Saturday, November 9, 2019

"A Life of Days" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

nimbus theatre's new original plays always explore some fascinating topic, idea, or historical era in a way that gets me thinking and wanting to know more. Their latest such work, A Life of Days, officially opens tonight and was inspired by a true story about a family that lived completely isolated in Siberia for 40 years. You can read that super fascinating story here, as well as playwright Liz Neerland's other literary research and inspiration here. I want to read all of these books, preferably by myself in a remote cabin in the woods, but as that's not possible at the moment, I'll settle for seeing this thoughtful rumination on solitude, society, nature, civilization, and humanity.

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Getting Plowed: A Holiday Survival Guide" at Brave New Workshop

Friends, it's been way too long since I visited the Brave New Workshop, for no other reason than the theater world keeps me so busy I rarely have time to venture over to the adjacent comedy world. But last night I attended opening night of BNW's annual holiday show, Getting Plowed: A Holiday Survival Guide (continuing through January 4), and was reminded of how much fun it is. It's definitely different than the usual theater I attend - more fun and loose and playful - but still with talented and familiar performers who are experts at what they do. Which is write and perform silly, smart, timely, relatable, ridiculous comedy sketches. And this show is all about the holidays, in an irreverent sort of way that celebrates all that we love and hate about this time of year.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Steel Magnolias" at the Guthrie Theater

Steel Magnolias is not a new or particularly revolutionary play, but the reason it still resonates 30+ years after its premiere (and the popular 1989 movie adaptation) is that this story of female friendship, and the ways that women come together to support, challenge, and love each other, will never go out of style. Unlike the poofy bangs and high-waisted stone-washed jeans of the '80s. The Guthrie's new production of this late 20th Century classic features a terrific and mostly local all-female cast, plus an all-female creative team, that together bring out all of the "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion" feeling of the play. Steel Magnolias is warm and comforting, familiar and funny, moving and life-affirming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Great Big Rainbow World: The Musical" at the Playwrights' Center


Last night I attended a reading of a new original locally created musical, aka my favorite thing. Sarah Julius wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the semi-autobiographical musical Great Big Rainbow World, and is also the producer. GBRW already has a date and location for its first full production, next summer at Gremlin Theatre, and the team is raising money in support of that. I heard Sarah sing a song from the show at Musical Mondays this summer, and was intrigued enough to accept the invitation to attend to last night's reading. In her intro speech Sarah said this show was all about love and chosen family, and it definitely felt that way.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"Twin Cities Horror Festival" at the Southern Theater

The 8th annual Twin Cities Horror Festival concludes today, and surprisingly this was only my 2nd time attending. Or maybe not surprisingly; unlike my friends at Minnesota Theater Love, who love all things horror and TCHF, horror is not my thing, and Halloween is just another day to go to the theater and an excuse to buy half price candy the next day. But after spending the day at the Southern Theater yesterday, I realized that TCHF is just like a mini Minnesota Fringe Festival (drawing from the same pool of artists, with a similar structure), except that everything is a little spookier. Like Fringe it's a well run festival, but unlike Fringe you don't have to race between venues. You can just park yourself at the Southern for a few hours or a whole day. The festival concludes today with six shows, including two of the below five fantastic shows that I saw yesterday, so use that extra hour you gained to see some fun and spooky theater.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

"The Song of Summer" at Mixed Blood Theatre

After a pretty intense 2018-2019 season of plays that included Is God Is, the trilogy Prescient Harbingers, Roe, and Autonomy, Mixed Blood Theatre is beginning their 2019-2020 season with something a little lighter. Playwrights' Center Affiliated Writer Lauren Yee (whose work has been seen in #TCTheater most recently in the Guthrie's production of The Great Leap) brings us a sweet and fun play that's almost a rom-com. The Song of Summer is not without substance, dealing with relationships, pop culture, and celebrity, but the story at its heart is one we've seen many times before. But it's told in a unique framework with an appealing cast, so it's a story I'm happy to watch. It's OK for theater to be light and sweet and fun, even at Mixed Blood, especially when this well written, directed, and acted.

Friday, November 1, 2019

"Oh My God!" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

In Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's 25th Anniversary season, they're bringing us Israeli playwright Anat Gov's O my God!, an imagined therapy session with none other than God himself. As someone who doesn't believe in the God of the Bible, I found it a little hard to connect to, but still an interesting exploration of faith and philosophy. What there's no doubt about is that this excellent three-person cast, under Robert Dorfman's direction, makes the story feel real and grounded, despite the fantastical elements.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

"Open" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Off-Leash Art Box

Apologies for the late notice (October was a really busy #TCTheater month), but you have just three more chances to experience a really unique and special show. Walking Shadow's production of Crystal Skillman's new play Open (this is just the second production!) is all around magical storytelling. And such a beautiful and tragic story it tells. In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams as Tom says the stage magician "gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." This play is definitely the latter. The playwright uses the framework of magic to tell an all too real story of a horrific hate crime. This "illusion" is beautifully realized by the entire team at Walking Shadow and #TCTheater favorite Allison Witham in her best performance to date. If you have a spare 65 minutes this weekend, I can't think of a better way to spend them than with Open (click here for info and tickets).

