Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Park and Lake" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

Friends, I love Ten Thousand Things. Seeing a Ten Thousand Things show (in their trademark bare-bones All the Lights On style) never fails to make me happy, and often also moves or inspires or thrills me. Their newest creation Park and Lake, an original piece written by playwright in residence Kira Obolensky and the ensemble, is no exception to that. It's a light-hearted, funny, optimistic fairy tale of a story about a community of people working together to make their lives better. It's as sweet and hopeful as it is ridiculous and silly. Under the co-direction of soon to be retired Artistic Director Michelle Hensley and ensemble member Luverne Seifert, with uniquely comic performances by this wonderful cast, Park and Lake is a delightful place to visit for a few hours. In fact I wish I could move there for an extended stay with these charming oddballs!

Monday, February 26, 2018

"Collected Stories" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

I recently commented that I love two-people-sitting-in-a-room-talking kind of plays. Collected Stories is one of those plays. But rather than one long conversation, it's a series of conversations over six years in an ever changing teacher/student relationship. Written 20 years ago by Donald Margulies, the play does not feel dated (except in character wardrobes and phone references), but rather is a smart and thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a mentor, a mentee, and a writer of stories, yours or others. I found Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's production, playing now through March 18, to be entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Peter and Alice" by Candid Theatre Company at Fallout Arts Initiative

Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are two of the most iconic characters in children's literature. Both were inspired by real people, Peter Llewelyn Davis and Alice Liddell, who were children befriended by the authors J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll. One would think they'd have a lot in common, and a lot to talk about, both living their lives under the shadow of this iconic image of childhood. History tells us they actually did meet, and playwright John Logan imagines what their conversation was like in the play Peter and Alice. Reality, memories, and imagination all mix together to tell a moving story of the joy and pain of growing up. Candid Theatre Company's wonderful and intimate production of Peter and Alice is playing at Fallout Arts Initiative in South Minneapolis through March 4.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"The Royale" at Yellow Tree Theatre

I've learned more about boxing from #TCTheater this month that I ever knew before! But of course, like Illusion Theater's world premiere of Dancing with Giants (closing this weekend), Yellow Tree Theatre's regional premiere of The Royale is about much more than boxing. While Dancing with Giants explored pre-WWII international politics through the story of boxers, including African American heavyweight champion Joe Louis, The Royale takes us back a few decades earlier to explore race relations right here in America through the story of Jack Johnson, the first ever African American heavyweight champion (that's way more boxing words than I ever thought I'd write). The play is sparse in length (not much more than an hour) and words, and almost feels like a dance musical in its rhythmic dialogue and graceful movement. It's a powerful and dynamic experience that flies by in no time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

"Two Mile Hollow" by Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre

My 280-character (or less) review of Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre's first ever collaboration:
Friends, run don't walk to see #twomilehollow (co-production from @theatermu and @mixed_blood). I can't decide whom I love most in this cast of comic geniuses! But behind all the wackiness and humor is some seriously smart commentary on race and class in America.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"You Can't Take It With You" at Lyric Arts

You can't take it with you. Meaning money, meaning when you die. What's the point of racking up piles of money at the expense of living? It's more important to rack up experiences and time spent doing the things you love with the people you love. At least that's the moral of the story in the classic play You Can't Take It With You, now playing at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka. This 80-year-old play may be a little dated and old-fashioned, and I don't really see the urgency of doing this play at this moment in time. And of course, it's a privileged class of people who can contemplate giving up their high-paying job to spend more time on their hobbies. That being said, this is still a charming, funny, and uplifting play, a good way to spend an evening and a good reminder to not overlook the important things in life.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Pirates of Penzance" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre's new production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic comic operetta The Pirates of Penzance, re-imagined by director Doug Scholz-Carlson, music director Denise Prosek, and this dreamy nine-person cast, is indeed a divine emollient. But it's not just pure escapist silliness. G&S, in addition to writing hilariously clever and gorgeously melodic pieces, also included more than a little social and political commentary in their work. Amidst all the humor and fun lies some insightful questioning of the society and politics of Victorian England. So it is entirely appropriate, then, that this 2018 production has been updated to include some current social and political commentary, and some of the dated concepts of the piece have been modernized. The result is a supremely entertaining musical that's refreshingly modern, while still respectful of the source, and even providing some historical context around the 1879 NYC premiere. I've been in love with The Pirates of Penzance since first seeing it at the Guthrie 14 years ago, then discovering the glorious Kevin Kline-ness of the early '80s Broadway production and movie. I've now found whole new ways to love it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"My Mother Has 4 Noses" at the Jungle Theater

