Wednesday, February 21, 2024

C.L.U.E. by Collide Theatrical Dance

The ensemble of C.L.U.E.
Collide Theatrical Dance's new production C.L.U.E. (playing at the Southern Theater February 16-March 10) is a takeoff on the popular board game, as you might have guessed. 

However, instead of Miss Scarlet and Colonel Mustard, we meet a different set of characters, introduced by Mr. Bottie (Nathan Huberty), who is being threatened by one of them. Each character has their own dance that tells their story and their relationship to the others. As with most Collide productions, the majority of the story is told through dance but Huberty does double duty as dancer and narrator, showing impressive breath control when he speaks right after an energetic dance!

The simple set is augmented by projections (designed by Peter Morrow) that introduce the characters and show the different rooms. And of course, weapons are introduced. At intermission, the audience is asked to vote on the murderer, the weapon, and the murder location via a QR code in the program or by writing down choices on a paper form at the box office. The votes are tallied, and the most selected answers are acted out by the company. 

The choreography (to mostly pop music) by company founder Regina Peluso is very fun to watch, and there are some nice touches that remind the audience of the show's board game origins, as each suspect character has a default pose and are moved by Mr. Bottie in a particular way when they are brought to the forefront of the stage. The dancers are very talented and have their own styles and specialties. 

It's an enjoyable evening of dance and humor, with a satisfying ending (or endings) that brings everything together, more or less. If you enjoy dance that tells a story, Collide is a wonderful company to follow, and C.L.U.E. is another stellar example of their work. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ashland at Chameleon Theatre Circle

Chameleon Theatre Circle is presenting the world premiere of Ashland by Minnesota- and Oregon-based writer Isabel Estelle. The play was the winner of Chameleon's 2022 New Play Contest and had a staged reading in February 2023 at Theatre in the Round as well as an October 2023 reading at the Ashland New Plays Festival in Oregon.

It's clear to see why this play is attracting attention. In a tight 90 minutes, it tells a difficult story with great humor and humanity.

From the Chameleon website: A young woman is unexpectedly diagnosed with a terminal illness and chooses to pursue Death with Dignity. She and her new partner must navigate the beginning and end of their relationship simultaneously. As her health rapidly declines, her partner and two siblings grapple with the absurdity and hilarity of death, family, and what it takes to let go.

Performed in a black box theater at Inver Hills Community College, the simple set is just a few pieces of furniture, enough to suggest a living space. Lisa Diesslin's costumes suggest the characters without being overly showy, and Mark Steffer's props range from appropriate to hilarious. Kudos for using real food. Andi Billig's lights and sound work to create scenes in and out of the living space and keep the action from slowing down.

There isn't anything to detract from the performances or the relationships they build in a short time. Courtney Matula, Marlo Teal, and Phillip Zawieruszynski play siblings whose reactions to terminal illness are conveyed in a very natural, believable way. As Wes, Jessica Lynn Frederikson builds a relationship with the family and runs through the gamut of emotions, some so raw that it's hard to watch, but never overplaying. Nissa Frederikson as Susan is a calm, thoughtful presence throughout the events. Matula, as Vim, who chooses to end her own suffering, creates a delightful character and does a wonderful wordless scene showing the progression of her condition.

It's difficult to tell whether the truth of the relationships on stage comes from the naturalistic writing or from the work of the cast, under Bradley Donaldson's direction. The two elements work hand in hand to create a difficult, but ultimately heartening evening of theater.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Crazy for You at Artistry

The cast and orchestra of Crazy for You
Photo by Sam Lavine
The production of Crazy for You at Artistry is a rare treat. There's only one weekend left, so hurry to get your tickets before it closes on February 11.

Crazy for You premiered on Broadway in 1992 as a "new" Gershwin musical. Creators Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent used the 1930 musical Girl Crazy as a rough outline and loaded the score with classic songs by George and Ira Gershwin like "Shall We Dance," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "But Not for Me," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and many others. The plot is slight, involving a derelict theater in Nevada that needs saving, but it's just an excuse to get from one song to the next.