Friday, November 25, 2016

A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater

Perfect night at the Big G.
As I headed to the Guthrie Theater for A Christmas Carol , the first snow of the season began to fall. Snow and a marvelous Christmas Carol: what a beautiful start to the Christmas season!

Walking into the theater, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the set. A Victorian London street, two-story buildings, frosted shop windows, and artistic drifts of snow on the stage all made me wonder if the theater ever offers photo ops on stage. Wouldn't that make a great Christmas card?

When the impressive set (designed by Walt Spangler) opened up to show the two-story interior of Scrooge's house, I was delighted. It's amazing to see a theater with world-class resources use them so wonderfully. Every single aspect of this production is top-notch, from set, lights and sound, costumes, wigs and the amazing cast.

J.C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge) and Robert O. Berdahl (Jacob Marley).
Photos by Dan Norman.
Director Joe Chvala keeps the show moving along at a good pace. The play runs a brisk two hours including one intermission. He is a master of misdirection, which keeps the ghosts' appearance delightfully surprising.

The story itself is as classic as ever. Crispin Whittell's script includes all the classic lines you expect to hear, without making them sound hackneyed. The cast makes the most familiar and even ridiculous-seeming characters feel like real people. The cast-sung interludes of classic carols range from heartbreakingly plaintive to joyful (and triumphant. Whaaaaaat!).

Scrooge in a rare moment of frivolity.
The whole cast is excellent, and I was so excited by the racially diverse cast. Looking at recent Christmas Carol cast lists, it appears to be a new development this year. Nearly a third of the actors are actors of color, and it's great to see so many of the new faces belong to performers I've seen and enjoyed at other local theaters (such as Eric Sharp, Ryan Colbert, Meghan Kriedler, and the amazing Regina Marie Williams).

J.C. Cutler is a perfectly unpleasant Scrooge from the start. Robert O. Berdahl is a terror as Jacob Marley, with a Medusa-like wig. Though they are not specifically noted in the program, the Guthrie's wig shop does a great job as usual, particularly in helping the actors to distinguish between the multiple characters they portray. And the costumes, by Mathew J. LeFebvre, are gorgeous, particularly The Ghost of Christmas Past, which Tracey Maloney wore to death.

Scrooge's bird's-eye-view of his life is touching, funny, and heartwarming. At the end of the play, it feels like a benediction not just on the world of the play, but on all of us, when Tiny Tim says, "God bless us, everyone!" And I begin to understand why people revisit it year after year.

It's truly a gift to sit in a packed theater with so many families and children, and to hear and feel the appreciation the audience has for the spectacle--and for theater.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Passage - 7th House Theater at the Guthrie

Alejandro Vega (and Bob Beverage.)
Photo by Amy Anderson.
The Passage: or, What Comes of Searching in the Dark is a personal and touching new musical by the ambitious young company 7th House Theater,

With music, lyrics and book by company member David Darrow, The Passage is at Guthrie's Dowling Studio (now through December 4). 7th House Theater, which previously created The Great Work and Jonah and the Whale, works in a very collaborative process--the show is credited as created and directed by 7th House Theater

Eleven-year-old Albert comes home from school to a house with a monster in the basement, so he spends a lot of time in his backyard tent when he isn't braving the perils of the cracked driveway to take out the trash for his harried mom. His new next-door neighbor, Cassie, decides to help him find and fight the basement monster.

Alejandro Vega is perfectly cast as Albert. He has an impressive roster of stage credits, including as Danny in the Minnesota Opera's recent premiere of The Shining. He plays both the childlike enthusiasm and the onset of maturity with aplomb. As Cassie, Mary Bair is almost eerily mature, spouting off facts and algorithms with the same calm she uses to discuss her absent father. Lara Trujillo and Bob Beverage play Albert's parents,

Grant Sorenson (Ensemble), Lara Trujillo (Mom), Alejandro Vega 
(Albert Grissom),and Cat Brindisi (Ensemble). Photo by Amy Anderson.
A bare stage with just a few moving pieces represents Albert's house, backyard, Cassie's house, and the far reaches of Albert's imagination. A barefoot, gray-clad ensemble act as narrators and other characters, building, populating, and narrating the scenes.

