Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are You Ready for the Iveys? + Fringe Festival Information

The Gatsby Moment

Have you ever looked up in awe of where you are?

That was my experience last night at the Ivey Awards Preview show at Martin Patrick 3. Filled with good looking people, great tasting food, delicious drinks and an absolutely transcendent shopping experience, it couldn't have been a posh-er evening.

I am not a shopper. I am not rich. Not by a long shot in either case. But Martin Patrick 3 really has a way of sucking you in regardless through it's shamelessly tasteful design and gorgeous objets d'arte. Just look:

It was a great evening, where I had fun meeting some fellow bloggers in person for the first time and drooling over the gorgeous new campaign for this year's Iveys. Seriously, aren't these stunning images?

I can't wait for the show next month (it is scheduled for Monday, September 19, at the State Theater as usual), which will feature an expanded list of performances. Stay tuned by checking out the Ivey Awards website and following their social media campaign.

Additionally, I wanted to just throw out there (in case you didn't know) that the annual Twin Cities Fringe Festival is coming up in the next couple of weeks. Check out some of my fellow blogger's Fringe previews below- they look pretty great! And make sure you join our Twin Cities Theater Blogger Chat, which will be dissecting all things Fringe, on Monday, August 8 from 8 - 9 p.m.. The more the merrier!

Cherry and Spoon Fringe Preview
Minnesota Theater Love Fringe Preview

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Guthrie's Latest "Disgraced" is Delicious

"All you are ever told in this country about being [black] is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be. Now, in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact - this may sound very strange - you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you." - James Baldwin

Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
Want to know why I love live theater so much?

Because when it's done right, it is the only art form that can really, truly, reach out through the ether and physically take a hold of you.

This was my experience watching the premiere of Disgraced, the Guthrie's latest offering at the McGuire Proscenium Stage. I was literally straight up in my seat, riveted for the full 90 minutes of the show without pause.

I want you to understand: I consume A LOT of media. This NEVER happens. It is almost inevitable that at some point throughout a show/movie/play/etc. I will get a little bored and my brain will wander off.

That is very much not the case here. Disgraced is electrically written, providing a dark glimpse into the effect of the Trump-ian perspective on American Muslims. It is a perspective not nearly acknowledged enough, and kudos to the amazing, diverse cast at the Guthrie. They really do the issue justice, providing well rounded portrayals of people from a diverse range of American experiences, each of whom is in some way (usually justifiably) fucked up.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
Amir, the man at the center of the story, the man who tries to hide his Muslim heritage but is required to face it anyway, is played magnificently by Bhavesh Patel. It is impossible not to bleed for Amir as the show goes on, which makes Amir's sudden violence near the end of the show all the more jarring. Caroline Kaplan is pitch-perfect as Amir's wife Emily, laying bare the many, many flaws inherent in cultural appropriation, white privilege and the backlash of "PC culture." Adit Dileep is compelling as Amir's nephew Abe and gives a glimpse into what life is like as a Muslim teenager in the U.S. His character's real-life counterparts will determine the fate of the war on terror, and I can only hope we do better by them than is portrayed here.

Kevin Isola is thoroughly despicable as the gallery owner Isaac, again showing what damage a Western superiority complex can do to those who are trying to assimilate to our ways. And Austene Van is wonderful as Jory, a co-lawyer at the law firm Amir works at and a grounding force in the show. Jory's bridge as a black woman in the corporate world is the voice of reason anchoring these character's experiences, and it is to her we turn for comfort when the rift between white America and Muslim America seems to be too big.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
The set here is stationary but gorgeous, depicting a New York chic apartment with an interactive "street view" behind it. It's economical but evocative, and I loved it. Clothing is similarly posh. But the beauty of the environment can't possibly disguise the evil hiding within it. I couldn't help but feeling like author Ayad Akhtar was forcing us into perspective like the unflinching gaze of James Baldwin, tempting us with a beautiful object only to reveal the soiled center.

I could go on and on about how great this play is, but the important thing is that Disgraced is truly a piece with eyes wide open. So often we want to turn away from the truth of where we're at or not to face the consequences of our actions; but we can't solve any of the problems facing us today without encountering them with brutal honesty, stance wide, eyes blazingly focused. Interracial relationships are great - but they are really effing hard. No one should ever be asked to shoulder the burden of representing their entire race, or religion, or population. We can disagree with each other while still treating each other with respect. Two wrongs don't make a right. EVERYONE has a part in changing this world for the better, not just those who "look" like the group we blame for a problem.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
Disgraced is a visceral, physical and psychic, stunning piece of art that deserves as wide an audience as possible. I highly encourage everyone to see it. You WILL feel uncomfortable, and that is exactly why it is so necessary to spend some time there. America is at a precipice in which it is necessary to ask some deeply difficult questions of ourselves; Disgraced can help you find the way forward. For more information or to buy tickets to the show, click here.

