Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Gyrating Gypsy

A musical classic hits the historic Pantages just in time for the theater's 100th anniversary

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Peter Rothstein is at it again.

He's back at the Pantages for his annual local production of a classic musical with Gypsy, the true story of the life of famous burlesque dancer and movie star Gypsy Rose Lee before she was renowned.

Gypsy is a favorite musical of mine, mostly because it has so much resonance with our era of all-consuming celebrity obsession. Kris Jenner has nothing on Rose, Gypsy Rose Lee's ferocious, territorial stage mother to beat all stage mothers. Although she means well by trying to give her daughters interesting lives, Rose really becomes the first person (through Gypsy, as her extension) who truly understands how to exploit the public interest and celebrity itself. In the end, this skill really does more harm than good, but it does allow Gypsy to climb from poverty and truly realize the American dream in the only way that seems to really work for women historically: by taking off their clothes.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
As Gypsy, Cat Brindisi does a great job of transcending the pitiful years of painful introversion into a sparkling stripping goddess. She is inherently awkward in the early stages of the show, pulling off Gypsy's withdrawn persona extremely well for such a natural extrovert. She also pairs well with Michelle Barber, the true star of the show as Gypsy's mother Rose. This should perhaps be no surprise, considering that Barber is in fact Brindisi's real mother, but their stage relationship truly depicts the fraught tension that can often exist between strong willed relatives of the same gender. As displayed in her excellent take on Hello Dolly last year, Barber is well suited to this role and sings the heck out of it. Her arias are often audience favorites, and she rose to the challenge of Rose with aplomb.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The ensemble cast is no slouch, and includes local wunderkind Tyler Michaels in several roles, as well as Emily Jansen as a radiant stripper Tessie Tura, vividly colored supporting roles played by Eriq Nelson, and an irritatingly (but appropriately) pubescent portrayal of Gypsy's sister June by Shinah Brashears. Tod Petersen is heartaching as Rose's not-quite-husband Herbie. There are many small supporting roles in Gypsy, and they are given just as much care as the stars; this approach keeps the audience engaged despite slow movement (especially in the first act) and garners lots of laughs besides.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Musically, the show is as solid as it could possibly be (we would expect no less from such a group of Chanhassen Dinner Theater transplants). One small quibble with the writing: I wish there were more opportunity for songs from characters other than Rose herself. One of the highlights of this production is a beautiful duet between Gypsy and her sister June, "If Momma Was Married." I instantly wished for more once it was over; maybe a slight edit could do the trick in the future?
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust. 
As always, Rothstein's set in the Pantages is gorgeous and appropriately meta. It includes an intermittent "stage on the stage," an eclectic and somehow steampunkishly vibed pile of backstage detritus, and a series of clever and light small prop pieces. Costumes are modest but fun to watch, particularly the stripper costumes in Act II, which include a Spartan, a full busted butterfly, and a light up bikini in drag. They're a hoot; be sure to keep an eye out for them.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Gypsy is a musical with a lot to say about fame and fortune, and that morality lies in more than simply deciding when to wear clothing. Its message of simplicity and the value in family is a keen one in our age of reality TV and frozen dinners, and I suspect audience members will find some food for thought hidden between Gypsy's figurative brassiere. Because it is locally produced, Gypsy runs a little longer than some other shows at Hennepin Theatre Trust. Check out more information and tickets by clicking on this link.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Two Gentle(wo)men of Verona

A diverse, all-female cast gives Shakespeare a refresh

Photo courtesy of the Jungle Theatre.
This is the beginning of a new era for the Jungle. After decades under Joel Sass, Sarah Rasmussen has taken the helm, and did she ever start with a bang.

Rasmussen has set Two Gentlemen of Verona, an oft-performed Shakespeare standard, solidly in the realm of femininity. Not only is the entire cast female, but the set is cast in a dazzling ombre pink that seems odd until the contrast of architectural, stark costumes are added. The costumes are divine in this show, with everything color-coded, lots of ruffles and soft neutrals, stiff masculine jackets, and amazing medieval illustrations traced onto each character's leggings. They are simple but striking and perfectly suit the blush wash of the set.

