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.

La Natividad

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Source: In the Heart of the Beast

La Natividad, In the Heart of the Beast’s reoccurring Christmas show inspired by the gospels of Matthew and Luke, is one of the most poignant shows you’ll find this holiday season. Traveling to site-specific locations culminating in a procession to St Paul’s Lutheran Church near In the Heart of the Beast’s theater, this performance combines a Christmas pageant-style story with a remarkable music, puppetry, and masks.

I’ve never seen La Natividad before, but I was surrounded by many who had. It was wonderful to watch their experiences and hear them singing along with songs they had heard before as I took it all in for the first time. While I grew up Roman Catholic and am very familiar with the story of the Nativity, it’s never felt so relevant before. Drawing parallels with stories of refugees and immigration, this bilingual show, presented both in English and Spanish –  follows Maria and Jose’s trek grappling with Maria’s pregnancy while also dealing with Cesar Augustus’s call for people to return to their place of birth in order to be counted and accounted for. While filling out immigration papers, Jose proclaims, “Isn’t a person worth more than paperwork?” Meanwhile, King Herod hears about the coming of a child who will be “king of all kings” and, threatened by one who will be more powerful than he, attempts to bar entry to those seeking refuge in Bethlehem. There’s something very Trump-like about Herod, both in the costuming and in the words he delivers and, while In the Heart of the Beast confirms that this is the same presentation of Herod that they’ve had in years past, it seems my mind and those of others watching the performance couldn’t help but imprint current events onto Herod (the exaggerated gestures of his hands don’t help. Trust me, you just have to see it). It really emphasizes how stories of refugees and those who refuse to give them shelter repeat over and over and over again.

This performances is unlike any theater experience I’ve had before – perhaps because it’s more than just a theater experience. It’s site-specific, immersive, and personal. It doesn’t just break the fourth wall – it never feels like there’s a fourth wall to begin with. In between scenes as you travel from place to place, you’re able to chat with your neighbors and see what their reactions are to each scene. At the end of the performance, after a lush and magical scene in which the world welcomes the birth of Jesus, performers and patrons alike congregate for a fiesta, with warm food and drinks prepared by volunteers. I’ve never felt so welcomed into a community nor have I ever had so many strangers talk to me just for the sake of getting to know someone new. I’ve been spending more time on Lake Street this year for theater than I ever have before (frequenting In the Heart of the Beast, the Jungle, Frank Theatre’s site-specific show, and Pillsbury House) and I love the community I’ve found her.

While this show has its roots in Christianity and the New Testament, this performance is one people of all faiths can enjoy. I myself am agnostic and found the story affirming of the hope and beauty I’m looking for in the world right now, and also found it much warmer and heartfelt retelling than I ever experienced in the churches I attended. At the fiesta afterwards, audience members are welcome to record their responses to the show on a board and ask further questions – who would I shelter? Who would shelter me? Would I shelter an enemy? With our current political climate, these questions are more relevant than ever.

La Natividad is playing now through December 22nd in the Lake-Midtown neighborhood. Show and ticket information can be found on In the Heart of the Beast’s website. Group rates are available and no one is turned away for lack of funds.

A Very Die Hard Christmas

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Source: Bryantlakebowl.com

If you’re feeling more naughty than nice this holiday season and looking for something a little different in your choices of festive fair, check out A Very Die Hard Christmas at Bryant Lake Bowl. Based of the 1988 movie staring Bruce Willis and the late great Alan Rickman, this musical parody retells the story of John McClane, a Jack Bauer-like cop who, unlike Bauer, “can get those problems solved in two hours. I don’t need twenty-four.” McClane is just trying to get home for the holidays to see his kids and estranged wife, Holly (Anna Weggel-Reed). But wouldn’t you just know it, West German extremists take over the Christmas party Holly is attending at Nakatomi Plaza, led by the hostile Hans Gruber (Matt Sciple). Bent on destroying the Nakatomi Corporation because… because evil, Gruber holds the party hostage and demands some secret code things.

Okay, so I’ve seen Die Hard at least four times, and I always get lost here. What exactly does the Nakatomi Corporation do? Why does Gruber want to mess with them? Why does McClane jump in solo to mess with literally a whole brigade of terrorists? Relax, Die Hard Christmas tells us. Don’t think too hard about the film’s gaping plot holes. Marvel instead at the Carson’s hilarious take on McClane and Sciple’s fantastic Alan Rickman impression. Enjoy a highly talented ensemble of Andy Rocco Kraft, Dan Hetzel, Anna Hickey (who for this weekend is doing double duty, performing both in Baltimore is Burning and this show) , and Brad Erickson, playing partygoers, Germans, and magical Christmas puppets.

