Lift the curtain on a full cast of theater productions this fall

By Lianna Matt

Theater in Minneapolis and St. Paul comes in many forms. It comes from the touring Broadway shows at Hennepin Theatre Trust's Orpheum Theatre. It comes from local mainstay talent in the Guthrie Theater's plays or the Ordway's musicals. And it comes from the hearts of the many independent theater companies and venues that put on great works out of pure passion. Whenever you're visiting Minnesota this fall, make sure to check out what's playing in one of our dozens of theater venues! Classics like “Romeo and Juliet” are hitting the stage as well as contemporary pieces like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” Minnesota premieres and world premieres are coming to life, and comedies, dramas, commentaries and romances are ready to take the stage for your enjoyment.

Take a look at our show spotlights each month and a list of some of the performances happening in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Nether at The Jungle

Photo courtesy of Jungle Theater

“The Nether” at Jungle Theater

(Sept. 16-Oct. 15)

Does virtual reality exist with the same rules as the “real” world? In Jennifer Haley’s 2012 play, a crime and sci-fi thriller called “The Nether,” there is no clear answer.

In “The Nether,” there are two settings. One is a cyberspace called The Hideaway where a dark form of online entertainment is taking place, and the other is an interrogation room in the real world where a detective tries to find the truth within a labyrinth of desires, dangerous secrets, and questions of reality and rights.

While some productions of “The Nether” have made these settings lush with props, director Casey Stangl and her team at Jungle Theater have kept it suggestive but alluring; you might just find that The Hideaway is more comforting than the real world. Although technology is a familiar theme in dystopian plots, what Stangl loves about the play is that both the ideas it tangles with and the characters it creates are sincere and in balance with the other.

“The play presents all of these questions and answers but doesn’t come down on one side or the other of the debate,” says Stangl. “I think she’s dealing with human frailty and human relationship and desire in a way that’s really quite beautiful. … Because [Haley]’s so beautifully drawn these characters, where they feel like real flesh human beings, you can’t help but continue to believe in the power of connection and the power of our relationships with each other.”

Robert Dorfman in Balloonacy at The Children's Theatre, photo by Dan Norman

Photo by Dan Norman

“Balloonacy” at Children's Theatre Co.

(Oct. 3-Nov. 12)

If there’s any balloon story that’s purer than Pixar’s “Up,” it’s this one; it doesn’t even need words. “Balloonacy” is the 45-minute story of an old man spending his birthday alone—until a balloon drifts in. Through clowning, sound effects and music, a surprising story of one man learning how to laugh, play and love again makes the perfect fit for families with children around preschool age.

The show’s only cast member, Robert Dorfman—“The balloon doesn’t get a billing,” he jokes—has a wide portfolio of performances. He’s been a performer on Broadway’s “The Lion King,” a clown for the Wrigley Brothers and the Flying Karamazov Brothers, and an actor in TV shows including “L.A. Law,” not to mention his stints at the Guthrie Theater. Still, there’s something special about doing “Balloonacy,” which he first performed when Children’s Theatre Co. commissioned Barry Kornhauser to write it in 2012.

At the show, there are no adults allowed up front. It’s a children-only zone, where they can sit in front of the stage or walk up to the set, where they can shout and laugh and react without being shushed. If children want to sit in the back with their adult counterparts, they’re welcome to; it’s all about making the theater experience for them.

“Not only is it a great piece for kids, but it’s great for adults to experience it in communion with kids,” says Dorfman. “Kids that age—they don’t edit. They believe in what they see. It’s right before they become skeptical, and to see that sort of pure sense in a play, it just—it reminds me of things I’ve long forgot as an adult.”

Dana Sohm captures Lyric Opera of Kansas City's production of The Marriage of FIgaro

Photo by Dana Sohm for Lyric Opera of Kansas City

“The Marriage of Figaro” at Minnesota Opera

(Nov. 11-19)

If you’ve never been to the opera before, what better way to start with what some people have called “the perfect opera”? “The Marriage of Figaro,” Mozart’s 1786 masterpiece, is a blend of drama, comedy, romance and adventure where love triangles, old debts and political upheaval run wild.

Minnesota Opera president and general director Ryan Taylor likens the creation of Minnesota Opera’s 55th season to a balanced meal—just like you have appetizers, entrees, and sweet finishes, here you have a light comedy (“Don Pasquale”) to start, a strong contemporary work halfway through to keep the audience surprised (“Dead Man Walking”), and a grand, sweeping piece of passion (“Thais”). As the second show of the season, “The Marriage of Figaro” nicely slides in as a grounding piece of the whole menu. It’s a classic for those already entrenched in opera, and it’s a beautiful introduction into the rich world for those uninitiated. (You might even know some of the melodies: They've been in pop culture, drifting through shows like Looney Tunes cartoons and “Shawshank Redemption.”)

The Minnesota Opera may be bringing in historic garments and settings for “The Marriage of Figaro,” but Taylor says the opera is played out in a modern way. “You get this idea that these people are sort of trapped in these traditional costumes and traditional roles that you might assume are stereotypical, but because it’s such a key point in political history [right before the French Revolution], they’re starting to really break those down,” he says.

While people can read the synopsis of the opera before they go, Taylor is an advocate for seeing the story unfold without any premonitions. After all, English subtitles are continuously provided above the stage, and the singers’ performances draw you into the world they’ve created in a way that doesn’t need words.

“There are all sorts of things to engage and tease you as you watch one of these shows,” Taylor says. The set, the sound, the story—everything weaves together. “In a way, it’s the biggest multimedia experience you can have that’s not wired.”


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