|Theatre Latte Da Assassins (Dan Norman)|
|Park Square Baskerville (Petronella J. Ytsma)|
|Guthrie Familiar (Dan Norman)|
|Penumbra for colored girls (Allen Weeks)|
|Artistry Follies (Devon Cox)|
|Jungle Hand to God (Dan Norman)|
|Children's Theatre The Lorax (Dan Norman)|
|Underdog Luna Gale|
|Dark and Stormy 'Night, Mother (Rich Ryan)|
|Park Square Pirates (Petronella J. Ytsma)|
|Mixed Blood Hooded (Rich Ryan)|
|Shoot the Glass Spring Awakening|
|Gremlin A Steady Rain (DreamFirstBorn)|
|Penumbra This Bitter Earth|
|Guthrie West Side Story (Charles T. Erickson)|
One of the best things about #TCTheater is the new work that’s created here, and 2018 had some great examples of that. One of the last shows I saw this year was one of the best - new company E/D’s multi-media adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film, Animus was a unique, gorgeous, disturbing, thoughtful creation. I also loved Trademark Theater’s new play Understood, a very timely exploration of the opposing sides we find ourselves on, and the possibility of finding middle ground. Sparkle Theatrical cast a spell with their ensemble-created adaptation of short stories by Argentinian American writer A. Pablo Iannone, The Room with Closets. Other world premieres seen on #TCTheater stages this year are Bucket Brigade's new original musical about grief, love, and family, Life Goes On; Yellow Tree Theatre’s dance- and dream-infused Still Dance the Stars; Pillsbury House’s production of local playwright Christina Ham’s noir crime thriller West of Central, featuring a black female detective in 1960s Los Angeles; Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's story of the garment industry and the Hasidic Jewish culture in Brooklyn, Natasha and the Coat; and Theater Mu's charming romantic comedy The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity.
With the number of theater companies increasing at a much greater rate than the number of performance spaces, theaters continue to get creative. In perhaps the best example of site-specific theater, Wonderlust Productions brought us a play about people working in Minnesota’s State Capitol, inside our beautiful State Capitol building. Our House: The Capitol Play Project was surprisingly delightful edutainment. Another fine example of site-specific theater was Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production of the Broadway flop High Fidelity, a musical based on a movie based on a book about a record story, set in iconic Minneapolis record store Electric Fetus. It was a huge success, proving that location is everything (and a dynamic cast and immersive staging doesn’t hurt either). Also on the site-specific front I watched a woman actually make an apple pie for her condemned son in a real kitchen (Uprising Theatre’s Apples in Winter), had coffee in a coffee shop while watching two couples fall in and out of love in a coffee shop (Theater Elision’s new musical Ain’t It a Grand and Glorious Feeling), watched office politics play out like a boxing match in an actual boxing ring (Hypnic Jerk’s Bull), and witnessed the story of 16th Century composer of religious music in a church as a chorus performed his music (Orchard Theater Collective’s Thomas Tallis). Nothing makes theater more immediate than watching it in a location where the story could actually happen.
This year, I made my first (but not last) visit to the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota, about two hours southeast of the Twin Cities. A theater weekend road trip with my blogger friends from Twin Cities Stages and Minnesota Theater Love was, predictably, a great time. It was like theater camp; we immersed ourselves in theater for two days, removed from the distractions of home and daily life. Between the four of us we saw four great plays (All's Well That Ends Well, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare in Love, and Venus in Fur) by a fantastic company of actors, enjoyed good food and drink in the charming river town of Winona, and learned about Intimacy Directors from one of the founders of Intimacy Directors International. Since then I’ve been noticing Intimacy Directors being credited not just in local theater, but in national theater, movies, and TV shows. The concept has been around for several years, but it seems like it really took off this year; it dovetails nicely with the #metoo movement and its importance is being recognized now more than ever.
I've never chosen a playwright as a favorite artist before, but my Playwrights' Center obsession is still fairly new. By all accounts, this was the year of Harrison David Rivers in #TCTheater. He worked with author and immigrant Ahmed Ismail Yusef to tell his story in the playful and poignant play A Crack in the Sky, which premiered at the History Theatre in February. In April, Theater Latte Da debuted the ambitious and exciting new historical musical Five Points, for which Harrison wrote the book. Also in April, his brutal and beautiful new play the bandaged place was the final reading in The Playwrights' Center's Ruth Easton Series (a series of free readings which continues monthly through April), for which he won the Relentless Award. But my favorite of all of these was Penumbra's production of This Bitter Earth, for reasons I described above. Thanks to Harrison for his words and stories, and to PWC for luring him to Minnesota and supporting his work, as well as that of thousands of other playwrights every year. You can also see readings of new plays, including one by Harrison, in History Theatre's "Raw Stages" festival next weekend.
ONE TO WATCH
I love to choose a new artist that made an impression on me this year, especially one I didn't know existed a year ago. This year the obvious choice is Maxwell Ward, who just this year appeared in four fantastic shows with four different theater companies, a feat for any actor. The first time I saw him on stage was this spring, when he was an adorable Arpad in Lyric Arts' She Loves Me. He followed that up by playing the charmingly awkward Dick in MMT's genius site-specific staging of High Fidelity, and as part of the talented young ensemble of Shoot the Glass Theatre's Spring Awakening. Lastly, his performance as an a capella singing St. Olaf student (along with Armando Ronconi) was one of the highlights of Daleko's super silly and fun City Council Christmas. An impressive debut in #TCTheater.
TWENTY MORE SHOWS I LOVED
- Agitators, Park Square - reminding us to vote!
- As One, Skylark Opera - a modern opera about a transgender woman becoming herself
- Awake and Sing!, Artistry - a beautifully tragic family drama
- Dancing with Giants, Illusion - Tovah Feldshuh!!
- If/Then, Lyric Arts - a brilliant performance by Kate Beahen in a role written for Idina Menzel
- Indecent, Guthrie - an ingeniously written new play by Paula Vogel, with the best cast and design
- The Laramie Cycle, Uprising - honoring Matthew Shepard's life 20 years after its brutal end
- Make Believe Neighborhood, In the Heart of the Beast - Mr. Rogers' life story with puppets + highlighting the good work in the Phillips neighborhood = all the feels
- Mamma Mia!, Ordway - an uber talented mostly local cast and So. Much. Fun.
- Marie and Rosetta, Park Square - Jamecia Bennett and Rajané Katurah Brown raised the rafters with their harmonies and solo gospel performances
- Melancholy Play, Theatre Elision - a sweetly sad little rarely done musical
- Noises Off, Guthrie - a classic madcap comedy executed to perfection
- Pink Unicorn, Illusion - Kate Guentzel in an affecting solo performance as the mother of a gender queer child
- Rocket Man, Theatre Pro Rata - got me thinking about science, faith, and the nature of time
- The Royale, Yellow Tree - short, intense, rhythmic, powerful play about boxing and so much more
- Scapin, Ten Thousand Things - typical TTT shenanigans that delight from start to finish
- Two Degrees, Prime Productions - a smart, sexy, engaging story about a woman over 40
- Vincent River - another searing and intimate two-hander, independently produced and directed by Grant Sorenson
- What I Thought I Knew, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company - a funny and moving true story told in a solo performance by the formidable Kim Kivens
- Wiz, Children's Theatre and Penumbra - the perfect embodiment of the Brand New Day we all need, and what a cast!!
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you:
The Great Work Begins.