Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Noises Off" at the Guthrie Theater

A Christmas Carol is not the only thing playing in that big beautiful blue building on the river. Across the lobby from the 44th annual production of A Christmas Carol, the Guthrie is presenting a hilarious comedy that will make your face hurt from laughing so much. Noises Off is the perfect madcap comedy, perfectly executed by the cast, crew, and creative team at the Guthrie. The play within a play format allows the audience to peak inside the world of the theater and see what it might be like in rehearsal, backstage during a performance, and at the end of a long and troubled tour. It's a complete mess as things continue to go wrong for the fictional company, but the real-life company pulls it all off beautifully; this is impeccably organized chaos thanks to first-time Guthrie director Meredith McDonough and her team. If your thoughts about theater are, as one of the characters in the play says: "I don't go to the theater to listen to other people's problems, I go to be taken out of myself and hopefully not put back in again," this is the perfect play for that.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Miracle on Christmas Lake" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Gather round, children, this is one of my favorite stories in #TCTheater. Not that long ago, in a land not too far away, a couple moved home to Minnesota from NYC to start a theater company. Shortly after doing so, the rights to the holiday* show they were planning were pulled a few weeks before rehearsal was set to begin. Luckily, one of them was a playwright, so she wrote a play. That play was a comedy about a couple that moved to a small town in Minnesota from NYC to run a theater company, when the rights to their holiday play were pulled the night before opening. They say write what you know, and Jessica Lind Peterson did just that, to great success. She mixed her and Yellow Tree Theatre co-founder Jason Peterson's story together with Minnesota humor, soap operas, Little House on the Prairie, a handful of quirky characters, and a bearded dragon, put it all in a crock pot to simmer, and something delicious was born. Now, ten years later, Yellow Tree's holiday show is a huge hit every year and anchors their season to be able to produce some extraordinary and diverse work year-round. There have been two installments of Miracle on Christmas Lake, as well as two stand-alone plays A Hunting Shack Christmas (which you can see this December at Camp Bar produced by Actors Theater of Minnesota) and A Gone Fishin' Christmas. For their 11th season they're returning to where it all began, the original Miracle on Christmas Lake with most of the original cast. This was my 6th time seeing some iteration of the Christmas Lake franchise, and I love the silly, ridiculous, sweet, wonderful mess even more each time I see it. The show continues through the end of December, but as I mentioned it's always hugely popular, so get your tickets soon!

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Present" at Illusion Theater

Prior to his one-man autobiographical musical show, T. Mychael Rambo was introduced as "a gift to all of us." So true. I've been a fan of his since I can't even remember when. He's performed just about everywhere in #TCTheater, and he always brings his big beautiful voice and plenty of charisma. It's fitting that he titled his show Present, now playing at Illusion Theater, because watching it is a present (meaning gift), as he reminds us to be present (aware, mindful) in the present (now). Only one week remains of the limited three-week engagement, so act fast to see this joyful and life-filled performance.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"The Great Gatsby" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Ritz Theater

In the past five seasons, Collide Theatrical Dance Company has brought us original stories from various historical eras, as well as adaptations of classics like Romeo and Juliet. Their new show is an adaptation of the most well-known novel by Minnesota's own F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. What makes Collide unique is that they tell their stories entirely through movement and music, with few or no words. Their "original Broadway-style jazz dance musicals" are a collision of music, dance, and theater. In other words, an excuse for this busy theater blogger to watch pretty people dance prettily, while telling a theatrical story. Combining perfectly chosen pop songs performed by a live band and singers with thrilling dances performed by the talented company of dancers, they're able to convey all of the emotion of the story (with plot summary printed in the program if you care about the plot). The Great Gatsby is a great example of this as they tell the story of these beautifully tragic and tragically beautiful people.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at Children's Theatre Company

Nothing turns me into the Grinch faster than having to deal with traffic, parking, and crowds, all three of which were present when I went to see Children's Theatre Company's production of the musical adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic that they premiered in 1994. I stepped inside the theater just as the lights went down and had to find my way to my 3rd row center seat in the dark, only to find it occupied by an adorable little girl who was already enraptured by the show. I found a seat, but needless to say I was in full Grinch mode and it took me a little while to shake it off and get into the show. But the biggest testament to CTC's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is that by the end of the show, the Grinch was completely gone from my heart, and I had a grin on my face and tears in my eyes. I'm certain the Grinch will return to me several times this season, as it does to all of us when dealing with holiday* cards, shopping, cooking, families, traffic, and all of the other stresses of the season. Hopefully at such times I'll remember what the Grinch discovers - that the true meaning of any holiday is the people we spend it with, and a spirit of generosity and kindness to all, even the Grinches in our life.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"The 4 Seasons" by the Moving Company at the Lab Theater

The Moving Company (which grew out of the ashes of the Tony-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune) is back this fall with a very Moving Company kind of show. Which is to say original, profound, silly, thoughtful, delightful, sweet, surprising, and a little odd. Conceived by co-Artistic Directors Steven Epp, Nathan Keepers, and Dominique Serrand, The 4 Seasons was inspired by the idea of the four seasons, including Vivaldi's famous composition Four Seasons and Piazzolla's less famous composition Four Seasons. They also drew inspiration from Chekhov, and this quote from the Russian playwright about his work could also describe MoCo's work, and this piece in particular: "What happens onstage should be just as complicated and just as simple as things are in real life. People are sitting at a table having dinner, that's all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart."

