Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Sense and Sensibility" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie's 2016-2017 season marks my 14th season as a subscriber, and I'm still just as excited as I ever was to walk into that big beautiful building on the river. In fact, more than excited, it feels like home. It's my happy place (especially when preceded by dinner at my favorite restaurant, Spoonriver). I've always been a fan of the Guthrie, but there's a new excitement in the air. It's the second season for new Artistic Director Joseph Haj (who recently accepted the Ivey for the ensemble of Trouble in Mind), and you can already see the changes, specifically in a greater commitment to new works and greater diversity onstage and behind the scenes. The first play in the new season is a wonderful example of that. While Jane Austen's beloved novel Sense and Sensibility is over 200 years old, this is a brand new adaptation that tells the story with a freshness and drive that makes it feel new. And by the way, the playwright is a woman, a young woman, an actress, who played the role of Marianne in her adaptation off Broadway. The Guthrie's production is directed by a woman (Sarah Rasmussen, herself an exciting new Artistic Director over at the Jungle), with scenic and costume design by a woman, and featuring a cast that is two-thirds women and ethnically diverse. That is reason for excitement indeed, especially when the end product is this delightful.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Ragtime" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da is opening their 19th season (and their first season in their new home, the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis, where they have been in residence for a few years but only recently purchased) with a Tony-winning musical written nearly 20 years ago, set 110 years in the past, that is perhaps the most timely and relevant musical for the America we're living in now. Ragtime (book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) deals with the two biggest social issues of the day - anti-immigrant sentiment and racism (not to mention issues of class and gender). Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime explores the tension that arose from the clash of cultures in New York City in the early 20th Century. When viewed through the lens of the present time, in which black men are repeatedly killed for no reason other than the color of their skin, the clothing they're wearing, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and businesses in our own small towns put up signs that say "no Muslims allowed," this already powerful story, beautifully told through words, characters, and music, becomes even more meaningful and important. Director Peter Rothstein and his incomparable team of actors, singers, musicians, and designers have brought this story to life in a way that's aesthetically pleasing, highly entertaining and engaging, and most importantly, clearly delineates the parallels with our own world.

"The Liar" at Park Square Theatre

Playwright David Ives' adaptation of the 17th Century French farce The Liar, now playing at Park Square Theater, is a like a Shakespearean mistaken identity comedy (two women are mistaken for each other, and there are twins) mixed with a bit of Jane Austen (it's all about who marries whom and what they can offer), told with a sort of Spamalot wackiness, but instead of music there is rhyme. Sure the plot is sort of sexist (a man woos a woman he barely knows, then quickly switches to another woman he barely knows, and the women only care about getting married), but that blow is somewhat softened by the casting of a woman in as the most offending man, the titular liar. And the silly plot is just a frame upon which to hang the clever and beautiful pentameters and the hilarious performances by this fantastic eight-person cast.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Broadway Songbook: Rebels! On Broadway" at the Ordway Concert Hall

Now in its 6th season, the Ordway's Broadway Songbook series is a unique opportunity to learn about the history of American musical theater (my favorite topic) while being entertained by fabulous performances by some of the Twin Cities' top music-theater talent. I've attended nearly every installment of the series (except when they've inconveniently scheduled them for when I'm out of town), with topics ranging from composers like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, to themes like the first 100 years and Rock and Roll. This is another theme-based Songbook: "Rebels! On Broadway." A more apt title would be "21st Century Rebels," as all but one of the musicals featured debuted in the 21st Century. But it's wise to limit the scope, because as host and co-writer James Rocco says, American musical theater began with rebels, and all major strides forward were made by rebels. Even Rodgers and Hammerstein were rebels when they began (a musical with a serious plot?!), and I can't think of a more rebellious act than burning a draft card onstage in 1967, which Hair did every night. But the best part about focusing on recent Broadway rebels is that it provides an excuse for performances of not one, not two, but three songs from the biggest Broadway hit in decades - Hamilton. That alone is worth the price of admission, but you also get lots of other great songs and stories in another fantastic installment of the Broadway Songbook series.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Waiting for Waiting for Godot" by Loudmouth Collective at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Waiting for Waiting for Godot is definitely the lightest and funniest show Loudmouth Collective has done in their five seasons. And friends, it's really funny. Playwright Dave Hanson has written a clever, smart, and silly companion play to Beckett's classic absurdist play Waiting for Godot, in which two understudies are waiting backstage for their moment in the spotlight. Much like the original (which I've seen but am not super familiar with, having only seen it once at the Jungle a few years agoWaiting for Waiting for Godot is kind of just two idiots blathering about nothing. But in doing so the play touches on the nature of acting and waiting and being. It's another great choice for Loudmouth. As much as I love their dark and intense side, what a treat it is to watch them be fun and playful, while still putting on a sharp and all-around high-quality production with a dream team of cast and creative. In short - go see it! And soon, because it's only around through next weekend, after which you'll just be waiting for Loudmouth's next show in the spring