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Playwrights' Center's Annual PlayLabs Festival

It's late October again, my #TCTheater friends, and that means it's time for my favorite fall theater festival* - PlayLabs at the Playwrights' Center! Every October, they invite three playwrights to workshop a new play and then host two free readings of each play throughout the week and weekend. A party and showcase of this year's fellows round out the weekend. This year brings an additional special event - a talk on the climate crisis, and the theater community's role in it, by Tim Guinee, a NYC-based theater/TV/film actor (including the 2005 Minnesota-made movie Sweet Land, one of my personal favorites) who founded an organization called Climate Actors. You can find information on all of the events at this link, as well as registration for the events.

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Macbeth" by Wayward Theatre Company at the James J. Hill House


Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's creepiest and darkest plays. Which makes it a perfect choice to produce during Halloween season, at the James J. Hill House which, while elegant during the day, is a bit creepy after hours. Wayward Theatre Company, experts at site-specific theater, is doing not only that, but also moving the audience around the house to eight different performance locations. For a three-hour play, the walking around adds interest and keeps the blood flowing. This intimate and immersive (but not interactive) show feels immediate and brings out all of the horror of this tale of unbridled greed.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"A New Brain" at Artistry

Artistry's production of the rarely done 1998 Off-Broadway musical A New Brain is exquisitely lovely, and everything I love about musical theater. After composer/lyricist William Finn (see also Falsettos and Spelling Bee) underwent a serious heal crisis due to AVM (it's a brain thing), he wrote a musical about it. Because that's what artists do. The result is a very honest, clever, silly, funny, poignant, beautiful look at life. My previous experience with the piece was a staged reading several years ago by Second Fiddle Productions*, a company that does readings of rarely done musicals. I'm thrilled that Artistry chose this rare gem of a musical for their 2019-2020 season and are bringing us this beautiful production with the dreamiest of casts. If you're a fan of music-theater, don't miss this show!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Journey's End" at Gremlin Theatre

Written in 1928, Journey's End transports the audience to the trenches of WWI. British playwright R.C. Sherriff knew what he was writing about - he fought and was wounded in those very trenches when he was just 21 years old - making this an authentic account of war. The mundanity of the daily routine, the tension of waiting for something to happen, the horror when it does. It's all very palpable in a sobering three hours of theater (yes, three - take a nap and grab a cup of coffee). Gremlin Theatre's new production is directed by Bain Boehlke, returning to the piece 25 years after doing it at the Jungle Theater where he was Artistic Director. The strong 12-person cast of #TCTheater veterans and newcomers bring out the humanity of these characters and the horror of the situation.

Friday, October 18, 2019

"Proof" at Lyric Arts

The 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play Proof comes to Lyric Arts' Main Street Stage in downtown Anoka. David Auburn's play stands the test of time; it's relatable and moving not just for math nerds like myself (the title refers to a mathematical proof, among other things) but for everyone going through the human experiences of grief, loss, love, mental illness, and identity crisis. It's really a family dramedy, set in the world of Chicago academic mathematicians. An excellent four-person cast and detailed design bring out all the nuances in this beautifully written play. It officially opens tonight and runs for just three weeks, so act quickly to see this fine production of a 21st Century classic.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"The Canopic Jar of My Sins" by Swandive Theatre at the Crane Theater

I've always believed that technology is neither good nor evil, it's how we use it that determines its morality. Nuclear energy can be used to create electricity, or to murder vast numbers of people. Facebook can be used to connect people across distances, or to bully and belittle people to catastrophic effect. But is that true? Are the people who made an amazing scientific discovery that went on to cause more harm that good responsible for that evil? Justin Maxwell's new play The Canopic Jar of My Sins explores that idea in the form a a medieval morality play that puts Ralph Wiley, inventor of one of the first kinds of plastic, on trial for the destruction that single-use plastics have caused to our planet and many species living on it. Swandive Theatre's production, playing for just three more performances at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis, will make you laugh, and think, and likely feel guilty for our thoughtless use of plastic. And maybe it'll also get you thinking about things you can do to help reverse the devastation, with help from the suggestions on their handout.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"Nature" by TigerLion Arts at Lebanon Hills Regional Park

