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,
St Olaf College - Oct 26, 2019,
Grand Rapids - Jan 11, 2020,
Mankato - April 25, 2020,
Wykoff - May 30, 2020,

"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.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Operation: Immigration"

Day: 9

Show: 29


By: Wandering Jew Productions

Created by: Avi Aharoni

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: A solo show by #TCTheater artist Avi Aharoni about his father, a two-time immigrant.

Highlights: This lovely show was deservedly the highest selling show at Mixed Blood. Avi is so charming and disarming as he tells his father's story, and really his own story as the son of a Minnesota woman and a man who immigrated from Iran to Israel, and later to America. It's a scripted show, but he's very loose and playful with the audience, asking questions, and reacting to their reactions, which makes the show feel even more warm and personal. It's funny and poignant and relatable (because the more specific something is, the more universal it is), with great use of the space, well-chosen sound cues, and even a little rap. Director Robert Dorfman inserts himself into the action with comments, hilarious facial expressions, and the turning of the sign from one section to the next. This is a fascinating and inspiring immigrant story, about a man who sacrificed his whole life for his family's safety and security. But even more than that, it's a love letter from a son to a father, one that it was a privilege to witness, and a perfect ending to my 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival experience.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Director's Cut: Survivor"

Day: 9

Show: 28


By: Smartmouth Comedy

Written by: Kendra Yarke, Bailey Murphy, Christine Pietz, and Kelliann Kary,

Location: Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A partially scripted and partially improvised spoof of Survivor.

Highlights: This was my first time seeing a "Director's Cut" by Smartmouth Comedy, a female-driven comedy troupe. They do these shows throughout the year at the Phoenix, in which they act out a classic TV script, but with the director (Kelliann Kary) calling pause and asking for an improved scene. For Fringe, they wrote not one but five original scripts of Survivor: Boundary Waters, that began with eight contestants in the first show and ended with one winner in the last (which I attended). There are really two elements here - the Survivor spoof, which was great fun for fans of the show (as I am) - and the improvised scenes, well played by the cast (Jacob Fate as host Jeff with Adam Boutz, Bailey Murphy, Drue Knutson, Edd Jones, Kendra Yarke, Kerri O'Halloran, Mickaylee Shaughnessy, and Mitchell Tilges as the survivors). They have a lot of fun paying homage to and gently mocking a venerable TV franchise, which is fun for the audience too. I enjoyed the show so much I wish I could have seen the build-up over all five episodes, I mean performances. And I hope to catch a "Director's Cut" sometime (if they do any that aren't past my bedtime). Follow their Facebook page for info on future performances.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Multiverse"

Day: 9

Show: 27

Title: Multiverse


By: My Town Improv

Created by: My Town Improv

Location: Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: An improvised fantasty/sci-fi story that continued over the five shows to this conclusion.

Highlights: If I had seen the previous four shows, I might have understood what the deal with Jake Gyllenhaal's disembodied tongue was, as well as ghost Maggie Gyllenhaal, but no matter. With the audience prompt of someone's greatest fear (a big hole in the ground), this talented group of improvisers (Anna Tobin, Derek Landseidl, Marty Wessels, Michael Rogers, Shelby Schroeder, and Will Schroeder) was off, building on the previous stories to create this story of our heroes fighting foes (the perfume goddess and her henchman Mark Wahlberg) with the help of the Gyllenhaals. And something about parents and exes that kept appearing. The show is fun, inventive, silly, with haunting musical accompaniment by John Hilsen. Follow My Town Improv's Facebook page to find out where you can see them next.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Frankenstein: Two Centuries"

Day: 9

Show: 26


By: The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society

Created by: Shanan Custer, Joshua English Scrimshaw, Tim Uren, Eric Webster, and Joe Weismann

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: Two original radio plays done in the style of two real life radio series, Escape and Sanctum Mysteries.

Highlights: This group has perfected the old timey radio show performance, complete with classic microphones, sound effects, and smooth radio voices. Often they recreate actual historical radio scripts, but here they've written originals, and both are a delight. The first one is creepy cool, and continues after the ending of Mary Shelley's classic novel if Captain Robert Walton's sister Margaret went looking for the creature, whom she sees as wondrous, and instead finds the evil doctor himself reincarnated. The second one is, as the cast described in the informative intro (which they do for both plays), more silly and fun than scary. I honestly can't remember or make sense of the plot, but it involved lots of monsters and horrible/great puns, hosted by a darkly funny man along with the chipper but desperately unhappy Lipton Tea lady (as voiced by the Queen of the Minnesota Fringe, Shanan Custer). Check out their website to find out about future performances and to listen to their podcast.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Unproblematic Faves: Best of Ladybrain"

Day: 8

Show: 25

Category: COMEDY

By: Ladybrain

Created by: Ladybrain Sketch Comedy

Location: Strike Theater

Summary: A series of sketches by an all-female sketch comedy troupe called Ladybrain.

