Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Update

The world turned upside down.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Silent Sky" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Bell Museum

'Tis the season for Lauren Gunderson's smart, funny, modern, and inspiring plays about female scientists in history, and I am here for it (keep 'em coming, #TCTheater). A week after seeing DalekoArts' lovely production of Ada and the Engine (about mathematician and computer programmer Ada Lovelace), I saw Theatre Pro Rata's production of Silent Sky (about astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, which I had seen at Lyric Arts a few years ago). It's a great play, but what makes this production truly special is that it is staged in the planetarium at the Bell Museum on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. Despite the fact that I got my graduate degree (in statistics, you can see why I'm so drawn to women in science plays) at the U of M, I didn't even know this museum existed (in my defense, the gorgeous new building just opened a year and a half ago). I hope to return to tour the museum sometime, but my first experience to it (through theater, natch) was a wonderful one. Being able to look up at the stars as Henrietta talked about them made the story feel so real. A truly inspired pairing of play and location by Theatre Pro Rata.

"Spamtown, USA" at Children's Theatre Company

A character in the new play Spamtown, USA, premiering at Children's Theatre Company, says that writing a play about the mid-'80s Hormel strike in Austin MN is a horrible idea. He couldn't be more wrong. CTC has a way of speaking to children in an intelligent and engaging way, as does playwright Philip Dawkins (see also: The Sneetches). One of my favorite playwrights, Philip Dawkins never doesn't make me cry with his lovely and touching depiction of the full range of humanity, and this play is no exception. It's less about the intricate details of the strike, and more about how the people, in particular the children, of Austin were affected by it. In an endearing bit of fourth-wall breaking, the play admits that some of the facts and timelines are mixed up, but the emotions are true. At it's heart it's a story about how family, community, and friends survive a deep conflict that divides them in a way that seems irreparable. Sounds like a great idea for a play to me.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

"The Convert" by Frank Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

Two years ago, the Guthrie premiered a new play Familiar by Danai Gurira. You may know her from a little movie called Black Panther or the obscure TV show The Walking Dead, but before her success on the big and small screen she started her career in theater, including at St. Paul's Macalester College. Now Frank Theatre is bringing us the regional premiere of her 2012 play The Convert, having previously produced Eclipsed in 2010 (which went on to become Danai's first show on Broadway). While Familiar is a dramedy about a Zimbabwean-Minnesotan family (based on her own), The Convert is a much more serious look at the history of Zimbabwe, in particular the colonialism and missionary work in which the English tried to subdue, subjugate, and convert the native Shona people. In particular it tells the story of one young woman who seems to happily convert to Roman Catholicism, but feels conflict at leaving the ways of her people behind. It's an intense play that humanizes the people on all sides of this conflict, as always thoroughly and thoughtfully realized by director Wendy Knox, the strong seven-person cast, and the creative team.

Friday, February 21, 2020

"Ordway Cabaret: Gotta Dance!" at the Ordway Concert Hall

The Ordway began their second year of the "Ordway Cabaret" series with "Gotta Dance!" This fantastic series of one-night only cabaret shows not only features our amazing local music-theater community, but also allows the performers to tell their own story about what musicals have meant to them in their life. We all are drawn to the theater for different reasons at different times in our lives, whether as performers or audience, and it's wonderful to connect with the artists in this way. Dancing has always been a part of the series, with some choreographed or semi-choreographed numbers. But in this installment, dance takes center stage - literally! It really reminded me of a #TCTheater version of A Chorus Line, but more casual and intimate and true. Read on to find out what you missed, then stay tuned for details about the next installment!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Twelfth Night" at the Guthrie Theater

For their annual Shakespeare production, the Guthrie is bringing us a truly delightful, innovative, and playful rendition of the comedy Twelfth Night. And in a surprising and wonderful choice, the cast is 100% local. I'm someone who often calculates that percentage at the Guthrie, and while I appreciate the chance to see national talent on the local stage, I'm also the biggest fan of our #TCTheater community, so I always want that percentage to be higher. It's wonderful to see that rich, deep, broad, diverse, incredibly talented community 100% represented on stage in this production. The show is as Shakespeare's comedies are meant to be - fun, playful, accessible, almost interactive, heartfelt, and hilarious.