I went for a walk today. But not just any walk, although any walk through Nature is special. It was a walk with my favorite theater experience - TigerLion Arts' outdoor walking play Nature. Seeing it for the fifth time was as moving as seeing it for the first. There are many reasons why Nature is my favorite: it's outdoors in a beautiful natural setting; you get to walk around instead of sitting in an uncomfortable theater seat; it's about as site-specific as theater can get; it combines history, philosophy, spirituality, and ecology; it has elements of physical theater and music; and it's totally immersive in the best way. One of the most wonderful and the most challenging things about theater is that you really have to stay present in the moment. Who hasn't felt their mind wander in the theater? Our lives are so busy and jam-packed that it's difficult to put all of that aside for any length of time. But when you feel the sun warm on your back, or frozen raindrops pelt your face, it very effectively brings you right back to the present and to the experience that we're all having together, right here, right now. Such is Nature, which more than just theater, is an invitation to contemplate one's own relationship with Nature by taking a journey (literally) with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as they contemplate their relationships to Nature and each other.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

"Rogue Prince: Henry IV, Parts I and II" by Theatre Coup D'Etat at Calvary Baptist Church

When Ten Thousand Things did an all-female production of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I a few years ago, I wrote "and with a cliffhanger ending suitable for any movie franchise, I found myself wondering, when's Part II?" Well, here it is. Theatre Coup D'Etat brings us both parts of Henry IV, condensed into one play adapted by Gary Briggle, who also plays Falstaff and directs with his wife Wendy Lehr. These two plays combined tell the story of the "rogue prince" Hal, the son of Henry IV, and his journey from a careless young man who spends his time with criminals in pubs, to the soldier and King Henry V. This journey is presented with inventive staging in an intimate space that makes the audience feel as if we're there with them.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

"The Most Happy Fella" by Skylark Opera Theatre at the Historic Mounds Theatre

This fall, Skylark Opera Theatre brings us Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella, which is technically a musical, but one with operatic qualities to some of the music. And the fact that some of the songs are in Italian (or mixed English and Italian) also make it feel a little like an opera. It's an unabashedly romantic old-fashioned love story, but not without a few modern tweaks. Skylark's production in St. Paul's Historic Mounds Theatre is charming, intimate, engaging, and gorgeously sung by the 12-person cast.

Friday, October 11, 2019

"The Winter's Tale" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

Last night I posted on Instagram: "I know nothing about this play, but there's no one with whom I'd rather experience Shakespeare for the first time than @ttttheater." As it turns out, I have seen The Winter's Tale before, but it was eight and a half years ago and I had no recollection of it. Certain plot points did seem a little familiar, but I thought that was because Shakespeare tends to mix and match a finite selection of elements in his plays. No matter, the sentiment still holds: Ten Thousand Things does Shakespeare like no one else, making it accessible and understandable and relatable, whether you're familiar with the play or it's your first time (or you just have a really bad memory). Their production of The Winter's Tale opens their 2019-2020 season and goes from devastating to delightful in the space of two hours. Artistic Director Marcela Lorca (who took over the reigns from founder Michelle Hensley last year) directs this wonderful nine-person ensemble that combines TTT faves and TTT newbies to form an expert storytelling troupe. This is a story of hope, forgiveness, repentance, and the healing nature of time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Reading of "Eat, Slay, Leave" by the Playwright Cabal at the Phoenix Theatre

The Playwright Cabal is "an ambitious group of female-identified professional playwrights who promote the development of new scripted plays in the Twin Cities and one another’s success." This fall, they're presenting a series of readings of new works by each the five members (Katherine Glover, Gemma Irish, Alayna Jacqueline, Heather Meyer, and Rachel Teagle). This program, entitled New Leaf, is free to attend, and includes pre- and post-show happy hour as well as a post-show discussion of the work presented. All readings are at the Phoenix Theatre in Uptown, and it's a really great way to see what our local female playwrights are up to.

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Pipeline" at Penumbra Theatre

Penumbra Theatre has produced several works by Dominique Morisseau* (including Detroit '67 and Sunset Baby), and is now bringing us one of her newest plays - Pipeline. They're all really powerful plays about the African American experience, and Pipeline deals with racial inequality in our schools, which is a very real problem here in Minnesota. The title refers to the idea that some schools, with their heavy security and overly strict rules, are preparing students of color not for college or careers or life, but for prison (see also Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas). The playwright explores these issues through a specific story of one family, one student trying to navigate the world as a young black man, a world that in many ways was set up to fail him. The result is a really powerful and sobering, sometimes funny, and very human 90 minutes of theater. And it goes without saying that Penumbra's production is all-around excellent.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

"The Hollow" by Trademark Theater at the Tek Box

New #TCTheater company Trademark Theater's newest creation The Hollow defies categorization, defies description really. They call it "a concept album, performed live on stage, combined with movement," but that doesn't quite capture it. It's a dreamlike mesmerizing journey of music, dance, emotion. The 75 minutes fly by as you're swept up in this thoughtfully created piece. The music, the dance, the lighting, the costumes, the performances, all beautifully combine in this lovely, unique, and moving work of art.