Highlights: Ladybrain (aka Emily Townswick, Gabby Vandenavond, Lauren Chesnut, Meredith Jacobs, and Nancy Linden) present a half dozen or so funny, silly, topical, smart, and sometimes stupid (in a good way) sketches. My favorites were the "brewpocalypse" - all of Minneapolis has been overtaken by breweries and men with beards and flannel shirts, and the "cat collar" - a new product for men to wear to prevent cat-calling, because it's so hard to be a man in today's environment (sarcasm). I'm happy to support women in the traditionally male-dominated field of comedy, and Ladybrain makes that easy. Their Fringe show is over, but you can catch them throughout the year at Strike Theater, your Northeast home for sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Booth's Ghost"

Day: 7

Show: 24

Title: Booth's Ghost


By: Andrew Erskine Wheeler

Created by: Andrew Erskine Wheeler

Location: Ritz Theater Mainstage

Summary: A ghostly and theatrical solo show about the Booth family - acting legend Junius Brutus and his sons, actor Edwin and presidential assassin John Wilkes.

Highlights: This is an all-engrossing performance by Andrew Erskine Wheeler, who stays in character(s) even through the moving curtain call that draws parallels between this story and the recent shootings, with a connecting thread of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and gun violence. But first, Andrew leads us non-linearly through the life of the Booth family primarily through the ghost of Edwin's assistant, but also taking on the form of the three Booth men. He makes great use of the Ritz Theater (where John Wilkes Booth was last seen in the person of Dieter Bierbrauer in Theater Latte Da's brilliant production of the Sondheim musical Assassins), walking through the audience and up and down the aisles, engaging the audience (but not quite interacting) as the house lights go up. The show is very thoughtfully put together and smoothly transitions from lighter moments to deadly serious ones (with direction by Matt Sciple). With a ghostly white face and dressed in period clothing, adding and removing pieces as appropriate to the story, using a few well chosen props, Andrew is the embodiment of the ghosts of these men that forever changed American history. The show is enlightening about the Booth family, steeped in history and nostalgia, and also relevant to today (see above). This is a truly impressive feat by Andrew Erskine Wheeler to create and perform this show that is thoughtful, thorough, entertaining, educational, moving, funny, and more. A can't miss of the festival (two more performances this weekend).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "ATLAS ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ : An Objective Musical"

Day: 7

Show: 23


By: Clevername Theatre

Created by: Alexander Gerchak & Bradley Kallhoff

Location: Ritz Theater Mainstage

Summary: A musical parody of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, turned into social satire.

Highlights: This was a last minute schedule filler because it was in the right pace at the right time; I didn't know anything about this book going into the show. From what I read on Wikipedia, this show turns the strong capitalist message on its head, and uses satire to bring the themes of the book into 2019. The wealthy businessmen and women believing that socialism is the biggest threat, fearing fair wages and mandatory health care for workers, these are all part of the daily rhetoric, making the show feel very timely. It's performed in an absurdist style which the strong cast (Aly O'Keefe, Carl Swanson, Christian Unser, Kayli McIntyre, Michael Burton, Sarah Platts, Todd O’Dowd, and Tyler Lanam) fully commits to. The props are charmingly DIY, with a live band performing the clever and scary songs, sometimes intentionally jarring and techy. Not my favorite show in the festival (absurdism isn't really my thing), but it's a clever concept well executed.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Size"

Day: 7

Show: 22

Title: Size


By: Somerville Productions

Created by:  Colleen Somerville and an array of writers and bodies.

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: Reflections, stories, sketches, and songs about the way society treats people of varying body size.

Highlights: This is a such beautiful show, and very relatable for anyone who has ever had issues with body image or food, which is pretty much every woman (and some men) who live in this country. The performers are all so honest and vulnerable in sharing their very personal stories about how they've felt shamed about their bodies at various times in their lives - in school, at work, in relationships. I thought it was going to be more about sizism in theater (which is definitely a conversation we need to having), but it was more universal than that (except for the horrible theater teacher that focused on students' looks, and Lauren Anderson's recurring story about how she was heckled onstage while performing). In a way that makes it more universal, because we've all had those moments of insecurity about our bodies. These poignant stories combined with moments of humor and music make this hour of truth-telling and affirmation of people of all shapes and sizes fly by.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Because I Said So"

Day: 6

Show: 21


By: Schmidtshow Productions

Created by: Emily Schmidt and Pat Robinson Schmidt

Location: Rarig Center Arena

Summary: Sketches, songs, and stories about the mother/daughter relationship, as told by local funny women and their real-life mothers and/or daughters.

