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Jill Schafer - Page 4

Jill Schafer

A native Minnesotan, Jill is an enthusiastic theater-goer in the Twin Cities area and an advocate for local theater companies small and large. After becoming a Guthrie season subscriber in 2003, she found herself attending more and more theater, so decided to start an independent theater blog called Cherry and Spoon in 2010. With no background or training in theater (other than a few stints in the pit orchestra in high school), Jill writes from an audience perspective. Read more of Jill’s writing on



BWW Review: Gremlin Theatre Opens Their New St. Paul Performance Space with DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER - Escapist Entertainment Perfect for a Warm Summer Night
July 21, 2017

Good news friends, Gremlin Theatre is back with a new performance space in St. Paul! Four years after losing their space on University and Raymond, which also hosted other theater companies and the Minnesota Fringe Festival, they've opened a brand new space just a few blocks away on Vandalia. They are continuing to make improvements to the space that includes a spacious lobby and an intimate thrust stage, conveniently located near the Green Line, just off highways 94 and 280, and right next door to Lake Monster Brewery, whose libations can be brought into the theater. And there's also free parking! What more could you ask for from a theater space? Just one more thing, and that's great theater. The inaugural production at the new Gremlin fulfills that last requirement - the hilarious and tight comedy DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER. It's a really funny and fast-moving show with a fantastic cast, and a great way to christen this exciting new St. Paul theater space!

BWW Review: Girl Friday Productions Returns with their Biennial Production - the Smart, Funny, and Sobering IDIOT'S DELIGHT
July 11, 2017

IDIOT'S DELIGHT is one of those deceptive plays that makes you think it's a light and fun romp through the past, until you begin to see the seriousness behind the beautiful clothes and pretty music. WWI vet Robert E. Sherwood's play premiered in 1936 and is eerily prescient about the impending war in Europe. Or maybe not; maybe it was obvious at the time that the world was heading to another Great War, only 20 years after the first one. But even now, 80 years after it was written, the themes of nationalism, loyalty, changing borders, and a great sadness at the cost of war on all sides ring true. This one left me feeling a little depressed, but with much to contemplate, and also thoroughly entertained, as always, by Girl Friday Productions' biennial contribution to the #TCTheater world. Girl Friday specializes in 'larger scale American plays of exceptional literary merit that are less frequently produced today,' and IDIOT'S DELIGHT is indeed a delight, but one that is most certainly not for idiots.

BWW Review: Old Log Theatre's GHOST THE MUSICAL is Better than Broadway; the Smaller Cast and Fewer Magic Tricks Serve the Story Better
June 27, 2017

Old Log Theatre's contribution to the summer blockbuster musical is GHOST THE MUSICAL, based on the popular 1990 movie. It premiered on Broadway in 2012 and ran for only a few months, and when I saw the tour the following year I was not impressed. At the time I wrote, 'At its core, GHOST is a small intimate love story, but GHOST THE MUSICAL is a big splashy techno-heavy 'show,' in which the beauty of that story gets lost. The story would be better served with less tricks, a smaller cast, fewer showy songs, and a greater focus on what we really care about - the relationship between Molly and Sam.' I'm thrilled to report that Old Log has done just that. The score, which is quite good, the story, and the relationships between the characters are more the focus of the show, with lower tech effects that serve the story rather than drawing attention away from it. If you're looking for a satisfying summer musical experience, head out to Old Log Theatre, one of the oldest theaters in Minnesota, in lovely Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka.

BWW Review: The Jungle Theater's Production of the Off-Broadway Musical FLY BY NIGHT is an Infectious Retro-Folk-Pop-Rock Delight
June 21, 2017

A new original folk-rock musical? It's like FLY BY NIGHT was created and brought to the Jungle just for me. The rare bird that is the new original musical is my favorite thing in the world, and folk-rock/folk/Americana is my favorite genre of music. I was primed and ready to love this show, and love it I did. Charming and funny yet poignant, with a fantastic score played by greats from the local music scene, and a cast that couldn't be better - what's not to love?

BWW Review: Nilaja Sun's Beautiful One-Woman Show PIKE ST., on Tour at Pillsbury House Theatre, is Not to Be Missed!
June 8, 2017

Pillsbury House Theatre is hosting New York based theater artist Nilaja Sun's acclaimed one-woman show PIKE ST. for three weeks, and my Minnesota theater friends - this is an opportunity you don't want to miss. A native of the Lower East Side, Nilaja brings all the beauty, diversity, community, and difficulties of her neighborhood to life in a show so all-engrossing, it's a shock to the system to be returned to reality after 90 minutes. She tells one specific story of a family in a hurricane, playing all of the different characters, but it's so much more than one family's story. It's about returning war vets, the joys and frustrations of living in a close community, the joys and frustrations of caring for a child with special needs, family, love, loyalty, and New York City - 'the greatest city in the world.' PIKE ST., which Nilaja also wrote, is a remarkable piece, and hers is a remarkable performance.

