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A Call for Boycotting CTC

Note from the blogger: For those of you who have been working in the Twin Cities theater community for some time, you may know about the abuse scandal at Children’s Theatre Company that occurred in the 1980s. For those of you like me, you may have only learned about it shortly before or after the Laura Stearns Adams, a former child actor and coworker of mine at the Guthrie, sued the theater and the matter went to court. The theater was found negligent but not liable and overall the matter seems to have been concealed once more. Thankfully, that is not the case. While public media is by and large not discussing this, many of us in the theater community have discussed it over and over, especially with the recent death of John Clark Donahue. Now, Laura Stearns Adams has spoken out again on her Facebook page about her experiences. As someone who has recently started attending CTC, an advocate for survivors, and an abuse survivor myself, I knew this was not something I could stay silent about. I asked Laura’s permission to share her post, the entirety of which is below. Please read and share. I myself am joining the boycott and will no longer be attending CTC. Rather, I will speak out and advocate for Laura and other survivors. And for those of you looking for more information about the case and for resources about abuse, please visit this post written by Chris Peterson at OnStage Blog. #boycottCTC

A CALL FOR BOYCOTTING CTC:

I am a patient person. Some might say too patient. I am also a person who wants to see the best in people. I am not a pessimist. I want to believe that people are intrinsically good and I give the benefit of the doubt. That is, until proven otherwise. I now have all the proof I need to call for an all out boycott of The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

Here are some facts to help you understand why;

-In December of 2015, I filed a civil suit against CTC and Jason McLean for the sexual assault that happened to me in 1983 while I was a student there. I filed it because of the MN Child Victims Act which allowed for my case to be brought fourth in the civil court, not the criminal court.

-Seventeen people filed civil suits because of abuse they endured at CTC. Hundreds could have.

-In order for the truth to be revealed about what happened to the students at CTC back then, we needed to have the legal platform of a the civil court, otherwise we could be sued for slander.

-If I could have done this in a criminal court, I would have.

-Because years we’re going by with no resolution to any of the cases filed against the theater, I was required to go through all of the difficult hoops again. Some of those hoops include probing depositions and psychiatric evaluations. Trust me, they are not fun.

-We were not allowed to present evidence at trial that showed that McLean’s criminal activities extended beyond me. Victims of his that were abused after May of 1983 were not allowed to testify at my trial because the defense objected to it saying that McLean’s activities after my abuse was irrelevant and the judge ruled in their favor.

-I have been sexually assaulted four times in my life by four different men. My lawyers argued for me to not have to give testimony of the rapes that happened after McLean. The judge did not agree and I was required to describe every one of my sexual assaults at my trial.

-Kim Motes, the current Managing Director of CTC, was allowed to testify at my trial, giving testimony to how great they are today and how they only have an operating budget around $8m. My lawyers objected on the grounds that her testimony is irrelevant to what happened back in the 1980’s and would prejudice the jury. The judge overruled and allowed Motes to testify.

-Because the law requires that juries NOT be instructed about who has to foot the bill of what ever they deem fair as a judgment, they only need to worry about the number, they were not told that the Insurance companies who covered the theater at the time of the abuse are the ones who would be required to pay. Unless they already knew that, which most people don’t, there would be no way for them to know that this is an insurance liability issue.

-In January of this year, after a 13 day trial, CTC was found negligent for their part in my abuse as a student at CTC back in the early 1980’s

-I was awarded a judgment of $3.68m but because the jury did not find CTC liable, only negligent, the payment of that judgment would fall to Jason McLean, the man who raped me.

-I will likely never see a penny of that judgment because McLean was allowed to sell his properties, the Varsity Theater and The Loring Pasta Bar, to his business associates, and flea the country. He currently resides in Cabo San Lucas and can not be extradited because this is civil court not criminal court. His assets are safely out of the country.

-My lawyers have filed for a mis-trial, citing several reason in a court hearing on Friday, not the least of which is the fact that the judge allowed Motes to testify and that never should have been allowed, especially in light of the fact that he would not allow the two Jane Does that were assaulted after me to testify.

