Sunday, January 16, 2022

"Bina's Six Apples" at Children's Theatre Company

The world premiere new play Bina's Six Apples, which just opened at Children's Theatre Company, teaches children about the refugee and displaced person crisis that's happening now in many places around the world, and has happened countless times throughout history. This particular story is about a family forced to leave their home during the Korean War, inspired by playwright Lloyd Suh's own family history. There's no better way than theater to engender empathy with people who live in another time and place, and this play does just that through the sweet and inspiring story of one frightened but brave little girl.

It's 1950 South Korea, and the war is approaching, so Bina's family decides to move south, further away from the violence. Bina doesn't want to leave her pleasant home on an apple orchard and walk 70 miles into an uncertain life, but she feels safe with her family and begins to see it as an adventure. Bina can only carry a small bag of apples, even though she wants to do more, and insists on taking six apples, one for each member of her family - her brother and sister, mom and dad, and grandma. Just a few hours into the journey, a bomb goes off nearby and Bina is separated from her family. She's terrified, but she believes if she can just make it to their destination, the city of Buson on the Southeast coast, she will be reunited with her family. In a classic hero's journey, Bina meets both friends and foes along the way, learning important lessons that help her survive, and despite her fear and uncertainty, she bravely perseveres until she is reunited with her family.

Olivia Lampert as Bina (photo by Glen Stubbe)
Local young actor Olivia Lampert plays Bina and is onstage for virtually the whole 75-minute show, sometimes alone, delivering her lines to an apple. She beautifully conveys all of the emotions of this young girl, and brings the audience along on Bina's journey. She's joined by one other local child (Jayden Ham as a boy Bina meets on her journey), and five adult actors playing multiple parts. Because this is a co-production with Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, most of the adult cast is not local, except for #TCTheater favorite Sun Mee Chomet as Bina's mom and a wily merchant she trades with. Albert Park is Bina's kind father as well as an eccentric owner of a boat who gives Bina a ride, for a price; Elizabeth Pan plays Bina's wise grandmother; Joseph Pendergrast is both her brother and a deserting soldier looking for his little sister; and Shelli Delgado plays Bina's sister and another woman on the road.

the cast of Bina's Six Apples (photo by Glen Stubbe)
The storytelling has a fairy tale-like quality, with movement and music filling the spaces between
scenes. The set is dominated by a simple gray wall with water color outlines of mountains. Doors open up to let in large set pieces like a treehouse in an apple tree, or carts that represent a boat, mountains, or a merchant's goods. The river is represented with light and color in a trapdoor in the floor. Members of the ensemble, dressed in period costumes authentic to the time and place, manipulate all of the above, almost like living set pieces, sometimes exchanging a glance or a wink with Bina to keep it playful. It's all very flowy and dreamlike. (Direction by Eric Ting, scenic and lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, composition and sound design by Fabian Obispo, movement direction by Marcela Lorca)

Bina with her family (photo by Glen Stubbe)
One of my favorite ideas in theater is that the more specific something is, the more universal it is. Bina's Six Apples is a very specific story about a family in Korea in the 1950s, authentically told by the cast and creative team. Children may or may not see themselves in the specific details of the story, but the love (and playful teasing) within the family, the yearning for a safe home, Bina's fear in an uncertain situation, her joy at being reunited with her family, those are universal truths that connect us to Bina's story.

Bina's Six Apples continues through February 13. Children's Theatre recommends the play for children 9 and up - visit their website for more information and to purchase tickets.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

"[title of show]" at Lyric Arts

If you love musicals (and if you don't, why are you reading this blog?), grab your vax card and mask and head to Anoka to see Lyric Arts' new production of [title of show], the charming, irreverent, quirky little musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. I knew I loved the show, but I hadn't seen it in over ten years and I had forgotten just how fantastic it is. Chock full of (sometimes obscure) musical theater references and meta fourth-wall breaking, it shows the creative process in all it's wonder and heartbreak. Lyric has assembled a really talented young cast and creative team, some of whose names you may not know, but you will now. It's 90 minutes of sheer joy and delight, a celebration of making art that couldn't come at a better time. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Broadway Tour of "Come From Away" at the Orpheum Theatre

The new year has started out a little rocky, with several local shows being cancelled or postponed. I still have a few shows on my schedule, but up until the moment the curtain goes up I'm not sure they're actually going to happen. The Broadway tour of Come From Away is still on (for the moment) and playing at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. I cannot think of a better show to begin my 2022 year of theater. It's the heart-warming true story of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7000 strangers when their planes were diverted there on 9/11, smartly and succinctly told in a 100-minute musical that flows from story to song with minimal applause breaks, with a fantastic score infused with Celtic rhythms and instrumentation. What I love most is that someone heard about this inspiring 9/11 story and thought - let's write a musical about it! And then they did it in a way that's not treacly, or overproduced, or any other of the many ways it could have gone wrong. They did it in a true and heartfelt way that tells the story in the best possible way. "They" are Canadian married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein (and producer Michael Rubinoff), and their creation has traveled around the world, inspiring many, and reminding us of the good in humanity, and the incredible things that all of us ordinary people can do when we put aside our differences and connect with our fellow humans.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

#TCTheater 2021 - a Hybrid of Favorites

We did it, friends: somehow, we've made it to the end of another year. A year that started in the bleak darkness of a much too long intermission from live theater, continued through a glorious summer of outdoor performances, and into the sudden hopeful return of #TCTheater, almost like we knew it before, but different. Things looked pretty great in September as many companies returned to the stage with a new season, but a bit of darkness has descended again with the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant that has forced show closings and cancellations on Broadway and here at home. The future is uncertain, but the experience of the past nearly two years dealing with this pandemic gives me confidence that we will get through this too, and theater will continue. But first, let's pause and look back at the year that was in #TCTheater.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