Monday, February 17, 2020

"Significant Other" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company is continuing their 25th anniversary season with the regional premiere of the 2017 Broadway play Significant Other. They last produced the work of NYC-based playwright Joshua Harmon several years ago with Bad Jews. Both plays are smart and sharp modern comedies with depth, but while Bad Jews was about cultural identity and family, Significant Other is about, well, finding a significant other. Society put so much pressure on us to be coupled, a pressure that our protagonist Jordan feels increasingly strongly as he watches his friends get married. MJTC's production is top notch and features a fantastic cast and elegant deceptively simple design. If you've not been to MJTC lately, this is a great time to check them out.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

"Ada and the Engine" at DalekoArts

Lauren Gunderson currently holds the title of the most produced playwright in America (see: her Pride and Prejudice fan fiction produced annually at the Jungle). Her plays often center on female heroes, fictional or historical. It's no wonder her plays are frequently produced; this is exactly the kind of play we're hungry for right now. DalekoArts is producing the regional premiere of Ada and the Engine, a play about 19th century mathematician and arguably the world's first computer programmer Ada Lovelace. This smart, funny, poignant (spoiler alert: Ada died young), insightful play is beautifully realized by DalekoArts and 100% worth the drive to charming New Prague.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

"The World Over" at Open Window Theatre

It's been almost four years since Open Window Theatre lost their space in Minneapolis due to a conflict with the landlord that resulted in a multi-year lawsuit, which they eventually won. Now they're back in a brand new space in Inver Grove Heights (about ten miles south of St. Paul). They're presenting two shows this spring in what looks like a strip mall in the suburbs, in which they've created a nice space with an intimate theater. The World Over, which opened this weekend and runs through March 15, is a fitting story of overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a singular goal.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"Daddy Long Legs" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the James J. Hill House


The first act of Minneapolis Musical Theatre's Daddy Long Legs, playing at the historic James J. Hill House, is perfectly lovely. I assume the second act is too; I didn't get to see it because I had to move my car due to a snow emergency and there was nowhere else to park. I had no other choice but to go home, which breaks my heart because never in my life have I left a show at intermission and I never voluntarily would, I think it's disrespectful. But despite the unfortunate early end to the show, I still enjoyed the experience. This regional premiere of the 2015 Off-Broadway musical, based on the 1912 novel of the same name, is well worth seeing; it's a charming story with a beautiful score, and this is a lovely and intimate production by MMT.

Monday, February 10, 2020

"Superman Becomes Lois Lane" at History Theatre

A year after it began, HERstory continues at St. Paul's History Theatre. But this HER had to work a little harder to claim that correct pronoun that many of us take for granted. Superman Becomes Lois Lane is the true story of the playwright Susan Kimberly, who transitioned to her correct gender as a bit of a public figure in St. Paul in the 1980s, and went on to become the first transgender woman to serves as deputy mayor of a major American city. It's an engaging and inspirational story, told in a fantastical yet grounded way, that provides insight into one person's journey to their truest self.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

"After the Fires" by Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

Transatlantic Love Affair is a unique #TCTheater company. Unique in their process (ensemble created work rather than a set script, although other companies in town do that too), unique in their execution (they create the entire world of the play with their bodies and voices only, without the use of sets or props), and unique in the feeling evoked by their work (indescribable). They often reintrepret fairy tales or classic stories that we all know, but sometimes create new fairy tales as well. Their latest work After the Fires, playing at Illusion Theater through February 22, is an example of the latter. It's an original story that feels like an old story, a story of courage, adventure, nature, and community.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

"Skeleton Crew" at Yellow Tree Theatre, a co-production with New Dawn Theatre

What better time than Black History Month for Yellow Tree Theatre to partner with New Dawn Theatre to present their first play (to my knowledge) with a black cast, director, and playwright? Looking around the suburban Osseo theater, I didn't see many people of color, but prolific and talented playwright Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew, while being a specific story of the African American experience, is also a universal story of people struggling to survive and thrive in America. And if there's anything I've learned from Penumbra Theatre, it's that the African American experience is an important part of the American experience, and African American stories are stories that we all need to hear to better understand the world that we live in (see also Penumbra's The White Card). The fantastic four-person cast, along with the director and design team, beautifully bring this story to life.