-On Friday, I sat in a courtroom and listened to CTC’s lawyers argue that I should have to pay $283,792.25 of CTC’s trial fees. This is called “taxation of cost” and is only allowed to be an option to the prevailing party in a trial. CTC was found guilty of negligence. I’m not sure how this is even allowable.

CTC’s administration and board would have to sign off on this request for taxation of cost. They know they got off the hook by the jury not finding them liable, and now they are going after me. So, in a nutshell:

CTC was found negligent in the case against them, that proved that the institution placed children in harms way, and now they are going after me, the childhood sexual assault survivor who was harmed because of that negligence, to pay cash dollars out of my own pocket, for proving their own negligence.

It is the last straw for me. I know that these kinds of cases are very much in the hands of the lawyers. This is their arena. So I have sat patiently waiting to see how CTC’s current administration would chose to respond to all of this. What the survivors of CTC want is for them to own their part. To apologize. Not say how sorry they are for what happened to us and wish us well, but to publicly own the fact that their very existence as an institution today is because the well being and safety of the students was sacrificed for the INSTITUTION ITSELF! They would not EXIST if the kids hadn’t been silenced. If the right thing was done back in the 1980’s, when all of the shit hit the fan, the theater would have gone under. Instead, the board of directors and administration saved the theater and vilified the children who came forward at the time, saving the theater and their reputation, which never deserved to be saved. The BCA investigator who testified at my trial referred to the place as “a cesspool”. My lawyer says that in the 35+ years he has been doing this work, he has NEVER seen anything like what they have found through their investigation. They should have gone down. They didn’t. They survived. Those of us who were assaulted there still have nightmares. CTC needs to help those that were harmed, take a real stand, not deny their culpability and put “policies” in place, but take some damn initiative to make things better for children all over! Stop hiding from the past! They want to own their legacy of 50+ years, OWN ALL OF IT!!!

I have taken the high road through all of this, trying to give CTC a chance to do the right thing, not wanting to make things ugly because I believe healing happens in the light and we don’t need more discourse. But this personal attack on me is enough evidence for me to take a different kind of stand. I ask that you not buy tickets, send your kids to their classes, audition for their shows, accept jobs or support them in any way until they do the right thing by the survivors. If you work there, ask yourself if you want to work for an organization that would do this to the survivor of sexual assault who brought the truth to light. Other theatre companies, make a point of reaching out to employees of CTC and offer them work so they have other options around town. To the other theater owners, artistic directors and administrators, board of director members around town, call on CTC to do the right thing. Many of you are my friends. Do you think this is right? If you are okay with it, ask yourself if you would be okay with it if I were your daughter.

(above post by Laura Stearns Adams)

Matilda

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Photo Credit: Children’s Theatre Company

About the Show

Based off of Roald Dahl’s classic book, Matilda Wormwood is child genius trapped in a family that cares more about the television than her. While she dreams up wondrous tales and reads more book than anyone else, she finds herself at odds with the adults in her life – her foolish parents and brutal headmistress. However, her teacher Miss Honey, shows her not all adults are cruel or selfish and a sudden discovery of magical powers give Matilda hope to fuel her stories and to revolt back against her oppressors.

Why I Chose to See It

Matilda was one of my favorite books as a child (ever the bookworm, I related to her greatly and spent hours bored in my classes trying to move objects with my eyes). I was also excited about the casting – I’m a fan of China Brickey (who plays Miss Honey) and I was delighted to see the role of Miss Trunchbull (the cruel headmistress) actually cast to a woman (on Broadway it has been staged with a man in drag). I’m also a fan of Emily Gunyou Halaas so the chance to see her play the wicked Trunchbull wasn’t something I could pass down.

