Sunday, October 15, 2017

"Sam's Son" by Bucket Brigade at Art House North

A new original musical is just about my favorite thing in the world, so the new musical Sam's Son by Bucket Brigade, a company that specializes in new work whose work I've enjoyed in the past, was on my must-see list in this busy #TCTheater October. Performed in the intimate, immersive space that is Art House North, I was not disappointed and found it to be a highly entertaining evening (complete with free intermission treats - root beer and a pretzel). While the plot points may be a bit cliche and predictable, the story is well told by the talented cast, with a fantastic original score tinged with gospel, bluegrass, and old-timey feel while still sounding like a modern musical. It's such a treat to see new work that is locally created (written by Bucket Brigade co-founders Vanessa and Jeremiah Gamble, and developed in part through Nautilus' "Rough Cuts" program) and showcases local talent in an intimate setting.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"All the Way" at the History Theatre

The night after seeing the historical political drama Watch on the Rhine at the Guthrie, I saw the historical political drama All the Way at the History Theatre. That was a couple of pretty heavy (and long) nights, and left me feeling dismayed at just how much history repeats itself. With Watch on the Rhine, it's the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, genocide, and an impending world war. With All the Way, it's political machinations, the Civil Rights movement, and the ugly opposition to freedom and equality for all. Covering Lyndon B. Johnson's short and eventful first presidential term, from Kennedy's assassination that thrust him into the presidency to his re-election (or rather, first election) one year later, All the Way has a lot of history and historical figures to pack into three (yes, three) hours. While I wish that playwright Robert Schenkkan had consolidated characters and compressed speeches a bit to create a more concise and driving story (the days of me being able to sit comfortably through a three-hour play are long gone), it's a gripping story, well told by director Ron Peluso and an excellent cast.

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Watch on the Rhine" at the Guthrie Theater

"Shame on us. Thousands of years and we cannot yet make a world." This line comes near the end of Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, now playing on the Guthrie's proscenium stage, and is one of the most devastating moments in this gorgeous play. Written in 1941, it's part war story, part multi-generational family dramedy, part romance, and part social commentary that still rings true 75 years later. It eerily shows us how history repeats itself, and how frustrating that is. Frustrating that Europe hadn't even recovered from what was then called The Great War before it embarked on another one. Frustrating that after witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust we allow genocide to continue to happen all around the world. Frustrating that we've seen the evils of fascism but it still exists. When will we learn? I'm sorry if this sounds hugely depressing, and this show is that to a certain extent. But it's also hopeful it its focus on a family that bands together, despite their differences, to stand up for what's right. So that maybe one day we will get it right, we will figure out how to make a world where all children eat a good breakfast every day, where no one is persecuted for their religion or gender identity, where women don't have to fear for their safety walking down the street or going to work. Watch on the Rhine shows us, while keeping us enthralled with its gripping storytelling, that we all have to keep watch.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Nature" by TigerLion Arts at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

"This one thing I know for sure, we must all return to Nature." So says Henry David Thoreau in TigerLion Arts' outdoor walking play Nature, and I couldn't agree more. That's one of many reasons why I love this unique theater piece so very much and saw it last weekend for the fourth year in a row. It's truly one of my favorite theater things. Nature checks off all of my theater boxes: it's funny, whimsical, poignant, musical, physical (for performers and audience), immersive (but not interactive), historical, spiritual, inspiring, silly, 90 minutes no intermission, and performed in the best location ever - the great outdoors. It fills my heart with joy and my mind with challenging thoughts about the interaction between civilization and nature. The 2017 tour (which included a trip to Concord MA for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Thoreau's birth) has concluded, but follow TigerLion Arts on Facebook and/or Twitter for information on future performances and an upcoming documentary. As long as TigerLion Arts keeps performing Nature and there exists Nature in which to perform it, I will follow them on this beautiful journey.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"tick, tick... BOOM!" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Bryant Lake Bowl

Before Jonathan Larson wrote RENT, for which he posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize, he wrote and performed in an autobiographical one-man musical in the early '90s about being a struggling musical theater composer living in NYC. After his tragic death the night before the first Off-Broadway preview of RENT, the eventual smash hit that what would become his legacy, this little show was reworked into a three-person piece by playwright David Auburn and produced Off-Broadway in the early aughts. Being a RENThead, I saw tick, tick... BOOM! on tour at that time, but I don't recall there ever being a local production of it. Leave it to Minneapolis Musical Theatre, whose motto is "rare musicals, well done" to bring us this charming little show that very clearly displays the seeds that would become RENT. With a fantastic cast in the intimate theater space at Bryant Lake Bowl, it's a very satisfying evening for RENTheads, musical theater history buffs, and anyone who likes a rock musical with heart and humor.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"How to Use a Knife" at Mixed Blood Theatre

About their newest production, Mixed Blood's Artistic Director Jack Reuler notes, "How to Use a Knife is definitive Mixed Blood: hilarious until it's not, propelled by catalytic cultural collisions, simultaneously political and theatrical, timely in America and in our own Cedar Riverside neighborhood, multi-lingual, and 90 intermissionless minutes." If you think this sounds like a recipe for a delectable and satisfying theater meal, you are absolutely correct. Will Snider's new play is a tragicomedy that takes place in a restaurant kitchen with diverse, clearly drawn, realistic characters, brilliantly brought to life by a fantastic cast, with a completely engrossing story that'll leave you wondering just who the bad guy is in this story, and maybe realizing that defining a "bad guy" isn't all that simple.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Mala" at the Guthrie Theater

Boston-based theater artists Melinda Lopez returns to Minneapolis, where she lived and worked in the mid-90s, including at the Playwrights' Center, with her one-woman show Mala. I made a spur of the moment decision to see it last night and I'm glad I did (and not just because it kept me from watching the Twins lose to the damn Yankees, again). Mala is one of those laughter-through-tears shows, which are really the best kind. She talks about what she calls the most ordinary part of life - dying. In just about 75 minutes she invites you into her life and family until you feel like you know them intimately, and miss them when they're gone.

