Friday, May 26, 2023

"Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche" by Melancholics Anonymous at Center for Performing Arts

The title says it all: Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Well, maybe not all. There's also an apocalyptic event, romance, tragedies, and secrets revealed, not to mention the fact that it's the 1950s, a time when it wasn't safe or acceptable for women to call themselves lesbians. Melancholics Anonymous' production of this funny, subversive, and a little bit gruesome play is a good way to spend 70 minutes on a summer evening. But hurry, there are only three shows left! (Click here for all the deets.)

Thursday, May 25, 2023

"Murder on the Orient Express" at the Guthrie Theater

One of Agatha Christie's most well-known mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express, was first adapted to the stage just six years ago. Playwright Ken Ludwig brings his usual fun, fast, high-energy style to the adaptation. Previously unfamiliar* with the material, I found the Guthrie's new production to be constantly surprising and delightful. The production design that depicts an elegant art deco European train is stunning, and the ten-person mostly local cast is truly an embarrassment of riches. This Orient Express is pure entertainment from start to finish - a smart adaptation of a classic mystery perfectly executed by the cast and creative team, and even with a bit of depth as the famous detective Hercule Poirot contemplates the nature of justice and his role in it. Hop on board the Orient Express now through July 2

Monday, May 22, 2023

"Antigonick" by Full Circle Theater Company at Mixed Blood Theatre

Full Circle Theater often produces new work, but this spring they're doing one of the oldest plays in theater. Sophocles (or Sophokles) wrote Antigone a couple of millennia ago, as part of the Oedipus trilogy (you know, the guy who famously murdered his father and married his mother). But this new translation, by classics scholar Anne Carson, is probably unlike any Greek play you've ever seen, and in that way, Full Circle is continuing their tradition of producing new, inclusive, relevant work. In a talkback after the show I attended, director Martha B. Johnson noted that this play is the only one Anne wrote not on commission, and it began as a graphic novel. She called the translation "startling;" Full Circle co-Artistic Director Rick Shiomi called it "wild." But the playwright insists it's a translation not an adaptation, saying (quoted in the program), "Everything I've done in the translation is an attempt to convey a move or shock or darkening that happens in the original text. This doesn't always mean reproducing the words and sentences of the original in their same order; but a play is a collection of actions or doings, this is what needs to be rendered from Greek into English." Her translation makes this ancient play feel alive, using lyrical language composed in interesting ways. Full Circle takes an equally creative approach, adding movement, and the talented 12-person cast beautifully brings the vision to life. See this new old Antigonick at Mixed Blood Theatre now through June 4.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

"Ain't Misbehavin'" by Stage North at the Capri Theater

For just their third production, Stage North (based in the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis) is bringing us the Fats Waller musical revue Ain't Misbehavin'. Despite the fact that it won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1978 (in between Annie and Sweeney Todd), it's rarely done anymore, and perhaps best known as the show for which Nell Carter won a Tony (her costar André De Shields would have to wait 40 years for his). It's similar in structure to Smokey Joe's Cafe, which has seen a resurgence in recent years, so it's about time we were able to celebrate the music of early 20th century jazz composer/pianist Fats Waller. Even if you don't think you know his music, these early jazz standards will sound familiar. This show is truly a showcase for the five talented performers, and a celebration of the Harlem jazz style that Fats helped to create.

Friday, May 19, 2023

"Wit" by Hypnic Jerk Theatre at Theatre in the Round

I first saw the Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit six years ago, when I called it "simply devastating," "also funny, and smart, and philosophical, and enlightening," and "brilliantly written." Hypnic Jerk Theatre, a newish #TCTheater company in their first post-pan show, is currently presenting a new production at Theatre in the Round, and it's excellent. Joy Donley gives a strong, funny, and heart-breaking performance in "one of the juiciest roles in theater - a smart, educated, independent, confident woman who experiences life in a whole new way while approaching death from cancer." But this isn't a one-woman show, and the ensemble gives great support. The staging and design in the in-the-round space are effective in telling the story of this woman's journey, in a thoroughly compelling and moving 100 minutes of theater. This is another short run show with only six performances, so act quickly to see this fine execution of a new classic (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

"Matt & Ben" by Nocturnal Giraffe Theater at Bryant Lake Bowl

As a superfan of The Office, I've long heard about Mindy Kaling's play Matt & Ben, which she wrote and starred in with her friend Brenda Withers prior to being hired as a writer/actor on the show. So when I heard that Nocturnal Giraffe Theatre, who brought us the delightful comedy Piñata at last year's Fringe, was doing it at BLB, there's no way I was going to miss this chance to see an early work from one of my favorite funny people. I was not disappointed; it's the perfect 80-minute comedy about celebrity, show business, and friendship, expertly brought to life by Nocturnal Giraffe. Whether or not you're a fan of Mindy Kaling, or Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck, this is a fun dinner and a show opportunity at BLB, through May 19 only (click here for tickets).