Friday, February 7, 2020

"The White Card" at Penumbra Theatre

"Perhaps this play might seem an odd choice, with such a [mostly white] cast, during Black History Month. But for me it is exactly the point. Rather than spend the month extolling the accomplishments of African Americans, it seems critical at this juncture of American history that we instead task white people with the fight against rising racism and bigotry in this country. That fight must be waged in living rooms and dining rooms as well as the Senate and the streets. That fight begins with critical self-examination." So notes Penumbra Theatre Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy in a note in the program for The White Card, which does exactly as she describes. The difficult conversations that arise when a black artist has dinner with white patrons of black art, who think that they're helping the cause of racial equality and justice but don't fully comprehend the problems or their place in them, are exactly the kinds of difficult conversations we need to be having right now. This is a play that white people need to see to gain some perspective and further that process of critical self-examination. It's very smartly and succinctly written, and sharply brought to life by the team at Penumbra.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Broadway Tour of "Once on this Island" at the Ordway Center

The 2018 Best Revival Tony winner Once on this Island is bringing all of the warmth, joy, and sorrow of a Caribbean island to frozen Minnesota. Based on a book that's based on The Little Mermaid, it tells the familiar story of a young woman who falls in love with a man she rescues on the beach, giving up her life for him, only to be rejected. But here the twist is that this young woman's love changed the world for the better. The beautiful thing about Once on this Island is the storytelling employed. It starts with a community gathered around a common space and telling a story to a frightened little girl, which humanity has been doing for millennia. This feels very much like that ancient tradition, only with a few more theatrical tricks. Head to St. Paul's Ordway Center this weekend to experience this wonderful story.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at the Playwrights' Center


Have you been to The Playwrights' Center lately? Their Ruth Easton New Play Series is in full swing, in which they present two readings of a new work of theater the first (or second) week of the month, December through April. Unfortunately I can't make it to all of them, but the ones I have seen have been creative, interesting, new, and read by a fab cast full of #TCTheater faves. You never know what you're going to get at PWC, so why not take a chance and be part of the new play development process? Read on for more details on this month's reading and other readings in the series, then head out to the Playwrights' Center tonight to catch the second reading of Malvolio! Did I mention it's FREE?!

Monday, February 3, 2020

"The Ugly One" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Open Eye Figure Theatre

The Ugly One (aka Der Häßliche auf Deutsch) is a funny and absurd little play that skewers our obsession with looks, in particular the concepts of "beautiful" and "ugly." Unfortunately the protagonist is an able bodied white male of average height and weight, which is the least likely person to be discriminated against because of looks. In the workplace, women are expected to wear make-up, people of color sometimes can't have natural hairstyles, older people are expected to color their hair to look younger, and people with different body shapes, sizes, or abilities face looks-based discrimination most often. Which makes the story of a man who's so ugly he's overlooked at work seem a little unlikely, but maybe that's the point. Maybe he represents how silly and unfair all looks-based discrimination is. Regardless, Walking Shadow Theatre Company's 70-minute production is well done - delightfully odd, funny, and does make one think about all of the above issues.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

"Peerless" by Theater Mu at Gremlin Theatre

Peerless is a super dark comedy (sort of) about twin teenage girls who will stop at literally nothing to get into a prestigious college. For this regional premiere, Theater Mu has lured back to town a couple of alums, sisters Francesca and Isabella Dawis, to play the twins. Their independent and codependent performances anchor the strong cast that, along with clever design, brings out all of the dark corners of this sharply and smartly written play. The relatively short run continues Wednesday through Sunday for the next two weekends  at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul, next door to Lake Monster Brewing which has daily food trucks, the perfect set up for dinner, drinks, and a show. (Click here for info and tickets.)

Monday, January 27, 2020

"The Bridges of Madison County" at Artistry

As frequent readers of this blog may know, I'm not generally a fan of turning movies into musicals. And I'm not sure that the 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County, adapted from the 1992 best-sellimg novel by Robert James Waller, was crying out to be a musical. But I am sure that Jason Robert Brown's score is one of the best musical theater scores ever written. And not just because it's absolutely stunning to listen to, but also because it so effectively expresses the emotions of the characters. The music makes you feel what they feel, so much so that I was blowing my nose into a tear-soaked tissue at the end of Artistry's regional premiere production. This is perhaps a story that plays better on a smaller stage, tender and intimate, so I'm thrilled to finally see a #TCTheater production. Artistry has assembled simply the best local cast you could ask for and created a show so gorgeous that it's not to be missed. As I wrote about the tour a few years ago, and is even more true now, "If you're a fan of music-theater, or just music in general, go see this show to experience one of the best scores coming out of Broadway in recent years, wrapped up in a sweeping romance."