Highlights: Emily Schmidt has written some really funny, clever, Minnesotan comedies for the Fringe (e.g., last year's Lakes 4), but this year she's doing something different. Along with her mother Pat Robinson Schmidt, she's gotten together some of the funniest women in the Twin Cities to talk about their moms and/or daughters. And the result is not just funny and relatable, but also very moving and sometimes serious. The show opens with Samantha Baker Harris singing a sweet little song with her young daughter Maya, and closes with a song by Samantha, Maya, and Samantha's mom Lynn Baker. It's a beautiful full circle moment, and in between are sketches and stories, based in truth, by Shanan Custer and her daughter Kate, Alex Byrne and her mother Maura, Taj Ruler (speaking about her strained relationship with her mother), Laura Zaber and her daughter Irene, Pat (Emily performed at the first couple shows but I assume has gone back to L.A. where she lives and writes), and Lauren Anderson and her mom Jinniece. It's a well curated selection that covers many of the facets of the mother/daughter relationship.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "The Buttslasher: And Then There Were Buns"

Day: 6

Show: 20


By: New Endeavors

Written by: Andy Rakerd

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A sequel to the 2017/2018 Fringe hit Buttslasher, about the infamous criminal of Stillwater and the detective who hunts them.

Highlights: If you saw the original, you're in for more of the same cheeky fun here (pun intended). But don't worry if you didn't see the first one, this is a "stand-alone sequel," in which our hero Detective Heck Bills (once again perfectly portrayed by Glen L. Dawson) is invited to a dinner party at which the guests keep dropping - slashed in the butt. Even though Heck solved the crime in the last show, it seems our serial Buttslasher has returned to the dangerous town of Stillwater, or maybe has turned into something even worse - an ass-vampire (which is the set-up for the best/worst pun in the show, "hot cross buns"). The plot is a little convoluted (including deceased wealthy urinal cake tycoon Harry Backside and a senator jailed for slug fighting), but the puns come fast and furious, and the cast (Al Fiene, Cayla Marie Wolpers, Harry Lantto, Joy Rakerd, Thalia Kostman, and Varghese Alexander,) is great fun as they portray these noir-ish characters (and Thalia's mime is, as they say in the show, a delight). I could watch a new episode of Det. Heck and the Buttslasher every year, they really go all in with the theme of mocking yet paying homage to the noir genre, with as many silly puns as possible.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Kind Of Funny But Also A Little Sad"

Day: 6

Show: 19

Category: Comedy

By: The Importance Of Being Fotis

Created by: Rita Boersma and Mike Fotis and Heather Meyer

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: A sketch comedy about friendship and the joys and worries of life.

Highlights: Kind of funny but also a little sad is my favorite genre. I saw this show at Strike last year and liked it so much I wanted to see it again in this Fringe iteration. Rita Boersma and Mike Fotis are two of the most familiar and funny Fringe performers (as is Heather Meyer, the director who makes a cameo). In this piece they explore their friendship, which is sometimes awkward and argumentative, but in the end sweet and supportive. The straight-forward comedy sketches turn meta when one or both of them break out to comment on what they're doing, or chide the other for what they're not doing. Topics explored include the fear of death, changing family relationships, and existential crises. They make great use of the in-the-round space, including making fun of it. This show is sweet, funny, silly, relatable, and just a little bit sad.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Stoopidity"

Day: 5

Show: 18

Title: Stoopidity


By: Domino D'Lorion, Ian McCarthy, and Michael McKitt

Created by: Domino D'Lorion, Ian McCarthy, and Michael McKitt

Location: Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: Three young black men use rap, rhyme, spoken word, dialogue, and song to explore their hopes, fears, and dreams.

Highlights: These three recent grads from the Guthrie/U of M BFA program overflow with talent and charisma. They represent the next generation of black artists (mentored by Talvin Wilks, no less), and the future looks good. They've created a show that feels sort of stream-of-consciousness as it flows from one scene to the next, almost all of it in rhyme. Each of the artists gets a chance to show their skills solo, and they also have great chemistry as a trio. The various scenes are funny or sobering or poignant or powerful as they express what it means to be young and black (and queer) in America today. They make great use of the space at the X, with the stairs on either side representing the titular stoop, and walking around the audience and across the balcony. There is great young talent on display here, and I hope they stay in town!