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"The Book of Mormon" at the Orpheum Theatre

NOTE: this is my fourth time seeing and writing about the 2011 Tony-winning best musical The Book of Mormon, still playing on Broadway, and still touring the country. It's currently making its 4th stop at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre, for just two weeks. I love it so much, and it fills me with such joy. What follows is adapted from my review from 2016, with a few notes about the amazing current cast.

If theater is my religionThe Book of Mormon is my most sacred text. Not the actual book of course, rather the wildly irreverent musical written by the creators of South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) along with EGOT winner Robert Lopez. It is a nearly perfect musical, and definitely one of most joyous musicals I've ever seen. One of the brilliant things about The Book of Mormon is that it allows us to laugh at institutionalized religion (and let's face it, there are plenty of ridiculous things to laugh at) while still espousing the value of faith in oneself and one's friends and community, and "working together to make this our paradise planet!" It truly is a feel-good musical that has the hugest heart, despite its unbelievably foul mouth. Back when it premiered in 2011, The Book of Mormon was what Hamilton is today - a smash hit musical that swept the Tonys and was an impossible ticket to get. Fortunately seven years later tickets are a little easier to come by; tickets are still available (including rush and lottery, click here for details). If you're a fan of musical theater (who isn't offended by profanity and poking fun at religion), The Book of Mormon is definitely a must-see. And since it's still running on Broadway and touring the country, it likely won't be available for regional productions for many years, so this tour may be your only chance to see it for a while. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"Words Do Move" by Sandbox Theatre at the Crane Theater

Words Do Move. Or in this case, words, music, movement, images, and the combination thereof move. Sandbox Theatre's latest ensemble-created work is a series of poems, stories, songs, and dances about relationships, identity, grief, joy, and life. It is, indeed, moving, as the five-person ensemble and one-person band share their stories and their souls with the audience. Words Do Move is unique and lovely and just over an hour long, all good things, and plays through November 17 at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Monday, November 5, 2018

"The Laramie Project" and "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" by Uprising Theatre Company at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

Twenty years ago last month in a small college town in Wyoming, a young gay man was brutally beaten and tied to a fence post, left to die. The name Matthew Shepard has become synonymous with gay rights and in particular with the national hate crime legislation that bears his name, passed into law 11 years after his murder. Unfortunately Matthew's story is not unique, but for some reason it capture the nation, and he became a symbol for a larger movement toward equality and justice. Much has changed for the better in the last 20 years, including the hate crime legislation and the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. But hate crimes still happen, against members of the LGBTQ community, against Jews, against people of color, against immigrants. As demonstrated by this sad fact, along with the current White House resident's threat against the very existence of our transgender citizens, the good work being done in Matthew's name is far from over. This Tuesday offers a great opportunity to continue that work by voting for equality, for compassion, for humanity, for the environment, for justice. Thanks to Uprising Theatre Company for sharing the spirit of Matthew Shepard by presenting The Laramie Cycle at this moment in time.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

"Maple and Vine" by The BAND Group at Center for the Performing Arts

The 2011 play Maple and Vine explores what might happen if we really could return to the "good old days," the era that the Cleavers and Ozzie and Harriet make look so perfectly pleasant and innocent on TV. With all the recent talk of returning to a time when the world, and America, was supposedly greater than now, The BAND Group chose a great time to present this play. With minimal staging in an intimate space, the audience is almost uncomfortably close to this fake '50s world as its true ugliness is slowly revealed. As they always do, The BAND Group is partnering with community organizations, the Citizens League and the League of Women Voters, who both have materials and representatives at the show. Reminding us to use our voting power, as the play reminds us of the things at stake.

Friday, November 2, 2018

"All is Calm" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Dear #TCTheater friends, I just wanted to share with you a few thoughts about Theater Latte Da's annual holiday* show All is Calm, even though their handful of Minneapolis shows this weekends are sold out, and they're heading to Off-Broadway next week (congrats!). I saw it for the sixth time this week, and I've already written many words about how much I love it (you can read them all here). In just over an hour, this cast of ten men, all beautiful vocalists and actors, tells the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Created by Latte Da's Artistic Director Peter Rothstein, the show takes us from the soldier's excitement at going off to war and having adventures, to the realization that war is truly awful, to that one day of peace they found in the trenches, when both sides put down their weapons and celebrated their common humanity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Ghost Quartet" by Theatre Elision at North Garden Theater

In their second full season, new-ish #TCTheater company Theatre Elision, which specializes in small cast female-focused rarely done or original one-act musicals, is bringing back Dave Malloy's Ghost Quartet from their first season. And judging by the audience reaction, they might be stuck doing this show every fall. First of all, this ghostly song cycle by the creator of Broadway's Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a gorgeous, unique, interesting, creepy score. And secondly, Elision's production is really cool - immersive, participatory (the audience gets to play percussion!), performed by an excellent (and partly new this year) cast of singer/ actor/ musicians, and includes the serving of whiskey! It's a unique theater experience, musically haunting and beautiful, and an overall creepy cool vibe. This is my second* time seeing it, and I could definitely see it every year. It's playing through this Saturday only, with limited seating in the new North Garden Theater in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood, so act fast! (Click here for info and tickets.)