"Another Miracle on Christmas Lake" at Yellow Tree Theatre

It almost took a miracle for me to see Yellow Tree Theatre's annual original holiday* comedy based in the fictional and very Minnesotan town of Christmas Lake. I arrived at the theater with a group of friends on a warm and rainy December night to find that the performance had been cancelled due to a tornado warming (in Minnesota in December?! and climate change isn't a thing). The next week everyone was busy with Christmas plans, so a subset of the group rescheduled to see one of the last performances this week. Amidst a slew of show closings on Broadway and locally, this show did indeed happen! A perfect final show of 2021, closing out a less than perfect year of theater, but one that saw growth, ingenuity, and a return to some form of normal (more on that in the coming days). There are only two performances left of Another Miracle on Christmas Lake, but you can still get yourself to Osseo to see it if you act quickly. Or make plans for their two upcoming shows in 2021 which are both brilliant and rare choices - the funny, feminist, historical, and modern play In the Next Room; Or, the Vibrator Play and the musical Passing Strange.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Kate Beahen and the Hometown Favorites at Lyric Arts

When Lyric Arts had to cancel a few weekends of their production of It's a Wonderful Life due to breakthrough COVID cases amongst the large cast, they called on Kate Beahen to help fill a few dates on the calendar, and encourage patrons to remember Lyric Arts or other local theaters in their year-end giving. A Lyric favorite and native of the Anoka area, Kate has appeared many times on the Main Street stage, as well as other stages around town, in both plays and musicals (my favorite: playing the Idina Menzel role in Lyric's regional premiere of If/Then and absolutely making it her own). She recently formed a band with her brother Bob and a few of her friends, calling themselves The Hometown Favorites and appearing at Crooners Supper Club. In the few days before Christmas, they did two holiday* shows at Lyric, and I was lucky enough to catch one of them. Kate's an incredibly talented vocalist and performer, and is also a natural at hosting a show and bantering with the band and the audience. It was a much needed fun and festive evening of holiday music and cheer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

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

After pivoting to a very 2020 Zoom version last year, everyone's favorite improv show Family Dinner is back at HUGE Theater where they belong! Where we can watch a delightfully dysfunctional family reunite for a holiday* dinner and actually eat it, live in front of us! I saw the show last weekend with my blogger friends from Play Off the Page and The Stages of MN (and then stayed to watch the also hilarious improv troupe The Mess), and laughed harder than I have in a long time. Family Dinner is hugely popular and often sells out its twice-weekly shows from mid-November through the end of the year, because everyone can relate to that awkward family dinner, even if this one is a bit more extreme in awkwardness and drama. But it's never mean-spirited, you get the sense that this improvised family loves each other, even whilst driving each other crazy. The final two performances this year are on New Year's Eve and Day - get your tickets now! While you're on the HUGE website, check out what else is going on, with live shows six days a week.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

"The Red and the Bright" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

photo by Todd Craig
nimbus theatre is celebrating 20 years in #TCTheater with their 50th production, the original play The Red and the Bright. From my first nimbus show, the original and locally historical play Bohemian Flats in 2013, to the harsh look at race and racism in America in Nacirema, to the breathtaking design of Ghost Sonata, to a fascinating look into art forgery in From Darkness, to many historical dramas and even a comedy, what I've come to expect from nimbus is something interesting, thoughtful, and unique. Sometimes a little weird, sometimes a little rough, but always intriguing, forward-thinking, and worth checking out. They often do original plays, as is the case with The Red and the Bright, written by co-Artistic Director Liz Neerland and directed by co-Artistic Director Josh Cragun. They began working on it before the pandemic, and it's finally seeing the stage, presenting a fantasy world that feels real and complete unto itself, from the language spoken, to the relationships amongst the tight community, to the detailed design. Only two more performances remain; click here for info and tickets.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

"A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater's first production post-pandemic (not counting their hosting of the Broadway tour of What the Constitution Means to Me) is their annual tradition, A Christmas Carol. This is their 47th production, and my 15th time seeing it. It's obviously a beloved holiday* tradition in the #TCTheater community, one that I also love and have rarely missed in my 18 seasons as a subscriber. But why? Why do they keep doing it? Why do people keep seeing it? Why do I go back year after year? Read on for ten reasons to see the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol this year before it closes on December 27.

Monday, December 13, 2021

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" by Skylark Opera Theatre at Park Square Theatre

Time to celebrate the return of another theater company back after the extended intermission of 2020-2021, namely Skylark Opera Theatre, who brings us accessible opera in English! They return to live performance after more than two years with Amahl and the Night Visitor, a one-act opera by Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti. The first opera written for American TV (in 1951), Amahl tells the Nativity story through the eyes of a child who sees the star and is visited by the Three Kings. It's a sweet little story (just about an hour long), well performed by the large and talented cast in the intimate space of Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss thrust stage. But only three performances remain this weekend, so act fast to catch this charming holiday* offering for kids and adults alike (click here for info and tickets).

Thursday, December 9, 2021

NYC Theater Trip 2021: "Six"

Show*: 5

Title: SIX

Location: Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Written By: Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss

Summary: The six wives of Henry VIII tell their own story in the form of a rock concert.

NYC Theater Trip 2021: "Clyde's" at Second Stage Theater at the Helen Hayes Theater

Show*: 4

Title: Clyde's

Location: Second Stage Theater at the Helen Hayes Theater

Written By: Lynn Nottage

Summary: A sort of sequel to her 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat which explores the post-prison future of one of the characters.