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Edith Gets High"

Day: 5

Show: 17

Title: Edith Gets High


By: Devious Mechanics

Written by: Keith Hovis

Location: Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A new original musical about Edith, whose favorite pastime is getting high and playing video games, until she's sucked into a game that feels a little too real.

Highlights: I love Keith Hovis' Fringey musicals, and this one is no exception. But it feels a little different - a little more focused, a little less gruesomely violent, with some physical theater elements (thanks to director Allison Witham of Transatlantic Love Affair). Edith is one of "Four Women Getting High Playing Video Games," including her fiance Ari and a couple of online friends. She gets perhaps a bit too high, and imagines herself inside of a video game in which she has to save Ari, battling imaginary foes as well as a very real troll. The original songs are clever and tuneful, reminiscent of previous Hovis musicals but with some video-game-sounding elements. This fantastic cast is as good at the comedy as the musical parts of the show, starting with the always wonderful Deb Berger as our hero Edith, with a strong and hard-working supporting cast (Cameron Reeves, Colleen Somerville Leeman, Kiko Laureano, Lizzie Gardner, and Ryan Lear) playing multiple characters. There is one unfortunate line, something about how video games makes killing people fun, that is a bit awkward in light of recent events. But on the whole it's a really fun, well-written, brilliantly performed Fringey musical. Recommended to reserve a seat in advance on the Fringe website, or get there early to snag one of the 30% of seats that are held for walk-ups.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Cat Confidential: The Secret Lives of the Mothers of Lions"

Day: 5

Show: 16


By: Weggel Productions

Created by: Anna Weggel, Lauren Anderson and the cast

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: Sketches, songs, and stories about the most magnificent of creatures - cats - and the women who love them.

Highlights: This show about cats made me cry more than the show about grief! Which probably tells you all you need to know about me. As the mother of three lions (currently, seven total in my life), I found these stories to be so relatable and human. Because it's not just about cats, really, but about how having animals in our lives enriches our lives. They provide emotional support, love, a purpose, comfort, entertainment. Each cast member (Anna Weggel, Danna Sheridan, Emily Townswick, Heather Meyer, Liz Coucil, Mandi Verstegen, Maria Bartholdi, Meghan Wolff, Pam Mazzone, and Siri Hellerman) tells a sweet or funny or sad story about her cat, and how the cat helped them through grief, divorce, anxiety, or just the complications of living life. With a couple of funny sketches about the life of cats. The show is very well constructed, with each sketch or story followed by a charming song (by Anna and Mandi) that directly relates to the previous story (and often comes from the musical theater canon), while the women, all dressed in black, move around the space like cats. This show is a must-see for cat-lovers (I'm certain it's way better than the upcoming Cats movie!). And if you don't love cats, well, I don't even know what to say to you.

my babies Moritz Stiefel, Claude Hooper Bukowski, and George Berger

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Cabaret Featuring the Cast of the Ordway's "42nd Street"

Friends, I had the most amazing night at the Dakota Jazz Club last night. The cast of the Ordway's "fan-freakin-tastic" 42nd Street presented a cabaret that lasted for over three hours and showcased the many varied talents of this ridiculously talented cast. As I overheard in the bathroom (a great place to gauge audience reaction), the cabaret was almost better than the show itself. I have decided that the cast of every musical needs to do a cabaret show (this is the 4th at the Dakota, after the casts of Theater Latte Da's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Park Square's Marie and Rosetta, and the Jungle's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill). It was a particularly genius idea for this cast that is overflowing with talent from every single member. They get to show off a lot of that talent in 42nd Street, which features tap dancing like I've never seen before, but there's so much more to them all. From poetry (Annie Jo Ermel) and spoken word (Phillip Attmore), to freestyle rap (Rush Benson), to country music (Jarrod Emick), to crooning standards (Tyler Michaels King, Tamara Tunie, Kimberly Immanual), to insane tap-dancing (several members of the cast), to the musical stylings of Music Director Raymond Berg and the band, to the most charming and genial hosting (T. Mychael Rambo, underused in 42nd Street), to whatever magic it is that Jamecia Bennett creates that blows the roof of of whatever room she's in and brings the crowd to their feet, last night was a display of talent unlike anything I've seen before. It truly will go down as one of the best and most memorable evenings of musical performance I've ever experienced.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "A Man's Guide for Appropriate Behavior in the 21st Century"

Day: 4

Show: 15


By: One T Productions

Created by: Scot Froelich

Location: Augsburg Studio

Summary: A panel discussion on various issues around the topic of masculinity.

