Ivey Awards honor best in local theater for 2017

By CHRIS HEWITT |  Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: September 27, 2017 at 10:19 am | UPDATED: September 27, 2017 at 10:19 am

 Theater Latte Da’s “Ragtime” earned the Ivey for Overall Excellence. (Dan Norman/Theater Latte Da)

Theater Latte Da’s “Ragtime” earned the Ivey for Overall Excellence. (Dan Norman/Theater Latte Da)

Actor Meghan Kreidler went home with two Ivey Awards at ceremonies Monday night.

Kreidler, currently on stage in Theater Latte Da’s “Man of La Mancha,” received the Emerging Artist award and was honored as a member of the Ensemble winner, “Vietgone.” The cast of that Mixed Blood Theatre musical drama also included Sun Mee Chomet, David Huynh, Flordelino Lagundino and Sherwin Resurreccion. (Chomet and Resurreccion were also double-winners Monday night, receiving acting trophies for “The Two Kids That Blow S— Up” at Theater Mu.)

The trophy for Lifetime Achievement was given to Ten Thousand Things founder Michelle Hensley, who has announced that the current season will be her last as the innovative company’s artistic director.

The annual Ivey winners are selected by a somewhat mysterious panel of 100 theater-makers and fans. Their other choices were:

Overall Excellence: “Ragtime,” Theater Latte Da

Production Design and Execution: “Six Degrees of Separation,” Theater Latte Da, awarded to Abbee Warmboe, Barry Browning, Sean Healey, Kate Sutton-Johnson, Bethany Reinfeld and Alice Fredrickson

Concept and Execution: “Safe at Home,” Mixed Blood

Actor: Nilaja Sun, “Pike St.,” Pillsbury House Theatre; Steven Epp, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Ten Thousand Things

Director: Noel Raymond, “The Children,” Pillsbury House Theatre

Emotional Impact: “Wit,” Artistry

Theater Latte Da's 'Six Degrees' adds another week of performances

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

March 28, 2017

It's not just the unusually warm spring weather that is exciting people in the Twin Cities. "Six Degrees" also is hot in Minneapolis.

Producer Theater Latte Da has announced that director Peter Rothstein's revival of John Guare's 1990 play has added a week of performances at the Ritz Theater.

The one-act stars Mark Benninghofen (left), Sally Wingert and JuCoby Johnson, who plays a young conman pretending to be Sidney Poitier's son in this tale of art, impersonation and cunning.

Rothstein's production has received strong notices and audiences apparently agree. The show will now close April 15.

 

Theater Latte Da to revive its powerful 'Ragtime' on the coasts

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

March 22, 2017

Theater Latte Da is restaging its powerful production of “Ragtime” for audiences in the northwest and southeast next season.

Theater founder and director Peter Rothstein has been tapped to remount his re-imagined version of the musical for the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle in the fall and the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota in spring 2018.

With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, “Ragtime” tells of the American dream as seen by three groups: blacks, whites and immigrant Jews. The size of the show has made it somewhat prohibitively expensive to stage, since it usually has a cast with three distinct groupings of people.

Rothstein decided to stage the show with a slimmed down cast where all the players support each of the three interlocking narratives.

“The metaphor there, that all the people are responsible for each other’s stories, adds another layer to show,” said Rothstein.

He added: “There are reductions that feel like reductions and reductions that feel like bold choices. According to the audience response and reviews, this one worked.”

Rothstein will take most of his creative team with him, including scenic designer Michael Hoover, costume designer Trevor Bowen and choreographer Kelli Foster Warder.

He’s not sure if he will be able to take his actors. In the Twin Cities, the production starred David Murray as Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Traci Allen Shannon as his wife (pictured in this photo by Dan Norman.). Other headliners were Britta Ollmann as the white mother, Sasha Andreev as immigrant Tateh and Andre Shoals as Booker T. Washington.

Latte Da has toured “All is Calm” at the holidays for the past 10 years.

“But this is the first time we’ll take a production that originated here elsewhere,” said Rothstein. “I’m super-excited about it. The piece created such needed dialogue here and we hope that it will instigate similar dialogue in these communities, too.”

 

REVIEW: Six Degrees of Cons (Theater Latté Da)

Bev WolfeTwin Cities Arts Reader

March 21, 2017

Phoniness, lack of human connectedness and class distinctions are the prevalent themes in John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation, which opened last weekend at Theater Latte Da. The play originally debuted on Broadway in 1990 and was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play. Peter Rothstein directs a crisply paced and thoughtful production of Guare’s play.

The play begins with the well-to-do, but temporarily asset-depleted, couple of Ouisa and Flanders Kittredge hosting a wealthy friend named Geoffrey. Geoffrey is an industrialist from South Africa, which during the play is still in the midst of Apartheid. Flanders is an art dealer who is in critical need of acquiring an expensive painting for resale to Japanese buyers. The Kittredges need to persuade Geoffrey to invest $2 million to complete the acquisition. As their evening begins, they are interrupted by a young, well-dressed but bleeding young man named Paul who has just been stabbed. Paul claims he goes to Harvard with the Kittredge’s children and sought help at their place because he was mugged. With a little bit of first aid, Paul proceeds to flatter and charm the Kittredges and Geoffrey.

In addition to attending college with their children, Paul reveals that he is the son of Sidney Poitier. A running joke in the play is that Poitier is directing the movie version of the musical Cats. With Paul’s charm and his promise to make all three of them extras in Cats, Flanders is able to obtain the necessary monetary commitment from Geoffrey. The Kittredges insist that Paul stay the night, but the Kittredges’ wonderful evening crashes with a thud the next morning when, in a very jarring scene, they discover that Paul has brought a naked street hustler into their home.

The Kittredges still hang on to the thought that Paul is Poitier’s son until they learn that their friends had a similar evening and similarly expect to be cast in Cats. The couples contact the police and find at least one more victim. They also confirm that their children do not know Paul. Despite his culture mannerism and appearance, it is learned that that Paul was also a street hustler. He became involved with an MIT student who went to high school with the victims’ children and who schooled Paul in the ways of the well-to-do as well as the known gossip about these affluent parents. However, Paul’s phony persona takes a tragic turn when he takes advantage of a young, poor couple who befriended him.

The play is set in for the late 1980s and its datedness seems quaint. No one uses cell phones and, more importantly, there is no Internet whereby the Kittredges could quickly verify Paul’s connection to Sidney Poitier. Instead, Ouisa must go to a secondhand bookstore to find an out-of-date Poitier biography to verify that Paul was not Poitier’s son.

JuCoby Johnson plays a charming and convincing Paul, who is either a) the ultimate con artist, or b) so desperate to be in the upper class that he starts to believe his own con. Sally Wingert shines in the role of Ouisa. She makes believable the fact that her character, despite knowing of Paul’s deception, has a closer emotion bond to this stranger than she has with her own children, or even her husband. Mark Benninghofen, as Flanders, captures the essence of a man who is primarily interested in his bottom line and has no sympathy for Paul, but who can’t say no to his wife when she wants them to pick up Paul and help him turn himself into the police. Jay Albright, as Dr. Fine (another of Paul’s victims), brings some welcome humor to the play as he relates his encounter with Paul.

