Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Calendar Girls" at Park Square Theatre

"This is my favorite kind of play because it celebrates how deliciously human we are while also revealing how incredibly generous we can be when one of our own is in need of hope." This quote from director Mary M. Finnerty perfectly sums up the spirit of Park Square Theatre's Calendar Girls, the play based on the movie based on the real life story of a group of average, every-day, extraordinary women who come together to support one of their own by taking their clothes off. How does getting naked, or rather nude, help their friend? The calendar they pose for and sell raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, er... pounds, for Leukemia and Lymphoma research, the disease that took her husband. The play based on this inspiring story is truly a feel-good summer comedy with tons of heart and sisterhood. You'll laugh, you'll squirm in your seat, you'll shed a few (or many) tears, and you'll fall in love with these women (both the characters and the incredibly talented actors who play them) as they embrace their womanhood and their strength, and each other.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"South Pacific" at the Guthrie Theater

"Are we just as naive in America, even today, as we stand at the global altar, concurrently rejecting and embracing new faces? In our national mind and on our conscience we can hear the first three notes of South Pacific heralding again and again the foreignness and the familiarity of what we face, the potential and the risk. If music can store energy, it can release it."

Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 musical South Pacific is undoubtedly a genius musical score and a sweeping romance. But as the above quote from composer Adam Guettel (grandson of Richard Rodgers) indicates, South Pacific is so much more than just a pretty musical, and was truly ahead of its time. It told a story of interracial relationships 20 years before Loving v. Virginia abolished laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" is a brilliant thesis on racism and prejudice. When asked to remove the song because "it's untimely and it's not what patrons want to hear when they go to a musical," Oscar Hammerstein replied, "That's what the play is about!" Nearly seventy years later, with issues of immigration and prejudice on the daily news and in every political debate, South Pacific's themes of fear of the other vs. embracing and accepting the other are perhaps more relevant than ever. It's a perfect choice, then, to conclude Guthrie Artistic Director Joseph Haj's first season, and he does justice to this beautiful and meaningful classic with this wonderful production.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Classical Actors Ensemble in Como Park

Summer. That time of the year when Minnesota's two best attributes collide - the great outdoors, and theater. And what better play to experience on a beautiful Minnesota midsummer night than Shakespeare's most beloved romantic comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream? For their annual free summer Shakespeare in the park, Classical Actors Ensemble has made this perfectly obvious choice and delivered a charming and playful rendition of this tale of fairies and fools in love. They perform every weekend through mid-July either at Lake of the Isles or various Metro area parks (I caught up with them in Como Park), so be sure to add this to your summer to-do list (see my full summer theater must-see list here). This is how Shakespeare was meant to be seen - playful, immediate, approachable, and accessible to all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"The Bridges of Madison County" on Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

I'm not usually a fan of turning movies into musicals, but when Jason Robert Brown is the composer, I'm on board. I've been listening to the exquisite cast recording of the 2014 Broadway musical The Bridges of Madison County (adapted from the 1992 best-seller novel by Robert James Waller and the 1995 movie) since hearing a few songs at Musical Mondays last month, and I'm obsessed. It was a thrill to hear this gorgeous score live and watch the story play out around and through it, a story of impossible but life-changing love. The show inexplicably ran only a few months on Broadway, but lucky for us the first national tour is stopping at the Orpheum Theatre this week. If you're a fan of music-theater, or just music in general, go see the show to experience one of the best scores coming out of Broadway in recent years, wrapped up in a sweeping romance.

Monday, June 20, 2016

"Le Switch" at the Jungle Theater

Two years ago I saw Philip Dawkins' one-act play Failure: A Love Story at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and it was one of my favorite things I've ever seen at the Fringe. In fact I called it "everything I want in theater," a perfect blend of comedy and tragedy, with tons of heart (and it made me cry perhaps more than any other theater I've seen). At the time I didn't know who Philip Dawkins was, but now I know he's a Chicago-based playwright who is a core writer with the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis. His name has come up again recently when his new play Charm (also a mix of comedy and tragedy with heart) was produced at Mixed Blood earlier this year. And now comes Le Switch, developed at the Playwrights' Center and having a rolling world premiere this year, including at the Jungle Theater. I'm happy to report that like Failure, it gave me all of the feels (although I only shed a few tears, not buckets, probably because there are no animals in this one). Like Failure, Le Switch is a funny and beautiful love story, but not just a romantic love story (although there is that, and a wonderful one). It's also a love story between a brother and a sister who are each other's only family; a love story between childhood best friends who, despite their differences, still love and support each other unconditionally; a love story between the main character and a man who was more of a father to him than his biological father ever was or could be. It's a fantastic new play and I'm excited to see where it goes next.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (A Filipino) Hulk Hogan" by Mu Performing Arts at Park Square Theatre

I attended the Saturday matinee of Mu Performing Arts' world premiere play Tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (A Filipino) Hulk Hogan with all three of the Minnesota Theater Lovers (my friends and fellow theater bloggers). As we chatted over our post-show meal at the Afro Deli, it soon became apparent that we had very different experiences at the show. I find this fascinating and actually kind of cool, how two people can watch the same thing and see something entirely different. That's the beauty of theater, a beauty that, like for any art, is in the eye of the beholder; the theater-goer is just as important as the theater-makers in creating the experience. You'll have to head over to Minnesota Theater Love to read their perspective, and read on here for mine. Which is that Tot is, while a bit wacky and unclear in parts, a compelling and moving story of a boy whose world is turned upside down and who deals with it through a rich fantasy world.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"The Funny" by Raw Sugar at Bedlam Lowertown