Highlights: The title of this show is a little misleading. It sounds like it could be a gross comedy, but rather it's a serious discussion of issues that are greatly affecting the health and safety of all of us in today's world. Each of the five shows has a different topic and different panelists (see the show website for details), but may change due to events of the day. I attended what was supposed to be a discussion on "Gender, sexuality, and intersectionality," but since there were not one but two mass shootings in the days prior, the discussion veered more towards violence as a result of white male patriarchy. Moderated by Scot Froelich with panelists Lisa Stratton, Erica Fields, Taiyon J. Coleman, Marcela Michelle, and Andrea Jenkins, all activists and experts in their fields varying from law to literature, it was an incredibly powerful, sobering, enlightening, inspiring, depressing discussion. The panelists got into some pretty serious stuff about the ingrained racism and sexism in our society, in our systems, in ourselves, much of which we don't even know how to talk about. But I take a little bit of hope in the fact that at least somebody somewhere is having these discussions. There are only two discussions left, and I hope you go to one or both of them. This may be the most important and necessary show in the Fringe this year, that feels so much bigger than theater or entertainment. I hope these discussions continue beyond and outside of the Fringe in some way, even if just in our living rooms.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical"

Day: 4

Show: 14


By: Literally Entertainment

Created by: Literally Entertainment

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A musical about everyone's favorite office sitcom, focusing on the case of the notorious Scranton Strangler.

Highlights: From the bad photocopy of an office memo handed out as a program, to Dwight's signature mustard yellow short sleeved shirt, to Stanley's obsession with Pretzel Day, this musical is everything Office fans love. In fact, it seems to be drawing new audience members to the Fringe because of their love for The Office (including teenagers, amongst whom the show is popular even though they were barely born when it started). All of your favorite characters are represented, so many that several members of the 11-person cast do double duty. In this version of the story, Michael Scott is actually undercover FBI agent Michael Scarn investigating the serial killer known as the Scranton Strangler, who starts targeting Dunder-Mifflin employees. But the plot is basically an excuse to stuff in as many Office references and scene recreations as possible, which they do, sometimes in song form. And the cast does a great job of bringing our favorites to life. Written and directed by Travis Carpenter (who also plays Dwight, instantly recognizable as such) with original music and lyrics by Kyle DeGoey and accompanied by Lindsey Fallenstein on keyboard, this show is a gift to fans of The Office. Thank God for Netflix for carrying the series (which I just recently re-watched in its entirety), and for the reliable Fringe team at Literally Entertainment for applying their fun original Fringey musical form (which started with the surprise hit of the 2015 festival - Oregon Trail: A Musical) to The Office. What will they think of next?!

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Game of Toms: One-Man Game of Thrones"

Day: 4

Show: 13


By: Tom Reed

Created by: Tom Reed

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A one-man musical comedy parody of the biggest TV sensation of recent years - HBO's Game of Thrones.

Highlights: I love Tom's pop culture parodies, even when I don't know the subject (see Hunger Games) but even more so when I do (see Stranger Things). Truthfully if you haven't seen Game of Thrones, or have at least a working knowledge of it, you might not get much out of this show. But for those of us who know and love the series (and perhaps have read the books several times), it's great fun. Tom takes us through the story, season by season, obviously leaving a lot out but hitting the high (and low) points - Ned's beheading, the Red Wedding, John Snow's true parentage. He narrates (with commentary on the good, the bad, and the naked) and plays multiple characters, each with a specific voice and body carriage, the story peppered with familiar songs with new lyrics (the Cheers theme song about how we don't know everyone's name, "Let It Go" sung by Daenerys as "Let It Burn," a fantastic Hamilton-esque rap). A red handkerchief represents every death discussed, so by the end of the show the stage is littered with handkerchiefs. Speaking of the end, Tom does a bit of improv based on audience suggestions for an ending that would be preferable to the actual ending of the show a few months ago, still fresh on fans' minds. Tom and accompanist Paul Kovacovic present a super fun and Fringey whirlwind journey through Westeros.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Mad as Nell, or How to Lose a Bly in Ten Days"

Day: 4

Show: 12


By: Rinky Dink Productions

Created by: Rinky Dink Productions

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A modern, comic, feminist retelling of 19th Century investigative journalist Nellie Bly who went undercover in a mental institution.