Monday, October 2, 2017

"Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again." by Frank Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

Potatoes and bluebells and watermelon, oh my! Just before Frank Theatre's production of Alice Birch's new play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, I posted on Instagram: "I'm not sure what I'm in for but I'm pretty sure it's gonna to be awesome. And 70 minutes no intermission." I was right on all counts. I'm still not entirely sure what happened, but it definitely was awesome, and short. Short, intense, and powerful. A six-person cast, a half dozen or so scenes, and a descent into organized chaos. All around the concept of feminism, and deconstructing our assumptions and language around it. Brave and outrageous and impactful and yeah, pretty awesome.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

La La Land in Concert with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

This season, the Minnesota Orchestra is offering a series of movies played in their entirety with the music track removed and replaced with the orchestra playing live. What could be better than to see an old or new favorite movie with those familiar scores played live by our fantastic orchestra? Last night I attended the first in the series, La La Land (aka the movie about how Ryan Gosling saved jazz). While La La Land famously didn't win the Oscar for best picture this year, it did win for best score (Justin Hurwitz) and best song ("City of Stars," Hurwitz along with Pasek and Paul, who also won a Tony for best score this year for Dear Evan Hanson). I'm a fan of this delectable musical fantasy romance movie, and an even bigger fan of the soundtrack, which I've been listening to all year. The orchestral and jazzy score is the perfect choice for this series, and made for a perfectly dreamy evening of music and movies.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"mONSTER" by Swandive Theatre at the Southern Theater

You'd think that with as much theater as I see (over 250 shows last year), I've seen every theater company in town (an ever-growing list currently at about 75 per this year's Iveys). But I'd never seen a show by Swandive Theatre before last night, when I attended opening night of their original play mONSTER (by Sam Graber) with the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers. In my defense, although they've been around since 2005, they typically only do one show a year. But I'm happy to have finally made their acquaintance (thanks to my colleague Gina at the most awesomely titled #TCTheater blog The Room Where It Happens) with this original, thought-provoking, beautifully designed play.

Friday, September 29, 2017

"Goblin Market" by Theatre Elision at the Crane Theater

A new theater company premiered in #TCTheater this spring by the name of Theatre Elision. They're following their debut production, the lovely original musical Ragtime Women about women composers of the music known as ragtime, with the equally lovely Goblin Market. It's always interesting to see what will define a company when it starts out, and judging by their first two pieces, Theatre Elision seems to be a company that specializes in chamber musicals written by and featuring women. I don't know about you, but I think there's definitely a place for more of that in #TCTheater. They have an ambitious first full season planned with seven productions in what appears to be the same vein (although perhaps not quite as female-focused, their next show is Ghost Quartet by Dave Malloy, creator of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812). If beautifully performed, small, intimate, original or rarely produced musicals are your thing, you definitely need to check out this new and exciting entry to the #TCTheater scene.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The 2017 Ivey Awards at the State Theatre

On Monday night, #TCTheater celebrated another year of amazing theater with the Ivey Awards. This was my 11th time attending the awards, and despite being the first award show after found Scott Mayer stepped down, the transition was seamless and it was another wonderful evening. Pre- and post-show parties (with plenty of opportunity for mingling with your favorite #TCTheater artists) were held at Crave, which despite being a bit crowded was a great location (I suspect they might have used their rooftop space if it wasn't cold and raining). The show was hosted by Mark Benninghofen and Thomasina Petrus (charming and funny, and Thomasina wowed with a musical medley during the In Memoriam segment), directed by Whitney Rhodes, written by Lauren Anderson and Joy Dolo, and with a fab onstage band directed by Denise Prosek. Read on for a list of winners and performers, and a few thoughts about the show.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Henry and Alice: Into the Wild" at Park Square Theatre

Three years ago, we met Henry and Alice in Sexy Laundry at Park Square Theatre, an "old married couple" with three kids who checked themselves into a swanky hotel to reconnect and spice up their relationship. They're back again in the sequel Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, this time downsizing from an expensive hotel to a camping trip due to Henry losing his job. At the time I called Sexy Laundry a "smart, funny, relevant play." But a lot has changed in three years, and a play about a rich white couple's troubles isn't so relevant anymore. Listening to a woman complain about not being able to buy Asiago cheese and having to cancel her yoga studio membership feels uncomfortable in a world with such inequality in wealth (see ≈ [almost equal to] at Pillsbury House for an excellent examination of that), at a theater in downtown St. Paul where I'm nearly always approached by someone asking for money (twice yesterday). There's still value in the play as it explores relationships and the downsizing required with economic downturns, which certainly is relatable to some people, and the winning cast makes it enjoyable to watch. I'm just not sure it's the play we need right now.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"The Nether" at Jungle Theater

