Paul Brissett, For the News Tribune
After 14 years as a theater reviewer, I’m finished. During those years, I’ve reviewed more than 230 productions. I’ve seen some shows I thought were incredible, a lot I found engaging and well done, a few that failed to achieve what they were reaching for and a handful that were execrable. I’ll miss it, but I’d actually been considering retiring for some time. The time pressure of having a review written by 11 p.m.
The production of Noel Coward’s comedy “Blithe Spirit,” which opened Friday at the College of St. Scholastica Theatre, is practically perfect in every way. Direction, acting, set, costumes and lighting are nearly flawless in the telling of how the ghost of an English writer’s first wife is unwittingly summoned into the home he shares with his second spouse, triggering confusion and strife. It’s a dated piece, treating as it does of the formality of an early 20th-century English village and the fascination with the occult that was common during that time.
“The Great Gatsby” is an ambitious undertaking for Renegade Theater Company, one that is neither a total success nor total failure. Its most successful aspect was the decision, executed by Director Katy Helbacka, to place the story seven years later than the setting of the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the production that opened Thursday at Teatro Zuccone, the narrator, Nick Carraway (superbly played by Andy Bennett), has returned to the neglected, crumbling mansion that had been Jay Gatsby’s.
“Detestable Madness” is two 1,000-year-old scripts retooled to cast a harsh light on two issues, one ancient, the other modern. Jenna Soleo-Shanks, UMD assistant professor of theater, has adapted two plays about women by a woman known today only as Hrotsvit, who lived in a 10th century religious cloister and wrote plays to not only entertain but enlighten. In the production that opened Thursday at UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center, she addresses violence against women in Act I and the objectification of women in Act II.
You COULD cut corners on a theatrical production for kids; they’re easily amused. But the actors, designers and technicians involved in staging “Go, Dog. Go!” at UMD didn’t. They were mindful not only of their audience but also their instructors, who would be evaluating, in addition to technical expertise, their professionalism. The result is a delightful adaptation by Allison Gregory and Steven Dietz of P.D. Eastman’s classic book for preschoolers, directed by Rebecca Katz Harwood. With a 6:30 p.m.
There’s a bar outside the Spirit of the North Theater in Fitger’s where Rubber Chicken Theater’s seventh annual Christmas comedy revue opened Friday. Get there early, have a bump and get a second one to take inside. It seemed most of the audience members really laughing were also holding glasses.
The Greeks invented theater, so we pay them homage by performing their greatest works, but after thousands of years, those plays can be so boring — when they’re not merely confusing. Not so the production of Euripides’ “Medea” that opened Friday at UWS’s Holden Fine Arts Center. It’s not only accessible, it’s mesmerizing. After countless translations over the centuries, probably only the most dedicated and erudite scholars can say how closely a given English language script resembles the original. But the translation chosen by director Cathy A.
Fabulous production values and several stellar performances more than make up for the shortcomings in the College of St.
“And Baby Makes Seven,” which opened Thursday at UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center’s Dudley Experimental Theater, is Paula Vogel’s ingeniously whimsical look at parenthood. Written in 1974, the script employs the then-radical — if not outrageous — prism of homosexuality in her examination. Ruth and Anna are a lesbian couple who have had their gay friend Peter impregnate Anna, with the idea that the four of them will become a family. But the women already have three little boys — fantasies in which Ruth can become either Henri or Orphan and Anna takes the role of Cecil.
“Grace” is almost certainly the most thought-provoking play you could see this season — and a virtually perfect theatrical production. Renegade Theater Company’s staging of Craig Wright’s examination of faith and religion includes a peerless cast of four, directed with a laser-sharp vision by Julie Ahasay and supported by subtle but highly effective stagecraft.