New Production of “Oklahoma!” At The Orpheum Oh What a Beautiful Revival!

Photo By Matt Murphy for MurphyMade.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are Icons of the Broadway Musical, collaborating on five of the most well known golden age musicals: Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, and of course Oklahoma!. Oklahoma! was the duo’s first full collaboration, which premiered on Broadway in 1943 and won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944. One might expect that a show nearly 80 years old might have little to offer a modern audience. One would be mistaken. If you want to teach a young person about the art of theatre show them the Classic film version of Oklahoma! (1955) and then take them to see this revival. Without altering a word of the text the show takes on new meaning, the staging and performances demonstrating the way choices made by directors and actors can greatly affect a production. It is a reminder of why great works should be restaged and reinterpreted. There are choices made by individuals that can uncover new meanings. The new version is darker particularly in the ending. But, the show also contains a lot of humor and has all those classic songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This may not be the show to take Grandma too, even if she loved the film version, but it should play well for younger audiences, including teenagers. I would hope the ending in particular would illustrate something to the younger generation. This revival of Oklahoma! breathes new life into an American classic by more accurately portraying the America of today.

This revival which launched on Broadway in 2019 is directed by Daniel Fish. Fish along with Projection Designer Joshua Thorson and special effects creator Jeremy Chernick are responsible for the most impactful elements of the production. Fish has created a seismic change in the tone of the show. It is still the story of two love triangles: Laurey and her two suitors, Curly the Cowboy and Jud the Farm hand, and Ado Annie and her Cowboy the mathematically challenged Will Parker and the peddler Ali Hakim, who will do whatever he can not to win her hand in marriage. The audience has no doubt who either will end up with. Curly and Laurey have a Sam and Diane thing going, or if you are not a child of the 80’s, a Benedict and Beatrice thing. Plus it’s clear that Jud would be a candidate for school shooter in our times. You don’t need Shakespeare or Cheers to show you that Ado Annie isn’t going to end up with the guy who desperately doesn’t want to be with her over the man who repeatedly spends his last cent to try and win her hand. One change Fish has made that worked and didn’t work was in the Dream ballet. It works in that it’s an interesting and absorbing dance routine done in this version by a single dancer wearing a shirt saying “Dream Baby Dream.” It doesn’t work in that in changing it from the cast acting out a dream to simply an individual interpretive dance it loses its meaning for those not familiar with the concept that this sequence is supposed to be happening after she uses the Egyptian smelling salts and is reflecting the confusion she is having over her feelings for Curly and her anxieties and fear of Jud. Another aspect which does still work with this sequence is the use of video projection. Again I don’t see how the uninitiated will be able to grasp the concept of the ballet as it’s presented but it does add a quality to the sequence that, while not forwarding the story as the ballet did in previous versions, is all the same compelling. The video projection technique is used in a couple of scenes, where they basically have someone with a night vision video camera recording and casting through a projector the action that is happening on the darkened stage. The special effect that creates an impact and visually illustrates the message of this new production comes towards the end, so I’ll leave you to experience that for yourselves.

The casting of the 2019 revival was notable for its inclusiveness. Ali Stroker famously became the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award for her portrayal of Ado Annie. I was pleased to see the touring company kept the casting colorblind and also chose to cast Ado Annie with another nontraditional choice. In this production Ado Annie is played by Sis, a black Transgender actor, who frankly steals the show. Ado Annie’s most famous song is “I Can’t Say No” and Sis’ performance resulted in a standing ovation in the middle of Act I. The rest of the cast is cast without an eye towards race. It’s nice to see the Hamilton effect in action. Sean Grandillo does a nice job as Curly. At first I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t take long for me to be won over by his guitar wearing interpretation, and I thought he had good chemistry with Sasha Hutchings’ Laurey. The other stand out was Christopher Bannow as Jud. The choices made with this character led one to see him as creepier than other versions while at the same time adding a sense of sympathy as he came across less as sinister and more are someone with some mental health issues. Bannow did a nice job of conveying this to the audience. Also making his last actions in the musical more ambiguous adds to the shift in tone that resonates more with a modern audience.

