Saturday, March 2, 2024

"The Hatmaker's Wife" by Ten Thousand Things at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church

The Hatmaker's Wife by Lauren Yee (whose most recent work produced in #TCTheater was the epic Cambodian Rock Band by Theater Mu and Jungle Theater) feels like it was written for Ten Thousand Things (it wasn't - it premiered over ten years ago). It's in the vein of their magical fairy tale stories, that I think is my favorite kind of TTT show (even more than their clear-eyed Shakespeare or stripped down musicals). I can't imagine a "normal" theater company doing this play, meaning on a proscenium stage separated from the audience, with fancy lights, sets, and costumes. It's so well suited to the TTT All the Lights On style, weaving a magical and moving tale simply through the talents of the performers and the power of collective imagination (that makes even the aggressively religious paintings in the room at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church fade into the background). It's a story of love, and disconnection, and grief, and hope, a wistful and whimsical story of talking walls, golems, and connections across time. These hats continue to sing at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church this weekend (with a huge free parking lot) and then will move on to Open Book for two final weekends.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

"Clue" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

A newish 90-minute non-musical stage adaptation of the cult classic 1985 movie Clue is going on tour, and it's premiering right here in Minneapolis! I'm not a particular fan of this movie, in fact I watched it for the first time just last week (#research). I found the movie to be quite delightful, and the play even more so. First of all, I love a 90-minute show at the Orpheum Theatre, when you don't have to sit through a 20-minute intermission (or worse yet stand in line for the bathroom for 20 minutes), or stay up past 11pm (#morningperson). Secondly, it's a really fun mystery with lots of wordplay, clever nods to the popular board game, and hilarious physical comedy. The 90 minutes are jam-packed with laughs, the mystery part taking a back seat to the entertainment factor. If you're looking for a different kind of tour that's non-musical, short and sweet, and a fun time, check out the premiere of Clue through March 3 only, after which it will embark on a tour across the country.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

"On Beckett" at the Guthrie Theater

Friends, you're in for a treat. If you're an actor, or writer, or poet, or director, or any kind of artist, Bill Irwin's solo show On Beckett should be required viewing. And if you're not an artist, but you love art and listening to artists talk about their work (like me), you're going to love it too. Bill Irwin is a veteran actor of screen and stage (he won the 2005 Tony for best actor in a play for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), as well as a clown, as well as a decades-long student of playwright/author Samuel Beckett. So seeing him in anything is a treat, but seeing him in this very personal piece in which he talks about his love for (and sometimes frustration with) the work of Beckett is a rare delight. Whether or not you're familiar with Beckett (I'd only seen his most famous play, once), On Beckett is a riveting 90 minutes spent with a talented and passionate artist. See it at the Guthrie now through March 24.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

"Wine in the Wilderness" at Penumbra Theatre

Last weekend, I saw four plays written by women. The first three were by living playwrights (Grace McLean's musical In the Green, Lauren Gunderson's Silent Sky, and Keiko Green's world premiere Hells Canyon), and the fourth was by Alice Childress, one of the most prolific Black female playwrights of the 20th Century, who had her Broadway play debut just a few years ago - Trouble in Mind (which the Guthrie produced a few years earlier). Her plays seem to be having a resurgence in recent years, and it's about time. In 2017 Penumbra Theatre Company produced the gorgeous and devastating Wedding Band, and now they're presenting Wine in the Wilderness, about an artist painting Black women in 1960s Harlem. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of the intersection of race and gender, as always beautifully done by Penumbra.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

"Hells Canyon" by Theater Mu at Jungle Theater

The world premiere new play Hells Canyon is a revenge fantasy, in which the revenge comes almost 140 years after the crime - the murder of 34 Chinese goldminers in Oregon. The spirits of the murder victims are restless, and use a group of friends having a fun getaway at a cabin to enact their revenge. It's modern dramedy-horror with social commentary, in the vein of Get Out. Horror isn't really my thing, but this play is thrilling. It'll make you laugh, and think, and feel, and maybe jump out of your seat a little. Theater Mu's production is brilliantly cast with an incredible design that pulls off some real scares, and it's a must-see, especially if you're a fan of the horror genre (and even if you're not). It plays at the Jungle Theater* Wednesdays through Sundays until March 17. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

"Silent Sky" at Theatre in the Round

One of America's most produced playwrights of recent years, Lauren Gunderson is known for writing plays about women in history and/or science that are modern, feminist, funny, and moving. Silent Sky is one of her most popular - it's now receiving it's third #TCTheater production (I love it, but I'd also love to see The Half-Life of Marie Curie, or Emilie: La Marquise du Ch√Ętelet Defends Her Life Tonight, or any and all of her other plays). Silent Sky features little known astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who figured out a way to measure the universe, laying the foundation for more well-known (male) scientists like Edwin Hubble. In Gunderson's hands, Henrietta is a very real and relatable woman, who wants to do work that matters, and maybe also have a little fun along the way. With a strong five-person cast and elegantly simple design, Theatre in the Round's Silent Sky is entertaining and inspirational. Who knew science could be so dramatic and emotional?! (Lauren Gunderson, that's who.)