Oh, yes, did I mention there are puppets? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-esque puppets and a Don Bluth-like mouse, incorporate other Christmas films and 1980s culture into the story. There’s a lot of references to 1980s film and TV throughout the show, from Pretty Woman to Steven Seagal to The Princess Bride, including an entire gag focused on working the names of 80s TV shows into dialogue. Mixed in with music throughout (such as a duet of “Where Are You Christmas” with Holly and her very pregnant co-worker Ginny and a variation of “What’s This?” sung by Gruber), this performance takes an iconic action film and makes it a spectacular and ridiculous celebration of the holidays.

I don’t remember Die Hard being so weirdly uncomfortable when I saw it as a kid but post-9/11 and post-Trump it sure feels a lot more dire than I recall. Thankfully, the bit of camp, the magical holiday puppets, and layers of humor embedded into this piece makes the parody work instead of being trapped in a conflict with the awfulness that has been 2016. It’s wildly inappropriate, bloody, brash, and also incredibly endearing. I loved it. Carson’s stellar improv and the cast’s breaking of the forth wall alone made me understand why people have been supporting this show for five years. There hasn’t been a lot to laugh about this year (not cynically, at least) and it was wonderful to see something that honestly made me laugh so hard my sides ached. So if you need a pick-me-up this holiday season and want to see a wildly funny take on a classic 80s film, this show’s for you.

A Very Die Hard Christmas is written by Josh Carson and directed by Brad Erickson. It is playing now through December 17th at Bryant Lake Bowl. Show and ticket information can be found on Bryant Lake Bowl’s website.

105 Proof

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Source: Transatlantic Love Affair

If you love a good gangster story, and one that treats the gangster as folk-like figure, a tall-tale exaggerated symbol that’s claimed American mythology in its thrall and created new territory for the antihero to emerge in full force, then Transatlantic Love Affair’s 105 Proof, or: the Killing of Mack “the Silencer” Klein is right up your alley. Blending their physical theater style, minimal costumes, and haunting music, this play focuses on a family in Versailles, Illinois who gets involved with the Chicago mob after the grandfather begins making moonshine and the oldest son starts selling it for him. Full of suspense, humor, grief, and intrigue (and possibly even a cannoli reference?), this story will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Comprised of a stellar cast including Amber Bjork, Heather Bunch, Emily Dussault, Eric Marinus, Derek Lee Miller, Nick Saxton, Allison Witham, and Nick Wolf, this production loads on multiple casting, scenery building, and sound effects all performed by the actors. A soundtrack of music (as well as gunshots) is created throughout the show by Dustin Tessler and Adam J Patterson and several songs are sung in the performance, performed by the marvelous Emily Dussault and the ensemble.

I missed this show at Fringe when it was performed in 2015 and I’m delighted to see it now. As an Italian-American who grew up with the pseudo-mythology of the mob, I’m fascinated and terrified by this world of crime – and even more fascinated with America’s interest in it. After recently seeing Brecht, it’s striking to see what someone will do to make their way in the world and how they change for their work. 105 Proof includes all of this, providing a realistic feeling rural town and crime-filled city office all produced with the actor’s actions, body language, and movement. This performance feels like a whirlwind, and one I’m still thinking about days after seeing it. If you missed this at Fringe, don’t miss it now – it’s spectacular.

105 Proof is conceived and directed by Diogo Lopes. It is playing now through November 20th at the Illusion Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Illusion’s website or TLA’s website.

The Oldest Boy

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Source: Jungle Theater

The Jungle Theater’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy is an incredibly breathtaking and mesmerizing performance. Mother (Christina Baldwin) is a woman who has given up on her PhD program after the death of her teacher. She cares for her son, Tenzien (Mansanari Kawahara) and, while home with him one day, is greeted by a Buddhist lama and monk (Eric “Pogi” Sumangil and Tsering Dorjee Bawa) who appear to visit her husband (Randy Reyes). However, when they meet Tenzin, they believe him to be the reincarnation of a lama and one of their teachers. Mother is terrified of losing him but, after being tested, Tenzin correctly chooses the objects belonging to the former lama and shows knowledge of being the former lama. Mother is encouraged to let him travel to India, where he will be taught and trained. Dealing with her own loss and struggling to understand her own spirituality as well as what it means to be a mother, Mother as wella s Father journey to India to find Tenzin’s new home.

