RP: So, Graydon, we’re only halfway through the calendar and yet it feels like there has been a full season’s worth of shows.
Penumbra Theatre came back from its near-death financial challenges with its first production in a year in its own space: a stylish and deftly executed “Spunk.” I still see Austene Van popping her body on drumbeats as a hardworking wife, T. Mychael Rambo and Mikell Sapp winding up and stretching out in their zoot-suited gigolo strut, and Dennis Spears and Jevetta Steele injecting some gritty soul into these stories of rural transplants to the big city. “Spunk” also served as a nice intro for Keith Downing, who showed his range as both an abusive husband and a considerate romantic hero. What shows stand out for you?
GR: “Spunk” was the perfect return for Penumbra. “Courting Harry” was an emblematic show for another St. Paul stage — the History Theatre. Clyde Lund and Nat Fuller brought to life the story of jurists Harry Blackmun and Warren Burger. History rarely has been this interesting. “Clybourne Park” took on a richer dimension in Lisa Peterson’s production at the Guthrie. Peterson went beneath the race-baiting jokes to find more meaning about neighborhoods. A great, image-rich show was “She She Pop” at the Walker — really powerful in exploring the generational divide.
RP: Solo shows can sometimes leave you thinking, “Well, they saved some money on that one.” Yet we’ve had two noteworthy one-actor productions so far this year. Stephen Yoakam was commanding in “An Iliad.” And I found John Catron absorbing in Frank Theatre’s “Misterman.”
GR: “Venus in Fur” had two characters, played by Peter Christian Hansen and Anna Sundberg — again, a small and potent reminder of theater’s power. “Out of the Pan” was small in terms of cast, but technically ambitious, with the sort of magic for which Dominique Serrand is known. Great performances by Steven Epp, Nathan Keepers and Christina Baldwin.
RP: The mid-sized Jungle is playing in the big leagues with John Command’s “Urinetown The Musical.” Bradley Greenwald is excellent as Officer Lockstock in a huge cast that also is a showcase for Kersten Rodau, Gary Briggle and Elisa Pluhar (who plays Little Sally).
GR: Mixed Blood also pushed itself in Caridad Svich’s “In the Time of the Butterflies,” a play about the heroic Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic. Director Jose Zayas wove technical expertise, fine performances and a fragrant story for a production that showed what theater alone is capable of. Look for actor Thallis Santesteban, who shined as the youngest sister, to become an important young face in local theater.
RP: Speaking of the new and exciting, Dark & Stormy Productions made a splash with only its second production, David Mamet’s “Speed-The-Plow.” Staged in a conference room in northeast Minneapolis, the show was a taut thrill ride starring company founder Sara Marsh and established actors Bill McCallum and Kris Nelson.
A pair of shows in Walker Art Center’s Out There series proved absorbing. “Ganesh vs the Third Reich,” performed by a company of mentally disabled Australians, was a provocative piece about the swastika, the creative process and the legitimacy of art. Performer Marlene Freitas had a memorable solo as Prince performing “Darling Nikki” in “Mimosa,” Trajal Harrell’s gender-bending mashup of vogueing and ’60s modern dance.
We often talk about spiritual qualities that we sometimes get in the theater. Sharon Bridgforth’s interactive ritual “River See” provoked an ineffable sense of healing and redemption at Pillsbury House.
GR: The Guthrie proscenium has had a good first half. In addition to “Clybourne,” Peter Rothstein staged an electric “Other Desert Cities” with Sally Wingert and David Anthony Brinkley. And while “Nice Fish” meandered too much, how great was it to see Mark Rylance creating something brand new for us? The biggest misfire was “The Primrose Path” on the thrust stage. So much talent was put together, and the result just didn’t get to the heart of Turgenev’s story.
RP: Joe Dowling did deliver a measured, luminous production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” “The Book of Mormon” was profanely funny. I found “War Horse” to be ingeniously affecting, especially since it makes you care more about the well-being of puppet horses than those of real people. And Peter Brosius’ “Alice in Wonderland” at the Children’s Theatre provided some magical fun.