My Response

I think I have a new favorite musical. This show expertly combines the whimsy and darkness of Dahl’s writing along with the poignant and humorous nature of British artist Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics. Celebrating the intelligence and power of children, this musical is a delight from start to finish. Often with new musicals, I worry about the plot being diluted by large musical numbers or simplistic songs that do little to advance the piece. This musical is not like that at all – the full story is there in all its twists and turns and samplings of childhood antics. And the music is glorious – from humorous romps (starring the wonderful Dean Holt and Autumn Ness as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood) – to nostalgic pieces like “When I Grow Up” that make me miss the simplicity of being a kid, to Miss Trunchbull’s frightening solos that feel somehow like a soliloquy by Iago or Richard the III. Perhaps most striking of all are what I consider the three female leads – Matilda, Miss Honey, and Miss Trunchbull. It’s wonderful to see such diverse examples of women portrayed on stage, from sweet and conscience (Miss Honey) to clever and bold (Matilda) to wicked and brutal (Miss Trunchbull) and so much more in between for all three. Seeing Emily Gunyou-Halaas play Trunchbull alone makes the entire show – I can’t recall seeing a performance that made me so afraid and yet also gleeful as someone who loves seeing more diverse rolls for women onstage.

Overall

Go see this show. It’s beautiful and wonderful and a giant fist pump for bibliophiles. It will make you appreciate what it takes to be a growing child (and adult) in this world. And it’s a whole lot of fun to boot.

General Information

Matilda the Musical runs through June 23. The book is by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and direction by Peter C. Brosius. For show and ticket information, please visit Children Theatre’s website.

Handled

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Source: Wildwood Theatre

About the Show

Penny is returning home after six weeks of residential treatment. In her absence, her mother, Melanie, created a Twitter account (@Shiny_Penny_1999) to help her meet people at the new school Penny will be attending in the fall and give her a foundation of where to start after treatment. Penny, however, doesn’t want to be shiny and feels outraged at her mother’s insistence at performing that everything is fine when Penny is truly battling depression on a daily basis. Tensions flair when Penny creates an alternate account (@Bad_Penny_69) to combat the forced persona of her mother’s account.

Why I Chose to See It

Wildwood Theatre is a new company in town, focusing on telling stories about mental health and combating the stigma around them. As “storytellers bound to reignite empathy,” they’re doing the kind of work I feel compelled to do in my own writing and I’m excited to see a new lens for theater and new work in general in the Twin Cities.

My Response

This is the sort of play I wish I’d seen about ten years ago, when I was undiagnosed with anxiety and struggling to come to terms with accepting that mental illness is A) far more common than we think, B) can affect anyone, and C) nothing to be ashamed of. This play is smart and funny, weaving Penny’s teenage growth and transition with transitioning to a life of self-care and openness. I have a lot in common with Penny – we express our struggle to communicate with anger (I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see young women express anger on stage. It’s something I haven’t seen enough in theater), we spend a great deal of our time reading, and we want to talk openly and candidly about our mental illnesses. Having this character onstage alone is groundbreaking in a lot of ways. But it isn’t just Penny’s character who’s doing incredibly work (though I feel so much empathy for her I think it skews my view of everyone else). There’s Melanie, who’s reluctant to let go of the image she has of her daughter in her mind, which doesn’t match up to who Penny feels she really is. There’s the tension between creating an entire persona online versus having a mostly authentic persona (or as authentic as one can get in a limited amount of Twitter characters). There’s @IWantCandy, a high school student Melanie and Penny interact with online who appears to be a stereotypical bright, happy high school girl but is her own unique woman with her own unique struggles. Both Twitter Pennys are portrayed by actors who perform the Tweets, blending cyber life into real life in a way I really appreciate as a playwright (and something my MFA pal Allyson would really appreciate, making me wish she could see this show). Perhaps in the biggest surprise for me was Laura, Melanie’s coworker. I thought her firmly on Melanie’s side, pushing for Penny to be less troubled and just be happy. So imagine my surprise in Act 2 when (SPOILERS) Laura pulls out pill bottles from her purse and explains to Penny that she has had similar experiences.

At times, I really struggled with Melanie’s character only because she was so real to me. The play might require a certain suspension of belief that a parent would really create a Twitter profile and control a child’s life so much that she would dictate how far away her daughter could go to college. However, I know parents who told their kids what they could and could not major in, what classes they could take, etc. And as someone who’s experienced codependent relationships in my life, I can see a sort of codependence between Penny and Melanie. I do wish I had more backstory on Melanie and Penny’s relationship – not because I think it’s lacking in the play but because I just want more of it. I live every day of my life in the complex world that Melanie and Penny’s discussion inhabit so seeing that onstage is wonderfully comforting. It’s hard to hear at times, but so incredibly important to have stated and heard in front of an audience.

