Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Looking Back at 2017: A Random List of Theater Bests

2017 may have been a decidedly lousy year in the world, but the theater was still pretty good.

SO many programs.

I saw 119 shows in 2017, which includes:
- 14 Twin Cities Horror Fest shows
- 10 Minnesota Fringe shows,
- 9 out of town shows (Chicago and Spring Green)
- 7 operas
- 4 shows I liked so much I saw them twice
- 2 podcast tapings
- 1 Hamilton
AND ...
- 0 shows that I left at intermission! Go theater!

As I was working on my nomination list for the Twin Cities Theater Blogger awards (coming soon to an internet near you), a few shows, theaters and themes really stood out for me. Here's my decidedly random and wildly adjective-heavy list of bests.

Meghan Kreidler and NINJAS.
Photo by Rich Ryan
Best Show, Hands Down:
Vietgone at Mixed Blood Theatre - Staggeringly talented cast, gorgeously written play, practically perfect production.
Runner-up: Lone Star Spirits at the Jungle

Best Musical:
Jesus Christ Superstar at the Ordway - Randy Schmeling and Jesse Nager kicking ass and reminding me how much I used to love this show.
Runner-up: Man of La Mancha at Theater Latte Da

Best Site-Specific:
Don Giovanni - Skylark Opera Theatre at the Minnesota Woman's Club - Not just wonderfully performed and sung, but conceived to fit the Minnesota Woman's Club perfectly.
Runner-up: Maria de Buenos Aires by Mill City Summer Opera at the Machine Shop.

Eep. Intuition and the Mantis at TCHF
Photo by Dan Norman (maybe?)
Best Theater Festival: 
Twin Cities Horror Festival - For reasons I enumerate extensively in the linked post. Also, it's always Halloween in my soul.
Runner-up: Minnesota Fringe - What else?

Most Surprisingly Good Local Production of a Show I Loved in London: 
One Man, Two Guv'nors at Yellow Tree Theatre - The entire cast and production was fantastic, and I will never forget Ryan Lear's unexpected saxophone solo.
Runner-up: Yeah, just the one on that.

Best One-Person Show: 
Fadeaway Girl by Raw Sugar - Rachel Petrie's amazing show that explores her struggles with bipolar disorder with candor and humor.
Runner-up: Rev. Matt's Monster Science Trilogy of Terror at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Blackout Improv
Photo from the MN Fringe Festival
Show That Made Me Laugh in a Most Undignified Fashion:
Blackout Improv at Minnesota Fringe - Blackout Improv is everything. It is ALL the things. Go see them, now monthly at Mixed Blood.
Runner-up: Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant: A New Musical at Minnesota Fringe

Most Heartrending Play: 
Intimate Apparel at Ten Thousand Things - Wonderful play and an utterly fantastic cast (including Aimee K. Bryant, Darius Dotch, and Kris Nelson) that will Break. Your. Heart.
Runner-up: Facility by Imagined Theatre at Sabes JCC

Kimberly Richardson in The Red Shoes
Photo by Ron Ravensborg
Amazing New Work: 
The Red Shoes at Open Eye Figure Theatre - Featured inventive stagecraft, truly astonishing moments and a fantastic performance by Kimberly Richardson--and it's coming back in 2018! Yay!
Runners-up: The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox by Winding Sheet Outfit at Sabes JCC and The Nether at Jungle

Best Use of Movement on Stage: 
How to Use a Knife at Mixed Blood - Not only a compelling play with a wonderful cast, but the depiction of a working kitchen was STUNNING.
Runner-up: The Rink at Daleko Arts

Favorite New Theater Space: 
Gremlin Theatre. I mean, COME ON. It has a taproom in the same building! Mmm, Lake Monster!
Runners-up: The Crane Theater, North Garden Theater, Strike Theater

Theater Company That is CRUSHING it: 
Mixed Blood Theatre - Not only did they produce Vietgone, How to Use a Knife, and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, they also have the Radical Hospitality program, accessibility initiatives for days, and host a monthly performance by Blackout Improv. I mean, dang.