The Passage is very much about growing up and coming to terms with the non-imaginary dangers of real life. Along the way, childhood beliefs and memories are celebrated and challenged in songs.

The music is lovely, and the sparse instrumentation (orchestrated by Thomas Speltz) seems to fit the style perfectly. The three musicians (John Lynn, piano; Kristian Anderson, guitar; and Courtney van Claff, cello) provide just enough sound to allow the beautiful harmonies of the ensemble (Cat Brindisi, Derek Prestly, Grant Sorenson, and Kendall Anne Thompson) to soar.

The show is not long (about 75 minutes with no intermission), but feels like it tries for too many layers of metaphor. Just as the show should be easing Albert toward reality, it adds unnecessary and somewhat heavy-handed symbolism. The Passage is an ambitious new work, but would benefit from some streamlining to emphasize the heart of the story.

If you are undecided whether this show is for you, note that it is part of the Level Nine Initiative and tickets are only $9. Try something new! Check out the promo video below:

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Oldest Boy at the Jungle Theater

Did you know that this production of The Oldest Boy marks the first time an Asian man has been on stage at the Jungle Theater?

True story. Just sit with that a second.

Tsering Dorjee Bawa, Masanari Kawahara and
Eric "Pogi" Sumangil (photo by Dan Norman)
Once that has sunk in, let's celebrate the fact that Sarah Rasmussen is dedicated to creating a new Jungle Theater. This past season has featured a female and racially diverse cast Two Gentlemen of Verona, a hilarious and sweet new play about gay marriage (Le Switch), and Bars and Measures, which tackled issues of prison, terrorism, Islam and brotherhood. 

The 2016 season ends with The Oldest Boy, a play by Sarah Ruhl that depicts a family whose young son is believed to be a reincarnated Tibetan lama.
Masanari Kawahara's gorgeous "Oldest Boy" puppet

As the unnamed mother, Christina Baldwin is heartrending. She tells the story of meeting her Tibetan husband (Randy Reyes) in his restaurant, the family disapproval they faced, and the courthouse wedding they had when she was already pregnant. She dotes on three-year-old Tenzin, who is played by master puppeteer Masanari Kawahara and the amazingly lifelike puppet he created of the boy. (We've admired his compelling work in Crow Boy at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.)

The puppet and puppeteer, as playwright Ruhl intended, allow Tenzin to be both small and childlike and then wise and worldly as he recalls his past existence.

As the monks who come to find the lama, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil is charmingly cheery, while Tsering Dorjee Bawa is more serious, but with a smile that lights the room when he recognizes the boy as his old friend.

Bawa also served as cultural consultant for this production, providing guidance on Tibetan language, music, and tradition, which he also did for the original Lincoln Center Theater production of the show. His contribution here is amazing, for the play touches on cultural and religious traditions that we have not seen portrayed on a Minnesota stage. The authenticity also means that we can really identify with the mother as she considers whether to send her son to a monastery in India to be educated.

Director Sarah Rasmussen stages the show beautifully, allowing the love, fear, and hope to emanate from the stage. It's a wonderful production of a terrific, thoughtful show that challenges us to consider the cultural context of the lives around us in a deep way. This might be our only chance to experience this work, and I can't imagine a better production, so please do not miss The Oldest Boy - it runs now through December 18.

The Jungle Theater provides a host of fascinating information to add to the audience experience. The program includes selections from Sarah Ruhl's Afterward of The Oldest Boy, which immediate tackles two intriguing questions: "How did a Catholic white girl from Illinois come to write about Tibetan Buddhism?" and "Why puppets?" Also, they offer a number of opportunities to explore the play in depth with their Come Early, Stay Late series.