"The Tempest" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Wikipedia tells me that The Tempest is "now considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest works," but I'd never seen it (everything I know about theater I learned from watching #TCTheater). Until this week. Theatre Coup d'Etat brings us a stripped down, one act, in-the-round, intimate production in the non-traditional theater space that is SpringHouse Ministry Center, where they've often performed. I found that I like the play, that ends neither with everyone dead nor everyone married, like most Shakespeare plays seem to (although one couple is betrothed). Furthermore, the moral of the story seems to be forgiveness and peace, which is quite a refreshing story to experience these days. In the hands of this wonderful cast 13-person cast, this clear adaptation with great use of space, physicality, and music is the perfect introduction to The Tempest.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp: Acoustically Speaking" at the Ordway

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp in Acoustically Speaking
(photo courtesy of the Ordway)
When someone asks me what my favorite musical is, my usual answer is: there are many musicals that I love, but only one whose lyrics are permanently tattooed on my body. That would be RENT: "no day but today." It's hard to say exactly why RENT has meant so much to me over the last 22 years. Growing up in suburban Minnesota, I didn't know much about Broadway, except for what I saw on the Tony Awards show. When RENT swept the Tonys in 1996 and went on to become a cultural phenomenon that year (think: Hamilton), I was in my early 20s, living on my own for the first time, trying to figure out this thing called life, much like the characters in the musical. For that and many other reasons, I really connected with it, and I fell in love with RENT - my first musical theater love.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Playlabs" at The Playwrights' Center

It's late October, and you know what that means - it's time for The Playwrights' Center's annual Playlabs Festival! Playlabs is a sort of concentrated version of what PWC does year-round, which is support playwrights in developing new works of theater. During this one week, three plays and playwrights receive workshop and rehearsal time, a director, a cast, and sometimes a designer or two. Each play has two readings that are free and open to the public; an important part of the new play development process is seeing how it reads in front of an audience. And that's where you come in, #TCTheater friends. We're at the halfway point, each play has had one reading, the team is back in the lab continuing to tweak things, and the final readings occur this Friday and Saturday (along with a Fellows Showcase on Sunday). You can still register for all three readings here, or show up and get on the waitlist. It's such a thrill to be a part of the process, and a privilege to be able to experience some amazing plays in the early stages, as brought to life by a top notch #TCTheater cast. Read on for descriptions of all three plays, and a few thoughts on the one(s) I've seen so far.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Preferred by Discreet Women Everywhere" by Freshwater Theatre at the Crane Theater

This fall, Freshwater Theatre is featuring new work by women artists, and they couldn't have picked a better time. In rep with a short play festival called "The Feminine Surcharge," they're presenting a collection of three short plays set in a women's bathroom. A place where many of us spend a considerable amount of time. While my visits to the restroom are usually less dramatic than these, it certainly is a place for drama, for strangers coming together, for friends having intimate conversations, for women hiding from undesirable people or events outside the bathroom door (true confession: I've been known to spend a longer time than necessary in the bathroom when events are awkward or boring or uncomfortable). Ruth Virkus' three plays under the title Preferred by Discreet Women Everywhere explore these ideas. The result is funny and real and poignant, and feminist. An all-female cast and creative team shouldn't be as rare and novel as it is, but you can witness it now through October 28 at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Monday, October 22, 2018

"The Last Schwartz" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company brings us another modern (well, late '90s) Jewish family trying to maintain their cultural identity while living in the melting pot of America. Four siblings gather at the family home in upstate New York for their father's Jahrzeit (one-year anniversary of death), and disagree about just about everything. At times funny, at times heart-breaking, The Last Schwartz is an intense 90 minutes spent with a family that puts the fun in dysfunctional. Or as one character puts it when another laments "why can't you be a normal family?" - "this is a normal family."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"I Come from Arizona" at the Children's Theatre Company

Two world premiere new works of theater are premiering at the Children's Theatre Company this fall (which is actually not that unusual for this company that focuses on new work). The main stage production of Last Stop on Market Street closed today (to make way for everyone's favorite furry green grump, another CTC original), but downstairs on the smaller Cargill stage, I Come from Arizona continues through the end of November. This very timely play (adapted by playwright Carolos Murillo from his play Augusta and Noble) speaks directly to the issues of the day, issues that children in the audience may be experiencing first-hand. Gabi is the child of undocumented immigrants, and has far more worries than any 14-year-old should. This production makes what for some of us may be abstract immigration policy ideas seem very real, and very human.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"God of Carnage" at Lyric Arts

