I was really looking forward to the Illusion Theater’s production of Elise Forier Edie’s play The Pink Unicorn. Everything thing I read indicated it would be right up my alley. Nothing could have prepared me for one of the most moving evenings I’ve had in the theater all year. The Pink Unicorn is the best play about the experience of being a parent to a transgender child. It gets it exactly right, from the confusion to the mistakes, the fear for our children and the anger at those that hurt them. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Kate Guentzel’s performance is so open, honest and relatable it moved me to tears on three separate occasions in it’s 70 minute run time. You will not find a show playing in the Twin Cities this weekend that will do more for your understanding of others or your soul.
The Pink Unicorn is a one woman show based actual events from playwright Elise Forier Edie’s life. Kate Guentzel is Trisha a widowed mother of a daughter Jolene in a small Texas town. Trisha begins by telling about the day her 14 year old daughter told her that she was not a girl or a boy but that they are genderqueer. Trisha doesn’t know what that means and like most parents who are given this news she will be playing catch up with her child for a long time. She brings us along on their journey as Jolene now wanting to be called Joe tries to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at their high school. We share in her experiences with her church, her battles with the school, and the non acceptance of her mother. Through everything the character remains a fallible human. Trisha isn’t written as a hero or a character that leads the way and does no wrong. She shares her initial confusion which are natural to have about something we don’t understand. She also shares her urge to go in and beat it out of her child. She says and thinks things that are not OK, just like everyone else on the planet. The play isn’t afraid to show us that side, because it also shows us the moments where she steps up and supports her child letting her love rather than fears guide her. That is the path for every parent on this journey, grapple with unknown, make mistakes, try and learn from them, and ultimately let love show you the way.
I have not seen a performance this year that connected with me as strongly as Kate Guentzel’s did. It felt like she was performing directly to my son and I. Which it turns out she sort of was as we were in the front row and the only faces she could see in the audience with the lights down. I know that connection was also because as the parent of a transgender child, I related to the character of Trisha. However, I don’t think you have to be the parent of a transgender child to feel that connection though. I think every parent can relate to the character, in fact I think every parent should see this play. We can all understand the emotions she is having and for those who haven’t been through it personally, this show can be the catalyst for empathy and the beginnings of tolerance. I have on occasion, spoken to groups about our journey with or about our son. I do that because I learned very early in the process that sharing our personal story, more than statistics or newspaper and magazine articles, is what creates understanding. With understanding comes acceptance, and with acceptance hopefully comes support. Edie has found a way to do that with her play, we know that Trisha is a character in a play being performed by an actress, but we also feel the authenticity and know that the story is true. It creates that same empathy. If you do not understand all this “trans or genderqueer stuff” do yourself a favor, go to this play, it will help you understand. And finally, I cannot close without just saying that Kate Guentzel was dead brilliant, it was a privilege to be in the front row, to be spoken to so directly, to witness such a truthful and engaging performer own a role so completely. Her Southern Accent was so well done it was a bit of a shock when the talkback began to hear her own voice.
The Pink Unicorn is playing in St. Paul at The Lowry Lab Theater, remaining performances on March 1 and then March 12, 13 & 15. General Admission tickets are only $15 (this is a steal). Click here for more information and tickets go to http://www.illusiontheater.org
The show is also continuing a tour in MN see locations and dates below.
TheaterB in Moorhead on March 7 and 8 Pioneer Place Theater In St Cloud on March 4 Dalko Arts in New Prague on March 6 Fair trade Books in Red Wing on March 14
Superman is in the title of the play, but he is not the only hero associated with it. Superman Becomes Lois Lane is written by real life hero Susan Kimberly. This is her story and by sharing it, she helps facilitate understanding and compassion, and that, makes the world a better place. Freya Richman stars in the show as Susan, she is also a hero. You can google both of these women to find out more about what they have done politically and socially to make the world a better place for the transgender community. The incredibly brave thing each of them does is live an open and public life. Many Trans people will decide to transition and then live their life as the gender they identify with. That is the right thing for them, everyone’s needs are different and personal. I also know from personal experience that those who are able to share their journey bring comfort, validation, and hope to those who are just beginning. My son began to transition about seven years ago when he was nine years old. As parents we gained reassurance, comfort, and understanding from reading books, and talking to other people about their transitions and their lives. We have also experienced the understanding and empathy that we can create by sharing our story, and our sons journey. Reading about someone transitioning in a newspaper, magazine, or seeing it on a news program raises awareness and dissipates some of the mystery. Which is crucial to gaining an understanding that this is a normal event for many people on this planet – if anything is normal. But when we share our story in person we transfer that story not simply as data but with emotion as well, and that is when we create empathy. Superman Becomes Lois Lane does that as well. The play shares Kimberly’s story, not just the facts. It delves deeply into her emotions, her inner life, her past, her fears and it creates a much fuller and richer comprehension in the audience of Susan Kimberly. Not as a fictional character or a celebrity, but as a human being. As a woman who was once a man and the challenges that entailed.
This is an important message for all of those reasons, but it is also a really good play. Kimberly’s story is told as if Bob, Susan’s name before she transitioned, is a separate person. Susan and Bob have conversations with each other and talk about each other in the third person. This like so many aspects of a transgender persons journey is different from person to person. I could relate to this aspect, I think of my son and my daughter in some ways as two entirely different people. When I see my son I see who he is now. I remember my daughter, and rationally I can remember the things he did as a little girl, I haven’t lost that person or those memories, but when I look at him and think about him now, I just see my son. I don’t know how he thinks about that aspect. Playing it as two seperate characters was a powerful technique to utilize to tell this story, and I believe that this is how it was for Susan. Susan and Bob basically narrate the story, jumping in and out of scenes with other characters, flashing back and forth in time to uncover the pieces of her story. We meet Therapists, family members, friends, even Norm Coleman, getting a greater understanding with each scene of Kimberly’s journey. The third main character is Mae, Bob’s wife who remained Susan’s friend. Kimberly wisely includes her as a major character as well. Through Mae, many of those in the audience who are Cisgender, have our own “in” to the story. We understand how it must have felt to have gone through this life with Bob and Susan. We can see in her unwavering support, not for Bob or Susan but for the person they both are, a strength and courage that we can all aspire too.
