Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"Baltimore is Burning" by Underdog Theatre at SPACE

There's another new theater company in town, and they're coming out of the gate with a strong message and a powerful new play. Underdog Theatre hopes to be a voice "for the underserved, the underrepresented, and unheard." Founder Kory LaQuess Pullam, a talented young actor who's made quite an impression on several stages around town in the last few years, has written a great new play about the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore last year. While Baltimore is Burning is about this one specific incident, on a larger scale it's about the many such deaths that have occurred around the country, even right here in Minnesota, and the need to have a conversation about why it's happening and what can be done to change it. At its best, theater brings attention to issues and starts a conversation about them, which is exactly what this play does.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Orphan Train" at History Theatre

The History Theatre excels at telling often unknown Minnesota stories, as they did in 1997 with the original musical Orphan Train. At the time, most people hadn't heard of the so-called orphan trains, in which from 1858 to 1929 some 200,000 children were sent west from the East Coast to new homes across the country. The recent New York Times best-selling book Orphan Train has brought more attention to this fascinating bit of American history. Perhaps that's why the History Theatre is bringing back Orphan Train this season. The musical tells fictional stories of orphan train riders based on real events. While it's a bit cheesy and, well, Disney (for lack of a better word), the stories and music brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion. The wonderful ensemble of seasoned pros and children alike, the excellent folk/Americana score played by a sparse but lovely orchestra, and the moving stories about immigrant orphan children in search of a home is a very affecting combination.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"The Averagers: Christmas War" by Comedy Suitcase at Bryant Lake Bowl

Last year's smash hit Fringe Festival show The Averagers returns with a Christmas special, because 'tis the season. Our favorite average people turned superheroes are back, and while the show may not have anything to do with Christmas (other than one scene that takes place in the Target Christmas aisle, a scary place indeed), it is hilariously funny, family friendly, chock full of local references, only an hour long, and a whole lot of fun.

"What Fools These Mortals Be" by Interact Theater at the Lab Theater

Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts is celebrating 20 years of "creating art that challenges perceptions of disability." In one of the finest examples of inclusivity in theater, Interact provides opportunities for artists with disabilities to share their work, which allows the audience to see beyond the disability to the artist and the art that they create. I attended a performance by Interact Theater for the first time this weekend, a mish-mash of Shakespeare plays called What Fools These Mortals Be, written by and starring beloved local storyteller extraordinaire Kevin Kling. I was completely charmed by the performance. It's such a beautiful thing to see people of various abilities working together to create art. What Fools is filled with much humor and heart, and a spirit of playfulness often lacking in Shakespeare. Ten Thousand Things shows us that "theater is better when everyone is in the audience," and Interact shows us that theater is better when everyone is on the stage.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"A Gone Fishin' Christmas" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Original Christmas plays at Yellow Tree Theatre have become a beloved tradition in the last 9 years. Due to a happy accident, Yellow Tree was forced to produce their own play (written by co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson) when they lost the rights to the play they were intending to do their first season. This was the basis of the plot of that first play, Miracle on Christmas Lake, which after three successful runs inspired a sequel Miracle of Christmas Lake II that also ran for a couple years. Then came A Hunting Shack Christmas, and now this year we head to the icehouse for A Gone Fishin' Christmas. All of these plays follow a similar blueprint - a small Minnesota town with adorably quirky characters, the "citiots" who return to the small town they grew up in and make some sort of a life change. It's not the most original of plots, but it works, and provides a framework for Minnesota humor, outrageous antics, and lovely quiet moments of family and connection. There's a reason that Yellow Tree's original Christmas plays are so popular and sell out virtually every performance - they are a perfect mix of heart and humor wrapped up in local jokes that we love so well, with a talented cast that makes these characters and the sweet and silly story sing (literally and figuratively). And Gone Fishin' may be the best of the bunch. A few tickets remain (with best availability at weekday matinees) so get your tickets now to experience this hilarious and heart-warming tale.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"A Christmas Story" at Lyric Arts