If you want to be super creeped out by technology and where our increasingly tech-dependent society is heading, go see The Nether at the Jungle Theater. This intense 90-minute sci-fi thriller is set in the not to distant future in a world that looks not that different from our own. Like HBO's Westworld, with which it shares more than a few similarities, it asks questions about morality and ethics in uncharted technological territories, without providing the answers. The Nether is frightening and eerie and thought-provoking and extremely disturbing. And I loved every minute, thanks to the taut direction by Casey Stangle, excellent cast, and stunning design.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"≈ [almost equal to]" at Pillsbury House Theatre

Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri's* work makes its area debut with Pillsbury House Theatre's excellent production of the odd and oddly titled ≈ [almost equal to]. But odd in a good way, odd in that it's uniquely structured and covers many topics and doesn't always entirely make sense. In fact pre- and mid-show announcements break the fourth wall a bit and tell us what to expect (or not). According to the program, the play "is a commentary on the constraints and effects of living within a capitalist economic system." A mix of economics, sociology, and family drama, ≈ [almost equal to] will leave you questioning the very meaning of money. In a world with vast inequalities of wealth, that's a worthy thing to think about in a play that's also engaging and entertaining.

"The Lady With A Lap Dog" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Attention lovers of small, intimate, beautiful new musicals! Fortune's Fool Theatre is presenting just such a piece at Open Eye Figure Theatre for two short weekends only, of which this is the final one. Unfortunately it opened on the same weekend as about a dozen other #TCTheater shows and I was unable to catch it until a few nights ago, and now just two performances remain. But if you hurry, there's still time to see The Lady with a Lap Dog. Based on one of Chekhov's best known short stories, with just a three-person cast and a three-piece orchestra and about 80 minutes long, it's a lovely little piece and shouldn't be missed by anyone who loves new (and locally created) musicals.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"String" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Seven years ago, just a few months after I started this #TCTheater blogging adventure, a friend told me about this little theater in a strip mall in Osseo. Since at the time I worked just a few miles away, I organized a group of coworkers to go see a play after work one day. That play was String, and the theater was Yellow Tree Theatre. I may not remember details of the show (I've seen a lot of theater in the intervening years), but I remember being so charmed by the experience at Yellow Tree's warm, inviting, intimate space that I've returned to see just about everything they've done, from goofy holiday comedies, to new original musicals, to classics of the American theater, to silly farce, and everything in between. As I've seen this blog grow beyond my wildest dreams to a place where I cannot possibly see all of the theater I'm invited to, people inexplicably know who I am, and I am given press comps to any theater in town, Yellow Tree has seen their theater grow to a place where now, in their 10th season, they consistently sell out shows, attract some of the top talent in #TCTheater, and have increased diversity of programming and artists. To celebrate, they're bringing back String, written by Yellow Tree co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson and co-starring her and her husband and co-founder Jason Peterson, their first time on stage together in years. If you're a Yellow Tree fan, it's a wonderful opportunity to celebrate this full circle moment with them, and if you've never been to Yellow Tree, it's time to make the (not that long) drive to the Northwest suburbs to see this charming, funny, quirky, sweet little play that started it all, a play that is "as Yellow Tree as plays get."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Man of La Mancha" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da (which I would say were my favorite theater company, if I as an impartial theater blogger had favorites) is opening their 20th season of doing theater musically with Man of La Mancha, a 400-year-old story beloved in musical and many other forms. At its core this is a story about optimism and hope, about seeing the good in people and the world, even when everything you see and everyone you meet tells you otherwise. It's about clinging to and fighting for ideals of chivalry, decency, and honor in the face of evil and corruption. In other words, it may be exactly the story that this world, and this country in particular, needs right now. As usual, Theater Latte Da puts its own unique re-imagined spin on the 1964 classic that heightens the relevance of the piece. An incredibly talented and beautifully diverse cast about half the usual size for this musical, a small but powerful four-piece orchestra, and a modern twist to the play-within-a-play structure make this Man of La Mancha an inspiring, moving, and engaging piece of theater musically, just as I have come to expect from Theater Latte Da.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"The Abominables" at Children's Theatre Company

A musical about youth hockey with an abominable snowman, er... yeti? It's gotta be Minnesota, and it's gotta be the Children's Theatre Company. It's no surprise that this new original musical is a surefire hit, the only surprise is that it took them so long to come up with the idea. The musical was developed by The Civilians, a NYC-based theater company, and researched and workshopped right here in Minnesota. I've never been involved in hockey (except the odd game or two I was forced to attend with the pep band in high school), but from what I've heard, this feels like authentic portrayal, if a bit extreme and fantastical (the yeti and all). I attended a backstage tour at the Children's Theatre a few weeks ago (see photos and a rehearsal video here), which was hugely exciting as things were starting to come together. It's such a thrill to see the final product this opening weekend and to report to you that this is not only a super fun and entertaining new original musical for kids and adults alike (as I've come to expect at CTC), but also one that celebrates the good (and gently mocks the less than good) of our beloved state of Minnesota while telling a heart-warming story about teamwork, friendship, community, and family that, yes, brought tears to my eyes.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"In the Heights" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

Before writing the brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning musical theater masterpiece that is Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote something a little closer to home. The 2008 multiple Tony winner In the Heights is basically a love letter to his family, his neighborhood, his community, his people. Specifically, a community of Latin American immigrants and the children and grandchildren of such immigrants. After seeing the Ordway's glorious production last night, I was reminded of what Oskar Eustis (artistic director of the Public Theater where Hamilton debuted) said about Miranda on the PBS documentary Hamilton's America, that he elevates the language of the common people in a way no one has done since Shakespeare. I was also reminded of playwright August Wilson. I recently saw the movie version of his play Fences, followed by a discussion led by his friend and colleague Marion McClinton, who said that Wilson's plays show that just living a life is noble. In the Heights tells a simple story about average people, in some ways the opposite of Hamilton, which tells an epic story about the founding of a new nation. But In the Heights is epic in its own way, and like August Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda reminds us that the common people who never get rich or famous or written about in history books still live noble lives with stories worth telling and worth listening to. And also, by the way, super fun and entertaining and moving and engrossing.

