Monday, May 30, 2016

"Buried Child" by Red Bird Theatre at the Southern Theatre

I'm starting to think Sam Shepard is a modern-day Tennessee Williams. Both write dark and tragic family stories, Williams focusing on Southern families, while Shepard's play have a modern Western feel (in tone if not geography). Shepard's first big hit was the 1978 Off-Broadway play Buried Child, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Red Bird Theatre (a company previously unknown to me) is presenting this dark and twisted masterpiece as part of Southern Theatre's ARTshare program, and I loved it. I'm not sure why, but the darker and more depressing a play is, the happier it makes me. Walking out of the theater after a Sunday matinee, it just felt wrong that the sun was shining on a beautiful day, and it took me a few minutes to shake the darkness off my shoulders. But what a wonderful experience; a terrific cast and excellent production of this darkly poetic and deeply disturbing American classic.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

"Scapegoat" at Pillsbury House Theatre

The new play Scapegoat by local playwright Christina Ham (whose work can be seen on several stages around the Cities this spring) explores a little known part of American history, the Elaine, Arkansas race riot of 1919, which led to the landmark Supreme Court case Moore v. Dempsey. The full story of events (in which hundreds of black sharecroppers were killed by white mobs in response to their attempts to unionize) is tragic, epic, and complicated. Rather than try to tell the whole story, the play focuses on two sharecropper families, one white and one black, and the unspeakably horrible murder that ties them together. The second act takes place in the present time when two interracial couples from New York visit the area while on vacation and are shocked to discover the history, each of them affected in different ways. Similar to Clybourne Park, Scapegoat looks at a racial conflict of the past from the perspective of that time, and also looking back at it from today in our supposedly post-racial society, showing how much things have changed, and how much they haven't.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Sons of the Prophet" at Park Square Theatre

"You are far greater than you know, and all is well." In the 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist Sons of the Prophet, the members of the Lebanese-American Douaihy family cling to this quote from their distant relation Khalil Gibran like a lifeline in the midst of their suffering. The also idolize the Lebanese Saint Rafqa, a 19th Century nun who prayed for suffering so she could feel closer to God. Being raised Catholic, I'm familiar with the idea of suffering as virtue, and I don't buy it. Suffering is not something to be sought after, it doesn't make us more pious. But let's face it, suffering is a part of life. We all suffer in different immeasurable ways. The suffering itself is not a virtue, rather it's how we're able to get through it and who we are on the other side that matters. The Douaihy brothers endure their suffering with humor and compassion in this play full of quirkily endearing characters that ends with no resolution, only a promise of more suffering, and more life.

Friday, May 27, 2016

"The Christians" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Mixed Blood Theatre

Why do we believe what we believe? Can our beliefs change? What happens when those we love don't believe the same things we believe? How important is it to find a group of people that believe in the same things you do? These are just a few of the questions raised by Walking Shadow Theatre Company's excellent production of the thought-provoking play The Christians. In just 90 minutes or so, we witness the pastor of a hugely successful church lose everything because he preaches what he believes, which contradicts the teachings of the church, causing everyone in his life to reexamine their beliefs as well. And it just might have this same effect on the audience.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"A New Brain" by Second Fiddle Productions at Camp Bar

I'm a musical theater nerd. But I'm not the kind of musical theater nerd that listens to cast albums of shows I've never seen. I guess for me, musicals are more about seeing the story as it plays out before me, and then I often buy the cast recording to relive that experience. So when it comes to musicals that are beloved in the musical theater community but rarely performed, for whatever reason, I typically have not heard them. That's where Second Fiddle Productions (and Artistic Director Ruthie Baker) come in. Now in their third season, Second Fiddle produces readings of rare musicals using some of the Twin Cities finest music-theater talent.

Monday, May 23, 2016

"The Glass Menagerie" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SPACE

Tennessee Williams is one of my favorite playwrights, and all I ask of a production of one of his plays is that it leave me with that feeling of delicious melancholy. Theatre Coup d'Etat's production of The Glass Menagerie, my favorite Williams play, did just that. As I drove home last night and saw the big moon hanging heavy in the sky, I sighed and made a wish for something that would never come true. Just like the characters in Menagerie, Williams most personal play. Theatre Coup d'Etat's interesting staging with appropriate mood lighting and music really makes it feel like you're looking in on Tom's (aka Williams') memories of his family. Which is always a beautifully tragic rumination on the past, how memory works, and how the choices we've made continue to affect us.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Urinetown" by DalekoArts at the Prague Theatre

The Twin Cities theater scene is broad and deep, with over 70 professional theater companies offering a diverse array of storytelling. Most of the theater spaces are in the Cities themselves, specifically Minneapolis. But the seven-county Metro area is populous and geographically large. Why should those of us who live in the suburbs have to travel into the city to see professional theater? Fortunately there is a growing remedy to that. We have Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo, on the Northwest side of the cities, about to enter their 9th season. And even further out, we now have DalekoArts in New Prague, founded by local theater artists Ben Thietje and Amanda White "as a way to help decentralize professional theatre in Minnesota." Approximately 46 miles from Minnesota's theater mecca Minneapolis, New Prague is on the very Southern border of the seven-county Metro area. When I was growing up very near there (just outside of the tiny town of New Market) in the '70s and '80s, it was a rural area, but has since experienced tremendous growth. While it's a bit sad to see the bucolic land of my childhood overcome with housing developments and fast food restaurants, the good news is that's a lot of people to support the arts. Judging by my first visit to see their hilarious and crisp production of Urinetown, Daleko (which means "far away" in Czech) seems to be filling that role quite nicely. Southern Metro-ans - take note!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Queens" by Sandbox Theater at Park Square Theatre

