Saturday, November 30, 2019

"All Is Calm" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I saw the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood yesterday, about how one person's life was changed by meeting Mister Rogers, the legendary children's show host who touched, and continues to touch, so many lives. It reminded me of the good in humanity, and that we all need to, and are perfectly capable of, doing better. What does this have to do with Theater Latte Da's Drama-Desk-Award-winning soon-to-be-PBS-broadcast original holiday piece All is Calm? Like Mister Rogers, this artfully constructed story of the real life WWI Christmas Truce reminds us what can happen when we choose kindness over violence, connection over hate. The soldiers were only able to accomplish this remarkable feat for 24 hours, and then the war continued for several years and millions of deaths. But if a war can cease even for 24 hours, if a man can heal his relationship with his father thanks to one person's kindness and encouragement, what else can we accomplish, individually and collectively, if we choose kindness, connection, and peace? This is the seventh time I've seen All is Calm, my favorite of what the #TCTheater holiday* season has to offer, and it only gets more beautiful, poignant, and necessary every year. We need this message now more than ever.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

"Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" at Jungle Theater

#TCTheater friends, I would like to visit Pemberley every year for the holidays* (or really any time of the year). For the third year in a row, Jungle Theater is presenting their own special brand of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, in the form of delightfully modern yet still very Austen plays by the playwrighting team of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. Their 2017 production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley was so successful that they co-commissioned a sequel for 2018 - The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley. This year they're remounting the 2017 production of Miss Bennet with much of the original team, plus a few delightful new additions. Jane Austen created such a rich world in Pride and Prejudice that I could envision a dozen more sequels, as we continue to visit these four loving but very different sisters in different times in their lives. (Oh wait, there are five sisters; we haven't seen Kitty yet, so she deserves her own sequel next!) This is exactly how I like my Austen - fresh and modern and feminist and charming, but still within the manners of the time. I want to live in that world, but I guess I'll settle for a visit to Pemberley once a year via the Jungle Theater.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol" at Lyric Arts

Lyric Arts' contribution to the #TCTheater holiday* season this year is A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol. It's a feel-good nostalgic kind of holiday show, full of laughs, groans, lovely music, and a few poignant moments. You really can't go wrong combining the Dickens classic with 1940s Americana. Lyric Arts has assembled a great cast that performs the material well - both musically and theatrically - with detailed design that'll put you in the holiday spirit.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"what if" by the Moving Company at the Lab Theater

The Moving Company's latest original work what if is made up of two separate and very different parts that together form a "moving," "funny," "thought-provoking" piece of theater. I use quotes because in this sort of meta, fourth wall breaking piece, the performers talk about theater, and how we talk about theater, and say just about every world I've ever used to write about theater. It's sort of about theater itself, why we do theater, why we go to the theater. And it's also about humanity, and the origins of storytelling, and the what if of imagining ourselves in someone else's shoes - both as performers and as audience members. It's a process of creating empathy, of making this very big world seems smaller, or more familiar, or more connected. Forgive me if I'm not making sense, or talking in circles, but such is this piece of new and original theater.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

"Pride and Prejudice" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre recently announced that they're cancelling two planned shows in their 2019-2020 season due to financial challenges. But fortunately, the regional premiere of Kate Hamill's new adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice is not one of them. Kate Hamill is a young female playwright who's been adapting several classics with a modern and feminist bent, e.g., Sense and Sensibility, Little Women, and the upcoming Emma, to premiere at the Guthrie next spring. Walking into the theater we're told "this is not your grandmother's Pride and Prejudice," which turned out to be very true. The playwright turns the story into a full-out comedy, performed by an ensemble of just eight actors, many playing multiple roles. While the comedy went a bit too far for my taste in a few places, on the whole it's a fun and delightful new look at a beloved classic.

Friday, November 22, 2019

"Into the Darkness" by Collective Unconscious Performance at Shakespearean Youth Theatre

Collective Unconscious Performance's latest original work Into the Darkness is an adaptation of two fairy tales, "The Dark Princess" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." The bad news is they're only doing eight performances in a small space that's selling out; the only remaining seats are for this Sunday. The good news is this inventive adaptation of these little known stories, using music and puppetry, is really lovely. I've never seen Collective Unconsious' work before, and I'm happy to make their acquaintance with this piece. If you can't get tickets to this show, follow them on Facebook and make plans to see their next original work, Maiden Voyage, next spring.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "The Parts I Admire" and "Norman!"

Nautilus Music-Theater's primary focus is developing new works of music-theater. They'll have a full production of a new or reinvented piece every year or two, but their regular work is monthly showcases of new works of music-theater, some developed in their Composer-Librettist Studio. This is their 26th season of "Rough Cuts," during which they'll be presenting their 200th showcase of new work. That's a lot of new music-theater, and a lot of support provided to creators of new music-theater. Read on for what they're presenting this month, with one show last night at their Lowertown St. Paul studio space, and another show tonight at Augsburg University (730pm at Sateren Hall). There's a $5 suggested donation, that comes with free cookies and milk!

