And now for something different. I attended MJTC's Bad Jews on the same night as Minnesota Theater Love's three bloggers Carly, Jules, and KRL, and we went out afterwards to discuss the show and theater in general. This is a show you'll want to talk about, and since the play is four people talking at and with each other, we decided to do a four-way... review of Bad Jews. What follows is our (mostly) unedited conversation.
So, Bad Jews,
bloodthirsty! [note: I interrupted Game of Thrones to do this chat]
Just over a year ago, the History Theatre presented a new play with music called Complicated Fun as part of their annual Raw Stages festival. The full production opened last night, and while it maintains the humor, complexity, and fun that was present in the reading, adding all the elements of a full production has taken it to a whole new level. This very Minnesotan story about the Minneapolis music scene of the early '80s is like a long-ago unknown history play to me, something that the History Theatre does very well. Although I'm of the right generation, I was perhaps a bit too young, a bit too suburban, and much too nerdy to be aware of what was going on in downtown Minneapolis clubs, most notably, First Avenue (a venue I've only visited a few times in recent years to see my folky faves Glen Hansard and Punch Brothers). So while people who lived through and loved this musical era will probably enjoy this piece in a much different and perhaps more meaningful way than I, for the uninitiated it succeeds as great theater that invites us into an unfamiliar experience and world.
The Moving Company is a unique theater company in this town of over 70 theater companies. The descendant of the beloved departed Theatre de la Jeune Lune, MoCo's productions are typically original ensemble-based creations. Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get with them: over-the-top ridiculous comedy, lovely achingly beautiful poignancy, or more likely, somewhere in between. Their new piece Every Sentence is For the Birds falls more towards the sublime end of the ridiculous-to-sublime spectrum that they cover. The two-person show about a scientist and her subject is both simple and profound, dealing with topics no less than the nature of science and art, and what it means to be human. Words are inadequate to describe The Moving Company's work, so you should just go see it for yourself. I guarantee it's unlike anything you will see on any other stage in town.
"This play is perfectly theatrical... it would be like if you took Little House on the Prairie and it has a little whiskey... and got together with The Wizard of Oz and Gunsmoke and A Prairie Home Companion and a Jane Austen novel and a medical textbook and spawned a theatrical love child! That would be Anatomy of Gray." I love all of those things (OK, except maybe for a medical textbook), so how could I resist Lyric Arts' current production Anatomy of Gray?! Director Scott Ford's description turns out to be quite apt, and I might also add a little The Normal Heart and even the similarly titled Grey's Anatomy to the mix. Anatomy of Gray is a sweet, funny, moving little play about the joys and sorrows of frontier life in the late 19th Century that poignantly reminds us that "we all come from love and loss."
Sometimes theater is more than just theater. Sometimes theater is about giving a voice to people whose voices are not often heard. Sometimes theater is about increasing our understanding of people who seem different than us, but who really are the same. Sometimes theater is about giving everyone a chance to see their lives and experiences reflected back at them, validating their existence and importance in the world. Mixed Blood Theatre's work often checks all of the above boxes, as is the case with the new play Charm by Phillip Dawkins.* Inspired by the true story of a transgender woman who teaches a charm school to homeless and at risk transgender youth, Charm premiered in Chicago last fall, but Mixed Blood's production is the first to include five transgender actors in the cast, which lends an air of poignant authenticity to this moving, funny, and at times difficult story.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical - I've got an animal heart for you. Even though I have no familiarity with the successful book series or movies, I felt obliged to see Children's Theatre Company's world premiere musical adaptation because of the talk about a possibly Broadway run, and producer Kevin McCollum also produced my favorite musical RENT (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week). But all sense of obligation quickly went out the window as the show won me over with it's clever and musically diverse score, universally relatable story of a kid trying to find himself in middle school, and most of all this incredible cast of mostly Twin Cities youth. Whether you're a kid stuck in the middle (school), or a jaded grown-up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical is simply irresistible, and I think it's going to go far.
I first saw director and playwright Alan Berks' adaptation of the 1921 Italian play Six Characters in Search of an Author three years ago at Gremlin Theatre (one of the last shows in their space on University in St. Paul). I called it "a weird, trippy experience, one that's difficult to explain or make sense of. But it sure is fun to try." I was eager to take that trip again with a slightly revamped version of the show, featuring some of the original cast members and some new ones. It was fun to see it in a new space with some new additions, and with a little more preparation for what I was in for. It's still pretty weird and trippy, and still asks some intriguing questions about reality, fiction, and theater itself. What follows is what I wrote three years ago, but with some updates about this production.
Tradition! The opening song of Fiddler on the Roof speaks of the traditions in the little Russian town of Anatevka in the early 20th Century, setting the stage for a story steeped in tradition, when to hold on to it and when to let go and embrace a new way of doing things. The new production at Artistry (formerly known as Bloomington Civic Theatre) is also steeped in tradition. There's nothing really new or innovative about this production; it's a faithful interpretation of this classic musical that, though a bit too long, is full of beautiful and familiar music and much heart in this universal story of a specific family. Artistry has assembled a huge and talented cast, and as always the score sounds gorgeous coming from the nearly 20-piece pit orchestra. If well done traditional classic musical theater is your thing, you might want to check this one out before it closes on May 8.
"I've wrestled with reality for over 40 years, and I'm happy to report that I finally won out over it." So says Elwood Dowd, he who sees the imaginary six-foot tall white rabbit, in the 1944 play Harvey by Mary Cole. That's an attitude I can fully get behind, because sometimes reality sucks. And I think that's part of the reason for my love of going to the theater - because I can forget the sometimes depressing reality of the world for a few hours and immerse myself in the world of the play. Harvey is just such a play. So maybe it's 70 years old, and is nothing ground-breaking or particularly illuminating about the society we live in today, but the Guthrie's new production of this classic is wonderful escapist entertainment that also provides some still relevant commentary on people, society, and relationships. The world might be a happier place if we all had our own Harvey to focus on rather than dwell on the harshness of the world around us.
I experienced my first night of improv comedy last night, not including a Fringe show here or there. My friend and blogger colleague Kendra of Artfully Engaging arranged a blogger night at HUGE Theater, and a great time was had by all! "All" includes myself and Kendra, our fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Laura from One Girl, Two Cities and Gina from The Room Where It Happens, and the entire Monday night audience, judging by the sounds of laughter in the room for the 90 minute two-act show. I enjoyed it even more than I expected to, and was truly impressed at the talent required for this very specific type of theater.
The theory of the quantum multiverse suggests that many different universes simultaneously exist, based on every choice we ever (or never) made. I don't know if I believe that, but I do believe that we are where we are in life based on a million choices we've made in our life, both significant and seemingly insignificant. It's intriguing to think that if we had made one or a hundred choices differently, we might be in a completely different place in life, doing something completely different, surrounded by completely different people. English playwright Nick Payne's new play Constellations, the second production in the Jungle Theater's 2016 season, plays with that idea to great effect. In one of my favorite plays that I've seen all year, we are taken on a journey of a relationship, but not just one single linear journey, rather countless iterations of that journey, some funny, some heart-breaking, some hopelessly romantic, all focused on these two people that are connected in some way in every one of the universes traveled.