And for those who want more (and you should; playwright Ayad Akhtar is a genius), check out this interview with him below. He has a lot of deep, deep thought for us that we should take to heart:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Guthrie to Offer Free Performances of "Acting Black" August 5 and 6

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

I got this press release in the web-mails today and got so excited I had to come straight out and share it with you. If this is the Guthrie's new mission, I'm all for it - can we get more of the same?

The Guthrie Theater (Joseph Haj, Artistic Director) today announced that in light of recent local and national events it will invite the community into a conversation about racism by offering free performances of Carlyle Brown’s powerful solo project, Acting Black on August 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dowling Studio. Part performance, part stand-up, and part TED Talk, Acting Black is a 60-minute piece that illuminates the roots of American racism and its consequences for everyone. The performance will be followed by a discussion with the audience, inviting community members to wrestle with important questions and dissect their own beliefs. Tickets are free and may be reserved through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, toll-free 877.44.STAGE, and online at

Amazing news right?! So excited to see how our local arts organizations are getting engaged to advocate for social change and the uptick in interest for featuring artists of color. All I can say is, give me more. 

And if you want to see one of the most beautiful memorials for Philando Castille, check out the recent release from Pollen - it's absolutely stunning and can be found by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pop up: #BlackPoetsSpeakOut at the Penumbra

Feed your inner activist with some radical readings

The Heart of a Woman by Luba Lukova
For those looking for an artistic outlet from the recent shootings, look no further: the Penumbra has got you.

They are hosting a free event called #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, featuring a community reading with "voices committed to peace, justice and progress in our city, our state and our nation." The event is being held in conjunction with the White Space Poetry Project and will have an ASL interpreter.

Take note, the event is LIMITED and requrires RSVP on Facebook; you can do so by clicking here.

If you'd like a more detailed look about #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, check out the Penumbra's announcement below:

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut, is a poetic protest which began as a tumblr page hosting a couple dozens of videos of black poets reading poetry, prayers and mantras in response to Michael Brown after his murder in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, and the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who fired the lethal bullets. Very quickly the videos began to gain momentum and spread across the internet garnering over 250 videos (and still counting). The literary movement that encouraged the community to speak out activated a vibration of mourning and healing through literacy and was spearheaded by Cave Canem fellows: Jericho Brown, Jonterri Gadson, Amanda Johnston, Sherina Rodriguez-Sharpe, and Mahogany L. Browne. Black Poets Speak Out evolved from just a website with videos, into community readings around the world, a national letter campaign, as well as lesson plans utilizing Black Poets Speak Out videos for the classroom.

To learn more about #BlackPoetsSpeakOut and their last event at Penumbra please visit

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Lion King Reigns for a Reason

There is no better tonic for a city with a broken heart than this truly magical show.

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
As the entire world is now aware, Wednesday, July 6 was a terrible day for the Twin Cities, after the video of Philando Castile's murder was released.** So it was with a heavy heart that I went with family to see The Lion King the next day. I'm not sure what I was expecting to feel on entering the show - I know that I questioned even attending at all - but I was blown away by how healing the performance was and how flawlessly delivered.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The long and short of it: this is the perfect show for broken souls.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The parallels between the story were also almost eerily contemporary, in a way I haven't appreciated in past viewings of the movie or the play. A young boy watches his father killed violently in front of him? Check. A population of females is subjected to misogynistic rule? Check. An unlikely alliance of creatures from different backgrounds, species and experiences is the only force able to defeat evil? Check. The earth is dying when resources are plundered, but revives itself once the circle of life is restored? Check and check.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
It goes without saying that this is a truly beautiful show, but if you haven't seen it before please do yourself a favor and revel in the spectacle. Sets are universally gorgeous with a cubist-abstract-earthy aesthetic that is hard to describe but makes perfect sense (for example, humans wearing headdresses with a shock of grass and softly swaying woven raffia skirts perfectly mimic a breeze across the savanna grass). Costumes incorporate a magical fusion of masks, face paints, elaborate beading and more. The animal costumes are amazingly realistic and an example to other shows that attempt to place animals front and center (looking at you, Little Mermaid). The choreography is spectacular; Alvin Ailey's ghost is all over this, and it blends seamlessly with a series of photo-realistic animal movements. Watching the feline silhouettes stalk sharply against a torn paper collaged sunset is a gorgeous experience, like stepping into a die-cut Georgia O'Keefe painting, and it is so. worth. it.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The musical talents of the cast aren't to be overlooked, either. Nala (Nia Holloway) and Rafiki (Buyi Zama) are standouts, bringing a highly emotive range to their songs. Gerald Ramsey (Mufasa) and Patrick Brown (Scar) have a good dynamic as the dueling royal brothers, and their masculine struts enliven the stage. Drew Hirshfield is wryly comedic as Zazu, joining Robbie Swift (Pumbaa) and Nick Cordileone (Timon) to compel highly necessary laughs from the audience.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
In a broken world, sometimes it's extremely healthy for us to take a break and perform self-care. Watching The Lion King last Thursday was that necessary relief for me, an island of pure beauty and hope amidst the swirling seas of political unrest that we face today. If you were touched by the tragedy of Philando, you will probably find a lot of parallels in this story. Even if you weren't, this is a damn good story with a gorgeous presentation and fabulous music, and it is worth a visit at least once in your lifetime. The Lion King runs through August 7* at the Orpheum Theater. Make sure you stop by. 