The night we attended the play, the post-play discussion centered on Creating Cross-Cultural Theater, led by Artistic Associate Katherine Pardue and featuring Sarah Rasmussen, Noel Raymond and Randy Reyes. It was a fascinating discussion that touched on a number of current and compelling facets of theater and culture--I hated to see the conversation end. (Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, let's keep this in mind for future discussions!)

Come Early, Stay Late Upcoming Conversations:
Storytelling Through Puppetry with Masanari Kawahara - December 1
Traditional Tibetan Music & Dance with Tsering Dorjee Bawa and Yeshi Samdup - December 8
The Politics and Culture of Tibet & The Diaspora with Tsering Dorjee Bawa - December 15
Remember, you don't need a ticket to these performances to attend the discussions.

Plus, Books!
Also, check out the fabulous #JungleReads list of suggested reading in partnership with Magers & Quinn Booksellers. Hot Tip: If you bring your #junglereads Magers & Quinn receipt to the theater, you'll get a free beverage at concessions. Win/win!

Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man at the Ordway

Had a rough couple of weeks? Despondent about the state of the world? I can't imagine any better antidote than seeing Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man at the Ordway (November 18-19).

This show makes you remember that there are still good things in the world, like theater that makes you throw your head back and laugh with your whole body.
Grant MacDermott and Rachel Moulton
(from the NYC production; image from Broadway
Sex Tips started off-Broadway in 2014 as a play adapted by Matt Murphy from the book by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman. It's been running ever since at the 777 Theater on 8th Avenue. The tour stops in St. Paul for only two days, but I wish it was staying longer.

We open at St. Paul Community College, where the audience is attending a 'meet the authors' forum. Due to the untimely demise of the usual moderator, shy, awkward (and single) Robyn is facilitating the event. Oh, and the book they're discussing? Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man by Dan Anderson. Technical help during the show is provided by Stefan, one of Robyn's employees who is helping with lights and sound (and much more).

Brooks Christopher (headshot by Matthew Murray
Grant MacDermott plays Dan (the titular gay man) and he has the audience is in the palm of his hand almost immediately. He is engaging and hilarious and makes this interactive show seem unbelievably easy and charming. Jacklyn Collier is charmingly awkward and nervous as Robyn (the titular straight woman) and Brooks Christopher is hunky Stefan, who does a beautiful job of being wildly objectified, but in an affectionate way.

The energy level of this show is intense. The performers go all-out to bring the audience into the performance, and it was fun to see their reactions to some of the audience members they brought up on stage. Christopher did a particularly good job of staying stoic in the face of ridiculousness and good-naturedly accepting so much prurient attention.

Not your average merch table, no?
And yes, if the title didn't tip you off, this is a show that acknowledges the existence of sexual activities (as the NPR disclaimer goes). Much of the humor comes from the frank and funny airing of topics not usually heard about on the Ordway stage.

The charming MacDermott makes the Ordway Concert Hall feel intimate, and his winks and reactions to his own and others' naughtiness are priceless. Collier takes the audience on her journey from discomfort to enjoyment, and Christopher is quite funny as well as being very easy on the eyes.

[Kooky sidebar: In researching the show and looking for photos with the touring cast, we found this amazing story of the time Jacklyn Collier went on a date with Martin Shrekli: My Tinder date with "Pharma bro" Martin Shkreli]

Above all, Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man is a show that helps me remember that:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Das Rheingold at Minnesota Opera

From the very first notes of Wagner's beautiful overture coming from the super-sized orchestra on stage of the Ordway in Minnesota Opera's production of Das Rheingold, I was IN.

The musicians had to be on stage, since they number about twenty more than can fit into the Ordway's orchestra pit. Director Brian Staufenbiel turns this necessity into a strong production design that fits the material perfectly. Hearing Wagner performed live is an experience not to be missed.

