1 Chilean actress Paulina Garcia's performance in "Gloria" is simply flabbergasting. Playing a 58-year-old divorcée whose adventurous streak is at odds with her drab life, Garcia taps into feelings rarely seen onscreen. She's at once thrillingly spunky and resigned to the difficulty of high-mileage models such as herself finding a loving relationship. Her story is kind of sad but also deeply funny, blending tones that would be simplified out of existence in a U.S. studio film.
2 There isn't a trombone (much less 76) or a slick marching band to be found in the small production of "The Music Man" at Open Book in Minneapolis. There is a con man (Luverne Seifert) who exhausts his appetite for dishonesty, and a too-earnest woman (Aimee Bryant) who discovers the power of belief and imagination. Ten Thousand Things director Lear deBessonet's eight-person cast dots each character with quirky and gawky humor. Rarely has this show seemed so generously poignant, so sentimentally honest. tenthousandthings.org
3 The best country songwriter in Minnesota, Erik Koskinen doesn't sing about tailgating, partying with babes and driving down dirt roads. He's more old school, with a focus on working-class themes, whether it's about the effects of oil in "Boomtown," the calling of a musician in "Six Pack of Beer and a Pack of Cigarettes" or the challenges of being unemployed on Independence Day in "Slow Burn." Those tunes are on his splendid second album, "America Theatre," a collection that would make Merle Haggard proud.
4 With short, terse sentences and lots of dramatic sentence fragments, Michael Hainey writes his bestselling memoir, "After Visiting Friends" (now out in paperback), in the tone of a hardboiled mystery. Hainey's father, a copy editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, dropped dead late one night after work in 1970 when Michael was only 4. As an adult, journalist Hainey began wondering about where his dad had been that night. His obituary said only that he had died "while visiting friends." So Hainey began researching this mysterious death — a journey that hit roadblock after roadblock, as none of the father's friends or colleagues seemed to have any answers — at least none they were willing to give.
5 Matt Rein's performance makes the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's production of Jason Robert Brown's clever musical "The Last Five Years" worth seeing. Rein pours his hopes, hurts and longings into all his numbers. He sells his songs not simply with his rich vocals, but with his whole being — from animated hands and fleet feet to rubbery expressions and sensitive eyes. The musical tells the story of the relationship between an aspiring writer and an aspiring actress, but the show is all about Rein's triumphant performance. www.mn jewishtheatre.org.