This show is really beautiful. Tenzin is portrayed as a puppet (designed and constructed by Mansanari Kawahara) in order to show the shift between child self and reincarnated self, which makes for some poignant shifts onstage. The world that is created through the lighting (designed by Karin Olson, set (by Mina Kinukawa), sound (by Sean Healey), and costuming (by Sonya Berlovitz) is absolutely incredible and provides a powerful environment. Because this story deals with spirituality and ideas of reincarnation, there’s a very reverent, almost holy feeling created in some of the scenes, aided by traditional dancing and music performed onstage by actors (including Yeshi Samdup). Sarah Ruhl is known for her magical realism in her writing and this play perfectly captures that, both in the breaking down of the forth wall with the audience (seen at the beginning during Mother’s meditation and during Mother and Father’s dialogue about how they met), in the use of silence, the use of puppetry, and the topic itself. I wasn’t sure how a non-Buddhist would approach the subject of reincarnation but it feels very elegant in Ruhl’s hand and even more so in this superb production which strives to integrate the local Tibetan community.

I really enjoyed this play with its focus on meditation and mindfulness. It feels wonderful to step back and breathe (especially at the end of a stressful election year) and remember different ways of living that are more calm and focused. This play also captures a certain mystery about children – how they seem to know things that they seem too young to have learned – and plays with the idea that maybe there’s a more spiritual reason for this.

The Oldest Boy is written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through December 18th at Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

Good Person of Setzuan – Frank Theatre

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Source: facebook.com/FrankTheatreMpls

I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced anything quite like Frank Theatre’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s Good Person of Setzuan. Part site-specific experience in the vacant space of the former Rainbow Foods on Lake Street, part found object set and installation project, it’s an incredible production that immerses the audience from the very moment they arrive.

Using Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Brecht’s work, this adaptation follows the arrival of three gods (Katherine Ferrand, Janis Hardy, and Ellen Apel) in the poverty-ridden town of Setzuan. The water-seller (Patrick Bailey) anticipates their arrival and meets them, promising to help them find a place to spend the night. However, each person he asks turns them away, causing the gods to wonder if there’s a single good person left in this town. Finally, the Water Seller comes to the residence of Shen Te (Emily Grodzik), a prostitute who agrees to allow the gods to stay with her. Proclaiming her a good person, the gods give her a gift of money to help her pay her rent. But due to the need of the people around her and Shen Te’s generous heart, she tries to help others in the poor town, leading to trouble and the feeling that she is being used. In order to cope and survive, Shen Te literally splits herself in half, creating an alter ego of her cousin, Shui Ta, the help negotiate and run the tobacco shop she has bought with the gods’ gift. When Shen Te realizes that marrying would help her financially, she plans to marry someone with money – but instead falls for the out of work pilot, Yang Sun (John Middleton). Deciding to love Sun no matter what the cost (both literally and figuratively), she chooses to marry him, even if he doesn’t love her. However, things don’t go the way Shen Te plans and she becomes Shui Ta again, opening a factory and changing Sun into a harsh, workaholic foreman.

Brecht is known for being dense, blunt, and focusing on the message and the medium of theater. He doesn’t write a piece that allows you to escape – he makes you constantly aware that you are watching a play and causes you to connect it to the world around you. Some might find this heavy-handed, but Frank’s production presents this with such power and grace that it doesn’t feel heavy or contrived but rather thoughtfully constructed.

A lot of this is due to the powerhouse cast. Aside from the talent mentioned above, there’s an incredible ensemble that performs an array of characters and constantly change and shift the set. Highlights include Kirby Bennett as Mrs. Shin, a former tenant of the space who looks to Shen Te for help and is the only person who knows her secret; Adam Varela as the barber Shu Fu, who falls in love with Shen Te and gives some wonderfully melodramatic monologues; and Kate Beahen and Joseph Miller as the Wife and Husband, troublemaking tobacco store owners sans a store who camp out in Shen Te’s shop and push her towards needing the alter ego of her cousin (who ultimately takes advantage of their tobacco supplies for Shui Ta’s own gain).