Monday, November 18, 2019

"The Penelopiad" by Theatre Unbound at Gremlin Theatre

Homer's The Odyssey is one of our oldest stories; Wikipedia tells me it is "the second-oldest extant work of Western literature." But this story, as many old stories do, mostly focuses on the men, with the women as peripheral characters. What if we reimagined this ancient story with women at the center? Author Margaret Atwood did just that in her 2005 novella The Penelopiad, which she later adapted for the stage. It's fascinating and exciting to look at these old familiar stories in new ways, ways that feel more relevant and immediate and rich. Theatre Unbound is presenting this play to begin their 20th anniversary season, and it's a powerful, moving, tragic, and beautiful example of the work they've been doing for 20 years - women telling women's stories.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"Beyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie Hall" at History Theatre

I hope HERstory never ends! After a successful spring of three new works by women about women, HERstory Theatre has continued this fall with the powerful and moving more-than-just-a-play Gloria: A Life (a regional premiere), and now a remount of the History Theatre's original play-with-music Beyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie Hall. This commissioned piece (as many of their work is) premiered in 2005, and has since been produced at regional theaters around the country, including a few return engagements at the History Theatre, most recently in 2011 when I first saw it. Some of the original cast returns, including the incomparable Jody Briskey as Judy, in this story of one of Minnesota's favorite daughters. Everybody loves Judy, especially here in the land of her birth, and this play is a beautiful homage to the human behind the legend, while still celebrating her incredible legacy of music and film.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" at Old Log Theatre

Exciting things are happening in Excelsior. Old Log Theatre (rumored to be the oldest continually operating theater west of the Mississippi) is presenting the regional premiere of the 2014 Tony winning* best musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. I saw it last night, about one month into its four-month run, and it's an absolute delight. It's a charming and hilarious big broad English comedy (written by Americans Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak), full of fast clever lyrics, lovely melodies and harmonies, and ridiculously plotted murders, executed brilliantly by the team at Old Log. The only place you can see this recent Tony winner is in the charming lakeside town of Excelsior, that only gets more charming with snow and holiday decorations. This is not a holiday show, but would make for a fun holiday (or post-holiday) outing for friends, family, or solo.

"Another Miracle on Christmas Lake" at Yellow Tree Theatre

One of my favorite #TCTheater holiday* traditions is Yellow Tree Theatre's original Minnesota comedies. It all began with Miracle on Christmas Lake in their first season way back in 2008, a play written quickly under pressure by co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson, that has turned into an Osseo sensation. It ran for several years, then inspired a sequel. After a few other unrelated original holiday comedies set Up North, Yellow Tree returned to the original Miracle on Christmas Lake last year, and this year are bringing us the sequel.** Full of the quirky and very Minnesotan characters we've come to love, but with a (mostly) all new cast of talented comedians, Another Miracle on Christmas Lake is a riot. I have a group of friends and co-workers I've been bringing to Yellow Tree for almost ten years, and we all agree that with everything going on in the world and at home right now, we just needed to laugh. There's no better place for that than this show. It continues through December 29, but like I said it's a sensation and their intimate theater space sells out, so get your tickets soon.

Friday, November 15, 2019

"Fast Company" by Theater Mu at the Guthrie Theater

Theater Mu's latest play is a fun crime caper about a Chinese-American family of con artists. Mu was part of the rolling world premiere of NYC-based playwright Carla Ching's smart, funny, two-person relationship play Two Kids that Blow Shit Up a few years ago, and are now bringing us this smart, funny, family crime dramedy Fast Company. There's nothing particularly deep or revelatory about it, but it's fun in an Ocean's Eleven heist kind of way, and it's rare and wonderful to see an Asian-American family at the center of this type of story, portrayed as flawed, messy, loving, complicated humans instead of stereotypes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"In a Stand of Dying Trees" by Uprising Theatre Company at Off-Leash Art Box

In 2019, Uprising Theatre Company has been presenting plays around one of the most important and controversial issues in our country today - gun violence. The conclusion of this excellent and necessary series is an original play by Artistic Director Shannon TL Kearns. But In a Stand of Dying Trees, playing at Off-Leash Art Box through November 23, is not just a play about gun violence. It's also a play about transgender rights, about the conflict between urban and rural communities, about when to overlook differences in the interest of peaceful coexistence and when to have the uncomfortable conversations. It's not an easy play to watch, and doesn't offer any solutions, but what it does do, what Uprising always does with their work, is open up a conversation. Their community partners for this play are Moms Demand Action, an organization working to end gun violence, and Better Angels, which hosts workshops and conversations to depolarize America. This partnership, along with the discussions that Uprising hosts after every show, make In a Stand of Dying Trees not just a thought-provoking, timely, relevant play, but also, hopefully, a catalyst for real conversation and change.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

