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THEATER REVIEW | The Importance of Being Fotis' "Farmhouse" at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Robert (Mike Fotis) and Joyce (Debra Berger) have an awkward first (and last) meeting in Farmhouse as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival; photography by Dan Norman

The publicity for the play Farmhouse from The Importance of Being Fotis for the Twin Cities Horror Festival makes things pretty clear:“On the morning of December 28, 1949, Joyce Slorjen, Robert Huxton and Ruth Huxton (formerly Slorjen) were found murdered in the home of Jack “Buddy” Slorjen. Come witness the hour before they were murdered.” The flyer purportedly from the Ashburg Gazette which audience members are admonished to read before attending the play gives the further detail that Robert and Ruth will die of gunshot wounds while Joyce will be strangled to death.

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REVIEW | "Panacea" with The Poor Nobodys at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

The music of The Poor Nobodys gives context to the modern silent film Panacea in the Twin Cities Horror Festival; photography by Dan Norman

When they described the film Panacea in the publicity materials for the Twin Cities Horror Festival as being in the style of David Lynch, it was a very apt way to sum it up. I recall being in the middle of watching Lynch’s Inland Empire and feeling like I was dreaming, even though I knew I was still awake and aware of being seated in someone’s living room watching something on a television screen. The combination of visuals and the soundtrack were so hypnotic that I began to lose track of the boundary between the thing on screen and in my ears, and the context of me and my place in reality. The work the musical group The Poor Nobodys do with Panacea elicits the same response.

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THEATER REVIEW | "Busytown: The Musical" at Children’s Theatre Company: Appreciation overflows at the sensory-friendly performance

One of the book scenes on which Busytown: The Musical is based. Illustration by Richard Scarry.

How do you express appreciation for a performance that you see? The Greeks of classical antiquity clapped at theatrical performances, certainly, but also shouted, stamped their feet, hissed, and hooted–both to show approval and disapproval. The ancient Romans were more likely to snap their fingers or wave part of their togas when at the arena; for a play, they normally withheld their acclamation until the phrase “Valete et plaudite” was intoned, indicating that the performance was over. In other contexts, silent appreciation was more of the norm–as accurately depicted in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), where the Austrian princess-cum-French queen discovers that applauding was a distinctly foreign concept at the royal opera house. In Deaf Culture, a common practice is to show appreciation by raising hands, stretching out the fingers, and quickly twisting the wrists. There are myriad ways of showing appreciation, some driven by ability (few of us can muster the toga wave outside of Halloween and select college parties) and some by convenience (e.g., orchestra musicians stomping their feet because their hands are full).

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Illusion Theater celebrated past and present at 40th Anniversary Gala

"The bidding has begun!" Photo courtesy of Illusion Theater.

The 2013-2014 season was a good run for the Illusion Theater. Things kicked off with a high note in September with the Minnesota State Arts Board announcing a $95,030 grant to take Jeffrey Hatcher’s Hamlet on the road. As the year progressed, the Saint Paul Cultural STAR brought the Illusion’s My Ántonia back to the Twin Cities to rack up rave reviews, and the company’s new Life Begins @ 40 fundraising campaign jumpstarted with a big boost from the Pohlad Family Foundation. All of this would have been cause enough to celebrate on its own–to say nothing of its regular programming–but even more good news was in store with the coming season. On September 22, 2014, the Iveys honored Michael Robins and Bonnie Morris with a pair of coveted Lifetime Achievement Awards. So, there was much to celebrate at the top of 528 Hennepin on Saturday, October 18 as a crowd gathered for the Illusion Theater’s 40th Anniversary Gala.

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THEATER REVIEW | Transatlantic Love Affair's "Solitaire" at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

The ensemble of Tranatlantic Love Affair's Solitaire in the Twin Cities Horror Festival; photography by Dan Norman

Since the folks at Transatlantic Love Affair, and their ensemble-created works, are by and large optimistic affairs, which might travel to dark places but always emerge on the other side with hope, I was curious how they would bring their own particular brand of theater into a setting like the Twin Cities Horror Festival. Turns out, very easily. In Solitaire, they just go to the dark place and stay there. Yikes.

