for a quick repair of a chipped filling. While waiting for the novocaine to take effect, the hygienist was making small talk. She went through the usual topics - travel, work, weekend plans. Then she got to this topic. "Do you have children?" "No." "Are you married, significant other?" "No." "So it's just you then, huh?" Yes, it's just me. But it's not really just me. I was reassured last night that there are many "spinsters" like me who are single for a variety of reasons, and contrary to popular belief we're not all lonely damaged people. We can be just as happy and well-adjusted and fulfilled as "the marrieds," maybe even moreso. Six such people shared their experiences at Strike Theater in Northeast Minneapolis in an evening of storytelling called "Spinster Stories." Sadly, this was the final of two shows and there are no more scheduled (at the moment). But check out Strike's schedule for more storytelling, sketch comedy, and improv performances, including their one-year anniversary celebration this weekend!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

"The Visit" by Frank Theatre at the Minnesota Transportation Museum

To open their 30th season, intrepid nomadic #TCTheater company Frank Theatre is bringing us The Visit in the Minnesota Transportation Museum. This is actually the second play I've seen in this unique and super cool venue (see also Wayward and Mission's co-production of Ghost Train). Both plays are set (at least partly) in a train station, so the museum is a perfect location. Filled with vintage train equipment and displays (which you can wander through before the show and at intermission), the museum is fascinating but also kind of dark and creepy and cold, and smells a little like a garage. Which is the perfect atmosphere for Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt's absurd "tragicomic" play. This is a very Frank play, with a huge and talented cast and great commitment to the highly stylized design and tone of the play.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"The Agitators" at Park Square Theatre

When planning their 2018-2019 season, Park Square Theatre couldn't have known how timely and relevant The Agitators would be. But then again, the lives and work of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass will never not be relevant and urgent until their dream of an America that is equal and just for all is realized. And we have not yet reached that day. That's why football players take the knee during the National Anthem, and why women take to the streets in pink hats. It's the legacy of these two self-described (at least in the words of the play) agitators, people who stir things up and get people talking, because that's where change begins. Their legacy is also our right to vote, which these two (among many) fought so hard to secure for all Americans. With what feels like the most important mid-term election in history approaching, it's a perfect time for this play to remind us just why the vote is so important that these two agitators devoted their entire lives to it. Playwrights' Center core writer Mat Smart's smart (pardon the pun), funny, engaging, and inspiring play couldn't come at a better time.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"The Miracle Worker" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre opens their 11th season in their cozy little space in a strip mall in suburban Osseo with an inspirational true story about two remarkable women. We all know the story of the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, Helen Keller, and her teacher Anne Sullivan, an orphan with vision problems of her own. But seeing The Miracle Worker on stage brings this story to life in a way that books or movies cannot, and Yellow Tree's beautiful staging in their intimate space is moving and immediate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf" at Penumbra Theatre

Penumbra Theatre's new production of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is my first experience with this acclaimed piece of theater, and now I see what all the fuss is about. I've heard the name of course, but didn't really know what it was about. Turns out it's about so much, and told in a uniquely moving way that's basically a series of poems with accompanying music and movement. I usually have a hard time connecting to poetry, but there's something about the beauty and raw truth of Ntozake Shange's words, and the gorgeous performances by this ten-person all women of color cast, that moved me to tears. I don't have adequate words to describe why, but do yourself a favor and go see it.