Sunday, June 30, 2019

"The Pillowman" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Theatre Coup d'Etat's production of The Pillowman is the third play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh that I've seen, and the darkest and most twisted. And that's saying something, considering I've seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane about an extremely unhealthy mother-daughter relationship and A Behanding in Spokane about a man in search of his missing hand. McDonagh has a knack for writing really fascinating characters, darkly funny dialogue, and extremely twisted situations. All of those are true about The Pillowman (best play Tony nominee in 2005), which explores the brutal interrogation of a short story writer whose stories of violence against children start coming true. With a fantastic cast, inventive design, and an intimate performance space, Theatre Coup d'Etat brings this creepy story to life almost too viscerally.

"Guys and Dolls" at the Guthrie Theater

So here's the thing, my #TCTheater friends. The Guthrie Theater's production of the 1950 classic musical Guys and Dolls is spectacular. The cast is brilliantly talented, the dance numbers are phenomenal, the music is familiar, fun, and lively, and every element of design is spot-on gorgeous. But even all of that wonderfulness can't overcome the fact that Guys and Dolls is a dated, misogynist story that we don't need to tell anymore. Calling women "dolls," and all of the gender stereotypes wrapped up in that, is just not cute in 2019. I've seen the show several times in the past, and I've loved it in the past, but each time I see it I love it a little less. The world is changing, I'm changing, but Guys and Dolls remains rooted in gender stereotypes from the title to the lyrics, dialogue, and story. To their credit, the Guthrie has made a number of changes that make the show a little more palatable to a modern audience, but there's only so much they can do. Ever since they announced their season last year, I couldn't understand why they would choose to do this show now, except that it's a crowd-pleaser that will sell lots of tickets. The good news is that their other summer show is a world premiere of a new play that the Guthrie commissioned from Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning African American female playwright. If doing dated old musicals that have been done a million times is the price we have to pay to support new work from too often unheard voices, well, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Sunday in the Park with George (seen at the Guthrie two summers ago in a stunning production), "that is the state of the art, my friends." And don't get me wrong, it is a super fun show and audiences are going to have a great time. I had a great time. But I'm also disappointed that we keep telling these old stories instead of discovering new ones.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant" at Park Square Theatre

This summer, Park Square Theatre is all about supporting new works of music-theater created right here in #TCTheater. Last weekend saw the closing of one remount of a locally created new original musical (the gorgeous and moving dance musical about the Bosnian War, Heaven) and the opening of another remount of a locally created new original musical. More than a remount, this iteration of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is an expanded version of the 2017 Fringe hit that has been doubled in length, fun, and emotion. Created by uber-talented young composer/lyricist/playwright Keith Hovis, Jefferson Township is a darkly hilarious and surprisingly poignant look at a group of millennials turning 30, as seen through a super creepy small town Minnesota youth pageant. It's extremely clever, very funny, and the super talented well-balanced quartet of actors are having so much fun that it's impossible for the audience not to have fun too. Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the perfect fun summer musical.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical" on tour at the Ordway

Friends, when I heard that something called The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical was coming to the Ordway, I had no idea what that meant. Who's Percy Jackson, is this some bio-musical? I almost didn't see it, but when I read that it was adapted from a series of young adult novels that are a sort of Greek mythology fan fiction, I was intrigued. I saw the show last night with zero expectations (which is often the best way to see a show) and was pleasantly surprised at how delightful this story is. A relatable message for teens (and adults), a catchy clever score, fun theater magic, and a fantastic seven-person cast (many of whom reprise their roles from the original Off-Broadway production) make this a show worth seeing, even if you've never heard the name Percy Jackson.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"The Rinky Dink Show! What Kind of Rinky Dink Show is This?" at Bryant Lake Bowl

There's a new group in #TCTheater called Rinky Dink Operations - a collection of very funny people you many know from the Fringe or various other theater, improv, and/or comedy stages around town. They've begun a residency at Bryant Lake Bowl in Uptown with their Rinky Dink Show, a sketch comedy/variety show inspired by everything from Saturday Night Live to The Muppet Show. It's a lot of fun, and something different from the theater I usually see. And with the 7pm showtime and 90 minute runtime, you can be home by 9 for an early bedtime still enjoy other evening festivities that cool people do on the weekends.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Fresh Ink: New Works at Illusion Theater

