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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.

The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity

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Source: muperformingarts.org

Note: I’m trying a new reviewing format. Like it, love it, dislike it – let me know!

About the Show: This title really says it all. Gao Hlee is a personality coach working with CEO mogul Benedict to improve his personality. Gao Hlee is infatuated with Korean dramas and uses them to express her desire to loose her virginity before she turns 30. As she and Benedict work around cultural barriers and cultural etiquette obstacles, fate fortune, and fantasy clash against what both of them desire.

Why I Chose to See It: I love Mu Performing Art’s work. The title alone intrigued me and how often can I say I’ve seen a world premiere play written by a Hmong woman playwright? Basically never. As a playwright myself, I love seeing new work, especially by women and people of color.

My Response: I absolutely loved this show. There were moments where I had no idea where things were going and was always surprised and delighted by the twists and turns in the story. There’s a certain kind of quality to it – I don’t want to call it melodrama, but it’s akin to that, mimicking the emotional quality of the Korean soap operas it channels from – that’s really delightful (though at first might feel like overacting to an audience). The piece is incredibly well-acted by the whole ensemble, though Katie Bradley steals the show. Dexieng Yang is also wonderful (and I’m excited to see what she does at Augsburg in their theater program as a recent Augsburg MFA grad myself). This piece is incredibly funny, there’s ghosts and shamans and karaoke (shout out to Brian Kim as Benedict for nailing my dream karaoke scene of someone singing Journey’s “Faithfully” to me), and as someone who didn’t start dating until my mid-twenties, I deeply related to Gao Hlee’s struggles (though my form of escape was Jane Eyre, not Korean soap operas. I regret this choice – Korean dramas seem way more fun).

Overall: Go see this show. You’ll laugh. You’ll sigh. You’ll never think about ramen the same way again. Best of all you’ll enjoy celebrating how relationships grow, change, and work to overcome obstacles. And you also might want to take up the habit of watching Korean dramas, which I’m doing ASAP.

General Information: The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity is written by May Lee-Yang and directed by Randy Reyes. It is running now through August 19th at Park Square Theatre. Tickets are available on Mu Performing Art’s website.

 

Updates and News

Hi friends –

You might have noticed that things look a little different around here. That’s because as I finish up grad school and move towards… well, whatever comes after, I’ve decided to start a website where I can share my work as a playwright and dramaturg. I’m also looking into revamping this blog. I’ll continue to refer to it as The Room Where It Happens (I still own that domain and searching for it should still bring you here? I have lots of things to parse out around that) and I’m still planning to do some reviewing – however, it’ll look different. I’m far less interested in telling you if a show was good or bad and if you should see it. I’d rather talk about how it emotionally affects me and what sort of impact it leaves me with. I’m also hoping to do a lot more with discussions of theater creating – especially surrounding my own writing and works in process.

So, we’ll see where that all goes. Stay tuned!

Dear Grace (#metoo)

Dear Grace,

I know this is not your real name, but hello. I read the article that was posted about you on Babe.net in which you discuss a situation that happened with Aziz Ansari. I would like to first say I believe you. There are plenty of reporters right now from CNN, the New York Times, and especially the Atlantic* who would rather complain about how you are making mountains out of molehills or accusing Ansari of not being able to read minds or any possible rhetorical strategy they can find to belittle your story. Do not let them belittle you. Your struggle is real. I understand it well. Because #metoo.

