Friday, February 20, 2015

Why I Love Ten Thousand Things ... And Molly Brown

We are so fortunate to have such an abundance of theater here in the Twin Cities that sometimes deciding which shows to squeeze into your calendar can be a struggle. Maybe it's a particular performer, or a play that's new to me that tips the scales towards a show.

But there are a few theaters in the Twin Cities that I will go see whatever they put on, because I know that regardless of the play, it's going to be amazing. If I do nothing else with this blog but convince people to go see their work? Then my work is done.

Here's why I love Ten Thousand Things Theater and their current production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which  runs through March 8 at Open Book, Plymouth Congregational Church, and Heritage Park YMCA, plus performances in Blue Earth and Austin. (check the website for details!)

1. Casting, casting, casting.  I love the way Ten Thousand Things casts its plays. I love "non-traditional" casting--even though I wince using that term, I love a cast that is made of wonderful actors chosen for what they bring to the role, and not their ethnicity, age, size, or even their gender.

2. I love the way they put on a show. The first play I remember seeing at Ten Thousand Things was Ragtime, performed at the Minnesota Opera Center. It was the first time I experienced their lights on/in the round mode of performance.  The play was incredibly moving, and it made it even more so to see other audience members being just as moved. I love watching people love theater.

3.  Outreach through theater. I love that their mission is bringing theater to people who don't see a lot of theater. I love that they perform everywhere from correctional facilities to senior housing to libraries to transitional housing centers. And I love that they share insights from those performances at their public performances, and that they are not afraid to ask for money to continue their mission. And they appreciate it when they get it!
Luverne Seifert, Richard Ooms, and Craig Johnson in 
TTT's 2007 Richard III at the MN Opera Center. 
And that's how close the audience is for every show!

4.  I love the spareness and versatility of their sets. Since they travel to perform, their sets are bare bones.  Their music (by the wonderful Peter Vitale) is deceptively simple-sounding, but adds so much. Even the costumes are amazing. I'll never forget their marvelous production of Richard III with Craig Johnson changing characters and genders by donning a simple version of a metal hoop skirt.

5.  I love that they are willing to take on new plays and do amazing jobs with older plays. Their Shakespeare should be required viewing for everyone. Their work has opened up a whole new world of Shakespeare's work to me, due to their innovative productions, including an all-female version of Twelfth Night the season after their all-male Richard III.

Tyson Forbes and Maggie Chestovich
as the Unsinkable Browns
In short, they are amazing. And so is The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Maggie Chestovich gives a full-out, full-hearted performance that must leave her bruised and emotionally spent at the end of the show. As Johnny Brown, Tyson Forbes (new to TTT, as far as I know), is a towering presence who happens to have an amazing voice, ripe for singing love songs. As much as I love TTT, I've never seen chemistry like this on their stage before. It's almost electric!

And of course, H. Adam Harris, Max Wojtanowicz, Kimberly Richardson, George Keller, Eric Sharp, and Austene Van made the most of a variety of roles to fill out this musical. Harris and Wojtanowicz in particular added lots of laughs with their hilarious comments on the main action.

Fabulous, sweet, funny, charming, hopeful, romantic ... as usual, I leave Ten Thousand Things inspired to see more theater and feeling so fortunate to live here in the Twin Cities, where we have so much marvelous theater.

If you're a fan of TTT, you should know that Artistic Director Michelle Hensley, who has taken this innovative theater process to theaters around the country (and directed Molly Brown), has now written a book. All the Lights On: Reimagining Theater with Ten Thousand Things is published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in association with HowlRound Press, and is available now on the TTT website. I know what I'm asking for on my next birthday!