Minneapolis/St. Paul 2018/19 Season In Review by Laurie Flanigan Hegge
File under “Why I Love Living in Minnesota”: a most-certainly incomplete recap of DG member productions of new work in the Twin Cities this past season. (And this is just the tip of the iceberg.)
Two theatres deftly responded to our current political climate in real time. Minneapolis’ Mixed Blood Theater brought us Prescient Harbingers, three full-length plays by African American provocateurs, described as “three plays glued together by an African American male prism, through contrast, and via Second Amendment violations,” performed in rotating rep: Gloria, by DG member Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Hooded or Being Black for Dummies by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, and Hype Man, a break beat play by DG member Idris Goodwin. Nearby Pillsbury House Theatre commissioned five short plays from local playwrights Cristina Florencia Castro, Casey Llewellyn, Oya Mae Duchess-Davis, DG member Philana Omorotionmwan, and Aamera Siddiqui “on the state of women in the current political climate” with She Persists: The Great Divide III, a theatrical experience “by, for, and about women” featuring all-women playwrights, actresses and production staff.
Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen, a “champion for developing and directing new work,” has more than made her mark at The Jungle Theater since her arrival in 2015, where she created JungleWrites, an initiative that teaches playwriting and offers professional theatre mentorship to teenage girls. In 2018 she was named “Artist of the Year” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. This past season at the Jungle premiered two commissions from DG members: Christmas at Pemberly by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, and Little Women by Kate Hamill which also featured original music by composer Robert Elhai. And speaking of Robert, his new musical Dirty Business (for which I wrote the book and lyrics) is currently playing at the History Theatre in St. Paul, part of a three-play “HERstory” celebration of women’s voices, which also features Sisters of Peace, a play about the McDonald sisters (four real-life sisters who joined the Catholic sisterhood and devoted their lives to peace activism) by Doris Baizley and Stewardess!, a new play about union activist and Northwest Orient Airlines stewardess Mary Pat Laffey by Kira Obolensky. (BTW: Kira just celebrated ten years as the playwright-in-residence at Ten Thousand Things. Congrats Kira, we celebrate you!)
Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul brought the world premiere of Ifa Bayeza’s Benevolence, the second play in Bayeza’s trilogy about Emmett Till. Playwright Harrison David Rivers, always busy in the Twin Cities, is in rehearsal for his new musical collaboration with Jelloslave cellists Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney premiering at Theatre Latté Da, To Let Go and Fall, “a poignant world premiere about young love and old friends.” And composer/playwright Jeremiah Gamble and his collaborator and wife Vanessa premiered Life Goes On, a new musical about “grief, loss, and somehow finding the strength to move on” at ArtHouse North in St. Paul with Bucket Brigade, the Gambles’ company that performs original work.
Playwright Greta Grosh premiered The Church Basement Ladies in You Smell Barn, the seventh in the series of Church Basement Ladies musicals, at the Ames Black Box Theater in Burnsville, MN with Troupe America. Playwright Alan Berks has been very busy with story circles and outreach for multiple projects (including the Incarceration Play Project) with Wonderlust Productions, which most recently presented the Normandale Play Project.
And this past season, we saw the world premiere of Scott Dixon’s wonderful play Dracula: Prince of Blood at Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minnesota. You may have met Scott in my March 2018 report, and you may have seen the news that he passed away in November. Scott requested that when he passed we not use any variation of the phrase “Scott lost his battle with cancer.” In his words, “I didn’t lose. I won – by moving beyond where cancer can hurt me. I’m soulachingly sad that I have to leave you all in order to accomplish this, but apparently it must be.” I’m just so glad I had a chance to see his new play last fall. It’s damn good.