I'm SO looking forward to another amazing year of theater. My deepest, heartfeltest thanks to all of the talented and dedicated theater artists who give their time, energy and creativity to making Minnesota an amazing place to live and love theater.


As much amazing theater that I saw this year, there is so much more that I didn't see. Check out my fellow theater bloggers' best of posts, with much love for the equally deserving Penumbra Theatre (Girl Shakes Loose, Wedding Band) and fabulous theater trends like new works, new theaters and continuing conversations about issues like diversity and representation.

Cherry and Spoon's My 2017 #TCTheater Favorites

Play Off The Page's A Theater Year in Review, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dot at Park Square Theatre

Cynthia Jones-Taylor, Yvette Ganier, Anna Letts Lakin
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma. 
Bold move, Park Square Theatre.

While other theaters offer up sugar plums and Christmas carols during the lucrative holiday theater season, you are presenting a play that tackles weighty issues of family dynamics and dementia.

I support this wholeheartedly.

Dot, now at Park Square through January 7, is an exciting new play by actor and playwright Colman Domingo, which originally opened at the Vineyard Theater in 2016.

The play revolves around Dot, or "Dotty," (Cynthia Jones-Taylor) the matriarch of a squabbly family in Philadelphia who are coming together to celebrate the holidays. Although daughter Shelly (Yvette Ganier) has been the primary (and incredibly stressed) caregiver for her mother, her brother Donnie (Ricardo Beaird) and sister Averie (Dame-Jasmine Hughes) are just realizing the extent of Dotty's dementia. Neighbor Jackie (Anna Letts Lakin), Donnie's husband Adam (Michael Hanna), and unlicensed caregiver Fidel (Maxwell Collyard) all join in, creating a rich and bubbling stew of family drama.

Maxwell Collyard and Cynthia Jones-Taylor
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma
Lest I make it sound unrelentingly grim, though, there are heaps of humor in Dot. Ricardo Beaird's fantastic comic timing adds a rich level to his character, and Dame-Jasmine Hughes adds a surge of energy in the second act. Yvette Ganier, who stepped in on very short notice and is amazing, makes the much put-upon Shelly multilayered and endearing.

Cynthia Jones-Taylor, as Dot, portrays the wildly vacillating states of someone with dementia with authenticity, yet never stops being the heart of this play. Michael Hanna and Maxwell Collyard add a sweetness to the often-edgy family dynamics.

Holidays can be hard. This is not an easy play--crosstalk, swears, and long-simmering resentments abound--but it's a beautifully written, amazingly acted, incredibly worthwhile story. The portrayal of a character struggling with dementia and the family drama intensified by the siblings’ love and worry for their mother are increasingly relevant and poignant.

Dame-Jasmine Hughes and Cynthia Jones-Taylor
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma
As director E.G. Bailey says: "It's part of our tradition--to confront tragedy with comedy, to laugh to keep from crying. I love the characters, their humanity, their candor, and sense of humor...there's obviously a lot of love between them."

Go see this play. Support new theater. Support amazing actors. Support stories of humanity and humor.

And once again (as in our review of Imagined Theatre's Facility), here's a public service announcement.

If you are caring for someone with dementia, there is help available. I work with an organization called Roseville Alzheimers & Dementia Community Action Team, which provides community information, programming and helpful resources at your local library for those with dementia and their caregivers. Check out their amazingly helpful website for more information.

I also highly recommend a couple of books:

A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Using Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms by Laura Gitlin

This fairly slim and not remotely intimidating book helps caregivers find ways to manage the symptoms of dementia. Filled with incredibly simple and practical advice, this is a must-have for anyone working, caring for, or loving someone with dementia. SO highly recommended.

Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer's Journey: A Guide for Families and Caregivers by Jolene Brackey

As Brackey says: "When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. We are not able to create perfectly wonderful days for people with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we can create perfectly wonderful moments, moments that put a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Five minutes later, they will not remember what we did or said, but the feeling that we left them with will linger."

Public service announcement over. Thanks for listening.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Shows 2017 - No Carols, Extra Quirk

Are your Christmas movie tastes more on The Ref side than It's a Wonderful Life? Us too.