"The Rocky Horror Show" at Park Square Theatre

The Rocky Horror Show is an experience. Although it was a stage show first, it's mostly known as the 1975 movie thanks to the cult popularity of midnight showings, complete with audience participation. This popularity informs the live shows, as evidenced by the opening night crowd of Park Square Theatre's new production, which was the most vocal and involved theater audience* I've experienced in many years. They knew what to yell when, and many of them had purchased the "participation packs," available for $5 at concessions, with newspapers and rubber gloves and other things I don't get. As someone who's never attended one of those midnight participatory movie showings, although I have seen the stage show twice before, I sort of felt left out of the joke. Camp isn't really my thing, and The Rocky Horror Show is full on camp, so I wasn't as into it as many of the people around me. But there's no denying the talent and commitment of the cast, and the love-bordering-on-obsession people have for this show.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

"Ordway Cabaret: Back to Before" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

The third installment of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts' Ordway Cabaret series brought together some of the most talented women working in local music-theater. In addition to singing a wide variety of songs from the musical theater canon, they each shared personal stories about being a woman working in music-theater, and the depiction of women in the past and present of musical theater. I'm loving this new series (similar to the Ordway's former series, Broadway Songbook, but more personal) because it allows us to, as director Kelli Foster Warder said in her pre-show talk, celebrate these songs and musicals that we love, and still critique them in terms of how they speak to today's world. And let's face it, some of our most beloved classic musicals are real problematic when it comes to their depiction of women (e.g., Guys and Dolls) and people of color (or lack thereof). The 2018 hit Minnesota Fringe show Not Fair, My Lady! tackled this issue heads on, and Back to Before (a lyric from a song from Ragtime) continues that theme on a bigger stage. For this show, the Ordway appropriately brought together not just an all-female ensemble (including one of Not Fair, My Lady!'s creators, Colleen Somerville), but also an all-female team behind the scenes. Several of the women commented that it was their first time working on an all-female team, which is pretty astounding. But also perhaps a sign of things to come. The world has changed in the last few years, and "we can never go back to before."

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Mean Girls" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

High school is horrible. It was horrible when I was in high school 30 years ago, it was horrible when the movie Mean Girls came out 15 years ago (depicting the many and varied ways kids can be horrible to each other), and I can only imagine that it's even more horrible now with the addition of social media as a way to expedite bullying and the pressure to achieve a certain image. Last year's Broadway musical adaptation of the 2005 movie has updated the story to include modern elements and references, but at its heart it's the same smart, funny, feminist (sort of, eventually) story of the struggle to find oneself and be oneself amidst the pressures of life, as amplified by the high school experience. It may not as clever, original, or modern of a high school musical as, say, Ride the Cyclone, the Off-Broadway musical currently playing at the Jungle Theater to sell out crowds. (Mean Girls musical was nominated for multiple Tony Award but did not win any, 2018 being the year of the exquisite The Band's Visit, coming to the Orpheum in December.) But it's still a lot of fun, with a good message in the end, and it has a built in audience of several generations of former, current, and future teenagers who love the movie. Minneapolis is the first stop of the first national tour, and it's staying for two weeks. Click here for info and tickets, including details of student/educator rush tickets.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"Jimmy and Lorraine: A Musing" at Pillsbury House Theatre

I couldn't describe Pillsbury House Theatre's Jimmy and Lorraine: A Musing better than playwright/adapter Talvin Wilks does, calling it "a meditation on the American political climate of the late '50s and '60s through the lens of two significant artists of the time, James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry. Following their impactful careers as artists, their call to social activism and the challenges of wrestling with the balance of an artistic career and politics, their lives give us an opportunity to look at this rich period of political and social upheaval." This is a brilliantly constructed 90 minutes of theater that gives us a clear picture of these two artists/activists in all their complexity, with much (or all?) of the text coming from their own writings. It's really quite impressive how Talvin cobbled together all of these different sources to form a cohesive and dramatic story, like the most complicated jigsaw puzzle coming together to form a picture that was always there. A picture of a very specific time in America that still resonates today.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

"Gloria: A Life" at the HERstory Theatre

The History Theatre is continuing their successful spring of bringing us women's stories written by women into their new season. Their first HERstory play of 2019-2020 is Gloria: A Life, a new play (seen Off-Broadway just last fall) in its regional premiere. Friends, this show is more than just theater. It's the celebration of a movement that changed the world, and has a long way yet to go! After the 80-minute first act in which we learn about the history of the Women's Rights movement through the life of Gloria Steinem, the "second act" is a talking circle. In one of the best post-show discussions I've ever experienced, women (and a man or two) in the audience shared their inspiring stories too. I like that they call it the second act of the play, because it really is an important part of Gloria's story, in which the conversation that was started on stage is continued into the audience and into our lives. Gloria: A Life is another educational, entertaining, and inspirational experience from the HERstory Theatre.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

"Aubergine" at Park Square Theatre

Food is life. Literally, we need it to survive. But food also sustains us in other ways. It's a way to express love, it's ever present at family and community gatherings, it's intrinsically linked to our memories, we commune with our fellow human beings over a shared meal. Playwright Julia Cho (whose work was last seen at Park Square in 2015's The Language Archive) has taken this universal human theme and written a beautiful play that tells the specific story of a Korean American chef and his dying father. For Aubergine (another world for eggplant) is not just about food (life), it's also about death. You can't have one without the other, something this play understands very well, and something the characters learn to understand. In his second season as Park Square's Artistic Director, Flordelino Lagundino makes his directing debut here, creating a piece of theater that engenders the full scale of emotion from the audience, from laughter to tears. It's a beautifully and devastatingly human experience.