I admit that I was shocked when I initially heard about the allegations against Ansari. I enjoyed his book Modern Love and like his work. However, at this point, I’m finding that a lot of people I admire have done less than admirable things and, while no one is perfect, there is a difference between making mistakes and owning up to them, and hiding them and pretending to be a perfect of example and using your power to do so. I work in theater and I hear about how all too often someone’s success is used to protect them. It is part of the reason I am so afraid to discuss incidents that have happened to me. I am also afraid because of the responses to your stories, in which people blame you for being too ignorant, of not saying “no” clearly enough, of not facing the issue head on and feeling upset about it later and using it as “revenge porn” (clearly the reporter from the Atlantic who uses this phrase has absolutely no idea what revenge porn actually is). As a person who has felt upset about an incident and later was unsure how to handle it, I feel these are unfair attacks. I have been in situations where I could have more clearly communicated how I felt but I was so surprised that I was never asked or it was assumed that I wanted something a certain way that I wasn’t sure how to proceed from there. The point of your story is that men do not ask – they take – and that we live in a culture that socializes them to be this way. They assume if we are sexually active that, even if we are drunk, our mumbled yes is consent. They assume that if we say yes to one thing, we are okay with anything they do. They think that the moment they are done with us, we should be done with them and they do not care about our emotional well-being afterwards. They think that we can read their minds and we can completely understand what they want and that their needs come first. They think because they talk about feminism and post about feminism, it makes them a feminist and it some how absolves them of the sexist things they do in their personal lives because they present themselves as a feminist generally but fail to practice those things in their personal life. I of course am using “they” broadly here to talk about issues I have seen in my experiences. For those who would call me out, I don’t mean “all men” but several I have had encounters with. The fact that I still have to say “not all men” is an issue of how I’ve been socialized to excuse and avoid and pardon the flaws of men while women are constantly being reprimanded and people of other genders are kept invisible in most of these discussions. People of other genders are affected too. The patriarchy is not good for anyone. Why we perpetuate it and continue to give it power is beyond me.

Here is one of the many reasons why this matters: of the partners I have had (a statistic I will not disclose because that’s no one’s business), I have had exactly one who has asked me what I wanted, who has checked in with me, who has made sure that I am comfortable. He has taught himself to do this – I have not had to ask him to listen. We are working to listen more to each other but the fact that he started by asking, that he started by listening is something I have never experienced before. He is my current partner and we’ve been together for many months and still I am surprised when he checks in with me, when he wants to know what I want, when he asks questions. This should not surprise me. Having a male partner like this who is like some rare unicorn in the midst of everyone else is not the way things should be. But I’m afraid that the desires of women are terribly misunderstood and misrepresented. These reporters are not helping but reinforcing what has already been built against us. We are like birds, throwing ourselves against the bars of a cage and hoping the bars will break. I believe that one day the bars will break, or that someone will open up the cage. But it is going to take time. Until, stay strong, and I will keep fighting for women like you, like me, for all women. I hear you. I believe you. And #metoo.

 

*I am not linking to these articles because I do not want to be sending readers directly to them. They are poor excuses for reporting and opinion and the Atlantic piece is especially badly written.

How the Ghost of You Clings (PWC Reading)

I’m baaaaack! Hello, theater blogging world. After a much needed rest, I am back in the new year to continue sharing my thoughts on theater. I took some time to focus on mental health and my own writing. I took a trip to Louisville to get to better know Actors’ Theatre and to see a couple of shows there. I enjoyed the holidays and ate too many cookies. But now, I’m faced with a whole new year of theater and a new perspective on what I want to focus on. More about that to follow. But first – the Playwrights’ Center.
In case you don’t know, the Playwrights’ Center (or PWC) is one of the greatest centers for new work in the Twin Cities (and the US) and a huge, much-loved resource for playwrights. Also, all of their public readings are free and always wonderful. Monday night presented the opportunity for me to hear a piece by PWC founder John Olive. Olive has been writing for many years and, while artistic director Jeremy Cohen mentioned that right now much of the theater world’s focus might be on the next young and up and coming playwrights, it’s our core continuing playwrights, who are in the middle of latter part of their careers we also need to keep supporting.
This reading of How the Ghost of You Clings: The Anna May Wong Story included Sun Mee Chomet, playing Anna May Wong, Katie Bradley, Stephanie Bertumen, Daniel Coleman, Sherwin Resurreccion, and Daniel Sakamoto-Wengel, with Rick Shiomi directing. I’m sad to admit that I had never heard of Anna May Wong before this reading. She’s an Asian-American actress who made films in Hollywood, from silent films to talkies. She often was typecast, working in films with strong stereotypes and even yellow face. After seeing this reading, I want to learn everything I can about her.
If you’re unfamiliar with staged readings, this is how they work – actors read the lines and perform them with music stands holding the scripts in front of them. Another actor reads stage directions and, at PWC, the playwright chooses one aspect of design to focus on. For this reading, John Olive chose to have dramaturg Christina Ham work with him.
I absolutely loved this reading – it deals with a lot of deep, nuanced issues including casting and racism in Hollywood, race and gender, and the fact that not a great deal has changed since mid 1900s.
Part of this really hit home for me. Anna talks about being one person, that can’t be everything for everyone, or the solution we’re looking for to racism in Hollywood. It’s so easy to point fingers and see someone as misrepresenting their group and see their flaws as we look back on the past. We can blame Anna for taking these roles, but it’s much harder when you are the person trying to make a career.
Though I’m not a person of color, I aspects of this as a young queer playwright. I feel like there’s so much I’m expected to uphold. But I’m only one person. I can’t do everything. I feel exactly the same as a reviewer/blogger. I can’t see all the shows. I can’t go to all of the theaters. It’s unrealistic to expect me to be able to do that and it’s wrong to assume that I have to say it all or that I even should say it all. This is something I’m being more vocal about going forward as it’s a large part of why I stepped away from blogging. In regards to this, I’ve decided to stop writing my blog the way I think I have to or am supposed to or what people expect. I share this writing with others and to support the theater community, but most of all I do this for myself. I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to review certain shows or write certain things. I want to do this because I want to do this. And I really want to write about this show. So I’m glad to be jumping back into this with How the Ghost of You Clings and PWC. It feels good to be back, like I’m coming home. I can’t wait to see what else this year brings.