Sunday, January 26, 2020

"The Madwoman of Minneapolis" by The BAND Group at Calvary Baptist Church

The little theater in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church is becoming one of my favorite theater venues, because it's intimate and versatile. The latest example is The BAND Group's adaptation of the mid 20th Century French satire The Madwoman of Chaillot, which they're calling The Madwoman of Minneapolis. They've turned the space into a cafe, complete with food and drinks, which makes for an immersive and intimate (but not interactive, thankfully) experience of this charming little story, with a message of environmentalism and community over consumerism that couldn't be more timely.

Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" at Children's Theatre Company

"Don't worry about a thing
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright!"
Bob Marley's most well known lyrics describe exactly the feeling one gets from watching Children's Theatre Company's* production of Three Little Birds. In just over an hour, this sweet and fantastical story plays out, about a scared and isolated boy who learns to be brave with the help of his friends, both human and bird. I must confess, I know very little about Bob Marley or his native Jamaica, and I'm not familiar with more than a few of his songs. This show is a great introduction to his music and his message, and it makes me want to board the next flight to Jamaica!

Friday, January 24, 2020

"A Flight of Short Musicals" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

For the last three years, Theatre Elision has been bringing us short rarely done or original musicals. With A Flight of Short Musicals, they're bringing us six super short rarely done or original musicals, all in one night! They're all truly delightful and unexpected, at least one locally written, and performed by a talented local cast. If that weren't enough, your admission also includes a flight of three drinks (wine, or alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktails), delivered to your seat during short intermissions. It makes for a really fun and special evening of enjoying new music and drinks. Unfortunately what's also short is the run of the show - only two performances remain! So head to the cozy and welcoming new Elision Playhouse in Crystal (on 42nd Ave just off 100) this weekend to catch this fun and original evening of music-theater (click here for more info and to reserve tickets).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Noura" at the Guthrie Theater

The night after seeing Jungle Theater's production of Lucas Hnath's sequel to Ibsen's A Doll's House, I saw Heather Raffo's Noura at the Guthrie Theater, which is, among many other things, a response to A Doll's House. But it's a much different story. This Noura is in an actually good marriage, not just a seemingly good marriage, with a supportive husband. But yet, as the playwright says in a note in a playbill, "women all around me, in strong marriages with truly great husbands, were drowning." But it's not just her role in her marriage that Noura is questioning, she's also questioning her very identity as an Iraqi refugee and new American citizen. She mourns for the culture and the community that she has lost, desperately trying to recreate it on different shores with a scattered family, and finally becoming overwhelmed by it all. As she says in the play, "I don't know how to let go and hold on at the same time." This is a devastating play, that brings to light issues of worldwide refugees, the destruction of war, cultures lost, individualism vs. community, and personal identity. It's incredibly current and relevant, and beautifully presented by the cast and creative team.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"A Doll's House, Part 2" at the Jungle Theater

When I saw A Doll's House a few years ago I was struck by how much 19th century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's 140-year-old play still resonates. A few years ago playwright Lucas Hnath wrote a sequel that takes place 15 years later, so approaching the turn of the last century, but written with modern language and sensibilities. It feels both of its time and of our time. A Doll's House, Part 2 furthers the conversation that Ibsen began around marriage and women's role in society. And while maybe it's true that "we've come a long way, baby," history is full of steps forward and backward in terms of human rights, and this is a conversation that feels particularly important to have today. The Jungle Theater's regional premiere is beautifully done, as to be expected by the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' favorite theater of 2019.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2020

January may be the depths of winter in Minnesota, but it also brings one of my favorite theater events of the year. History Theatre, or HERstory Theatre as it's currently known, holds workshops and a public reading of four new works of theater in what they call their "Raw Stages" festival. For a theater that produces as many world premieres as History Theatre (something like 70% of their work is new), this is an important part of their season. This is my seventh year attending Raw Stages, and it's super fun to see a reading of an exciting new work, typically about a true Minnesota story, and then watch it continue to develop and often receive a full production a season or two later. In fact History Theatre's next three productions this year were part of last year's Raw Stages - Superman Becomes Lois Lane, Not for Sale, and Runestone! A Rock Musical. I only missed one of this year's readings (thanks, winter), and they're all really exciting work that I hope to see more of. A post-show discussion follows every reading, which is often the most moving part as people who lived and remember the story share their experiences. It's a powerful experience in and of itself, and also provides a glimpse behind the scenes. What follows is a short description of each play and my thoughts.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"Bernarda Alba" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da's area premiere of Bernarda Alba is unlike anything I've seen. The musical adaptation of the play The House of Bernarda Alba by Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca premiered in 2006, but the play was written in 1936 and first performed in 1945. It tells the story of a widow and her five adult daughters, who are suffering under their mother's strict control of their lives and bodies. The score is complex, haunting, and gorgeous, and the depiction of the lack of freedom and limited roles of women in society is sobering and not unfamiliar. Bernarda Alba feels different than a typical musical; when I attended opening night there was no applause during the show, partly because it doesn't follow the usual structure of clearly differentiated songs and dialogue with scripted applause breaks, and partly because it felt like we were under a spell we didn't want to break. It's a complicated piece,* and cast and creative team pull it off beautifully.

