Sunday, December 10, 2023

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

Have you heard the news? HUGE Theater has moved into a new space, and not only that - they own it! For more about the significance of an artist-led organization owning their own performance space, listen to Episode 2.7 of the Twin Cities Theater Chat podcast, in which we interview Executive Director Butch Roy. For a virtual tour of the new space, including classrooms and behind the scenes, watch this YouTube video in which John Gebretatose, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, shows bloggers Kendra from Artfully Engaging and Rob from The Stages of MN around the space. Or better yet - go visit HUGE in person! They've moved just a few blocks north on Lyndale and across the street (tip: plenty of free street parking on Aldrich, one block west of Lyndale). The new HUGE feels more spacious - from the lobby to the performance space, with more improvements coming soon, including a bar and risers to improve sightlines in the audience. HUGE currently has shows Wednesdays through Saturdays, with three-show line-ups on Fridays and Saturdays. I made my first visit to the new HUGE last night to see my all-time favorite improv show Family Dinner, which continues every Saturday through the end of the year. See the full schedule here and make your plans to see some improv this holiday* season.

Created and directed by Molly Ritchie, Family Dinner has been around in some form for 20-some years and has become a beloved annual tradition (just the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol). I first saw the show in 2017, and was hooked. The show is long-form improv performed in two acts, in which a rotating cast of funny, fast, and clever improvisors (Maureen Lyon Tubbs, Kelsey Dilts McGregor, Casey Martin, Mike Fotis, and Jex Arzayus the night I saw the show) tell a story about something everyone can relate to - a family gathering for a holiday dinner. Act I consists of arrivals and greetings as the family gathers at someone's home, in this case a married couple, their two adult daughters, and Uncle Ron. To spice things up, each performer is assigned a secret (pulled from audience suggestions) that they may or may not choose to use in whatever way they want (things like - "sold the family business" or "in love with the wrong person"). After a brief intermission in which a long table is place on stage full of real edible food, Act II features the dinner itself, and that's when things often get real, and awkward, as the family sits down at the table (facing the audience Last Supper style), eats their dinner, and lets everything hang out. It's so much fun to watch these talented improvisers develop characters and relationships over the course of the show for a bizarrely funny yet relatable Family Dinner.

After Family Dinner at 7:30, my friends (from Minnesota Theater Love and Bite-Sized Beet) and I stayed for the 9pm show - The Mess (the 10pm show Bechdel Test 3.0 intrigues me but I'm too much of a morning person to be able to stay for it). Only half of the six-person troupe was there last night (Molly Ritchie, Mike Fotis, and James Rone), until Rita Boersma showed up halfway through (coming from another show elsewhere) and made everything sillier and funnier. Not that it wasn't already silly and funny, and the smaller cast made for some fun dual roles. A typical The Mess show is pretty absurd and meandering, but this one seemed a little more grounded and connected. But still pretty wacky - somehow what started as a key party in which people switch partners to talk about TV shows with someone other than whom they usually talk about TV shows with, ended up with Hugh Jackman (James with an Australian accent) as Wolverine playing a statue, and then presenting an Oscars memorial segment featuring only cast members from Night Court who died (that's what they call a call-back!). I need more improv about TV shows in my life, specifically The West Wing!

It was a fun Saturday night in Uptown, despite the snowy weather and slightly slick roads. The Friday night line-up looks excellent too, with Blackout doing Shakespearean-inspired improv, and The Bearded Company doing a holiday movie spoof. Friday, Saturday, or any day, make the new HUGE Theater a part of your live entertainment schedule!

the new HUGE Theater (photo credit: @cherryandspoon Instagram)

*Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here