Quick overview of the plot if you haven't seen it: two friends, Proteus and Valentine, are separated when one is assigned to work at another court. Proteus stays behind with his love Julia, until his father assigns him to join Valentine. Valentine falls in love with Sylvia at his new court. Upon seeing Sylvia, Proteus casts Julia aside and plots to win Sylvia's hand instead. Julia, heartbroken at being abandoned, follows Proteus in drag and watches him betray her. Various love triangles and shenanigans ensue.
Photo courtesy of the Jungle Theatre.
The thing that surprised me about this production, having seen it a couple times before in other venues, was just how funny it was. There were moments when the whole audience was roaring together, and it was a reminder how of thin the line is between good Shakespeare and great Shakespeare. Nothing was done to "modernize" the language of the script, but with excellent delivery and gestures, the cast is able to plant us squarely in Elizabethan vernacular. The cast is also an amazing mix of ages, races and cultures, and physical talents. It's super diverse, and I hope that casting continues to be so varied at the new Jungle.

The cast as a whole is terrific. Christiana Clark plays Proteus, and brings total commitment to every sly deed. She also manages to make Proteus straight up likeable - difficult, considering the plot, but she succeeds. Mo Perry is also winning as Valentine, and Maggie Chestovich is deliciously high strung as Julia, writhing on the stage and sneaking her way into the audience's hearts. 2015 Ivey Award Best New Actor Sha Cage plays Antonio and Thurio, and proves that no part is too small to make an impact.

Stand out cast members, however, were the oldest. It was awesome to see truly older women cast in this show; women often have a hard time finding parts once they're "past their prime" but they have so much to offer, and this production puts that on star display. My favorite performance of the entire show went to Wendy Lehr, who is flat out hilarious as Speed and Eglamour. Her sharp wit, perfectly timed delivery and keen comedic gestures absolutely make this show, and she is spectacular.

This is a really fun, fresh production (and it's not just for women, I promise). Anyone who loves Shakespeare, who hates Shakespeare because they've never seen a good production, who enjoys diverse casting, or gorgeous set pieces should check this out. For more information, click on this link.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hala Carnaval! with Carnaval Brasileiro

Bringing the tropics to the Twin Cities

It's pretty well known that Minneapolitans like to party, and equally well known that our weather at this time of year is completely antithetical to the party instinct. So what to do?

If you're Robert Everest, you organize a Brazilian style carnaval, fly in a few enthusiastic Brazilians, and set it all in the most underrated venue in the Twin Cities, International Market Square (IMS).

The annual Carnaval Brasileiro was held last weekend at IMS, and it was a fabulous way to heat up despite the polar vortex. D'Amicos poured some (strong), delicious capirinhas, bedazzled ladies shook their tail feathers (literally), and everyone danced enough to sweat out all the cacha├ža they were imbibing with ease.
The annual festival always comes around the week after the real Brazilian carnaval, and it's worth an appearance. There's something to be found for everyone - earlier in the day is a children's event, which covers kid-friendly face painting, mask making, dancing and cultural education; and a masquerade ball in the evening featuring live capoeira, samba dancers, and the best Brazilian Tina Turner you'll ever find around these parts.

Sadly, the event is over for this year, but mark your calendars for next year - it's worth a stop! Click here for a link to the event's page.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Newsworthy Newsies

