Indecent at the Guthrie Theater

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This past winter I attended a production of Blithe Spirit at the Guthrie. My best gal pal, Sofie, was in town visiting from New York and saw in her program that the Guthrie was producing Indecent by Paula Vogel in 2018. I remember how excited she was not only that the play was being produced but that I would have the chance to see it. After seeing how excited she was, and she hadn't even seen it personally in NYC, I knew I had to experience it for myself.

Indecent is inspired by the Yiddish playwright, Sholem Asch and his widely produced, yet ultimately censored, 1906 play The God of Vengeance. The God of Vengeance is the story of a Jewish brothel owner who lives with his wife, a former prostitute who used to work for him, and their overprotected daughter who has a reputation of being the purest of girls. The family lives above the father's brothel and soon his daughter falls in love with one of the girls downstairs. 

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However Indecent is an emotional and captivating, multilayered script about behind the curtain an The God of Vengeance came to be and ultimately how it was censored. It tells the story of what the acting troupe had to go through to have success on Broadway ultimately leading to their arrest after their debut. Even two days after seeing this script, I'm still trying to grasp how to put into words, what I saw. What I experienced. Lately, I've been seeing a lot of powerful plays that leave me utterly speechless. I said it in my last review of The Humans but I feel as if my writing isn't up to par with the pure genius that is this play. Stella Adler once said "The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation" and that quote perfectly captures what this play is and was.

As you can probably tell already, I was in awe. I absolutely loved this production. I'll be honest. I was very branded as an "only musical theatre type guy." But this production reawakened my love for plays. It was technically "a play with music"  Right away, upon walking into the theatre I had already begun analyzing the stage through the huge broken down theatre that was built on the Wurtele Thrust Stage. This play-within-a-play literally has...a theater-within-a-theater and it's lovely. You can even see a time-lapse video of it here. What I loved about the set, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, was how it complimented every aspect of the production. Cast members hauntingly sat in the abandoned seating as audience member took their seats. Piles of abandoned suitcases, pictures and other items scattered across the edge and back of house. This, at least to me, made so much sense after the production as it was a tribute and reminder to those who lost everything during the Holocaust, a subtle plot point towards the end of the production.

Projections were cast on the different pieces of the set by projection designer, Alex Basco Koch. The projections serve multiple purposes including letting the audience know when time has passed or what language the cast is speaking at that moment (usually Yiddish or English). This was an amazing detail because it was fascinating to see this brilliant cast flip on a dime. It truly shows how talented they are as they speak perfect English through the whole production, symbolizing the character's native Yiddish language, but then broken English at times symbolizing them trying to speak English. It's hard to write out but trust me, it was fantastic. The projections almost serve as stage directions for the audience, something I've never seen done before. Whenever the cast actually did speak in Yiddish (mostly when they sang), the English translations would flash across the screen while the actual Yiddish writing shined on the floor.

The cast was six actors with three musicians (who almost served as actors in the show as well). The cast served as multiple roles and I thought they all did a superb job in differentiating the difference between each character. They were passionate and respectful while portraying these people. Sally Wingert, always a Twin Cities favorite, makes an appearance in this production as well and adds the perfect amount of zing and spice to each role. She kept me from absolutely sobbing through the entire production with her well timed comedic moments. Ben Cherry (below) plays Lemml, one of the leading characters and leading people who kept The God of Vengeance playing.

Cherry was also in the original Broadway production and now making his Guthrie Debut. What a production to debut your talent to the Twin Cities. He was absolutely incredible. Whether it was making the audience laugh as he tried to learn English or making us cry (I cried a lot...) through his pleas and desperation to continue his work, I was completely drawn in. Never once did he let the audience look away from the stage.

Paula Vogel, the playwright of this marvelous production, should be very proud. The dialogue and relationship she's created with another playwrights work is truly a masterpiece that should be forever taught in theater classes around the world. Indecent is one of the most important pieces of theater I've ever seen in my life time and I mean that 100%. It's powerful and a story that everyone should know. It's the epitome example of how art can start a revolution, can change lives and create change. Indecent is story-telling at it's finest. I honestly can't say more great things about it. I fully intend on seeing it again before it leaves.

Indecent plays at the Guthrie Theater through March 24th in the Wurtele Thrust Stage. Ticket and more information can be found here.

*Photo Credit to Dan Norman and provided by Guthrie Theater.

The Boy & Robin Hood at Trademark Theater

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This past week, Trademark Theater not only opened a new production but also introduced themselves to the Twin Cities Theater scene. Trademark Theater is a new theater company that is founded by Tyler Michaels. Their mission is to "[expand] the breadth of original theatrical works born in Minnesota by creating, developing, and producing dynamic stage productions." Not only is this a new theater, but this was the world premiere of The Boy & Robin Hood (written by Tyler Mills) and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Their are countless of stories about Robin Hood and his Merry Band and Trademark even puts a timeline in the program which is certainly an interesting read before the show. This new interpretation and story really focuses on the fact that Robin Hood is a man. He is a person and has the same feelings and emotions as anyone else. The story involves a young boy who enters the forest as he is running from the King's guards. He searches for Robin Hood, the Merry Band and eventually joins them. In this version of Robin Hood, we don't see Robin as the main character but the boy, named Much, and we see the world through his eyes.

