A Doll's House, Part 2 at Jungle Theater in Uptown

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Photo by Lauren B. Photography

A Doll’s House written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879 was a controversial play that challenged societal and theatrical institutions. Ibsen is known as the father of realism and A Doll’s House along with his other great works are the reason for that label. In that play we see Nora, a devoted wife and mother, struggle with a secret she has long held. With it’s reveal and her husbands reaction, she learns that her value to him lies in her subservience, in her being exactly what he wants her to be. At the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves her Husband and Children to begin a life of her own. The play was shocking at the time, now it resembles any play you might see. In the later half of the 19th century it was a daring exploration of gender roles and the rights of women. You can see why Ibsen is seen as one of the most influential playwrights of his time. A Doll’s House, Part 2 was written by Lucas Hnath in 2017 and picks up the story 15 years later when Nora returns. This is the story that unfolds at the Jungle Theater this winter.

Nora played by Christina Baldwin, has come back because she needs something from Torvald played by Steven Epp, the husband she left. She first meets with Anne Marie played by Angela Timberman, the family Nanny who is still with Torvald even though the children have grown beyond the need for a nanny. She will also meet her daughter Emmy played by Megan Burns, who she hopes can assist her in getting Torvald to give her what she needs. And of course she must confront Torvald himself. What is fascinating about this play, is pointed out by Jungle Theater’s Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen in her Welcome message at the front of the program. She quotes a mentor of hers who used to say “in a good play, everyone is right”, and this play is the perfect illustration of that idea. As each character gives their perspective on the past, the present, and society, we believe their point of view has merit. This is a play that while not as revolutionary as the original, how could it be, is perhaps a more inclusive examination of gender roles and societies attitudes towards relationships. It can afford to be, because it is written in a different world than Ibsen was writing back in 1879. In A Doll’s House Nora sees the world for all it’s biases and chooses to defy them and claim personhood for herself. It is a critique of society and the lack of rights for women. At the time, as hard as that is to comprehend now, that went against what society deemed acceptable. The new story continues those themes through Nora’s character. But it also delves into less black and white areas of the conversation. We see what Anne Marie’s views on the subject are and also what Emmy and Torvald believe. They all have their own truths and what makes the play seem real is we can understand and believe that each of their truths are right, for them.

So far this sounds like a a drama full of big ideas right. What was surprising and refreshing was the astonishing amount of humor in the play. From the opening credits, that’s right credits, you know this is not your Mother’s a Doll’s House. This is not a modern updating of the material it is still the late 1800’s but it’s is filtered through our 21st Century Aesthetic. The performances are modern as is the language. The entire cast is exceptional. Baldwin shines whether she is espousing her ideals or drawing out our laughs with her reactions to the other characters speeches. One moment she is rousing our sense of indignation, the next she is breaking our hearts. Timberman plays Anne Marie in a way that at first we believe she is more or less there as comic relief, but in an instance we are shown that there is more there than just laughs. At one point she elicits laughs while also making us feel the sacrifices she has made for this family. Epp plays Torvald as a slightly less confident version than we usually see in A Doll’s house. At first I was unsure of that approach, but as the play progressed I understood that this was a man who had his confidence shaken 15 years ago. He is also a man who has thought about the things Nora said before she walked out the door. He is also playing a man who has had a shock and isn’t really dealing with it very well. All of this is played truthfully, there is an emotionality to it that makes him a much more human character than Ibsen gave us, which speaks to that quote that everyone is right. But as with the entire cast he finds so much humor in the way he plays the part, but never at the cost of his characters truth. Megan Burns turn as Emmy is the smallest role but she makes an impression in her scene. She matches Baldwin’s ability to turn the situation around, convincingly making arguments that ring true while also bringing laughs. Many of the laughs in the play come from the way these actors read the lines and react to each others. The play is definitely meant to be serious and comic, but I think all four of these actors find more laughs through their performances than were there on the page, and they are very welcome laughs.

