Let's begin this with the usual caveat: I have not seen every play that the Twin Cities had to offer. In fact, I have missed a month of theater, owing to my recent move back to my adopted hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. I am working on a play of my own here, my third for the Blue Barn Theatre, and, as I write this, have spent the last month running sound for the company's Christmas show. (It's called Little Nelly's Naughty Noël, if you must know, and opens with two scantily clad ice fairies revealing their bare asses to the audience.) Knowing my cursed luck, I have missed a few masterpieces--Lisa D'Amour's 16 Spells to Charm the Beast, produced by the Mary Worth Theatre Company, looked to be quite promising, as did Frank Theatre's production of The Taming of the Shrew.
Here in Omaha, I am about to produce a boing sound effect (arriving at the moment a pioneer girl climbs behind a preacher's podium to offer sexual favors in exchange for a statue of the baby Jesus). Then it will be a few minutes until I must provide the prerecorded sound for an extended opium-den musical revue (with the usual Blue Barn subtlety, the proprietor is named "Wei Hung Lo"). So let me take this moment to jot down my memories of this past year of Twin Cities theater. I have, as always, gone with my own tastes here--thus nothing from the Guthrie, who, technical brilliance aside, produced little this year that moved me to great excitement. (Though I did appreciate the uneven but fascinating satire of Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues.) I tend to lean toward the small and the overlooked.
The 10 Best
1.SELF-DEFENSE, or Death of Some Salesmen: This Frank Theatre show was my introduction to playwright Carson Kreitzer, who is, for my tastes, the most exciting dramatist currently working in the Twin Cities. SELF-DEFENSE was an ideal script for director Wendy Knox, blending potent satire with potent political material (the script was inspired by the true story of the recently executed Aileen Wuornos, a Florida prostitute who had the bad habit of murdering her clients). The production featured a tour de force lead performance by Phyllis Wright, who spat out bitter harangues from inside an orange prison jumper, explaining that her string of killings was intended to nudge the scales of justice back into balance. Once in a while, she argued, it would be nice if johns feared for their lives as much as prostitutes do.
2.Terminus:A marvel of invention, Bedlam Theatre's adaptation of a series of some of Stanislaw Lem's science-fiction stories featured an extraordinary set. The audience sat in the center of a giant, circular spacecraft. Made entirely from papier-mâché, this contraption did the most unexpected thing at the play's start: It rotated. The effect on the audience was vertiginous, as was the play itself, which included in its cast a massive robot haunted by deaths it had witnessed, tapping out their final words in Morse code. The Bedlam crew brought to this material a giddy sense of humor. Their cast included an incompetent doctor, whose only cure for illness was cans of 7Up; and an alcoholic crew member whose jettisoned bottle of liquor spent the remainder of the play drifting lazily by a porthole in shadow-puppet form.
3.The Snow Queen: The Children's Theatre Company has a magnificent tradition of seeking out the Twin Cities' most inventive theater professionals and bringing them to the CTC stage. For example, they are currently developing a play with Lisa D'Amour, whose tastes tend toward the sorts of stories that are likely to make children scream with fear rather than delight. Such was the case with the CTC's magnificent adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Artistic director Peter Brosius called on two local talents for this production, using puppeteer Michael Sommers to aid him in directing the production and enlisting singer Ruth MacKenzie to fashion the play's script and songs, as well as to play the title character. The resulting production was sumptuous, beginning with the terrifying image of MacKenzie chanting her lyrics to songs inspired by Finnish folk music while hovering above the audience through a deft bit of theatrical sleight of hand. In this scene, MacKenzie appeared to be 30 feet tall--a spectacle that caused the youngest members of CTC's audience to burst into terrified tears.
4.Sohrab and Rustum: The magnificently named Zaraawar Mistry cofounded a new theatrical endeavor this past year, the Center for Independent Artists, with the explanation that he was tired of telling other people's stories and wanted to tell his own. His first production, therefore, was this one-man rendition of a Zoroastrian epic poem (Mistry is Zoroastrian himself). There seems to be something of a miniature revival of one-man epic poem-telling, what with Charlie Bethel's spirited take on Beowulf devouring the Fringe this summer. Mistry, too, knows his business. Mistry began with an ancient tale of a father and son who meet for the first time as combatants on the field of battle. This he coupled with a story set in modern-day India, in which a cantankerous old man bitterly complained about his own absent son. Mistry's tale wandered back and forth in time as the actor created rich characterizations with a mere cock of the head and a shift in posture.