Alberich (Nathan Berg) and the Rhinemaidens
Gorgeous production photos by Cory Weaver.
The musicians are periodically behind a scrim, but always in view. When the action starts, the Rhinemaidens frolic in the "pool" of the orchestra pit, with stage fog and watery reflections projected on the scrim to set the scene. This also puts the singers front and center, and it's wonderful to hear the voices so clearly. Mary Evelyn Hangley, Alexandra Razskazoff, and Nadia Fayad sound gorgeous and move beautifully, playfully spurning the advances of the Niebelung, or dwarf, Alberich (Nathan Berg in a fantastic performance), who wants the gold the maidens guard. (The great Anna Russell calls the Rhinemaidens "a sort of aquatic Andrews Sisters" and you really must check out her recap of the opera if you haven't seen it already.)

In the underworld, where the Niebelungen live, the gold gives Alberich the power to control others, including his brother Mime, sung by Dennis Petersen, who is very watchable, resembling Andy Serkis in his almost insectlike costume, herding an adorable bunch of supernumeraries as the other dwarves.

When the story moves above ground to visit the gods in Valhalla, they appear on a high catwalk above the orchestra, placing them physically and vocally above the rest of the cast.

And the cast is outstanding. Greer Grimsby is solid and in charge, and perfectly embodies Wotan, ruler of the gods. His relationship with Katherine Goeldner's Fricka feels affectionate and intimate. Richard Cox as the demigod Loge is a solid presence in his antler-like headgear, even as we doubt his intentions. Late in the opera, the magnificent Denyce Graves emerges as Erda, Goddess of the Earth. She wears a wonderful nature-inspired costume, and I was tempted to start entrance applause for her. I only wished the role were bigger and that we could have heard more of her glorious voice. 

Denyce Graves as Erda
The costumes and production design are steampunk-inspired, but not in a gimmicky way. Cameras make the giants Fasolt and Fafner (Jeremy Galyon and Julian Close, both wonderful) seem larger than life. The projections throughout are terrific and really add to the otherworldly setting.

The opera is performed as written, without an intermission, and runs two hours and 33 minutes. Surprisingly, I only saw one person leave their seat during the opera, and I'm pretty sure they were having a coughing fit. The opera's program includes a succinct synopsis and a handy family tree that traces the complicated relationships that proceed through the entire Ring cycle, of which Das Rheingold is only the first of four operas.

If this production is deemed a success, we may be fortunate enough to see the rest of the cycle in Minnesota Opera's coming seasons, and I truly hope that happens. Personally, I love Wagner's operas because of the complex mythology and the fact that things happen, unlike many operas where people just sing incessantly about love. [Editor's note: Some of us like people singing incessantly about love. ;)]

Gods and giants and dragons, oh, my!
As usual, Minnesota Opera have done a wonderful job of compiling supplementary information on the their website, including photos, costume sketches, and music.

And if you want to know even more about The Ring Cycle, check out the fab documentary Wagner's Ring, about the Metropolitan Opera's recent staging of the entire cycle. It's a fabulous look at a massive production and all of the backstage drama therein.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Company - Shoot the Glass Theater

Stephen Sondheim's Company is an ambitious project for a new theater company, and Shoot the Glass Theater is aiming high for their second production. Company is playing through November 20 at the New Century Theatre in Minneapolis

The company has assembled a talented cast, backed up by six on-stage musicians, who provide a full sound of brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion. The musicians and music director Randy Buikema are right on stage, watching and engaged with the action on stage. As the show progresses, they even interact with the cast, which is kind of fun.

The New Century space is not ideal for a musical, with its shallow thrust stage. Limited set pieces sketch out locations that quickly change. Sometimes, the presentation is a bit too front-forward for the thrust stage, and the view from seats to the side was not the best. Lauri Kraft's choreography worked, but I wish there had been more of it, because the show can be kind of static.

The company of Company
There are a number of good performances here, including Kaitlin Klemencic as Amy, performing perhaps the fastest "Getting Married Today" I've ever seen, which, if you know Company, is impressive.