The direction by Joanie Schultz is bold. There are music and projection choices that scream 2020, but they work, without taking us out of the period of the play. Everyone behind the scenes has done a great job with this production, the Scenic Design by Chelsea M. Warren is spare but effective and fitting for the script. This is a play that focuses on the interaction between the characters, we do not need a fully dressed set to bring these characters world to life. The design works perfectly with the text projection that appears throughout the performance. The Sound Design by Sean Healey also brings an effective juxtaposition between the period the play is set in and our modern times. I am not a person that usually takes a lot of notice of costuming, but I really dug Mathew J. Lefebvre’s work here. My favorite was Nora’s purple outfit, it is sleek and stylish, it instantly shows us that Nora has been successful in the 15 years since the ending of a Doll’s House.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a worthy follow up to one of the great plays of the last 200 hundred years. The Jungle theater has assembled a cast that brings depth and humor to this play, each actor finding their characters’ truth and convincing us of it as well. This is a night out that will keep you thinking and give you much to talk about after you leave the theater, but it will do it while also making you laugh, a lot! It plays through February 23rd at the Jungle Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets go to www.jungletheater.org

Black Comedy Shines Bright at Theatre in the Round Players.

cartoon logo for "Black Comedy" showing a frightened man in the dark with a lit candle

Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer is the sort of play Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) does best. It’s fun, fast paced and the action takes place in one setting. After what seemed to me to be a bit of a rocky start this season TRP should have a hit on their hands with this delightful farce. The play is set in the apartment of Brindsley Miller a struggling sculptor who, along with his Fiance Carol is preparing to Host a Millionaire who is interested in his work and Carol’s father who’s blessing he must win in order to marry Carol. In an attempt to impress the two important men they have borrowed an away neighbors antique furniture without his consent. Just as they are about finished setting the stage a fuse blows in the building and plunges the entire evening into darkness. Almost the entire rest of the play takes place in an apartment where all the lights have gone out.

Are you having trouble picturing it? I almost hate to spoil the clever conceit of the play, but it’s stated in the program and becomes apparent from the very beginning. As the play opens the stage is in darkness, we hear the actors discuss the evening and set up all of the details which will drive the the plot forward. Brindsley played with manic exasperation by Josh Carson, frets over the furniture they have borrowed as the neighbor who is away until the next day is very protective of it and would never consent to it being used. He also expresses his insecurity of meeting Carol’s father, an Army Colonel, whom he’s sure will not approve of him. Carol played by Kaitlin Klemencic questions Brindsley about the photo of a girl she has found in his nightstand drawer. He claims she is an ex-girlfriend from two years ago. If you are familiar with farce, you can anticipate that these details will come into play as the evening progresses. Suddenly the lights flicker and then come fully on. We can see the actors clearly for the first time, but the characters have been plunged into complete darkness. It’s a brilliant technique that lends itself to endless comic possabilities. We are able to see that no one is looking in the right place, we see the near misses of characters and can see the falls and spills they take. The Lighting design by A. Camille Holthaus plays a key role. When a lighter is lit or a match struck the lights fade accordingly, the more light they have the less we the audience have. The timing is perfect for the light queues which were put to the test when one actor keeps lighting matches while another blows them out.

You can imagine the possibilities and I wont spoil the fun or the surprises that the play holds. I will say that as with all great farce just as the characters think they have one situation handled a new hurdle is thrown in front of them. The cast is uniformly great and Carson is a standout, he’s great with the physical humor, taking several fairly large pratfalls. But is also perfect at reacting to each new catastrophe and showing us his ability to deal with each one. I did feel he started slightly too high on the manic scale at the beginning, he could have benefitted from having further to go energywise from beginning to end, but he’s so successful anyway that it’s hard to find fault with it. It’s hard to comment on many of the actors without possibly revealing incidents in the play that are more fun to experience than read about. So I’m just going to list the entire cast and assure you they are all perfect in their roles. Josh Carson, Kaitlin Klemencic, Alison Anderson, Don Maloney, Matt Saxe, Kendra Alaura, H. William Kirsch, and Don Larsson. The direction by Brian P. Joyce is spot on, timing is everything with farce. If the chaos isn’t perfectly timed, it results in real chaos rather than comedy.

Black Comedy plays through February 2nd at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis for more information on the play and to purchase tickets visit http://www.theatreintheround.org/new-homepage/on-stage/black/ . I highly recommend this show.