Friday, September 27, 2019

"The Glass Menagerie" at the Guthrie Theater

Long before I became a Twin Cities Theater Blogger, I became a Guthrie season subscriber. The decision to accept that telephone offer to see five shows for $100 changed my life. As a Guthrie subscriber, I began to see more than just the touring musicals and an occasional local show. I started to know and follow the local community of theater artists, I was introduced to other local theaters. The more local theater I saw, the more I found to see, and it continued to snowball until I just had to start writing about it. I'm now entering my 17th season as a Guthrie subscriber, and my 10th season as a #TCTheater blogger. How fitting to begin this milestone year with one of my favorite playwrights and one of my favorite plays. I first saw The Glass Menagerie at the Guthrie in 2007 (not counting when my high school did it), first wrote about it in 2010 at the Jungle, shortly after I started blogging, and have seen and written about it multiple times since. The Guthrie's new production, directed by Artistic Director Joseph Haj, is just as lovely, sad, and wistful as any I've seen.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"If the Spirit Moves" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

Theatre Elision is opening their third full season in their brand new performance space - Elision Playhouse in Crystal, located just off Highway 100 on 42nd Avenue. It's an exciting development for this newish #TCTheater company that has filled a niche we didn't even know we were missing - small-cast one-act new or rarely done musicals, often with a focus on women creators, artists, and stories. It seems like we always need more performance spaces for the 70 or 80 theater companies in town, so I hope to see other theater companies utilize this space that includes not just a lovely new theater space, but also a roomy, cozy, eclectic lobby that can function as a cabaret space, and rehearsal rooms as well. This summer Elision remounted their first season hit Ruthless! as their first show at the playhouse, but my first experience there was the season opener If the Spirit Moves. This new musical features a story involving WWI, Dada, Spirtualism, speakeasies, romance, grief, and friendship, and a wonderful six-person cast, beautifully and blissfully unmiked in this intimate space. But like all of Elision's shows, this is a short run - only four performances remain this weekend so get yourself to Crystal to check it out!

Monday, September 23, 2019

"Immaculate Heart" by Freshwater Theatre at the Crane Theater

In their new original play Immaculate Heart, Freshwater Theatre thoughtfully explores issues surrounding faith (specifically, Catholicism) and sexuality (specifically, the last and often overlooked letter in the LGBTQIA alphabet - asexuality). Playwright Ruth Virkus has created a world and a situation that feels real and very human, and the three-person cast brings truth, vulnerability, and humanity to their roles. As a recovering Catholic, I'm familiar with the struggle between seeing the good that the church has done and the solace it is for so many people, and the many ways it falls short in the modern world with its intolerant and exclusionary doctrine. This play and its characters embody that struggle very well, as well as shed light on a lesser known aspect of the spectrum of sexuality.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

"Chicago" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theatre

Women in prison, treated unfairly, not given adequate legal representation, having to pay prison staff for favors, immigrant women not provided with a translator, society's glamorizing of crime but disregard for and mistreatment of criminals. No, I'm not talking about the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black, which just concluded its brilliant seven-season run. I'm talking about the Kander/Ebb/Fosse/Verdon*/Reinking creation, the 1975 musical Chicago whose 1996 revival was even more successful and is still playing on Broadway. This ahead-of-its time musical, about crime, celebrity, and the justice system, only gets more relevant as the years pass, which is perhaps the reason for its long lasting success. Typically a show that is still running on Broadway and touring (it most recently came to Minneapolis last year) is not available for regional productions. But somehow Theater Latte Da snagged the rights and has created their own unique take on this classic. The cast is absolute perfection, the Ritz Theater (which opened in the same era in which the show is set) has never looked more gorgeous and detailed, and this Peter Rothstein directed production brings out all of the glitz, humor, and biting social commentary of the piece, while putting the audience right in the middle of the action. It's absolutely thrilling.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" at Yellow Tree Theatre

To open their 12th season in an unassuming strip mall in Osseo that belies the charm of the interior, Yellow Tree Theatre is producing the 2015 Tony winning best play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, just the second production in #TCTheater. Like the 2017 production at Mixed Blood Theatre, they're utilizing a smaller cast and much fewer hi-tech effects than the Broadway production and tour. A style that perhaps serves this beautiful story, about a differently abled teenager who discovers his own strength, even better. Ellen Fenster (who almost always makes me cry) directs the talented and diverse nine-person cast in this uniquely funny and poignant play.