Every summer, Illusion Theater presents readings of new works. It's been way too long since I attended a "Fresh Ink" reading - three years! But I remedied that this year by attending the first of four performances of the staged reading of a new play by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. And I hope to get to one or both of the other new plays, also by local #TCTheater artists Carlyle and Barb Brown and Beth Gilleland. Like readings at the Playwrights' Center, this series is a great way to experience a new play and participate in the development process. In a way, we're the test audience, to see how the play lands and allow the playwright to make adjustments if necessary. Readings are only $10 each and run Thursday through Sunday evenings for the next three weekends (click here for more info).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Musical Mondays" at LUSH, June 2019

Friends, it's been over a year since I attended Musical Mondays, the monthly cabaret series featuring #TCTheater talent. Part of that is my busy regular theater schedule, and part of it is that since moving to their new home at LUSH Bar in Northeast Minneapolis, the space has felt uncomfortably crowded. Great for them for drawing a big crowd, not so great for this introvert who doesn't like crowds. So I was thrilled to hear that LUSH expanded their space just in time for Musical Mondays' annual Pride celebration! I attended the show last night with my blogger friends from Minnesota Theater Love and Artfully Engaging, and was reminded of just what a wonderful, welcoming, educational, and entertaining evening Musical Mondays is. They're taking the month of July off (because summer is busy), but they'll be back post-Fringe on August 12, and the first (or second) Monday of every month for what is hopefully a long time.

Monday, June 10, 2019

"Spring Awakening" by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at Gremlin Theatre

At last night's 2019 Tony Awards, Hadestown won eight Tonys (including best musical, notably the first best musical written and directed by women). Twelve years ago, Spring Awakening won eight Tonys, including best musical. Like Hadestown, Spring Awakening is based on an old story (not as old as the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, rather a late 19th Century German play), retold in a way that feels new utterly relevant to today's world. Sadly, the issues of suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, child abuse, and the general difficulties of being a teenager are never not relevant. The new production by The Chameleon Theatre Circle features a talented young cast, many of whom also play instruments, and brings these issues to the forefront of 2019.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

"My Sister in this House" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

The real life Papin sisters, live-in maids who killed their employers in 1930s France, have inspired several plays, including the absurd dark comedy The Maids, and the not so much a comedy play My Sister in this House. The latter is the final production in Theatre Pro Rata's 2018-2019 season, now playing at the Crane Theater. It's real dark and gritty, with a tone that borders on but doesn't quite cross over into camp. It lets us inside the lives of the would-be murderers and explores what led up to the infamous crime, namely mental illness and the unfair treatment of domestic servants. Great performances by the four-woman cast and spot-on design make for a creepy evening at the theater.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

"Heaven" by Flying Foot Forum at Park Square Theatre

A dance musical about the Bosnian War? Why not! It may sound like a crazy idea, but in the hands of creators Joe Chvala (Artistic Director of theatrical dance company Flying Foot Forum) and Chan Poling (renowned local musician and composer of musicals such as History Theatre's smash hit Glensheen), it's a thing of beauty. The Bosnian War in the mid 1990s was a devastating event that resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people, many the result of ethnic cleansing. The devastation and horror, along with the beauty and culture of the people, is expressed through story, music, and movement in an incredibly moving way. I saw Heaven at the Guthrie's studio theater eight years ago and loved it, and I'm thrilled that Park Square Theatre has brought it back so that this story can live on and be shared with a wider audience. Combined with the excellent and sobering exhibit Genocide and Justice: From Nuremberg to the International Criminal Court by World Without Genocide, it makes for a really powerful evening that goes beyond theater. Even though the show is over two and a half hours long, I didn't want it to end.