Ultimately, although there are great songs in the show, it hasn't aged all that well since its 1970 premiere. It's never really clear why all of these people are so enamored of central character Bobby, and it's a pretty homogenous group of straight, (mostly) white people who make you wonder that they don't have any more variety in their social circle.

This production of Company covers the basics, but it made me wish for a stronger vision to bring it into step with modern times.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Raisin in the Sun - Park Square Theatre

The new production of A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre is a welcome revival of a classic which unfortunately serves to illustrate how little some things have changed in the half-century since the play premiered on Broadway.

The play depicts a moment in the life of the Younger family, with all the action taking place in their cramped shared apartment. Widowed matriarch Lena is expecting an insurance check following the death of her husband. She wants to use the money to buy a house, to give her family something to hold onto for the future. Her son, Walter, wants money to invest in a liquor store. Walter's wife, Ruth, works hard to take care of her husband and their son, Travis. Walter's sister, Beneatha, will be able to continue her studies toward a medical degree with the money. As always when resources are short, so are tempers.

Aimee K. Bryant, Darius Dotch, and Am'Ber Montgomery.
(Photos by Petronella J. Ytsma)
At first, the Andy Boss Thrust Stage seems like an odd fit for a traditional script like A Raisin in the Sun, with its realistic-looking sets. In fact, from the side seats, it wasn't possible to see the upstage doors to a bedroom, a closet, and the hallway. But the staging, by Warren C. Bowles, ensures that the important action is visible from all angles. And the layout, with the stage at floor level and few barriers between stage and audience, makes the action of the play more intimate and immediate. Rather than observing the family in their apartment, it feels as though we are right in it with them.

The house Lena has found is in Clybourne Park, a primarily white neighborhood. When a representative from the neighborhood association visits to pay the family not to go through with the sale, his repeated use of the phrase "you people" felt like a slap all the way out in the audience. Sadly, his agenda was identical, if sometimes phrased more delicately, to the objections of St. Cloud residents to an influx of Somali immigrants, as covered by This American Life several weeks ago.

Greta Oglesby couldn't be more perfect as Lena Younger, a woman who rules her family and holds them to her high standards. Darius Dotch is all frustrated energy as Walter, trying to stake out his own place in the world. Aimee K. Bryant is sweet and resigned as Ruth, and Andre G. Miles is the repository of so many of the family's hopes as Travis. Am'Ber Montgomery's Beneatha tries to embrace her African heritage as she juggles two suitors, played with nice contrast by Cage Sebastian Pierre and Theo Langason. The performances and pacing are perfection.

Aimee K. Bryant, Greta Oglesby, and Andre C. Miles

Park Square Theatre invited the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers to attend a matinee of the show and participate in a conversation after the show. Jamil Jude, Artistic Programming Associate at Park Square Theatre, led the discussion with Becky of Compendium and Gina of The Room Where It Happens. This discussion was what the theater is calling Park Square Musings, where audience members can stay after the show and discuss it without the cast or production team's input. The format worked wonderfully for this show, the play brings up a lot of issues that people don't often have a chance to discuss in a safe space.

The show is selling fast, but if you can get tickets before it closes on November 20, you'll be glad that you experienced this classic at this tumultuous time.

Check out what our blogger friends had to say about the show at the links below!

Cherry and Spoon, Compendium, The Room Where It Happens, Say Entirely, Play Off the Page, Twin Cities Stages.

And here's director Warren Bowles talking about the intimacy of the Boss space.

Warren C. Bowles, Director, A Raisin in the Sun from Park Square Theatre on Vimeo.

Friday, November 11, 2016

105 Proof - Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

We first saw 105 Proof: or, the Killing of Mack "the Silencer" Klein at the 2015 Fringe Festival. Since then, the show has gotten a bit longer and added a couple of new scenes, but seems to be largely the same show. I'm sure the company is that much more in sync now, which is always a strong point to a Transatlantic Love Affair show.

