Monday, June 5, 2017

Full Circle Theater Fleshes Out 365 Days/365 Plays

This truly diverse undertaking tackles representation of all stripes. 


Photo from MN Playlist

If you haven't heard of Full Circle Theater yet, you could be forgiven. The new-ish venture from a vanguard of Twin Cities theater legends including Rick Shiomi, Martha B. Johnson, Harry Waters Jr., Stephanie Lein Walseth and Lara Trujillo, Full Circle Theater has only been around since 2015 and is currently on its second production.

But no matter, because there is ample time yet to see the close of this second show by June 11 and bask in the promise of a company that is truly working to fill the gaps in representation in our local theater scene.

365 Days/365 Plays is currently showing at the Penumbra with a cast as close to a rainbow as you'll ever see. Don't let the lengthy title scare you; 365 Days/365 Plays is a selection of 46 plays of a larger project by Suzan-Lori Parks, who in the early 2000s committed herself to writing one play per day for a whole year. The result is a surprisingly rich diary of sorts that chronicles the ebb and flow of emotions, cultural observations and insights traversing one black woman's view of the world for an entire year. The selections here have been updated slightly to reflect a more 2017 sensibility and range through all sorts of subjects, from relationships to fairy tales to political observations to simple down home stories. Some are imaginative, some are realistic, and most completely redefine your expectations of what a play can be. A couple of favorites? A truly gallows humor look at mother/daughter relationships in The Executioner's Daughter; the wry indictment (and comedic skewering) of white Christian America in Flag Waver; and a haunting insight into the mind of a serial killer in the chilling Veuve Cliquot.

Direction for these plays is split between each of the founders of Full Circle Theater, and it succeeds surprisingly well. The pace between plays is extremely short and the production clips along at only two hours despite the amount of subject matter being tackled. While this could have been a hot mess, I really enjoyed the rotation between perspectives of each director. It really inspired me to look deeper into 365 Days/365 Plays and to challenge myself to more similar projects. It's amazing what can be created when a person sticks to a discipline of creating something every day, and I'd love to revisit the original text. I do wish there were a little more explanation of why each piece was chosen, as there doesn't seem to be an overarching main theme to really tie them together, but the show is still quite enjoyable without it. The cast is truly interchangeable and works extremely well as a team. I won't pull them out individually here, but I do encourage you to go see the piece and the way they interact. It's a real collaborative effort, and I think many companies could learn from their clearly excellent rehearsal practices and streamlined performance manner.

Costumes, sets, lighting and sound are generally kept simple to allow for quick transitions between the many plays. The set reminded me of Mu Performing Arts' trademark simplicity with its restrained collection of boxes, ladders, and painted walls, but was kept interesting by being used in unexpected ways (for example, a seeming platform is actually a box that actors pop out of) and kept lively by an endless rotation of clever props. Each show has a track of sound effects and separate lighting wash to distinguish it from the previous, and the attention to small details between characters and settings for each piece really does make each play feel like it exists in it's own separate context.

365 Days/365 Plays is an excellent primer for diversifying your expectations of what can be done on stage and how. Not only is it a fascinating glimpse into the playwright's psyche, but it's really a workshop for creatives on representation, jump-starting one's imagination and bringing together a team to work in a truly collaborative manner. There are so many great elements in each brief vignette of 365 Days/365 Plays that I could see being carried on into a more full-fleshed production of it's own, and I hope the founders at Full Circle Theater continue to develop these concepts into more shows. In a region that is under some hotly contested disagreements about representation and perspective these days, I definitely encourage all theater-goers to attend 365 Days/365 Plays to see an example of a company that is doing diversity right. You still have a week to go see this show at the Penumbra before it closes on June 11; please don't miss it! Find more information and buy tickets by clicking on this link.

Also, I'd be remiss to omit a PSA for two amazing community discussions coming up this week. TONIGHT go to Mixed Blood Theatre Company at 7 p.m. to join ALMA for a conversation about the Ordway's production of West Side Story and the local casting controversies with that production. On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., join the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for an in-depth conversation with Joseph Haj and Dominque Serrand about the hotly debated production of Refugia at the Guthrie, which recently closed. Both look to be productive conversations about future productions in the Twin Cities and both are free to the public; don't miss out!