It's hard to get into the Christmas spirit on a sunny early-November afternoon when the temperature is tipping past 60 degrees, but the folks at Children's Theatre Company certainly were up to the task with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It's a largely delightful show, powered by a clever script, bright songs, and a terrific performance by Reed Sigmund as the ornery, green-furred creature whose heart grows three sizes at a particularly momentous Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole ChristmasChildren's Theatre Company2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis612.874.0400; through Dec. 30
The Skyless CityDreamland Arts677 Hamline Ave., St. Paul651.645.5506; through Nov. 18
You likely know the score here: Grumpy old Grinch lives outside of Whoville; can't stand the Christmas celebrations; goes off to steal all the presents, food, and trimmings; is convinced of his wrongdoing when he hears the Whos still celebrating the joy of the season. Dr. Seuss's simple tale has delighted readers since the 1950s, and Chuck Jones's animated special has placed its hold on viewers for nearly 50 years. This musical stage adaptation has seen previous sold-out runs at CTC and limited holiday runs on Broadway (let us never speak of the 2000 film starring Jim Carrey again).
Like a DayGlo Christmas Carol, the Grinch is about digging into the heart of the holiday season and transforming its main character from a grumpy, lonely old man into someone who is a part of the community. Sigmund takes us along the Grinch's journey, delighting in every bad thing the green guy does, while giving us small tastes along the way of the heartbreak that lies at the center of his being. That's important — a transformation out of the blue is just a plot contrivance, not something earned — and Sigmund plays it for all it is worth.
The rest of the company, from littlest Who to the dual Maxes (H. Adam Harris as the older narrator and Brandon Brooks as the young pup who accompanies the Grinch on his dastardly adventure), keep up the good cheer. The show also looks stunning, buoyed by striking costumes from David Kay Mickelsen and a perfectly Seussian set by Tom Butsch.
When you transfer a shortish picture book into a full-length musical, things need to be added. While most of the plot additions don't detract from the story, I'll admit to having a bit of a "Come on, let's steal some presents!" feeling about midway through the 75-minute show. The restlessness didn't last long, especially when coming face to face (well, face to hairy midsection) with the Grinch during the robbery scene. That certainly will shake any dark-theater cobwebs.
The Skyless City
Iranian director Kiomars Moradi makes his United States debut with The Skyless City, playing through this week at Dreamland Arts in St. Paul. It's a spare, heartbreaking tale of four women trying to escape various forms of oppression in the Middle East, but finding mainly pain and death on their journey to Europe.
Taous Khazem and Eliza Rasheed play Nasrin and Alma, who are waiting in an abandoned Parisian subway station for the passports that will lead them out of the dark, dank limbo. The story is told elliptically, with details being repeated again and again, and the whole tale slowly unfolding. Two other performers, Nazgol Naderian and Fatemeh Naghavi, are represented only on video. We learn why fairly quickly. They are the other two who started the journey but died before they even reached Paris.
Moradi (who wrote the script with Pourya Azarbayjani) presents a stark reality, which takes place on a barely lit stage with only a handful of possessions for each character. Like their hopes, their lives have been eaten away until the barest glimmer remains — like the cigarette lighter that is the only illumination at play's end.