When I first saw that this show was part of Theater Latte Da’s season, I assumed it was a musical version of the play. However, there is no musical version of the play – at least not yet – but director Peter Rothstein successfully takes an innovative approach for integrating music by having the actors perform music both as background for certain scenes and during the transitions.

Kate Sutton-Johnson’s set design is another highlight in the show. The set displays a lavish, but realistic upper class living room surrounding by art including a Kandinsky constructivist painting in the center of the stage. It was in great contrast to the bare and raw staging that has been more commonly used at the Ritz Theater.

Staging a non-musical is a significant directional change for Theater Latte Da, but, with a fine cast, it has proven to be a very successful direction. This production does justice to the many layers of Guare’s play.

Theater Latte Da's Six Degrees of Separation

Kare 11 TVPat Evans

March 21, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS - Inspired by the real-life con artist David Hampton, the acclaimed drama "Six Degrees of Separation" is now being performed at Minneapolis Ritz Theatre through April 9.

The witty and sincere social commentary wrestles with the human desire for meaningful connection.

Paul, a young black man, convinces wealthy white New York couple Ouisa and Flan Kittredge that he is the son of Sidney Poitier. Enraptured by his intellect and charm, the couple invite him to stay the night. But Paul’s ruse is soon undone, leading to discoveries that leave them all forever changed.

Nominated for four Tony awards, Six Degrees of Separation is a singular tragicomedy on race, class and manners. Peter Rothstein directs a stellar cast of actors and musicians who inhabit and underscore John Guare’s riveting drama. The Theater Latté Da production contains full-frontal male nudity, strong language, and adult situations.

For tickets visit latteda.org or call 612-339-3003.

Six Degrees of Separation

Arthur DormanTalkin' Broadway

March 16, 2017

John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation is without doubt one of the great American plays of the past fifty years. It strikes at our attitudes about money and wealth, our reverence for celebrity, and the intersection of race, class, and sexual orientation. It is at once a biting satire, a comedy of manners, and a poignant meditation on the forces that connect us and that keep us apart. It is back in a smashing production by Theater Latté Da that fires on all cylinders, including fantastic performances from Sally Wingert, Mark Benninghofen, and JuCoby Johnson.

Six Degrees of Separation appeared in 1990, triggered by a true story told to Guare. In 1983 a young black man named David Hampton conned at least a dozen people into believing he was the son of Sidney Poitier. On that basis, his victims invited him to stay for dinner, spend the night in their posh homes, and gave him money before Hampton was caught, brought to trial, and given a prison sentence. In the real world that allowed Hampton's ruse to succeed (for a while), just being, or claiming to be, the child (spouse, parent) of a celebrity establishes credentials and a connection to others in the same social strata. But what real connections—acquaintance, school affiliation, familial ties, work history, or otherwise—actually link us to one another?

Guare's stroke of genius was to meld the con-man anecdote with a theory of social linkages, found in the work of psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) on what he called the "small world" problem. The notion that all of us, round the world, are connected by a string of affiliations of no more than six people came to be called six degrees of separation, and captured the public imagination, despite lack of scientific proof of its validity. As Guare's character Ouisa Kittredge states, "Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it A) extremely comforting that we're so close, and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection."

The play begins with Ouisa and her husband Flan in their bathrobes, exclaiming about an upheaval that apparently just occurred in their stylish, expensive-looking home. Was anything stolen? They could have been killed! Suddenly, they turn to us and go back to how it started, making a story of it, tag-teaming as couples do when relating a shared experience.

The Kittredges are high-end art dealers, buying high-priced works of art away from the public eye, and selling them at even higher prices. The evening before, they were entertaining a wealthy friend visiting from South Africa, whom they hoped to persuade to pony up two million dollars toward the purchase of a Matisse—which they knew they could sell to a Japanese buyer for a great deal more. Suddenly, a young black man bursts into their apartment. He introduces himself as Paul, a friend of the Kittredges' two children at Harvard (a third Kittredge child is at Groton). Paul happened to be in Central Park, across the street from their home, when a mugger took all his money and his briefcase containing the only copy of his thesis, and left him with a stab wound. Though they'd never met, he knew from Tess and Woody's accounts of their parents' kindness that Ouisa and Flan would help him. Indeed they do, nursing his wound, giving him clean clothes, and urging him to join them for dinner.

Paul is charming, well spoken, thoughtful and bright. It is clear he knows their kids well, and that Tess and Woody had spoken often about their home. He reveals that his father is Sidney Poitier, who will arrive in New York in the morning. Well, of course Paul must stay the night with them. The evening is a complete success. However, the morning shows things in a different light when Ouisa finds a completely naked man, a hustler, in bed with Paul. After frantic screaming and chasing the hustler out the door—throwing his clothes after him—they tell Paul he had better leave too. He does, apologizing profusely and begging them not to tell his dad: "He doesn't know," Paul pleads. This takes us back to the beginning, with Flan and Ouisa ranting about the harm they narrowly escaped.

Flan and Ouisa soon learn that their friends whose son also attends Harvard had almost the same experience, hosting their son's pal Paul Poitier. They finally reach their children (in the pre-text message era) and realize that Paul is a total fraud. They enlist their kids' help to figure out who knows them well enough to have passed on so much personal detail to Paul, and who would do such a thing. What they learn is both astonishing and believable. But Paul is not finished. Using a shocking new ruse, he wins the confidence of Rick and Elizabeth, a sweet young couple from Utah pursuing theater careers in New York. Paul's betrayal of their friendship is ruinous to the couple and at last provide grounds for Paul to be sought by the police. Only then does Paul reach out to Ouisa for help. Ouisa's response is a great transformative theater moment.

The three lead performances perfectly capture each character's charms and flaws. Audiences are well aware of Sally Wingert's (Ouisa) spectacular range, flipping from biting comedy to dramatic yearning with the wave of a hand. Mark Benninghofen is also well known for his excellent portrayals of deceptively complex men. JuCoby Johnson is newer to our stages, but in just a few years has given numerous strong performances, most recently as a freed slave in Minnesota Jewish Theater Company's stellar mounting of The Whipping Man. As Paul, he is so good looking, bright and charming that he makes the truth of his deceptions all the more heartbreaking. Johnson is clearly an actor on the rise.

Of the other characters, three—the South African friend, played by Patrick Bailey; Paul's accomplice Trent, played by Grant Sorenson; and Paul's too-trusting friend Rick, played by Gabriel Murphy—are given some substance in Guare's script. All three actors bring authenticity to their portrayals. The college-age children of Flan, Ouisa, and Paul's other victims are depicted as annoying, parent-bashing youth, frankly grating in contrast to Paul's veneer of courtesy and polish.

The production's creative team has done outstanding work. Kate Sutton-Johnson have created a sensationally lush and arty living room for Flan and Ouisa, with nooks and pedestals displaying artwork culled from artists working in the northeast arts district, where Theater Latté Da is based. Alice Fredrickson's costumes perfectly represent the Kittredges' chic pretensions, Paul's preppy-clean persona, and Rick and Elizabeth's thrift shop bohemian look. Barry Browning's lighting draws the focus down as needed to create different levels of intimacy.