This is also a play with music, composed by Dan Dukich, combining dissonant Kurt Weill styles with more modern (almost 80s pop?) sounds, which lends itself wonderfully to mood and atmosphere already in place. In one powerful scene, we see Shen Te transform into Shui Ta, all while singing “Song of the Defenselessness of the Good and the Gods,”about how the good can not remain in a society like this and that the gods are no help. “The Song of Smoke” is also wonderfully eerie and full of some great solos.

Combining wonderful lighting design by Mike Wangen, various lush and tattered costumes by Kathy Kohl, a clever set by Joe Stanley, and fantastic props by Kellie Larson (who also designed the lobby display), there’s a really rich world that’s created inside the vacant store. And because it is an old grocery store, there’s remnants of its former usage everywhere – which further hits home the issues of the play. The loading dock, which has become the stage, provides the perfect sort of decaying mechanistic feel for the show. And, incredibly, it has wonderful acoustics.

Though this show is three hours long, it doesn’t feel longer or ponderous. Instead, it draws the audience in and raises important questions: how does capitalism make us act like different people from the ones we’d like to be? How does labor change who we are? Can we be good when everything is expensive and so much of our lives are about money? How can we change the world? As someone who’s worked in retail and customer service since college, I’m elated to see this production (especially right before election day) that considers economic issues (and if you take the light rail to the show as I did, you’ll find it impossible to overlook how relevant it is to issues of poverty in Minneapolis, given the number of people who have made the space under the overpass of Hiawatha home). If you want to dig in deeper to the play, check out the research guides available for purchase. Or, bring a friend, grab a drink afterwards, and dig into the deep issues of post-modern capitalism raised in this brilliant show.

Good Person of Setzuan is written by Bertolt Brecht, adapted by Tony Kushner, and directed by Wendy Knox. It is playing now through November 20th at the former Rainbow Foods location on Lake Street. Show and ticket information can be found on Frank Theatre’s website.

Review: Queen

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Source: In the Heart of the Beast Theatre

Last night was my first visit to In the Heart of the Beast Theatre to see their new production, Queen. Hours laters, I’m still pouring over this incredible production, trying to savor all of its magical, wondrous, and heartbreaking moments. Queen follows the journey of a grandmother who has lost her grandson at the hands of gun violence. Through her despair and her loss, a story of grief, passion, and a need for change unfolds.

I’m unaccustomed to seeing theater that makes uses of masks and puppetry and this show does absolutely incredible things. From actual puppets used across props and bodies onstage, masks, and objects used to make other puppets (such as paper, which is artfully folded and molded by the actors on stage), a vivid, raw world is created that is forever shifting and changing as the grandmother’s journey changes. Accompanied by beautiful music and highly poetic words, a magical sort of world is created that is not quite ours but feels familiar none the less. It reminded me greatly of Beasts of the Southern Wild and creates a similar affect of bringing the audience into a fantastical world to make a strong statement about current affairs. There is a lot packed into a short show, but the piece flows wonderfully, allowing us to relish in moments of beauty and moments of confusion. One element that I loved deeply about this form of storytelling were the metaphors and symbols that called to mind certain ideas and thoughts but didn’t make the audience choose only one to focus one. The use of Ursa Major, for example, draws many associations: the constellation (tied with the use of stars throughout the show), the Greek myth connected to the constellation (which is about a woman and her son), the idea of bears being strong and how they relate to women. This open-ended affect is mesmerizing and powerful, allowing for certain moments – the shooting itself, the grandmother being locked in a cage and burned (is it an abstract interrogation? Is it a mental institution? Is it her own grief trapping her in?) to become stronger and poignant.

I loved seeing all the different uses of bodies and objects, as well as projections and sounds that were incorporated in this piece and it’s a show I’d love to see more than once, to let the poetry wash over me, though the story was heartbreaking and I found myself weeping more than once. While the news is continually filled with gun violence (especially police shootings) and protests such as the ones in Charlotte in response to this violence, a show like this captures a tense, cultural power for its timeliness and honesty that cannot be described by a mere review. However, it can be seen by the passion and engagement of the actors onstage. “May my anger remain real and smaller than my love,” the grandmother states at the end of the show. It is a struggle to do so in our current world, but this production gives hope, as well and working to make the grandmother’s wish for her story a reality: “I have come to set the world on fire. I wish it was already burning.”

Queen is written by Erik Ehn and Junauda Petrus and directed by Alison Heimstead. It is playing now through October 2nd at In the Heart of the Beast. Show and ticket information can be found at In the Heart of the Beast’s website.

