Friday, March 27, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - Mo Perry as Hedda Gabbler (closing this weekend)

People frequently ask me, "What's playing that I should go see this weekend?"

This week, I'd have to say "Catch Mo Perry playing Hedda Gabbler"


It's Mo Perry playing Hedda Gabbler.

I was going through my archives and realize that every time I've reviewed Mo Perry in a production, she's been one of the best things in it. Often she's surrounded by equally talented actors, but I never find myself saying, "Hmmm. Mo could have been better." Mo throws herself so completely into each role, and performs around town so much, the woman must be exhausted. (There were three reviews I found with Mo in them from 2007 alone - and that wasn't all she did that year, that's just all I managed to see. She's impossible to keep up with. She seems to be everywhere.)

And now she's headlining. Playing one of the meatiest female roles in the canon.

Craig Johnson's adapting and directing Ibsen's classic (and he and Mo did such a lovely job collaborating on Uncle Vanya a while back, I can only imagine this is more of the same good stuff)

The woman's done Shakespeare both straight and silly. She's done Chekhov directly and indirectly. She's played men so convincingly you forget she's a woman. And she's wandered the territory in between.

She's just really, really good in everything she does.

So if you asked me what you should go see this weekend, I'd say

Go see Mo Perry as Hedda Gabbler.

The cast also includes Alisa Gingerich, Ryan Parker Knox, John Middleton, Donna Porfiri, Wade Vaughn, Amanda Whisner.

Performances remaining are Friday and Saturday, March 27 and 28 at 8pm, and Sunday, March 29 at 4pm at Gremlin Theatre's new home - 2400 University Avenue West, just East of 280 at Raymond in St. Paul. (Free parking for theater patrons in the US Bank parking lot kitty-corner from the theatre at Raymond and University.)

Tickets are $20.00 for adults, $18.00 for Seniors or patrons with a Fringe Button. Under 30? Pay half your age, every night! (That's a really smart idea, actually. Theaters should all steal that one.)

Read Fringe Famous chatting up Mo about the production for a little more info.

Past reviews of Mo's work lurk here, here, here, here and here (for starters)

For reservations and more information call (651) 228-7008 or visit

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - The Cody Rivers Show (this weekend only)

The Cody Rivers Show is some of the best comedy you'll ever see. Period.

I haven't been this excited about a theater performance in months. Ever since I heard The Cody Rivers Show was coming back to town, I marked my calendar and counted the days. Finally, they are here, with their newest show, "Meanwhile, Everywhere"

One weekend only, tonight, Thursday, March 19; tomorrow, Friday, March 20; and Saturday, March 21 - all shows 8pm. Performances at Patrick's Cabaret, 3010 Minnehaha Avenue South in Minneapolis. Brought to us by the good folks at Walking Shadow Theatre Company. Tickets $12 - $15, which is a steal at twice the price, really. These guys are that good. If I could go all three nights, I would - but a guy's gotta earn a living and hours at the second job are leaner these days. I shall be there tonight to cheer their opening, however.

So just what is The Cody Rivers Show?

It's two guys - Andrew Connor and Mike Mathieu - and pretty much nothing else. When they first blew everyone away in the 2007 Fringe with their show "Flammable People," they were all done up in puke green jumpsuits and really bad wigs - and so well disguised that I didn't recognize them out of costume. With their return in Fringe 2008 with "Stick To Glue," they were in civilian clothes with peculiar face paint as the only nod to costuming. Andrew also had a solo show in 2008, "Boom," which was equally captivating.

They are so mind-bogglingly good that they almost defy description, but I gave it a go in 2007 and it comes as close as I've managed to explaining just why they're so wonderful, and everyone should see them, so here's what I said about "Flammable People." The Cody Rivers aesthetic described herein follows through from show to show, wildly different though they all be...

"Mom says they had her at the punctuation.

This is almost an impossible show to review. People warn you that explaining a joke just sucks all the funny right out of it and kills it. I’m not even sure how to explain The Cody Rivers Show - Flammable People, except to say they’re brilliant. Weird, and funny, and brilliant.

