The Year in Theater

The best and worst of 150 nights spent in a dark room. Plus: Dramatic hypotheses, and thespians speak out.

Watching the "star attraction" from backstage, I felt a little as if I had stepped out of my own time (i.e., the late 20th Century) into the Twenties (i.e., an earlier part of the 20th Century): He was a young man in a sharp vintage suit and haircut who played the violin much like a ukulele and sang amusing yet bitingly satirical songs about the world around him.

I, it occurred to me, didn't have anything poignant to say about my surroundings--I just had shtick. Just some funny pieces I had come up with over time. Could such humor, I asked myself, "play" in a town where almost no one ever smiled? Where jokes about the weather made to shopkeepers were, at best, tolerated with grim stares? Where little children responded to friendly waves from elders by rolling their eyes in irritation?

As it turned out, I was worried for nothing. The pieces all went fine. The audience laughed appropriately and honestly, the other performers were supportive, and the now-smiling host asked me to come back and perform again. I was satisfied with my Berlin premiere, and went home dancing a wee little dance.

I returned to the cabaret a couple of times, and would have even made a habit out of it, had a certain jail experience not interfered, one which shall not be dealt with here, or probably anywhere else publicly, for that matter.

 

Bill Corbett, playwright

I would love to be able to provide an amusing, telling anecdote from the Minneapolis theater scene of the last year. Ideally that would be something like, "I remember that time when the howler monkey escaped from the zoo, and somehow found his way onstage during that solemn production of King Lear, and started shrieking and throwing orange peels at the Duke of Cornwall..." That did not happen, though I can still dream, can't I?

No, I'm afraid I'm going to get mushy instead. For me, the most memorable things are distillations of what I love about theater, though I often forget them, moments that totally absorb and delight. Here's a random list from what I saw this year (which was less than I would have liked): Steve Yoakam and Laila Robins giving humor and life to Hedda Gabler, a play I went to go see like a kid goes to take his cough syrup, but which proved a pleasant surprise; Ari Hoptman waking up a tired crowd with his particular combination of intelligence, humor, and charm; a very talented group of young actors, most of whom I'd never seen before, mastering the art of the multi-character quick-change in Jeff Hatcher's hilarious Good and Plenty at the Illusion; the elegance of the Jungle's set for Silver Lake, which evidenced loving care beyond the call of duty; the stunning, visual end of Penumbra's The Trial; Kira Obolensky's rich, funny language in Frank's The Adventures of Herculina; an unexpected gem of a play and production in the Minnesota Jewish Theater's Never the Sinner; the great ensemble acting work in Eye of the Storm's Stop Kiss; and Margolis Brown's wonderfully playful direction in the Children Theater's Starry Messenger.

For those and many other reasons--like the number of young, energetic companies--there's a lot of reasons to be proud of Twin Cities theater. (Forgive the civic boosterism.)

 

Zach Curtis, artistic director, Fifty Foot Penguin Theater

Backstage during The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (Outward Spiral), I was getting ready to make an entrance into Egypt as the Pharaoh, whom we had conceived of as this obscenely grotesque caricature of Paul Lynde (I know, redundant). I was pondering the other characters that were in the show: a horny rhino, Minnesotan Bible thumpers, an acerbic drunken Santa, a wheelchair-bound lesbian rabbi...the usual.

As Julie Ann Nevill helped me onto my little rolling platform, where I would be pulled onstage by my "fierce, lesbian warriors" and close the scene with a dance number from A Chorus Line, I adjusted my headpiece (sequin-drenched, as was my entire body at that point), turned to Julie, and said, "Can you believe people pay money to watch us do this?" We both smiled. And as we entered to music from Ben-Hur, I thought, "I have the best job in the world." I think that every time I walk onstage now. &

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