BWW Review: Trademark Theater Debuts with THE BOY AND ROBIN HOOD, an Exciting, Engaging, Creative, and Bold New Take on an Old Tale
June 3, 2017

A third new theater company is making its #TCTheater debut this month, following a charming new original musical RAGTIME WOMEN by Theatre Elision and LITTLE WARS, a powerful story of women in their prime brought to us by Prime Productions. Now we have Trademark Theater, whose mission is to 'expand the breadth of original theatrical works born in Minnesota by creating, developing, and producing dynamic stage productions.' Their first creation is a new adaptation of an old story - Robin Hood. And it most definitely is original and dynamic. I saw a reading of it as part of Illusion Theater's 'Fresh Ink' series last year and was impressed with the storytelling and original music. But now, with the added elements of movement, costumes, set, lighting, and all of the theater magic, plus a super talented and energetic young cast, it's something truly exciting.

BWW Review: Artistry's WIT Takes the Audience on a Beautifully Painful Journey
May 16, 2017

I don't know where to begin with this one. Artistry's production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play WIT is simply devastating. But it's also funny, and smart, and philosophical, and enlightening. This is my first experience with the play, and I really can't think of anyone I'd rather see in the lead role than the incomparable Sally Wingert. She gives a masterful performance in what has got to be one of the juiciest roles in theater - a smart, educated, independent, confident woman who experiences life in a whole new way while approaching death from cancer. This professor who is an expert in the metaphysical poetry of John Donne has spent her life contemplating life, death, and the afterlife in theory, and has to rethink everything she believes when faced with the stark reality of it. It's a brilliantly written play given an excellent and interesting staging by Artistry, and Sally's performance is one not to be missed.

BWW Interview: Playwright/Lyricist Laurie Flanigan-Hegge Discusses SWEET LAND THE MUSICAL, Based on the Minnesota-Made Movie, Opening at History Theatre this Weekend
April 28, 2017

A (mostly) local team has been in the process of adapting the 2005 Minnesota-made movie SWEET LAND into a musical for years, and their hard work is finally coming to fruition when SWEET LAND, THE MUSICAL opens at the History Theatre this weekend. I've seen several readings of the work in progress, and I've been so pleased how the creators have held true to the beautiful heart of the movie while adding music that feels organic to the story and only serves to enhance the storytelling. One of the creators, Twin Cities theater artist Laurie Flanigan-Hegge, answered a few of my questions about SWEET LAND, THE MUSICAL, the development process of a new work, and the importance of supporting women playwrights and composers.

BWW Review: Mixed Blood Theatre's In-Your-Face New Play VIETGONE Beautifully Captures the Refugee Experience and Challenges the Audience's Perception of the Vietnam War
April 21, 2017

Another smart and funny new play fresh from a successful Off-Broadway run has landed in Minneapolis. In addition to Josh Tobiessen's hilarious and heart-breaking LONE STAR SPIRITS at the Jungle Theater, we also have Qui Nguyen's ambitious and genre-blending VIETGONE at Mixed Blood Theatre. The playwright tells the story of his parents meeting a Vietnamese refugee camp in 1975 Arkansas in an inventive and totally unique style. VIETGONE is part rap musical, part romantic comedy, part bawdy sex comedy, part war story, and all engrossing. It's in-your-face and squirm-inducing, but is utterly effective in communicating the refugee experience and making at least this audience member rethink their views on the Vietnam War and American involvement.

BWW Review: Jungle Theater's Hilarious and Heart-breaking LONE STAR SPIRITS Smartly Examines Small Town Life, Regrets, and Family
April 12, 2017

Y'all, Jungle Theater's LONE STAR SPIRITS got me feeling all the feels! Hilarious and heart-breaking, it's one of the best plays I've seen this year. Brought to us by wife/husband director/playwright team Sarah Rasmussen and Josh Tobiessen, it features crisply drawn characters beautifully brought to life by a brilliant five-person cast, an incredibly detailed and realistic set, family drama, a poignant exploration of small town life, ghosts, country music, and accidental gunshots. I was laughing throughout the show and wiping away tears at the end, which is pretty much my favorite kind of play. Friends, you'd be wise to get on down to the Jungle between now and May 7 to experience this practically perfect 90 minutes of theater.

BWW Review: Wayward Theatre Company and Mission Theatre Company Bring a Fun and Thrilling GHOST TRAIN to the Minnesota Transportation Museum
April 4, 2017

Wayward Theatre Company, the company that recently brought us an 'innovatively imagined and well executed' TARTUFFE at the James J. Hill House, is now partnering with Mission Theatre Company to bring us the deliciously fun and spooky GHOST TRAIN in another one of 19th century railroad millionaire James J. Hill's buildings. The Jackson Street Roundhouse was once a maintenance facility for the Great Northern Railway, and now houses the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Filled with old trains and displays about the long ago era of train travel, it's perhaps the coolest space in which I've ever experienced theater. Or maybe that's just my inner Sheldon Cooper talking. But there's no doubt that surrounded by all of this historic equipment and memorabilia, it's quite easy to be transported back to the 1920s by this comedy/melodrama/thriller play and its terrific cast and detailed design.