It’s just two guys in puke green jumpsuits and bad wigs, and that’s about it. How funny could it be?





All the pieces of this marvelously Dickensian comic puzzle box of a show work independently of one another. They are funny in isolation. When you start to realize, though, about halfway through the performance that all of these things are interconnected, however tangentially, it truly begins to blow your mind.

The sequence where they captivated Mom was in a conversation between a parent and the school principle where air quotes for ironic effort ballooned into question marks, exclamation points, parentheses, and most amusingly, an ellipsis. Yeah, you had to be there, but you should.

A young boy’s speech in front of the class about a family vacation, which becomes a battle of wills with his father (an unintentional heckler), resurfaces later with unseen voices commenting on the wildlife in an aquarium, and resurfaces later still in the mind-bogglingly beautiful and absurd final image.

“I could actually see the hot air balloon,” said Mom.

These guys raise the comedy staple of “callbacks” to high art.

Another thing they do so tellingly is excavate the painful discomfort that often results from the relationships with people we allow ourselves to be vulnerable around - parents, children, friends, co-workers. This unsettling undercurrent makes the comedy that much more rich and fully human. The situations and personal interactions may be outlandish at times, in fact frequently, but they are also quite recognizably a part of our very real world as well.

Prop humor is also not beyond them. Though the performance is almost exclusively just the two men ping-ponging off one another for an hour, with just a couple of chairs and the stage curtain for backup, there is one sublimely silly moment where rag doll doppelgangers play up the idea of forced perspective and distance in an escalating sequence of goofiness. There is also a sequence with clipboards and audience surveys that defies description.

There’s a little song and dance to be had as well - mostly to let them transition between sequences, and cleverly play with time and space within one extremely peculiar section.

It’s another one I’m going to wedge into my schedule one more time before the Fringe is done. I know some people who have already gone back for a second helping. It’s the kind of show that rewards repeat viewings with new insights into the complex structure. But again, it’s a show where you can just go and enjoy the bits and pieces, without the larger picture coming into focus at all. Whatever level it grabs you on, it’s a hell of a ride.

You really shouldn’t miss this one.

And keep an eye on Cody Rivers - If we’re lucky, they’ll be back.

Very highly recommended."

They're back.

They're not doing the Fringe this year.

This is your only chance to see them in 2009.

You should see them.

Trust me. You'll be glad you did.

Those who've seen them in the past know what I'm talking about.

Those who haven't - you're in for a treat.

See you there.

For reservations visit or call 612-375-0300

More information at

Monday, March 09, 2009

Fringe 2009 - When I Disappear...

It’s not that I don’t enjoy blogging. I do. Writing about theater, and in particular the Fringe Festival, is often great fun.

Sometimes when I disappear from this space it’s because I’m doing something over on Sometimes I’m doing something over on

A lot of the time, I’m carving out time for my own playwriting.

Another chunk of the time, though, I’m working.

I don’t get paid for blogging. I only get paid for playwriting when someone produces or buys a script of mine.

Can’t live on that, unfortunately.

And right now, as you might imagine, the day job front is kind of scary.

My benefits and vacation time job (which makes Fringe Festival attendance and getting out of town for rehearsals and family time possible) is in fundraising for education. I know. Worthwhile, but a lot easier last year than this year. I’m in the development arm of a larger organization devoted to promoting higher education. Our fundraising year runs from July of one year through June of the next.

At the beginning of the campaign year, our grant writer and Greater Minnesota campaign manager made a lateral move to another part of the organization. Still in house, but no longer a full part of the fundraising team. So we started the campaign operating one person short.

Then halfway through our fundraising campaign, the bottom dropped out of the economy.

The election was a bright spot.

Then the president of our organization announced his retirement in December (for this coming December).

Which effectively froze all hiring. Insuring that we’d be continuing the rest of the campaign one person short.

Then last month my supervisor, the head of the fundraising team, announced she was leaving for another job.