Friday, September 20, 2019

"Bone Mother" by Sandbox Theatre at the Museum of Russian Art

Combine Russian folk tales, aerialists, music, theater, and a unique space and what do you get? Sandbox Theatre's latest uniquely beautiful creation, Bone Mother. The devised theater company recently started an offshoot called Swingset for aerial works, which takes their ensemble driven, innovative, physical theater style and lifts it up in the air. Literally. This piece about Russian folk tales is appropriately staged in the Museum of Russian Art in South Minneapolis (I didn't know it existed either), conveniently located just off 35W. The museum is in what used to be an church designed to look like the Alamo, and I hope to go back and visit it again, because the performance doesn't really allow for much viewing of art. But in the meantime, go and enjoy this entirely new and unique way of telling these ancient and familiar tales.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"Ride the Cyclone" at Jungle Theater

"This is the most wonderfully weird musical I've ever seen and the cast is perfection. I wish I could see it again and again and again!!" Last night's Insta story exclamation says it all. Jungle Theater's production of the fantastic musical Ride the Cyclone, a Canadian import that played Off-Broadway three years ago, is hands down one of the best things I've seen this year. I don't know what kind of warped and brilliant minds creators Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond have that caused them to write a musical about teenagers dying on a roller coaster, but I love it. Not only is it one of the most unique musicals I've ever seen, but this production by the Jungle simply couldn't be better. In addition to this stupidly talented cast that plays their roles to perfection, every element of design is spot on and combines to create this warped carnival after-life world. If you're a fan of new and original music-theater, Ride the Cyclone is a must-see.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"Our Town" at Artistry

Thornton Wilder's Our Town is an American classic, first produced over 80 years ago, and continuing through the years with frequent productions in theaters and schools around the country. It's a simple story really; its three acts explore the ideas of "Daily Life," "Love and Marriage," and "Death and Dying" through the interconnected residents of Grover's Corners. But it's really quite profound in its simplicity, the final act being especially poignant as it forces us to look at the beauty of every day life and communion with our fellow human beings, something that is often overlooked in the busyness of life.* The new production by Artistry, perhaps best known for their musicals, features a fantastic cast that brings out all of the humor, heart, and meaning in this classic. There's a reason that Our Town continues to be produced, and audiences continue to see it - it speaks to us in a very real and deep way.

Monday, September 16, 2019

"Crowns" by New Dawn Theatre Company at the Summit Center for Arts and Innovation

It's a new dawn. A new dawn of theater that lifts up unheard voices and tells untold stories. The newest #TCTheater company, aptly named New Dawn Theatre Company, is here for it, leading the way. They have a company overflowing with talent and an ambitious mission to produce three works each year (a play, a musical, and a devised work) that "are by, for and feature women, minorities and members of the LGBT communities." Their inaugural production just opened at the new Summit Center for Arts and Innovation, a former Summit Avenue church that has been converted into a performance space. It's the perfect setting for Regina Taylor's Crowns, a free-flowing musical piece that explores the tradition of wearing hats in the African American community as it relates to spirituality, history, legacy, and family. Theater is my religion and this is my kind of church - a completely mesmerizing and engrossing piece that takes me to another place as if in a dream.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

"Gypsy" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre opens their second full season in their gorgeous new home in White Bear Lake, the Hanifl Performing Arts Center, with the classic musical Gypsy. As someone who lives in the Northeast Metro, it's such a treat to be able to see great theater without having to drive into the city and deal with construction, traffic, crowds, and parking. I'm lucky to be so close to LPT, and since Gypsy is one of my faves (I've seen it six times now) and this cast is so great, it was a lovely Friday evening enjoying theater in the 'burbs.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" at the Ordway Center

The Ordway is opening their 2019-2020 season with an Ordway Original production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, a musical revue of the songs of Leiber and Stoller. You may not be familiar with those names, but you are definitely familiar with at least one, if not dozens, of their songs. They wrote over 70 hit songs, mostly in the '50s, recorded by a multitude of artists including Elvis and The Coasters. About 40 of these songs were compiled into a musical revue that debuted on Broadway in 1995 and ran for five years. To my knowledge, it was last seen in #TCTheater in the early aughts at the Hey City Theater (where Brave New Workshop is now), a production I saw and loved. The show was recently revived Off-Broadway, and the Ordway smartly brought in the director/choreographer Joshua Bergasse and some of the design team to recreate the show in St. Paul featuring our amazing local talent. The result is a fun and highly entertaining evening of beloved music brought to life by talented local artists.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

"Bent" by The BAND Group at the Phoenix Theater

Partnering with OutFront Minnesota, The BAND Group is bringing us the 1979 play Bent about the imprisonment and murder of gay people in Nazi Germany. A look at the daily news should tell you that those days are not as long ago and far away as they may seem, with increasing violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community. One of OutFront's current campaigns is to end conversion therapy, which is still legal in Minnesota. You can find more information about this and sign the petition here. And you can see The BAND Group's powerful and sobering production of Bent at the Phoenix Theater in Uptown through this weekend only.