Overall

This play was really enjoyable and deals with mental illness, social media, and who we are versus the perceptions people have of us/who others believe us to be in a really lively, energetic way. I’m open about discussing my mental health but after seeing this show, I felt twenty times more open and immediately wanted to jump on Twitter (even though I rarely use the site) and use all the #endthestigma hashtags. Unfortuantely I wasn’t able to get this review up soon enough (the last performance is today at 2pm) so I can’t implore you to go see it. But you should absolutely keep Wildwood on your radar and seek out their future productions (hint hint: they have one in July). I’m so excited to see this theater creating work and I really look forward to seeing what else they create.

General Information

Handled is written by Shayne Kennedy and directed by Sarah Catcher and David Albino. It ran from April 25-28th at Off Leash Art Box. For future productions and show information, please visit their website.

The Hobbit

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Photo Credit: Children’s Theatre Company

About the Show

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved tale The Hobbit, this play focuses on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a peaceful food-loving hobbit turned reluctant burglar to aid a troupe of dwarfs in regaining their mountain overtaken by the terrifying dragon Smaug.

Why I Chose to See It

I am a Lord of the Rings fanatic and actually a hobbit (second breakfast, anyone?). I hadn’t yet seen a show at Children’s Theatre Company (I know, how is that possible?) and, as this was one of my favorite books as a kid, I deeply wanted to see how a children’s theater adapted it. Also the casting was phenomenal and there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see this ensemble perform.

My Response

This is a fantastic and faithful adaption down to Bilbo’s dress and spiffy feet – yes, while there’s no hairy feet onstage (likely due safety and the price/ quick wear and tear of prosthetics) but the brown dress shoes still get to the heart of a hobbit’s character and physicality. I expected the adaption to trim away unnecessary bits and skirt away from the grim end, none of which it did. It certainly trims the book down but doesn’t leave anything out, merely represents it more leanly, also making it easier for its younger audience members to understand (and likewise shows how foolish it was for the film to stretch the story out into three films). It also doesn’t change the end at all –  in fact, the show deals with hardship grief in a really lovely and sensitive way. The costumes are fantastic, creating whole new characters out of a certain core piece (goggles, helmet, headband, etc) and blending a feel of found items with a highly designed set. The cast is especially delightful and powerful. I don’t want to pick a favorite in this ensemble because they’re all so good – Joy Dolo’s Lady Gandalf and skin-crawling Gollum, H. Adam Harris’s cheerful Kili and menacing Smaug, Becca Hart’s endearing Balin and courageous Bard (I always thought Bard ought to be a woman so I’m happy to see this come true in this production), Reed Sigmund’s brave, powerful, and greedy Thorin, and Dean Holt’s picture perfect Bilbo. I couldn’t believe that an ensemble of only five members could portray all the characters in this book (especially as there’s thirteen dwarfs!) but they do it without making it feel barebones. It’s simple but as lush, robust, and alive as any large-casted show. The music is especially fun with a score throughout and a several key songs.

Overall

I’m sad I waited to so long to see a show at CTC but I’m also overwhelmingly happy this is my first. I don’t often find myself in rooms filled with children and I absolutely loved experiencing this show with young, creative minds willing to go along with whatever was thrown their way and use their imaginations to fill in the blanks with costumes and sets. I also enjoyed their unrestrained reactions and I jumped right along with them in some of the scary parts. I highly recommend this show equally to children and adults. I found myself hoping that this show returns one day so I can bring my friend’s child to this and experience introducing a new generation into one my favorite books.

General Information

The Hobbit adapted and directed by Greg Banks. It is playing now through April 14th at Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. For show and ticket information, please visit Children’s Theatre Company’s site.