Theater Latté Da is known for superb productions of musicals and plays with music. Six Degrees of Separation is neither, but director Peter Rothstein has added live music to the production. Four cast members, when they are not in character, play songs (guitar, piano, tenor sax and cello) that create suitable background ambience during scenes and transitions, a nice addition to the play. Overall, Rothstein's direction is sharp, catching all the wit, but focused on the questions raised by the play.

Those questions are numerous, and different viewers will no doubt find different questions more or less compelling. Like the characters in the play, its themes may connect with audience members through a variety of linkages to past experience and current concerns. In 1990, John Guare wrote a brilliant play that continues to provoke such questions, while spinning a darn entertaining yarn. Peter Rothstein, his stellar cast and gifted designers, have mounted it with elegance, intelligence and heart. This production of

Six Degrees of Separation is flat out terrific, and should not be missed.

Six Degrees of Separation continues through April 9, 2017, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $48.00. Student Rush Tickets (two per valid ID): $20.00; Public Rush Tickets: $24.00. Rush tickets must be purchased at box office, cash only, starting one hour before performances. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterlatteda.com. Note, the play contains full male nudity and adult themes.

Writer: John Guare; Director: Peter Rothstein; Associate Director and Scenic Design: Kate Sutton-Johnson; Costume Design: Alice Fredrickson; ; Lighting Design: Barry Browning; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Technical Director: Bethany Reinfeld; Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Production Manager: Allen Weeks.

Cast: Jay Albright (Dr. Fine/Doorman/piano), Patrick Bailey (Geoffrey), Mark Benninghofen (Flanders Kittredge), JuCoby Johnson (Paul), Julie Madden (Kitty), Riley McNutt (Doug/detective/tenor saxophone), John Middleton (Larkin), Gabriel Murphy (Rick/hustler), Dan Piering (Woody/ policeman/ guitar/cello), Grant Sorenson (Trent/Ben), Kendall Anne Thompson (Tess/Elizabeth/guitar), Sally Wingert (Ouisa Kittredge).

'Six Degrees of Separation' at the Ritz

Pamela EspelandMinnPost

March 16, 2017

The picks

Now at the Ritz: “Six Degrees of Separation.” First, Theatre Latté Da’s new production of John Guare’s play about a young black con man who targets Manhattanites is not a musical. There is live music, but no singing. Second, if you haven’t already heard, “Six Degrees” contains full-frontal male nudity. Way to keep it fresh, Latté Da. The cast is led by Sally Wingert and Mark Benninghofen (last seen at the Ritz in “Sweeney Todd”) as posh couple Ouisa and Flan Kittredge; JuCoby Johnson is the con who claims to be Sidney Poitier’s son and talks his way into their lives. Johnson was last seen at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre in “The Whipping Man,” directed by Sally Wingert, because everyone on the planet is separated by only six other people. Kate Sutton-Johnson’s upscale set spans the width of the Ritz and is filled with art by Twin Cities artists (we love that); Barry Browning’s lighting is inspired. If all you know of “Six Degrees” is the Kevin Bacon joke, this is a dark play, and talky, and absolutely worth seeing. Peter Rothstein directs. FMI and tickets ($35-48). Ends April 9.

Review: Theater Latté Da's 'Six Degrees of Separation'

Graydon RoyceStar Tribune

March 14, 2017

There have been several occasions over the years in which Theater Latté Da has cracked its theatrical skin and stretched toward something new.

That sense of metamorphosis imbues Peter Rothstein’s production of “Six Degrees of Separation,” which opened Saturday at the Ritz in northeast Minneapolis.

No, John Guare’s crunchy 1990 play has not been transformed into a musical — Latté Da’s metier. Some of Rothstein’s actors play musical instruments as accents during and between scenes, creating an indispensable cinematic dimension, but music supports — rather than drives — this thoroughly theatrical endeavor. “Six Degrees” is Rothstein’s most substantial foray into a nonmusical on Latté Da’s stage.

Guare’s play jumps off from real life. In the 1980s, a con man passed himself off as Sidney Poitier’s son and worked his way into the apartments of several tony Manhattanites.

In “Six Degrees,” the character Paul (JuCoby Johnson) knows details about his marks’ children and he can talk intellectual smack about “The Catcher in the Rye,” the absence of imagination and the phoniness of self-satisfaction.

Guare, though, isn’t satisfied with a mere caper. Sally Wingert’s Ouisa Kittredge (how marvelously smug is that name?) agonizes late in the play about Paul’s fate: “He wanted to be us. He envied us. We aren’t enough to be envied.” Aha! Self-awareness invades the Kittredges’ existential stupor. Paul has forced Ouisa to muse on how all humans are just “six people apart.”

Johnson starts the evening a bit stiff — perhaps by design, because he’s trying to make a good impression on the Kittredges. He relaxes into Paul’s con scheme and by play’s end we are fixated on who this desperate, quixotic character is — phony or real?

Wingert and Mark Benninghofen, as Ouisa’s art-dealer husband Flan, share a very watchable chemistry built from years on stage together. Their characters here grow subtly apart. Ouisa looks at the collage of her life (all color but no structure) and wonders how she can hold onto the experience — that dazzling, frightening moment — when Paul invaded their lives. Flan bluntly shoves Paul out of mind and resumes his quest for the brass ring.

Patrick Bailey, as a buttoned-up South African tycoon, Gabriel Murphy as a tragic consequence of Paul’s counterfeit personality and Kendall Anne Thompson as the Kittredge daughter distinguish themselves in the rock-solid cast.

“Six Degrees” uses direct address and scatters its mojo around the stage. Rothstein is immeasurably aided by Kate Sutton-Johnson’s swanky New York loft, complete with artwork, and Barry Browning’s spot-on lighting scheme. As classy and distinct as both elements are, they feel natural in this intentionally stagey event.

Theater companies either innovate or become stale. “Six Degrees” is a milepost on Latté Da’s march toward the former.

Six Degrees Of Separation: highly recommended

John OliveHowWasTheShow

March 12, 2017

First things first: Six Degrees Of Separation (Theater Latté Da performing at the newly purchased Ritz, through April 9) looks terrific. Yeoperson work has been by the crackerjack design team – Kate Sutton-Johnson (sets); Alice Frederickson (costumes); Barry Browning (lights). Et al. They’ve created a marvelous Upper East Side apartment. Even better (and this is a first for this jaded reviewer): Latté Da has assembled excellent artwork (paintings, photographs, sculptures) and scattered then effectively around the large set. Come a few minutes early and check ’em out.

Second things second: the City – New York, that is – is a major character in John Guare‘s affecting (and disorienting) Six Degrees Of Separation. The main character, Paul – is his last name Poitier? Kittredge? The question is asked but never answered – sits shivering (one imagines) in Central Park, looking up the at the inviting and warmly lit windows. Paul (who is African-American) would do anything – anything – to be part of these loving (he imagines) families. So he stabs himself in the ribcage (claiming a thug did it), then collapses in the entranceway to the sprawling Kittredge ( a wonderful WASP name) apartment. Armed with the sketchiest of information (the first names of the Kittredge children) insinuates himself into the household, cooks a delicious meal, performs a gorgeous recitation of the meaning of Catcher In The Rye, agrees (after a strenuous argument) to stay overnight in the empty bed of one of the Kittredge children.