Highlights: Written by cast members Josh Carson, Shanan Custer, Allison Witham, and Kelsey Cramer as Nellie Bly, this show is the fun mash-up of history and pop culture that I've come to expect from this group (freshly minted as Rinky Dink Operations, with a quarterly variety show at BLB). They tell the loosely historical story of aspiring "lady reporter" Nellie Bly, who tries to impress editor Joseph Pulitzer by writing a series of articles exposing the horrible conditions at the mental hospital she gets herself committed to (possibly mashed up with the movie How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, or maybe that's just for the clever title). The cast (also including Adelin Phelps, Aisha Ragheb, Tim Hellendrung, and equity members James Detmar and the deliciously evil Sue Scott!) is hilarious and playful, they sing a few fun original songs, there are just the right amount of 4th wall breaking moments, and the inspiring feminist story is succinctly, cleverly, charmingly, and irreverently told. Simply put, this is Fringe at its best.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Chisago: The Musical"

Day: 4

Show: 11


By: Haute Dish Productions

Created by: Haute Dish Productions

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A parody of the musical Chicago set in Chisago City, MN and stuffed full of Minnesota references.

Highlights: It's not the Fringe without a few Minnesota references, and this one fulfills your quota, and then some. The original lyrics set to the familiar Chicago score are extremely clever, referencing everything we love (and love to hate) about Minnesota - the cold, lutefisk, Caribou Coffee, the Twins (#gotwins!), hotdish, bars, and on and on and on. Yes it's an easy target, Minnesota audiences love Minnesota references, but they even created a story that ties all of the songs together quite nicely. Roxie (co-creator Kendra Braunger) moves from Orlando to Chisago when her husband Amos (Keith Steinke) is transferred, and her guardian angel Paul Bunyon (Tyler Christenson) helps her learn how to be a Minnesotan, culminating in a visit to the State Fair with Velma (co-creator Carissa Christenson). I almost put this show on my must-see list, but didn't because it sounded like one of those things that could go either way. I am now putting it on my must-see list post hoc; this team of first time Fringe producers and unknown-to-me actors have done a fantastic job (including choreography by Kelsey Chester, and costumes - black fishnet stockings under winter coats) with this very Minnesotan musical theater parody. Of course I have to take off points for singing along to recorded music (what I assume is the Chicago karaoke track) instead of having live musicians. But other than that, this show is a Fringey Minnesota musical delight. And no one gets murdered!

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Magic Girl"

Day: 3

Show: 10

Title: Magic Girl


By: Emily Michaels King

Created by: Emily Michaels King

Location: Crane Theater

Summary: A very personal solo performance told through dance, spoken work, and sound and lighting effects.

Highlights: Friends, I don't think I've ever seen a more fearless, vulnerable, honest, personal, and emotionally raw performance than this. In what she notes in the shiny program is the performance that is most her, Emily Michaels King bares her heart, soul, and body. What more can you ask from an artist? It's also super weird and out there, in a Maureen Johnson performance art kind of way, and I didn't understand half of what she was doing. But what I did understand was the raw emotion of the stories she told about her life and of the movement accompanying the very specifically chosen sounds and music (from Paul Simon to the Spice Girls). In fact when it suddenly started pouring, I wasn't sure if the sound of the rain on the roof was part of the show or real, that's how much under her spell I was. Emily uses microphones and hand-held lights for startling effects as she references several traumatic events in her childhood and adult life, without saying exactly what they were. This "ode to Rainbow Brite" is really an ode to to her child self, and the child in all of us - the purest truest part of ourselves before life has had a chance shape, hide, and destroy it.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Visitation"

Day: 3

Show: 9

Title: Visitation


By: DangerVision Productions

Directed by: Amber Danger Johnson

Location: Crane Theater

Summary: A series of short plays about grief, framed by a visitation in a funeral home

Highlights: The play opens at a visitation (or wake), the most awkward of reception lines. As the widow steels herself to be able to speak, a funeral director (played by Clarence Wethern) talks about grief, what it is and what it isn't. What follows are five short plays (all accompanied by projected imagery) that range from funny to mystical to sad, brought to life by the ensemble (Ben Tallen, Charles Numrich, Karen Bair, Sophie Javna, and Victoria Pyan). Laura Buchholz's exploration of people's fascination with the details of death, Gemma Irish's profound treatise on the meaning of life itself, Rachel Teagle's story of a complicated mother/daughter relationship, Sam Landman's moving tribute to his best friend, and Tyler Mills' poetic journey through grief are tied together by Heather Meyer's funny/sad "interludes" delivered by the funeral director. I came prepared to cry, but laughed more than I expected, while still being moved by the varied expressions of the experience of grief, an inescapable part of being human.