The Wolves (2019)

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Source: Jungle Theater

About the Show

This play follows a girls’ indoor team of high school soccer players as they navigate relationships, friendships, and trying to make it to nationals. #46 is new to the team (the rest of the group having played together since they were kids) and is learning their inside jokes, their habits, and what it mean to be part of the Wolves.

Why I Chose to See It

I saw this play last spring when it was first performed at the Jungle. At the time, the play was part of my graduate work at Augsburg and I was excited to see it staged. I adored the production and, when I heard about the remount, I knew I had to see it again.

My Response

If I liked this play the first time, I am absolutely infatuated with it this time around. The nuances between the players, the overlapping conversation, and the emotional trials of being a teenage girl are powerful and even more finessed and clarified. It helps that this same group of actors performed it less than a year ago and (from what I gather from Instagram) adore this play. Creating theater is teamwork so it’s no surprise that a show that mixes soccer and acting together works so well. The physicality is mesmerizing and, with the location of the Souther, it truly feels like you’re in the bleachers watching a game (the stage is on ground level – it is not raised about the seats – which is a huge advantage in this show). I don’t want to give away too much about this show, but it really hits personal notes for me due to my experiences in high school and I have heard other women have the same reactions. Even if you do not identify as a woman, the characters and the stories will feel familiar and tell a very moving story about growing up in the Midwest.

Overall

Just go see this show. Bring your friends, bring your enemies, bring everyone. This is modern theater at its best.

General Information

The Wolves is written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through February 17th at the Souther Theatre. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

The Children (Jungle Theater)

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Photo credit: Jungle Theater

About the Show

The Children takes place along the coast in England after a terrible natural disaster has led to nuclear issue. Hazel and Robin have moved to a new house after theirs was damaged and Rose, Robin’s one-time lover, has shown up unexpectedly. The three navigate their complex relationships and the decimated world around them, ultimately having to make difficult decisions about life, sacrifice, and morality.

Why I Chose to See It

Each production I see at the Jungle makes me love the new artistic leadership more and more. This is a regional premiere of a play that was just on Broadway in 2017 and I was intrigued by the promotions for this show which left a lot of what could happen in the play ambiguous. And I will pretty much see Stephen Yoakam in anything,

My Response

This play starts slow then pummels you through an emotional roller coaster. I went into this show knowing next to nothing about it (other than I kept seeing gas masks show up in promotions for it at other theaters). I feel inclined not to give away too much about this show as there’s something particularly poignant with this piece going in not knowing what’s going to happen and if you can entirely believe what you see. The show is title after unseen figures in the play – the children of Robin and Hazel, and other children in the world, who are being affected and having their lives shortened by something that was beyond their control, but in some ways could have its damage reduced by their parents. Generational and economic struggles are gestured to without soapboxing or allowing for easy answers. Another theme is living with less, something that Robin and Hazel especially struggle with. As I’m in the midst of vegan January (something I chose to do for animal and environmental welfare reasons), this particularly struck me. On top of the unexpected outrage toward Marie Kondo, this echoed the outrage that comes with a certain level of privilege when people are asked to reduce. There’s also a certain striking juxtaposition here of great terrible danger outside and general peace that’s found in the cottage by the sea where Robin and Hazel live that eases the audience into thinking that things are alright because they are for this couple – when the rest of the world is greatly suffering.  Hazel is disinclined towards risks, wants to lengthen her life as long as possible, and in some ways refuses to accept that death is inevitable, something I think wonderfully articulates the resistance and refusal I see again and again of those who are afraid to actually to work towards change lest they lose something due to it. For Hazel, it’s better to stay where they are and muddle through, hoping things will get better, rather than making the sacrifices that will actually change things – or so we hope.

Overall

This play is powerful, thought-provoking, incredibly timely (what with the government shutdown, repeated reports about the effects of global warming and changing temperatures here in Minnesota, and general continual fear/dread that seems to have become normalized in society), and one that deserves lots of discussion and pondering over afterwards. It’s an uneasy, ponderous play but it’s one that certainly deserves attention and I hope will spark conversation.