Friday, February 23, 2024

"In the Green" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

For seven years, Theatre Elision has been filling a niche in #TCTheater that we didn't know we needed - small cast, one act, original or rarely done musicals by mostly female creators and artists. In that time they've become one of my favorite theater companies, consistently producing high quality work that you just can't see anywhere else locally. That's definitely the case with the regional premiere of In the Green, less than five years after it premiered Off-Broadway. In a pre-show speech on opening night, resident Music Director Harrison Wade said it's the most difficult piece they've ever done. With its unique subject matter (12th Century nun/composer/scholar Hildegard von Bingen's years spent living secluded in a cell with her teacher), mix of modern and medieval music, and use of looping technology, it definitely feels like their most ambitious work, and perhaps the most rewarding because of it. I found myself moved to tears for reasons I can't explain. The musical taps into something deeply human, specifically what it means to be a female human in the world, and the performances by the five-woman cast, accompanied by a three-piece band, are simply stunning. If you like unique, original, boundary expanding music-theater, you do not want to miss this show. In the Green continues at Elision Playhouse in Crystal through March 9.

Monday, February 19, 2024

"C.L.U.E" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Southern Theater

For their 30th production, Collide Theatrical Dance Company is remounting/revising their 2015 original dance musical C.L.U., now with one letter added to be C.L.U.E. It's a parody of the classic board game (which I spent many hours playing as a kid) and the movie based on it (coincidentally, a new non-musical stage version will be at the Orpheum next week). While the mystery part may be a little thin, the dancing and performances are incredible, and the show is overall a whole lot of fun. Collide lives at the intersection of theater and dance, and as a primarily theater reviewer, it's fun to have an excuse to see some dance, especially when it tells a story in a theatrical way. Embrace the mystery and enjoy the dancing of C.L.U.E. at the Southern Theater (the best venue for dance) now through March 10.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

"Alice in Wonderland" at Children's Theatre Company

Children's Theatre Company is bringing back their original adaptation of Lewis Caroll's classic children's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Somehow I missed the last time they did it over a decade ago, perhaps mistakenly thinking it was just for kids. So this was my first time going down the rabbit hole with director Peter C. Brosius, composer and one-man band Victor Zupanc, and this exceedingly talented ensemble of young and grownup actors. It's two hours of sheer wonder, magic, and delight for audiences of all ages, so inventive and playful and surprising at every turn. The fun and whimsical sets and costumes, the ensemble leading us through the story like something out of Pantomime and/or English Music Hall traditions, and Caroll's endlessly entertaining series of oddball characters speaking nonsense combine for a truly enjoyable show. Bring your kids, your grownups, or yourself to see Alice in Wonderland now through the end of March.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

"Broadway Songbook: Broadway in Love" at Park Square Theatre

As part of their soft reopening after some financial troubles over the last year, Park Square Theatre is bringing James Rocco's Broadway Songbook series back to St. Paul. When he was Artistic Director at the Ordway, James did a dozen or more shows in the series, most of which I attended. I fondly remember them as the best musical theater edutainment, with James' stories and history combined with live performances by some of #TCTheater's top talent. The series has continued at various locations since James left the Ordway in 2017, but hopefully this is the first of many at Park Square. It's February, so the topic for this Songbook is "Broadway in Love," a very broad topic since just about every musical has a love story. So there was less of a cohesive historical or thematic throughline in this show, but more just a collection of some of James and friends' favorite love songs from musicals. Only two performances remain, so head to downtown St. Paul if you've been missing this unique brand of musical edutainment. And follow Park Square for the upcoming announcement of their four-show season, beginning with a summer mystery.

Friday, February 16, 2024

"Honey, I'm Home" at Open Eye Theatre

If walls could talk... they might sound like Madeleine Rowe in their solo show Honey, I'm Home, now playing at Open Eye Theatre as part of their Guest Artist Series. Because when Madeleine says "Honey, I'm home," they literally mean "I am a home." Over about 70 minutes, they personify a house that's been on the market for way too long, and just wants to be bought and lived in and loved, like anyone (or anything). It's a very funny, silly, odd little show that's playful and fun and participatory (in a not too scary way).

Thursday, February 15, 2024

"Mood Swings: An Exploration of the Concept Albums of Frank Sinatra" by Buzz Music Theater at the Hive Collaborative

When I chatted* with Laura Rudolph Morris and Eric Morris, new owners of The Hive Collaborative (the sweet intimate St. Paul theater space formerly known as Dreamland Arts) and co-founders of Buzz Music Theater, Eric talked about his love of the concept album, from Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift, as the perfect intersection of pop culture and theater. Now he's bringing that idea to the stage in the first of four events in a series they're calling "Conceptual Beginnings." In Mood Swings: An Exploration of the Concept Albums of Frank Sinatra, Eric sings some two dozen songs as a sort of song cycle around the themes of "relationships and the human experience." We do indeed go on "an emotional roller coaster" over the course of an hour, in a theatrical expression of classic songs from the American Songbook, from the Gershwins to Cole Porter. It's a fun evening that expands the idea of music-theater. But hurry, this short run concludes on Monday.