Bloomsday at Lyric Arts in Anoka

Photo by Twin Cities Headshots

I like the Lyric Arts in Anoka, it’s a good space for productions of all sizes. I’ve seen possibly my favorite production of RENT there but it’s also well suited for more intimate productions like Bloomsday. A four person two character play set in Dublin Ireland. The stage is transformed into a square on a Dublin street, it’s scope is impressive for such a small scale story. There is a trilogy of films that I am very fond of by Richard Linklater known as the Before Trilogy. This play reminded in parts of the first film Before Sunrise. Like that film we are basically following a young man traveling abroad and the young woman he meets in Vienna and spends the day with. That too is an intimate story were we are really only concerned with the two characters and it is set against a large canvas. Also Like that film the two end their time together going their separate ways. Don’t worry I didn’t spoil the ending, we come to understand that near the beginning. Whereas in the Before Trilogy we revisit this couple every 9 years, in this play it has been 35 years. The conceit of the play is that the characters at 55 are able to interact with the characters at 20. The reunion of the 55 year old versions of Robbie and Caithleen is brought about by Robert, who is looking back at that day and regrets how it ended.

The older and wiser Robert and Cait performed wonderfully by Jeffery Goodson and Lolly Foy. Goodson, brings a yearning and regret to the role, that mirrors that feeling we’ve all had of, what if. That decision we made or action we didn’t take that we are kicking ourselves for later in life. But his sense of regret is intensified by a feeling that Caithleen was his one chance and he blew it. He wants desperately to change the past, to tell his younger self to do things differently. Or, not being able to do that, to tell the younger Caithleen not to make such an impression on him that he’ll still be yearning for her 35 years later. Goodson sells all of this, you can feel his frustration with his younger self and also that he still sees the same thing in Caithleen that he saw 35 years ago, and you can see the ache in his eyes. Foy goes a different route with Cait, she brings an eccentricity to the 55 year old that is born from living by her own reality for the intervening 35 years. She seems less eager to try and get the younger versions together, she seems to feel that it was better for Robert to have not been with her. She has her reasons for that and they make sense. But we can’t help but think that where she is now, might not be the same if they had gotten together. Foy plays Cait as a woman who has made peace with her demons and is beyond worrying what people think of her. She gets her laughs with that, but also embodies Cait with real emotion. She feels much more warmly to her younger self than Robert does to his. Where he felt frustration, she feels compassion.

Of the younger versions Gillian Constable stands out. She is natural and beguiling as Caithleen whereas unfortunately, Brandon Homan is too broad. The key to the before Trilogy is the chemistry between the leads, it’s what you need to create the palpable longing within the audience so that they feel and understand what could be between these characters. For this story to work we as the audience need to feel that these two people should be together, we need to feel that it is a tragedy they didn’t get together. That will engage us in the time that Robbie and Caithleen spend together, and make the regret and longings of Robert and Cait all the more powerful. Chemistry is impossible to cast, it’s either there or it isn’t, and a well written story and dialogue played by good actors can still sell the story. Three quarters of this play works, the quarter that doesn’t undermines the whole. It isn’t that Holman is necessarily a bad actor, he’s just a different style of actor than what was needed here. From the program I see that he has been performing with Children’s Theater groups and I suspect that he is perfectly suited for those roles. This needed to be subtler, that’s the best way I can think to put it. We have no trouble seeing what he sees in Caithleen, but we have to see what she would see in him as well, or it doesn’t really work.

This is the area premiere of the play by Steven Dietz and directed by Elena Giannetti. It’s a good play and I’d love to see it performed again. With the younger characters relationship better realized, I think it will only make the older characters parts even more effective. I liked the design of the set Brian J. Proball, more than it’s execution. The idea of building such a large scale city square and then telling this small scale story within it worked. I felt that the actual craftsmanship of it wasn’t up to the Lyric Arts usual standards, maybe I was just too close to it, I do love the front row. The lighting (Shannon Elliott) and sound (Lea Brucker) design was well integrated, used to create focus at different points, when they quoted passages from Joyce or when they froze time. Thunder plays a role, and it’s subtling suggested without taking us out of the play or taking our focus from the characters. This isn’t a home run for Lyric Arts, but it is definitely worth taking in. It’s a solid play with some first rate performances.

Bloomsday runs through January 26th for more information and for tickets visit http://www.lyricarts.org/

2019: A Look Back at The Year I Got Serious About Theater.

2019 will be a hard year to top when it comes to theater. It has been a life changing year. The obvious change has been this blog which I started this past September with the opening of the 2019-2020 theater season. Since my first review Smokey Joe’s Cafe at the Ordway I have written reviews of 36 shows. Through the blog I have met some amazing people in the theater community and joined the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB). It was earlier this week, as I sat with a couple of my fellow Bloggers to finalize our TCTB Awards nominees list. It struck me how much my life had changed this year and how much of that could be traced back to theater. And these changes were not just professional, if that’s what you would call writing these reviews, but also personal.

