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!