In 2009, God of Carnage won the Tony Award for best play. It closed in 2010, and the Guthrie produced it the following year, when I called it "a tightly wound, intense, darkly hilarious four-person play about what happens when our baser natures come to the surface." I still have vivid memories of it (which is noteworthy, considering I've seen over a thousand plays since them). It's a treat to revisit this smart, sharp comedy again in a well done production at Lyric Arts. The strong four-person ensemble is a great team, director Scott Ford has paced the 90-minute four-way conversation well, and the design tells us immediately where we are and who we're dealing with. To my knowledge, no #TCTheater has done this play since the Guthrie in 2011, so kudos to the little community theater in the 'burbs for tackling this prickly and sometimes unpleasant (in a good way) play and doing it so well.

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Scapin" by Ten Thousand Things

This spring, Michelle Hensley left the company she founded 25+ years ago, Ten Thousand Things, through which she nurtured a new kind of theater. The kind of theater that thinks first about the audience, makes the storytelling accessible to everyone, and brings theater to people who may never have experienced it before. I think we were all a little worried about the future of TTT without their esteemed leader, but never fear. Michelle has taught us well, and left the company in great hands - those of new Artistic Director Marcela Lorca, as well as adapter/director of the first post-MH show, Randy Reyes. This fun and wacky adaptation of the Moliere comedy Scapin is very TTT, and an absolute delight. Long live Ten Thousand Things!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"How to Contract Lycanthropy" by Rev. Matt's Monster Science at the Shoreview Library

If you've never seen Rev. Matt's Monster Science at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, or the Twin Cities Horror Festival, or the Phoenix, or your local library, this is a brief PSA to tell you why you should. Rev. Matt (aka Matthew Kessen) performed last night at my local library to an enthusiastic crowd of nerds, and a good time was had by all.

Friday, October 12, 2018

"The Great Society" at History Theatre

I'm not sure I've ever seen a play that feels (and is) as much of a direct sequel as History Theatre's production of Robert Schenkkan's The Great Society, a sequel to All the Way that History Theatre produced just a year ago. This play continues right were the last one left off, with Lyndon B. Joynson's second term as president (or really, his first full term after taking over for JFK halfway through his term). History Theatre reunites most of the cast and creative team from last year, including director Ron Peluso and Pearce Bunting as LBJ, a performance even more powerful than last year. What also continues from the last play is "political machinations, the Civil Rights movement, and the ugly opposition to freedom and equality for all," with a bonus - the rapid escalation of the Vietnam War. The rhetoric used by everyone on stage is disconcerting in a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" kind of way, as is the divisiveness of a country torn in two by politics. The Great Society is long, dense, and kind of depressing, but it's also extremely rewarding, and important to examine our history to give insight into the issues of today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"Elephant and Piggie's 'We Are In a Play!'" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre just opened their shiny new theater space in White Bear Lake this spring, and now they're starting a new "Kids and Family Series." To be honest, this isn't something I'd normally be interested in; I don't have children and haven't worked with children in over 20 years. But the cast of their first production, Elephant and Piggie's "We Are In a Play!", is one I couldn't pass up. My super talented cousin is making her #TCTheater debut, so of course I had to see it! In addition to her fantastic performance, I found the one-hour musical to be delightfully clever, and the kids in the audience were completely enraptured. It's never too early to introduce the little people in your life to theater, and this show is a great start. But note there are only a handful more performances and seating is limited in the intimate black box space, so make your plans soon (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Heartless" and "Heroine"

Nautilus Music-Theater, which focuses on new or reimagined works of music-theater (a term I love because it covers the wide range from "play with music" to "opera," without having to put a label on it), kicks off their 25th season of their "Rough Cuts" series this week. Typically held on the second Monday and Tuesday of the month, "Rough Cuts" presents readings of new works in various stages of development. This allows the creators to see their work in front of an audience, an important part of the theater development process. For a suggested donation of $5, you can be part of the process, and enjoy free milk and cookies! I always want to go to "Rough Cuts," but am usually too busy, so I took advantage of a quieter week to visit the Lowertown St. Paul studio (next door to Black Dog Cafe, for those who want something stronger with their cookies). They perform again tonight - this and any other "Rough Cuts" is highly recommended for those interested in the development of new works of music-theater.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"Mary Poppins" at Artistry

Artistry's Mary Poppins may be just the thing you need right now. That is, an escape from reality into the magical world of everyone's favorite nanny, filled with talking dogs, moving statues, high-flying kites, and fantastic dance numbers. Watching the show is, indeed, a jolly holiday as Artistry's large and talented cast brings the beloved movie to life with unstoppable energy. This is my third time seeing the 2004 stage adaptation of the 1964 classic movie and P.L. Travers' series of books, with book by Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton Abbey) and about a half dozen new songs added. I still think it's a bit long and bloated, with several scenes, songs, and characters that could be cut to make the runtime more child (and me) friendly than the current nearly 3 hours (which of course is no fault of Artistry, they have to work with the piece as written). But on the whole it's a heart-warming and smile-inducing show filled with moments of magic and delight for any age.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Two Degrees" by Prime Productions at Guthrie Theater