"The price of love is loss, but still we pay, we love anyway."
Next to Normal

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear"

Day: 3

Show: 8


By: The Winding Sheet Outfit

Created by: The Winding Sheet Outfit

Location: Crane Theater

Summary: The long form of the title says it best - "The Life and Death of Edward Lear: Poet, Illustrator, Composer, and Melancholy Hypochondriac or What is a Rungible Spoon: An Absurdist Eulogy and Existential Crisis on the Stage"

Highlights: This is my favorite show of the festival so far. It's everything I want from Fringe, from theater really. It's funny and quirky, original, educational, includes music and poetry, is very cleverly constructed in a meta sort of way, and somehow manages to capture the fleeting beauty of life in a way that made me cry my first #fringetears of this year's festival. Director Amber Bjork introduces the show, the actors, and the subject, like an exasperated teacher trying to keep her students - the cast (including Boo Segersin, Dan Linden, Kayla Dvorak, Kristina Fjellman, and Sam Landman) and stage manager (Andre Johnson Jr) - in line. I'd never heard of Edward Lear but now I want to know more about this 19th Century English poet and painter. The amiable cast takes us through skits, limericks, songs, and reenactments of moments, places, and people in Edward's life. Derek Lee Miller plays Eddie, only speaking words that he wrote - often whimsical or silly, sometimes heart-breakingly poignant. The other cast members play people in his life and stories, with plenty of moments to break out and play in an almost unrelated, but very charming, way. Images of Edward, his paintings and drawings, and text from his writings or notes about the show punctuate the storytelling. The light-hearted show takes a turn I wasn't expecting when Amber breaks out of the story for the titular existential crisis, comforted by Derek (a moment so sweet and intimate I almost felt like I should turn away) and the cast, who then continue on with the beautifully sad part of Edward's life. This show has everything, and the ending is indescribably beautiful. The limerick on the show handout says it best:

There once was a man who drew parrots,
And wrote many poems of merit.
We'll look in his mirror,
And find life is dearer,
Existence so sweet none can bear it.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "How To Come Back From The Dead"

Day: 2

Show: 7

Title: How To Come Back From The Dead


By: Monster Science Productions

Created by: Reverend Matt's Monster Science

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: Reverend Matt educates and entertains about zombies, vampires, ghosts, and other ways history, mythology, and stories have told us we can come back from the dead.

Highlights: Reverend Matt (aka Matthew Kessen) performs regularly around town (at the Phoenix, your local library, and elsewhere), so if you've seen him, you know the drill. It's basically the same format, but with a new topic every time, and this year he added an assistant (Elora Riley), like the sidekick of a late night talk show. Rev. Matt's lessons are always funny, clever, nerdy, and take a deep dive into the subject at hand, accompanied by power point of related images. This year we learned all about vampires (sadly, no photos of my favorite vampire Alexander Skarsgard, but that's what Google is for) and zombies. Beginning with mythology from various cultures around the world and continuing through modern pop culture, we see how the legend has grown and the different forms it takes. Rev. Matt's droll delivery of his thoroughly researched and well organized lecture is always a fun, nerdy, nostalgic good time.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Measure4Measure"

Day: 2

Show: 6

Title: Measure4Measure


By: Rough Magic Performance Company

Directed by: Sarah Agnew

Location: Southern Theater

Summary: An adaptation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, the original #MeToo play.

Highlights: The last time I saw Measure for Measure, I found it a bit long (as I often do with Shakespeare's plays), but this one-hour version (adapted by Catherine Johnson Justice and directed by Sarah Agnew) felt just right. I didn't miss a thing in the story of the woman who is told by a powerful man that the only way she could save her condemned brother is to sleep with him. Cries of "who would believe me if I told" sound all too familiar to us today. A record scratch and the repetition of important lines really drives this point home. An excellent all female cast (Alayne Hopkins, Ashawnti Sakina Ford, Catherine Johnson Justice, and Mo Perry, with Elise Langer and Taj Ruler bringing the funny) plays all of the characters and really brings this story to vibrant life. If you like your Shakespeare short, succinct, funny, relevant, engaging, and feminist, don't miss this Measure4Measure.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy"

Day: 2

Show: 5


By: Mermaid Productions

Directed by: Katy McEwan

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: Xena and Gabrielle (from the '90s TV cult hit series) are transported from ancient Greece to a modern day comic con.

