Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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

"Now in its 12th year, the Ruth Easton New Play Series gives selected Core Writers 20 hours with collaborators to workshop their script—to write, rewrite, experiment, and shape their work. For playwrights, this means great leaps forward for their plays. For audiences, this means a thrilling and intimate night of theater."

The Ruth Easton Series concludes at the Playwrights' Center tonight, and I was fortunate to attend all five new play readings in the season. The final reading is a full circle moment for this theater blogger - the very first reading I attended at PWC was a reading of core writer Lee Blessing's Minneapolis/St. Paul, which the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers were invited to attend and discuss with the playwright. It's hard to believe that was less than a year ago, and since then I've attended as many readings as I am able to. As Lee himself said in an interview, "There's no more useful tool a playwright has to improve a play than the chance to watch it presented to an audience of willing victims." Consider me a very willing victim for this sort of experiment. It's been so much fun to experience these five plays in development 
(see also December's Wink by Jen Silverman, January's queens by Martyna Majok, February's Eden Prairie 1971 by Mat Smart, and January's The Sea at the Stars by Harrison David Rivers). If you've never been to a reading at the Playwrights' Center, I highly encourage you to pay them a visit and be a part of the great work they're doing in their 45th season.

The description of Minneapolis/St. Paul is: "
A celebrated crime novelist leads two different lives, one as Randall, the middle-aged husband and father, and the other as Mandy, the newly-wedded wife and stepmother. In a play that is both poignant and bitingly funny, Mandy/Randall struggles with the complexities and repercussions of an identity too vast to fit within binaries." The play hasn't changed significantly since the last reading I saw, when I wrote, "In a phrase, the play is about a cross-dressing bigamist. But it's so much grander than that. Even it its unfinished state, it touches on themes of duality, identity, and complicated family relationships. It's funny and also moving." Lee said in an interview, "I tinkered with the script to make it more consistent, and gave one or two characters a little more dimension." It does feel a little more polished and clear, and with the addition of Ivey Award winning costume designer Trevor Bowen's consultation, it feels ready for a full production. And since it is set in our very own Twin Cities with a title that calls to the unique duality and inter-relatedness of our town (echoing the themes of the play), what better place for a world premiere than here?! This story exploring gender fluidity and exposing the humanity and relatability of someone who doesn't identify with either of the two traditional genders is an important one to be heard, now more than ever.

PWC Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen directs this reading and has worked with the playwright, design consultant, and this wonderful cast for just a few days. Returning from last year's reading is Tracey Maloney as Randall's wife, joined by new cast members Michael Booth as Mandy's husband and students Joseph Bricker and Essence Stiggers as her stepson and his daughter. The role of Mandy/Randall is read by Broadway actor Jeffrey Carlson, who has experience playing a gender fluid person from his time on the departed soap All My Children, as transgender woman Zarf/Zoe (a ground-breaking character I'm familiar with as a soap fan, but not one I watched, being strictly a CBS soaps viewer). Jeffrey is lovely in the role, bringing much humor, humanity, and heart to the character even in a reading, as does everyone in the cast.

There is one more reading of this play tonight. Reservations are full but you can get on the waiting list (click here for more info), and last night they were able to get everyone in for the largest audience at a PWC reading in history! Also see the Events tab on the PWC website for more opportunities to see readings of new plays throughout the year, most of which are FREE!