A Little Respite, A Little Rest

Hey all. It’s your friendly neighborhood playwright/blogger here. You might have noticed a slight lull in reviewing. It’s not that I haven’t seen shows – I saw Hamlet at Park Square at the beginning of October, The Privateer at Park Square a couple of weeks ago, and In the Next Room at the Rarig Center just this weekend. I, however, have not reviewed them. It’s not that I don’t want to review them. But the problem is with my brain and the things it’s struggling through right now.

I have anxiety. And not like Zooey Deschanel-New Girl -“I’m socially awkward” anxiety. I mean the actual mental condition of generalize anxiety disorder. It’s been a greater struggle as I’ve become an adult and left the structure that school and having set classes offered and, as the years have gone on, it’s become a larger influence on my life. I only acknowledged that I had anxiety in 2015 and, since then, I’ve been working to learn to better handle it and reduce the things that provoke and trigger it. The 2016 election has been a definite trigger, so the last year has been a little rough. But it’s also been one of the best years of my life and I’ve grown in a lot of ways.

Right now, I’m relearning how to live with my anxiety. I started taking Zoloft just over a month ago and cut out a lot of things in my life that were causing me additional stress. One of those things was the number of shows I see. I decided to cut back in order to have more free time to focus on grad school and relax. However, after cutting back shows I found that I still didn’t have the desire to review. I wanted to see theater, but reviewing had begun to feel like a job – no, a relentless task, something that I was continually being asked to do and continued to accept because, more and more, I feel that the theater community is becoming reliant on bloggers to make up for the inadequate press we have in town. As much as like voicing my views on theater, I also don’t want to create the expectation that I will see all the shows and write all the reviews and always share my socio-political perspective. I like doing that, but right now I am tired and I need to take a break. I need to remember what it’s like to see a show without having to worry about getting home to my computer to write down my thoughts. I want to remember what it’s like to watch shows as an audience member, as an artist, not a reviewer. In the long run, I think it’ll make me a better artist and critic.

I’m hoping to get back into reviewing, I think, but right now I really need to make time for myself. The world is full of stresses and triggers, as it always has been, but my engagement with them has changed. I’ll continue to see shows, hopefully a couple a month, and I plan on writing here, more about playwriting and other thoughts I have on theater. In the meantime, I’m working on a series of posts about anxiety and theater for Minnesota Playlist, so keep your eyes out for that (I’ll also share them here once their published).

Thanks all and see you around town.

All the Way

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Source: History Theatre

I deeply regret not being able to get this post up right after I saw this show (I’ve been delayed by mental health, work, and now the worst cold ever) but now I’m living in a very different mindset than I was just a few weeks ago. Of course, when I saw All the Way, I was in the middle of a panic episode that had lasted several days and influenced how I perceived the show (more about that in a sec) so maybe it’s not all that different. Because now I’m panicked about how we as a theater community operate when allegations of assault arise on social media (I have so much to say about this. There will be a post. Hopefully). And that’s where my head is at right now. But I sat down to write this review because I need to get it written. Because wow.

