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 Theater

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.