"Romeo and Juliet" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater is opening their 2017-2018 season (my 15th season as a subscriber!) with Shakespeare's classic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, and closing it with perhaps the most popular and successful Romeo and Juliet adaptation, West Side Story. The last time the Guthrie did Romeo and Juliet was in the spring of 2004 (coincidentally my first season as a subscriber). I've seen it at least ten times now in some form or other (including earlier this summer), and not because I seek it out, but because it's done a lot. But despite (or maybe because) of the many viewings, I was still charmed, moved, and engaged by the Guthrie's new production of the classic. Because there's a reason that it's a classic, and this production, while familiar, feels fresh and modern, with an excellent cast of familiar faces and new, intriguing design, and interesting directing choices.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Aliens with Extraordinary Skills" by Theatre Unbound at Gremlin Theatre

Immigration has been a hot topic in the news for many months now, most recently with the current administration's announcement to end DACA. Unfortunate for the people adversely affected by the decision, but perfect timing for Theatre Unbound to open their 18th season of presenting the work of women artists and telling women's stories with Aliens with Extraordinary Skills. Staviana Stanescu, herself an immigrant from Romania, has written a sweet story about undocumented immigrant clowns who just want to do their work, make a living, and make people laugh. The winning cast brings the dark but charming story to life, showing just how difficult immigrant life is, even for clowns.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Always... Patsy Cline" at Lyric Arts

To open their 2017-2018 (a season that I had the pleasure of announcing earlier this year), Lyric Arts is bringing back the popular tribute to the life and music of one of our greatest voices gone too soon - Always... Patsy Cline. This sweet little musical (or really, play with music) allows the audience to get to know the real Patsy through her real-life friendship with one of her fans, Louise Seger. I saw the show last year, and was happy to return to see it again this year. It's the same heart-warming and musically satisfying show, with a few changes in the cast and creative team. Just like last year, Always... Patsy Cline is perfectly cast, full of heart, and highly entertaining for anyone who's ever heard Patsy's music, and let's face it - who hasn't?*

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Dancing on the Edge" by Theatre Novi Most at the Southern Theater


Theatre Novi Most, whose mission is to "combine the artistic traditions of Russia and America to create performances in which seemingly disparate ideas, languages, cultures and ideologies can clash, commingle and cross-pollinate," has been developing a play about the passionate and tragic romance between American dancer Isadora Duncan and Russian poet Sergei Esenin for over ten years, including the last five years with Playwrights' Center affiliated writer Adam Kraar. It's a fascinating story about two fascinating people, their art, and their turbulent relationship. Dancing on the Edge is an intense and lovely play filled with movement and poetry.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Sneak Peek of "The Abominables" at Children's Theatre Company

Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the Children's Theatre Company in South Minneapolis, where they were busy getting everything ready for the world premiere of the new original musical The Abominables. Developed and produced in association with the NYC-based theater company The Civilians, The Abominables tells the story of a youth hockey team. In other words, it's a very Minnesotan musical! The creators (including playwright/director Steve Cosson and composer/lyricist Michael Friedman) researched and workshopped the piece right here in Minnesota, so it's sure to feel familiar to many audience members.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"Ballast" by 20% Theatre Company at Mixed Blood Theatre

Now in its 12th season, the mission of 20% Theatre Company is "supporting and vigorously promoting the work of female and transgender theatre artists, and celebrating the unique contribution of these artists to social justice and human rights." The new play BALLAST is a perfect choice towards this necessary mission - it tells the story of two transgender people and their relationships with their partners, and features transgender actors in the cast. It's a hauntingly beautiful play with fully dimensional characters and relatable life struggles, and it touches on the role of faith as well. It's dreamlike and lyrical, even fantastical at times, yet grounded in the truths of the people whose story it tells. A few days later I find myself continuing to think about these beautifully flawed and human characters, and how important it is for all different kinds of people to tell their story, and to see themselves represented on our #TCTheater stages.

Friday, September 1, 2017

"We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!" by Candid Theater Company at the Black Forest Inn

Jacleen Olson and Shanna Eisenberg
(photo by Christopher Mogel)
I last saw Candid Theater Company in 2014 at the People's Center Theater on the U of M campus, a space that is no longer. I'm not sure why I haven't seen them in three years, but I was happy to catch their funny, relevant, and intimate production of the 1974 Italian play We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! last night. Performed in the charmingly kitschy banquet hall of the Black Forest Inn, just off their lovely outdoor patio, the play tells the story of two families who cannot pay their bills due to wage cuts and layoffs. Forty years later and in a different country than where it originated, it feels like a current problem, and a few modern references are added in the English translation (although the strictly defined gender roles remind us we're in the past). It's a funny farce of a play, one that almost makes you forget the issues behind the comedy, timely issues of fair wages, unemployment, and the rising cost of living.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Fool for Love" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