And yet, New York is a place where love and companionship must be purchased, and this Paul does. He sneaks out, engages the services of a (male) prostitute, Later it’s discovered that he has stolen TVs and money from other people. And he has victimized (is this the appropriate word?) other families.

Who is this man? What does he represent for these (mostly wealthy) people? Do they hate him? Need him? And Paul himself: what does he want? Guare here has created a truly fascinating character.

Paul is played with thoughtful earnestness by the uber-talented JuCoby Johnson. There is a wonderful sense that Paul never expected to get this far and now that he’s arrived he’s unsure what to do. But he wants – he wants, he needs – to keep the charade going. Johnson is soft-spoken, perhaps somewhat to a fault (opening night jitters?). Still, his Paul is beautifully underplayed.

Paul’s last phone call with Mrs. K, in which Paul pleads for acceptance, is gorgeous. Director Peter Rothstein has a way of building to a climax and then staging it simply and quietly. This wrenched my gut for sure.

Veterans Sally Wingert and Mark Benninghofen play the Kittredges and perfectly capture their over-energized anxiety, about money, their quasi-successful business, their surly children, the City. They prowl – and own – the large set and provide scads of rich comedy. Wonderful.

Okay, I’m out of space and thus unable to wax enthusiastic about the rest of the cast, especially the sullen children with their abrasive sense of entitlement. Know that Six Degrees Of Separation is beautifully acted, intelligently designed and staged, and well worthwhile.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.

Theater review: Latte Da’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ connects

Chris HewittPioneer Press

March 12, 2017

From the start of “Six Degrees of Separation,” New York couple Flanders and Ouisa Kittredge speak directly to us, as if we are old friends at a party they’re throwing. One question audiences may ask themselves is, “But do I want to be friends with them?”

One of the feats of John Guare’s beautiful play is to expose the ugliness of some of its characters — who are wealthy, privileged, smug and both casually racist and classist — and then peel that back to reveal the deeply human fears beneath the elegant veneer these characters project.

That’s particularly true in director Peter Rothstein’s fresh, smart staging, which has the whole cast on-stage the entire time, so the actors who are not involved in any given scene sit off to the side, as if they’re members of the audience like us.

Or, to take that idea to its extreme, as if we paying customers are actors/observers in this drama, too.

“We’re all in this together” is, of course, a theme of the play that popularized the notion that everyone is separated from everyone else by a chain of half a dozen strangers — or, as Ouisa (Sally Wingert) puts it, “I am bound to everyone on the planet by a trail of six people.”

Ouisa comes to this revelation after a dinner party. The party is interrupted by a young man named Paul (nimble, code-switching JuCoby Johnson), who says he’s both a friend of their children and the son of movie star Sidney Poitier. It’s not giving away too much to reveal that he is not who he claims, or that, even in the midst of his lies, he is so charming and somehow genuine that he sparks something within Ouisa.

Moving from glittering repartee to heartbreaking drama, “Six Degrees” climaxes with a phone call from prison. Paul reaches out to Ouisa for help in the call, during which Wingert gracefully strips away Ouisa’s facade to reveal the capacity for empathy and compassion that Paul has awakened.

Rothstein’s staging makes sure that we also recognize that “Six Degrees” is Paul’s story and that, as much as “Six Degrees” is about the illusions we sometimes create to keep our lives going, it’s also about the one person of color on stage, who is desperately imagining a spot for himself in a world that seems to have no place for him.

At one point on opening night, it occurred to me, “Shouldn’t this play be called ‘Six Degrees of Connection,’ since it’s predicated on the notion that we are all connected?”

But “Separation” is right. “Six Degrees” means to upset, not to reassure. Having overturned belief systems and fractured relationships, Latte Da’s “Six Degrees” steers its characters to the brink of chaos, until a thrilling final image offers hope that meaningful connections await us, if only we can remember how to reach out to each other.

IF YOU GO

  • What: “Six Degrees of Separation”
  • Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
  • When: Through April 9
  • Tickets: $48-$35, 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com
  • Capsule: A fine production of John Guare’s wise, witty play.

Actress Sally Wingert returns to 'Six Degrees' this weekend at Theater Latté Da

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

March 10, 2017

In his autobiography, Malcolm X noted that when he was a young, wayward street hustler, he often interacted with underworld figures whose intellectual acumen could have been put to good use in science, math or the humanities, if given a chance.

Sally Wingert sees a bit of Malcolm in Paul, the young, black gay hustler who pretends to be Sidney Poitier’s son and cons a wealthy white family in the drama “Six Degrees of Separation.” Charismatic and charming, he quickly learns the codes of upper-crust white society — something that shows he has promise despite his actions, Wingert said: “He has brilliant potential but isn’t born into the right circumstances to realize his gifts.”

The veteran actress plays wealthy Upper East Side hostess Ouisa in a Theater Latté Da production of “Six Degrees” that opens Saturday in Minneapolis.

Wingert has a deep connection to John Guare’s 1990 one-act, having been part of a memorable 2003 production at the Guthrie Theater. That production took a cue from the art-world characters and played with perspective. This staging will realize similar things, said Wingert.

“It’s about the illusions, and illusory worlds, we create for ourselves,” she said. “The same way that Paul has to tell lies, Ouisa and Flan do as well. They’re living on a higher plateau, clearly, but they are one painting-sale away from having their illusion blown. Everything with them appears perfect until we find out they’re on very thin ice.”

‘Six Degrees’ history

7 things you probably don’t know about ‘Six Degrees of Separation’

Chris HewittPioneer Press

March 10, 2017

Like the great “Tracey Ullman Show,” the play, “Six Degrees of Separation,” is a work of art that is now better remembered for an offshoot than for itself.

Just as “Ullman” gave birth to the still-running “The Simpsons,” John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation” eventually led to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” meme, which has fun with the play’s idea that everyone on the planet is connected to everyone else by six degrees or less: You once baby-sat for someone whose hair was cut by someone who drove a cab for someone who was a student of the Dalai Lama, for instance (that’s only five degrees).

Hopefully, Theater Latte Da’s production, which runs through April 9, will be a reminder that the play remains vital, hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s the story of Ouisa Kitteridge (Sally Wingert) and her family, whose lives are transformed after they come to the aid of a penniless man (JuCoby Johnson) who tells them he is Sidney Poitier’s son. (Tickets, from $48-$35, are at theaterlatteda.com.)

Taking another look at four “Degrees” — the original Broadway production (in 1990), an about-to-open Broadway revival, the Oscar-nominated movie version from 1993 and the Guthrie Theater production in 2003 — is also a reminder that those worlds are interconnected. Some fun facts about those productions, which are separated by much fewer than six degrees:

1. Both Broadway productions of "Six Degrees" have starred women who were nominated for "best supporting actress" Emmys on the same TV show. Name the TV show.

"The West Wing." Stockard Channing was in the original, 1990 production, Allison Janney in the upcoming revival.

2. Sally Wingert stars in Latte Da's production. She was in the Guthrie's 2003 "Six Degrees," playing the supporting role of Kitty and understudying the lead role. She shares that dual distinction with what Broadway/TV star?

Kelly Bishop

3. A running joke in "Six Degrees" is its characters' disdain for a popular musical that was on Broadway at the same time as the original "Six Degrees" and, coincidentally, has returned at the same time as the upcoming Broadway revival. Name it.