General Information

The Children is written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Casey Stangl. It is playing now through February 10th at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

Animus

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Photo Credit: E/D 

About the Show

Elisabet, self-help guru and Instagram celebrity, suffers a sort of break-down in the middle of one of her public speaking engagements. Alma, a nurse, is charged with looking after Elisabet on a seaside retreat. A bit starstruck and struggling with authenticity herself, Alma works to help Elisabet find herself again, but things take a dark turn when the two women discover how similar and yet how different they are. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, this show is part of the Bergman Jubilee in 2018 (a celebration around the world the centennial of the celebrated filmmaker’s birth).

Why I Chose to See It

I love seeing new work, especially work that is multi-media and advertised as something “like you’ve never seen before.” I admire the work of Emily Michaels King and Debra Berger (who both appear in the show) and I’m excited about their company E/D generating new work about women for everyone.

My Response:

This absolutely is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s gorgeously staged and challenging (both to watch and understand) which is very much welcomed on my end – I love a good puzzling story as well as a production that feels uncomfortable and suspenseful throughout, which this play delivers wonderfully. Much of the suspense is created through the ever present camera operator – Amber Johnson of Dangervision Productions – who captures close-up details that otherwise might be as noticeable to the audience’s eye in theater while also emphasizing the influence of social media and the focus on physical appearance. Johnson is onstage almost the entire show, following both King and Berger’s characters, often using camera angles to reveal something about the two or giving the perspective that they are standing side by side when the in actuality might be a whole stage apart. The show also uses prerecorded footage to add to the sense of unease.

There’s a lot to unpack in this performance and I’m certain that anyone who sees it will walk away with a slightly different idea of what it’s about, reflections that all overlap on the same foundation. The production shows the complexity of people – especially women, the ways in which the self-help industry can profit off of people and use them rather than help them, how authenticity is a nebulous topic – How can we be real in a world that at times feels both too real and utterly unreal? How can be be real people when our social media presence causes us to act and entertain in certain ways? How can women really know who they are when they are constantly barraged with ideas and perspectives of who they’re supposed to be? I’ve spent some time in my personal life struggling through feeling authentic and who I think I am (including conversations with my therapist about it) and much of the show hit me very personally for this reason.

By the end of the piece, the audience is left with a great deal of questions. I don’t want to give away the story but I can’t help but note and appreciate the yin and yang symbolism that is used throughout the show (from costuming, to movement, to the cover of a book in one scene). As Elisabeth and Alma travel over the course of the show, I’m never quite certain if they’re different people, the same person, people existing only in the mind of the camera operator. Perhaps we all get to decide at the end, just as we all must decide how we be authentic in this world and how live and find balance ourselves – as it’s nothing that a self-help expert can fix for us, no matter how good they are.

Overall

This was the perfect show for me to see in my present moment (where I’m navigating belief changes, new health practices, and new ways of defining myself) and I can’t recommend it enough. Whether you’re a film fan – especially of Bergman, but also of  filmmakers such as  Lars von Trier or David Lynch – or looking for theater that pushes the boundaries of what we think it can do, or just looking to see some great new work  – specifically work by women artists – I think you should see this.

General Information

Animus is created by and features Emily Michaels King, Debra Berger, and Amber Johnson. It runs now through December 22nd at the Southern Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit E/D’s website or the Southern’s.

The Wickhams

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Photo credit: Jungle Theater

About the Show: 

This play, based off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is a sequel of sorts to Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (which the Jungle performed last Christmas and I missed it and I shall never forgive myself). This new play – written by the same playwrights of Miss Bennet, Lauren Gunderson and Margo Melcon –  shows us another Pemberley Christmas, one where Lydia, Lizzie’s dream-struck sister, is separated from her husband, George Wickham (who’s bad reputation follows him wherever his very name appears) and she yearns to see him over the holidays. Meanwhile, new maid Cassie is learning the ropes from housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds while navigating a changed relationship with childhood friend Brian (who now works at Pemberley as well).

Why I Chose to See It: 

This play is a world premier and I adore the script of Miss Bennet (and heard nothing but good things about the 2017 Jungle production). Lauren Gunderson is the most produced living playwright in America and one of the best female playwrights writing today. I am a huge fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and, honestly, I will see Sun Mee Chomet (who plays Lizzie in this show) in anything and everything. Also Christina Baldwin is rapidly becoming my favorite director in the Twin Cities.