We LOVE Transatlantic Love Affair. Since seeing Ash Land, we haven't missed a show. The way this company puts together shows is unlike anything else I have ever seen.

The show is conceived and directed by Diogo Lopes, and created by the ensemble. Each actor is a vital element to the show, as an entire world is created from their movement and bodies. Evocative music and sound from onstage guitarist Dustin Tessier and percussionist Adam June (Patterson) and spare but effective lighting designed by Barry Browning help to create a compelling setting for this story.

TLA frequently adapts their shows from classic folk and fairy tales, but they're branching out this time into a quintessentially American story: the humble beginnings and violent rise to power of a bootlegging gangster during Prohibition. According to Lopes's director's notes, he wanted to "explore a genre, popular in movies but rarely seen in theater - the action thriller." 105 Proof follows a young man from Wyatt County, Illinois, as he discovers the money and power available to people willing to ruthlessly exploit people's thirst for illegal alcohol.

The performing company of eight actors create a small town--from the swinging entrance door of the general store, to the rocking chairs on a front porch, to the backyard still--and all of the people who inhabit it. Later on, the action moves to the hangout for Mack Klein's gang in Chicago, populated by tough characters.

TLA core ensemble members Heather Bunch, Derek Lee Miller, and Allison Witham each create sweet sincere small-town characters as well as hired guns you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. They are ably joined by Amber Bjork, Emily Dussault, Eric Marinus, Nick Saxton, and Nick Wolf, and all are terrific in their human and nonhuman roles.

105 Proof is darker than the other TLA shows I've seen. The depiction of violence is terrifyingly effective, and the gangsters appallingly amoral. It's a riveting story, told in classic TLA style, but I didn't connect with it on the personal level I have with their other shows. The crime drama isn't necessarily my favorite genre, but of course it's terrific. If you have seen other TLA shows, well, you've probably already got your tickets. If you haven't, it's an exciting introduction to their unique style of storytelling, and will hold the attention of even the least-enthusiastic theatergoers.

105 Proof runs through November 20 at the Illusion Theater. The top ticket price is $27, which is a bargain for the entertainment value wrapped up in this swift, tightly told tale.

If you're wondering about Transatlantic Love Affair, here are our writeups of previous TLA shows:
These Old Shoes
The Ballad of the Pale Fisherman

TLA's next show will be in the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie, January 27-February 12, part of their Level Nine series. It's set to be "a reimagining of Hansel and Gretel as a tale of immigration." Not sure what that means, but as always, I'll be there!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

110 in the Shade - Second Fiddle Productions

The third and final production of this season for Second Fiddle Productions was 110 in the Shade. Directed by Joey Clark with Music Direction by Nic Delcambre, the show is based on The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash from the 1950's. This work was also made into a film in 1956, and finally into a fantastic musical in 1963. The score was written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt - best known as the writers of The Fantasticks, most recently seen here in the Twin Cities in an amazing production by Nautilus Music Theater.  As with all Second Fiddle Productions, this was a reading. The actors had their scripts, music stands, and some hints of costumes. No set, no big orchestra, no make-up, just the essentials: actors, music, and the desire to tell a story.

And what a great story. You can read about it on one of the many links above but in short it is about a spinster, a con man, and a town coming together. While it may read like "The Music Man," when put into the hands of Schmidt and Jones - you get a very different feel. Less bombastic, brassy tunes, and more smart, introspective, gorgeous melodies. I have to confess, Schmidt and Jones do not always write music you can hum along with, or music that may linger in your brain. As an actor, I find that you have to spend time with their music to really have it stick. I couldn't stand the show The Fantasticks until I performed in it. I understand the music better, it hums for me, and I felt very similar about 110. That isn't to say that the music isn't good - it is very good. Just to state that unlike many shows where you leave the theater singing a song from it, you may not with this one. The show when first written was very operatic and so it took some cutting down before it played on Broadway in 1963. Luckily even from the start there was one real stand-out tune. You can see it here with the 2007 Broadway Revival Cast (as seen on the Tony Awards).