*As a note, Hennepin Theater Trust is holding their FIRST EVER sensory friendly performance for this show, on July 30 at 2 p.m. I think this is incredibly cool and encourage people to spread the word. 

**If you're as concerned about recent events as I am, it behooves you to get involved. Regardless of your race, this is a problem that won't be solved unless we work together. There are many things you can do: if you want to help Philando's family, click here; work with Black Lives Matter and the protestors, click here; advocate from change from local officials, click here. Getting involved is always a good thing, and I think the big problems we face will only be solved by working together. Feel free to message if you have any questions.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Remembering the Million Dollar Quartet

If you love mid-twentieth century rock music, this one's for you. 

Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.
As we head into the lazy days of summer, sometimes we need a break from the heat.

I mean, we're in Minnesota, and we need to take as full advantage of the great weather while we can... but sometimes you can only do so many sweaty 90 degree park tramps until you need a little air conditioning.

Should that be the case, consider heading over to the Old Log Theatre for an extended visit. They're currently running the Million Dollar Quartet, which is a refreshing way to spend roughly an hour and a half. But they also have a fabulous new dining option on-site (Cast & Cru, which can sound spendy unless you take advantage of some of their incredible deals, such as a three-course menu for $20 on Wednesday nights) and gorgeous grounds to wander, so a trip out to the West Surburbs won't be wasted.

I'll admit, it took me quite a while to venture to the Old Log Theatre. Billed as one of the oldest theaters in Minnesota, I should have visited long ago. But I really hate driving, especially in the outer suburban ring, and I avoided it.

Million Dollar Quartet has convinced me that I should break this habit more often. I've seen the show before in a touring production at the Orpheum, and I was curious how it would translate in a smaller and more local setting. The answer is: well.

It's always hard to play iconic characters, and Million Dollar Quartet is full of them. The show tells the (true) story of the one day that Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis all met and played music together at the studio who recruited them, Sun Records. This production is well-cast, with talented musicians playing each character (and their respective instruments) live on stage. Eric Sargent and Eric Morris are particularly good as Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, respectively. They each have the swagger and distinct stylings of the performers, and they're fun to watch. Matt Tatone jams out hard as Carl Perkins, and Frank Joseph Moran showcases a velvety voice as Elvis.
Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.

Paul Rutledge ties the show together as Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records and the man who discovers each of the performers. Mollie Fischer is a delightful surprise as Elvis' girlfriend Dyanne, the lone female vocalist of the group, with a sultry take on "Fever." It's also worth mentioning that the backup band (featuring Joshua Ackerley on bass, Spencer Shoeneman on drums and Kyle Baker on guitar) are solidly together, and every single piece in this show is performed from memory. With the quick transitions between songs, this is quite a feat, and the ensemble handles the transitions nimbly.

Any fans of music in the 1950s and 1960s era will have a great time in this concert-like show. There are a lot of great piece here, particularly those that are less known but still pack a punch. I personally loved "Riders in the Sky," one of Johnny Cash's first hits, and "Down by the Riverside," which receives a great A Capella treatment. "Peace in the Valley" and the ever-pleasing "Sixteen Tons" are also standouts.
Courtesy of
It's worth noting that if you want a more complicated (or accurate) vision of history, it's not to be found here. Million Dollar Quartet does a good job of making a bunch of very successful and legendarily temperamental white men seem like sympathetic characters, which is a feat in itself. Their treatment of women and the stealing of music/styles/performance tactics from artists of color (particularly black sharecroppers and blues musicians) is mostly glossed over and never confronted, and that's too bad. This show could have been an opportunity to set some records straight and give credit where it was due.

Still, if you're fans of these famous artists it's a good time. This is especially true of Baby Boomers (I took my parents, and they adored it), who rocked out throughout the show. Anyone who grew up, or had an older sibling who grew up in this era or has parents who taught them to love the oldies is likely to have a great time. It's also a great show for those who don't think they can enjoy musicals; with it's concert-like style, Million Dollar Quartet is a good foot in the door for musical newbies. Million Dollar Quartet is a clippy, good stay-cation; make sure you head to the Old Log Theatre and check it out. It runs for the next several months so there is plenty of time to get tickets; learn more by clicking here.