It was through theater that I reconnected last February with someone I hadn’t seen in almost 25 years. My friend Brent Brandt, some claim he invented the selfie, while others say he just perfected it. Brent and I met in the summer of 1993 while I was working Promotions for The Straw Hat Players, The University of Minnesota Moorhead’s Summer Theater Company. Brent was a graduate by then and selling billboard space. We were introduced by the late great Ted Larson. We took in a couple of movies over the next year or so and then I moved away. It wasn’t until the advent of facebook, that we reconnected. He would comment on my posts at shows and message me to see if I wanted to attend a show he was coming down to see. It was always shows I already had tickets for until this last February. Brent was organizing a group to see Rock of Ages, pit seats at the Orpheum, then a charity event and Night Ranger concert. I was hesitant, here’s a guy I’m supposed to know, but really don’t. That felt awkward to me, but my wife encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, she’s really good at that.

Since Noon on February 9th 2019, I’ve seen Brent at least once a month for a show, a movie, a meal, sometimes all three. That’s kind of a lot considering he lives in Fargo. There is no bigger theater enthusiast than Brent, and I’d be surprised if anyone in the Twin Cities puts more butts in theater seats than he does in any given year. With Brent I’ve experienced a lot of great theater this year, I saw things I wouldn’t have known about like Be More Chill, which is now one of my favorite new musicals. My wife and I loved it so much that for her birthday we went a second time and took a group of 12 to it. Brent also ruined the balcony for me. Ever since we experienced sitting on the Pit for Rock of Ages, I want to be front row for everything. Thanks to Brent we were able to take my brother and his wife and sit on the Pit for RENT, which is one of all of our favorites. But it isn’t just the shows, Brent has moved from acquaintance and facebook friend to a real friend. He’s also brought a wonderful collection of new people into my life. His fantastic wife Kristi and their brilliant daughters Gabbie and Sydney, Aunt Sissy, Doug, and my designated plus one in a pinch, Kati. All of these people adding to the experiences and the joy of life.

I saw 70 different shows in 2019, There were a lot of great productions and if I started to try and list a few, I’d probably end up listing 30 different shows. So I’m going to keep it to two shows which I did not write about as they were both last spring. They are both shows that I just had to see multiple times, and they are both shows that made me want to share theater with others. The first is the aforementioned Be More Chill produced by Minneapolis Musical Theatre and directed by Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha. This isn’t the kind of musical that makes you think or moves you with it’s beautiful melodies. Be More Chill couldn’t be more fun. This is the kind of show that a smile appears on your face during the first song and doesn’t leave until you are home getting ready for bed. The songs are smart, funny and infective. The production was anchored by a fantastic cast lead by Maxwell Emmett Ward as Jeremy, who from the first note he sang, had me taking notice. There is a moment in that first song “More than Survive” as Ward sings “I feel my body moving through the air” the cast picks him up and carries him forward as he moves his legs as if he is walking a foot off the ground. In that moment I knew we were in strong hands, there is such confidence in that moment. It is such a perfect choice, I’ll always remember that single movement as a highlight of the year. Jim Belden singing “Michael in the Bathroom” was another standout moment. So relatable and so heartbreaking.

The second show I saw three times, bringing new people with me each time. It was also the single best live theatrical experience of my lifetime. It was Theater Latte`Da’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I’d seen the film of Hedwig and having a son who is transgender, it’s a show I was familiar with even though I had never seen a live production of it. Nothing prepared me for Tyler Michaels King’s performance or the sheer genius of every aspect of this production. The costumes, the set design, and the lighting were all dead brilliant. I could write all night and never fully express the brilliance of this production. I can still see Tyler Michaels King standing atop his trailer a silhouette as flood lights shine from behind him. I can still feel the the swell of emotion as Jay Owen Eisenberg as Yitzhak reappears transformed and takes the spotlight with Hedwig’s blessing during “Midnight Radio”. The simple but beautiful use of an overhead projector during “Origin of Love”. The Angry Inch playing a few songs before the show began. Tyler Michaels King owned that role and he will always be Hedwig to me. I didn’t know who he was, but Brent knew him as he went to the same college we did, just many years later. Brent tries not to ever miss a show Tyler is in and I must say, I now feel the same way. what a talent he has and Hedwig perfectly showcased it.