Freya Richman as Susan, Sean Michael Dooley as Bob, and Jamie White Jachimiec as Mae ground a play that involves past lives and conversations between two actors who are in reality, the same person. Freya Richman is the soul of the production, her own journey must have greatly informed her performance and as such it’s hard to imagine another actor that could have brought so much to the role. She plays the lack of confidence and confusion that Susan feels at times particularly well. She has a quality that seems particularly open and allows the audience to develop empathy through every stage. Susan is at times sad, nervous, defeated, jealous, angry, hopeful, optimistic, excited and triumphant. Whatever the emotion the character is feeling, we not only understand through Richman’s performance what it is, but why. Sean Michael Dooley and Jamie White Jachimiec support Richman on this journey also creating characters that we become attached to and admire. They have a moment together during the second act that is heart wrenchingly powerful and beautiful. The cast is rounded out by three excellent ensemble players Sam Landman, Casey E. Lewis and Melanie Wehrmacher who all play multiple roles such as friends and Doctors.
The Play was directed by Laura Leffler and in my eyes she is another hero, see my review of Steel Magnolias from last November for that story. Here, she takes on what must of seemed like an overwhelming challenge. The time shifts, coming in and out of scenes, two actors portraying one person. This could easily have become a muddle, a confusion. Leffler strategically utilizes the multi-level set designed by Michael Hoover to clarify the changes when they take place. The video design by Kathy Maxwell, lighting design by James Eischen, and sound design by Katharine Horowitz all work together beautifully. I was very impressed with the set itself and the use of projection to help establish location and mood. Another pleasing aspect of this production was the program itself. It includes a Q & A with Susan Kimberly, a glossary of terms, and a spread on ways to support Trans people.
Superman Becomes Lois Lane is playing through March 1st at the History Theatre for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://historytheatre.com/
I was unfamiliar with Open Window Theatre, apparently they used to be based in Minneapolis. Now after a four or five year absence they have opened again in new digs in Inver Grove. The new theatre was supposed to open in December and host their Christmas concert but construction delays caused it to be relocated. The new space contains a large performance area and seating for maybe 150 to 200. Designed so there isn’t a bad seat, and you can see and hear everything from anywhere. Reading through the theatre’s website I get the impression it is somewhat faith based theatre. If you are not religious don’t let that turn you off. I found the work to be based on a theme of redemption and positivity, not any explicit religious faith. Their mission is about creating theatre that entertains, educates, and inspires. One of their beliefs is that theatre doesn’t need to be vulgar to be good. There is nothing wrong with that certainly, and it doesn’t mean they put on only G rated plays. The play tonight dealt with violence, incest, prostitution, it dealt with these matters quite openly, but it wasn’t judgemental about them.
The play was The World Over by Keith Bunin. In the “Who’s Who” portion of the program the managing director Cole Matson, Ph.D. states that it’s his favorite play. I’m not sure how that happens, it’s a good play that will sink or swim based on it’s cast. Open Window Theatre fortunately has found a very good cast and so The World Over is a very enjoyable evening despite running close to 2 1/2 hours with intermission. An epic quest of a tale drawing from the greeks in it’s Odyssey style episodic journey as well as Shakespeare with it’s shipwrecked twins and fortuitous coincidences. Adam, is rescued from a deserted island and told the nursery story of the country of Gildoray. He comes to believe that he is the long lost prince of Gildoray and sets out on a journey to find the land no one believes exists, to rescue his mother who has been banished, and set his people free from the tyranny of his uncle who has assumed the throne. Along the way he will rescue and enrich the lives of all that he comes across. He will fight monsters, and face a sultans challenge in hopes of winning a Princess’s hand in marriage.
While Andrew Hey plays only the character of Adam, the other seven actors portray multiple characters each. Hey plays Adam as an idealistic at the beginning who triumphs by perseverance and a belief that doing the right thing is always the only way forward. As he progresses he loses sight of his core values and when he acts out of personal ambition, his winning streak comes to an end. It’s then we see what makes his character a true hero, having lost everything he still steps out to help those that are in his path. Standouts among the cast were Grant Hooyer, Erika Kuhn, and Dawson D. Ehlke all of which played at least one if not multiple characters that remain vivid after the lights come back up. Hooyer, brings a light and witty touch to both the Geographer, who is basically telling us the story, and the Balladeer who tells Adam the story of Gildoray. Kuhn’s best character is that of Princess Isobel. Ehlke shines early on as the Pirate Darkly Jack. All of the actors play their roles straight with earnestness when it is called for, but they also bring out the humor wherever it is appropriate. It’s a blend that almost shouldn’t work and yet, it really, really does. The Director Jeremy Stanbary perfectly paces the show, we visit so many different places and scenes moving from one to the next so fluidly that your amazed when the show ends and you see how long it was. Stanbary also had to take over the Lighting and Projection Design two weeks before the show opened. The multiple hats didn’t show as the Lighting and projection as well and the sound design which he also did were effective and well executed.
The World Over is well paced hero’s journey. Performed by a cast that can bring the epic but also remembers that a sprinkle of humor can do a lot towards helping an audience suspend their disbelief. For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://openwindowtheatre.org/
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
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.”
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.
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-.htmlNutcracker 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.
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.