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THEATER REVIEW | "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll" at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

The bumbling Dr. Jekyll (Tim Uren) faces off with a transformed Mary (Amy Schweickhardt) in Ghoulish Delights' The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll in the Twin Cities Horror Festival; photography by Dan Norman

Writer/director/actor and head of Ghoulish Delights Tim Uren has gotten so good at horror lately (for instance, his production in last year’s Twin Cities Horror Festival, Trust and Obey) that I often forget how funny he is. I was expecting a much darker take on the legend with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll in this year’s festival. Instead, I was delighted to find him going the lighter route, and yet still serving up a really meaty script full of big ideas—the good and bad in people, the uneven fortunes of men and women in society, whether it’s ever OK (or perhaps necessary) to take what you need from others. The context of these ideas is so awash in humor, however, that you’re often not even aware you’re thinking while you’re laughing (or laughing because you’re thinking). It’s not so much horrific as it is adorable (though I realize it’s a stretch to label a play adorable when one comedic scene revolves around an everyday conversation taking place while one character is giving the other a hand job in the middle of the street).

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THEATER REVIEW | Erin Sheppard's "Dance With the Devil" at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Regan K. Saunders, Jessica Schilling and Erin Sheppard as Cerberus in Dance With The Devil as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival; photography by Dan Norman

One of the many great things about something like the Twin Cities Horror Festival is that I get introduced to all kinds of artists I might have missed before. For instance, I wasn’t familiar with the work of dancer/choreographer Erin Sheppard or storyteller Rita Boersma, but after seeing them in Sheppard’s TCHF offering Dance With the Devil, I’m a fan.

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THEATER REVIEW | Gorilla Sandwich's "Gentlemen, I Have Reason To Believe That One Of Us Is The Thing!" at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

(front) Marie Curie (Jen Scott), Rasputin (Fred Beukema), Ernest Shackleton (Nels Lennes) and Nikola Tesla (Jake Scott) have had about enough of (back) Harry Houdini's (Levi Weinhagen) antics in Gorilla Sandwich's Gentleman! I Have Reason To Believe That One of Us Is The Thing! as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival; photography by Dan Norman

This particular show in the Twin Cities Horror Festival is a prime example of what they mean by the phrase “embarrassment of riches.” Gorilla Sandwich is a veritable who’s who of the local improv comedy scene. Jen Scott as Marie Curie, Nels Lennes as Ernest Shackleton, Levi Weinhagen as Harry Houdini, Joe Bozic and Dan Jaquette as Wilbur and Orville Wright, Fred Beukema as Rasputin, Dan Hetzel as Buffalo Bill, Jake Scott as Nikola Tesla, Samantha Baker Harris as Annie Oakley, and David Beukema as Daniel Pamberchot (butler for Shackleton with, as his name suggests, an uncomfortably enthusiastic relationship to chamberpots). If seeing all these names, and that weird grab bag of early 20th century personalities they represent, is all you need to know to convince yourself that you have to see this extremely odd comedy, then you don’t need to read the rest of the review, now do you?

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THEATER REVIEW | Four Humors' "Doll Collection" at the Twin Cities Horror Festival

Matt Spring, Keely Wolter and friends in Four Humors' Doll Collection as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival; Photography by Dan Norman

As an audience member at the Twin Cities Horror Festival, one hopes that the most unsettling thing you’re about to see in Four Humors’ Doll Collection is the very first thing you see when you enter the theater. Every single seat in the Southern Theater holds a doll or stuffed animal. Words and even pictures don’t do it justice. You really have to see it for yourself. It’s a brilliant little theatrical flourish to kick off your viewing experience. Followed of course by the fact that you then need to choose your seat, and decide what to do with your inanimate companion. Winnie the Pooh sat on my lap while I took notes, as a sort of security blanket. You hope that’s the most unsettling thing you’re about to see. You, of course, would be wrong.

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THEATER REVIEW | BareBones serves up Metamorphosoup at Hidden Falls

Photos by Ann Treacy

BareBones has been producing Halloween extravaganzas for 21 years. The themes embrace the time and space between two worlds brought on by the intersection of those worlds around Halloween. There’s always a look at the worst of humanity and glimmer of the best. The program outlines this year’s theme in greater detail:

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