Monday, September 9, 2019

"Escaped Alone" and "Here We Go" by Frank Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

To begin their 31st season, Frank Theatre is returning to one of their favorite playwrights, Caryl Churchill. They're presenting two of the 80-year old British playwright's newer works, the short plays Escaped Alone and Here We Go. I don't know if these two plays were meant to be performed together, but they work very well with each other, dealing with similar themes of aging and death. Director Wendy Knox admits that they are "a couple of weird pieces," but I found them to be weird in a good way, a meaningful way. Odd, perplexing, surprising, funny, charming, sad, poignant, and profound are just a few of the adjectives that could be used to describe these plays. And as always, the audience is in good hands with Frank's excellent cast and design team to lead us through the weirdness to the truth of the piece.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

"Bright Star" at Lyric Arts

For the second year in a row, Lyric Arts is opening their season with the regional premiere of a new Broadway musical. Last year they brought us a fantastic production of the 2014 Idina Menzel vehicle If/Then, this year it's the 2016 bluegrass musical Bright Star by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin). It only ran for a few months on Broadway and didn't win any awards (although it was nominated for several Tonys, including best musical). But it's a sweet story with a gorgeous bluegrass score that perhaps plays better on smaller stages. Like Lyric's Main Street Stage in charming downtown Anoka. The huge and talented cast, along with the fantastic onstage bluegrass band, do a wonderful job of bringing this heart-breaking and heart-warming story to life with all the feels. You can see this regional premiere through September 29.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"Ghost Tour" at Daleko Arts

DalekoArts is opening their eighth season in New Prague (that's pray-g not prah-g to us Minnesotans), the southernmost city in the seven-county metro area, with a new original play Ghost Tour. Written by Ben Thietje, who also co-directs with Amanda White (Daleko's co-founding Artistic Directors), Ghost Tour takes its audience of a dozen people at a time on a walk around historic downtown New Prague. This fun and hilarious spoof of a ghost tour is chock full of local references (prune kolaches for the win!), and maybe one or two true facts of the area, but mostly it's an excuse to get outside, walk around, and experience theater in a non-traditional setting. Which this frequent theater-goer who tires of sitting for endless hours in uncomfortable seats loves. The show opened last weekend and runs through October 12, with three shows a night Wednesday through Saturday.

Monday, August 26, 2019

"The Clemency of Tito's Tennis Club: A Picnic Operetta" by Mixed Precipitation at Tony Schmidt Regional Park

Combine classic opera, pop music, and tasty treats made from freshly harvested veggies, and what do you get? Mixed Precipitation's annual picnic operetta. This year, Artistic Director Scotty Reynolds, with help from Music Director/ Arranger/ Conductor Gary Ruschman, has adapted one of Mozart's last operas La Clemenza di Tito, setting it in a tennis tournament and adding '80s pop songs. A talented cast of professional opera singers and adorably enthusiastic children present this unique creation in about 75 minutes in the great outdoors. Even when some actual precipitation causes an unplanned intermission and move underneath a park pavilion, the experience is a one-of-a-kind delight. This intrepid company travels around the state performing at parks and gardens; click here to find a location near you.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

"French Twist" by Flying Foot Forum at Hanifl Performing Arts Center

Flying Foot Forum is taking their charming original dance musical French Twist on the road! They've performed it several times throughout their history, including at Park Square Theatre last year for their 25th anniversary, at which time I wrote: "A series of thrilling and entertaining dances loosely tell the story (with very little dialogue) of a group of friends in a cafe called "Chez Jojo" (the proprietor played by Joe Chvala, natch). With vibrant costumes, a detailed and eclectic set design, a mix of live and recorded music (and film!), the wonderful ensemble of dancers/singers/musicians brings this dream of Paris to vivid life." They've brought back that cast (mostly), and shortened it to just over an hour, with perhaps a few other small tweaks. It's a delightfully fun and quirky show. I caught it at Hanifl Performing Arts Center, the beautiful new home of Lakeshore Players Theatre. Here's where you can see it over the next few months:

Fairmont - Sept 28, 2019, https://fairmontoperahouse.org/shows-and-tickets/
St Olaf College - Oct 26, 2019, https://wp.stolaf.edu/dance/eventsperformances/
Grand Rapids - Jan 11, 2020, https://www.reifcenter.org/event/flying-foot-forum/
Mankato - April 25, 2020, https://www.mnsu.edu/theatre/season/tickets/
Wykoff - May 30, 2020, http://dreamacresfarm.org/events