Monday, May 15, 2023

"Bright Star" at DalekoArts

"Just because something ends doesn't mean it wasn't successful." This quote from Philip Dawkins' play Failure: A Love Story perfectly encapsulates my feelings about the announcement a few months ago that DalekoArts would be closing their doors for good after the production of their spring musical Bright Star. For 11 seasons they were successful. Not necessarily in a financial sense (I can't speak to that), but artistically, and in creating a community of theater-makers and theater-lovers in the far-flung town of New Prague. Daleko is a Czech word meaning "far away," but when you're at Daleko, you don't feel far away from anything, you feel connected - to the artists, to your fellow audience members, and most of all to the story playing out just a few feet in front of you. To list my favorite memories at Daleko would take too long, but I've loved everything I've seen there, from silly original comedies to scary thrillers to rarely done musicals to that time I followed a couple of crazy artists around historic downtown New Prague. I'm happy for co-founders Ben Thietje and Amanda White that they're going out on their own terms, and moving on to new adventures, and I'm grateful for every silly, profound, beautiful show I saw at the Prague Theater over the last seven years. The bluegrass musical Bright Star (in only the second professional theater production in #TCTheater) is a perfect choice for the last show, and represents the heart, humor, inventiveness, thoughtfulness, and joy that's been present for 11 seasons. I'd tell you to go see it, but the entire run has been sold out for weeks. But if you've been to DalekoArts, you know how special it was.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

"Three Decembers" by Skylark Opera Theatre at Jungle Theater

Skylark Opera Theatre is definitely my kind of opera. No offense to traditional opera with large casts in large venues sung in foreign languages. But the kind of opera that Skylark does - always sung in English, usually with smaller casts in smaller or non-traditional venues - is easier for me to connect with. For six performances only they're presenting the new (i.e., written this century) opera Three Decembers, with music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Gene Scheer based on a play by Terrence McNally. Just three performers accompanied by two pianos tell the intimate (and Mother's Day Weekend appropriate) story of a mother and her two adult children. She may not be the best mother, but she loves her children, she just may love the theater more (can you blame her?). I had an almost front row center seat for this gorgeous performance, feeling really connected to the story that's told so beautifully through words and music in the entirely sung-through show. The characters are singing their dialogue instead of speaking it, which only heightens the emotions of love, grief, frustration, disappointment, and betrayal. If you're someone who feels intimidated by opera, or isn't quite sure it's something you'd like, I encourage you to start with the accessible, intimate, English kind of opera that Skylark does (click here for info and tickets).

Saturday, May 13, 2023

"Diamond Jubilee: 60th Anniversary Gala" at The Guthrie Theater

Sixty years ago this month, the Guthrie Theater opened on Vineland Place next to the Walker Art Center. The first production of this experimental repertory theater was Hamlet, directed by founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie himself (read the full history here). The Guthrie is celebrating this momentous anniversary with a new production of Hamlet (closing on May 21), an open house last weekend, and a fundraiser gala earlier this week. While it wasn't the cornucopia of performances and stars that the 2013 50th Anniversary Gala and the 2015 Joe Dowling Tribute Gala were, it was still a wonderful and celebratory night capped with a fantastic concert by Guthrie alum and Tony-winner Santino Fontana. I became a Guthrie subscriber 20 years ago, and I'm certain that without it, I would not be a theater blogger today. Being a Guthrie subscriber introduced me to plays and playwrights I wouldn't have otherwise seen (since as a subscriber you see everything, whether it sounds like something you'd be interested in or not), as well as to other local theater companies they hosted in one of their theaters. I also became familiar with local artists that I followed to other theater companies, beginning the snowball effect that eventually resulted in this wild and wonderful hobby of being a theater blogger and seeing 3-5 shows every week. I'm so grateful that Sir Tyrone Guthrie chose Minneapolis (or rather, as was said at the gala, that Minnesota chose Guthrie) to open his regional theater in the state where I was lucky enough to be born ten years later.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" at Yellow Tree Theatre

To close out their 15th season in Osseo, Yellow Tree Theatre is presenting the play with music Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. The play imagines one of jazz legend Billie Holiday's final concerts before her death at the age of 44 after years of drug and alcohol addiction. #TCTheater favorite Thomasina Petrus returns to this role she's played many times in her career (I saw her do it at the Jungle in 2018), and once again gives a masterful performance. She simply becomes Billie. She said in a talkback after the show (which she does after every show for anyone who wants to stay and chat about the show, which I highly recommend) that the more she plays the role the more she's able to get out of the way and let Billie shine through. Which she does, not in a mystical spirit kind of way, but in a way in which she's telling Billie's story as truthfully as she can. It's a thing to see indeed, and you can (and should) see it for another two weekends before it closes on May 21 (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Minnesota Fringe Festival: "Five-Fifths of Back to the Future" at the Cowles Center