Oklahoma! runs through Sunday November 14th at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Minneapolis for more information and to buy tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/oklahoma-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2021/

Theatre Pro Rata Presents “Top Girls”a Stripped Down Production of a Thought Provoking Play

Pictured: Maggie Cramer, Nissa Nordland Morgan, Emily Rosenberg, Kelsey Cramer, Sarah Broude
Credit: Alex Wohlhueter

Theatre Pro Rata’s latest play is a marvel of construction and ideas. I’ve found myself thinking about the subject matter long after I would normally have started writing. Top Girls is a play written by Caryl Churchill and set in Great Britain in the early 80’s. It examines the roles available to women in our society at that time and what the cost of success can be. It looks at the subject matter by comparing and contrasting it with women from the past and by showing us various women interacting with each other. All characters that appear in the play are female but the male perspective is not entirely absent. It is felt in the way the characters behave and react to their circumstances. Sometimes they are showing us what they have to do in order to make it in a still heavily Patriarchal society, at others we see them model the same patronizing attitudes they hate from men towards each other. It is a play full of complex characters that showcase the ambiguities of humanity – an important work that challenges the audience to keep up. Unfortunately, this production of an amazing script stumbles at times to translate the ideas beyond the stage to those of us in the theater seats. It’s not a bad production, there is a lot to like here and it’s a rare opportunity to see this classic of modern theatre performed. I urge you to attend and I’ll try and give you some pointers on how to get the most out of it.

The play opens in a restaurant. We see Marlene who is here to celebrate her promotion as head of the Top Girls Employment Agency. She is joined by women from the past both historical and fictional. They proceed to converse and eat, each of the women relating their experiences, the scene written and performed in such a way that the dialogue overlaps. We might not catch everything that’s said, as is often the case at a larger dinner party, with conversations happening at opposite ends of the table. Although all this isn’t occurring in the real world of the play, but is a representation of an idea being played out: “What if you could have dinner with anyone from history?” This is an interesting way to begin the play, showing us the roles and experiences of women through time. I like this idea of creating the atmosphere of the dinner party, and it seems to me by the end that in many ways these various women were different aspects of Marlene and the other characters, but unfortunately this opening scene is also where the production falters.

Firstly, the stage is set in the middle of the theatre and there are chairs on both sides for the audience. The problem with Director Carin Bratlie Wethern’s staging the production like this is that if you are not micing your actors, much of the dialogue is inaudible. I got there a little later than I like to and so was seated to the side, but I was still in the second row and it isn’t a large theatre. The character of Pope Joan for instance was seated with her back to me for most of the scene and even though she was the closest to me I rarely could make out her dialogue because she is talking in concert with other characters and speaking away from me. This happened with multiple characters. The second issue with the scene is that it isn’t clear what is happening here.
Partly due to lost dialogue, this concept of a fantasy dinner takes much too long to really become clear. There needed to be some way to convey that this was not reality up front. An example perhaps of the value a Director’s note in a program can add. The costuming also would have been a way to make clearer who these women were from the start. While the costumes by Eleanor Schanilec convey the idea of who these people are, this is an area where more would have sold the idea to the audience a lot faster. Thankfully, after this scene and a short one right after it that features two young friends talking, the staging and audibility issues were largely eliminated. The play is told nonlinearly with the final scene being the earliest chronologically, it’s revelations affecting how we view Marlene and the earlier scenes. After the opening scene rest of the play is set in the real world and involves Marlene and the other employees at Top Girls, as well as clients, Marlene’s sister Joyce, her niece Angie and her friend Kit.

Aside from needing to project more to compensate for the staging, the entire cast does a great job, most of them essaying multiple roles, with the exception of Maggie Cramer in the lead. The stand out for me was Emily Rosenberg, who played Dull Gret in the opening dinner scene. Rosenberg spends most of the scene delivering one word answers, so when they climb up on the table and talk about marching into hell, the entire audience took note. It is a speech delivered with power and backed by the surprise of it’s unlikely source. Rosenberg also plays the niece Angie who, in some ways, is an extension of Dull Gret. In both roles they find a way to surprise us, and in a play very focused on ideas, they provide the emotional in for the audience. Maggie Cramer as Marlene and Kelsey Laurel Cramer as her sister Joyce have a brilliant interaction in the final scenes where our sympathies change. It really is a brilliant script. The cast is rounded out by Megan Kim and Nissa Nordland Morgan as the employees of Top Girls, with Sarah Broude and Ninchai Nok-Chiclana as clients in little vignettes illustrating the complexities of these women: their roles, their strengths and their weaknesses – at times supportive of each other, at times cruel and petty. Kelsey Laurel Cramer has a scene as the wife of the colleague that Marlene beat out for head of Top Girls. We see her try to help her husband, certainly a kind gesture, but without realizing that in doing so she is making the argument that women don’t matter as much as men. It’s such a pleasure to see a play where even a five minute role has nuances and shades of character that some main characters don’t have in other plays.