CATS

4. He's now a famous director but, in the 1993 "Six Degrees" film, he played a cranky college student.

That's J.J. Abrams, who went on to co-create "Lost" and direct "Super 8" and a couple "Star Trek" films.

5. The supporting cast of the original Broadway production of "Six Degrees" was an incubator for soon-to-be stars. Name one of three future Tony winners who played supporting roles.

Laura Linney, Courtney B. Vance, and John Cameron

6. Two future "Sex and the City" husbands appeared in the 1990 "Six Degrees" production on Broadway. Can you name them? (Hint: One's more of a Charlotte; one's more of a Miranda.)

Evan Handler and David Eigenberg

7. "Six Degrees" at Latte Da is the second show in a row Sally Wingert has worked on with actor JuCoby Johnson. Did you see the first?

"Whipping Man" at Minnesota Jewish Theater

Review: Peter and the Starcatcher

Arthur DormanTalkin' Broadway

February 7, 2017

When Tyler Michaels, as an orphan with no name, sat on the stage floor at the Ritz Theater pleading "All I want is to be a boy for a while," my throat tightened as I felt the urge to shout out, "Me too!" Who can resist the lure of the boy who becomes Peter Pan and never grows up, whose life is one adventure after another in Neverland, and who gets through them all unscathed? Of course, his is the province of children, but something in that boy stirs the adult heart every time—at least, for this adult.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a play by Rick Elice based on the novel "Peter and the Starcatchers" by John Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is an invented back-story for Peter Pan, revealing how he came to be in Neverland, the creation of his devoted fairy partner Tinkerbell, and how he drew the eternal enmity of a foppish pirate captain—as well as how that pirate, who had been called Black Stache, lost his hand and acquired the name Captain Hook. It's an origins story for the original super hero of many a childhood.

Okay, I confess, I've loved James M. Barrie's creation all my life. "Peter Pan" was the first chapter book read to me as a very young child, and it was the first theater work I ever saw, by way of Mary Martin's performance live on NBC in 1955 and again in 1956. I doubted that I had the bravado to be Peter Pan—besides, there could only be one Peter—but I imagined finding eternal bliss as a lost boy. Yet, I never wondered from whence Peter, or Tink or Hook had come. I was perfectly able to accept the idea that they had just appeared, spawned out of the same magic dust Peter uses to teach children to fly. Well, thank goodness Barry and Pearson wanted some answers and put them in a book, and that Rick Elice thought it would be a good idea to put those answers on a stage. Even more fortunate, Theater Latté Da had the brilliant notion to include Peter and the Starcatcher in their current season.

As delightfully fanciful as the story is, the manner in which it is told turns it into the merriest thing to turn up on a stage in many years. It uses the most basic props (a plunger and a tennis racket become swords in a duel between Peter and Hook), an English music hall sensibility, and a set that looks like a mad hatter's attic, framed by a giant octopus with its tentacles stretched over the proscenium. The constant silliness to the proceedings is made all the more fun by the earnestness of the characters. Music, played on stringed instruments by actor Silas Sellnow, provides a jaunty soundscape, and occasional choral numbers add to the unruly playfulness. The text includes scads of double entendres, sly anachronisms, and unabashedly bad puns (of course, with puns, the worse they are, the better).

The play is set in 1885, well into the reign of Queen Victoria, whose likeness hangs on one side of the stage, lighting up at each mention of her royal name. Three orphan boys are sold off and put aboard the good ship Neverland to become slaves to the king of the far off island of Rundoon, though the boys believe they are on their way to be the king's special helpers. Also on board is Molly, the precocious and accomplished 13-year-old daughter of Lord Aster. Lord Aster, a widower, takes Molly with him on his many world travels, but this time they are traveling on separate ships to Rundoon. He is sailing on The Wasp, a swifter vessel, to dispose of a trunk of containing magical staff stuff in the world's hottest volcano, Mount Jalapeño, which is also on Rundoon. It is because his mission is so dangerous that Lord Aster insists Molly travel separately, under the protection of her nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake—a delightful character written to be played by a man, in the English pantomime tradition.

Soon after boarding the Neverland, Mrs. Bumbrake meets Alf, a coarse and flatulent old seafarer, and the two are attracted to one another, forming a twosome that provides laughs throughout the play. Molly meets the three orphan boys: Ted, who is obsessed with food; Prentiss, hung up on being the group leader; and one who became orphaned before being given a name. Meanwhile, Lord Aster realizes that The Wasp is no longer under the command of his friend Admiral Scott, but has been seized by pirates led by the nefarious and flamboyant Black Stache, aided by faithful first mate Smee. Black Stache demands the key to the trunk, but Lord Aster maintains a stiff upper lip, always the Brit.

From this start, the rollicking story includes: a native island people called the Mollusks who are led by Chief Fighting Prawn; incandescent mermaids; annoying yellow birds; a flying cat; swordplay; a huge man-eating crocodile named Mr. Grin; a near drowning; two identical trunks—one packed with treasure, the other a decoy—that get switched (talk about tired conventions made sparkling new); surprising kisses. And the boy without a name gains not only a name—Peter Pan—but a home—Neverland. More than that, he learns that a leader is one who puts others before himself. As Peter proves himself a hero, Black Stache (who has now become Captain Hook, but I'm not about to tell you how that happens) rejoices, for with a genuine hero to do battle against, he can be a genuine villain.

The entire cast shines from start to finish. All praise to Tyler Michaels as Peter, a role he already proved himself born to play at Children's Theater Company's production of Peter Pan a couple of years back. This time out, Michaels portrays an even richer character, for he must grow from sullen and cynical into boy hero, experiencing pangs of first love along the way. Michael's physical dexterity—making leaping about the scenery, hanging from a rope, crouching like a frog—seem like no more effort than bending a pinky. He is, as always, a joy to watch.

But he is not alone. Pearce Bunting is terrifically self-absorbed and decadent as Black Stache, rolling through both the wordplay and swordplay with ease, and moving about the stage with haughty swagger. Megan Burns is delightful as Molly—chatty, accomplished, competitive and bossy, yet endearing. Adam Qualls is hilarious as both Smee and Alf, while Craig Johnson steals every scene he is in as Mrs. Bumbrake and a tricked-out mermaid named Teacher who brings enlightenment to Peter. Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow warm the heart while raising laughs as the orphans Prentiss and Ted.

Everything about the physical production—Joel Sass's eye-filling set, Sonya Berlovitz's glorious costumes, Marcus Dilliard's lighting, and Sean Healey's sound design—could not be bettered. Sass also directs the piece, keeping it moving at a breakneck pace, with pauses just brief enough to make sure the jokes land (and they do!). The characters on occasion speak directly to the audience, making it clear they know this is just a play, just pretend, but they go back to playing their parts with the utmost sincerity, just like children at play, pretending to be cops and robbers, or perhaps Peter Pan and pirates.

More than any show in recent memory, I was saddened when Peter and the Starcatcher came to an end. Presented with fizz and humor and heart, like the boy at the center of the tale, it is a worthy addition to a story that never grows old.

Peter and the Starcatcher continues through February 26, 2017, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $48.00. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterlatteda.com.