 

The Iveys: A Super Casual Review for a Super Fancy Night of Theater

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#TeamBoxOffice at the Iveys. Kemi, Kendra, and I outside the State Theater. (Source: Kendra Plant)

Once a year, the Twin Cities theater community gathers together to celebrate the last year of theater and hand out awards for exemplary performances (ala the Tonys). This year was only my second year attending and I’m still in that stage of being a little star-struck and take aback by everything. I’m not really sure that I’ll grow out of this stage. I hope I don’t. Approaching the Iveys with excitement and awe makes it a little easier, I think, than if I’d let the ennui of sitting through an awards ceremony and collecting all the complaints I have about theater to brew in my mind. Not that I have ever done that during any kind of theater function).

Honestly, it’s hard not to be excited about the Iveys. After a year of reviewing and working on shows, it’s really wonderful to see them honored. And last night was a great night for theaters I work with – Guthrie Theater won for Trouble in Mind, a production that I was utterly blown away by (I still think about it. Good work, guys). History Theatre won for Glensheen, a show I saw twice and am still thoroughly impressed with for its wicked combination of humor and horror. Because I’ve worked with the History Theatre both in the box office and as a dramaturg, it’s nice to see them win. Theater Latte Da won for their scenic designer on Sweeney Todd, which was a very memorable, complex set (spoilers: I’m working box office there now so that’s a great way to kick off a new job). And it was wonderful to see snippets of Nina Simone (a show I love very, very dearly) as well as shows I’m still kicking myself for missing: Yellow Tree Theater’s Violet, Savage Umbrella’s June, Penumbra’s Sunset Baby, among others.

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Christina Ham, Kendra Plant of Artfully Engaging, and I at dinner before the Iveys. (Source: Kendra Plant)

And then there’s the people. I loved seeing Warren Bowles and Trevor Bowen win Iveys, seeing Joe Haj and Sarah Rasmussen have their theaters win being new artistic directors in town, having dinner with the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and Christina Ham, and seeing those I know posting about their experiences online. I loved running into friends and people from past shows I’ve worked on. I loved being surrounded by people I’ve just met or have never met and seeing how alive and vibrant our theater community is. And on days when I feel a little less enthused about theater – in times of writer’s block, during long days in the box office, during tough rehearsals and tough moments in the theater world, it’s nice to know that theater can fill the joyful and friendly and interconnected. After attending last year and hardly knowing anyone and feeling a bit like a fish out of water, it’s incredible for me, a year later, to feel instead like it’s a little slice of home. So, see you next year and I look forward to all the new shows ahead we have to celebrate!

Sensory Friendly Performance for the Lion King

A great interest of mine in theater is accessibility, so I was extremely excited to hear about a new opportunity at Hennepin Theatre Trust  with the tour of The Lion King that will be playing there starting July 5th. On July 30th at 2pm, a sensory-friendly performance will be offered, geared towards patrons with sensory, social, and learning disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum, and their friends and family. Minneapolis is only the fifth city to provide such a performance for the tour (including New York, Boston, Houston, and Pittsburgh) and it’s the first time such a show has come on a Broadway tour in Minnesota.

Accommodations in this performance includes:

  • house lights left at a low level
  • designated quiet spaces and activity areas, as well as standing and movement accessibility throughout the theater
  • lower sound levels (especially for loud and sudden/startling sounds)
  • trained volunteers and professionals on hand
  • sensory objects including fidgets, earplugs, and noise-cancelling earmuffs available

Theater should be accessible to everyone and I love that “traditional” presentations of theater are being adapted and changed to be more open and accepting to audiences who are neurodivergent. Sitting in a dark room, in small spaces with loud noises is not everyone’s ideal way to watch a show and offering different ways to experience theater – especially for children – is a wonderful way to broaden a patron’s experiences and introduced them to theater, broaden a theater’s audience base, and broaden the experience of other patrons to a larger community in the theater. If you or someone you know are interested in seeing this performance, tickets can be purchased at HTT’s page for the performance, which also includes more information about the services offered. Hopefully we’ll see more performances like these, both here in the Twin Cities and nation-wide!