Playwright and actor Sam Shepard died just a few weeks ago, leaving us with over 40 plays to remember him by. It's just been in the past few years that I've become familiar with his work, and have grown to love his dark and twisted take on the world. His plays are like modern day Westerns, depressing and hopeless but with a kind of gritty beauty. Dark and Stormy Productions was already in rehearsals for Fool for Love when Shepard passed, giving everyone involved a greater motivation and the play an extra poignancy. The result is a fitting tribute to him, an intense and intimate exploration of love, family, and their devastating effects.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Via Dolorosa" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theater

In 1997, British playwright David Hare (whose work was recently seen in the Twin Cities via Park Square Theatre's production of Amy's View) traveled to Israel and Palestine to do research for a play about British involvement in the area. What he came away with was a one-man play in which he, the playwright, tells stories from his journey there. Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company is presenting Via Dolorosa to begin their 23rd season, and wow, is it fascinating. I realized just how little I know about the subject, and felt like I should have been taking notes for this engaging lecture. Vaguely familiar phrases like Six-Day War and Oslo Peace Accord sent me scurrying to Wikipedia this morning for details, but it would take weeks, months, years of study to understand all the complexities and centuries of history. This play doesn't attempt to spell everything out, but rather give one man's impression of the land he experienced and the people he met.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fringe Festival 2017: Favorites and Wrap-Up

Well friends, the Minnesota Fringe Festival has come and gone once again. As always, it was a crazy, exhausting, exhilarating whirlwind of theater in which I saw 49 shows in 11 days. By all accounts it was a successful festival, with over 46,000 attendees seeing 870 performances of 167 shows (see all the numbers and lists of top-selling shows here). There were many shows that I loved, and I'm sure many great shows that I missed. Most of all I appreciate the variety and diversity of the art that is showcased at the Fringe, much of which I don't have (or take) opportunities to see throughout the year.

You can read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here, and below is a few of my favorites (in alphabetical order). See you next year Fringers, and be sure to follow Cherry and Spoon throughout the year for other #TCTheater opportunities.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Philemon and Baucis: Planet in Peril" by Mixed Precipitation at Dodge Nature Center

One of my favorite summer #TCTheater traditions is Mixed Precipitation's annual picnic operetta, in which one can enjoy classic opera, pop songs, the great outdoors, and delicious food. For their ninth summer operetta (the fourth I've attended), Mixed Precipitation has chosen Austrian composer Joseph Haydn's Philemon and Baucis, a piece so rare it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Written and directed by Scotty Reynolds, this timely treatise on a Planet in Peril is a delightful mash-up of beautiful German-language opera and the songs of Queen, with five delicious courses of small bites passed throughout the 70-minute show. Playing at parks and gardens throughout the Twin Cities and beyond, it's a unique opportunity to enjoy all that late summer in Minnesota has to offer (click here to find a location near you).

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frine Festival 2017: "Live From New York, He's A Prom Date!"

Day: 11

Show: 49

Category: Comedy

By: Side by Side

Created by: Peter Simmons and Jen Maren

Location: U of M Rarig Xperimental

Summary: #TCTheater artist Jen Maren reveals a true story from her past, when her mom put her on the Sally Jessy Rafael show to get a prom date.

Highlights: This was a perfect end to my 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival. I laughed and winced for an hour, and ended it with tears in my eyes. In what is really a love letter to her mom who "loves her recklessly," Jen tells her story with great drama and flair. Her mom just wanted her to be happy, so in 1992 she responded to a plea from Sally for girls who didn't have a date to prom. Jen (a budding performer who thought this might be her big break) and her mom flew to NYC, signed a contract, and were told what to say, how to act, and what to wear. Photos and clips from the show are displayed on a video screen, as Jen writhes in horror in a robe eating M&Ms and drinking wine from the bottle. She doesn't talk about the inherent misogyny, strict gender roles, and heteronormativity of the prom itself (no I'm not bitter that I never went to prom, it's true, prom is horrible!), that could be an entire show unto itself. Rather this show is a memoir in story and song of what it's like to be a young person growing up in this world, and how, if you're lucky, your parents do what they think will make your life better and happier, even if it does the exact opposite.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign"

Day: 11

Show: 48

Category: Comedy

By: Bearded Men Improv

Created by: Bearded Men Improv

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: An improvised journey into a fantasy world of knights, dragons, and demons.

Highlights: I've never played it, but I'm pretty sure watching this show is like watching a bunch of guys play Dungeons and Dragons while acting out everything. In the show, the "Dungeon Master" Allen Voigt calls out the action and rolls a 20-sided dice to determine the strength of the blows, as the ensemble (Joe Rapp, Lucas Vonasek, MJ Marsh, Tyler Michaels, and Tyler Mills) fight their way through the fantasy world, going on quests and defending themselves against monsters. It's all pretty silly, but great fun to watch. The performers are the most earnest knights and monsters you've ever seen, especially when they fail. Bearded Men Improv performs regularly at HUGE Theater, and will be doing a Wild West show in the fall.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "KnoW WesT"

Day: 11

Show: 47

Title: KnoW WesT

Category: Something Different

By: Gaylord Family Construction Company

Created by: Gaylord Family Construction Company

Location: U of M Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A real-life family of three tells stories from the Wild West in an innovative way incorporating a capella music.