Sure, we love our Grinches, our Carols (and Caroles), Hershels and Nativities, but sometimes you just need to try something new, quirky, funny and/or dark.

Check out these shows that have more than a little twist to them, and support our smaller theaters this holiday season!

(Sorted by closing date, FYI.)

Khephra: A Hip Hop Holiday Story - Open Eye Figure Theatre (11/30 - 12/9)
Sha Cage (photo by Mark Vancleave)

In Short: A story of a young girl's journey from Africa to America and how she finds her true voice through poetry and hip hop.

Why Go? Look at this creative team!!! Created and performed by Shá Cage with collaborators:
E.G. Bailey (director), Rico Mendez (composer/musician), Ta-Coumba Aiken (scenic designer), Michael Sommers (puppet & prop design), Janaki Ranpura (design consultant), Edna Stevens (movement), Jamela Pettiford (vocalist), Destiny Anderson (performer), and Alissa Paris (performer). I mean, how can you not want to see this? Also, 50 minutes. Sweet.

A Doll's House - Presented by The Orchard Theater Collective at the James J. Hill House (12/1-4, 12/8-10)

In Short: "Set in a Norwegian town towards the end of the 19th century, this theatrical phenomenon by Henrik Ibsen follows the fate of Nora Helmer, a married woman with limited opportunities for self fulfillment in a male dominated society. It explores the relevant themes of identity, femininity, marriage, parenthood, and selfishness."

Why Go? This classic Ibsen play is performed at the gorgeous James J. Hill House (which apparently has amazing acoustics given there was a bagpipe contest there the same night we saw the show). Directed by Craig Johnson and featuring a strong (and young!) cast that make this 1879 play feel fresh, relevant and contemporary. A wonderful version of a classic play performed in a lovely holiday setting.

The World Crime League's F**ked-Up Xmas Special - Phoenix Theatre (12/7 - 12/10)
In Short: "This holiday play festival will consist of nine plays, all of which are making their Twin Cities premiere, and all of which explore the more twisted avenues of the holiday season."

Why Go? With Christmas shows that feature evil little girls, zombies, attempted assassinations, vampires and all sorts of wicked propositions, how can you go wrong? 

Oncoming Productions Ruins Christmas -  Strike Theater (12/15 and 12/16)
In Short: "Sure… the winter holidays are a time for friends and family, for home and hearth and happiness. But it is no coincidence they fall at the coldest, darkest part of the year, when mystery and mortality live right outside the front door. Come join Oncoming Productions as we explore the myth, fiction, and reality behind the REAL spookiest time of the year."

Why Go?
Because Oncoming Productions does really interesting work. The Last Bombardment (Fringe 2017) and Deep Dark (TCHF IV) were both spooky, fascinating shows. And sometimes, you just have to go dark.

North Pole 1973 - Strike Theater (12/8 - 12/17)
In Short: "'Join Strike Theater for a play about the greatest Christmas story ever told...'

Why Go?
The CAST: Debra Berger, Allison Witham, Andy Rocco Kraft and Mike Fotis

Also This: "Directed by: The delicate hand of God. J/K Mike Fotis"

Blackout presents: Bah Hum-Black - Blackout Improv at Mixed Blood Theatre (12/18)
In Short: "Tis the reason for the season, so lets start cheesin'! Come watch our team take on the most offensive of holiday seasons in MN, winter. This show will have lots of laughs, some church, and definitely seasonal swag!"

Why Go? Because you should take every opportunity you can to see this amazing improv show featuring some of the wittiest, sharpest and woke (are we still saying that?) actors/theater artists in the Twin Cities. Role call! John Gebretatose, Ashawnti Ford, Duck Washington, Alyssa DiVirgillio, Joy Dolo, Theo Langason, and Khary Jackson on the Keys.

Christmas Storiessz V: Silent Night - Sheep Theater at the Southern (12/22, 12/23)
In (Not) Short: "When the world last saw Detective Dick Mahoney he had just used Frosty the Snowman as a nuclear warhead to blow up a meteor heading right for planet Earth saving humanity and in the process, killing Santa Claus. Now it’s a year later and Christmas is no more, Santa has not been heard from nor has Dick Mahoney. The FBI goes looking for Dick Mahoney when a mysterious present shows up underneath a tree. Presented by Catholic St. Solomon’s Catholic Middle Catholic Private School as part of their annual Christmas Pageant. Christmas Storiessz V: Silent Night will teach you to love again and find out that there is a little Santa inside of all us, which should trouble us deeply."