Writer: Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; Music: Wayne Barker; Director and Scenic Design: Joel Sass; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Choreography: Carl Flink; Costume Design: Sonya Berlovitz; Costume Design Assistant: Jeni O'Malley; Lighting Design: Marcus Dilliard's; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Wig Design: Andrea Moriarity; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Fight Director: Annie Enneking; Technical Director: Stein Rosburg; Stage Manager: Andrea K. Bowman; Assistant Director: Eric Norton; Assistant Stage Manager: April Harding; Production Manager: Allen Weeks.

Cast: Ricardo Beaird (Prentiss), Pearce Bunting (Black Stache/Mack), Megan Burns (Molly), Craig Johnson (Grempkin/ Mrs. Bumbrake/ Teacher), Tyler Michaels (Boy/Peter) Adam Qualls (Smee/Alf), James Rodriguez (Slank/Rufus/Hawking Clam), Silas Sellnow (Ted), Andre Shoals (Lord Aster/Fighting Prawn).

Theater Latté Da's 'Peter and the Starcatcher' offers magic straight on till morning

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

February 6, 2017

It’s easy to be swept up into the magic of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the “Peter Pan” prequel that opened Saturday at the Ritz in Minneapolis.

Director Joel Sass’ staging of this music-infused play for Theater Latté Da is often captivating, with well crafted small bits that explode into delirious fun, though the first act is a bit overlong. Playwright Rick Elice, who wrote this adaptation from a 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, could have used a judicious editor to make the first act hum with the verve, vitality and juice offered in the second act.

Like “Wicked,” which grew out of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Starcatcher” takes its cue from a classic text, specifically J.M. Barrie’s fantasy about a boy who never grows up. The show offers a fantastical back story about how Peter Pan, Molly, Captain Hook and the others came to be, and how Peter Pan developed his aversion to the adult world.

Set in the 19th century during Queen Victoria’s reign, “Starcatcher” involves sailing ships, a trunk full of treasure, pirates, magic and an island of aggrieved people once sold into British slavery. This is the first local staging of the Tony-winning work, which played Minneapolis in 2014 on a national tour.

The stage at the Ritz is chock-full of things seemingly rescued from a demolished Victorian home. That deconstructionist style is present not only in Sass’ set design, which includes the innards of a piano as well as sundry musical instruments, but also in Sonya Berlovitz’s seemingly slapdash costumes. These elements ground the play in a simple world where anything is possible.

Tyler Michaels, who played Peter Pan to acclaim at Children’s Theatre in 2014, plays the adult-averse Boy. He offers innocence and magic in a staging that combines English music hall with vaudeville. Using simple props and puppetry as they make inventive sounds, members of the acting ensemble hook our imagination.

Pearce Bunting hams it up as the malaprop-prone, scenery-chewing pirate captain Black Stache while Megan Burns gives 13-year-old Molly precociousness and power. She and Andre Shoals, who plays Molly’s father, the ship captain Lord Aster, have one of the funniest scenes in the play when they communicate in Norse code — a Viking antecedent to Morse code that Aster has taught his daughter. (He’s also taught her Dodo and Porpoise.)

Other notables include Adam Qualls as Smee, Black Stache’s bumbling first mate; Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow as orphans Prentiss and Ted; James Rodriguez as scary Slank, and Craig Johnson, whose chaste Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s caretaker, is a sight to behold as she draws roars of laughter in a show full of joy.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a silly, boisterous good time

David and Chelsea BerglundHowWasTheShow.com

February 6th, 2017

Theater Latte Da has now certainly solidified itself as one of the best companies in the Twin Cities, especially for the production of musicals. It should come as no surprise then that their latest offering, Peter and the Starcatcher, is decidedly delightful. More a “play with music” than a full-blown opus, the show, written by Rick Elice, is a bit of a trifle, albeit one bursting with creative energy. It gives audiences an origin story to a favorite childhood tale about the boy who never grows up and his swashbuckling nemesis.

The story centers on Molly Aster, a thirteen-year-old know-it-all lacking in friends, who is ½ of the 6 ½ “Starcatchers” in the world. She apprentices in this profession with her father Lord Leonard Aster, and together they must fulfill a secret mission from Queen Victoria to transport a chest of “star stuff”—dust made of the remnants of falling stars that gives those who touch it immense power to fulfill their wildest dreams—to a remote island for destruction.

En route, Molly encounters Peter, a stowaway orphan bound to become snake food, who is accompanied by two similarly ill-fated youth, and the two strike up a friendship. When Lord Aster’s ship is attacked by pirates, including the aptly named Black Stache and his first mate Smee, Molly enlists Peter and the other orphan boys to save the day.

In its original Broadway iteration, many of the twelve actors played multiple characters, and director Joel Sass has whittled this down even further to a uniformly excellent cast of just nine actors. There is not a weak link in the bunch, which is led by Tyler Michaels, who lends his clear voice to the proceedings and communicates the Boy’s journey to becoming Peter Pan with expressive physicality. Pearce Bunting hilariously relishes every line of cackling wordplay as Black Stache, Megan Burns is both delightfully naïve and thoughtful as Molly, Andre Shoals deliciously steps into the role of island Fighting Prawn, and Craig Johnson as Molly’s nanny Betty Bumbrake, beguilingly babbles alliterations on her way to her own rollicking romance. Ricardo Beaird, Adam Qualls, James Rodriguez, and Silas Sellnow also provide uniquely endearing characterizations, but we only have so many words!

Perhaps, however, the most impressive feat of this cast is their chemistry as an ensemble. The madcap nature of the show demands a rapid succession of lines in continuous rhythms and they nail it, delivering a high-wire act of carefully staged movement and interplay.

Sass also serves as scenic designer, channeling vaudeville and using a number of found objects to create a fun, highly kinetic atmosphere that mirrors the ragtag adventures of Peter’s characters. Each boisterous note of Wayne Barker’s music is enhanced by Denise Prosek’s music direction, and Marcus Dilliard’s lighting design expertly accentuates the play’s many moods and goofy asides.

If there’s anything to complain about, it’s the script itself, which is admirably absurd, yet fairly shallow. It also is a bit bogged down in detail, especially in its first few scenes establishing its complicated plot schemes. But no matter, it’s pleasantly punny and features such silliness as somewhat masculine mermaids and Italian-food word spouting island natives. It’s an escapist antidote to the current news cycle and allows its audiences to find catharsis in wild, non-stop grins as they remember that we were all young dreamers once.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Jill SchaferCherry and Spoon

February 5th, 2017

The 2012 Broadway play with music Peter and the Starcatcher is not your typical Broadway musical, or rather, play. I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production and the subsequent Broadway tour, and was charmed by the innovative storytelling. I don't know how long it's been available for regional production, but I'm so glad Theater Latte Da snapped it up quickly. It's a perfect piece for the company whose motto is "we don't do musical theater, we do theater musically." And innovatively, and smartly, and brilliantly. With director Joel Sass making his Latte Da debut and a fantastic and diverse ensemble of nine actors (slightly smaller than the 12-person ensemble used on Broadway), this Peter and the Starcatcher is so charming and clever and inventive, just sheer delight from start to finish.