Highlights: I loved Christian Gaylord's 2015 Fringe show Brother Ulysses, created and performed with his brother Andrew, so I was all in for this new creation. KnoW WesT, like Brother Ulysses, is an indescribable mix of history, music, and literature. Christian, his daughter Adrienne, and his girlfriend Karen Howard tell several stories and portray several characters, some true historical figures and some made up (and they're kind enough to tell us which is which). The start with Cormac McCarthey's novel The Crossing, and then wander off into stories and people I can't even begin to remember (I should have been taking notes for later research). It's odd and perplexing and intriguing and delightful, and the trio sings beautiful harmonies on songs traditional and new (including one lovely Civil Wars duet).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Couple Fight 3: Weddings!"

Day: 11

Show: 46

Category: Comedy

By: Weggel-Reed Productions

Created by: Anna Weggel-Reed and Tom Reed

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: The third is a series of shows in which some of the Twin Cities' funniest people reenact a fight with a loved one, this time around the subject of weddings.

Highlights: I hope the Weggel-Reeds continue to do this show every year. Because nothing is funnier than watching funny people fight with someone they love about something ridiculous. In this hilarious installment, married couples reenact a fight before, during, or after their wedding. Andy Rocco Kraft and Rachael Davies fight about food sampling for the reception caterer. Laura Zabel and Levin Weinhagen fight about the wedding playlist. Nicholas Leeman and Colleen Somerville Leeman fight about getting the wedding invitations done on time. Rita Boersma and Justin Hartke (played by Richie McLarn) fight about her Pinterest project gone wrong. John and Lacey Zeiler fight about the decision to get married at all. And in the one non-couple fight, Heather Meyer explains to her friend Jim Robinson, who is constantly trying to set her up, that she's just fine on her own. I'm sure these fights were traumatic at the moment, but it's the kind of thing you look back on and laugh. And fortunately they do it in front of an audience so we can all laugh with them, and get a little peek into some of our #TCTheater faves' lives and relationships.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "A Pickle"

Day: 11

Show: 45

Title: A Pickle

Category: Comedy

By: Really Spicy Opera

Written by: Deborah Yarchun

Location: Ritz Theater Studio

Summary: The true story of a woman who petitions the Minnesota State Fair to add a category for Kosher salt brine pickles.

Highlights: Sometimes a pickle is more than just a pickle. Sometimes it's a symbol of one's cultural heritage, a symbol of inclusion. Such is the true story of Doris Rubenstein's pickles. In a nearly perfect hour of theater, playwright Deborah Yarchun has written the story as an engaging one-woman show with direct address to the audience, bouncing back and forth between "the pickle story" and other significant moments in Doris' life. She describes herself as possessing a series of jars that hold the important things in her life - baking, her upbringing, social justice, and of course, pickles. When Doris entered her pickles in the "other" category at the State Fair, the judges disqualified them because they didn't understand the traditional Kosher salt brine pickles, because they're different than the pickles they usually see. Which is when pickles become a symbol for a whole lot more, and Doris becomes a bit of a local hero. This is a great story, well written, and personified brilliantly by Angela Timberman, so personable and funny and real. It's no wonder this show sold out all (or nearly all) of its performances and won the encore slot.

"It's chutzpah that puts the cherry on the spoon."

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fringe Festival 2017: "MANIFESTO: An American Play"

Day: 10

Show: 44

Category: Drama

By: MAD Theatre Co.

Created by: Tim Beeckman Davis

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: A sobering look at gun violence.

Highlights: This powerful piece speaks to the epidemic of gun violence by focusing on the stories of three young people, all tangentially connected. One has mental health issues that were never properly treated, one lashes out after being bullied for years and then raped, and one feels belittled by parents and excluded by former friends. The cast (Calli Kunz, Callie Schroer, Riley McNutt, and Tim Beeckman Davis) is fully committed to telling this difficult story, with portrayals that engender empathy for these young people who did horrible things. The three stories are told in pieces mixed together, but it's never unclear where we are in the narrative thanks to the lighting, sound, and movement of the cast. Beautifully done, painful to watch, and an important story to tell to spark thought and conversations about an increasingly frightening issue.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Pope Joan"

Day: 10

Show: 43

Title: Pope Joan

Category: Drama

By: Featherstone Creation

Created by: Featherstone Creation

Location: U of M Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: The story of the legend of a female pope (Pope Joan) re-imagined as a transgender pope (Pope John).

Highlights: I love history, and the history of religions is particularly fascinating (and sometimes scary) to me. I don't think I've ever heard of Pope Joan (or John) so this show was enlightening. Playwright Christy Marie Kent has the characters speak in modern language, making the story feel current. We follow John (Kjertina Whiting) as he decides to dress as a man, not just because he wants to be a monk* but because that's who he authentically is. His secret is discovered by fellow monk Einhart (Jen Arzayus), who becomes a friend and confident as John rises through the ranks because of his dedication and scholarliness. When a rival to the papacy finds out, however, he is not so understanding, leading to what eventually is Pope John's downfall. This is a fascinating, thought-provoking show that explores history, gender identity, and the role of women in the Church (including the removal of the feminine divine from Christianity, Sophia the goddess of Wisdom).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.


*Kind of like that episode of Northern Exposure where Chris lives in a monastery and finds himself attracted to a silent monk, who turns out to be a woman. Except not like that at all.

Fringe Festival 2017: "A Mermaid Abroad & A Fish Out of Water"

Day: 10

Show: 42

Category: Something Different

By: Mermaid Productions

Created by: Ariel Leaf, Scot Moore, and Ben Layne

Location: U of M Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: A series of travel stories, from funny to profound and everything in between.

