Monday, October 30, 2017

"Suddenly Last Summer" at Theatre in the Round

It may be the beginning of the cold, dark, drab winter season here in Minnesota, but on stage at Theatre in the Round, it's still beautiful and lush late summer, with colorful flowers and chirping birds. But it's still pretty dark, this being Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, a one-act play written in 1958. Like all of Williams' plays, it's beautifully tragic, or tragically beautiful. Flawed people, dysfunctional families, and a sense of despair. Oh, how I love it! Tennessee Williams is one of my favorite playwrights, but this was my first experience with this play. It was my second experience with Tennessee Williams at TRP (see also Summer and Smoke), and once again they have put on an excellent production of a sad, beautiful, disturbing Tennessee Williams play.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Playlabs" at The Playwrights' Center

It's late October in Minnesota, and that must mean it's time for... Playlabs at the Playwrights' Center (you thought I was going to say Halloween, didn't you). In this week-long festival, three of PWC's core writers have the opportunity to work with a group of actors, a director, a dramaturg, and sometimes a designer on a new work. With just a few days of rehearsals, the plays receive two public readings, often with much rewriting between the two. This year I attended the final readings of all three plays, and was once again blown away by the creativity, thoughtfulness, and innovation of playwrights, as well as the talents of actors (many from the #TCTheater scene) in bringing these plays to life, even while standing in one place reading from a script.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Ghost Quartet" by Theatre Elision at North Garden Theater

Just in time for Halloween, Theatre Elision brings us Ghost Quartet, by Dave Malloy, the composer/lyricist of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (which recently closed too soon on Broadway). In their third show as a new company, Theatre Elision brings us their usual small cast and musically beautiful production, but very much in the style of Great Comet. Meaning, an intimate in-the-round setting (which Great Comet replicated on Broadway by having audience sit on stage), a fun and playful style, and with audience participation (and vodka!). It's a fantastic show that fits in well with Elision's niche of small cast, feminist, one-act, original or rarely produced musicals. And it's a perfect show for this Halloweekend!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Church and State" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre at Highland Park Center Theatre

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain," John Lennon sang. Or to put it another way, in the movie Corrina, Corrina when a little girl tells her dad that her mother is in heaven with the angels, he says, "heaven, the angels, and all that, it's just something people made up so they won't feel sad anymore." And the child responds, "well, what's wrong with that?" The answer, of course, is that what's wrong with that is when people try to force their religious beliefs on others, and are intolerant of any other beliefs. But here in America, we have something called the separation of church and state which ensures this can't happen. Don't we? It's getting a little hard to tell these days. But in Jason Odell Williams' new play Church and State, making its #TCTheater debut at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, at least one politician still believes that, and isn't afraid to say so. Church and State is funny, smart, thought-provoking, sobering, and short, and MJTC has put together an excellent cast that makes this an entertaining, if a bit depressing, evening of theater.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"The Weir" by Wayward Theatre at Urban Growler Brewing

Sitting in a pub, drinking beer, listening to one of my favorite songs by my favorite musician Glen Hansard ("Revelate," which more accurately is by The Frames), about to watch an Irish play - this pretty much describes my ideal Tuesday night. I love Irish culture, I love beer, and I love site-specific theater. Irish playwright Conor McPherson's play The Weir is pretty much just five people sitting in a pub trading stories, and the cozy space at Urban Growler Brewing (the first woman-owned microbrewery in Minnesota!) was chosen wisely by Wayward Theatre (which has also brought us Tartuffe at the James J. Hill House and Ghost Train at the Minnesota Transportation Museum). Head to Urban Growler (off 280 and University in St. Paul), grab a beverage from the tap room (or even a pre-show dinner, from the smell of it they have great food too), head back to the pub/theater space, and settle in for some good craic.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Wedding Band" at Penumbra Theatre

I love a good tragic love story, and it doesn't get much more tragic than an interracial couple in 1918 South Carolina. But Penumbra's gorgeous production of the 1966 play Wedding Band by Alice Childress (whose Trouble in Mind was seen at the Guthrie last year) is not just a beautiful, complicated, and ultimately tragic love story. It's also (not unlike Trouble in Mind) a still timely work that speaks to the issues of race, racism, and privilege in ways that feel entirely relevant. With a super talented cast directed by Penumbra's founder Lou Bellamy (who recently passed the Artistic Director baton to his daughter Sarah) and gorgeous design, Wedding Band is a show not to be missed, and my favorite of my five-show weekend.