Why Go? See above. Also, our Twin Cities Theater Blogger friends speak highly of Sheep Theater's past shows and they are v. smart.

In Short: "Miss Richfield 1981 is back for the Holidays! 2020 Vision has new music, new videos, new chatter as well as all the important holiday traditions! We need Miss Richfield 1981 now more than ever!"

Why Go:
Sure, Miss Richfield 1981 is a super fun holiday tradition for a lot of people, and I've seldom seen the concessions stand so swamped at the Illusion, but don't take Miss Richfield 1981 for granted. (We interviewed her last year.) She is amazingly skilled at working the crowd, a mistress of subversive humor, and smarter than she gets credit for. Also, so so so funny. Oh, how we laughed.

Do you know what it's like to laugh like that?

A Chris Smith Christmas Carol - Daleko Arts (12/1 - 12/31)
In Short: "Will Gary stumble in on yet another mess? Will Dino get lost in a roundabout? Will there be bongos?! The Main Street Holiday crew is back for another zany holiday adventure. Grab your tickets now to see what some of "New Pragoo's" most lovable and misguided fictional residents are up to this Chris Smith season."

Why Go? Daleko is doing really great work in slightly southern Minnesota. Also, day trip! Also, original holiday show with music! Yay!

The Polarizing Express - Brave New Workshop (11/10 - 1/27)
In Short: Brave New Workshop's Holiday Show

Why Go? "There will be laughter, there will be adult beverages of your choice, and of course, there will be 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'." (Two of those things are selling points for me.)

Also for your December consideration:

Feast of Fools - Interact at the Lab Theater (11-15 - 12/9) - Support Interact and their important work.

Hatchet Lady - Walking Shadow at Red Eye Theatre (12/1 - 12/16) - Cause it's SO not holidays.

The Terror Fantastic - 20% Theatre Company at the Crane (12/1 - 12/16) - Support 20% and their important work. Also, the show art led me to the amazingness of Toby Allen's Real Monsters project which explores mental illness through character design.

A Klingon Christmas Carol - at the Historic Mounds Theatre (12/1 - 12/23) - If Star Trek is your jam.

Coco's Diary - History Theatre (11/25 - 12/23) - Okay, this might be heartwarming. Sorry!

Nutcracker (not so) Suite - James Sewell Ballet at the Cowles Center (12/15 - 12/30) - Now featuring Bradley Greenwald!

A Stocking Full of Awesome: The Wreath of Khan - The Danger Committee at Brave New Workshop ETC (11/24 – 1/6/18) - If you like a little danger with your holidays.

Happy Holiday Theatergoing! 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Waitress at the Orpheum

The touring production of Waitress is now playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through November 26. 

Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, Waitress features music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. 

Two good things: The audience was exceedingly well-behaved and attentive--which is weirdly rare for Hennepin Theatre Trust press nights--and responded incredibly effusively and positively to the show. I'm sure many positive reviews will be flooding the internets. It is a crowd pleaser, to be sure.

I went into Waitress with only a bit of knowledge about the show. I'd heard of the movie, and the tragic, horrifying murder of the film's writer/director Adrienne Shelly. The Broadway production opened in spring 2016 and is still running--it's up to 657 performances, which is no small feat. It received a few Tony nominations, including a nomination for Jessie Mueller in the lead role. This is all to say that lots of people liked this show.

That said, I'm not one of them. I have some serious issues with this show, which I will enumerate in full, exhausting detail. So get comfortable. (Or if you want to read a review by someone much less cranky, I recommend my dear friend Cherry and Spoon.)

Waitress centers on Jenna, a pie maker and waitress for a small-town diner, who is unhappily married to Earl and discovers that she is pregnant. She confides in her best friends and fellow waitresses, sassy Becky and shy, neurotic Dawn. She starts seeing a new gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, and begins an affair with him. Meanwhile, Becky has an affair with Cal, the cook at the diner, and Dawn starts to online date and meets Ogie, who stalks her at the diner until she falls in love with him.

