Sunday, April 18, 2021

Two Lauren Gunderson Plays: "The Catastrophist" by Jungle/Round House/Marin Theatres and "I and You " by Steppingstone Theatre

After a particularly difficult week (rising COVID cases, vaccine side effects, the continued murder of Black people by the police, mass shootings, i.e., just another week in America) I took a much-needed hiatus from my phone today and instead spent some time at my church - theater. Specifically, I streamed two plays by one of my and America's current favorite playwrights, Lauren Gunderson (she's one of the most produced living playwrights in recent years; I saw two of her plays in February 2020, just before this extended intermission began). In the last year or so of virtual theater, I've found that I love watching theater in the morning - 7am or earlier, first thing when I get up while I eat breakfast, before doing my morning zoom yoga. It's a wonderful way to start the day. I began my phone-less theater-filled day with Lauren's newest play, The Catastrophist, a Jungle Theater co-production with DC's Round House Theatre and San Francisco's Marin Theatre Company. Then, after yoga and a lovely bike ride around my neighborhood, I watched I and You over lunch, produced by Steppingstone Theatre, which has recently joined forces with Park Square Theatre. The two plays are quite different, but share similar themes as well as Lauren's smart, clever, witty dialogue and realistic characters (one of whom actually is real). Both plays are under 90 minutes and really great choices for your stay-home-stay-safe-stream-some-theater week.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

"Kodachrome" streaming from Locally Grown Theatre

One good thing to come out of this extended intermission from live theater is discovering new theater companies. I had not previously heard of Locally Grown Theatre, a community theater in "Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island, and the surrounding area," but this week I watched a virtual play in the zoom style of theater and quite enjoyed it. Kodachrome is a sweet little Our Town-ish play about life in a small town, with all the mundanity and profundity that entails. Even though they're each performing in their own little box, the seven-person cast (although disappointingly lacking in diversity) all give wonderful performances that create a feeling of community in this story of love and loss.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

"The Lady with All the Answers" streaming from Lakeshore Players Theatre

Recently recorded on stage at the beautiful new Hanifl Performing Arts Center in White Bear Lake, the one-woman show about advice columnist Ann Landers, The Lady with All the Answers, is now streaming from Lakeshore Players Theatre. #TCTheater favorite Shanan Custer inhabits the woman behind the famous words, whose real name was Eppie Lederer, as she navigates a challenging time in her life and the wish to share honestly with her readers. With full set, costumes, lighting, and even a bit of crowd laughter from the crew, filmed from several different camera angles, it really feels like an engaging and entertaining theater performance that we just happen to be watching from home.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

"Merge: Give Ear" streaming from the Cowles Center

Berit Ahlgren and Nathan Keepers
(photo by Shelly Mosman)
Give Ear is one of the many shows that were scheduled to open in March 2020; I call them "ghost shows." Some of them had a few performances before being cancelled, some of them just dress rehearsals or previews, some of them never even reached that point. Some of these shows will return in some form when theaters open again, but some will never come to be, and just remain an idea in the artists' minds. The Cowles Center gave creators Berit Ahlgren, Nathan Keepers, and company the opportunity to revisit Give Ear one year later and make it into something new. The result is a film/dance/theater piece that combines footage from the filmed final dress rehearsal last year and the new performance this year (both filmed on the Goodale Stage with no audience) with footage from the rehearsal/creative process (in one of the gorgeous studios in the Cowles Center) that sort of bridges the two performances. As Nathan says at one point, it "turned out to be super meta and weird." It's a look inside the artistic process as these artists try to make sense of the original piece they were trying to make one year ago and everything that's happened since. Nothing will be the same when this pandemic is over. Give Ear is an exploration of what that looks like for this one specific "ghost show."

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Ghostlight Series: "Re-Cast" streaming from Theater Latte Da

The second of Theater Latte Da's five-part virtual cabaret series called "The Ghostlight Series" is now available! Following January's powerful and moving Twelve Blocks From Where I Live, Regina Marie Williams's response to the murder of George Floyd in photos and song, Re-Cast gives some of our favorites the chance to sing a song from a role they would never be cast in. Or at least haven't been yet. Both shows are available to watch now and as many times as you want through August with the purchase of a season pass. These gorgeously filmed and edited 30-minute shows with fantastic performances from some of #TCTheater's best are worth every penny, helping to bridge the gap until we can gather in person again to share stories and music.

"Live From New York, He's A Prom Date!" streaming from Theatre Unmasqued

For your safe-at-home theater viewing, #TCTheater artist Jen Maren (perhaps most well know for playing the infamous Minnesota murderer and arsonist Marjorie Congden in History Theatre's smash hit original musical Glensheen) has adapted her solo show Live From New York, He's A Prom Date! to the streaming environment. Written and directed by her husband Pete Simmons, the show tells the story of when Jen's mom called the Sally Jessy Raphael Show and got them on the show for an episode about moms upset that their daughters weren't asked to prom. Yes, that actually happened, and yes, it's just as awful and cringe-worthy as you think. Jen plays all of the characters as she tells this story, which is as hilarious as it is poignant in her description of her relationship with her mom.