Peter and the Starcatcher is based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a prequel to the Peter Pan story with which we're all familiar. Much of the story is explained to us in narration by the ensemble. The title character is an unnamed and unloved orphan who's sold into slavery along with two other boys. They're being transported on the ship Neverland, captained by Slank and his rough and rowdy crew. Also on board are 13-year-old Molly and her nurse, Mrs. Bumbrake. Molly's father, the well-to-do and important Lord Aster, has entrusted her to the captain while he travels on a more dangerous route aboard the Wasp, on a mission for the queen. He's transporting a trunk of the mysterious "starstuff" that unbeknownst to him has been swapped with a similar trunk of worthless sand by the devious Captain Slank. Aster's ship is overtaken by pirates, namely the dastardly Black Stache and his sidekick Smee, and much hijinks and hilarity ensue as the pirates try to get the treasure and Molly and the boys try to save it and her father. The action continues in the second act as they all land on a colorful tropical island. It's a sweet and engaging story with a heroine and a hero to root for, clever puns and alliterations mixed with modern references, and a theme of home and friendship and belonging, as the unnamed boy becomes the legend that is Peter Pan.*

This truly is an ensemble in the best sense of the word, with all nine actors playing multiple parts and taking equal turns in the storytelling. Each one of them is completely invested in the playful nature of the storytelling, and they really work and play beautifully together. You could spend the entire show just watching any one of the actors, and be thoroughly entertained.

In a serendipitous (and perhaps intentional) twist of casting, Tyler Michaels reprises his role as Peter Pan, whom he played in the Children's Theatre's marvelous production a few years ago. But this is a very different Peter, a broken and hurting Peter who only wants love and a family, two things he's lived without his whole life. It's really fun to watch Tyler in that transformation from lost boy to hero, even striking the familiar hands-on-hips pose as he comes into his own. Tyler always imbues his characters with a specific physicality, and the nimble boy Peter is a perfect showcase for his unique talents.

But Tyler is by no means the only star in the show, in fact they're all stars, none less so than Megan Burns, who is perfectly delightful as our spunky heroine Molly. She just shines from the stage, with a natural charm and great energy as she plays this wonderful role model of a young woman who's smart, determined, kind, and knows how to get things done.

This wonderful ensemble also includes Ricardo Beaird and Silas Sellnow as the adorably boyish orphans; Pearce Bunting, hamming it up deliciously as the pirate Black Stache; Adam Qualls as two different but equally hilarious characters; Andre Shoals as Molly's kind and distinguished father and the leader of the island people; James Rodriguez as the conniving Captain Slank; and last but not least, the endlessly watchable Craig Johnson as the stern and loving Nanny Bumbrake and a wise mermaid.

The music is integrated organically into the script, and is often sung a capella or with minimal accompaniment by the cast beating on various objects on the set, or Silas Sellnow on various stringed instruments. On a few songs an offstage piano can be heard, presumably played by Latte Da's resident Music Director Denise Prosek. Because the music is woven seamlessly and sparingly into the story, there are no annoying applause breaks to interfere with the spell being cast.

As he often does at the Jungle, director Joel Sass has also designed the set, making for a beautiful cohesion in the production. The proscenium arch is decorated with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam (I think I recognized a few pieces from Joel's equally inventive Great Expectations at Park Square last year), while the trunks, a ladder, and the frame of a tiny room are constantly moved on and off the stage with intricate and perfectly executed choreography. Unlike the Broadway production, in which the second act looked markedly different from the first, the island set is mostly the same as the ship set, but with a tropical blue-green color projected on the backdrop (lighting design by Marcus Dilliard). Sonya Berlovitz's shabby chic costumes complete the look of the design.

Theater Latte Da is not doing a "Broadway Re-imagined" project this year, but Peter and the Starcatcher fills that hole. It was already re-imagined on Broadway, meaning the kind of innovative low-tech physical theater style of storytelling rarely seen on Broadway. This makes it the perfect Broadway show for Latte Da to put their unique spin on, and the smaller theater and smaller cast really suits the piece and offers even more opportunities for creativity, which this terrific cast and creative team have capitalized on perfectly.

Peter and the Starcatcher continues through February 26 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. It's a thrill for children of all ages, even those of us devoid of starstuff who have been forced to grow up.

*Plot summary adapted from what I wrote about the Broadway tour.

Theater review: Musical ‘Starcatcher’ shoots for the sky, and will hook you

Chris HewittPioneer Press

February 5th, 2017

I’ve seen preschools full of toddlers that didn’t have as much energy as the cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Theater Latte Da.

The nine actors in the cast whiz from role to role in the show, which doesn’t have quite enough songs to be called a musical but has too many to be called a straight play.

Actually, “Peter” takes the form of an English music-hall show that makes lowbrow humor highly entertaining, deftly blending bawdy digressions, raucous jokes, outrageous anachronisms and relentless puns (“You made your bed, Pan”) into an evening of frothy fun.

Regularly busting through the fourth wall — which seems to be contagious, since they’re doing the same thing over at the Guthrie’s “The Royal Family” — the actors are members of a troupe in Victorian England who share with us a story that gradually begins to acquire familiar characters and situations.

An origins story, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is to “Peter Pan” as “Wicked” is to “The Wizard of Oz,” a fairy tale that purports to show us how another fairy tale — and beloved characters such as Peter Pan, Wendy and Captain Cook — came into being.

It’s meant to be imaginative and homespun, which means “Peter and the Starcatcher” fits perfectly in Latte Da’s cozy Ritz Theater.

Director/designer Joel Sass greets us with a gorgeously organic-looking false proscenium over a set that will be used to suggest many different places but always reveals its humble origins in ropes, wooden planks, ladders, hunks of vine and pieces of picture frames. The props, too, are imaginative, with the cast using nothing more elaborate than a whistle to suggest various animals, waves and foreign tongues.

There is wonder and magic in “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Befitting the broad material, Sass seems to have encouraged the actors to make their performances as out-sized as possible and that mostly works, with Tyler Michaels’ sweet-natured boy as the grave center of the piece.

The show asks a lot of its performers, who must summon that wonder and magic from within themselves and, on opening night, I suspect not all of the actors had reached the peaks they’ll be hitting a few performances into the “Peter” run.

But some — Michaels, the wryly amusing Andre Shoals and the gut-busting Craig Johnson — are there already. Johnson confidently morphs from a gung-ho nanny to a world-weary mermaid, among many other characters, and he’s hilarious as all of them.

If the rest of the cast catches up, this could be the sort of show where you can’t stop laughing. This occasionally airborne production is so clearly headed in the right direction that I believe it can fly.

“PETER AND THE STARCATCHER”

  • When: Through Feb. 26
  • Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
  • Tickets: $48-$35, 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com
  • Capsule: It’ll hook you.

Review: A Christmas Carole Peterson

Arthur DormanTalkin' Broadway

December 6, 2016

Carole Peterson is an irrepressibly positive woman who finds the good in everyone and every situation, and makes darn sure that everyone in her family does the same. At least, that is the image Tod Peterson creates of his mother in A Christmas Carole Peterson. With Peter Rothstein, Peterson assembled this memoir of his mother's role as ringmaster of the family Christmas at their home in Mankato, Minnesota. The show, which blends Tod's narration with songs performed by three singers, or "Carolettes", was first mounted in 2000 by Theater Latté Da, and returned as a much loved holiday offering through 2008. After an eight year hiatus, Tod has brought his Mom back to delight old friends and fans, and give new audiences a chance to get in on the fun.

