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!