Monday, December 23, 2019

"Holidays with Bing" at Old Log Theatre

I grew up listening to Bing Crosby‘s Christmas album - the actual record played on an actual record player (this was before listening to records became hip, it was just how we listened to music in the old days). Bing Crosby had a long and varied career, but he’s perhaps most associated with Christmas music, specifically the movie White Christmas (one of my faves), specifically the song "White Christmas." So when C. Ryan Shipley debuted his spot on Bing Crosby impression this summer at Old Log Theatre's Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, it was inevitable that we would get a full Bing Christmas show. Which brings us to December, and the sold out shows every Sundays at 6:30. Judging by the reception from the multi-generational crowd, Ryan may be stuck doing his Bing show for years to come, which is a Christmas gift to us all. Holidays with Bing is like that iconic Bing Crosby Christmas record come to life, full of all those warm and comforting feelings of nostalgia for those of us who grew up with it.

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Happy Holi-Dane" at History Theatre

A few nights ago, I attended a super fun old fashion holiday variety show, live! The one night only event Happy Holi-Dane was presented as part of the History Theatre's new History Theatre presents series. Hosted by Dane Stauffer, star of History Theatre's smash hit original musical Glensheen (which is returning next summer to St. Paul and Alexandria), the show also featured Dane's talented friends, including some of the Glensheen cast. Dane is an amiable and personable host, and the evening was full of songs, skits, laughs, singalongs, and touching moments, just like those holiday variety specials of old.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

"Blackout Improv" at Mixed Blood Theatre

Friends, it's been too long since I've seen Blackout Improv. Now in their fifth year, this all-POC improv troupe performs every third Monday at Mixed Blood Theatre. Now that #TCTheater is winding down for the holidays, I was finally able to go see a show, just in time for their year end/holiday show. If they're not already, Blackout Improv should definitely be on your radar going into 2020 for the unique perspective and performance style they bring to the Twin Cities performing arts scene.

Monday, December 16, 2019

"Adventures in Mating: Holiday Edition" at DalekoArts

I loved reading choose-your-own-adventure books as a kid. It was so exciting to have a bit of a control over where the story was going, to flip back and forth to specified pages based on your own choice. Who knew there was a theatrical version of this particular thrill? #TCTheater artist Joseph Scrimshaw created such a thing for the Minnesota Fringe Festival years ago, called Adventures in Mating. It was so popular he expanded it, and it was produced elsewhere, including at DalekoArts as part of their "Friends of Friends" weekend series. I'd never seen it before making the beautiful winter's drive to DalekoArts in New Prague, where they're premiering an updated holiday* version of Adventures in Mating. It's hilarious and awkward and delightful, and also has that particular choose-your-own-adventure thrill of being in control of where the story is going. They say anything can happen in theater, but this show takes that to a new level, keeping the actors and crew on their toes as we decide their fate. And as expected, the team at DalekoArts does that dance beautifully.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

"The Great Strike Theater Improvised Bake Off" at Strike Theater

#TCTheater friends, I think I have a new favorite holiday* comedy tradition. Cooking and baking shows are hugely popular; in particular, people love The Great British Baking Show almost to a point of obsession. The Great Strike Theater Improvised Bake-Off plays on all of that to bring us a truly delightful, hilarious, and fabulous-smelling show. Not only do they pay loving homage to all of the delightful quirks of these shows (the tent! the showstopper! the awkward/funny host banter!), but there is actual baking happening on stage with a finished product that the judges actually eat. And it's all improvised! Well except for the baking, hopefully they have a recipe they're following. This installment features two rounds of semi-finals (one of which I attended), and the winner of each compete tonight (Saturday) in the finals.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"The Band's Visit" Broadway tour at the Orpheum Theatre

This morning my yoga teacher asked us to think of something that was magic. It should come as no surprise that my immediate thought was: theater. I can't think of anything more magical than a couple of thousand strangers sitting in a room together and being transported to a tiny town in the middle of the desert in Israel, hearing the stories of people who may live in a very different place than us, may speak a different language, may have different beliefs, but with whom we connect and relate to via our shared humanity. And really, this is what The Band's Visit is all about. People who may seem very different coming together and sharing a very real and human, if momentary, connection through music and stories. It's such a simple and beautiful story, and one that this divided world needs to hear now more than ever. Which is why I'm so glad that this 2018 ten-time Tony Award winner, which just closed on Broadway in April, is touring the country so that ordinary people in ordinary towns can experience this extraordinary story of ordinary people in an ordinary town. That's the kind of magic that can change the world.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"Immortal" by Trademark Theater at Camp Bar

The latest creation from new #TCTheater company Trademark Theater is a solo show created and performed by its Artistic Director Tyler Michaels King. Immortal has been in development for a while, and for the last three weeks Tyler and his collaborators workshopped the project, culminating in a one-night only performance at Camp Bar last night. Hopefully this is not the last we see of the aging crooner F. Amos Lee, and he'll make his return in some form or another in the coming years.