The 1983 movie A Christmas Story has become a holiday classic, thanks in part to TBS running it for 24 hours on Christmas Day every year. Full of humor, nostalgia, and heart, this story of 9-year-old Ralphie and his quest for a very special BB gun for Christmas is a charmer. Fans of the movie are sure to enjoy Lyric Arts production of the play version of the movie, written in 2000 by Philip Grecian (which is different from the musical version that the Ordway did a few years ago). While this story based on a 30-year-old movie based on memories of a time 40 years before that is a bit dated, and viewed a bit differently in today's environment, the heart of the piece is still there. At the Sunday matinee performance some of my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (from Artfully Engaging, No Filter Reviews, One Girl, Two Cities, and Twin Cities Stages) and I were greeted with a Christmas cocktail, and after the show we chatted with the adult members of the cast and toured the set, with more Christmas cocktails of course. We bloggers always welcome the opportunity to talk to artists about their work and to learn about what happens behind the scenes.* Lyric Arts is one of the top community theaters in town (along with Theatre in the Round), and it was a treat to get to know them a little better and enjoy this festive and fun holiday show.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"The Passage, Or What Comes of Searching in the Dark" by 7th House Theater at the Guthrie Theater

Musical theater is my favorite art form, and new original musicals are my favorite things in the world. I love seeing how music and theater can combine to tell a story in interesting forward-thinking ways. After re-imagining a couple of classic musicals (and one play), newish theater company 7th House Theater has turned to producing new original musicals. The Passage, Or What Comes of Searching in the Dark, is the third such creation to be presented in the Guthrie Theater Studio (now for just $9 per ticket). It's the first one for which company member David Darrow has written music, lyrics, and book (he's previously worked with a co-composer and/or book writer). I've loved all of their work, but this one feels more personal and more modern and forward-thinking than what they've done before. Jonah and the Whale is a folk musical that harkens back to the early 20th Century, The Great Work is almost operatic and classical in feel, but The Passage feels like it's continuing along the trajectory of modern musicals like Next to Normal and Fun Home - an intimate family story told with a small cast and modern inventive staging. And the result is truly something special. I can't help feeling that we're going to lose the incredibly talented artists of 7th House to New York someday (to Broadway's benefit), so we need to relish their work while we still can, and then someday we can proudly say "we knew them when."

"A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie Theater

A rich, greedy, selfish old man with no regard for his fellow human beings, especially those that are different from him, that are suffering, that could benefit from a little kindness. Why is it that the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge seems so familiar? It must be because this is my 11th time seeing The Guthrie Theater's gorgeous, lively, and warm-hearted production of A Christmas Carol. And I never tire of seeing it, because Charles Dickens' story of redemption, community, family, and human kindness never gets old. It's a beautiful and necessary thing to be reminded that "what brings us together is greater than what drives us apart." That it's never too late to change, to grow, to become a kinder and more generous person. In today's current environment when there's so much division among us, so much violence and ugliness, A Christmas Carol shows us how good humanity can be.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Orange" at Mixed Blood Theatre

Being 17 is hard enough, but for a young woman on the Autism spectrum raised in India and returning to the strange land of her birth - Orange County, California - it's even more challenging. Mixed Blood Theatre's Playwright in Residence Aditi Brennan Kapil premieres her 7th new work there, the funny, poignant, imaginative story of the unusual but perfect Leela in Orange. In just 90 minutes with no intermission (a morning person's dream), the excellent three-person cast takes us on Leela's one-night adventure and, aided by a really cool set, makes us feel like we're right there with her as she begins to grow up and gain her independence.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"FIVE" by 20% Theatre Company at Dreamland Arts

One of the things I most admire in theater is artists who tell their own very personal and often difficult story through their work. I find it incredibly brave to expose your life, heart, soul, heartaches, and triumphs on stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and this sharing of truth often results in the most affecting theater. The audience can sense the realness and the raw emotion they're witnessing. Such is the case with 20% Theatre Company's new work FIVE, written by Claire Avitabile. Claire is the founder and Artistic Director of 20% Theatre, named after a 2002 study which found that 20% of professional theater artists are women. 20% Theatre is "committed to supporting and vigorously promoting the work of female and transgender theater artists, and celebrating the unique contribution of these artists to social justice and human rights," work that is perhaps more important now than it ever has been in the company's 10-year history. FIVE is one person's specific story of overcoming childhood trauma, universal in its themes of loss, search for identity, and healing.