Top Girls is worth your time. It will make you think and make you questions things, including, by the end, what you thought of the first half. Top Girls runs through November 21st at the Crane Theatre in northeast Minneapolis. For more information and to purchase tickets click here https://www.theatreprorata.org/. I recommend getting there early, seating is General Admission. I’d suggest sitting front row dead center if you can manage it. Hopefully with that placement and a heads up of what is happening in that first scene you will really be able to key in from the beginning.

(Updated) A Shoe I Can’t Get Out of My Head, The Red Shoes at Open Eye Three Shows Left, But Sadly One is Sold Out Already!!

Photo by Ron Ravensborg and Graphic by Holmes Design

So This has never happened to me before, I’m taking another stab at this review. Normally time simply doesn’t allow for it. But due to time constraints and a desire to get my review up ASAP so people had time to catch this amazing show before it closed I posted even though I wasn’t entirely happy with it. When you see one of the best shows you’ve seen since you began reviewing you want that review to be one of the best as well. Well I’m not going to put that pressure on myself but I do want to get it to a point where It isn’t gnawing at me that I could have done better.

Thank God this show was held over for another week or I would have missed it and so would’ve you. The Red Shoes still has these added shows; Thurs, Nov. 4, 7:30pm, Fri, Nov. 5, 7:30pm, Sat, Nov. 6, 7:30pm. Sadly Thursday has sold out, making it the 9th consecutive performance to have sold out. Thankfully not before I snagged three more tickets so my wife and I could seeit and take my eldest son. Go to https://www.openeyetheatre.org/the-red-shoes for more information and to buy tickets. I’ll wait while you go buy tickets, do it now, they may be gone before you finish reading this. Done? OK let’s get started. First of all when you go, keep all hands and arms inside your chair at all times, at least that’s what they should have said. From the second the house lights went down and the show experience began, I felt like I was on a theme park ride. There are certain shows that function as testimonials to what a magical thing theatre can be, that highlight creativity and fully immerse you in their own unique reality. The Red Shoes is just such a show. This is artists working at the highest level in Production design, Lighting, Sound, Costume, Puppetry, not to mention Direction and Performance. This is the reason I do this. Shows like this that you immediately want everyone you know to see as well. The Red Shoes is not only firing on all cylinders, the people behind it actually built the cylinders from scratch.

The plot reminds me of the Bogart classic The Big Sleep, in that you are not sure it all adds up at the end but you don’t care because the journey to the end of the line was so good. To give you an idea, the main character is a mousy woman who never leaves her apartment, she seems to be trying to figure out who she is by reconstructing memories or perhaps dreams using a miniature design of locations and puppets. She is terrified of the phone and of anyone coming to the door. She is badgered by her relentless Landlady, sympathized with by the local Newsboy, and stalked by a mysterious figure in a trenchcoat. There is something very interesting about all of these other characters but one hopes to leave that as a surprise. The wonder of this show is the surprises and the execution of them.

Kimberly Richardson plays the main character, assisted by Sabrin Diehl, Noah Sommers Haas, and Kalen Rainbow Kier, but it is Richardson’s show all the way. It’s a tour de force of physical and vocal dexterity. We wholly buy her timidity as the play opens, terrified of the ringing phone and her landlady who’s comments come through a very unexpected source. But she equally sells other characters as she acts out the nightmares with her puppets. The fairy tale on which the show draws its inspiration tells the story of a vain girl who after choosing to dance rather than attend her mother’s funeral is cursed to dance even after she dies. This version does not follow that plot but there are clues within it that might help us understand what we have seen. There is some dance, just enough to show us that Richardson is someone in complete control of her body. As fascinating as Richardson is in the central role, it’s not her only job, she also co-wrote the play and choreographed it.

