Best of the Boards

Haunted men: Patrick Bailey and J. C. Cutler in the sophisticated ghost story 'Shining City'
Michal Daniel

We delve into part two of our year-end look at 2007 in Twin Cities theater, with the final entries in our Top 10 list (and a nod to things that looked very, very good): 

Hardcover Theater 

I've been a fan of Hardcover's literary adaptations for the stage for years, but this take on a 19th-century children's story brought the company's work to a giddy, almost archetypal level. It was the story of Blue Eyes (Terri Elofson Bly) and Turkey (Perry Thrun), two children played by adults who walk through a forest every day, ask about letters from their absent father (which never come), and obey the edict of their mother never to partake of candy. Steve Schroer adapted the story and directed, which resulted in a vibrantly evocative metaphor of childhood and life itself, with the characters within the story variously awakening to levels of awareness that their own existence was fiction, helped along by a sexy gypsy temptress played by Katie Guentzel (adding carnal textures to match all the rich psychic sludge on display).

4. LOW
Pillsbury House Theatre

Rha Goddess delivered a one-woman show on a sparse stage that both dealt with mental illness in our crazy society and painted a vivid picture of her main protagonist: Lowquesha, troubled, brainy, and perhaps doomed. Goddess herself evinced an acute love of language and imagery, taking Lowquesha from childhood to adolescence and young adulthood, all the while slipping off the rails of normality. This show sticks in the memory, after recalling its facility and craft, as a sharp depiction of what can lie beneath our various safety nets and support systems: a world in which one can become lost without really knowing how it happened. This one was composed of more than its message—it was a fine piece of writing matched with a brave performance—but its lasting impression was one of compassion and, perhaps, a warning. 

Open Eye Figure Theatre

It was a vast pleasure to see Open Eye find a home in south Minneapolis, and a reward greater still to see its latest variation on the Faust myth staged with such assurance and rewarding texture. Show creator Michael Sommers staged his particular vision of lofty-minded stuff combined with bawdy, carnal realities, mixing puppetry with live action and a literally magical vision of existence. Sommers has his own original niche of visual and psychic trickery that relies on the human hand: blackboards filled with cryptic messages, puppets achieving moments of visual subversion, and in this case Faust stand-in Julian McFaul wordlessly expressing the dizzy rush and crushing lows of seeking higher knowledge. Even knowing the mountains Sommers and partner Susan Haas moved to get their theater open, I still wish they could stage new works, I don't know, every couple of weeks, providing they were as good as this one.

Theatre de la Jeune Lune

Jeune Lune opened this show in California, owing to its well-known recent paradigm shift trying to balance its artistic future with the realities of the marketplace, but it was well worth the wait for local audiences. This adaptation of Pierre de Marivaux's La Fausse Suivante provided gender-bending, inordinate amounts of romantic sophistication, and a level of dramatic energy that comes around rarely in an audience's lifetime. Stephen Epp and Dominique Serrand steered this ship with massive amounts of confidence, sidestepping the plot's machinations (it was all about love, lying, and money, essentially), in favor of grabbing tight to the throat of emotional undercurrents of lust, deceit, and a restless dissatisfaction with our common plight. Not to mention, the painted-glass set was insanely gorgeous, matching beauty against dramatic ugliness strong enough to make us question all of our own schemes and scams. 

Jungle Theater

A really thrilling handful of shows could have ended up topping this list, but here we'll go with the ghost story. Conor McPherson's script threw together a widower (J.C. Cutler) with his ex-priest therapist (Patrick Bailey). One was haunted, literally, by his dead wife, while the other was haunted by his own carnal nature and the mistakes he had made in trying to escape from it. The result was nothing less than harrowing, with Cutler's character spinning stories of his own crap conduct and eventually freeing himself from consequence, while Bailey's lost soul ended up shouldering a crushing burden of repression, regret, and the all-too-human failure to live up to our commitments. McPherson writes in fragments and fractured elements of language, his characters barely able to express a complete thought. This production grabbed onto the yearning for meaning in this script and made a lasting and profound statement about the limitations against which we bash our foreheads on a daily basis.

TEN SHOWS WITH STANDOUT SETS/DESIGN (in no particular order):

1. Blood Wedding, Ten Thousand Things, Alison Heimstead

2. Our Town, Girl Friday Productions, Joel Sass

3. Or the White Whale, Southern Theater, Erica Zaffarano

4. Susannah, Theater Latte Da, John Clark Donahue

5. The Water Engine, Gremlin Theatre, Tamatha Miller

6. War With the Newts, Sandbox Theatre, Ryan Hill

7. A Gift for Planet BX63, Off-Leash Area, Paul Herwig

8. The Home Place, Guthrie Theater, Frank Hallinan Flood

9. Strange Love, Skewed Visions, Sean Kelley-Pegg

10. The Pillowman, Frank Theatre, Joel Sass

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