After the original Broadway production, there was a London production (the only one so far) that played 101 performances. There was a revival at the New York City Opera directed by Scott Ellis, choreographed by Susan Stroman, and with Karen Ziemba in the role of Lizzy. This production was recorded by Jay Records with a nice full orchestra. As with all Jay Record recordings, every note in the score is recorded - from the Overture, to entrance music, underscoring, etc. It is a really great way to preserve a score. The cast for this not only had Karen Ziemba, but also Richard Muenz, Ron Raines, Kristin Chenoweth, and both Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt! Finally it was revived in a Roundabout Theater Company on Broadway in 2007. It was directed by Lonny Price with designs by Santo Loquasto. Not only did it have Audra McDonald as Lizzie, and John Cullum as her father, it also had Steve Kazee as Starbuck. This production was recorded by PS Classics.

(Sidebar: I have the two most recent recordings and they are both wonderful. I do not have, nor have I heard the original cast recording but it is on my to-do list. There are some great songs and performances on these recordings - totally worth looking into, starting with the 2007 PS Classics album)

So, I know this is more of a write-up about the show itself instead of the amazing cast from Second Fiddle. Honestly - an amazing cast of fantastic local actors and singers. And here is the best thing about Second Fiddle. Not only do you get to see and hear a show live that you rarely have a chance to, but they also get the cream of the crop when it comes to performers. Jennifer Eckes, Doug Anderson, Max Wojtanowicz, Shelli Place, Suzie Juul, Adam Qualls, Elena Glass, Christian Unser..and that is JUST the Ensemble!! Shinah Brashers was spot on in the role of Snookie, Kory LaQuess Pullam was great as File. Bill Marshall, Paul Coate, and Robbie Droddy were all spot-on as H.C., Noah, and Jimmy Curry. Eric Morris - I have no idea why I haven't heard him before but he was amazing as Starbuck. And Therese Walth as Lizzy is the thing. I was sitting behind a pillar and so I couldn't see her. Yet I knew exactly what was going on just by listening to her voice. She was fantastic and I look forward to see her, and more of this group of actors soon. And that is one of the best things about Second Fiddle - great local performers doing what they do and love best....telling stories through song and music.

Second Fiddle is gearing up for their fourth season (which I have heard rumors of what they want to do and it will be incredible). While they have received some wonderful grants from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and some very generous donations - you can also make their fourth season happen by going to and search for Second Fiddle. Give to the Max day is coming up and there are a LOT of local theater groups who could use some love. That is on Nov 17th so take a look and share the love.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Twin Cities Horror Festival V: Why I Love TCHF (and Review Roundup)

I LOVE the Twin Cities Horror Festival, now in its fifth year and here's why:

- Manageable size (ten shows, plus a few one-night events)
- Runs a reasonable amount of time (October 27 through November 6, 2016)
- Only one theater (The Southern Theater)
- Which has a bar (with excellent beer)
- That theater space is appropriately atmospheric (plus, this year the lobby is beautifully decorated by Katie Hartman of The Coldharts)
- Their website rocks: Simple, organized and featuring genres and ratings
- The staff and volunteers are welcoming, friendly and efficient

Oh, and I almost forgot: IT'S ALL ABOUT HORROR. I didn't think my favorite time of year could get any more favorite. Thanks, TCHF!