As talented and engaging as Richardson is, the true star of the show may just be the Productions technical crew. As I sat preparing for the evening’s performance to start I was impressed with the sets design by Joel Sass and the lead Scenic Artist Michael Sommers. It has the look of a set but in all the right ways, there is a storybook quality to the 40’s era apartment that feels heightened. There are set designs that look like real locations and then there are set designs that look like sets, both have there place depending on what the production is going for. This was perfect for the nightmarish world we are witnessing. It has the feel of a film noir movie set as designed by Dr. Seuss. The set construction by Brandon Sisneroz and Sommers Haas is a marvel, when the show starts, it comes alive in truly original ways. Unlike some shows which amaze you at the start by spilling all their secrets up front, this one continues to surprise right up until the end. But it isn’t just the set. The play opens with a combination of lighting, sound, and smoke effect that announced right from the start that this was going to be a rollercoaster of an evening. Thrilling and visceral work from Bill Healey in Lighting Design assisted by Ellie Simonett. Sean Healey’s Sound Design puts you inside the play in a way I’ve never experienced before. I was filled with wonder and amazement at what I was seeing and with what these artists came up with to express their vision.

There is nothing more inspiring than seeing creativity brought to life in such a palpable way. One leaves the theatre wanting to create something to express the joy you feel inside at the marvel you have just witnessed. This production is in the top ten in person theatrical experiences I have ever had. It reminded me of the thrill I had in the spring of 2019 when two productions led me to repeat attendances, bringing new people with me each time. That is what gave me the idea to become a theater reviewer, that desire to share something that knocked my socks off with others. The Red Shoes brought me right back to spring 2019 and I started urging everyone to get tickets, see it! And that is the reason I had to take another pass at this review. Because it felt like this show represented why I have dedicated so many hours in theatre seats and twice as many at a keyboard writing about them. Because it inspired me to share. I still don’t think I’ve done the show justice, but it’s unfair to hold myself up to the standard of this production. If I’ve inspired a few people to see this show, and I know I have, that is enough to have made the ride worthwhile. The Red Shoes is everything theatre can be while at the same time being uniquely its own. What a beautiful thing that is to behold. I urge you not to miss your chance to experience The Red Shoes.

WOW! Just WOW! The Red Shoes at Open Eye Theatre Held Over for One More Week. One More Word… GO!!!!

Photo by Ron Ravensborg and Graphic by Holmes Design

Thank God this show was held over for another week or I would have missed it and so would’ve you. The Red Shoes has added the following shows; Mon, Nov. 1, 7:30pm Industry Nite, Thurs, Nov. 4, 7:30pm, Fri, Nov. 5, 7:30pm, Sat, Nov. 6, 7:30pm. Go to https://www.openeyetheatre.org/the-red-shoes for more information and to buy tickets. I’ll wait while you go buy tickets, do it now, they may be gone before you finish reading this, the last seven shows sold out. Done? OK let’s get started. First of all when you go, keep all hands and arms inside your chair at all times, at least that’s what they should have said. From the second the house lights went down and the show experience began, I felt like I was on a theme park ride. There are certain shows that function as testimonials to what a magical thing theatre can be that highlight creativity and fully immerse you in their own unique reality. The Red Shoes is just such a show. This is artists working at the highest level in Production design, Lighting, Sound, Costume, Puppetry, not to mention Direction and Performance. This is the reason I do this. Shows like this that you immediately want everyone you know to see it as well. The Red Shoes is not only firing on all cylinders, the people behind it actually built the cylinders from scratch.

The plot reminds me of the Bogart classic The Big Sleep, in that you are not sure it all adds up at the end but you don’t care because the journey to the end of the line was so good. To give you an idea, the main character is a mousey woman who never leaves her apartment, she seems to be trying to figure out who she is by reconstructing memories or perhaps dreams using a miniature design of some locations and puppets. She is terrified of the phone and of anyone coming to the door. She is badgered by her relentless Landlady, sympathized with by the local Newsboy, and stalked by a mysterious figure in a trenchcoat. There is something very interesting about all of these other characters but one hopes to leave that as a surprise. The wonder of this show is the surprises and the execution of them.