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The 2016 Ivey Awards at the State Theatre

The leaves are beginning to turn, there's a crispness to the air, it must be fall in Minnesota. Not only is it time to get out your boots and sweaters (yay!), it's also time to celebrate the Twin Cities theater scene (double yay!). The Ivey Awards are held every year on a Monday in late September. This was my 10th year attending the ceremony (I think I only missed two), and I love it (even though the fabulous after party keeps me up way past my bedtime, which takes me days to catch up from, which is why I'm just now, on Thursday, sitting down to write this). This year's theme was "theater at play," celebrating the joy of theater and the good things it brings to our lives in this time of increasing violence and divisiveness. Theater brings us together, and helps us understand each other. Or at least we hope that's what it does. So let's celebrate another year of #TCTheater!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"The Children" at Pillsbury House Theatre

Medea. Even if, like me, you've never seen or read the play, we all know the story of the mother who kills her children. Worst mother ever, right? But maybe, as they say on Crazy Ex Girlfriend, the situation is a bit more nuanced than that. Maybe there's more to the story, maybe other people in the story see it differently. Playwright Michael Elyanow (see also the beautiful play with music Lullaby) wanted to explore the story from the children's viewpoint. He writes in the playbill, "I started writing The Children as a response play where somebody does take action to defend those kids. In the writing, the piece revealed itself to be a fever dream, a time-traveling mystery, a fish-out-of-water comedy, a theatrical event with a perception shift in every scene until we get at what the play is ultimately, singularly about: trauma survival." That's about as good of a description as I could imagine. The Children is not an easy play to categorize, but it is a wonderful one to experience for 80 minutes. It'll challenge your perception of Medea, as well as your perception of time and space.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"The Taming" by Theatre Unbound at SteppingStone Theater

Women in politics. It's a pretty timely issue in this election season that may end with America's first woman president (if we're lucky and vote smart). Theatre Unbound's The Taming looks at women and politics, specifically "three powerful, ambitious, and politically motivated women: an animal-loving Democratic social media giant, a workaholic Queer Republican Senator's aide, and a Miss America-hopeful who attempts to break their divide and bring the parties together to rewrite the constitution" (per a note in the program from director Mel Day). Inspired by Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, but not bearing a whole lot of resemblance to it, there's still a whole lot of fodder for political satire, humor, and wackiness, and The Taming delivers.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" at Theatre in the Round

The longest-running theater in Minneapolis, Theatre in the Round is opening their 65th season with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the familiar story of the doctor who turns into a sociopath. An intriguing feature of this adaptation by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (whose adaptation work can also currently be seen in Lyric Arts' chilling Wait Until Dark) is that while Dr. Jekyll is played by one actor. his alter ego Mr. Hyde is played by four different actors who alternate and sometimes are all present on stage, sometimes along with Dr. Jekyll. This provides a unique glimpse into the fractured and frightening psyche of Jeckyll/Hyde. The story is well-told by the eight-person cast and well-staged in TRP's in-the-round space.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up" by Mu Performing Arts at the Rarig Center Arena

The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up. It's a catchy title, although I'm not sure how descriptive it is. But I am sure that Two Kids is a fantastic new play and one that we sorely need. It's the story of a life-long friendship between an Asian American man and woman who meet as children when their mother and father begin a troubled relationship. While it's tempting to say these two characters are fascinating, complex, realistic people who just happen to be Asian American, that's discounting the impact that ethnicity, culture, and race have on their lives, on all our lives. Their ethnicity adds a level of specificity to these characters, and more importantly, it allows an often marginalized community to see themselves at the center of this very human, messy, funny, beautiful story. As a middle class white woman from the suburbs of Minnesota, I can never fully understand what it's like to rarely see yourself or your community represented on TV, in movies, and on the stage, or perhaps even worse, misrepresented. But I can recognize what a rare and beautiful thing this is. And it's also a smartly written and directed play, beautifully acted by two of the Twin Cities' best.