There was one other performer I saw this year that blew me away. I first noticed her in Cole Porter’s 1928 Ambassador Revue at the Minsky Theatre. Her name is Miranda Shaughnessy. Here is what I wrote in that review

“One dancer who must be singled out is Miranda Shaughnessy (I had to track someone down after the show to get her name). Shaughnessy caught my attention from the first song, she was clearly the best dancer in the cast and as such was featured in many songs. She had the smile and ability to project in every moment the joy she was feeling. No one’s face shone as a performer the way hers did during every second on stage, this is a great gift for a dancer and an actress. Ms. Shaughnessy at times impressively tapping at others performing exquisite ballet, all of it beautifully executed.”

Cole Porter’s 1928 Ambassador Revue -The Stages of Mn  October 4, 2019 by Rob Dunkelberger

My admiration only grew when I saw her last month in Minnesota Dance Collaborative’s production of HoliDaydream. This is her sixth year performing as Marie in this annual show. She started when she was 10 and now she is 16, the character ages a year along with her in a sort of theatrical version of Boyhood. The astonishing thing about Ms. Shaughnessy is at 16 she is not only an accomplished dancer and charismatic performer, but she also choreographed or co-choreographed a number of dances in both shows. She has it, and she is another performer whose career I am going to be watching very closely.

So here it is 2020 and as I look back on the year that was. I see a throughline that began with me reaching out and connecting. Brent and his enthusiasm caught on, and I saw even more shows. Some of those awoken a desire in me to share them with others. I mourned the closing of Hedwig, I regretted only seeing it three times, I thought of all the people who never even got to see it once. We had a blast bringing a group of teenagers and friends to Be More Chill. And the idea started to form, to try and share this love of the live theatrical experience. These productions that come and go, and if you miss them you are out of luck, there is no DVD you can pop in whenever you want. It’s a unique moment, every night of every show. What memories I’ve made this year. And what a gift it has been to begin to share those shows with you. I started small and found my feet, I’m still designing the website and adding to it when I have time. There are a lot of pages along the top that are blank right now but are glimpses of what is to come. I intend to review a lot more shows in 2020, conduct interviews with some of the artists behind these productions, preview pieces on festivals and upcoming shows, and profiles of theaters and theater companies. I’ll focus more on the big local theaters, I learned as I went through the nomination process this year for the TCTB awards that there were a lot of blind spots in my year, which I intend to correct. But I also want to leave room in my schedule to see some of the smaller shows, that frankly have made up the majority of my reviews this fall. With that in mind I encourage anyone who is mounting a show to reach out if you’d like me to review your production. I want to continue to explore all of the little theaters in the Twin Cities, of which there are many, and sometimes they are doing the most creative work.

Ring out the Holidays with Nutcracker Noir: A Sensual Cirque Ballet at Minnsky Theatre in NE Minneapolis

PHOTO BY  EDN-FORGE 

This was my 4th visit to the Minnsky Theatre on Central Ave in NE Minneapolis. You just never know what you are walking into at the Minnsky. I’m always expecting something like what I saw the last time and then I get something new. I’m sure at some point I will have seen all of the variables, but last night was reminiscent of what came before, but also unique. First off, I don’t think it was quite a sold out show as I saw a couple of empty seats, but it was very close. Due to a show by the Danger Committee before the Nutcracker Noir, the lobby wasn’t opened until about 5 minutes before the show start time. If you are planning to go, that is the schedule for the remaining Friday and Saturday shows. I recommend either showing up early so you are first in when the doors open and can get a beverage and snack (the baked goods are to die for); or coming at around 9, so you don’t have to wait in the line, you’ll have assigned seats so no need to be early.