This show is a doozy. I don’t know what I expected when I walked into the History Theatre, but it was not three hours of fear that history – that I know happened – would not actually happen. How you can make a play about a known legislative act – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – in such an intense way that keep you on the edge of your seat as to whether it’s actually going to get passed is some pretty powerful stuff. Of course, this all carried the added weight that there’s plenty in the world to point out that this legislation wasn’t enough and plenty of people are still pushing for action that would hurt civil rights. The timeliness of this play is certainly noted, especially in the program where artistic director Ron Peluso sees the opportunity to mention Charlottesville and does it. It’s a simple thing but something I’m proud to see – it’s easy to step aside from current events instead of embracing how they affect the play you’re doing. So recognizing that is an important marker – for a theater and for its audience.

This huge, incredible cast does a great job, especially as many remain on stage for large parts of the performance. Pearce Bunting is absolutely incredible as Lyndon Johnson, Andrew Erskine Wheeler is a wonderful Hubert Humphrey (though Humphrey fans might balk at the way the playwright has chosen to portray him), Shawn Hamilton is powerful as Martin Luther King Jr, and J.C. Cutler is a marvelous aggressively antagonizing J. Edgar Hoover. Other highlights include Peter Middlecamp as Walter Jenkins, Darrick Mosley as Stokely Carmichael, Jamila Anderson as Coretta Scott King, and Josh Carson as George Wallace. This whole cast (which due to its size I’m unable to list here) deserves a lot of love and appreciation because there’s so many moving parts in this play – it’s a bulky story with a lot of history but flows easily and smoothly (even though the story it’s telling is anything but smooth).

There is one thing that bothered me though, which has gotten under my skin long after I saw the show. It doesn’t deal with the production, per say, but audience reaction that troubled me. Here there be spoilers, so if you don’t want a twist in the piece revealed to you, you might want skip this until you see it. In the second act, Walter (played by Peter Middlecamp) is arrested for homosexual activity. We watching him uncomfortably undress into hospital garments as we learn his has been sent to a mental institution. Lyndon Johnson asks Hoover, who has revealed this information to him, “How do you know if someone is… that way?” It eventually becomes a way for Johnson to prod Hoover for his behavior and pointing out allegations at Hoover’s own sexual behavior. But it uncomfortably got a lot of audience laughter through this exchange. While Walter is being taken away to whatever hell awaited a gay man hospitalized in the 1960s, audience members are laughing (maybe because Johnson is kind of goofy and that’s just how he is? But not like funny goofy just… he’s that “Southern good ole boy” type that people like to throw around). I know this was the 60s and people had utterly different views on sexuality than they do now, but I can’t help but wonder if the statement of “that way” is setting up for a punchline for a joke. Is it the way it’s written or is it an audience issue? Do they (the audience) think there’s something funny about being “that way”? Even though we’re clearly seeing the repercussions and discrimination towards LGBTQ people on stage (which is such a wonderful nod to how far civil rights really extends, even if it didn’t at the time).

It does worry me that there’s a deeper issue at play. The US recently voted against the UN’s move to ban the death for same-sex acts. (The ban passed nonetheless and since then the US has tried to clarify that they were concerned with “broader concerns” of how the resolution approached condemning the death penalty in all circumstances [source]. Yeah, I’m not happy with that answer either.) Listening to various podcasts has made me realize how far we have to go to accepting LGBTQ+ people in our country and, given the cultural moment, I’m nervous. While my general anxiety upon entering this performance didn’t help, I think it’s important to note this audience reaction, either to inform the theater so that they can better prepare their audiences or… I don’t know. Make us more aware of the little abrasions people in minority groups face during a show? I wanted to walk out at that moment, simply because of the audience, even though I was deeply invested in the show. This play brings up a serious issue of how the FBI punished and hospitalized homosexual people and the audience response deeply concerns me. Since we need to speak up now about issues in our community (as noted in my intro) I feel it’s my job to talk about these issues, no matter how nitpicky or oversensitive it might seem. Because it’s not either of those things. I noticed it and I can’t be alone.

I encourage you to go see this show. No matter how the audience responds around you, it’s a powerful piece and one that shows the complicated maneuvering, the deal making, and the power struggles of DC – and reminds us of how much work we still have to do.

All the Way is written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Ron Peluso. It is playing now through October 29th. Ticket and show information can be found on the History Theatre’s website.