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.