TifDynamite as the host points out before the show, if you are not familiar with the story of the Nutcracker, what you are about to see is not correct. This is like a naughty funny sequel to the classic story. It takes place 10 years after Clara’s original adventure in the Land of Sweets. Unlike the previous Christmas reimagining I saw earlier in December at the Minnsky, this one is not full of jokes, in fact there is no dialogue at all. This is an all dance/performance show. Now that Clara, played by Bookie Blues, is all grown up she wants a man. Her Grandmother and Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Dee Richards and TifDynamite decide to make her dream come true. Drosselmeyer uses his magic as he did all those years ago to make the toys from Clara’s childhood come to life again, including the Nutcracker, played by Jac Fatale. Before long the Rat Queen, played by Red Rider, appears and there is a dance off and a battle between the Nutcracker, the other toys, the Rat Queen, and her Rats. After Intermission, The Nutcracker and Clara travel to the Land of Oh So Sweet Sweets. Here in the court of Mistress Sugar Kum Fairy, played by Kirstin Nelson (did I mention this show is for adults?) The sweets take turns dancing to entertain the court. So there is a story, but honestly it’s there as a clothesline to hang the different acts on that will be performed.

One of the things I dislike about the Minnsky is it’s hard to single performers out as there are no bios in the programs, sometimes there are not even programs. This time there was and it listed the performers and the roles they played, but when everyone plays multiple roles and you never hear any of their character names, that’s not as helpful as you might think. With names like Droplet, Dew Drop, Spice Drop and Snowflake it’s challenging to know who’s who. If I guess wrong my apologies to the performers please e-mail me and I’ll make corrections.

So what are those acts? There are more than I can probably recount. There is pole dancing, led by Expert on the pole, Red Rider. Many of the routines at the Minsky that involve dangling in air such as pole dancing and the lyra cause the same reaction within me as watching an improv troupe perform a song. I’m incredibly anxious for the performer and amazed at their abilities at the same time. What is even more impressive than a performer doing a pole dance, is when there are four performers, two on each pole. The trust the performers must place in each other is impressive. Aside from the pole and the lyra, there was a trapeze and a large fabric sash. The lyra is usually my favorite, and I really enjoyed it this time as always, but the hammock is my new favorite. Miss Coco Nostal’jah (I think) performed on the hammock, gliding through the air as if she were flying and then wrapping herself up and dangling higher and higher above the ground. It is truly amazing what she can do simply wrapping limbs up in the hammock and turning. Another act that was new this time were the the fire eaters. You just never know what you are going to see at the Minnsky. Including a wardrobe malfunction that provided us with way more Chocolate, played by Obsidian, than we were intended to see. Like a true performer though he carried on and didn’t let it phase him. All the performers are talented, and their acts focus on their area of expertise, whether that be tap, ballet, hip hop or modern dance.

Each individual act has its moments as did the entr’acte moments. There was a nice piece of business throughout with one of the Stagehands who was responsible for raising and lowering the Lyra and trapeze, and placing the safety mats. It was never the simple business of accomplishing the task, there was always some subtle interplay with another stagehand or character in the show. A very dry humor similar to the facial humor of Buster Keaton in his smaller moments. This helped the show enormously. One of the issues with the Minnsky shows can be that they seem to go along and then stop for a routine, which frequently requires setting equipment. This is simply the nature of the shows they do I suppose but it would be nice if they could find a way to integrate the acts within the show more and cut down on the stoppage time for equipement setting. Perhaps staging something in the foreground while the change takes place behind the performers or off to one side so the audiences focus is drawn away from the equipment changes, much harder to do in a show without dialogue I’m sure.

The highpoints of this show are the Minnsky’s specialties, the dancing the aerial gymnastics and the teases of skin. If you enjoy all of that you will have a good time. If you are looking for a more cohesive story and a show that flows from act to act you might be disappointed, so just go in knowing that. That is an area the Minnsky could work on in general. For information and to purchase tickets visit https://www.minnsky.com/shows-.html Nutcracker Noir: A Sensual Cirque Ballet runs through January 4th. This is an 18+ show, it was much tamer then the Grinch Who Stole XXX-mas, aside from the wardrobe malfunction that is, but I don’t imagine that will be repeated.

I've Seen the Future and it's Miranda Shaughnessy. Starring in Minnesota Dance Collaborative Production HoliDaydream at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

Miranda Shaughnessy Photo by Dan Norman

Minnesota Dance Collaborative’s presentation of HoliDaydream is in residence at The Southern Theater in Seven Corners area of Minneapolis. I spent close to a dozen hours at the Southern this fall at the Twin Cities Horror Festival. It’s a very atmospheric theater perfect for horror plays and, as it turns out, Christmas dance fantasy’s as well. The performance space is broad and deep allowing the dancers plenty of room, and this company makes excellent use of it. I’ve written before about the joy of exploring new forms of theatrics, out of my comfort zone, such as Opera and Dance. HoliDaydream is primarily a dance piece but it has dialogue and some singing as well. It’s something of a special show. When I was told about it, I immediately thought of the great Richard Linklater film Boyhood. This is the sixth year that they have done a variation on this show. The main character Marie has been played all six years my Miranda Shaughnessy. She first played the role when she was age 10 and is now 16. Every year the show follows her through another Christmas, her character another year older. Referencing previous years, just enough to hint at the continuity for the repeat audiences but not so much to make you feel like you came too late to the show if you are a newcomer like me. I love this idea, and I do grieve the fact that I cannot attend the previous five years performances.

