Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"Noises Off" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

The classic farce-within-a-farce Noises Off is a perfect choice for Lakeshore Players Theatre's winter show; two and a half hours of laughter will warm you up on a cold night. It's ridiculously funny and very meta as it gives us a glimpse into what it takes to make a show, and all the things that can go wrong. Fortunately for the real show, things go very right. Everyone in the nine-person cast as an absolute delight (most of them playing actors playing characters), and director Greta Grosch (of Church Basement Ladies fame) keeps everything hurtling towards the finish line in a beautiful display of organized chaos. Add to that the impressive set that you get to watch the hard-working four-person run crew transform not once but twice, and it's just an all-around good time. Sometimes what you need is what one of the characters says in the show: "I don't go to the theater to listen to other people's problems, I go to be taken out of myself, and hopefully not put back in again." This show delivers on that, although you likely will have to be put back in again when you go back out into the cold and not as funny real world. See Noises Off weekends through February 12 at Hanifl Performing Arts Center in lovely White Bear Lake, plus a pay-what-you-can performance on Monday February 6.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

"The Root Beer Lady" at History Theatre

My first visit to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was in February of 2016, when I went on an eco-spirituality dogsledding trip with my alma mater, College of St. Benedict. We stayed at Wintergreen Lodge in Ely (owned by Arctic explorer and St. John's alum Paul Schurke, member of Will Steger's 1986 dogsledding expedition to the North Pole), visited the headquarters of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign (which just recently had a huge win with a 20-year mining ban in the BWCAW watershed), and of course, traveled by dogsled through the pristine wilderness of Northern Minnesota. I was so enamored of the beauty and stillness of the place that I convinced my friend that we needed to do a canoeing trip. We signed up for Ely Outfitting Company's annual "Women in the Wilderness" trip that fall, where we were joined by other adventure- and nature-seeking women, led by our friendly and knowledgeable guide Kate, for an incredible four days and three nights in the BWCAW. I've traveled and hiked all over the world, but this is the most fully immersed in Nature, far away from any signs of civilization, that I've ever been. Our little group had such a wonderful time and got along so well that we reunited last summer for another amazing trip. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

"The Book Club Play" at Theatre in the Round

I used to be in a Book Club with a group of work friends. Once a month we would gather at someone's house, eat good food, drink wine, catch up on each other's lives, and maybe eventually get around to talking about the book. Which not everyone read, but I always did, and I would get frustrated that not many people wanted to actually talk about the book, at Book Club! I relate perhaps a little too much to the character Ana in Karen Zacarías'* hilarious play The Book Club Play, now on stage at Theatre in the Round. It's essentially a study of humanity as seen through the very specific phenomenon known as the Book Club. It's also an exploration of books, literature, art, and what makes some worthy and some not, some popular and some not. And are those two things mutually exclusive? You can see the very funny, real, and relatable The Book Club Play at the oldest theater in Minneapolis weekends through February 19.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

"The Girl on the Train" at Lyric Arts

Several years ago, everyone was reading The Girl on the Train. The hugely successful psychological thriller was published in 2015 and has sold over 20 million copies. It was soon followed by a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt, in 2016. But did you know that it was also adapted into a stage play? I didn't either, until Lyric Arts announced it as part of their 2022-2023 season. I wasn't sure if the trippy story filled with memories, flashbacks, and hallucinations would translate to the stage, but with some impressive technical elements employed by Lyric Arts, it does. A great cast, a suspenseful story (especially if you've never read the book or have forgotten the ending, like I had), and a tight interplay between recorded scenes and live performances make for an entertaining night (or afternoon) at the theater. Get some popcorn at the concession stand, and it's even better than going to the movies (continuing through February 5).