First, let's talk about the plot. Descriptions for this show alternately describe Jenna's marriage as 'loveless' and 'abusive.' The script itself is pretty coy about how abusive this relationship is, with intimations of offstage violence. However, parallels are drawn between Jenna and Earl's relationship and her mother and abusive father, and Jenna's behavior indicates abuse is taking place. She plans to leave him until she finds out she is pregnant, then hides money in order to enter a bake-off which has prize money she could use to leave him. Earl finds the money, which she says is to buy a crib, and the two are still together up until Jenna is delivering the baby. She has the baby and finds the strength to tell him off in a dramatic fashion from her hospital bed. He leaves, presumably never to be seen again. At this, the audience cheered supportively.

But here's the deal. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works. Sure, she tells him to stay away from her and the baby. But she is married to him. She lives with him. She has a job that she can barely support herself on, much less a baby. Plus, now she has hospital bills. Also, lest we forget, he is her baby's father, which means he has legal rights to custody. If he is a manipulative, abusive man--as has been depicted--he will not hesitate to use his rights to that child to punish her. 

I don't need to tell you the statistics about domestic violence (like 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner and 94% of the victims of these crimes are female, for example), but suffice is to say that to depict leaving an abusive relationship this easily is incredibly thoughtless and appalling. Frankly, it's infuriating. 


The National Center for Domestic Violence has a fantastic chart called the Power & Control Wheel that helps describe accurately what is occurring in an abusive relationship. (BTW, according to this, Earl is abusive AF.)

Ramsey County has a great collection of domestic abuse resources for anyone concerned about their or someone else's safety. 

End Sidebar.

Let's move on! So Jenna and Dr. Pomatter start an affair, despite the fact that they are both married. Although we know of Jenna's situation and are sympathetic to her issues, there's no indication that Dr. Pomatter's marriage is anything less than happy, so what is his motivation for the affair?

This is where the lack of characterization in the script really shows. I challenge anyone to tell me about Jenna with words that don't involve pie. I think the show thinks of her as the calm pie-making center of the show, but there is so little there there. She came from an abusive home, but loved her mother who taught her to bake. She is supportive of her friends and makes pies with cute names. That's about all we know about her. I can't help but wonder if a lot of the show's success is due to the uniquely charismatic performance of Jessie Mueller, who originated the role on Broadway. 

And the other characters? Pretty much summed up in one word. Becky? Sassy. Dawn? Neurotic. Cal the cook)? Grumpy. Earl? Angry. Dr. Pomatter? Slightly awkward.

Jenna and Dr. Pomatter appear to be together in this show because he is the first named male character she meets after becoming pregnant. How can we be invested in this relationship if we're given no reason for them to be together, and why he is jeopardizing his marriage and she her safety? It almost seems to be an excuse to show them engaging in pie-related, surprisingly vulgar sex (on a gynecological examining table--ew), which is played for laughs. At the end, when he tries to kiss her after she meets his wife, she breaks it off with him with very little emotion on either part.

There are really serious implications to having extramarital affairs, and this show does not seem to take any of them seriously. Not only are they having an affair, but he is her doctor, and they appear to be having most of their assignations in his examining office. In case we all forgot, there are some pretty strong ethical issues with this relationship. Just ask the AMA.

Here is where I can hear the chorus of "But it's a musical! It's light and funny! It has pie! Why are you taking it so seriously?" I am taking it so seriously because the issues that the musical raises are serious. Musicals can absolutely raise and address substantial issues responsibly and entertainingly (see Next to Normal, Fun Home, In the Heights, Assassins.)

Back to the show. Not only does Jenna have an affair with her married doctor, fellow waitress Becky has an affair with diner cook Cal. She is married, but her husband is an invalid, and Cal is married, but the waitresses think his wife is probably gay so it's all fine. Also, there's an element of mockery at the spectacle of two people of size getting it on in the kitchen, which was worrying.