My favorite kick-off event for my favorite theater festival is back! I can't recall if the Minnesota Fringe Festival did their annual Five-Fifths fundraiser last spring (and they certainly didn't do it the two years before that), but if they did I didn't go. I attended this delightfully fringey event in which five Fringe companies interpret one-fifth of a popular movie the five years prior to the pandemic (which resulted in one entirely virtual Fringe and one mostly virtual Fringe, before they returned to a fully in-person festival last fall). This year they once again picked one of my favorite movies from my youth - Back to the Future. I hadn't seen it in a while so I re-watched it yesterday, which is unnecessary because there's a plot summary in the program. And anyway, it's not really about the movie, it's about seeing what five different groups of artists do with the same prompt. The results are wildly different and ridiculously creative - just like the Fringe Festival is. Mark your calendars for August 3-13, and prepare to get adventurous!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

"Emilia" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

A few months ago, the Guthrie Theater brought us the brilliant new play Born with Teeth, imagining meetings between playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and the theory that the two co-wrote some of the history plays attributed to Shakespeare. Now, Ten Thousand Things is taking another look at this subject, from the feminist side. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's play Emilia premiered at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in 2018 and explores the life of Emilia Bassano, one of England's first published female poets. The play theorizes that she and Shakespeare were lovers, and that he took some of their conversations and put them into his plays, making her a contributor to the work of Shakespeare. There's lots of discussion about who really wrote the plays we know as Shakespeare (e.g., this article "Was Shakespeare a Woman?" by Elizabeth Winkler, which has been expanded into a book to be released this month). The truth is we'll likely never really know. And that's not what this play is about, anyway. It's about women's voices, women's stories, and why they have been systematically silenced throughout history. Told by an all-female cast, Emilia is the story of a historical woman who would not be silenced, even if it did take a few hundred years for history to recognize her contributions. It's a story that's all too relatable for modern women, and one we can take inspiration from.

"An American Tail: The Musical" at Children's Theatre Company

How did it take more than 35 years for the animated movie musical An American Tail to be adapted into a stage musical?! I guess because it's not part of the Disney machine. But for anyone who has been waiting for it, this world premiere production at Children's Theatre Company is worth the wait! And it couldn't come at a better time, with the recent rise in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiment (although sadly that's never gone out of style). This "American Tail" shows us the best version of American, where "anything is possible if we work together." Unfortunately there are indeed cats* in America (read: anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, classism, ignorance, poverty, oppression), but if oppressed groups work together instead of fighting against each other, as the oppressors try to make them do, we can make a world in which everyone can achieve the American dream - the one that's promised to everyone but denied to many. That sounds like a lot for a kids' show, but it's also a really fun and engaging show that's such a joy to watch, no matter your age. It doesn't feel like a "lesson," but kids may walk away with a better understanding of the immigrant experience and the inclusive community America was always meant to be.  Or better yet - their parents will, because grown-ups seem to be the ones who don't get it these days.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

"The Tourist Trap" by Ghoulish Delights at the Crane Theater

If you're excited about the Twin Cities Horror Festival, which just announced the lineup for its 12th season this October, you might want to check out The Tourist Trap at The Crane Theater (which will also host TCHF). Ghoulish Delights is remounting their 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival hit (which I didn't see), and it feels very much like an appetizer for the 11 days of onstage horror that is TCHF. Frequent readers of this blog may recall that horror isn't my favorite genre, so some of the blood and violence was a bit much for me, but what I do love is this talented cast, the creepily effective storytelling of this show, and the exploration of small town life and our obsession with cults and serial killers. If you're looking for a little fantastical horror to take your mind off the very real scary things in our world, The Tourist Trap is the show for you (continuing through May 20).

Friday, May 5, 2023

"The Wanderers" at Six Points Theater

Fresh from a successful Off-Broadway run, the new play The Wanderers by Anna Ziegler opened at Six Points Theater last weekend. The compelling story of two seemingly different couples is well told by this cast and creative team. The thought-provoking and relatable play explores themes of marriage, the parent/child relationship, identity, and legacy. The Wanderers continues at Six Points Theater's home in the Highland Park Community Center in St. Paul through May 14.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

"The Defeat of Jesse James" at History Theatre

#TCTheater's favorite musical theater creative team Hatcher and Poling is back! Prolific local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and longtime local musician/composer Chan Poling have teamed up on a number of musical theater pieces, the most successful being Glensheen, which History Theatre will be remounting once again this summer. Their newest work, began several years ago at the suggestion of History Theatre's recently retired Artistic Director Ron Peluso, is The Defeat of Jesse James. If you're thinking, I've already seen this story, you're not wrong. The story of the famed outlaw, whose career in crime was essentially stopped right here in Minnesota, has been told countless times. But you've never seen it quite like this - as a rock concert. This format allows the creators to not just tell this familiar story, but also comment on it, and our fascination with it. The all-star cast gives their all to this show that is delightfully meta, thought-provoking, and super fun. See it at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul now through May 28.