I don't go to a lot of comedy shows, mostly because my busy theater schedule doesn't allow it. But I couldn't resist a night of feminist comedy hosted by Raw Sugar (aka Jenny Moeller and Rebekah Rentzel), a company that "makes adventurous and imaginative projects driven by women." They and their friends performed their third installment of The Funny at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis last weekend and continue at St. Paul's Bedlam Lowertown this weekend. It's a fun evening of comedy that ranges from the grounded and relatable to the crazy and over the top, with a few poignant moments thrown in as the artists explore what it means to be a woman/trans/femme in our patriarchal world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

2016 Summer Theater Preview

It's finally summer in Minnesota, and that means lakes, parks, camping, hiking, and best of all - summer theater! You can't spend every moment of the summer outdoors, because you wouldn't want to get a sunburn, and also sometimes it rains. So take a break from outdoor activities to see some great theater this summer (or watch theater outdoors!). Here are a few of your choices for summer theater playing on stages and in parks around Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding area (click the link in the title for more information on each show).

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"Brand New Day" at Mixed Blood Theatre

"Can't you feel a brand new day?" Unfortunately on the gun violence front, we're not there yet. But with organizations like Protect Minnesota, hopefully we will one day see a brand new day free from gun violence. Last night Protect MN celebrated 25 years of good work in the prevention of gun violence with a night of music and theater. This is my third time attending Protect MN's annual event produced and directed by local theater artist Joshua Campbell. And once again it was a great evening of inspiring music and sobering readings of how gun violence affects all of us. Read on to find out more about last night's celebration, or visit Protect Minnesota's website to see how you can help.

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Knight of the Burning Pestle" by Theatre Pro Rata at Dreamland Arts

Sunday was a day of comedy for me. First I saw one of the most beloved comedies of American theater - The Odd Couple - in an excellent production at Lyric Arts. Then I traveled from the 1960s back to the 1600s with Theatre Pro Rata's Knight of the Burning Pestle, the first parody in English theater. This play-within-a-play is a spoof of theater itself, and the cast has great fun with it. And while I didn't always understand the specifics of what was going on (I sometimes have a hard time with Shakespearean era language), that didn't seem to matter. The enjoyment comes in watching the delightfully campy performances of the eight-person cast as they poke gentle fun at the thing we all love best -theater.

"Odd Couple" at Lyric Arts

Sometimes all you need is to laugh at a good old-fashioned comedy. Neil Simon's 1965 play The Odd Couple fits the bill. Yes, it's a "first world problems" kind of play, and the depiction of women as playthings is problemantic in today's world. But there's a reason it had such long-lasting success (it was made into not just a movie, but also a TV sitcom and a recent reboot). The reason being that Simon's sharply drawn characters and fast witty dialogue are just plain funny. And yes it's been done a lot, but Lyric Arts' production makes this old chestnut worth seeing again with their perfect casting, spot-on direction, and fantastic set. So take a trip back to 1960s NYC and have a good time with "divorced, broke, and slobby" Oscar and his reluctant roommate Felix, who "wears a seat-belt at a drive-in movie."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

"Ballad of the Pale Fisherman" by Transatlantic Love Affair at the Southern Theater

Devised physical theater company Transatlantic Love Affair won an Ivey in 2012 for Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, an original work based on the legend of the selkie, a seal who takes human form. I did not see that production (part of Illusion Theater's "Fresh Ink" series), having only "discovered" TLA shortly before their Ivey win through their Fringe show Ash Land. I saw it at the final "audience pick" show because it was the talk of the festival that year. Seeing TLA for the first time was one of the most moving theater experiences I've had, and I haven't missed a show since. I'm thrilled they're bringing back Ballad of the Pale Fisherman as part of the Southern's ARTshare program. Seeing it last night, it's obvious why it won the Ivey (but then, I would give them an Ivey for every one of their shows, and in fact the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers awarded them two "favorites" last year). No one casts a spell like Transatlantic Love Affair, as they tell a story and create an entire world with nothing but their bodies, voices, and souls. Ballad of the Pale Fisherman is an achingly beautiful and completely engrossing 75 minutes of storytelling.

Friday, June 3, 2016

"And So It Goes" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

"If this isn't nice, I don't know what the hell is." This quote by American author Kurt Vonnegut is also a line in Canadian playwright George F. Walker's play And So It Goes, in which Vonnegut is a (ghostly) character. And it's a fine way to summarize the experience of watching Dark and Stormy's production of the play. The "this" in this case is a funny/tragic script brought to life by four of the Twin Cities best actors with an interesting and intimate staging in an unconventional space. It doesn't get much better than that, friends. And even though I've never read Vonnegut and don't know much about him (I was a math major), I do know theater, and this is great stuff.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Reading of "Minneapolis/St. Paul" at the Playwright's Center

A few weeks ago, the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB) were invited to attend a reading of a new play by Lee Blessing at the Playwrights' Center. The reading was open to the public, but the bloggers were invited by Marketing Manager Jessica Franken to attend and have a private conversation with the playwright after the reading. Our first official event as a group, it was an incredible opportunity to learn more about what the Playwrights' Center does, experience a fantastic new play still in development, and talk with a playwright about what we all love best - theater. We have another TCTB event coming up at Park Square Theatre, a pre- and post-show discussion at the Sunday matinee of Calendar Girls on June 26 (more details on that coming soon). As a group, one of the things we hope to do is increase connection among the theater-going audience, with each other and with theater-makers. We look forward to partnering with more theaters in the future as we work towards this goal (send us a message at our Facebook page or email me if you'd like to learn more).