Had enough of adultery? Me too. Let's move on to stalking! Neurotic waitress Dawn decides to get out into the dating world and goes on a date with Ogie. He shows up at the diner and she is upset to see him, as she told him she never wanted to see him again. He sings a song entitled "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me", which includes the following lyrics:
"Oh, I'm gonna do this right
Show you I'm not moving
Wherever you go, I won't be far to follow
Oh, I'm gonna love you so
You'll learn what I already know
I love you means you're never, ever, ever getting rid of me"
Eventually, he "wins her over" and she agrees to go out with him, they discover they have lots in common and end up getting married. The messages here are that 1) stalking works and 2) Dawn doesn't know what she wants or needs, both of which are pretty appalling notions. And that's before getting into the idea that "no" might mean "yes."

However, Ogie is played completely for laughs and had the audience in his pocket. The performance by Jeremy Morse was absolutely hilarious and off-the-wall, which made it challenging to step back and see his actions objectively.

Let's talk about the baby. Throughout the entire show, Jenna is conflicted about her pregnancy and the baby. Her only plan is to save money to enter a bake-off, win the bake-off and then have money to leave her husband. That falls through, which leaves her completely without a plan. At the hospital, after telling off her husband and breaking things off with the doctor, she sings a song called "Everything Changes" which indicates that, apparently, the baby is going to solve all of her problems.

How does the show end? With a grumpy customer at the diner (who only Jenna is kind to) leaving her money to start her own diner, where she works happily with her friends and daughter Lulu. Pretty lucky, that. She really didn't have to do anything except make pies and be in the right place at the right time. That's not something that I admire in a character. I want someone who has some agency and some pluck, if I'm going to spend several hours with them.

Laying the script and content aside, I found the songs to be simplistic, repetitive, and unmemorable. Reviewing the songs with the help of Genius only underlined this for me. Speaking of incessantly memorable, there is a strange refrain of "butter...sugar...flour" sung from offstage during the show, which was annoying and reminded me of this commercial:

The direction was surprisingly static with the songs sung presentationally, in the old-style opera fashion of "park and bark" or "plant and rant," which even opera doesn't even do any more. Most of the movement took place by moving scenery around, which is disappointing. A diner should offer many opportunities for interesting movement, and I wish Waitress had used a fraction of the energy and stage movement of Mixed Blood's fantastic production How to Use a Knife.

In spite of the issues with the show, there were some bright spots. Lenne Klingaman played Dawn beautifully, creating a hilarious, vivid character in spite of the script, and as mentioned, Jeremy Morse was entertaining as Ogie, and neatly distracted the audience from his character's obvious flaws.

And as I said, the audience certainly enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox and Facility

Hurrah for Minnesota Fringe Festival remounts! More, please!

The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox, presented and created by The Winding Sheet Outfit and Facility, presented by Imagined Theatre both appeared on our Don't Miss Fringe 2017 list and are now showing at the Sabes JCC through November 19th.


The first act of this double feature is the fascinating and true story of the Fox Sisters, who accidentally founded the Spiritualism movement in the 1800s. From the moment you step up to the seating area set up right on the stage, and see the performance space encircled by empty picture frames and music boxes, and a mysterious black-veiled woman (Amber Bjork, also the director) arranging candles, the mood is so set.

This is an unbelievably gorgeous and thoroughly conceived show. The relationship between the sisters is authentic, rich and, at times, light and funny. The sisters are depicted in their youth by Boo Segersin and Kayla Dvorak Feld; Kristina Fjellman and Megan Campbell Lagas play their older versions. The interplay between both sets of sisters, and between the older and younger versions themselves is beautifully done.

Every element of this show works to perfection. The movement and the physicality of this small-set play, particularly in the scenes where the sisters are 'speaking' with the spirits and the seances, creates a gorgeous mood, and amazingly memorable imagery. The spare music, from the aforementioned music boxes, contributes to this mood, and the cast sings a gorgeous, five-part version of "In the Gloaming" that will give you chills. Even the spare, authentic costuming is perfectly done.

We can't say enough good things. Go see it. Bring your sister.

On to Facility... Interestingly, both of these plays could have easily fit into the Twin Cities Horror Festival--for wildly different reasons. Let's get into it.