Leading up to her departure, we were all cramming in as much campaign work as possible, to set things up well for the interim director who’d be taking the reins in the middle of the campaign.

Now the interim is on board, and I’m helping train in a new boss (third time since I’ve been here).

The person who ultimately takes over the president’s job could reconfigure the entire organization.

The person who takes over the fundraising campaign after the interim is a complete unknown at this point, and wouldn’t be hired until that new president is in place.

I coordinate the database, the gift processing and the mailings, so I’m in a pretty good position.

But everything’s essentially up in the air there. Out of my control. No sense worrying or borrowing trouble. Just gonna be a bumpy ride for a while, with the destination uncertain.

My part-time job - to help pay down my debt faster and keep me in paper and toner cartridges - is in the Guthrie Theater box office.

As theaters go, the Guthrie’s on a more solid footing than most. But we’re looking at significant cuts - of both money, and people.

The first round of people get let go at the end of this month, before the new fiscal year starts for the theater on - April Fool’s Day. Wish that were funnier.

The next round of people get cut sometime after the big Tony Kushner-fest that runs April through June.

The theater season, still a set of mysteries at the moment, will still be four productions on each of the big stages. But the proscenium will have two of those four as co-productions with other companies. Up in the blackbox space on the ninth floor, no in-house productions next year. All rentals and/or co-productions with other companies.

No more commissions for new plays beyond the ones already in the pipeline. Even though it’d be a mighty leap for me to reach that door someday, it still was awfully hard to hear that door for living playwrights slammed shut. And locked. For now.

And that means the BFA acting students won’t be working with living playwrights in the near future for their senior project. Which is a shame. The experience would do them good. And some of those plays the last couple of years have been quite lovely.

I’m pretty high up on the seniority list on the box office roster right now. But they’ve already started cutting back everyone’s hours. And more cuts may be in the offing.

Of course if no one has the expendable income to buy tickets, the phone doesn’t ring, and there’s less need for someone to be around to answer it.

Again, nothing I can do about it. Totally beyond my control. All I can do is just do my job to the best of my ability and hope that’s enough.

Of course, good work is no guarantee of an audience - just ask the company of “A Delicate Balance,” or “The Home Place.”

Fewer hands, heavier load. Less time for the mind and typing fingers to wander.

I thought I was handling the stress well. I’m exercising regularly, trying (not always succeeding) to get a decent night’s sleep, eating as well as I can on my schedule.

But then my face started breaking out over the weekend.

So clearly my body’s caught on to the situation.

New de-stressing strategies are in order.

Writing helps. That includes blogging.

So hopefully you’ll be seeing more, not less of me, in the weeks ahead.

But when I disappear, that’s the context we’re dealing with at the moment.

Hope you’re all doing well on the job and happiness front.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Review - Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children - Workhouse & Hardcover Theaters - 4-1/2 stars

It’s nice to know theater can still surprise me.

Workhouse Theatre & Hardcover Theater teamed up to adapt Dave Louapre & Dan Sweetman’s “Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children” (BSFUC) for the stage and the results are quite delightful - and often unexpected. A share of that delight certainly stems from the source material itself, a series of illustrated stories for an adult audience that grabbed the attention of the comic book/graphic novel crowd, even though BSFUC was neither. Just as the product itself defies easy genre labels, the stage adaptations defy expectation.

In “Beneath The Useless Universe,” adapted and directed by Paul Von Stoetzel, Death (Madison Olimb) comes to visit a woman (Corey de Danann) who is tired of life and ready to shuffle off her mortal coil. But Death just wants to hang out. And stays for days. I thought I knew where this was going. I was wrong.

The centerpiece of the evening is “I Am Paul’s Dog,” adapted by Jeff Redman and directed by Christopher McGahan. Buster the Dog (Redman) guides the audience through a stretch of days with his master Paul (Steven Bucko). Buster gamely tries to untangle the mysteries of Paul’s mating habits, and foreign human concepts such as television, alarm clocks, weekends, and beer, among other things. The uniquely dog’s eye view of the narrative is full of twists and turns. Bucko does quadruple duty, also taking on the role of Buster’s canine best friend and Paul’s beer buddies, as well as one of Paul’s girlfriends. I thought I knew where this was going. I was wrong.