The Socialist Revolution Comes to the Stage

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
 It's always good to see shows that are timely, and the current production of Newsies at the Orpheum definitely fits the bill. 
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Based on the cult classic 1992 film of the same name (featuring Robert Duvall, Ann Margaret and a very fresh Christian Bale), Newsies tells the story of the 1899 newsboy strike. The strike occurs when the newsboys who sell newspapers on the street, many of whom are orphaned children, unionize after Joseph Pulitzer (yes, THAT Pulitzer) raises the cost of newspapers. Despite many attempts to threaten or intimidate, the newsies never give in and instead force Pulitzer to treat them more fairly in the future.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
It's easy to forget the importance of unions in an age when the percentage of union workers in the United States is on a continual, steep decline. Unions are the bedrock of key fair work principles most employees today enjoy, such as 40 hour work weeks, weekends, child labor laws, and safety regulations. The characters of Newsies, who are culled from the lower echelons of society, exemplify the need for such protection. It is heartwarming to see them win their cause, and inspiring to those who are following the current Bernie Sanders "socialist revolution" in the current presidential race.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The performers are great here too, especially considering their young age. I'd venture to guess that most of the boys in this show are barely in their 20s if at all, and they put on strong performances. As the head newsie Jack Kelly, Joey Barreiro displays an impressive, lyrical tenor and a fervent chutzpah that makes his character utterly appealing. Morgan Keene is inspiringly feisty as Katherine Pulitzer, the young reporter who puts the newsies in the news. The rest of the ensemble (too many to name) display lovely harmonies and especially acrobatic dancing, which is delightful to watch. There are too many roundhouses and back flips to count here, done effortlessly in cumbersome period clothing - it's incredibly engaging and a huge selling point for the show.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The set is an interesting mix of versatile scrims and an interlocking, New York tenement balcony style jungle gym. The ensemble moves between the complex structure with ease and makes full use of the vertical height of the stage, providing a multi-layered experience. It's a new way to set the show and appears much more detailed than it actually is, serving the high paced action well.

Despite popular demand, Newsies wasn't converted to a stage production until 2012, and this is the first time it has been performed in Minneapolis. Tickets are selling like hotcakes, so make sure you get yours ASAP. This is a gem of a show and an awesome place to hide from our polar vortex; for more information and to buy tickets, click on this link.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Top 10 Reasons Why I Subscribe to a CSA

Eating well has never felt so good.

All the colors nature can provide.
Over the years, a ton of people have asked me about joining my CSA. I've been a proud, card carrying member of Community Homestead's CSA program for over four years now and I can't imagine what I'd do without it.

For those who are unfamiliar, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Here's how it works: a customer buys stock in a farm up-front over the spring; in return, the customer is paid in "dividends" of food over the course of the summer, as the produce matures. The system is great for the customer, who gets a discount on super-fresh produce because the cost of the middleman (aka grocery store, shippers, etc.) is cut out, and great for the farmer, who has a guaranteed profit on their crops regardless of unforeseen challenges that can decimate a small organic farm (growing un-subsidized produce, growing in small amounts, unforeseen weather events, etc.).
Vegetarian lettuce wraps with CSA produce.
In addition, some CSAs offer political benefits. Community Homestead in particular makes a point of not only growing eco-friendly, amazing produce, but treating animals humanely and providing a workplace for people with disabilities. Here are several reasons I'd encourage you to sign up:

1. It is way, way cheaper than buying organic produce at the grocery store. For example, Community Homestead charges $455 for a straight box of vegetables (no fancy add-ons) for two people, which runs for 20 weeks. Each box contains at least 10 pounds but often more like 20 or 30 pounds of produce, and costs $22.75. At the most expensive estimate, that's a little over $2/lb for super fresh, super organic produce - when is the last time you had a single organic bell pepper for less than that in a grocery store?* And keep in mind, this price is for two people - if you go for the family boxes, the price per person is even lower.
All of this could be yours, for $25/week.
2. The money goes straight to the farmers and allows them to not only be paid fairly for their labor but reinvest into making the farm ever more efficient and environmentally friendly. Fair hourly wage is a big political issue now; if you support it, seek out programs like CSAs that pay people adequately for their hard work.