In just their second production, new #TCTheater company Prime Productions (whose mission is "to explore, illuminate and support women over fifty and their stories through the creative voice of performance," hooray!) brings us the regional premiere of the new play Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist. If their goal is to provide interesting and complex roles for women of a certain age that aren't that of merely the wife, mother, or best friend, then this play is a resounding success. Norah Long is one of our best actors, period, and it's wonderful to see her tackle the role of a smart, mature, vibrant, messy woman (think Shonda Rhimes heroines, but on stage). The play is a nice balance of stories global (i.e., the dangers of climate change, from whence comes the title) and personal.

Friday, October 5, 2018

"Understood" by Trademark Theater at Soma Studios

"People by and large are idiots." Wow, does this ever ring true, especially on a day when some of my fellow Minnesotans showed up and cheered for the current White House resident despite all the ugly things he's said and done. How can people do that?! It's completely incomprehensible to me; they are completely incomprehensible to me. This feeling is at the core of the new play Understood by Tyler Mills, which Trademark Theater is intentionally producing running up to next month's midterm election. Director Tyler Michaels notes in the program, "This play swirls around these two ideas: A broken couple and a broken country." In this thoughtful and thought-provoking two-hander, a married couple is looking to be understood by each other, the one that is supposed to know and love them best, and also by a stranger whose beliefs are inexplicable to them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"Frankenstein - Playing with Fire" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater is opening their 56th season (my 16th as a subscriber) with a play they commissioned 30 years ago. Minnesota playwright Barbara Field (who also provided the adaptation for the Guthrie's first A Christmas Carol, that they used for over 30 years) adapted Mary Shelly's famed novel Frankenstein as Frankenstein - Playing with Fire, premiering in 1988. About her work she says, "the animating spirit of this play is a hunger for science and knowledge that motivates the questions these two old men ask each other." One big long conversation between two people about science, philosophy, life, and death is a play that's right up my alley (bonus: mathematical equations!), especially when so beautifully designed and acted as this.

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Spinster Stories" Hosted by Heather Meyer at Strike Theater

I was at the dentist today for a quick repair of a chipped filling. While waiting for the novocaine to take effect, the hygienist was making small talk. She went through the usual topics - travel, work, weekend plans. Then she got to this topic. "Do you have children?" "No." "Are you married, significant other?" "No." "So it's just you then, huh?" Yes, it's just me. But it's not really just me. I was reassured last night that there are many "spinsters" like me who are single for a variety of reasons, and contrary to popular belief we're not all lonely damaged people. We can be just as happy and well-adjusted and fulfilled as "the marrieds," maybe even moreso. Six such people shared their experiences at Strike Theater in Northeast Minneapolis in an evening of storytelling called "Spinster Stories." Sadly, this was the final of two shows and there are no more scheduled (at the moment). But check out Strike's schedule for more storytelling, sketch comedy, and improv performances, including their one-year anniversary celebration this weekend!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

"The Visit" by Frank Theatre at the Minnesota Transportation Museum

To open their 30th season, intrepid nomadic #TCTheater company Frank Theatre is bringing us The Visit in the Minnesota Transportation Museum. This is actually the second play I've seen in this unique and super cool venue (see also Wayward and Mission's co-production of Ghost Train). Both plays are set (at least partly) in a train station, so the museum is a perfect location. Filled with vintage train equipment and displays (which you can wander through before the show and at intermission), the museum is fascinating but also kind of dark and creepy and cold, and smells a little like a garage. Which is the perfect atmosphere for Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt's absurd "tragicomic" play. This is a very Frank play, with a huge and talented cast and great commitment to the highly stylized design and tone of the play.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"The Agitators" at Park Square Theatre

When planning their 2018-2019 season, Park Square Theatre couldn't have known how timely and relevant The Agitators would be. But then again, the lives and work of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass will never not be relevant and urgent until their dream of an America that is equal and just for all is realized. And we have not yet reached that day. That's why football players take the knee during the National Anthem, and why women take to the streets in pink hats. It's the legacy of these two self-described (at least in the words of the play) agitators, people who stir things up and get people talking, because that's where change begins. Their legacy is also our right to vote, which these two (among many) fought so hard to secure for all Americans. With what feels like the most important mid-term election in history approaching, it's a perfect time for this play to remind us just why the vote is so important that these two agitators devoted their entire lives to it. Playwrights' Center core writer Mat Smart's smart (pardon the pun), funny, engaging, and inspiring play couldn't come at a better time.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"The Miracle Worker" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre opens their 11th season in their cozy little space in a strip mall in suburban Osseo with an inspirational true story about two remarkable women. We all know the story of the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, Helen Keller, and her teacher Anne Sullivan, an orphan with vision problems of her own. But seeing The Miracle Worker on stage brings this story to life in a way that books or movies cannot, and Yellow Tree's beautiful staging in their intimate space is moving and immediate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf" at Penumbra Theatre