"Wait Until Dark" at Lyric Arts

Anoka's Lyric Arts Main Street Stage opens their 2016-2017 season with an updated version of the 1960s thriller Wait Until Dark. Living on the north side of the Twin Cities, it's a pretty easy jaunt up Highway 10 to Anoka, and I've come to enjoy the trip. Lyric Arts may be a community theater in the suburbs, housed in an old movie theater in charming downtown Anoka, but much of what you'll see there is as good as anything you could see on a professional stage in the Twin Cities. Wait Until Dark is one such example. It's a technically challenging show, with the very specific "dark" and fights and suspense and all, and this team pulls it off beautifully. I was literally on the edge of my seat with my hands over my mouth, terrified of the sounds coming from the stage as we sat in complete and utter darkness. If you're a Lyric Arts fan, or have never been, you don't want to miss this one, especially if you're on the north end of town. You may need to sleep with the light on for a night or two, but it's worth it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"The River" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Open Eye Theatre

If your new boyfriend invites you to his cabin to go fly fishing in a river by the sea, just say no. That's what I learned from Walking Shadow's The River. This seemingly happy new relationship takes an unsettling, unexpected, and vaguely creepy turn over the course of 90 minutes. I don't want to say too much about what happens, because the discovery and the figuring it out is half the fun of this play. Or maybe fun isn't the right word. But this fascinating exploration of love and relationships, with strong performances by the cast, fluid unhurried direction, and a spot-on detailed set is definitely entertaining.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Assassins" by Renegade Theater Company at Teatro Zuccone

On Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend, I sat with a view of gorgeous Lake Superior (the closest thing Minnesota has to an ocean) on a perfect late summer day and started working on this blog post. Like most of the good things in my life, I have theater to thank for this view. Duluth's Renegade Theatre Company just opened their production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, and since I love Sondheim (what musical theater nerd doesn't), have never seen Assassins, and no Twin Cities theater company has done it in my recent memory, I decided it was  the perfect excuse to go to Duluth for the holiday weekend. Accompanied by my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Gina from The Room Where It Happens and Julie and Carol from Minnesota Theater Love, we hopped in my VW bug convertible (top down) for a beautiful drive that not even construction traffic could spoil. Staying at the lovely B&B Solglimt (just on the other side of the lift bridge, so within sight and walking distance of Canal Park but away from the craziness), seeing an excellent production of a Sondheim musical, having Brunch with Blake Thomas (one of my favorite Minnesota musicians), chatting about theater with friends, and eating lots of good food turned out to be a nearly perfect Labor Day weekend (almost as good as the five Labor Day weekends I spent at the best little music fest in Minnesota). Moral of the story: sometimes it's good to get out of the city and see more of our fair state, but you can also see some pretty great theater while you're there.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: Favorites and Final Wrap-Up

It's been a little over two weeks since the Minnesota Fringe Festival ended, and it already seems like a dream. A dream of seeing 54 shows (out of a possible 56 time slots and 178 shows) in 11 days, of going out to the theater every day for almost two weeks and seeing 4-7 shows each day, of sitting down wherever I happened to be and blogging on my tablet between shows, of forgoing meals and TV and the usual daily routine in favor of a routine that involved wooden nickels and lines and eating snacks for dinner. And it was a beautiful dream, full of amazing, imaginative, weird, awesome, fun, heart-wrenching, inspiring theater. Narrowing down the 54 shows to a shorter list of favorites was hard! Read on for some of my favorite shows this year (in alphabetical order, with my #1 favorite being Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle). Then take to the comments below to tell me about your favorites. See you next year Fringers!