In “By The Light of the Screaming Moon,” adapted and directed by Nathaniel Churchill, a community of lemmings prepares for the big jump. But first, these rodents living a suburbanite existence have one last school prom to enjoy. Mary (Olimb again) and her date Jack (Bucko again) ditch their fellow prom-goers and Mary’s parents (de Danann and Redman again) to see if they can escape the deadly communal plunge. I thought I knew where this was going. I was wrong.

I haven’t had such a good time being confounded by a theater production in a long time.

Each story is full of laughs both large and small, as well as sudden moments of bittersweet longing and grace. One diatribe by Death almost had me tuning out the “Useless Universe” but it turns out that wasn’t the “moral of the story” after all. The story’s true end point is one of the nicer gifts to lonely single people that I’ve heard in a very long time. Despite that one brief hiccup, the adaptations all seem to capture the same whimsical spirit. There’s a hint of forgiveness lurking behind every bite of satire. It all makes me want to go out and try to find some of these hard to find old stories for my own bookshelf (they’ve been out of print since 1992, but they still keep popping up here and there).

The set and costume design (by Sarah J. Leigh and Sara Wilcox, respectively) wisely don’t try to mimic exactly the spectacular line drawings by Dan Sweetman in the original stories. Production Artist Travis Olson does offer a nod to the source material in recreations of the screaming moon, Buster, Death, and a group gathered on a cliff’s edge all painted on a proscenium arch at the front of the stage. It also seems to act as a book spine, with the BSFUC title running down one side. It’s a clean, clever nod from the design team to their inspiration that never gets in the way of the storytelling, but serves a reminder before and after the stories have made their way across the stage. Special mention should be made of Death’s faceless costume - it’s familiar and unsettling, which makes the comedy that follows from that character even funnier.

My only quarrel with the staging is an issue of transitions. “Paul’s Dog” was the biggest offender. There were periods during the piece where it seemed like we were getting a blackout every thirty seconds. Buster has an insight into human nature and a dog’s life, blackout, Buster shares another insight, blackout, Buster says something else, blackout. Enough already. In addition to killing whatever momentum the story was trying to build, the blackouts were completely unnecessary. Just like the incessant shuffling around of furniture the blackouts were trying to “hide” were completely unnecessary. Later in the proceedings, the actors showed they were obviously capable of handling an emotional, character or time transition, sometimes all three, without the benefit of light changes. One can enter carrying a trash can or push a bench around without destroying suspension of disbelief. Better yet, try doing the story without so much furniture moving. The audience is on your side. They’re not stupid. They’ve seen things acted out in front of them before. They’ll roll with it. Trust your story, your audience and your actors and just let the thing flow. “Useless Universe’s” big fish bowl transition was its only slip in this regard. But again, either actor in character, in either combination, could have helped make the switch in full light, gotten you another belly laugh, and not given the audience a chance to withdraw from the story. Please, I beg of you, spare us the time in the dark. It’s not helping.

In sum, though, the evening is great fun. “Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children” lives up to the rabid devotion lavished on its source material. I’ve never held an issue of BSFUC in my hands, but I now consider myself a fan. I was already a fan of Workhouse and Hardcover, but they’ve moved up yet another notch on my list of companies to carve out time for, whenever and wherever they turn up next. But for now, go see this show and revel in some unique storytelling, very well played.

Very Highly Recommended.

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children” performs at Workhouse Theater’s home, The Warren, 4400 Osseo Road in Minneapolis, now through March 21st, 2009. Evening performances at 7:30pm, matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $12 ($10 seniors & students) at the door, but only $10 in advance ($8 seniors & students) - so call 612-386-5763 or reserve tickets online at You can also check out a preview article I wrote, with other handy BSFUC links, at