Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl

Surprisingly all three of us went to see Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl at The Guthrie. It is a rare occasion for all three of us to be able to fit the same show into our schedule, and we had fun. This was my first time seeing a Sarah Ruhl play. Amazing, I know because the Twin Cities has seen quite a bit of Sarah Ruhl in the past years. Back in 2007, Mixed Blood did a production Ruhl's 2004 play named The Clean House. As happens sometimes in this town, it received two contrasting reviews. Next came another 2004 piece Eurydice. This piece was first done by Prospero Theatre Company in 2010, and then in 2012 it was produced by Walking Shadow Theatre Company.  Also in 2010, Park Square Theatre did a production of Ruhl's 2007 play Dead Man's Cell Phone. This work was also produced by Theatre in the Round in 2014. The next work to appear on the Twin Cites stages was her 2009, Tony Award nominated, In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. This was produced by the Jungle Theater in 2012 and was directed by the Jungle's new Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen.

Finally Sarah Ruhl's 2011 play Stage Kiss is now playing at The Guthrie. While this played at Playwrights Horizon in New York, it has yet to see a Broadway production.  Everything that I have read about Ruhl and her plays leads me to think that they all have a fantastic side to them, yet are firmly based in reality. Think of Kushner and his Angels in America. Truly fantastic, yet still firmly rooted in real life situations, people, and experiences. And funny!!

Stage Kiss is the story of two actors who are cast in a play. The play is a old 1930's romance that never played well to start with and these actors (He, and She) are cast in the roles of lovers. She is married and he is her old fling - both onstage and off. And that is the start. The two actors (played incredibly well by Todd Gearhart and Stacia Rice) have to deal with their personal past relationship, their current budding romance along with their characters past and budding romance. I'm sure by now you have guessed why it is called Stage Kiss. The director on stage was played perfectly and hilariously by Charles Hubbell. His assistant and understudy for the leading man was played by Grant Fletcher Prewitt...and I can not think of anyone else who could play this role as sincerely yet getting every comic bit out of it, without milking the comedy. Wow. The cast also includes Michael Booth playing the husband (on and off stage), along with Rebecca Hurd and Cat Brindisi playing all the other female roles. Rebecca and Cat are used very well in Act One, but really come into their own in Act Two. I don't think there was a weak actor or character on stage all night and that makes for a fantastic night of theatre. Credit must be given equally to the cast, and the directer Casey Stangl.

I have to mention that the set design by Todd Rosenthal was also astounding. It starts in Act One in an old rehearsal space. As the first act continues, more and more of the set pieces are brought on till finally when the show they are rehearsing opens - it has a full parlor/living room set. Amazing! The set for Act Two didn't disappoint either. I'm not talking much about Act Two because you really should go see this marvelous work. And while you are there, you should swing by the gift shop and pick up a copy of Sarah Ruhl's "100 Essays I don't have time to write." I have only read a few snippets and really enjoyed it. I will be picking it, and copies of her scripts, up next time I am near the G. Also - take a look at her website. Such generosity to put excerpts of scripts, links to where you can buy them, photos from professional and non-professional productions - it is one of the best author websites I have seen.

So - If you miss Stage Kiss, make sure you don't miss anything else of hers. It will be a good night of theatre that will make you laugh and think - and can you ask for more?

alternate reviews - Here and Here and Here

Friday, August 7, 2015

Should You See the Ordway’s Pirates of Penzance? A One-question Quiz

The question is this: Do you like to have fun?

Brandon O'Neill and the pirates come ashore
photos: Molly Shields
If you said yes, then you should absolutely see The Pirates of Penzance, showing now through August 16 at the Ordway.

There is so much to love about this production that it’s difficult to know where to begin! The 18-piece orchestra kicks it off with a sprightly overture, by the end of which we have already met the pirates, and the pace never lets up. 

Anne Eisendrath singing down
the house as Mabel
As the Pirate King, Brandon O’Neill combines swagger and silliness in perfect proportions, and the rest of the cast follows suit. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Frederic has a beautiful voice and an appealing earnestness, while the ragtag pirates have excellent timing. They execute director James Rocco’s choreography with pinpoint precision, leading to big laughs.

