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.)