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Black Comedy" at Theatre in the Round

When looking at the #TCTheater schedule for the second weekend of 2020, I saw Black Comedy at Theatre in the Round and thought - what's that? I went to their website to check it out and saw the below photo of Josh Carson and Don Maloney, and my immediate thought was - yes, please! You might know Josh from his Fringe shows or his sold out annual parody A Very Die Hard Christmas, and Don from various shows at Lyric Arts (and other stages around town) including a very funny Odd Couple. Not only was I correct in my choice to see these two in a comedy, but the entire cast is fantastic in what is a classic British '60s farce of a play, with detailed and clever design to make this comedy in the dark really shine.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

"Bloomsday" at Lyric Arts

A character in Steven Dietz's play Bloomsday says something like, "a sunny day is nice, but on a rainy day the ache for the sun is nicer." This distinctly Irish sentiment is a good description of this bittersweet story of a pair of star-crossed lovers meeting across space and time. It may not be a happy ending, but the ache for these two characters to find happiness is grand. Lyric Arts' new production features a strong four-person cast and lovely design that bring us right into this charming and unconventional love story.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The 77th "Musical Mondays" at LUSH, January 2020

What better way to celebrate the beginning of the 2020s than to look back at some great musical theater songs from the 1920s? For their 77th show, Musical Mondays did just that. Hosted by talented #TCTheater artists and BFFs Sheena Janson Kelley and Max Wojtanowicz, this popular monthly cabaret series at LUSH Bar in Northeast Minneapolis showcases different local talent every month. Also different every month is the theme, which gives musical theater fans like myself the chance to take a deep dive into a specific genre and learn a little bit more about musical theater history, while enjoying a fun and entertaining night, at the cost of a suggested $5 donation (which goes directly to the artists). This series should definitely be on the radar of every local music-theater fan. Their next show is on February 3; follow their Facebook page for the announcement of theme and performers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Lorna Landvik's "Party in the Rec Room" at Bryant-Lake Bowl


It's the new year, and that means it's time for another Party in the Rec Room at Bryant-Lake Bowl! Local "author/entertainer/antic dealer" Lorna Landvik returns with her annual improv performance/party. I've not read her books or seen her show before but I've heard good things. Plus I love dinner and a 7pm 90-minute show at Bryant-Lake Bowl (doors open at 6, with dinner and drink service before and during the show). It was obvious last Saturday night that much of the audience were fans and returnees, and came ready to have fun! Lorna entertained with improvised scenes and songs using her particular brand of Minnesota humor, and her comfort on stage and genuine rapport with the audience made for a fun evening.

"Becky Shaw" at Gremlin Theatre

Just who is Becky Shaw and why does she have a play named after her? That's a good question, and even after seeing Gremlin Theatre's production I'm not sure I know. But I think maybe she's a little bit like the gentleman caller. It's not really about her, but about what she represents. She's a catalyst for change in one family's life. A family full of horrible people saying horrible things and treating each other horribly. Yes, Becky Shaw is one of those plays, one of those unlikable people plays that make you laugh but also feel guilty about laughing. If you're looking to start this new decade with positivity and light, this is not it. But if you're looking for a super dark comedy about despicable people, meet Becky Shaw!

Friday, January 3, 2020

2019 #TCTheater Favorites

Happy New Year #TCTheater friends! This is the 10th year-end wrap up I have written on this blog; this summer I will mark 10 years of writing about theater in Minneapolis and St. Paul. That's a lot of theater, and a lot to love. This year I saw about 200 shows (not counting 29 Fringe shows), and I would like to share with you some of my favorite experiences of the year.