"Speechless" by The Moving Company at The Lab Theater

"Words are heavy. They're like stones. If birds could talk they couldn't fly.*" This quote from my favorite TV show Northern Exposure perfectly expresses my feelings about words (anyone who's met me knows I save the bulk of my words for this blog). Words are hard. Sometimes words aren't enough to express our thoughts and feelings (as Evan Hanson sings, "words fail"). And words are open to interpretation, sometimes they come out differently than how we intended them. The Moving Company (one of my favorite #TCTheater companies in the last six years, since seeing Come Hell and High Water in 2011) has taken that idea of the inadequacy of words and extended it into a 75-minute wordless (but not entirely silent) exploration of... well... a bunch of stuff. Created by the five-person ensemble under the direction of Dominique Serrand and using movement, music, and a little how'd-they-do-that theater magic, Speechless is poignant, heart-breaking, funny, and mesmerizing.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Flavio Betrayed" at Lyric Arts

A funny thing happened on the way to Anoka, or rather, in Anoka - the world premiere* of the new play Flavio Betrayed by resident director Scott Ford, based on the commedia dell'arte style popular in 16th-18th Century Italy. He has assembled a fantastic cast that plays the exaggerated and highly stylized physicality to the hilt, extending even into some pre-show bantering with the crowd. It all makes for a perfectly silly evening of theater. In the real world, there may be tragedy tomorrow (and yesterday and next week), but there is only comedy tonight at Lyric Arts!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Hamlet" at Park Square Theatre

The Guthrie is currently staging a fantastic production of Romeo and Juliet, and now, across the river, Park Square Theatre brings us an equally fantastic production of Shakespeare's other most popular and produced play, Hamlet. The two make a nice pairing; both are youthful and modern with fantastically talented and energetic casts. This Hamlet, adapted, directed, and designed by Joel Sass, features a condensed cast of just nine, some gender-swapping (which provides more roles for women in male-heavy Shakespeare plays), and what I would call a breakout performance by Kory LaQuess Pullam in the title role, except that he's been breaking out for a couple of years in #TCTheater. Last year the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers chose him as our favorite new artists/one to watch (a choice he's continually reaffirmed this year), and the StarTribune recently called him "the fastest rising prince of Twin Cities theater." If you're not yet aware of Kory's work, as an actor on various stages around town, as a playwright and artistic director of Underdog Theatre, or as a founder and improviser with Blackout Improv, you will be now. He leads a talented ensemble in an interesting and inventive new production of one of Shakespeare's best.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"The Music Man" at Artistry

The Music Man is a classic of the American musical theater canon, and one that's held up fairly well with no uncomfortable racism and relatively little sexism (why does it still have to be a "boys' band?"). And Meredith Wilson's score is a winner, ranging from what might be the first musical theater rap song to gorgeous romantic duets. Artistry excels at these sorts of musical theater classics, so it's no surprise that their new production is a charmer. This also seems to be the sort of show that appeals to their core audience, judging by the fact that the entire run is already sold out. I would say that if you're looking for a good old-fashioned heart-warming, foot-stamping, enjoyable musical, head down to Bloomington. Except that you're pretty much out of luck for this run (call the box office to see if they've got anything left). Make plans to enjoy the rest of their 2017-2018 (which began with a bang in the form of an inventive and super-cool Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which I'm guessing did not appeal to their core audience quite as much). I'm most looking forward to the final show of this season, the much more infrequently produced Sondheim masterpiece Follies.

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 in 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.