Kimberly Richardson plays the main character, assisted by Sabrin Diehl, Noah Sommers Haas, and Kalen Rainbow Kier, but it is Richardson’s show all the way. It’s a tour de force of physical and vocal dexterity. We wholly buy her timidity as the play opens, terrified of the ringing phone and her landlady who’s comments come through a very unexpected source. But she equally sells other characters as she acts out the nightmares with her puppets. The fairy tale on which the show draws its inspiration tells the story of a vain girl who after choosing to dance rather than attend her mother’s funeral is cursed to dance even after she dies. This version does not follow that plot but there are clues within it that might help us understand what we have seen. There is some dance, just enough to show us that Richardson is someone in complete control of her body. As fascinating as Richardson is in the central role, it’s not her only job, she also co-wrote the play and choreographed it.

As talented and engaging as Richardson is, the true star of the show may just be the Productions technical crew. As I sat preparing for the evening’s performance to start I was impressed with the sets design by Joel Sass and the lead Scenic Artist Michael Sommers. It has the look of a set but in all the right ways, there is a storybook quality to the 40’s era apartment that feels heightened. There are set designs that look like real locations and then there are set designs that look like sets, both have there place depending on what the production is going for. This was perfect for the nightmarish world we are witnessing. It has the feel of a film noir movie set as designed by Dr. Seuss. The set construction by Brandon Sisneroz and Sommers Haas is a marvel, when the show start, it comes alive in truly original ways. Unlike some shows which amaze you at the start by spilling all their secrets up front, this one continues to surprise right up until the end. But it isn’t just the set. The play opens with a combination of lighting, sound, and smoke effect that announced right from the start that this was going to be a rollercoaster of an evening. Thrilling and visceral work from Bill Healey in Lighting Design assisted by Ellie Simonett, Sean Healey in Sound Design. I was filled with wonder and amazement at what I was seeing, and with what these artists came up with to express their vision. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing creativity brought to life in such an amazing way.

Two More Shows From the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Night two of this years TCHF and I took in the two remaining shows, Dogwatch Productions Channel and The Creepy Boys’ The Creepy Boys. The Festival runs through Halloween, with the five shows rotating. To purchase tickets to any or all performances go to https://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ On the site you will find descriptions of each show as well as each shows ratings for Language, Violence, and Blood. Below I’ve copied the schedule for the final two days. There is still time to see all five.

Saturday, Oct 30
1:00pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
2:30pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet
4:00pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
5:30pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions
7:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
8:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
10:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 

Sunday, October 31
1:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
2:30pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
4:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 
5:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
7:00pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions

Photo by Dan Norman

First up was Channel about a lighting designer working alone at night in an old theatre. The Designer is played by Elizabeth Efteland, I think, I’m going off of info I found from it’s run at the Minnesota Fringe Festival*. She is under pressure to solve certain lighting issues the show is having but is also trying to care for her mother who has some sort of health issue and needs her. She tries to juggle all of these things including talking to her old roommate who has a job for her in Chicago if she can get away and her sister who leaves her to deal with their mother. Meanwhile, the house audio keeps coming on and the lights keep going out. I want to say, and then terror ensues but unfortunately, it’s more like tedium ensues. Channel felt like an SNL skit that they didn’t know how to start, the inverse of their usual trouble. It ends rather well, though the resolution, which I followed, was really in need of some clarity. This felt like a 30 minute show stretched to an hour. There were also a lot of decisions that took one out of the show. I don’t know how the phones these characters have operate, but it isn’t like any phone I’ve ever used in real life. She is struggling to get her work done and get home to her mother and I wanted to tell her to stay off her phone and concentrate. It’s hard to have sympathy for a character who is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done, yet seems to spend all of her time on her phone. When it gets creepy, it is well done. Lighting and sound effects are very effective. And Efteland is a good performer, she does her best to keep us interested, her performance and her emotions ring true. I just wish she had a better script to work with. This was the weak link of this years festival, but to be fair it’s a strong year.

Photo by Dan Norman

Thankfully, the evening and the festival for me ended on a high note. The Creepy Boys isn’t scary, but it is a bit creepy, very energetic, and really funny. The Creepy Boys are identical twins played by S.E. Grummett and Sam Kruger, no relation, and this is their birthday party. Like several of the shows at this years festival, the performances begin as soon as the house opens. The performers play ushers and engage with the audience until the lights go down and they become The Creepy Boys! This show has everything, singing, dancing, laughs, shocks, even a dash of nudity. I don’t know what I was expecting but it’s safe to say it wasn’t what we got. It’s a mix of backstory, future fantasies, broken homes and of course Satan. There was a manic and engaging energy to the show that just about wears you out. Grummett and Kruger are wildly talented switching gears from moment to moment, you never know where this ride is going and that’s a lot of the fun and therefore, I’ll say no more. It’s definitely one of the must sees of the festival.

