Theater year in review, part two: More ups and downs from 2013

Categories: Theater
Rude Mechs.jpeg
Image courtesy the Rude Mechanicals
The Method Gun played at the 2013 Out There festival at the Walker Art Center.
A few more thoughts about the year in theater:

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While it may not have the biggest impact on city theatergoers, the change in ownership at the Old Log Theatre certainly marked a changing of the guard. Don Stolz had been involved with the theater for more than 70 years and had placed an indelible stamp on local theater.

How the new owners and revived theatrical purpose will play out is yet to be seen, but a distinct chapter in local theater history has closed, even if Stolz is still out there producing work.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival hit an anniversary year with a ton of energy, producing another strong selling lineup that featured plenty of shows worth checking out, such as hits like Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Anne Frank and Helen Keller Freed the Slaves, and  Hickory Minimum Security Correctional Facility Presents: Hoosiers: The State Adaptation. The energy will be a bit different in 2014, as longtime director Robin Gillette has stepped aside.

The Twin Cities sport dozens of professional theaters, all fighting for attention throughout the year. That doesn't mean that there aren't occasional visiting performances that make an impact. Here is a trio of touring shows that made a great impression.

The Taming of the Shrew is always a difficult play to pull off, as attitudes about marriage and proper roles for the genders have shifted enough to make the treatment of Kate awful and alien. England's Propeller followed the implications to the end, turning the final moments of the play into a complete horror show, one that was only slightly tempered by the all-male cast.

Ten Thousand Things gave us A Streetcar Named Desire with just the four principal characters. The Rude Mechanicals gave us The Method Gun, centered on a production of the play with only the secondary characters, as part of Out There 25 at the Walker Art Center. The absurdist look at acting preparation gone horribly wrong turned into a thrilling final 10 minutes as we got to see the fruit of all the labors.

The Book of Mormon arrived on tour with plenty of buzz. The hype was certainly worth it as the show is a bawdy take on the traditional Broadway musical that is offensive at every turn, but -- like the best comics -- does it in a way to make everyone feel included instead of singled out. That fact that the music is catchy doesn't hurt, either.

The Worst:

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Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp
Really, this production of As You Like It was no fun at all.
And while I have spent a lot of time talking about the year's best shows, not all productions are created equal. Here are some of the worst times I had at the theater in 2013.

Pride and Prejudice and The Primrose Path The Guthrie Theater

A lot has been made about the Guthrie's budget shortfall in the last year, but it is hard to pin that completely to quality. One of these shows was a hit, the other not. Both were weak-kneed adaptations that had little reason to exist. 

Mary T. and Lizzy K. Park Square Theatre

Mary Todd Lincoln and Lizzy Keckly had a fascinating relationship. This dull play did little to illuminate it. When the assassination of a president can't generate any tension, you know your show has gone terribly wrong.

This Side of Paradise History Theatre

An aimless, formless musical about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald never got off the ground as it wandered around the lives of the two main characters without ever really trying to get inside.

Deathtrap The Jungle Theater

Somehow a classic script, talented cast, and reliable director managed to combine for a completely uninteresting murder mystery. Even the act-one close -- one of the great shocks in modern theater -- was just a meh.

As You Like It The Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie teamed up with the Acting Company to produce 2013's worst show. It felt like the cast had taken sleep aids before the show, as the energy on stage would have had trouble powering a 10-watt light bulb. Mumblecore is annoying enough in film. Put it onstage and you have the ruination of one of Shakespeare's most delightful plays.


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