Highlights: This show is like listening to your friends tell travel stories, if your friends were good storytellers with great life experiences to pull from. The storytellers are Ariel Leaf, best known for her Mermaid show (which I sadly have never seen), and Scot Moore, who shared his beautifully tragic (or tragically beautiful) travel story in last year's Break Your Heart (one of my faves of the 2016 Fringe). They take turns telling stories and interacting in a conversational, natural way. We hear about Ariel's travel fling gone wrong, Scot's one perfect night of connection, Ariel's struggle with finding a place to pee (my greatest travel fear), Scot getting high in a shopping mall in Canada, and that glorious feeling of returning home. I could have listened to Ariel and Scot tell their travel stories for another hour or two. And now I want to plan my next trip and have a few adventures of my own.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Repertoire Dogs"

Day: 10

Show: 41

Title: Repertoire Dogs

Category: Comedy

By: Ideal Productions

Created by: Dana's Boys

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: Impressions of celebrities in unlikely situations, performed by a cast of seven.

Highlights: This show is just plain fun. Who doesn't love impressions? If they're good it's fun to appreciate the skill, if they're bad it's fun to laugh at how bad they are (and there's a bit of both in this show). Josh Carson hosts a panel which, when I saw the show, included Allison Witham, Ben Tallen, Brad Erickson, Kelsey Cramer, Ryan Nelson, and Thomas Matthes. The first segment is celebrities or fictional characters in movies they weren't in, like Tim Gunn reading the rules from Fight Club, Gollum in The Goonies, and George Bush doing the Independance Day speech. There's a bit of audience participation when someone picks a card of a stock impression every impressionist should have (Jerry Seinfeld) and a competition ensues to see who does it best, while reading from Fifty Shades of Grey. And one (un)lucky audience member gets to go onstage and try to guess the impression. After a lot of laughter (including from the stage, it's also fun to watch the panelists crack each other and Josh up) and Simpsons characters, the show wraps up with a motley crew singing "Piano Man."

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society"

Day: 10

Show: 40

Category: Something Different

By: Goulish Delights

Created by: Joshua English Scrimshaw, Tim Uren, Eric Webster, Shanan Custer, and Joe Weismann

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A reenactment of two radio broadcasts from the '40s and '50s, complete with commercials and sound effects.

Highlights: Pairing a 1952 episode of Hall of Fantasy with a 1943 episode of The Shadow, this show is an entertaining and creepy homage to an era gone by, that of the radio drama. The creators of this show have a podcast of the same name (you can find it here, along with future live performances), and their love for and knowledge of the genre is evident. I closed my eyes a few times during the show, not just because I'm super sleep deprived after ten days of Fringing, but also because it's almost more chilling and thrilling to just listen and let your imagination create the picture of what's happening. And what's happening in these two programs is a lot of mysterious creatures and mad scientists and smart sleuths and the like. But it's also fun to watch the performers (see creator list above, plus Marc Doty filling in for Joe Weissman on keyboard when I saw the show), who all have such great retro radio voices (and smart retro wardrobe to match) with inventive sound effect implements. There's a reason these radio horror shows were so popular, and happily they continue to exist in some form today thanks to Goulish Delights.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "STRANGER"

Day: 10

Show: 39

Title: STRANGER

Category: Drama

By: Perspectives Theater Company

Created by: Morgan Holmes and Erika Levy

Location: U of M Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A rumination on the intersection of race and faith using movement, music, and dialogue.

Highlights: STRANGER is a beautiful, truthful, quiet, thoughtful show that really brings the audience into the unique experience of being a Jewish person of color. The three actors (Fernanda Badeo, Gabrielle Dominique, Ricardo Beaird) are all beautifully honest in their portrayal as they tell the varied stories of Jews of color (collected from extensive interviews). One of the best things that theater can do is provide a place for different voices to be heard, and this is a voice and a story I haven't heard much. Movement (designed by Emily Madigan) and sound (designed by Izzy Burger Welsh) are thoughtfully used to help tell the stories, which include a Jewish woman from Brazil whose parents move to the U.S. in search of a better life, an African American man who chooses to become Jewish, and a little black girl who's teased by the other kids for observing Passover instead of eating Easter candy. Much attention to detail is paid in the storytelling and the result is a poignant, moving, cohesive show in which people are allowed to give voice their own experiences.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fringe Festival 2017: "There Ain't No More"

Day: 9

Show: 38

Category: Drama

By: Willi Carlisle Productions

Created by: Willi Carlisle and Joseph Fletcher

Location: Crane Theater

Summary: "A one-man folk operetta" in which Willi Carlisle tells a story of folk songs by singing folk songs.

Highlights: As I left the Crane Theater at 11 pm last night after snagging the very last token to There Ain't No More I thought to myself, "I don't know what the hell that was, but it was somethin' all right. It sure was somethin'!" Willi Carlisle (who's been gathering acclaim for his show at Fringe Festivals across the country) gives a tour de force performance. He starts the show as an old man dying of heart failure, telling the story of his life. He's so believable that I was shocked at how young he was when he removed the mask. I'm at a loss for words to describe this show; it's a crazy brilliant ride across decades and countries, accompanied by folk songs which Willi sings and plays on five different instruments (guitar, banjo, fiddle, harmonica, and some sort of small accordion), and scenes displayed on a scroll that Willi turns himself. Even though I wasn't quite sure when he was the old man (who talks about a girl he loved and lost, and his time serving and playing for the troops in Vietnam), or when he was a narrator, or when he was a song collector, I was happy to go on the ride wherever he led me. A mix of history, folk music (my favorite genre), commentary on war, death, life, love... this show is unlike anything else you'll get at the Fringe and definitely something to see.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Knifeslingin'"

Day: 9

Show: 37

Title: Knifeslingin'

Category: Comedy

By: The Theatre Cosmic

Written by: J. Merrill Motz

Location: HUGE Theater

Summary: The creator of a series of videos and books about self-defense, Ted "Critter" Montana, is put on trial for inciting violence among his fans and followers.