Penumbra Theatre's new production of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is my first experience with this acclaimed piece of theater, and now I see what all the fuss is about. I've heard the name of course, but didn't really know what it was about. Turns out it's about so much, and told in a uniquely moving way that's basically a series of poems with accompanying music and movement. I usually have a hard time connecting to poetry, but there's something about the beauty and raw truth of Ntozake Shange's words, and the gorgeous performances by this ten-person all women of color cast, that moved me to tears. I don't have adequate words to describe why, but do yourself a favor and go see it.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Is God Is" at Mixed Blood Theatre

Playwright Aleshea Harris' play Is God Is, receiving just its second production at Minneapolis' Mixed Blood Theatre, is a revenge play. More than that, it's a revenge fantasy. Filled with the kind of vengeance that we don't resort to in real life because we're civilized people, but it sure is fun to think about. When you hear of a man who does horrible things to his wife and/or children, or even worse, experience it first hand, there's a part of the primal brain that wants to deliver an eye for an eye. This play is the cathartic fulfillment of those desires. It reminds me of the Dixie Chicks' song "Goodbye Earl," in which two friends conspire to kill the abusive husband of one of them. Critics cried - you're advocating violence and murder, how horrible! No - it's fiction, art, fantasy, metaphor, seeing an evil someone get what they deserve, if only in our imagination. Such is Is God Is, tenfold, in all its horrific yet somehow satisfying violence to avenge great hurts against one's self and loved ones.

"Life Goes On" by Bucket Brigade at Art House North

New original musicals are my favorite thing, and a thing that's becoming more rare in the age of movie adaptations and jukebox musicals on Broadway. Fortunately we can look to #TCTheater for the remedy, including local company Bucket Brigade. They seem to love new original musicals as much as I do; they've created several, the most recent being Life Goes On, now playing at the charming Art House North in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood. It's a beautiful story of grief, forgiveness, connection, love, and family. Told in 90 minutes with a cast of six and a three-piece band in a former church space, it's an intimate experience that's engaging and moving, and if you've lost someone (who hasn't?), could also be painful and/or cathartic. As I've been saying a lot lately, #bringtissues (maybe it's just me!) when you go to see this lovely and real new musical.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"Sometimes There's Wine" at Park Square Theatre

Coffee and wine. Both are social elixirs. Both provide a reason to get together and share conversation, laughter, and tears. The brilliant #TCTheater comedy duo Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool have chosen these two beverages around which to create their Ivey Award* winning sketch comedy show 2 Sugars, Room for Cream and its follow-up, Sometimes There's Wine.** Both originated as Minnesota Fringe Festival shows (under an hour in length) before being developed into full-length shows. Sometimes There's Wine was a hit at the 2016 Fringe, and the full length version is premiering at Park Square Theatre to open their 2018-2019 season. Carolyn and Shanan are two of the funniest women people in #TCTheater, and have such a great and comfortable rapport with each other that it easily translates to the audience, bringing us into their circle. After the show my friend said to me, I want to have a glass of wine with them! But in a way we already did. Seeing this show feels like having a glass of wine with your best friends, who just happen to be super talented, smart, funny, real, relatable, charming, and disarming. Go have a glass of wine with Shanan and Carolyn through October 14 at Park Square's second stage in the basement of the Historic*** Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Little Women" at the Jungle Theater

Louisa May Alcott's 150-year old novel Little Women is experiencing a bit of a resurgence at the moment. A beautiful mini-series came out recently on Masterpiece, a modern adaptation is set to be released to movie theaters this fall, and director/writer Greta Gerwig's star-studded movie is currently in pre-production. #TCTheater is also getting in on the action; Jungle Theater has commissioned a new theatrical adaptation from Kate Hamill (who recently adapted Sense and Sensibility, seen on the Guthrie stage two years ago). There's a reason Alcott's semi-autobiographical novel has remained so popular. This story of four very different sisters who support each other despite their differences, and each struggle to find their own path in life, is timeless and always inspirational. This lively adaptation (that stops short of the end of the book), featuring a wonderful and diverse cast, is sweet and heart-warming, staying true to the source but casting the story in a more modern and relevant light.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"Awake and Sing!" at Artistry

I love sad plays. I love stories of miserable families who love each other but don't know how to express it in healthy ways. Awake and Sing!, now playing at Artistry's black box theater, is one such tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic play, like Tennessee Williams set in the Bronx. Or rather, since Clifford Odets' 1935 play predates Williams' major works, I guess I should say that Tennessee Williams is like Odets set in the South. The multi-generational Berger family has become beaten down by life, with the younger generation trying to break free and make a new life in this new country, if only it will let them. With a strong cast and detailed design in an intimate space, Artistry's production is beautiful and heart-breaking.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Once" by Theater Latte Da at Ritz Theater