Friday, February 26, 2021

"DIGITAL" streaming live, by Emily Michaels King

image courtesy of Emily Michaels King
In one of the most innovative uses of the new virtual art media that I've seen, #TCTheater artist Emily Michaels King brings us a new creation called DIGITAL, streamed live via Zoom from her home to yours. Much like her solo show at the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival, DIGITAL combines various forms of art and media, is difficult to describe, is not always understandable, and yet is profoundly moving. As usual Emily puts her heart and soul into the performance, which is felt even from a distance through a screen. DIGITAL is definitely unique in the #TCTheater virtual space right now, and you have several more chances to catch it through March 6.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

"The Dolls of New Albion" streaming from Feral Theatre Company

Intrepid young #TCTheater company Feral Theatre seems to have figured out this pandemic theater thing. Maybe because they've only been around since 2019, they were able to be more flexible and adaptable to the new world, since they had barely established themselves in the old world. In the last year, they've produced a series of podcast play readings, had several entries in the 2020 Virtual Minnesota Fringe Festival, and presented a live virtual production of The Awakening of Spring from various locations. Now they're bringing us the regional premiere The Dolls of New Albion, which seems to be somewhat of a cult hit musical, especially in the UK. In fact, this is only the third US production. It's a great piece; it reminds me of the kind of obscure musical gems that Theatre Elision and Minneapolis Musical Theatre often do. And it lends itself well to this time, in that although this production features a nine-person cast, most scenes only involve a few of them. They're able to practice social distancing on stage, wearing masks if there are multiple people on stage (even singing through masks), or removing their mask if they're alone on stage. Because that's right, this show is performed live, with all of the performers together, at Elision Playhouse. I can only hope/assume that they are following protocols backstage as well, but from this end, they appear to be doing everything right. That is: live theater almost as we remember it, with safety protocols in place for the performers, and with the audience tuning in from the safety of their own homes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

"Promise of America: A Celebration of Jewish American Song" streaming from Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's 2020-2021 "Theater Six Feet Apart" season continues with another virtual offering. Promise of America: A Celebration of Jewish American Song premiered last weekend and is available to stream at specific times through February 21. The cabaret show features songs from musical theater and popular culture by Jewish American composers, as well as a bit of history and commentary provided by the cast and creators. Of course, one hour is not nearly enough to showcase the incredible contributions to 20th Century music by Jewish Americans, but it's a great sampler, from the Gershwins to Carole King to Nassim Black.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Valentine's Day Cabarets Streaming from Yellow Tree Theatre, Collide Theatrical Dance Company, and Duluth Playhouse

While it may be true that "Valentine's Day is a sham created by card companies to reinforce and exploit gender stereotypes*," there's plenty to love this Valentine's Day weekend in the world of streaming #TCTheater. And with sub-zero temps here in Minnesota, what better is there to do than cuddle up under a pile of blankets with your loved ones, pets, or friends, with a hot cuppa something in your hands, and watch some shows? First of all, if you haven't caught one of Bucket Brigade's LIVE performances of their original musical 'Til Death, streamed from Art House North direct to your house, you can still do so tonight or tomorrow (click here for more on that). Or choose one of these on-demand options (click on show title for more info and to purchase tickets).

Sunday, February 7, 2021

"Today is My Birthday," a Live Virtual Play from Theater Mu

cover of virtual program
(photo by Rich Ryan)
In their first full production in the virtual space, Theater Mu has brought us something completely unique, that I don't think we've seen before in #TCTheater. I have seen not a little virtual theater in the last year, which ranges from recordings of pre-pandemic shows, to simple Zoom readings, to shows created specifically for streaming. But I have not previously seen a live production on this scale, with actors in six different locations across the country, using multiple areas in their homes, along with green screens, virtual backgrounds, sound cues, split screens, and overlayed images in an incredibly ambitious and successful technical feat. Today is My Birthday is truly innovative storytelling in a way that's never been seen before.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

"‘Til Death: A Marriage Musical: The Livestream!" by Bucket Brigade Theater

Bucket Brigade Theater premiered their new original musical 'Til Death, written by and starring co-founders Jeremiah and Vanessa Gamble, in 2012. They've presented it at Art House North in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood since 2015 for Valentine's Day. This year, they've turned it into a concert version, streamed live from Art House North into your house! I've seen the musical twice in the past before watching the premiere of the livestream last night, and I'm truly impressed at how the charm, silliness, and heart of the piece has translated into the virtual space. And it's about as close to live theater as we can get these day. Only four more performances remain - one tonight and three next weekend (click here for more details).