Sunday, October 20, 2019

"A New Brain" at Artistry

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Journey's End" at Gremlin Theatre

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

"Proof" at Lyric Arts

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

"Nature" by TigerLion Arts at Lebanon Hills Regional Park

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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

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

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

Saturday, October 12, 2019

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Pipeline" at Penumbra Theatre

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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

"The Hollow" by Trademark Theater at the Tek Box

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

"The Rocky Horror Show" at Park Square Theatre

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

Saturday, October 5, 2019

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

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

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"Mean Girls" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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

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