*Quick note to the Festival runners, make each show handout programs or put the casts and creatives info on the TCHF webpage. As a reviewer that information really helps and as an audience member, I always like to know who was responsible so I know the next time I saw their name to take notice.

Three From Opening Night of the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Artwork by Emily Michaels King

It’s Monster Month and that means watching scary movies, reading ghost stories, and of course the Twin Cities Horror Festival. TCHF is in it’s 10th season and I for one am grateful that many of the shows this year are in-person. I didn’t get access to the virtual shows that opened the festival last week but I will be reviewing all five of the in-person productions. Opening night I attended the first three shows. Splinter from Dangerous Productions, Blood Nocturne from The Winding Sheet Outfit, and Blackout in a Blackout from Blackout Improve. The Festival runs through Halloween, with the five shows rotating to purchase tickets to any or all performances go to https://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ On the site you will find descriptions of each show as well as each shows ratings for Language, Violence, and Blood. Below I’ve copied the schedule for the remainder of the run.

Friday, October 29
6:00pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
7:30pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
9:00pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions
10:30pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv

Saturday, Oct 30
1:00pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
2:30pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet
4:00pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
5:30pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions
7:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
8:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
10:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 

Sunday, October 31
1:00pm Blackout in a Blackout / Blackout Improv
2:30pm Creepy Boys / Creepy Boys
4:00pm Blood Nocturne / Winding Sheet 
5:30pm Channel / Dogwatch Productions
7:00pm Splinter / Dangerous Productions

First up was Dangerous Productions Splinter, easily the scariest show of the night. Pay attention to the ratings on this one, there will be blood. Just as they did my first year reviewing the TCHF Dangerous Productions has delivered the most intense and genuinely disturbing experience. Always effective on the technical side of things, the violence feels and looks real. There will also be several moments of “how did they do that?” for the observant audience member. Hats off to the production team on this one led by Director and Production Designer Tyler Olsem-Highness. The play really begins as soon as the house doors open with Laura Mahler on stage clearly going through some hard times. It’s a wordless performance before the play properly starts but for me, it set the mood perfectly and I felt I had a handle on the emotion she was experiencing – it created a sense of sympathy from the beginning. Mahler gives a riveting performance as a woman who has lost her memory due to a traumatic event and is being experimented on by Forensic Psychologist whose experimental techniques won’t intentionally hurt her. To say much more about the plot would rob it of it’s tricks and treats. I was impressed with all the performances but a special shout out to Jay Kistler as the other guinea pig who finds just the right balance between finding the humor in a scene and then alternating to somewhere darker.

Emily Dussault Photo by Scott Pakudaitis with Graphic design by Kris Heding

The second show of the evening was The Winding Sheet Outfits Blood Nocturne. This tells the story of Erzsebet Bathory whom I knew of as the basis of the 1971 Hammer film, Countess Dracula. This version is very different. First off, it’s a musical. Secondly, it attempts to be much more truthful in it’s telling of the real life Countess. The program tells us that Blood Nocturne was created and composed by the ensemble with quotes from actual letters and testimony. While trying to set the record straight they also challenge our societies default to print the legend as it makes a better story. Even as Emily Dussault as Bathory attempts to point out the truths behind the stories, she’s at odds with the rest of the cast who insist the horrific details that have been attributed to her make for a better story. While all three shows I took in tonight were very good, this was my favorite. I loved everything about it. It’s cast deserves to be singled out. I wish the program listed the performers with their character names since they were uniformly talented, I’ll simply list them all. Amber Bjork (also the Director), Kayla Dvorak Feld, Derek Lee Miller, Boo Segersin, Joshua Swantz, and the aforementioned Emily Dussault as the Countess. All of them are adept and find the darkest shades of humor within this gruesome biography. The cast plays the period instruments that accompany the songs and they are quite accomplished musically. The Orchestrations are simple, but haunting.