My two absolute favorite parts of the production were the music and the movement. While may not be classified as a musical, it was certainly a play-with-music. The music and lyrics by David Darrow at times were playful as Robin, the boy and his merry men danced around but at other times it was ominous and almost dark as the boy ran away from the King's guards. The intricate folk-like like harmonies and beautiful blend of voices, sang mainly by the ensemble, had me frantically looking in the program for any information on downloading the songs for my own personal enjoyment. You can hear one of the songs titled "May Day" on their blog located here.

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There was a variety of movement including choreography by Tyler Michaels and fight choreography by Annie Enneking. It was all exceptionally well done as the actors effortlessly glided across the stage. During one particular fight scene, each actor had their own fighting partner and at times would switch around to other people. It was a true sign of how tight-knit and in tune with each other this ensemble was.

Each and every actor was superb in their own way especially "the Boy" played by Peder Lindell. It is always refreshing to see a young actor play a role in a show that deals with fairly mature themes. The rest of the cast were all superb. Often, for me, a sign of brilliant acting and wonderful theater is when I ask myself "Was I completely engulfed in the show?" and I was. The entire time I was so memorized by their performance that I often forgot I was watching a play. It sounds cliche and corny but it's true. If an actor can become so convincing that they transport you out of that space, they've done their job.

TradeMark Theater's inaugural production has solidified their spot as a theater to watch in the coming years. The Boy and Robin Hood has the perfect balance of humor, heart, and tragedy. I'm thoroughly excited to see what else they do in the coming years. This show runs through June 11 and tickets are available here. More information, cast interviews and the process can be found on Trademark Theater's blog located here.

*Photos by Rick Spaulding

Peter and the Star Catcher at Theater Latté Da

I loved this production so much that my first sentence of this review needs to solely include the words "See this show if it's the last thing you do because I certainly am going to see it again." Now that that is covered, let's get into the details, shall we?

The play Peter and the Starcatcher is originally based off of the 2006 novel of a similar play by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson adapted for the stage by Rick Elice. It opened on Broadway, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, on April 15, 2012 and was nominated for 9 Tony Awards and won 5. With 18 previews and 319 regular performances, it closed on January 20, 2013. It later re-opened Off-Broadway and included two national tours.

There is nothing I love more than a wonderfully written origin story and this script does that. The story provides audiences with a backstory on how Peter became Peter Pan (along with a few other explanations including why our favorite crocodile is constantly ticking). It hints at the story we all know and love which brings up plenty of happy, warm and nostalgic emotions for everyone in the audience. This is certainly a new story however I think anyone going to see it should really try not to look up anything about it. I went into this production with no prior knowledge, other than it was simply a Peter Pan origin type story. I'm so glad I did because not knowing anything about it, made it that much more magical to watch.

This is my second time seeing a Theater Latte Da production, however it is my first time seeing a show at their new space, The Ritz Theater. It really is a wonderful and beautiful space. The stage is large and spacious yet the seating and audience space is close and intimate, really allowing yourself to be whisked away into the story. The set, designed by Joel Sass who also directed, is marvelous to look at as it included plenty of trinkets that crawled their way up the proscenium line, all leading up to a beautiful abstract blue octopus that loomed over the stage. This junk yard chic look gave me plenty to look at and observe before the show started. Later in the show, audiences discovered lights that were hidden inside the structure that changed for certain scenes.

Theater Latte Da has consistently produced some high quality productions including some all star casts. The cast of Peter and the Starcatcher brings a whole new meaning to the word "ensemble" as they are constantly in tune and in check with one another. At times actors, who are not directly involved with a specific scene, can be found on a ladder, a stool or somewhere else on the stage acting as a foley artist (one who creates sound effects). The sound effects came in perfectly every time whether it was replicating the ocean crashing against a ship or a more silly sound for a chest opening.

The cast shine as an ensemble and as individuals through out the entire performance, all portraying more than one character at times. Each actor has their moment in the spotlight in which the other actors provide support without stealing the scene. We see Tyler Michaels play the title role of Peter, and of course he did not disappoint. I've had the pleasure of seeing Tyler perform many times and the way he molds into each character is truly inspiring. He dedicates not only himself to the character but the way he interacts with the rest of the cast, never dropping even a hint of energy.

The rest of the cast is equally talented including Pearce Bunting, who had me in stiches from laughing over his hilarious portrayal as the hilarious and flamboyant pirate captain, Black Stache. Megan Burns plays the strong headed and spunky, Molly. Craig Johnson had the audience eating from the palm of his hand the entire night, effortlessly changing characters from Mrs. Bunbrake to Grempkin and even a quick role as a beautiful salmon colored mermaid. Ricardo Beaird is also hilarious in his role as the know it all, self-declared leader of the boys. Silas Sellnow as the orphan Ted, whose persistent search for good food is something we call can relate to.

Peter and the Starcatcher is by far one of the best productions I've seen in quite sometime. It's heartwarming, funny, imaginative and is a shining example of how the Twin Cities performing arts scene is in a league of their own. It is the perfect show for the whole family to see...or even for adults who wish they'd never had to grow up. I certainty can't wait This production runs at the the Ritz Theater through February 26th. Tickets can be found here.