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 Stangl, 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.