The third and final show of the evening for me was Blackout in a Blackout by Blackout Improv. The only thing of value I can say about this is to praise the performers. Let’s face it, this is improv, it’s going to be different with every performance, and if it isn’t, well you don’t really want to know that do you? So the less said about the storyline that emerged, the better. What I can tell you is that I’m already thinking of trying to catch this improv troupe again sometime. The group worked really well together and found a way to keep the laughs coming while also managing to try and add a touch of the supernatural to the proceedings. Find out more about them here https://www.blackoutcomedy.org/.

Every Brilliant Thing at the Jungle Theater is Dead Brilliant!

Joy Dolo. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis has reopened with a one hour somewhat interactive play written by Duncan Macmillan, with Jonny Donahoe. Now don’t misunderstand me, you will not be influencing the course of the play and this isn’t improv, but there is a bit of flexing that muscle on display. You will be required to read a sentence or a word from a piece of paper when called upon. In a few cases you will be asked to do a little more. For instance, I had to give a speech at a wedding off the top of my head, but nothing more than that in most cases. Every Brilliant Thing is a one actor, one audience play. The actor in the performance I saw was Joy Dolo. She is telling the story of a woman whose mother attempted suicide when she was seven years old. The seven year old’s response to her mother’s wish to die was to make a list of every brilliant thing she could think of that made life worth living to show her Mom. Number one, Ice Cream! We follow this young lady through her life and as she grows, so does her list. It’s a lesson in taking note of all the good things even when we are not feeling well or happy. It’s a simple idea, but it’s a very powerful one. Think if you sat and made a list of Every Brilliant Thing. Not the OK things, but just the brilliant things. What would you do with such a list? What would its power be? I’d take it out when I was feeling overwhelmed, sad, hopeless, and remind myself that there is more to life than this moment, this pain, this struggle.

I like the idea so much that I’m going to start my own list right now. The first thing on my list of brilliant things is Joy Dolo’s performance in Every Brilliant Thing. There simply is no actor more engaging and welcoming with the ability to make you laugh and cry in the space of seconds. She single handedly shepherds a cast of dozens of unrehearsed people to create a unified, coherent story. The audience participation seems like a gimmick at first, there to provide some humor and get people into the swing of things, maybe just to keep them paying attention. But that isn’t it, you don’t need a gimmick to keep people’s attention when Dolo is on stage. And the participation adds more than humor, it build connection at least it did for this blogger. When I toasted my daughter on her wedding night, I thought back to the car rides we’d shared in silence and the times I shut myself away in my den to listen to music rather than help her understand what was happening. I wished her all the happiness and prayed for her forgiveness. Some performers are loud, or wild, or powerful and they scream “look at me!!”. Dolo, doesn’t do that, she invites you in, you look at her, you pay attention to her, not because she is demanding it, but because you really really want to. She is open to the audience in a way that lets you in immediately. While she is coaching the audience through their parts, she never loses her character. As for the rest of the cast it will depend on your audience, I thought the fellow playing the Father was quite good the night I went, considering he didn’t know he’d even been cast.

I have to say that I had sort of read a brief description of the play, saw it’s run time was only an hour, and thought with so many shows finally opening up I’d give this one a miss with the packed schedule. I was urged by another blogger not to miss this show and I’m glad I took her advice. Every Brilliant Thing is not to be missed. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen since the theaters reopened, for me this has been the most rewarding of my post pandemic excursions. The show is directed by Meredith McDonough with the unique tasks of directing two different performers in the same role. Jucoby Johnson actually plays the lead in most performances with Joy Dolo appearing every Thursday of the run. I have not seen Jucoby Johnson’s performance but there is an excellent review here by Cherry and Spoon . The Theater has been transformed from it’s usual configuration into a theatre in the round venue by Scenic and Costume Designer Mina Kinukawa and it really enables Dolo and Johnson to get that engagement with the audience going. It was the right decision for this show, and plays a key part in establishing an all in this together vibe. The other technical aspect that really deserves a shout out is the Sound Design by Montana Johnson. Music is minimal but key, it’s use always important to the story and very effective. I particularly liked being reminded of Daniel Johnston and always good to hear a little Ray Charles.

Every Brilliant Thing runs through November 14th at the Jungle Theater in the Lynlake area near Uptown Minneapolis. For more information about the show and to purchase tickets go to https://www.jungletheater.org.