"A Life of Days" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

nimbus theatre's new original plays always explore some fascinating topic, idea, or historical era in a way that gets me thinking and wanting to know more. Their latest such work, A Life of Days, officially opens tonight and was inspired by a true story about a family that lived completely isolated in Siberia for 40 years. You can read that super fascinating story here, as well as playwright Liz Neerland's other literary research and inspiration here. I want to read all of these books, preferably by myself in a remote cabin in the woods, but as that's not possible at the moment, I'll settle for seeing this thoughtful rumination on solitude, society, nature, civilization, and humanity.

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Getting Plowed: A Holiday Survival Guide" at Brave New Workshop

Friends, it's been way too long since I visited the Brave New Workshop, for no other reason than the theater world keeps me so busy I rarely have time to venture over to the adjacent comedy world. But last night I attended opening night of BNW's annual holiday show, Getting Plowed: A Holiday Survival Guide (continuing through January 4), and was reminded of how much fun it is. It's definitely different than the usual theater I attend - more fun and loose and playful - but still with talented and familiar performers who are experts at what they do. Which is write and perform silly, smart, timely, relatable, ridiculous comedy sketches. And this show is all about the holidays, in an irreverent sort of way that celebrates all that we love and hate about this time of year.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Steel Magnolias" at the Guthrie Theater

Steel Magnolias is not a new or particularly revolutionary play, but the reason it still resonates 30+ years after its premiere (and the popular 1989 movie adaptation) is that this story of female friendship, and the ways that women come together to support, challenge, and love each other, will never go out of style. Unlike the poofy bangs and high-waisted stone-washed jeans of the '80s. The Guthrie's new production of this late 20th Century classic features a terrific and mostly local all-female cast, plus an all-female creative team, that together bring out all of the "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion" feeling of the play. Steel Magnolias is warm and comforting, familiar and funny, moving and life-affirming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Great Big Rainbow World: The Musical" at the Playwrights' Center

Last night I attended a reading of a new original locally created musical, aka my favorite thing. Sarah Julius wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the semi-autobiographical musical Great Big Rainbow World, and is also the producer. GBRW already has a date and location for its first full production, next summer at Gremlin Theatre, and the team is raising money in support of that. I heard Sarah sing a song from the show at Musical Mondays this summer, and was intrigued enough to accept the invitation to attend to last night's reading. In her intro speech Sarah said this show was all about love and chosen family, and it definitely felt that way.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"Twin Cities Horror Festival" at the Southern Theater

The 8th annual Twin Cities Horror Festival concludes today, and surprisingly this was only my 2nd time attending. Or maybe not surprisingly; unlike my friends at Minnesota Theater Love, who love all things horror and TCHF, horror is not my thing, and Halloween is just another day to go to the theater and an excuse to buy half price candy the next day. But after spending the day at the Southern Theater yesterday, I realized that TCHF is just like a mini Minnesota Fringe Festival (drawing from the same pool of artists, with a similar structure), except that everything is a little spookier. Like Fringe it's a well run festival, but unlike Fringe you don't have to race between venues. You can just park yourself at the Southern for a few hours or a whole day. The festival concludes today with six shows, including two of the below five fantastic shows that I saw yesterday, so use that extra hour you gained to see some fun and spooky theater.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

"The Song of Summer" at Mixed Blood Theatre

After a pretty intense 2018-2019 season of plays that included Is God Is, the trilogy Prescient Harbingers, Roe, and Autonomy, Mixed Blood Theatre is beginning their 2019-2020 season with something a little lighter. Playwrights' Center Affiliated Writer Lauren Yee (whose work has been seen in #TCTheater most recently in the Guthrie's production of The Great Leap) brings us a sweet and fun play that's almost a rom-com. The Song of Summer is not without substance, dealing with relationships, pop culture, and celebrity, but the story at its heart is one we've seen many times before. But it's told in a unique framework with an appealing cast, so it's a story I'm happy to watch. It's OK for theater to be light and sweet and fun, even at Mixed Blood, especially when this well written, directed, and acted.

Friday, November 1, 2019

"Oh My God!" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

In Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's 25th Anniversary season, they're bringing us Israeli playwright Anat Gov's O my God!, an imagined therapy session with none other than God himself. As someone who doesn't believe in the God of the Bible, I found it a little hard to connect to, but still an interesting exploration of faith and philosophy. What there's no doubt about is that this excellent three-person cast, under Robert Dorfman's direction, makes the story feel real and grounded, despite the fantastical elements.