The story begins as I suspect each year has with Marie writing a letter to Santa. This year at 16 she is thinking less about all the “things” she wants and more about what is really important, like Bernie in the White House. Then she suddenly has a vision of herself in the future and she is down and depressed and it seems like she has ruined Christmas for everyone. The rest of the show Marie and her friends search the past for clues as to how or why she has ruined Christmas. This is where they reference the previous years adventures and based on those hints, there have been some really interesting themes explored in past years. The story elements lend themselves to dance sequences, first off they are dancers, so they go to a dance studio. But there are also dreams and conversations with people inside Marie’s head, which flow smoothly into dances. The show is filled with dancing, more on that below, but it’s also populated with a wonderful assortment of characters including the Dance studio headmistress and Marie’s Mom, both played with gusto and humor by the Writer and Artistic Director Shelli Manzoline, who created this idea of revisiting Marie every year.

The dancing. I cannot do justice to the beauty of the dancing with the words at my disposal. I don’t want to turn anyone off with all the dance talk. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will be amazed and entertained by this dancing. This is not boring or inaccessible at all. It’s incredibly entertaining and engaging. Minnesota Dance Collaborative doesn’t focus on merely one style of dance, they do everything from ballet to hip-hop. Like previous dance performance I’ve seen, I was amazed at the synchronization and sheer athleticism involved. The first dance number “Back in Time” showcased the precision of the entire company, 14 dancers all moving together quickly and flawlessly. “The Nutcracker Battle Compilation” telling a story solely in movement, expressing not only actions but also emotions with their entire bodies. I even got a few callbacks to earlier in this first season of reviewing shows. The first was a number called “Christmas Calamity” and it’s a parody of “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, which I reviewed the Theater Latte Da production of. This is one of the few songs in which the dancers actually sing and they all did nice vocal work as well. Second was “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Show, which was done at Park Square this fall. There was even a mention of not saying the “M” word in a theater, referencing of course MacBeth which I saw the Wayward Theatre Company mount as well this fall. Heck, they even mention Fargo ND which is where I grew up! So while Marie was having her trip down memory lane it felt like I was as well. It’s hard to single any of the dancers out as the program does not have picture and bios, but they are all very talented. One Dancer I spoke with briefly after the show was Grace Sjolander who plays Marie’s sister Lucy. Sjolander has been dancing in competition throughout her life and it shows in the precision she brings to here dancing. There are only two male dancers Lawson Sharrer and Cade Kaiser, both of them in the 14 to 16 year old age range I’d guess, both had the dance steps down, both did some fun line readings. Lawson sharrer has that little extra that could develop into something special, he had that little added bit of grace in his dancing and the ability to sell everything with his face.

Speaking of Something extra, earlier this year I reviewed a show at the Minnsky Theatre. In that review I singled out one dancer. In fact, I was so taken with her dancing and performance that I tracked someone from the cast down after the show to get her name so I could mention her specifically. Her Name is Miranda Shaughnessy and she’s a smasher! There is a line from the film Sunset Boulevard, where a retired film star talks about her days in silent films. Norma Desmond says “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”. Shaughnessy has the face and the gift of a great silent film actress. Do not mistake me, she can act with dialogue and I’m not referencing the inaccurate cliche of the overacting silent performer. She has the gift of conveying so much with her face that dialogue is superfluous. Equally effective with drama and comedy. She has the same talent in her dancing, watching her move you are never at a loss to know what her character is feeling. Watching her dance is to understand the beauty of movement. Watching her face is to understand the joy of dancing. One of the joys of seeing as much theater as I do is running across talents like this. I have a small list of local performers that I will make it a point to see everything they are in. Miranda Shaughnessy is now on that list. At sixteen years old she is six years into playing the lead in an annual Holiday production. Of the 13 dance numbers in the show she either choreographed or co-choreographed five of them. There will come a time when this talent will head to New York or LA, but she told me after the show she would want to come back at this time of year to continue her journey as Marie. I hope she’s able to do that. Not many actors get the opportunity to own a role like this, to revisit a character yearly, in a new show with the character aging with them. That’s a rare thing in the world, and it’s something I think she should continue as long as she can. I’m not sure once she goes out into the larger world how long that will be, because she’s going to be big.