My Response:

This play is everything I wanted and more. It’s funny, it’s witty, it’s clever and proud and brave. It gives Lydia the depth and heart I always wanted her to have, it creates a new character – Cassie – who fits seamlessly into the Austen world while also having a fresh, modern perspective. Cassie is not afraid to speak her mind and she loves what she does – she feels free by being able to help run a household and take care of herself. Brian is also a wonderful sort of character – a sweet, gentle man who still makes mistakes – and learns from them. Particular moments of this show especially pack a wallop, given my personal mindset and the current events of the world around us. There’s a misunderstanding between Brian and Cassie (that I won’t delve into too much, in order to save spoilers) that Cassie calls him out on assumptions made about her rather than asking her and listening to her story. The demand that we listen to women has never felt more perfect for a story and more necessary. Lydia’s own story – with its eerie references to an abusive situation (Wickham convincing her it’s them against the world, gaslighting her and manipulating her emotions, as well as lying to her and refusing to tell the truth) – gains a darkness but also a strength as it focuses on how a romantic woman tries to navigate those who would take advantage of her and try to mold her life into what they think it should be. Ultimately it is up to Lydia to change her own life – which see eagerly accepts and shows she can thrive at. This play is especially poignant and beautiful for all the different kinds of women it portrays and the artful way it weaves their stories together.

Overall:

Go see this show – it’s instantly become one of my favorite that I’ve seen in the last year and favorite in general. It’s got the perfect balance of holiday cheer while also feeding into the need that I acutely feel of not being able to completely remove myself from the world around me and creating a story that reflects both on the past and the current world. If you loved Miss Bennet, I’m assured that you will love this as well. And even if you aren’t an Austen fan, this powerful story of women seeking freedom, falling in love, and eating a whole lot of delicious biscuits might just win you over.

General Information

The Wickhams is written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and directed by Christina Baldwin. It is playing now through December 30th at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

An (Incomplete) List of Themes and Issues in Frankenstein

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Top: Frankenstein at MIA’s “At Home with Monsters” exhibit (source: author photo) Bottom: “Frankenstein: Playing with Fire” (source: guthrietheater.org)

I am obsessed with Frankenstein. This is not new. I first read the book in middle school and, though I didn’t understand a lot of it, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of loving Victor Frankenstein’s tragic story and the Creature’s isolation and outsider view. I watched the Universal film from 1931 and its sequel (though both films are nothing like the book). I read a series of books for teens based off the Universal films. I watched Young Frankenstein most Halloweens (and saw the musical adaptation when it toured here). I kept rereading the book. I wrote my own modern adaptation that I self-published as an e-book (please don’t find it; it’s terrible). I grew jealous of everyone who was able to see the Benedict Cumberbatch/ Johnny Lee Miller adaption in the UK (directed by Danny Boyle – I’m finally seeing this November when a live taping is encored by the MSP Film Society at St Anthony Main theater). I’ve read about Mary Shelley and her famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, in the book Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. Some of my favorite creative types also love Frankenstein (notably, Guillermo Del Toro, who I am likewise obsessed with).

In short, I am a huge Frankenstein nerd and I am very vocal about this. So when the Guthrie announced that they would be doing a production of Frankenstein: Playing with Fire in their 2018-2019 season, I was intrigued and a little worried. I love the story but I’ve seen bad adaptations that haunt me (looking at you, Fringe). But I love the production at the Guthrie, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the play being written and the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication itself. In fact, it’s probably my favorite show that I’ve seen at the G (and by this weekend, will hold the record of the most times I’ve seen the same production of a show). Because (for all transparent reasons) I work in the Guthrie box office, I won’t review the show. But I have been thinking about the story a great deal and, after rereading the book and spending some time with Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the importance of Shelley’s writing that I wanted to share. Without further ado:

An (Incomplete) List of Themes and Issues in “Frankenstein”