"Fun Home" at Renegade Theater Company

The 2015 Tony winner* for best musical, Fun Home, has been available for regional productions for a few years, and I've been anxiously waiting to see which of our many amazing regional theaters in Minnesota would be the first to produce it. I never guessed it would be Renegade Theater Company in Duluth. But I should have, this intrepid company in Minnesota's favorite vacation spot is the perfect fit with their intimate performance space, interesting and risky choices, and the surprisingly deep music-theater talent pool in Duluth. Whether or not #TCTheater companies are prevented from getting the rights to Fun Home because Renegade is doing it, I don't know. I only know that, according to Artistic Director Mary Fox in the post-show talk back, Renegade has been interested in doing this piece since they heard about it, so they asked, and were granted the rights. And I'm so glad they did, and I'm so grateful I was able to drive up to Duluth to see it on their sold-out closing weekend, because Renegade has beautifully brought to life this new, modern, funny, moving, gorgeous musical in a powerful and intimate way.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

"When the Shark Bites: Hauptmann & Brecht, Lenya & Weill" by Chronofon Productions at Open Eye Theatre

The team behind the musical historical revues of Leonard Bernstein and Jacques Brel, among others, now turns their talent for crafting a well-told historical story with music to the famous German music-theater team of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, along with their lesser known female collaborators (and sometimes romantic partners) - actor Lotte Lenya and writer Elisabeth Hauptmann. These women were not only muses, but especially in the case of Hauptmann, made important uncredited contributions to their work (see also the excellent FX series Fosse/Verdon). But thanks to Chronofon Productions (aka Bradley Greenwald, Dan Chouinard, Diana Grasselli, and Prudence Johnson), these women are now known and recognized, at least by those of us lucky enough to be in their sold-out audience over the short two-week run. The show closes today, but follow Chronofon's Facebook page for the latest on upcoming performances of these highly entertaining and informative historical musical revues.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

"Hot Asian Doctor Husband" by Theater Mu at Mixed Blood Theatre

Theater Mu commissioned a new play from Japanese-American playwright Leah Nanako Winkler, author of the hilarious Two Mile Hollow seen in a Mu/Mixed Blood co-production last year, and the result is more hilarious and biting social commentary. Hot Asian Doctor Husband explores the journey of a young biracial woman who has an existential (and identity) crisis when her Japanese mother dies, and she decides she has to break up with her white boyfriend because she wants her children to look like her and her mom. It's a very smart, modern, and funny look at race, identity, stereotypes (see: title), family, grief, and love. NYC-based director Seonjae Kim and this brilliant seven-person cast (three of whom also appeared in Two Mile Hollow) bring out all of the humor and emotion in this exciting new script.

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Agatha Christie: Rule of Thumb" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre's final show of their 2018-2019 season opened during a busy July, followed by a busy Fringe Festival, so I'm finally seeing it now in the final two weeks of its run. As has become tradition at Park Square, they're presenting a fun summery mystery. Or in this case, three fun summer mysteries. Agatha Christie: Rule of Thumb is a triptych of short plays written by the famed mystery writer. They're performed by a talented and diverse nine-person company of actors, on the same set with some tweaks, all under the directorship of Austene Van who keeps the tone light, fun, elegant, and very dramatic. It's a delight to watch this team play together in this yummy summer mystery.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"RENT" 20th Anniversary Tour at the Orpheum

RENT gets me every time, even the 16th time. I first fell under the spell of Jonathan Larson's singular creation of hope, love, and community while watching the 1996 Tony Awards, which, five years before my first trip to NYC and in the very early days of the internet, was how a Midwestern girl like me learned about Broadway musicals. For those of you too young to remember 1996, RENT exploded on the pop culture landscape similar to how Hamilton did a few years ago. Not only did it win four Tony Awards and a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Jonathan Larson, the original cast of unknowns (most of whom are still working today on Broadway and in TV and films) made the rounds of all of the TV talk shows. At the time I had just graduated from college and was living on my own for the first time, existing on a grad student budget without a car (literally riding my bike midday past the three-piece suits). I was the same age and in the same situation as the RENT characters (well, sort of, if getting a masters in statistics in St. Paul is like being an artist in the East Village). Perhaps this is why I fell so hard for RENT, in a way I haven't for any musical before or since. In short, RENT was my first musical love, and you never forget your first love, even if people tell you it's dated. Sure, maybe it's a period piece now with its quaint answering machine references. But here's where I remind you that there are currently over a million Americans living with living with living with HIV, with nearly 40,000 new cases every year. So until AIDS becomes the polio of the late 20th/early 21st Century, a disease of the past completely eradicated, RENT will never be dated. And even on that happy day, this story of young people struggling with disease, poverty, drug addiction, and loss, yet persevering through it and celebrating life and each other, will always be relatable. No day but today!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: Wrap-Up and Favorites

Is it just because I'm getting older, or did the 11-day Minnesota Fringe Festival fly by even faster than usual this year? I saw a record low (since I've had a press pass) 29 shows, taking (almost) three days off of the festival (because life), and forgoing the 10pm timeslot (because #morningperson). But still, I saw some incredible shows that made me laugh, cry, and think, and that's all I ask of theater. And like last year, it was a great #feministfringe, with many shows written, directed, and/or performed by women.