HoliDaydream runs at the Southern Theater through December 22nd for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.southerntheater.org/

Six at the Ordway in St. Paul.

Photo by Liz Lauren

The Ordway Center For the Performing Arts is better venue for seeing Broadway shows than The Orpheum in Minneapolis. The acoustics are better, the Seats are more comfortable and have more leg room. But for reasons besides enjoyment and comfort of the audience, most of the big Broadway tours go to the Orpheum. Six is taking a different route, usually the shows play on Broadway and then a touring company is mounted and four times out of five, that tour goes to the Orpheum. For the first time in the Ordway’s 34 year history a show, Six, is going from the Ordway to Broadway. So not only is Six a show about History it is a show that is making history. I urge everyone to take advantage of this Phenomenal show in the comfort of the Ordway, and be a part of history.

Six refers to the six wives of Henry VIII. The six wives tell their stories in song as a singing competition. The audience will be the judge of who had the worst time being married to Henry. It’s essentially a pop concert filled with history and the humor and joy you expect from a fun musical. The show runs about 85 minutes with no intermission. But what it lacks in intermission it makes up for in kick ass music! Each of the queens songs were modeled on a couple of different pop singers the likes of Beyonce, Avril Lavigne, Adele, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears and Alicia Keys among them. The costumes also take their cue from the vocal inspirations. That said the songs are all original and great, any of them could be on the pop charts. Besides being great musically, they are also filled with clever writing. From the chorus of the final song “Six” where it counts up to six but uses different meanings for the numbers and other plays on words like “Too Many Years Lost in HIStory”. The entire show is filled with top notch music and lyrics by the cocreators Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss.

The set is simple, basically a set of steps in the background, places for the band members and a background framework that lights up in different ways. Simple, but very effective. In a scene where they are describing how Henry is picking his next wife it’s like he is using a life sized tinder app, swiping left to reject, the performer goes to the left and the frame she is in front of goes red. In another scene those boxes are lit to represent church windows with a cross lighting up in the center. There are lights and metallic confetti, it feels like a Pop concert, but one filled with history and all number one songs. I’ve been listening to the music for awhile now and every single song has earned a place in my heart. The cast are the Six queens, we had two understudies performing at the show I saw and they were great, so don’t worry about it if a performer is understudied, you are still getting a great show. The cast is brilliant, what can you say, when they are all so good, singling one out seems like a slight on the others. So here are all six performers I saw and their roles: Nicole Kyoung -Mi as Anna of Cleves, Mallory Maedke as Jane Seymour, Adrianna Hicks as Catherine of Aragon, Andrea Macasaet as Anne Boleyn, Samantha Pauly as Katherine Howard, and Anna Uzele as Catherine Parr. They each create a unique character which shines a light on these individual women who have been relegated to the six wives of Henry VIII. There are 4 band members as well on stage and they as well are all female, and they sound like a super tight pop group, this is just a stellar group of songs.

Besides providing us with great entertainment the show also draws attention through our modern eyes to the inequality that women lived under in those days. It attempts to reclaim these women not as a collective group but as the individuals they were. Reminding us that it’s demeaning and dismissive to reference them simply as a group. They were real people, they were more than just wife 1,2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. It points out that when we reference them in that way we are complicit in reinforcing the attitude of the patriarchal society that men mattered, and women’s value was in relationship to men. Unfortunately this is not a completely obsolete view even in 2019. Like Hamilton, Six uses our modern perspective and music to illuminate the past, making it fresh and relevant again. This is a highlight of the 2019 theater scene in the Twin Cities. I expect it will take Broadway by storm in 2020. I urge you to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see Six now, before it even makes it to Broadway. Aside from anyone who loves musical theater, this is a great show to take daughters too, it is very empowering and may educate them on people they have not been exposed to yet.

Six plays through Dec 22nd for more information and to purchase tickets visit https://ordway.org/.