Dramatis Personae

Sometimes being a pundit isn't easy--what with all the irresponsible opinions to disseminate and feuds to spark. So we decided to give some actors, directors, producers, and playwrights on the Twin Cities theater scene a chance to make their own trouble. Here's what the year in theater looked like from the other side of the curtain.

Timothy Lee, Outward Spiral Theatre Company, director

What I really liked in the Twin Cities acting community this year was a certain actor who has not just the talent but also the drive and the commitment to show her range. Jodi Kellogg went from The Cryptogram at Park Square to playing this frumpy, burdened Irish martyr in The Freedom of the City to what she did in my show [Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love]--this psychic S&M prostitute-- to the infamous Nurse Ratched in Cuckoo's Nest. For a nonequity actor who's been working as long as she has, she keeps shining onstage. That shows talent and commitment. Some actors get cocky and lazy and forget that the craft of making theater is magic in itself.

Craig Johnson, Upstart Theatre, actor/director

I'm pretty impressed with the activity on the small theater scene. There seems to be a lot of energy out there and a huge variety of forms: another Miss Richfield show, or the musical The Temp. [How often] do you see a new musical? Or something like Out of the Dust [part of the BLB one-person show festival]? They created this new piece of theater, and the audience just sat there, stunned, waiting to see what would happen next.

One of the other exciting things to emerge lately is the amount of physical property there is. Artists need places they can go. Patrick's Cabaret is getting a new home. Having Eye of the Storm managing the Loring Playhouse is a great extension of what Jason MacLean had been doing. And places like the Phoenix, where small groups can come in without too much cost and can create and premiere new work. And, of course, there's the revived and revised Fringe Festival. There are lots of opportunities out there for these scrappy little upstarts.

Michelle Hensley, Ten Thousand Things, artistic director

I just came back from seeing A Prelude to Faust. In it, one of the puppets says, "We must open our eyes if we are to see/Into the well of life's mystery/How strange and wondrous life can be."

At the end of the play, it was completely dark and no one in the audience applauded for the longest time. I liked that. We all just wanted to sit there in the dark with our eyes open and drink that mystery in. That's one of the best things theater can do. And it doesn't happen very often. I am grateful to Michael Sommers for offering such an array of intensely odd and beautiful images--ones that will stay with me and that I will feast on in my subconscious for a long time. And I was moved by the compassion the work showed for the plight of us sorry human beings. Plus I am a sucker for theater that takes place in a small room with live trombone, bass clarinet, and saw, and little doors that keep popping open to show us different surprises.

Elissa Adams, Children's Theater Company, actor and dramaturg

A list of Nine Favorite Theater Things--and one wish for 1999

1. Dominique Serrand's and Joel Spence's performances and Barbra Berlovitz's direction of Theatre de la Jeune Lune's Cyrano.

2. Joel Sass's direction of Mary Worth's Titus Andronicus

3. Melissa James Gibson's script for 15 Head's meFausto

4. Walker Art Center's "Adventures in New Puppetry" series

5. Stop Kiss by Diana Son at PlayLabs

6. Geography by Ralph Lemon at Northrop Auditorium

7. Jaidee Forman's performances for 15 Head

8. Gus Lynch's rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Robyn Hart's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" in Eye of the Storm's Mr. Xmas

9. Julie Briskman Hall's performance in Molly Sweeney

And a wish for cool, smart, glorious, or practical co-productions and collaborations among 15 Head, Eye of the Storm, Hidden Theatre, and Mary Worth to blossom in 1999.

Beth Gilleland, actor

Street of Crocodiles [Theatre de Complicite] [was full of] magic. There were things like people walking down walls, and just appearing out of nowhere. My favorite moment was the image at the very end when the protagonist stripped down to his boxer shorts and died. The woman picked him up, and all the people were seated, and he was passed gently from person to person. It was lovely.

I was also really impressed with Illuminations from Heart of the Beast. My only frustration was I didn't get to see all of the installations in the time allotted. It was beautiful. It was a night with a full moon and they had a bonfire and lot of these fabulous rituals honoring women.

Luu Pham, Pangea World Theater, playwright and actor

For Pangea, we brought all of these artists together for Freedom Songs [an evening of works to honor Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur]. Just to participate in this ritual respecting an elder artist, I felt like we had created something that had a sense of what we owe to a previous generation. That was a really special moment in theater for me. Especially to hear his poetry: He read some in Cambodian and also sang some of it. It was a mix of languages and voices crying out for freedom.

Before each artist performed, we went to the front of the stage where there was this sacred well. We placed rose petals into the well; that action meant crossing the threshold into this discussion of freedom. It was our passage into performance. At the end of the evening, U Sam led us all together to this well and he began to read his poem for freedom for Cambodia. We reached into the well and took out rose petals and reached up with this offering to the sky, sending all of our voices together to the universe.

Bridget Carpenter, playwright

Neal Patel's exquisite set for Thunder Knocking at the Door at the Guthrie was elegant, clean-lined, mythical. It supported the play while at the same time somehow adding resonance to it. Also, Marion McClinton's sharp, precise direction of Keith Glover's play. Just a stellar production. And Larissa Kokernot's luminous performance as Lil' Bit in Eye of the Storm's How I Learned to Drive.

I truly enjoyed Cyrano and Dominique Serrand's performance in particular. Other actors who have played that role have clobbered us with Cyrano's gallantry and bravery and valor. But Serrand's playing him as a clown seemed so true to me--a man who would act the buffoon in order to keep anyone from laughing at him. Nuanced and beautiful.

Casey Stangl, Eye of the Storm, artistic director

My favorite moment this year was the Street of Crocodiles piece that Theatre de Complicite did. It was amazing to me that the organizations involved--the Walker, the Guthrie, and Jeune Lune--were able to act quickly to get it here. I marveled at the experience of having my need for narrative and logic as an audience member be wiped away. I felt my brain sort of release that and go into a place where image and text and sound could wash over me and start to mean 20 different things at once. I found it a really stirring experience, and I was happy to see so many other people there enjoying it as well. Nonnarrative theater is alive and well.

Dean J. Seal, Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Fringe Festival, programmer

Outside of the Bowl and the Fringe, my favorite production was Titus Andronicus by Joel Sass. It was a sight--gory and fabulous. The Venetian Twins had something I loved and something I hated. I loved the commedia dell'arte and that connection with the Minnesota lingo--it's a wonderful way to communicate that tradition. But what's with all the Negro servants? I didn't understand that at all.

My least favorite moment was losing the old Jungle as a venue. It would have been great to have that theater available in town. But I'm very excited about the new Patrick's Cabaret space.

Bruce Abas, Ebullient Theatre, playwright and actor

I'd like to congratulate a number of theaters that are giving local writers a break. Four productions really impressed me this year: Conversations About Hannah at the History Theatre by Ann Schulman; Disturbed by the Wind at Hidden Theatre by the very talented David Schulner; Project 891, a very promising script by Joyce Turiskylie; and more recently Notes on the Uncertainty Principle by Todd Irvine. These were great local theaters and well-packed productions. I want to encourage the bigger theaters to follow suit.

I want to point out a new trend I think is great: site-specific theater. It's something the Twin Cities have been waiting to get and we got it this year. Skewed Visions, a very promising theater company, produced a show in a warehouse, called Untitled #1, about the atrocities of war. Another production, which I don't think anybody saw, was called Garbage/The City/and Death by Werner Fassbinder, produced at the Soap Factory by John Troyer.

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