Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Electra" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

To begin her final season as Artistic Director of Ten Thousand Things, the company she founded over 25 years ago, recent Ivey Lifetime Achievement Award winner Michelle Hensley has chosen the Greek classic Electra. This 2000+ year old story of betrayal and revenge is clearly and succinctly told in not much more than an hour, and like all TTT shows, feels both fantastical and grounded in reality. With guest director/adapter Rebecca Novick out of San Francisco, seven of the top #TCTheater actors, a warm and wonderful Peter Vitale musical soundtrack, and very little in the way of usual theater magic (except that created by the skills of the performers), this tragedy is a joy to watch.

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.