Review: Le Switch

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Source: jungletheater.com

As it’s Pride Week here in the Twin Cities, what better show to see right now than Le Switch at the Jungle Theater? A new play that is experiencing a rolling debut, having been first performed in Chicago and now here (where it got its start at the Playwrights Center PlayLabs), this comedy deals with romance right on the brink of the monumentous legislation of marriage equality. David (Kasey Mahaffy) is librarian who loves to categorize subjects but struggles to categorizing himself, finding he is straddling different things in his life. As his best friend Zachary (Michael Wieser) is about to get married and plans his bachelor party in Montreal, David as best man struggles to understand why people want to get married while his sister Sarah (Emily Gunyou Halaas) admits she has fallen in love with her husband – a green card marriage of convenience that has become far more. While in Montreal, David decides to make it up to Zachary after having an argument about the wedding and buys flowers from florist Benoit (Michael Hanna). David falls head over heels for Benoit and ends up spending the entire day with him. Guided by his family and friends, especially his roommate Frank (Patrick Bailey) who is still mourning his deceased partner and supports the idea that marriage may not be for everyone, David struggles through learning French, tackling cultural and personal differences, and mental blocks in order to have a relationship with Benoit and ultimately try to answer, “What is it about?”

This show is wickedly funny, clever, and poignant. It was hard for me, after Orlando, to not take every moment with a little bit deeper meaning. While this show feels like a rom-com, it has a much more complex and philosophical root. David has learned to identify as the kid who disappointed his parents, while his twin Sarah was successful. Identifying himself as weird and abnormal, a failure of sorts, David has learned to accept that marriage is not for him because it represents what is normal, be it heteronormative or the traditional idea of success. Because David is not these things, he cannot accept that marriage is an option. However, it also prevents him from allowing himself to feel he deserves a loving relationship and he continues to push out anything “good and perfect” in his life. Instead of learning to learn new ways of success, he accepts that the traditional routes are the only option and keeps certain doors closed, as he refuses to open his antique books. Benoit challenges him to live different and to find other options.

What this play succeeds in (in terms of conversation about the LGBTQA community) is recognizing that not all people in the community think alike. They don’t all feel the same way about marriage. They don’t have the same experiences being gay or coming out or how and what they choose to embrace what identifies them as who they are. Through differences in age and generation, there are different attributes and ideas on what it means to be a member of the queer community. Though a great deal of support is shown for marriage as a positive outcome, its struggles are shown with Zachary and Franks reminds that it may not be for everyone. But the play does show that it is one answer and, though it looks different for everyone, it is another way to express love. I really enjoyed the writing of this piece, focusing on switching and being caught between ideas, especially in how lines switched between people – the idea of “It doesn’t matter/Everything matters” getting passed around and the layers that “classification” carried with it throughout the piece. Though this piece is not radical or extremely diverse in terms of race or gender, it does provide a more nuanced representation than must media surrounding the LGBTQA community and one with a great deal of sincerity.

The aesthetics of the piece are also captivating – the hyper-real moments that flow almost cinematically as Benoit performs an almost ballet to arrange a bouquet to the Flower Duet from Lakme, lighting a cigarette in slow-motion, the repetitions of “La Vie en Rose” throughout, the moments of a librarian and a florist falling in love a long a canal. All of this is conveyed through the brilliant, fluid set design of Kate Sutton-Johnson, stunning lighting (that moves seamlessly between club scenes, New York apartments, and Montreal mountains) by Barry Browning, complex and gorgeous sound design by Sean Healey, beautiful, detailed costumes by Moria Sine Clinton, and clever, coordinated directing by Jeremy B. Cohen. Also I appreciated how much focus was put on the dialect and language by the cast and vocal coach Keely Wolter. The French spoken by Hanna sounded authentic and spoken with ease (and personally reminded me of my French teacher from high school, who was Minnesotan but could speak French without an American accent).

Most of all, what I liked about this play was that it was hopeful. After Orlando (and the other mess of events this week), the world looks bleak. A play that is heart-warming, uplifting, and provides hope for different ways of living and different ways of community is something I think we all need right now.

 

Le Switch is written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Jeremy B. Cohen. It is playing now through July 31st at the Jungle Theater. Show and ticket information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

And for those of you who might be interested in some of the issues touched upon in the play, check out these books which I’ve encountered in some of my studies/research:

  • Virtuous Vice: Homoeroticism and the Public Sphere by Eric O. Clarke – discusses ways in representations of queer culture fall short and how inclusion only accepts a small aspect of homosexuality.
  • The Queer Art of Failure by Jack (formerly Judith) Halberstam – discusses alternatives to the narratives of success and finding positivity in difference and failure.