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THEATER REVIEW | Fire Drill's "Absolute Bliss": Where West Coast and Midwest choreography meet

(Photo courtesy of Aniccha Arts) One of the performers in Fire Drill's showcase of Minneapolis, Portland and Oakland dancers, Absolute Bliss

It’s nice to know I can always count on Fire Drill (Billy Mullaney and Emily Gastineau) to put the sort of performance in front of me that I probably wouldn’t run across myself if left to my own devices. Since they’re artists I trust because I enjoy their work, and they see all manner of other performers when they’re out and about touring around the country, I figure if there’s a group of artists they’ve gathered together for a showcase, it’s going to be worth checking out. The first such showcase of theirs I saw, Bring In The Indigo, confirmed this. So when I got word they were doing it again, this time at Bedlam Theatre with performers from the West Coast (Oakland and Portland), calling it Absolute Bliss, I knew it’d be worth checking out.

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Democratic Visions: The Theater of Public Policy exposed

(Still from video below)

The Theater of Public Policy (T2P2) will command just two more Monday evenings at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater as it wraps its October/November run. The improv comedy company has fashioned shows that blend elements of the Charlie Rose, Match Game and Whose Line Is It? television shows into an informative, literally live, laugh fest.

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THEATER REVIEW | Sandbox Theatre's "Killer Inside": Musical theater, more like jukebox prison

Theo Langason (foreground) leads the ensemble in song in Sandbox Theatre's prison musical, Killer Inside; photography by Matthew Glover

Not surprisingly, when Sandbox Theatre decides to do a musical, it isn’t like any standard musical you’ve seen or heard. This musical takes place in prison, and not the kind of musical prison Elvis Presley might recognize. More like the kind of prison you see on the reality TV series Lockup. In fact, Killer Inside is more like a prison jukebox. There isn’t typical musical theater plot or lead characters you can follow from the beginning through to the end. Everyone in the ensemble plays multiple roles. The audience gets to hear the murderous inmates of the prison recount their stories one by one, and these stories are so full of feeling that eventually they just have to burst into song and dance to fully express themselves. 

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THEATER REVIEW | Nimbus Theatre translates August Strindberg's "Ghost Sonata"

nimbus theatre, located in NE Minneapolis, is currently featuring a fantastically surreal Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg. Rarely translated to English, well, probably any language these days, it's a rare chance to see an undersold classic.

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THEATER REVIEW | Open Eye Figure Theatre's "The Juniper Tree": A message of hope in a Brothers Grimm tale

Photo by Mark Vancleave. Julian McFaul as the Father, Robert Rosen as the Stepmother. 

In The Juniper Tree, Open Eye Figure Theatre delves into the dark and twisted minds of the Brothers Grimm, recreating a charming children’s story full of murder and cannibalism. Even with the gruesome bits, you’re probably okay to take the kids—hopefully they won’t be scarred for life after watching the black pudding scene.

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THEATER REVIEW | Theatre Coup d’Etat pokes fun with "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)"

(foreground) Romeo (James Napoleon Stone) is unconvinced by Benvolio (Peter Beard) as the narrator (Adam Scarpello) looks on in the first of 37 rapid-fire deconstructions in The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged); photo courtesy of Theatre Coup d'Etat

It was bound to happen. Theatre Coup d’Etat has spent so much time taking Shakespeare seriously that they were destined to stick a pin in Shakespeare at some point and have a little fun with him. The perfect play with which to do this, of course, is Jess Borgeson, Adam Long, and Daniel Singer’s accelerated comedy tour of Shakespeare’s plays The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The wacky play shows its Fringe Festival origins, being extremely simple to produce, requiring only three actors to get the job done.

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THEATER REVIEW | Casting Spells Productions' "Disenchanted!: A New Musical Comedy That Gives Fairy Tales the Bird" does just that at Illusion Theater

The cast of Disenchanted! sing their wishes in "Once Upon A Time". Photo courtesy of Casting Spells Productions, LLC.

Disenchanted!: A New Musical Comedy That Gives Fairy Tales the Bird is a very timely show. In the past year, numerous memes have swept across the Internet critiquing the tropes of Disney fairy tale princesses, roasting the company’s brand management for altering beloved characters’ body proportions, and presenting alternative takes on everything from costume designs to post-credit-aftermath to the fundamental morals derived from the stories that the company has adapted. At the same time, the Disney/Pixar steamroller continues to cut across (and, according to some, pillage) cultures, with millions of official Frozen Elsa costumes reportedly sold in the lead-up to Halloween. That these trends do not sit well together gives ripe potential for comedy, and this show cleverly revels in those tensions.

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THEATER REVIEW | Classical Actors Ensemble's "Twelfe Night" and "The Duchess of Malfi": Half a good double feature

The cross-dressing Viola (Marika Proctor) of Twelfe Night, and the doomed Duchess of Malfi (Hannah Steblay) in Classical Actors Ensemble's latest double bill; photography by Zach Curtis

I should probably say up front that I’m the perfect audience for Shakespeare's romantic comedy Twelfth Night (or, Twelfe Night, as they spell it here), and I’m probably the worst audience for something like John Webster's tragedy The Duchess of Malfi. So take everything that follows with a grain of salt and that context in mind. 

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THEATER REVIEW | Minnesota Opera puts a sweet spin on "Hansel and Gretel"

Photos by Michal Daniel

Hansel and Gretel was a beloved fairy tale long before it was collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. In this classic story, the eponymous children are sent into the woods by an angry mother and run afoul of an evil witch who ensnares them with a mix of magic and alluring candy. For parents who think trick-or-treating has gone too far (and those who just enjoy a bit of demented fun), Minnesota Opera’s decision to open the opera the day after Halloween is a piece of genius.

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THEATER REVIEW | Bloomington Civic Theatre's "Next to Normal": Mental illness portrayed without sugarcoating

Diana (Karen Weber) ponders flushing her treatment plan down the drain. Photo by Vicki Madsen.

Next to Normal, now playing at Bloomington Civic Theatre, is an unusual and powerful piece of musical theater. Its gripping narrative of mental illness and the people caught in its tow helped garner the show eleven Tony nominations in 2009, and both its score and orchestration walked away from that ceremony with prizes. Done well, it is a stirring drama cut with quips of dark comedy, accompanied by sumptuous yet economical orchestration and moving songs. It’s also the sort of show that you should really just go see without reading about the plot, lest you spoil several major surprises.

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