Friday, June 7, 2019

"Dry Powder" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

After two pretty dark and devastating plays about suicide ('Night, Mother) and child abuse/kidnapping (Blackbird), Dark and Stormy returns to comedy with the regional premiere of the new play Dry Powder. It's still dark, and not exactly light-hearted since it features some pretty horrible people working in the cutthroat world of finance, but it is funny. I didn't understand a lot of the terms and acronyms being thrown around, but I am familiar with layoffs and buyouts. Either way it's less about the business world than it is about how these four characters function within this world. As always with Dark and Stormy, there are great performances by a terrific small cast, seen up close and personal in their small studio space, with tight and clear direction (here by Michaela Johnson). It's not so much a forget your troubles kind of comedy, more of a laugh at the troubles of the world because if you don't you'll cry.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

My Thoughts on #BoycottCTC

I'm sure many of you have heard about the movement to boycott Children's Theatre Company (CTC), which was started by #TCTheater artist Laura Stearns Adams, one of the many survivors of sexual abuse at CTC in the '80s. You can read more about her case against CTC and the reasons for the boycott in this MPR story, and you can read her original post on my friend and fellow blogger Gina Musto's blog here. I shared this post on Facebook, and I also shared CTC's video response (which you can watch here) on Twitter, stating "This feels like a good first step in the long journey towards healing, justice, and restitution. I look forward to seeing how @ChildrensTheatr continues to work with the survivors and survivor organizations."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

"Boston Marriage" by Arrow Theater at Maison Bodega

Last night was a perfectly charming evening from start to finish. I attended the first official production from new #TCTheater company Arrow Theater, spearheaded by #TCTheater artist Grant Sorenson who last December independently produced Vincent River, a beautifully devastating play about the aftermath of a horrific hate crime. David Mamet's Boston Marriage is the complete opposite – a light and frothy comedy. The site-specific production is staged in the gorgeous Maison Bodega (run by Bodega Ltd.), in a room as light and airy as a delicate pastry. Free wine was served to the mingling audience dressed as if for a garden party, creating a festive atmosphere. Unfortunately the rest of the small audience short run is sold out, but if these two shows are any indication, Arrow Theater needs to be on your radar. Two such different plays, both beautifully executed by Grant as director and the cast and team.

Monday, June 3, 2019

"A Raisin in the Sun" at Lyric Arts

The last time I saw the American theater classic A Raisin in the Sun was in November 2016, at Park Square Theatre. Re-reading that post today, I was struck by this: "I'm writing this on the afternoon of election day, and no matter what tomorrow brings or who our president is, the work for social justice and equality continues. Theater such as this furthers that work by taking a deep look at our shared history and how it reflects in the present." Well, it's two and a half years later, and we now know what that tomorrow brought, and the tomorrows after that. The never-ending work for social justice and equality feels even more urgent now, and this play about "dreams deferred" for African Americans is as relevant as ever. Lyric Arts has brought this classic to their suburban Anoka stage and delivered a powerful production. I have previously called Lyric out for their lack of diversity on stage, which is something I know they've been working on. I commend them for bringing this play with a mostly African American cast to their stage and their audience, and for hiring a black female director (veteran #TCTheater artist Austene Van) to tell this story written by the first black female Broadway playwright, proving that this 60-year old story is one that still needs to be heard, even (or especially) in the suburbs.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"To Let Go and Fall" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

No better way to kick off Twin Cities Pride month than with a beautiful and sad love story between two men that spans time, distance, disease, memory, and music. To Let Go and Fall is a world premiere new play by Playwrights' Center core writer Harrison David Rivers, who over past few years has given us several beautifully written and meaningful new plays (see also This Bitter Earth). And because this is Theater "we don't do musical theater we do theater musically" Latte Da, this play incorporates music in such a way that the story wouldn't be the same without it. The result is a truly lovely exploration of a relationship, beautifully realized by the cast, director, and every element of design, as I've come to expect from TLD.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

"Sea Cabinet" by Theatre Elision at the Southern Theater

If you're not aware of new(ish) #TCTheater company Theatre Elision, you haven't been paying attention. To me, anyway. I've seen just about everything they've done since their debut two years ago and continue to be impressed with how they're filling a niche we didn't even know we were missing - small-cast one-act original or rarely performed musicals with mostly (or all) female cast and creative team. Get on board! For their penultimate show of their second full season, Elision has discovered a charming song cycle written by British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert and are bringing it to the Southern Theater in Minneapolis - the very first US production. Sea Cabinet is a collection of lovely, melodic, interesting, unique songs around a common theme of the sea, and specifically a woman walking along the sea collecting objects. It's beautifully performed by this four-person all female cast with spot on design and direction under the gorgeous historic arch of the Southern. Truly a perfect 75 minutes of music-theater.