Jonatha Brooke took care of her aging mother, suffering from dementia, for the last two years of her life. And because she's a singer/songwriter, she wrote some songs about it. And then she wrote some stories about it. And prompted by an idea from her mother, herself an artist, she wove these stories and songs into a one-woman show called My Mother Has 4 Noses. First performed off-Broadway in 2014, just two years after her mother's death, Jonatha now brings it to the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. Everyone who has ever had a mother should go see this show. It's a funny, painful, moving, beautiful story of love, brilliantly and very personally told by the woman who lived it. Theater doesn't get much more real than this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Humans" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The aptly titled Tony Award-winning Broadway play The Humans is currently touring the country, stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre for one week only. It's one of those plays where nothing really happens in the 90-ish intermissionless minutes, with the story playing out in real time. But in the nothing really happening, volumes are spoken about humanity. Playwright Stephen Karem (whose Sons of the Prophet was produced at Park Square Theatre two years ago) has written a play that sounds so realistic, with characters talking over each other just like in real life (which means sometimes you miss a line or two, just like in real life). It's truly a play about what it means to be human, with all the challenges and joy that entails.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"A Crack in the Sky" at History Theatre

The world premiere new play A Crack in the Sky, now playing at St. Paul's History Theatre, teams up Ahmed Ismail Yusef, author of the book Somalis in Minnesota, with Playwrights' Center core writer Harrison David Rivers* to tell Ahmed's very personal and very relatable story of being a Somali immigrant in America. The play was workshopped and read last year as part of History Theatre's Raw Stages series, and has now come beautifully to full life in this production. It's a play that's funny and playful, short and sweet, and tells a very human story of a man striving to make a better life for himself and his family, while pursuing his love of knowledge and storytelling.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Assassins" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Someone tell the story
Someone sing the song
Every now and then the country
Goes a little wrong
Every now and then a mad man's
Bound to come along
Doesn't stop the story
Story's pretty strong
Doesn't change the song.

Once again, Theater Latte Da brings us exactly the show we need, right when we need it most (see also Ragtime on the cusp of the election, and last fall's hopeful Man of La Mancha). This time it's Stephen Sondheim's darkly funny and deeply disturbing look at historical presidential assassinations and attempts, and the individuals who perpetrated these horrific crimes. Assassins is not an easy show to watch. It draws you in with the fun carnival atmosphere and the wildly comedic characters, as well as the incredible staging and performances in TLD's production, helmed by #TCTheater's best music-theater director Peter Rothstein. But it will leave you with an unpleasant feeling deep in your gut at the true horror of the crimes the assassins committed, and the world that created them, the world we all live in.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Make Believe Neighborhood" at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

I, like millions of children in America and across the world, grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which aired on PBS from 1968 through 2001. But I don't think I realized at the time what an exceptionally good and kind human Fred Rogers was, a strong advocate for children's education and development, and for kindness towards all. All I knew as a kid is that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a comforting place to spend a half hour, and I especially loved the Neighborhood of Make Believe (where I first experienced opera). In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, located in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis, is premiering an original multi-media play called Make Believe Neighborhood that pays homage to the work of Fred Rogers, as well as to the good work being done in their own neighborhood. I spent much of the two hours with tears behind my eyes, so moved by the kindness of my childhood favorite, and by the inspirational people working to create and strengthen community in Phillips. In a world of increasing violence, negativity, and divisiveness, spending a little time in this Make Believe Neighborhood, and learning how one neighborhood is making Mister Rogers' vision a reality, is a balm to the soul.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Dancing with Giants" at Illusion Theater

I'll admit it. Before I was a theater geek, I was a TV geek. I grew up watching TV, and my best friends were characters on TV shows. I'm still a TV geek, and I still consider TV characters* my friends. So when I heard that an actor from two of my favorite current shows was doing a play in Minneapolis, I didn't even care what or where the play was. I was going to see Rebecca Bunch's mother / Deanna (who's Deanna?) no matter what. As it turns out, Tovah Feldshuh has some ties to the #TCTheater community, having studied and worked at the University of Minnesota and the Guthrie back in the day. Her brother, playwright/director David Feldshuh, has an even deeper connection, specifically with Illusion Theater, which is premiering his new play Dancing with Giants. I'm happy to report that not only is Tovah a delight live on stage, but this is also an entertaining, educational, funny, and sobering play. It's obviously a labor of love for the Feldshuh family, and Minneapolis/St. Paul theater-goers are lucky to be able to experience it first.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at Playwrights' Center

In 2017 I attended 9 readings of new works at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, by far the most readings I have attended in one year since I just "discovered" them in 2016 when the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers were invited to a reading. Since them I've become a little obsessed with PWC. For over 40 years they've supported thousands of playwrights in the development of their work, a vitally important function in not just the local theater community, but nationally and even globally. Attending a reading of a work of theater in development, brought to life by some of the most talented actors in town (and the country) is such a thrill for this theater geek. An important part in that development is the audience, which is where we come in, friends. Playwrights like to know how an audience responds to their play, so PWC hosts free readings all of the time. You can find information on their events page about everything going on there, but one thing you can plan on is that through the Ruth Easton Series there will be free readings of a new play (or musical) by a core writer the first Monday and Tuesday of every month from December to April. It's a wonderful sampler of the work being done at the Playwrights' Center and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in new locally created works of theater.