Our reviews so far for TCHF V (updated as they're added):

Ubu for President by Four Humors

Cinderella: A Revenge Play by Cheap Thrills Theater

A Zombie Odyssey by theater simple

Senseless by Dangerous Productions

Horrorshow Hot Dog Short Film Festival 2016

The Well by Kirkyard Productions

Severed by Ghoulish Delights

The Philip Experiment by The Importance of Being Fotis

The Not So Silent Planet by Word Sprout

Sweet Dreams, Alfie by Savage Umbrella

Book of Shadows by Erin Sheppard Presents

Edgar Allan by The Coldharts

More Reviews (not by us):

Twin Cities Horror Festival V Recap - One Girl Two Cities

Horror Is Back - Ira Brooker, MN Playlist

Twin Cities Horror Fest Opens with Zombies, Gore, and Twisted Fairy Tales - Jay Gabler, City Pages

The Philip Experiment - One Girl Two Cities

Oh, the Horror: Twin Cities Horror Fest Is Back for Two Weekends - Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press

Twin Cities Horror Fest adds new scares this year -  Ed Huyck, City Pages (from 2015 but a nice look at the Festival)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Twin Cities Horror Festival V: Edgar Allan by The Coldharts

What's It About: "Little Edgar Allan met his shadow on the first day of school. His shadow follows him everywhere now… sabotaging his plans, stunting his achievements, souring his joy. Little Edgar Allan wants to be rid of his shadow… but Little Edgar Allan is afraid of the dark."

Edgar Allan is performed by The Coldharts, and is a charming, simple musical about young Edgar Allan and the mysterious other Edgar Allan that he meets at school. It's unsurprisingly dark and surprisingly funny, with a whole lot of story for a one-hour show. The Coldharts are Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan, two theatre artists based in Brooklyn, New York. They create American Gothic-inspired, devised, music-theatre. Edgar Allan is part of The Coldharts American Gothic trilogy, all three of which were performed at the Twin Cities Horror Festival. I'm really hoping they'll return next year so I can see all three. Please come back soon, The Coldharts!

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: No worries. Unless you have a fear of ukeleles.

In Short: It's funny and grim and dark and charming.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Twin Cities Horror Festival V: Book of Shadows by Erin Sheppard Presents

What's It About: "Spells will be cast through dance and spoken word. Sometimes magic is the only way to get what you want. Some call it witchcraft, witches call it life."

Book of Shadows consists of vignettes in dance, each on a particular theme or focus involving witchcraft. A narrator (Taj Ruler) reads from her own Book of Shadows in between each vignette, with comic and poignant monologues on her own forays into witchcraft.

The dances are beautiful, so gorgeously done, with simple costumes and wonderful lighting, and they tell simple but effective stories ranging from Snow White to the Salem Witch Trials to a sort of The Craft-like tale. The music is fantastic and the choreography is beautifully done, with not just beautiful dancing but great acting as well.

This show is really stunning and gorgeous and a perfect way to end the Twin Cities Horror Festival.

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: Or not that familiar with dance? You'll still love it.

In Short: I am immediately adding Erin Sheppard to my theater must-watch list.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Twin Cities Horror Festival V: Sweet Dreams, Alfie by Savage Umbrella

What's It About: "It's about the thing that goes *bump* in your mind."

Sweet Dreams, Alfie is haunting, disquieting and beautifully done. Russ Dugger, who also came up with the story and shares writing credit with director Laura Leffler-McCabe and the ensemble, plays Alfie, a guy so deep in a depression that it's difficult for him to know when he's asleep or just living his nightmares.

The stagecraft is simple but evocative, and the ensemble (Russ Duggar, Mark Sweeney, Megan Clark, Claire Morrison) act the hell out of their parts. Did I mention it's haunting? Random images from the show keep flashing through my head: Alfie shaving in the mirror, eating takeout with his sister, drinking coffee with his girlfriend, being invited out for drinks by the obnoxious guy at work. It all seems very innocuous, but it's anything but. This is probably the most unsettling show I've seen at the Twin Cities Horror Festival, but unsettling in a wonderful, thoughtful way. You can just feel that it's made with authenticity and kindness.

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: This show is not so supernatural but more about the horrors our minds can create. There's a little blood, but it's more suggestive than gory.

In Short: A well-told (and rather sad) story, with haunting imagery and marvelous performances. This show will stay with me for quite some time.