The Year in Theater

9. PASSAGE
THEATER MU

Director Andrew Kim seems to be pursuing a muse that nobody has every heard of before: It's not Calliope, nor Terpsichore, nor Thalia, but some previously unheard-of sister that inspires puppetry, European corporal mime, and a diverse variety of Asian stagecraft. Theater Mu's production of Passage, directed by Kim from a script by Edward Bok Lee, told the story of a pregnant girl who returns to the city of her childhood, only to find it filled with people who have lost their memories. Within this fairy-tale structure (which the company billed as an "absurdly dark, quasi-Asian ritual"), Kim wove all his obsessions, and the resulting play contained the most unusual and compelling images seen in Twin Cities theater this year. The stage writhed with grotesque creatures--padded and distorted versions of humans. And the actors beneath all the padding similarly brought a gnarled sensibility to their roles. They screamed at one another, created little games onstage for their amusement, and died with great elegance, tearing through longs strips of white cloth with their bodies.

10. SMALL BARBIE! SMALL BARBIE!
HEIDI ARNESON

One day, in the middle of a performance, it seems likely that storyteller Heidi Arneson will simply disappear with a pop, leaving behind a shower of glitter. Her stories, which often take place in a deranged funhouse version of childhood, are voiced with such surety that the world of Heidi Arneson must be real somewhere. Eventually, through the sheer power of her singsongy storytelling, she will tear a hole into that universe and disappear, to spend the remainder of her life in a Raggedy Ann dress in a pink room, telephoning her adventures back to us from a sticker-bedecked princess phone. For her sake, let us hope that this happens when Arneson is telling one of her more joyous stories, and not something like the Fringe Festival hit Small Barbie!: a drunken, impossibly sad midnight call from a rejected Barbie Doll to her wayward Ken.

 

BEST FORGOTTEN (I.E., THE DREGS)

1. DOG OPERA
OUTWARD SPIRAL THEATRE COMPANY

Alas, Outward Spiral seems to be in something of a downward spiral. Perhaps they will pull out of it with their forthcoming production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which certainly features a solid script. Otherwise, in their half-decade of existence, this company seems to have quickly plowed through the best available gay-themed scripts and is now working with the dregs. Dog Opera was an overlong and unfunny comedy about love in the time of plague. But the show was at its worst when it took stabs at being socially relevant, detailing the empty last days of a male prostitute or visiting the succession of deaths that AIDS has inflicted on the gay community. A dash of bitter experience does not make a weak comedy stronger, and people do not get sick and die in order to make a bad script meaningful.

2. MARTINIS, GIRLS & GUNS
BUFFALO GALS

This Buffalo Gals production should have been good, kitschy fun, consisting of staged versions of the theme songs from James Bond movies. Instead, it presented uninspired, Solid Gold-style dance routines and poorly scripted interstitial dialogue. Unhappily, the real revelation of this production was that the theme songs to James Bond films are rather bad. Perhaps worst of all, they were foisted on one of our region's finest singers, Prudence Johnson.

3. NUNSENSE A-MEN
HEY CITY THEATER

Note to the Hey City Theater: Bring back Tony n' Tina's Wedding. It was lowest-common-denominator theater, yes, but it afforded the cast endless opportunities for improvisation, and as the Twin Cities has more than its share of sharp improvisers, the result was a hoot. Nunsense, by contrast, sticks ploddingly to its script, which consists of little more than a half-dozen jokes about nuns in peril and a few uninspired musical numbers. Casting the production with all men could have been inspired, had such a cast revealed the essentially campy undertones of the play. They do not, however, making this bit of stunt casting into nothing more than a gimmick. And if gimmicks are all you've got to draw audiences to the door, you might want to reconsider your choice of material.

4. THE SPARROW PROJECT
HIDDEN THEATRE

Chalk it up to director Joel Sass that this play was watchable for at least half of its short running time. The story, which told of a twin-brother-and-sister hustler team who pick up a rootin' tootin' cowgirl in Manhattan, was full of clunky dialogue (e.g., "My blood is your mirror"). But it looked great, with a marvelously seedy set that included battered mattresses, broken toilets, and a massive hole in the floor barely covered by a hideous rug. Sass dressed the twins in hep urban bondage outfits and the cowgirl in a club costume that would have fit a pistol shooter with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. But the show's surfeit of style did not make up for its absence of substance--like Dog Opera, it chose to use prostitution and drug use as some sort of creepy poetic metaphor. But a metaphor for what? Do prostitutes really need to serve as some sort of vague literary trope in theater? Isn't their service job hard enough as it is?

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