Ever since it became available for regional productions a few years ago, I've been (im)patiently waiting for a #TCTheater company to do Once, the eight-time Tony winning musical based on the Irish indie film that won an Oscar for best song. My (im)patience has finally been rewarded with a production by my favorite company of theater musically that is, in a word, grand. Theater Latte Da used to have a series called "Broadway Re-imagined," but the cool thing about Once is that the original production on Broadway was already re-imagined, at least in terms of what you usually see on a Broadway stage. It's a small intimate story lacking the traditional (clichéd) happy ending; it features folk-rock music; and there is no separate orchestra, rather the ensemble also functions as the band in one cohesive celebration of music, love, joy, and pain. So very Irish. Still, Latte Da has managed to put their own unique spin on it and cast 13 multi-talented local performers to create something truly special that will make your heart ache in the best possible way.

"West of Central" at Pillsbury House Theatre

A thrilling mystery in the classic noir style set in LA in the '60s sounds fun, but add in the fact that the smart and savvy detective is an African American woman and the play deals with issues of racism, segregation, riots, and changing neighborhoods, and you have a uniquely engaging and thought-provoking new play that only favorite #TCTheater playwright Christina Ham could write. West of Central was developed at the Playwright's Center, where I saw a reading two years ago as part of their Playlabs Festival. It was great then, and it's even better now after some tweaking and fully staged at Pillsbury House Theatre with precise design. Directed by Haley Finn (who also directed the PWC reading) and featuring a fantastic cast of local faves, West of Central is not just super cool and fun, but also has some interesting things to say about race relations then and now, as well as how we choose to live where we live and where we call home.

Friday, September 14, 2018

"Spring Awakening" by Shoot the Glass Theater at the Lab Theater

I love Spring Awakening so much that after seeing the eight time Tony winner on Broadway (with most of the original cast), I named the next kitten I adopted Moritz Stiefel, after my favorite character. Nine years and three bladder surgeries later, my sweet Moritz is still with me, and so is my love for Spring Awakening. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), the themes of the late 19th Century German play, as seen through a rock musical, are still relevant today. Suicide rates are on the rise, there are some very real threats to abortion rights in this country, exposure and intolerance of sexual abuse and harassment is at an all time high, and 21st Century technology is making it harder to be a teenager than perhaps it's ever been. You think Wendla and Melchi had it rough? At least they never had their most embarrassing moment go viral for the entire world to bully them! For all of these reasons I'm grateful to Shoot the Glass Theater for bringing Spring Awakening to us now, in a beautifully staged production featuring a super talented cast of young and unknown actors. I found myself falling in love with this story and these characters all over again.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Dial M for Murder" at Gremlin Theatre

I concluded my unintentional Frederick Knott double-bill weekend with the fun and twisty murder mystery Dial M for Murder at Gremlin Theatre (see also Theatre in the Round's production of the English playwright's Wait Until Dark). It was fun to see the two plays back to back and notice the similarities: both take place entirely within an apartment with mention of a street door, both use phone calls to further the mystery, and both feature seemingly helpless maidens in distress who overcome their attacker and defend themselves, proving to their husbands that they are strong and capable and not so easily fooled. In Dial M for Murder, the husband plans the perfect murder, but if it were as easy as he thought to get away with murdering his wife, we wouldn't have a play. Gremlin's production is well cast and well designed, and tells an intriguing and engaging story.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Wait Until Dark" at Theatre in the Round

I first saw Frederick Knott's 1966 classic thriller Wait Until Dark, adapted by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, at Lyric Arts two years ago. The second time around, at Theatre in the Round aka the Twin Cities' oldest theater, may have been a bit less suspenseful since I knew what was coming, but it's still a thrilling story of a blind woman who outsmarts the criminals trying to do her in and uses her sightlessness to her advantage.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"Remembering Pins and Needles" by Theatre Elision at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

One of my favorite new theater companies, Theatre Elision, is beginning their second full season with another original piece showcasing a little known part of music-theater history. Remembering Pins and Needles does just that - it remembers the 1937 musical created by the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union that went on to become the longest running Broadway show at the time (it's now #100). With a book by producer Cindy Polich, the show includes about a dozen songs from the original and one of the few remaining comedy sketches, interspersed with explanatory dialogue about the phenomenon that was Pins and Needles. The fantastic four-person ensemble and swingin' four-person band do a great job with these fun '30s era tunes, and the songs and story of Pins and Needles have a surprising resonance today - the working class fighting for their fair share against the rich and powerful that are trying to use them and keep them down. Remembering Pins and Needles is 75 minutes of edutainment that you can't get anywhere else.

