October 25, 2009.By Rohan Preston and Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.
Rohan Preston: So, Graydon, I’ve seen a beatific Ashley Brown float over the awed audience at the Orpheum Theatre as Mary Poppins. And a knockout performance by Rachel York as Cruella De Vil in the new musical “101 Dalmatians.” Randy Reyes brought poignant heartbreak to the stage as a Filipino farmworker hero in Mu Performing Arts’ The Romance of Magno Rubio.” And Penumbra Theatre honored August Wilson with a beautiful production of “Radio Golf,” the final work in the playwright’s magisterial oeuvre. We’re halfway through the fall, but ain’t theater in the Twin Cities grand?
Graydon Royce: Well, nothing makes an argument like two critics. I’ve been a little underwhelmed, myself. I loved Emily Gunyou Halaas in the small “My Name is Rachel Corrie” and thought that “Mary Poppins” had great production values (though my favorite musical has been “The Full Monty”). “Becky’s New Car” was frothy at Park Square. But I wonder if the season’s best straight drama is yet to come, as we write this. I’m talking about Park Square’s “Othello” with James A. Williams and Steve Hendrickson.
RP: I hope director Richard Cook brings out the power of those two acting dynamos. I swooned for the fetching design of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” And Children’s Theatre pulled the curtains back on a ducky production of “Bert & Ernie, Goodnight!” starring Reed Sigmund and Bradley Greenwald. But the two best productions so far this fall are Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined,” which is gut-wrenching and engrossingly tragic, and the Jon Ferguson-led “Super Monkey,” which was understates, smart and witty.
GR: I didn’t see it, but from what I heard, Ferguson is back to what he does best: good, gritty physical stuff. As for “Ernie” and “Earnest,” why does the term “safe seat-fillers” come to mind? “Earnest” wallpapered that set with dollar bills, and Park Square’s “Othello” has 21 actors, so it’s not all about doing it cheap. As “name products,” though, these are shrewd choices. And I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through this article and haven’t mentioned Joe Dowling appearing in “Faith Healer,” which opened Friday – past our press deadline.
RP: Yes, I’m interested to see the Guthrie’s artistic director onstage for the first time in the Twin Cities. You are right though. The economy has been crimping some styles. I was shocked to see that “Bert & Ernie,” a two-hander(I), did not have a live band. On the other hand, while the economy best blamed for safe choices, I do wonder if we were already in a malaise. Can you blame these companies for being risk-averse?
GR: A company needs to keep its eye on the mission even in tough times (the “Ella” tour at the Guthrie? Come on). I wasn’t crazy about the Jungle’s “Mary’s Wedding,” but I tip my fedora to Joel Sass for bringing in a new script from an unfamiliar writer and approaching the piece with a dynamic sense of dance theater. “The Full Monty” is a perfect expression of Theater Latté Da’s mission, and it’s such great fun. It should sell like hotcakes.
RP: If “King of Shadows” was mixed, Pillsbury House Theatre is to be commended for showcasing relative newcomers Taj Ruler and Qadir Khan. When I look at the menu of shows and the range of topics that they deal with – Illusion’s “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” on the founders of AA, Red Eye’s “The Thugs,” on crazy office politics, even Ananya Dance Theatre on environmental damage in “Ashesh Barsha” – I must say I am constantly stimulated. Sure, I would like to be astonished every evening, but I am happy to be moved every week or so.
GR: Hmmm. My age and the fear that I don’t have two- to three-hour blocks to give away several times a week make me less forgiving. This community is big and mature enough to withstand those requirements.