3. The produce is DELICIOUS. I cannot tell you how many people have liked dishes we made with veggies they always assumed they hated, because they'd never had good ones. Beets are a perfect example; most of my friends hate them, unless they eat at my house. It's all due to proper growing practices and treating the veggies with love.
So many dishes to make with CSA produce, so little time...see the zoodles in the soup?
4. These farmers really give a shit. Not only do they hold themselves to the highest production and environmental standards, which you can verify at any time (I've visited my farm in person, and most CSAs encourage you to do the same), but my particular community hires people with disabilities to work there. This is super important, because often people with downs syndrome and other conditions have a hard time finding fair, enjoyable employment, especially at a good wage. The many people Community Homestead supports (who you can meet in person!) are extremely well cared for, live and eat on the farm, and have amazing interpersonal relationships. 
CSA chili made entirely with ingredients from less than 50 miles away from home, for pennies on the dollar.
5. By supporting a CSA you are supporting local business and keeping money in your community. This grows your local economy, provides security for more people than shopping in a big box store, and gives you all the good feels. 

6. The inevitability of knowing another box of produce WILL be coming within a week forces you to eat the vegetables, thereby improving your diet. When you have to mow through a bushel+ of farm fresh produce every week, it definitely changes the way you cook - and the fit on your jeans. 
Feeling like a cocktail? Add some CSA fruit or veggies into your blend to make it a little healthier.
7. It forces you to use ingredients you normally wouldn't. Because you don't get to choose what gets grown or is put in your box, you are bound to get vegetables you've never seen. Haruki turnips, kohlrabi, lovage, sorrel, and myriad heirloom varieties are bound to be mixed in with your tomatoes and cucumbers. I've found a host of new faves (hellooooo kohlrabi) this way.
Diversity in the soil, diversity in my mouth. 
8. It promotes ecological diversity. Many CSAs prefer to grow long-lost heirloom varieties of vegetables and are very careful to rotate their crops every year. By doing so, they create healthier soil, healthier air, and provide our bodies with the diverse sources of nutrition they need to thrive.

9. There are CSAs for EVERYTHING. Not a huge vegetable fan yet? No problem. You can find CSAs for meat, cheese, mushrooms, yarn, fruit, baked goods, pickles** and all sorts of other things - you just have to dig a little. Regardless, it's a pretty safe bet that whatever you receive will be fresh and different, or at least of a higher quality, from what you could find in a store.
This roast was literally so big it didn't fit in the crock pot. #CSAftw
10. It's the gift that keeps on giving. With such a revolving door of food, it's inevitable that you won't be able to eat all of it, all the time. When that happens: freeze, can, or otherwise preserve your leftovers. It will be a huge blessing in the winter months when you are fresh out of flavorful produce.

Supporting a CSA is super important, and this is the time of year that registrations are open. There are tons of awesome resources, particularly the CSA fair at Seward Co-op, where you can meet a selection of CSA farmers in person to ask questions about the produce and sign up on the spot. You can link to their amazing resources by clicking here.

*I kid, but honestly....organics are EXPENSIVE.

**We went deluxe with Community Homestead last year and have never looked back. The pickles/bread/cookies/pies/meats are also sold a much lower prices than a grocery store and are beyond worth it.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Blog Updates and Calendar of Events

You may have noticed some changes around here. 

I'm in the process of doing a minor blog re-design, and in coming weeks you will see some things shift around, buttons and features added, and areas cleaned up.

A major addition I want to point out is the calendar of events, which I've wanted to host for quite some time. I've set up a Google calendar that I am continually updating with any events or exhibitions that I find inspiring, have been invited to, or simply think you should know about.
You should be able to add this calendar to your own Google calendar (if you want), and please let me know if there is something you think should be added that isn't on it. You can email me at rebekah.katharine@gmail.com to send in events.

Also: please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions for content. I'm always looking for new ideas and I'd love to hear yours. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sister Act CANCELLED Due to Snow

Just a quick heads up to any readers....

Sister Act has been cancelled at Chanhassen Dinner Theater tonight due to weather issues. Tickets are completely exchangeable; just call the box office and they will help rearrange to a different performance. Please be safe out there in the storm!