"Henry V" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

I recently wrote, "I should just give up seeing anyone else do Shakespeare, because no one does it like Ten Thousand Things." Of course that's not very realistic for a theater blogger; Shakespeare is still one of our most produced playwrights. But lucky for me, Theatre Pro Rata's new production of Henry V borrows a few things from TTT, namely a small cast, an edited story, and a playful spirit. They use just five actors to play the two dozen or more roles, and what's even more interesting - each actor takes a turn playing the title role. It's all done in a meta theater style in which five actors attempt to tell this epic story and realize just what they're up against, congratulating each other at the end when they accomplish the task. And accomplish it they do, in what is a new and inventive take on a very old play.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Cinderella" at Children's Theatre Company

Two weeks ago I was invited to a backstage tour for bloggers at Children's Theatre Company, where they were busy preparing for the third production of their original adaptation of Cinderella, previously seen in 2009 and 2013. Along with my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Kendra (Artfully Engaging) and Tracy (What Stirs Your Soul), two other bloggers, and three lucky children, I was led through all of the backstage departments where they were hard at work creating everything from chandeliers to wigs to glass slippers. It was a truly eye-opening experience to witness up close and personal what goes into creating a show this big. It was also wonderful to witness the passion and dedication that all of the artists have for their job, making sure that the show is the best that it can be for the many children (and grown-ups) who will come to see it. The highlight of the tour was a visit to the rehearsal room, where director Peter Brosius and choreographer Linda Talcott Lee were leading the ensemble through a few scenes that take place at the ball. Last weekend I finally got to see the final product that all that preparation has led to, and it's a crazy, wonderful, magical, insanely fun experience for kids and adults alike.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Company" by Shoot the Glass Theater at New Century Theatre

"Company! Lots of company! Years of company! Love is company! Company!" So ends my favorite Stephen Sondheim musical, the 1970 multiple Tony winner Company. A new theater company in town called Shoot the Glass Theater has kindly chosen to do this, my favorite Sondheim, on this, my birthday weekend, as just their second show as a company. They're presenting a fairly simple staging and a fairly straight-forward and traditional production at the New Century Theatre, with a talented young cast, some new to me, some familiar. I was thrilled to begin my birthday celebration with Bobby and his crazy married friends. If you're a Sondheim fan, act fast, because they're only doing six shows (discount tickets available on Goldstar).

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Musical Mondays" at Hell's Kitchen, November 2016

I don't know about y'all, but it's been a pretty busy and stressful week for me. So it's taken me a few days to get around to writing this, but I don't want to let the 4th birthday of Musical Mondays at Hell's Kitchen go by unmentioned! This fabulous monthly cabaret series hosted by super talented local actor/singers and real life BFFs Sheena Janson and Max Wojtanowicz began in November of 2012. Four years, 43 shows, over 200 performers, and over 300 musicals (what?! who knew there even were that many musicals!) later and they're still going strong. On the first Monday of every month, from 7 to 9 pm (morning people everywhere rejoice) at Hell's Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis, some of our top local talent can be seen singing songs from musicals beloved and obscure. The goal is to provide performing and networking opportunities, to celebrate musical theater, and to have fun! Their next event is on December 5 when the theme will be a grown-up Christmas wish list. Watch their Facebook page for more details.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"The Oldest Boy" at the Jungle Theater