  • playing with fire/ myth of Prometheus/ playing God
  • pseudoscience versus real science
  • environmentalism/ respect for the forces of nature and scientific laws
  • nature versus nurture in the raising of children
  • healthcare (why does Victor leap to the conclusion that the answer to avoiding death is to avoid birthing humans and create life from the dead rather than working to better healthcare? Especially central to the way the play adapts the book where Victor’s mother dies in childbirth)
  • ways in which the Creature reflects what living with mental illness is like (anxiety and depression makes those who live with it feel monstrous, like outsiders, etc.)
  • who really is a monster – what is actually horrific in this story
  • skepticism versus wonder and how they get convoluted
  • overlooking objective truth in order something you want to be true possible
  • having more questions than answers in life
  • education and how we learn/who we teach
  • our lack of understanding around what makes us human/sentient/ personality/ the belief in a soul
  • desire/hunger for knowledge
  • technology and how its advancement is outpacing in our ability to deal with and grapple with it
  • consequences of actions/shame/guilt
  • questions around morality and what is moral

All in all, I really love this story. If you get the chance to see the Guthrie production or the Danny Boyle screening at St Anthony Main, due. And why not pick up the book over Halloween? (I want to get my hands on the 1818 edition myself – I hear it’s better than the more populous 1833 edition.)

Thank you for entertaining my passion surrounding Frankenstein. I’ll be here all October with all of your gothic horror story needs.

Little Women (Jungle Theater)

Jungle • Little Women
Photo credit: Rich Ryan

About the Show: 

Based on the much loved novel by Louisa May Alcott, this play follows the story of Jo, a young woman growing up in Massachusetts during the Civil War, and her three sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy. The three struggle through the hardships of war and the difficulties of being a young woman in a society that has certain expectations for them while their neighbor, Laurie, has similar struggles as a young man. As the five come of age, the world around them changes and their relationship and connections to one another change as well.

Why I Chose to See It: 

This play was commissioned by the Jungle to playwright Kate Hamill (whose adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was performed in the Guthrie’s 2016-2017 season). Hamill is a wonderful adaptor and she’s a female playwright who’s work I eagerly follow. This play is a world premiere and I would see anything Sarah Rasmussen directs. I grew up around the story of Little Women and, though the ending troubles me, it feels like a strong part of my childhood (though I only read the full novel for the first time in the week preceding the show).

My Response:

This play is beautiful. It has all the charm and elegance of the original story (and all the same plot points and character quirks) with a distinctly modern edge. The language feels contemporary without being utterly 21st century and the conversations are loosened from the 19th century novelistic style to a more conversational stage-friendly tone. The events in the play – especially Jo and Laurie’s conflict with their gender identity and expectations, Aunt March’s bigotry and classism, and Meg’s frustration with being an overwhelmed mother with an unhelpful husband are all seen through a lens of where we currently sit in the present day and the show gains a fresh, powerful flavor from this stance. What makes this story so compelling is the words it gives to the struggle around women in America, especially women from everyday lives who may not have great adventures and epic stories. These women still have stories that deserve to be heard and, in this heartwarming and heartbreaking play, Alcott and Hamill work beautifully together to let these stories be heard. And at the end of the story, when things feel they end not as we would like, Hamill uses her power as a playwright and Jo’s own character to reflect on this tension and give us some satisfaction even as we cry through the curtain call.

Also, the cast for this show is absolutely marvelous. Every single actor on stage nails the characters they embody. The March sisters themselves work as a fine-tuned quartet and each of their emotional extremes and personalities work in harmony with one another (even when that harmony involves personal discord between the characters). Also, if you’re a fan of Michael Hanna, he leaps out of a trunk. You’re welcome.

Overall:

Go see this show. I continually feel tension with the idea of “classics” in American literature and the assumption that there are stories that everyone knows. However, this is one American story that is worth telling – and this adaptation clearly shows why. You do not have to be familiar with the original book to enjoy this play and you certainly don’t need to be a fan of the classics to attend this show. Better yet if you aren’t. This story is for the person who wonders if their story is worth telling and what to make of a world where they feel they don’t fit in.

General Information

Little Women is written by Kate Hamill and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through October 21st at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.