We returned from a short intermission (spent admiring a fantastic art display of Scary Monsters--see above--by fourth graders) to a stage featuring little other than a hospital bed. After a blackout, the lights come up and we find Lionel (Paul Brissett) in bed receiving a visit from his wife Dorothy. His next visitor is nurse Jeff, who works for the care home in which Lionel is currently residing due to his dementia.

We see Lionel struggling with his memory and his helplessness, his daughter Rachel struggling with the decision to put Lionel in this facility, and administrator Fran and nurse Jeff struggle with staffing issues and all of them struggling with the incredible challenges that dementia can bring.

This show is harrowing. There's no other word for it. Directed and written by Phil Darg, this play brings up a lot of issues with no easy answers and depicts the challenges incredibly realistically. As hard as it was to watch--and if you have a loved one struggling with dementia or have lost someone to an unexpected illness, it will be incredibly hard--it's a valuable story to tell.

Paul Brissett gives an astonishing performance as Lionel. He inhabited this difficult role with utter and complete commitment and made you feel all of the love and the frustration that his caregivers feel for him. It's one of the most amazing performances I've seen all year, and landed immediately on my short list for the 2017 Twin Cities Theater Blogger Awards.

Public service announcement from Carol:

If you are caring for someone with dementia, there is help available. I work with an organization called Roseville Alzheimers & Dementia Community Action Team, which provides community information, programming and helpful resources at your local library for those with dementia and their caregivers. Check out their amazingly helpful website for more information.

I also highly recommend a couple of books:

A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Using Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms by Laura Gitlin
This fairly slim and not remotely intimidating book helps caregivers find ways to manage the symptoms of dementia. Filled with incredibly simple and practical advice, this is a must-have for anyone working, caring for, or loving someone with dementia. SO highly recommended.

As Brackey says: "When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. We are not able to create perfectly wonderful days for people with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we can create perfectly wonderful moments, moments that put a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Five minutes later, they will not remember what we did or said, but the feeling that we left them with will linger." Lionel's daughter Rachel really needs to read this book.

Public service announcement over. Thanks for listening.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Privateer at Transatlantic Love Affair

With the new production, The Privateer, playing at the Illusion Theater through November 18, Transatlantic Love Affair once again presents an epic tale at a very human scale.

The performers use just their bodies and voices to create the characters and their environments. Music, composed and performed by Dustin Tessler, and lights, designed by Michael Wangen, add to the atmosphere, although the focus is always on the acting ensemble.

Pirates have always been a fascinating component of popular culture, even though the actual time period in which most of the stories take place was very short. Loosely based on a true story, The Privateer tells of a wealthy man obsessed with stories of pirates who decides to take to the high seas. He knows nothing of sailing or real-life pirates, but he has money to buy a boat and hire a crew, and that is enough to cause a world of trouble for everyone involved.

L-R: John Stephens, Antonio Duke, Heather Bunch, Nora Montañez,
China Brickley, Allison Witham, and Eric Marinus. Photo: Lauren B Photography.
In 1717 New York colony, this clueless dandy decides to become a privateer, even after his request for permission to work as an agent of the British government is denied. It's difficult to build a story around an unsympathetic character, but Heather Bunch does a good job of making the character more oblivious than malicious. His standoffish relationship with his fluttering wife, disregard of his loyal servants, and overwhelming sense of entitlement seemed spot-on. (I'll admit that I may have been primed for her portrayal of this over-the-top dandy by all the historical romances I've been reading lately.)

As always, the ensemble is wonderful, and TLA core company member Derek Lee Miller, who conceived and directed the piece, creates the feeling of being aboard a ship and presents some wonderful set pieces of battles at sea. There were a few times when it wasn't clear where the action was happening, but for the most part, the performers seamlessly transition from enacting the privateer's crew to forming parts of the ship to playing rival pirates. Allison Witham does a terrific job as a disgruntled sailor, famed pirate Blackbeard, and even a mule. China Brickey is first funny as the fluttering wife, and then touching as the man of business charged with running the ship.