Highlights: This wacky and funny show switches back and forth between the Critter videos, in which he instructs on the six rules of a proper knife fight, and the trial. The assistant district attorney (played by a rotating series of guest actors, Michael Terrell Brown the night I saw the show) questions Critter about his videos, life, and philosophy. Which in the end seems to be commenting on the "stand your ground" law. But the video excerpts are the highlight of the show; this is my first time seeing a J. Merrill Motz show and he's very consistent and detailed in his portrayal of the crazy ball of energy that is Critter. I particularly enjoyed the long lists of various knife grips or stances, and his repetitive redundancy (which elicited such laughter from the crowd that the show used up every last second of the 60 minutes of allotted time).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Macduo"

Day: 9

Show: 36

Title: Macduo

Category: Drama

By: Three Crazy Sons

Created by: April and Robert Hubbard

Location: Bryant Lake Bowl

Summary: A two-person 60-minute adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth.

Highlights: Wife and husband team April and Robert Hubbard tell the story of the power hungry Macbeths in under an hour, playing all of the characters. Dressed in black and with few adornments to signify character (crowns, a scarf for the sisters), the projected display of scene and characters is helpful, even necessary, to follow the story. Both members of the couple give great performances in many different roles - April is creepy in three different ways as the sisters, Robert is a scarily ambitious Macbeth, and everything in between. If you're a Shakespeare lover, check out this concise adaptation that retains the most famous lines like "fair is foul, and foul is fair," "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow."

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "The End of the World Sing-Along Hour"

Day: 9

Show: 35

Category: Comedy

By: The Heavy Mettle Assembly

Written by: Tracey Fletcher Zavadil

Location: Bryant Lake Bowl

Summary: A sing-along radio broadcast from the radio home of the resistance is interrupted by an asteroid approaching earth.

Highlights: If the world is ending, we might as well sing! A wonderful premise, but I wanted more from this show. Literally, it was only about 40 minutes long (nothing throws a wrench in my tightly scheduled Fringe life like having 45 minutes between shows). But the cast (Carole Finneran, Eryn Tvete, Jennifer Eckes, Kevin Werner Hohlstein, and playwright Tracey Fletcher Zavadil) and live onstage band are fabulous, and singing songs like "This Land is Your Land" and the originals "Everybody" and "Never Give Up" (written by Tracey) truly does make one feel better about the world. In this show-within-a-show, when news breaks of an asteroid about to hit greater Minnesota (the cabin!), the sing-along cast decides to try to thwart it with song waves - simultaneous singing and kazooing across the country. A cute and fun show, I just wish there were more singing (and less politics)!

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "The Zoo Story (New Version)"

Day: 9

Show: 34

Category: Drama

By: Mortimer Productions

Written by: Edward Albee

Location: HUGE Theater

Summary: In 1960s NYC, a "transient who lives in the rooming houses on the Upper West Side" approaches a middle class family man reading on a bench in Central Park.

Highlights: Wikipedia tells me that Edward Albee's 1958 one-act play (his first) "explores themes of isolation, loneliness, miscommunication as anathematization, social disparity and dehumanization in a commercial world." Does it ever! What starts out as an amusing conversation between the frantic Jerry and the reserved Peter turns into something a bit more intense as Jerry describes an existential encounter with a dog that gets at the very nature of life, death, and love. The wordy script is thought-provoking, and Sam Ahren gives a remarkable performance as Jerry, physically transforming into this crazy (or perfectly sane and brilliant) man with almost scary reality. Brad Erickson is also fantastic in a more subtle performance as Peter, who may not be as together as he seems. Directed by Pat O'Brien (who stars in that other tragic two-men-sitting-on-a-park-bench show, Whisper Into My Good Ear), The Zoo Story is one well worth listening, and one that will leave you pondering the weighty themes for some time to come.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fringe Festival 2017: "RomCom-Con: A Meet-Cute Musical"

Day: 8

Show: 33

Category: Musical

By: August Moon Productions

Created by: Kyle DeGoey

Location: Ritz Theater Mainstage

Summary: After bad break ups, two people meet-cute at a convention for fans of romantic comedies.

Highlights: This meet-cute musical is super cute. Book writers Nathan Kelly and Kerri O'Halloran have filled the show with rom com references old and new. The show pays homage to the genre that is loved by so many, including our meet-cute couple Will (Aaron Cook) and Samantha (Erin Kennedy), while turning some of the tired tropes on their head. When Will jumps in to defend Sam to her ex Brock (Edd Jones), who comes to the rom com dressed as his favorite rom com character Severus Snape, she protests that they've only just met and she doesn't need him to defend her. And then goes on to explain that true love doesn't happen in an instant, but builds with time and hard work. The super charming and appealing cast also includes Hannah Parish as a rom com guru/fairy godmother, and Nimene Sierra Wureh and Drew Tenenbaum as the best friends who have a meet-cute of their own, even though we're told "true love is for main characters only." Kyle DeGoey (music and lyrics) has once again written a clever, fun, and genre-specific Fringe musical (see also Oregon Trail and Gilligan).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.