Highlights: Confession: I've never seen Xena: Warrior Princess and don't know anything about it, so I probably only caught about half of the references. (I am a nerd, but only about a few specific things, including theater). But while Xena fans might get more out of this show than I did (and the audience certainly seemed to), you don't have to be a fan to relate to and enjoy this fun, fierce, feminist show. At the comic con, Xena and Gabrielle encounter sexism from men, as well as women cutting each other down, an issue that real live comic cons face (I've also never been to a con). But with the help of a little magic and music, we all learn to be better. And the speculation about the two characters' relationship is finally, satisfactorily, resolved. Producer Ariel Leaf and playwright Nissa Nordland Morgan are perfectly cast as Xena and Gabrielle and surrounded by a strong supporting cast, including Elora Riley and Katie Starks as two very different comic con women, Matthew Kessen, Nicholas Nelson, and Richard "Doc" Woods in the thankless roles of the jerky men, and Heather Meyer in a hilarious turn as.... well, I won't spoil it here. A must-see for comic con goers and fans of Xena: Warrior Princess (my friends at Minnesota Theater Love, fans of the series, loved it), but you don't have to be either to enjoy the show.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "A Cult Classic"

Day: 2

Show: 4

Title: A Cult Classic


By: Sheep Theater

Created by: Sheep Theater

Location: Southern Theater

Summary: A doomsday cult of unknowing can't remember how to achieve the final goal because they forgot everything, including how to read.

Highlights: "The world is really really loud and complicated," says the cult propaganda flier passed out before the show. So true, and maybe that's why humans are so susceptible to religions that tell us how the world works and promise us that things will turn out OK, even the weird extremist religions that we call cults. Sheep Theater takes this idea and runs with it, with their typical "deranged sincerity," in a new work written by Joey Hamburger and directed by Michael Torsch. Four members of a cult (Erika Kuhn, Jacob Mobley, Joey Hamburger, and Madeleine Rowe) are convinced that their leader (Robb Goetzke at his creepiest) has died/disappeared/ascended to "the five stones in the sky," so they perform the final ritual. Which includes preparing an elixir (obviously poison, a la The Peoples Temple) that they don't realize they need to drink. When they don't ascend, they get desperate and look for help from a possible new leader (Kyle Munshower) and a crisis counselor (Iris Rose Page). Wacky things continue to happen (including a pretty brilliant power point presentation), but it's funny (and scary) because it's true. The story unfolds in one long scene that gets more and more desperate and almost a little sad as as these people's deluded dreams are shattered. A Cult Classic is a very Sheepy, very Fringey absurd comedy.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

"Floyd's" at the Guthrie Theater

I interrupt the constant Minnesota Fringe Festival coverage to bring you a world premiere new play by Lynn Nottage, the only woman to win two Pulitzer Prizes for drama, commissioned by and debuting at the Guthrie Theater. Floyd's is a sort of follow-up to one of her prize-winning plays, Sweat, which I saw on Broadway in 2017 and look forward to seeing at the Guthrie next summer. For both plays, Lynn and frequent collaborator, director Kate Whoriskey, interviewed people in Reading, PA, a town thrust into poverty at the closing of a steel mill in 2008. Sweat deals directly with that issue, and is as devastating as it is true to American life. Floyd's is a bit lighter, perhaps not exactly a comedy, but it focuses more on the healing and moving on of people coming out of prison (including one of the characters from Sweat). With crisply drawn characters beautifully brought to life by the strong five-person cast (three of whom appeared in Sweat on Broadway), Floyd's is a funny, surprising, moving, and very human play.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019: "Glass & Lady M."

Day: 1

Show: 3

Title: Glass & Lady M.


By: Full Circle Theater Company

Created by: Lindsey Bushnell and Martha B. Johnson

Location: Dreamland Arts

Summary: New #TCTheater company Full Circle Theater gets Fringey with two short plays proving commentary on patriarchy and the troubling legacy of America.

Highlights: The new play Glass by Lindsey Bushnell imagines four women trapped in a room, waiting for a man to come through the glass and bring them "blessings" or "luxuries." One has apples, one is constantly sweeping, one is holding a baby, and one is obsessively applying make-up and checking her looks. In what is a pretty obvious metaphor for patriarchy, the women discuss their situation and how to get out of it, alternately chiding and supporting each other. Lady M. is a brief reimagining of Macbeth by Full Circle Co-Artistic Director Martha B. Johnson (who directs both pieces), with the bloody ambition of the Macbeths compared to the bloody ambition of America and the wake of tragedies left behind in the pursuit of "Manifest Destiny." A strong cast of four women (Alice McGlave, Charla Marie Bailey, Delinda "Oogie" Pushetonequa, and Marci Lucht) perform in both plays, fully committing to the absurdist style of the two pieces that speak to each other nicely. As an independently produced Fringe show at Dreamland Arts in St. Paul, this one is a little out of the way, but worth the 10-minute drive from the Cedar-Riverside hub to see this powerful, relevant, weird, and beautifully done new work.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.