At 90 minutes without intermission, the show felt a little long, given that Bunch's character never seems to learn or adapt, although the rest of the crew certainly do. The Privateer isn't magical in the way of TLA shows like Ash Land or The Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, but it tells a unique story in a new setting, and it's always amazing to see this group build a world onstage. Compared to TLA, traditional theater seems staid and stale, so their shows are always worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Twin Cities Horror Festival VI: Why I LOVE TCHF and Review Roundup

Wanna see something scary? 

One of the joys of seeing all twelve shows at the Twin Cities Horror Festival in one glorious weekend is that now I can see some again. And so can you!

The Twin Cities Horror Festival VI runs through November 5th at the Southern Theater and there is so much spooky theater goodness awaiting you. Below I've included links to our short takes on the shows we saw. Super props to the Twin Cities Horror Festival for being so inclusive with shows created by women and POC. Yay!

Quick, a quick rundown on why I love the TCHF:

- Manageable size (twelve shows, perfect for the completist who finds the Fringe daunting)
- Runs a reasonable amount of time (eleven glorious days)
- It's all at one theater (the atmospheric and spookily decorated Southern Theater)
- Which has a bar (with excellent [and affordable!] beer)
- Their website rocks: (love the schedule, love the genres and ratings)
- The staff and volunteers are welcoming, friendly and efficient
- Plus, it's all horror, the time. I know some people are like, eek, I don't like horror, but there is something for everyone at the TCHF.

As for me?


Unexpected Delights:

In short, we had no idea what to expect but Matthew Kessen's hilarious deconstructing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was both hilarious AND informative. And HILARIOUS.

Intuition and the Mantis by Rogues Gallery Arts
Chilling from the moment you step into the theater, and featuring rich, complex characters and plot (by Duck Washington), this was a gripping, unnerving experience.

Intuition and the Mantis.
Even this picture creeps me out.
Created and performed by Debra Berger, Emily Michaels King and Amber Johnson, this new play incorporates film beautifully and is moody, atmospheric, intense and unsettling.

Expected Delights:

After the Party by Erin Sheppard Presents
Erin Sheppard Presents is amazing--the music is fantastic, the lighting is gorgeous and the dance is compelling and evocative. Go SEE IT. DO IT.

After the Party. Dancey AND spooky.
Harold by Four Humors
It's Four Humors at the TCHF. Do I really need to say anything else?

Short Film Festival VI: Horrorshow Hot Dog
Love Horror Show Hot Dog's selections of short horror films. It's a lovely little spooky break in the festival. The film selection changes each night, which is awesome. See all you can.

Gory AND Socially Aware:

Skin by Dangerous Productions
Playwright Oya Mae Duchess-Davis's thought-provoking take on race and beauty is gory, crowd-pleasing and ambitious as heck. Did I mention gory?

Hand-Picked by Theater Unchecked
This sleepaway camp story with a twist is filled with female voices, moments of surprising gore, and plenty of uncomfortably knowing laughter.

Hand-Picked. I find this image strangely compelling.
Also, I hate camping.
See Also under Socially Aware:

Intuition and the Mantis
Something New: These new works are sure to develop and grow. Develop your early adopter street cred by catching them now and supporting the artists' process.

Eddie Poe by The Coldharts
Love The Coldharts and their devised theater blend of dark comedy, music and gothic horror? Check out this brand-new play by the people who brought us the delightful Edgar Allan.

Eddie Poe. Another amazing image.

Sadie Mae, 1969 by Boston Community Collaborative
An interesting take on the story of Susan Atkins (aka Sadie Mae) and the Manson Family, told with dance, movement and music. 

But Wait, There's More!

The Fae by Special When Lit
Gorgeously costumed and featuring some fabulous movement, this tale of humans venturing into the faery world has some amazing imagery and an interesting story.

The Fae.
The faery queen's headdress is so cool in the show.
A Terrifyingly Intimate Evening with Fotis
Whatever show Mike Fotis is doing tends to be one to definitely catch. We loved last year's The Philip Experiment. If you are a Fotis Fan, and there were lots in the audience, you'll probably love this as well.

That's it! Enjoy! Get your spooky on! Support this amazing festival in which 100%  of ticket sales go to the performers.

AND Happy Spooky Theatergoing, Friends!