Monday, December 9, 2019

"Dog Act" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

Dog Act is a little like The Walking Dead, but with entertainers. Because even in an apocalypse (zombie or otherwise), we still need to tell our stories, and be entertained by storytelling. In Dog Act, produced by Fortune's Fool Theatre at Gremlin, a traveling performer and her dog/person try to survive in a post-apocolyptic world that, much like the TWD universe, consists of scavengers and worse, people who will stop at nothing to survive. Those are the ideas explored in this weird but oddly sweet play, well executed by the Fortune's Fool team.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Family Dinner" and "The Mess" at HUGE Improv Theater

Family Dinner is my favorite show at HUGE Improv Theater in Uptown. It comes around this time every year, with shows on Fridays and Saturdays all through November and December, most of which sell out. Now in their eighth year at HUGE, it's basically the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol (as creator Molly Ritchie said). I attended with my Twin Cities Theater Blogger friends old (Minnesota Theater Love, Twin Cities Stages, Bite-Sized Beet) and new (The Stages of MN, The Global Dig, and Millennial in the Mezzanine), and a good time was had by all. HUGE is a great option for a fun outing this time of year, or any time of year. Buy tickets for one show only, or save on a two- or three-show pass. And you will want to get your Family Dinner tickets in advance - they will sell out.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"The Norwegians" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

Seven years after their debut, during which time they've brought us a couple of dark and stormy little plays every year, Dark and Stormy Productions is doing their first remount. If you're going to remount a show, the hilarious and very Minnesotan dark comedy The Norwegians, first presented in 2016, is a great choice. This story of two Southern women so beaten down by Minnesota winters and bad relationships that they hire Norwegian gangsters to kill their exes is worth seeing again. In 2016 I called the play "a cross between a Prairie Home Companion sketch and an episode of Fargo, with more edge than the former but without the latter's ominous cloud of despair." They've reunited most of the original cast and creative team, with a few new faces, for what is once again is a very funny, entertaining, and intimate anti-holiday* #TCTheater choice.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

"SIX" at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

The history of the British monarchy has inspired countless works of entertainment, from Shakespeare plays to Netflix series. And now it has inspired a fabulously feminist pop musical. In just over two years, SIX (written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss while students at Cambridge) has gone from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to London's West End to Broadway, where it will premiere next spring after wrapping up the month-long run at the Ordway. Structured as a pop concert, SIX allows the six wives of Henry VIII to tell their own stories. This musical couldn't have come at a better time, when we're hungry for women's stories, for women to tell their own stories instead of being defined by men, as history has defined these six women by their marriage to a king. SIX's reputation precedes it; young musical theater fans in the know have been obsessively listening to the London cast recording for months, and the US production is surrounded by huge buzz. The opening night audience was ready for this show, responding enthusiastically to their favorite moments that they knew were coming. I knew nothing about the show going into it, and was hugely impressed by this smart, funny, clever, modern, fresh, and wildly entertaining musical. It's a rare thing that we get to see the next Broadway sensation in Minnesota before they see it in New York, and #TCTheater music-theater fans would be wise not to miss this chance.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

"A Very Die Hard Christmas" at Bryant Lake Bowl

I've never seen the popular 1988 action movie Die Hard, so for years I resisted seeing what has become an insanely popular holiday* tradition - A Very Die Hard Christmas at Bryant Lake Bowl (the 10pm showtime also kept me away). But this year, I finally had to see what everyone was raving about, especially since they added a few 8pm shows for us morning people. I'm still not sure I understand why it's so popular (this year they sold out the entire run before they even opened), but it is a super fun show chock full of pop culture references (of the '80s and Christmas varieties), with very funny performances by the cast. I've never seen such a packed and enthusiastic BLB audience. People love the show, and the team loves doing it, and I guess that's what makes it such a popular and long-standing tradition.

Monday, December 2, 2019

"The Viking and the Gazelle" by The Waterfront Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

The independently produced Minnesota Fringe play The Viking and the Gazelle is being remounted at Mixed Blood Theatre this December with a mostly new cast. Producers (under the name The Waterfront Productions) and co-writers William and Suzanne Bengston based the play on their experiences as an interracial couple. It's an interesting premise and the play includes some good discussions, bringing up some important issues like institutional racism and white spaces that hopefully encourage discussion amongst those who see it. But there's no nuance or subtlety; every character is one extreme or the other, so much so that they feel less like real people and more like caricatures of certain "types" of people. Still, these are important conversations to be had.

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.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

"Open" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Off-Leash Art Box

Apologies for the late notice (October was a really busy #TCTheater month), but you have just three more chances to experience a really unique and special show. Walking Shadow's production of Crystal Skillman's new play Open (this is just the second production!) is all around magical storytelling. And such a beautiful and tragic story it tells. In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams as Tom says the stage magician "gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion." This play is definitely the latter. The playwright uses the framework of magic to tell an all too real story of a horrific hate crime. This "illusion" is beautifully realized by the entire team at Walking Shadow and #TCTheater favorite Allison Witham in her best performance to date. If you have a spare 65 minutes this weekend, I can't think of a better way to spend them than with Open (click here for info and tickets).

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Playwrights' Center's Annual PlayLabs Festival

It's late October again, my #TCTheater friends, and that means it's time for my favorite fall theater festival* - PlayLabs at the Playwrights' Center! Every October, they invite three playwrights to workshop a new play and then host two free readings of each play throughout the week and weekend. A party and showcase of this year's fellows round out the weekend. This year brings an additional special event - a talk on the climate crisis, and the theater community's role in it, by Tim Guinee, a NYC-based theater/TV/film actor (including the 2005 Minnesota-made movie Sweet Land, one of my personal favorites) who founded an organization called Climate Actors. You can find information on all of the events at this link, as well as registration for the events.

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Macbeth" by Wayward Theatre Company at the James J. Hill House

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's creepiest and darkest plays. Which makes it a perfect choice to produce during Halloween season, at the James J. Hill House which, while elegant during the day, is a bit creepy after hours. Wayward Theatre Company, experts at site-specific theater, is doing not only that, but also moving the audience around the house to eight different performance locations. For a three-hour play, the walking around adds interest and keeps the blood flowing. This intimate and immersive (but not interactive) show feels immediate and brings out all of the horror of this tale of unbridled greed.

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 of 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.