Sandbox Theatre has been around for over ten years, but I just "discovered" them two years ago at the Fringe. In those two years I have come to look forward to their shows, which are always new ensemble-created works that combine movement, music, and acting to create something quite unique, sometimes a bit odd, and often lovely. Their newest piece Queens has the smallest cast I've seen - just three actors - but is just as lovely and inventive as their other work. This seemingly simple story of a boy who goes in search of the father he never knew and becomes a boxer, losing himself in the process, is actually much deeper and more layered than it first appears (but I'll let you figure that out for yourself). This group of artists has once again created something unique and special and quietly lovely.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Trouble in Mind" at the Guthrie Theater

Friends, something exciting is going on at the Guthrie Theater. In the wake of (not unjustified) criticism about their lack of diversity onstage and backstage, they are currently presenting a 60-year-old play written by Alice Childress, one of the most important female African-American playwrights of the 20th Century, and directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton, the first African-American woman to ever direct on a Guthrie mainstage. And I'm happy to report that Trouble in Mind succeeds on so many levels. First of all, it's hilarious, engaging, and entertaining, and offers a behind the scenes look at the theater world we love so well. But more importantly, it talks about racism, sexism, classism, ageism in a smart and nuanced way that has as much resonance in today's world as it did in the 1950s NYC theater world depicted in the play. I was fortunate enough to attend on a night when there was a post-show discussion with the cast, which just made the experience that much richer. The best and most important work of theater is to start conversations about the world we live in, give voice to everyone's stories, and in doing so help us to better understand our fellow human beings. Trouble in Mind, and the conversations it will hopefully spark amongst its audience, is a fantastic example of that.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

"The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" by Four Humors at the Guthrie Theater

When the ingenious gentlemen of Four Humors apply their unique, clever, and hilarious storytelling style to a classic such as The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, it's a thing not to be missed. And even though I've experienced many such unique adaptations by Four Humors, as well as original work, last night's world premiere opening night still gave me something unexpected. As the play points out, everyone knows Don Quixote, even if you're never read the book or heard the name Miguel de Cervantes (as for myself, I've only seen the musical adaptation Man of La Mancha, natch). Four Humors tells the classic story about honor, chivalry, and madness in a unique way using puppetry projection (and thereby possibly inventing a new art form?) and by making Cervantes a character in the play, allowing the characters to step outside the story and comment on it. I believe this is Four Humors' debut at the Guthrie, which will no doubt expose a new audience to their often accomplished mission "to create art that celebrates the humor, stupidity, and beauty of our world by letting the artist connect with the audience in a vulnerable and honest way."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"The Changelings" by Ten Thousand Things at Bedlam Lowertown

The final show in Ten Thousand Things' 2015-2016 season is another new play from their playwright in residence, Kira Obolensky. Ten Thousand Things is in the business of telling stories and sharing human truths through fairy tales, because that distance and sense of fantasy allows their non-traditional audiences (they perform for free in prisons, homeless shelter, community centers, etc., as well as paid public performances for more traditional audiences) to see their own lives and experiences reflected back at them, without the harshness of reality.* The Changelings, like last year's Forget Me Not When Far Away and Dirt Sticks two years ago, is a new original fairy tale set in an unspecified time and place (the playbill tells us the three plays exist in the same universe). And like those two plays, it's charming and funny and poignant as it speaks of love, loss, grief, hope, family, and community, a relatable human story set in a made-up world that appeals to traditional and non-traditional theater audiences alike.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"The Book of Mormon" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

If theater is my religion, The Book of Mormon is my most sacred text. Not the actual book of course, rather the wildly irreverent musical written by the creators of South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) along with EGOT winner Robert Lopez. It is a nearly perfect musical, and definitely one of most joyous musicals I've ever seen. One of the brilliant things about The Book of Mormon is that it allows us to laugh at institutionalized religion (and let's face it, there are plenty of ridiculous things to laugh at) while still espousing the value of faith in oneself and one's friends and community, and "working together to make this our paradise planet!" It truly is a feel-good musical that has the hugest heart, despite its unbelievably foul mouth. Back when it premiered in 2011, The Book of Mormon was what Hamilton is today - a smash hit musical that swept the Tonys and was an impossible ticket to get. Fortunately five years later tickets are a little easier to come by; tickets are still available for all performances in the tour's month-long stop at the Orpheum Theatre (in fact you can even get discount tickets on Goldstar!). If you're a fan of musical theater (who isn't offended by profanity and poking fun at religion), The Book of Mormon is definitely a must-see. And since it's still running on Broadway and touring the country, it likely won't be available for regional productions for many years, so this tour may be your only chance to see it for a while. Don't miss it!