Soon, the ladies flounce onto the stage in all their pastel finery, including Mabel, beautifully sung by Anne Eisendrath, who is well-matched with Herdlicka’s Frederic. As Major General Stanley, Gary Briggle is wonderfully pompous, and Kersten Rodau shines as Frederic’s devoted servant Ruth. Dieter Bierbrauer and his company of police bring even more hilarity, while dressed as Canadian Mounties. Why? Why not?

Brandon O'Neill as the Pirate King and Kersten Rodau as Ruth
explain a very silly dilemma to Hunter Ryan Herdlicka's Frederic.
The talented and hard-working cast run and dance continuously across the storybook set (designed by Tom Struge), singing, dancing, and swordfighting their hearts out for just over two hours. If the script and songs have been shortened, I didn’t miss anything.

The story, slight to begin with, is just an excuse for the songs and silliness. Every last cast member has moments to shine, and watching their work in the background is very entertaining. Most, if not all, of the cast participates in some way in the excellent stage combat, which you can read about here.
I can’t say enough about this production. I cannot imagine how it could be any better.

Any show that makes the audience laugh, smile, spontaneously clap, and cheer is to be experienced by as many people as possible in the short time it's playing.

What are you waiting for? Go!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Short Takes: The Matchmaker, Crazy for You, The Musical of Musicals: the Musical!

I saw three shows last weekend and although I enjoyed them all thoroughly, I am suffused with regret for the fact that I didn't see them in time to share the love. So belatedly, here are three quick takes on these shows.

The Matchmaker at Park Square Theatre - Andy Boss Thrust Stage by Girl Friday Productions

Why I Went: 
Love Karen Weise-Thompson, love Craig Johnson and Girl Friday Productions.

What I Loved: 
Karen Weise-Thompson is, as she always is, utterly hilarious, and creates a wonderfully rich Dolly Levi. Dan Hopman is eternally fascinating to watch and this role gave him great scope for transforming from a meek clerk to a sophisticated man-about-town. Twice, audience members commented (yes, aloud) on "his little face!" He gives great face. Hilarious performances by all, especially Sam Landman, who hit every note perfectly, and David Beukema, who got marvelous laughs without many lines at all (I love his carriage in his cabman's coat--that will stay with me!).

And Can I Just Say: 
This is the second show I've seen on the thrust stage, and Johnson makes fabulous use of the thrust stage. He moves his characters around seamlessly so that you don't miss a single facial expression or gesture. If only every director had such would definitely help my skepticism of the thrust stage. 

Crazy for You at Mounds View Community Theatre

Why I Went: 
Supporting my local (well, work local) community theater! Also, love Crazy for You, and haven't seen a production since the 1990s (?) Ordway tour stop.

What I Loved:
How can anyone live up to Harry Groener in the original cast? And yet, Benjamin Kolls as Bobby Child, did a beautiful job. Despite being new to musical theater, he danced beautifully, fainted fabulously and when dancing with Lauri Kraft as Polly Baker, moved fabulously, particularly in "Could You Use Me/Shall We Dance." A charming cast and a charming production all around.

Can I Also Say:
A pet peeve of mine is when directors create height in a production by throwing someone up on a ladder and pushing them around. Joe LaForte did a wonderful job of using the entire vertical stage space in a natural, realistic and engaging way. Beautifully done!

Why I Went:
A satirical musical that tells one story in the tradition of four great musical theater composers/teams? How can I miss this?

What I Loved:
Holy cats, the musical theater allusions fly fast and furious in this delightfully short show. The four segments (all based on the trope "I can't pay the rent!", "You must pay the rent!") were Corn - in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein, A Little Complex - in the style of Stephen Sondheim, Dear Abby - in the style of Jerry Herman, and Aspects of Junita - in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Witty and very inside theater, the references and nods flew so fast and furious that even I felt like needed an annotated version. Very hilarious and well done by a great, enthusiastic young cast.

Can I Also Say:
All of these audiences were wonderfully well-behaved, attentive and engaged. Not one made me want to smack someone upside the head. Also, at Bethel, their pre-show cell phone announcement included the caveat that checking the time or texts on your phone is distracting--please don't do it.  Love that!