Friday, September 7, 2018

"If/Then" at Lyric Arts

2014 saw the Broadway premiere of a new original musical written by the creators of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal (Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt) for two of the original stars of the Pulitzer Prize-winning RENT (Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp). I went to see If/Then with super high expectations, which is probably why I was underwhelmed. It's not going to win a Pulitzer (few musicals do, only nine if you want to get nerdy about it), in fact it didn't even win a Tony. But the more I listen to the score and see the show (I also saw the national tour a few years ago), the more I like it. It may not be a brilliant musical, but it's a good one, and it's original, fresh, and modern, which is hard to come by these days. Lyric Arts in Anoka was lucky/smart enough to snag the regional premiere, and I'm quite impressed by what this little community(ish) theater in the 'burbs was able to do with this complex show. A solid cast (and one outright superstar in Kate Beahen), a clever design that captures the spirit of NYC, clear direction by Elena Giannetti, and interesting movement around the small stage bring out the best in this smart, funny, moving, and thought-provoking new original modern musical. I can't ask for much more than that.

Monday, September 3, 2018

"Hamilton" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

That's right, #TCTheater friends, music-theater's favorite founding father has finally arrived in Minneapolis, along with all of this friends. Three years after opening on Broadway and becoming the biggest theater sensation in years, maybe even decades, the second national tour is playing at the Opheum Theatre for a six-week run. I'm lucky enough to have seen it four times now, and it's still just as epic and thrilling, if not quite as mind-blowing as the first time. Hamilton is the rare thing that not only lives up to the hype, it exceeds it. In fact it's not really about the hype at all, the "all the cool people are seeing Hamilton so I guess I should see it too." You shouldn't go see Hamilton so you can impress your friends and neighbors, you should go see Hamilton because it's the quintessential American story told through the quintessential American art form - musical theater. It's one of those ground-breaking milestone events in the history of theater that has forever changed it. And it's also three jam-packed hours of music, dance, stories, entertainment, and inspiration. If you don't already have your tickets don't despair (and DO NOT buy tickets from third-party sellers!). There are tickets still available through the official channels, and you can enter a daily lottery in which 40 lucky people win the chance to buy tickets for $10 (click here for all the info). I don't think I need to try to convince anyone to go see it, or tell you how incredibly amazing it is. You already know that, the rest is up to you.

Friday, August 24, 2018

"Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County: A Picnic Operetta" by Mixed Precipitation at the Dodge Nature Center

Cooler weather, back to school sales, and the Minnesota State Fair may signal the end of summer, but one of #TCTheater's summer highlights is in full swing. This is my 5th year attending Mixed Precipitation's annual picnic operetta (now celebrating their 10th anniversary), and if you haven't seen them yet you're missing out on a unique delight. Mixing classic opera, pop music, and Minnesota's bountiful harvest, they perform a charming show outdoors while feeding the audience throughout the show. What's better than that?! For this year's opera, Artistic Director Scotty Reynolds has adapted German composer Otto Nicolai's 1849 opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor), setting it on the Iron Range in the '70s at the time of the foundation of the EPA, adding in songs by Bruce Springsteen. The result is exactly as weird and wonderful as that sounds. It's playful, fun, outdoors, and did I mention they feed you?! Playing in gardens and parks around the state, from Lake County to Winona (including several locations in the Twin Cities area), you're not going to want to miss this unique theatrical and culinary delight.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"What I Thought I Knew" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

NYC-based theater artist Alice Eve Cohen had a surprise late-in-life pregnancy filled with traumatic
experiences and decisions. So she wrote a play about it, because that's what artists do. The result is a frank, funny, and almost unbelievable story that touches on many common and relatable issues. For their production of What I Though I Knew, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company enlisted Kim Kivens to perform the solo piece, a wise choice indeed. As much as anything else, the play is about storytelling. About our need to tell stories, our need to listen to each other's stories. Alice's story is a remarkable one, and listening to it, as told by the team at MJTC, is a joyful, heart-breaking, moving experience.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Dear Lenny: Bernstein's Life in Songs and Letters" by Chronofon Productions at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Leonard Bernstein. I know him mostly as the composer of one of my all-time favorite musical theater scores, West Side Story (now playing at the Guthrie for one more week), as well as other works ranging from classical to popular. But I never really knew much about the man behind the music or what his life was like. Thanks to Open Eye Figure Theatre and the team from Chronofon Productions (Bradley Greenwald, Dan Chouinard, Diana Grasselli, and Prudence Johnson), I now feel like I have an even greater appreciation for the music as well as the person who created it. Dear Lenny: Bernstein's Life in Songs and Letters is a well constructed and entertaining deep dive into the life and work of one of the best American composers of the 20th Century.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

"Houdini" by Sandbox Theatre's Swingset

Sandbox Theatre is known for their ensemble-created original plays. Judging by their inaugural production, their new offshoot The Swingset does the same thing, only with aerial work. Like all of Sandbox's work, Houdini is a thoughtful and playful exploration of a subject (in this case the famed escape artist) that uses physical theater. But in this case the physical theater extends into the air on aerial silks hung from a contraption that does indeed look like a very large swingset. Performed outdoors in a couple of locations (I saw it at Pioneer Park in Roseville, where it continues tonight), it's a fun and magical experience.