Friends, it's really hard to go back to writing about theater when half of the country is devastated, and I happen to be in that half. But maybe now, when politics and politicians have failed us, is when we need to turn to our artists. Our playwrights, our actors, our painters, our sculptors, our dancers, our comedians, our musicians. To heal our wounds, to bring people together, to make sense of the world, to promote social justice and equality. The Oldest Boy perhaps doesn't seem on the surface to be a profound political statement Rather it's a simple story of love, faith, and non-attachment. Which perhaps is the most profound statement of all, and one that I, for one, would like to focus on today of all days. The world was a different place when I left the Jungle Theater last night than when I entered it, but for two hours but I was immersed in a world of love, learning, sacrifice, faith, and hope.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"A Raisin in the Sun" at Park Square Theatre

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Monday, November 7, 2016

"105 Proof; or, the Killing of Mack 'The Silencer' Klein" by Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

Since being mesmerized by Ash Land at the 2012 Minnesota Fringe Festival, I've been a loyal follower of Transatlantic Love Affair, the physical theater troupe that casts a spell and weaves a dream by using nothing but their bodies, voices, hearts, and souls to tell stories. Their subjects are typically very loose retellings of fairy or folk tales (Cinderella in Ash Land, Little Red Riding Hood in Red Resurrected, the legend of the Selkie in The Ballad of the Pale Fisherman), but recently they've developed original stories including the memory play These Old Shoes and the modern-day love story emilie/eurydice. Most of their shows premiere at the Fringe, but thanks to their partnership with Illusion Theater, they, and we the audience, often get a chance to revisit the stories in a slightly expanded version. Such is the case with 105 Proof; or, the Killing of Mack "The Silencer" Klein, which debuted at the 2015 Fringe. 105 Proof is another original story, but one with a decidedly different tone than their other work. The tale of a small town boy who becomes a Chicago mobster in the Prohibition era is darker, grittier, more suspenseful, and also funnier than their usual dreamy tales. But what's not different is the way the cast (most of whom were in the original production) and live musical soundtrack create an entire world of the imagination that feels real and all-encompassing.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Tartuffe" by Wayward Theatre Company at the James J Hill House

I love seeing theater in non-traditional theater spaces; it shakes me out of the usual and allows me to see theater in a different way. These days, it's becoming a necessity for the many nomadic theater companies in town to look outside the box when planning to mount a show (see also Frank Theatre's Good Person of Setzuan in an abandoned Rainbow Foods). Happily, the James J. Hill House seems to be quite amenable to hosting theatrical events; I've seen three plays there in the last six months. It's a gorgeous and historic building, and lends itself quite well to a variety of projects, from a comic opera like Marriage of Figaro, to a creepy horror tale like Bluebeard's Dollhouse, to a 17th Century French comedy. The latter can currently be seen in the grand surroundings on St. Paul's Summit Avenue (once the home of more millionaires than any other street in the country), in the form of new-to-me Wayward Theatre Company's innovatively imagined and well-executed Tartuffe. I can't help thinking the Hill family would be thrilled to know people are experiencing wonderful theater in their home.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Twin Cities Horror Festival at the Southern Theater

This is the fifth year of the Twin Cities Horror Festival at the Southern Theater (or so I gather from their TCHFV acronym, unless V stands for Vampires). TCHF is an 11-day festival of theater, film, music, and dance in the horror genre. Not being a fan of this particular genre (I haven't celebrated Halloween since elementary school, and avoid scary movies and TV shows), I've never attended before and didn't think it was something that would interest me. But my friends at Minnesota Theater Love are big fans, so they convinced me to give it a try this year. The structure and schedule is similar to the Minnesota Fringe Festival (hour-long shows with half hour breaks in between), but unlike the Fringe, TCHF happens right in the middle of the busy theater season, so I was only able to spare one day. I picked two companies that I was familiar with, and happily neither show was particularly gory. Below are a few thoughts about each show. I'm still not convinced this is the event for me (much like sadness, I don't do horror), especially with so many other theater choices right now. But it's a fun alternative to the usual theater scene, and if you're a fan of the horror genre, you should definitely check it out.