Monday, January 16, 2023

"The Belle of Amherst" at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis

The Woman's Club of Minneapolis has been around since 1907, and they've been in their current home since 1928 - the big beautiful building adjacent to Loring Park, which was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I saw a handful of shows there pre-pan (including Minnesota Fringe Festival shows, a Skylark Opera Theatre production, and that time I met Gavin Creel). I'm excited about their ongoing Arts and Culture program, which includes concerts and, hopefully, more theater events. A limited engagement of the solo play The Belle of Amherst, starring TV/film/theater actor Linda Kelsey, was there last weekend. There is a 600-seat theater on the lower level (where I saw Nickel Creek perform over 20 years ago), but the upstairs lounge area is a great performance space too (that's where Sue Scott's podcast Island of Discarded Women records live once a month or so). This play was in that space, which was just the perfect location for this story of Emily Dickinson's life and poetry. Unfortunately the short run is over (and sold out or very nearly), but keep an eye on The Woman's Club for upcoming events.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

"the bull-jean stories" at Pillsbury House Theatre

This year, Pillsbury House Theatre is presenting the work of playwright and author Sharon Bridgforth, whose work Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show they produced in 2018, about which I wrote "It's a piece that defies explanation, that maybe shouldn't be explained, but rather experienced." Their current production the bull-jean stories, to be followed by bull-jean/we wake this summer, is a little like that. The amazing Aimee K. Bryant plays a dozen or more characters, all telling stories about a woman known as bull-jean, or bulldog-jean, in a lyrical and non-linear way. It's really beautiful, moving, and almost dreamlike storytelling (continuing through February 5).

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Lorna Landvik Presents "Pages and Stages" at Bryant Lake Bowl

I navigated road closures, the poorly plowed streets of Uptown, and parking challenges to see local author/performer Lorna Landvik's new show Pages and Stages at Bryant Lake Bowl last night. And it was worth it, because the release of laughing (and singing) with a group of people is a great way to enter the new year. Lorna has started off many a year with her show Party in the Rec Room at Bryant Lake Bowl, and this show is similar (but without the margaritas made on stage). Combining storytelling, improv, singalongs, and discussions of her books, Lorna entertains the crowd for 90 minutes. But more than that, she makes us feel part of the event. She's so personable and naturally funny, and very Minnesotan (despite her time spent in L.A., of which she has many great stories). She chats with the audience in a non-threatening way (but maybe don't sit in the front row if you don't want to be asked questions), asks for improv suggestions, and really makes an effort to reach out to everyone in BLB's little theater (even adjusting her mike when people in the back said they couldn't hear her). If you're a fan of her books, or of Party in the Rec Room, or just need a night of fun and congenial laughter, go see Lorna any Friday or Saturday in January.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Jungle Theater Presents "King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild"

I don't know why someone would decide to premiere a new work of theater for a week in early January in Minnesota, but those of us who attended one of the seven performances during and after the biggest snowstorm of the season are lucky that the creators of King Gilgamesh & The Man of the Wild did just that. Seth Bockley, Ahmed Moneka, and Jesse LaVercombe (the latter familiar to Jungle audience from his performances in the beloved Christmas at Pemberley plays) have developed this work the last five years, with several workshops, some in Minnesota, and are debuting the finished product at the Jungle as part of their "Jungle Presents" series, in a nearly sold-out run. Next, they're taking it to the Under the Radar Festival in NYC, and who knows where beyond that. This mash-up of one of the oldest stories ever told with the creators' real-life stories is beautifully told, with music and movement, in a thoughtful, polished, funny, moving, and life-affirming way.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

2022 #TCTheater Favorites - Finally, a Full Year of Theater!

2019 was a fantastic year of theater, during which I saw over 200 shows. Then came 2020, and a global pandemic that shut down theater for much of that year and into the next. With increasing vaccinations and decreasing infection rates, theater came back in the fall of 2021, but not without cancelled performances and entire productions due to new variants and higher infection rates in the winter months. It hasn't been an easy road, with the COVID requirements put in place by Actors Equity (union) for the safety of artists and patrons, a significant decrease in theater attendance, and financial instability that caused at least two local theaters to suspend all performances. But if there's one thing we've learned the past few years, it's that artists will find a way to make art. I couldn't be happier that in 2022 I finally experienced a full year of theater again, with some really amazing and creative work by our intrepid local theaters. From the Broadway tour of Come From Away in January (during which they flew in cast members from across US and Canada to keep the show up and running in the high Omicron days), to my second viewing of Theater Latte Da's new holiday classic Christmas at the Local on New Year's Eve, I saw about 140 theater performances in Minnesota (not counting a few out of state theater trips and 23 Minnesota Fringe shows in 7 whirlwind days), which is a pretty great bounce-back from the last two years, if not quite up to pre-pan levels. And now I have the difficult task of narrowing down the amazing shows I saw this year to a small list of favorites. Here are my 10 (or so) favorite musicals, plays, new work, and more.