Tod Peterson appears as himself, but at times impersonates his mother Carole as well. The other family members—Tod's father, older brother, and two younger sisters—mainly are present by way of Tod's account of holidays gone by. Using the classic family Christmas letter, accounting for the highlights of each family member's year gone by, read by Tod in his Carole Peterson impersonation, we are able to mark the passage of years. In the first letter, Carole announces the arrival of baby Tod in 1958. Anyone familiar with these holiday missives (and who is not?) will smile broadly at the insistently upbeat news, in which each child has spent the past year developing one of their many interests to great success. Not bragging—at least not intentionally—but wanting to share the pride and joy their children give with their extended family and friends. No need for pesky details of struggles or disappointments.

Tod shares his journey, through the loving eyes of his mother, from his first acting role as one of Ebenezer Scrooge's childhood classmates in a community theater Christmas Carol, to his childhood best friend Maura Maisel, and his role as the family "entertainer," his suspicions over the truth about Santa Clause and disappointment in the church, especially in relation to his identity as a gay man, and his early adult efforts to find success in his acting career and in love. Carole always sought a way to put a happy spin on his hardships, no matter how much that grated on Tod.

The show is a fast-moving 85 minutes, with an intermission, with the Carolettes—performed by Ryan Lee, Sara Ochs and Dominque Wooten—entering after each episode of Tod's narration with a song that suits the Peterson saga. When the family is temporarily living in Hawaii, we are treated to "Mele Kalikamaka" and "Christmas Island." To celebrate Carole's job at the International Students Office of Mankato State University, we are feted with "Feliz Navidad." A particularly droll sequence depicts the Peterson family's annual caroling, singing a song with each of their neighbors—including an African American, a Japanese, and a Jewish family—in mind. There is also a tremendous "Partridge Family" send-up, going back to days of yore when Tod imagined himself David Cassidy and his friend Maura was Susan Dey. Bring on the tambourines!

The Carolettes, each a singer-actor, also perform, as soloists, songs that reflect on Tod's feelings, especially after leaving his childhood home in pursuit of his own home as an adult, songs that express longing, tenderness and hope. These include beautiful renditions of "Please Come Home for Christmas" sung by Dominque Wooten, "River" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" sung by Ryan Lee, and "Christmas Eve" sung by Sara Ochs. Ms. Ochs also performs a comically manic number written by Peterson, "Christmas Vacation," that rails against the holiday hubbub. Tod himself sings "Our First Christmas," which tenderly recollects sharing the holidays with a new love. Adding mightily to the entire piece is music director Denise Prosek, on stage throughout, on piano.

Peter Rothstein clearly has tremendous affinity for this piece, and his direction maintains the show's affection for the people and times it portrays. He puts the cast through good-humored paces as they perform some of the campier musical numbers, while bringing out the heart in the more reflective songs. Michael Hoover's setting resembles a late 1950s department store salon, decked out for the holidays with wreaths, trees and greenery. Rich Hamson's costumes have the players tastefully dressed in holiday colors (nothing garish), and Mary Shabatura's lighting helps to create the various feelings emitted from Tod's reminiscence.

A Christmas Carole Peterson is more than one man's good-humored fan letter to his mom, and to the benefits (albeit, not always easy to accept) of unconditional acceptance and love. For anyone who has a warm spot in their heart for the heightened feelings the holidays brought to their childhoods—whatever holidays those might be—the show offers a warm embrace that tells us, even if we can never return there, "there's no place like home for the holidays." We can laugh anew at the old frolics, shed a tear for what is no more, and feel the surging warmth of a past that lives still within us.

A Christmas Carole Petersoncontinues through December 23, 2016, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $48.00. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterlatteda.com.

Written by: Tod Peterson and Peter Rothstein; Director: Peter Rothstein Music Director: Denise Prosek; Set Design: Michael Hoover; Costume Design: Rich Hamson; Lighting Design: Mary Shabatura; Sound Design and Engineer: Kevin Springer; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Technical Director: Stein Rosburg; Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Assistant Director: Emily England; Assistant Stage Manager: April Harding.

Cast: Ryan Lee (Carolette), Sara Ochs (Carolette), Tod Peterson (himself), Dominque Wooten (Carolette)

Twin Cities holiday staple ‘A Christmas Carole Petersen’ returns after 8-year hiatus

Dominic P. PapatolaPioneer Press

December 5, 2016

Creating a holiday show can be tricky business. It can’t run too hot or too cold. It can’t be too hard or too soft. It can’t feel too big or too small. Bringing back “A Christmas Carole Petersen” after an eight-year hiatus, Theater Latte Da has summoned an artistic Goldilocks and gotten things just right.

“Carole,” a holiday staple for Latte Da in the early 2000s, is Tod Petersen’s more-or-less true-to-life story about living through the holiday season as he was growing up in southern Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s. Petersen channels his entire family and much of his neighborhood, but most of his reminiscences center on his mother, whose name gives the play its title.

Purse-lipped, proper and adorably clueless (particularly when discussing the Guthrie Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickenson, featuring an appearance by the ghost of Bob Marley that scared the liver and lights out of her), it’s Carole and her annual holiday letters that frame the story and serve as segues to the musical interludes by Ryan Lee, Sara Ochs and Dominique Wooten.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments — the Petersens’ caroling tour through their neighborhood — “the only ethnically diverse block in Mankato” chief among them.

But it’s not all sweetness and light. “A Christmas Carole Petersen” is, among other things, a coming-of-age story, and Petersen, working with co-creator and director Peter Rothstein, deftly blends in other flavors as well — the bittersweet tang of Christmas away from familiar surroundings, the dilute savor of a faded faith, the nourishing warmth of finding a place that feels like home.

The dozen and a half songs arranged and accompanied on piano by Denise Prosek are deft as well. One might quibble with the song assignments — Wooten’s classically trained tenor is an unorthodox pairing with the bluesy “Please Come Home for Christmas” and Lee reaches for some notes in Joni Mitchell’s high, airy “River” — but the three vocalists are a game and rangy bunch, singing and playing a slew of instruments from flute and accordion to maracas and the ukulele.

Petersen might be little more ample and a little less flexible than he was a decade back, but hasn’t lost a step as a storyteller. His imitation of his mom lovingly borders on ditsy without quite becoming a caricature. And when he’s telling his own more grown-up tales of some less-than-joyful Christmases, he’s clear-eyed and sincere without being self-pitying.

The show was periodically refreshed throughout its early years, and while much is familiar, there are some tweaks in this revival as well. The show runs about 100 minutes including intermission, and though it seldom feels padded, the second act hits what feel like a couple natural ending points — an up-tempo Partridge Family-esque tune, Och’s wistful rendering of Julie Gold’s “Christmas Eve” — but continues to motor through another couple stories and songs before finally arriving at a cozy end.

That’s a bother, but a minor one. Petersen and his pals aren’t like the Christmas party guests who stay too long. If anything, you might wish they’d stick around just a little longer.

IF YOU GO

What: “A Christmas Carole Petersen,” produced by Theater Latte Da When: Through Dec. 23 Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis Tickets: $45-$35 Information: 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com Capsule: An erstwhile Twin Cities holiday theater tradition makes a welcome return.