BWW Review: Open Eye Figure Theatre Re-Imagines Hans Christian Andersen's THE RED SHOES as a 20th Century Noir Thriller
March 7, 2017

You may be familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen story THE RED SHOES, in which a vain little girl with pretty red shoes is cursed so that her shoes will never stop dancing. But you may not recognize what the ingenious minds of Joel Sass and Kimberly Richardson have turned it into. Yes there are a few (hilarious) runaway dancing scenes, but their 80-minute show at Open Eye Figure Theatre is more 20 Century creepy noir thriller than 19th Century fairy tale. I'll let director Joel Sass describe it to you: 'Equally humorous and hair-raising, our adaptation of THE RED SHOES draws inspiration and influences from the vintage detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, case studies of amnesia and multiple personality, and black and white film noir movies of the 1940s. Like that cinematic genre, THE RED SHOES evokes a highly stylized landscape of convoluted mystery, subconscious manacle, fever dreams, and existential crisis.' My immediate thought at the end of the show was, 'how do people think of such things?' THE RED SHOES is something so curious and unique, odd and chilling, inventive and charming, it's thoroughly captivating from start to finish.

BWW Review: The Guthrie Theater's Production of the New Play WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT is Funny, Innovative, Relevant, and Shocking
February 28, 2017

The ending of WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT, now playing in the Guthrie's Dowling Studio, is unlike anything I've ever seen in theater. It left me shocked, confused, and a little traumatized, but mostly it left me incredibly moved. It's such a powerful and important piece, forcing us to look at the long-lasting effects of colonialism around the world, its parallels with slavery in America, and how difficult it is to talk about racism. But even though the show leaves on a heavy and intense note, it's also really funny and innovative and theater-y too. It fools you into thinking it's a fun look at actors in rehearsal and then sneaks in some serious issues that soon become almost more than one can bear. Fortunately the Guthrie's Level Nine initiative includes what they call Community Engagement Activities, which often means a post-show discussion with the cast or creative team or experts on the subject. Take advantage of this - it's a wonderful opportunity to decompress and process what you've just seen, and begin a conversation.

BWW Review: Ten Thousand Things' Signature Bare-Bones Staging Brings New Urgency and Clarity to the Classic FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
February 27, 2017

It never fails. Whenever I go to see a Ten Thousand Things show, the storytelling is so clear it's as if I'm truly seeing it for the first time, even if it's a piece I've seen one or many times before. In their signature bare bones theater style, they've cut out all the fluff from the beloved musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF to get right to the heart of the story. Even though I've seen the show twice in recent years, I've never been so caught up in and felt so deeply the story of one man's struggle with holding to his traditions, while still loving his family as they begin to change and grow out of those traditions. The brilliant Steve Epp makes Tevye so real and human, and along with the other eight members of this terrific ensemble playing multiple characters, makes the world of Anatevka palpably real and somehow modern, despite still being anchored in time and space. Because 50 years after it was written, this story about a family of refugees fleeing persecution and violence in their beloved homeland to find safety in America is as timely as ever.

BWW Review: Jomama Jones Brings Hope in a Troubled Time with BLACK LIGHT: A SOULFUL EMBRACE OF LOVE AND LIGHT, at Penumbra Theatre through This Weekend Only!
February 9, 2017

In the darkness of the theater, a soothing voice was heard saying 'what if I told you: we're going to be all right.' I exhaled deeply, as if I'd been holding my breath for the last two weeks. Because in my 43 years on this planet, there's never been a time when I've been less sure that 'we're going to be all right.' Jomama Jones in BLACK LIGHT: A SOULFUL EMBRACE OF LIFE AND LOVE was exactly the balm I needed at this moment in time. Telling stories, singing, and performing, she made me laugh, she brought tears to my eyes, she made me believe, at least for a little while, that there is a light at the end of this tunnel we've found ourselves in (or perhaps, put ourselves in). This BLACK LIGHT is shining through at St. Paul's Penumbra Theatre for a short time only, so don't miss your chance to experience what truly is 'a soulful embrace of life and love.'

BWW Review: 7th House Theater's Pop-Up Production of RHINOCEROS is Wholly Entertaining, Eerily Relevant, and Exactly the Kind of Art We Need
January 26, 2017

There have been various responses to the new presidency and the current political climate, including Facebook groups, letter writing and calling campaigns, petitions, and a nation-wide women's march. But what do artists do in response to injustice? They make art. Last weekend 7th House Theater opened a short run of what they call a 'pop up production' of the 1959 play RHINOCEROS, written by Eugene Ionesco as a response to the rise in Fascism in pre-WWII Europe. As company member David Darrow explained before the show, their new original musicals take about a year to plan, write, create, and produce, which makes it challenging to stay current. But with this piece, 7th House is presenting 'a specific work at a specific time in history.' After just ten days of rehearsal, they very intentionally opened on the night of the inauguration, a work presented in what David called 'a mostly sort of way.' While the staging is minimal and actors have scripts in their hands, Rhinoceros is a work that is wholly entertaining, eerily relevant, and exactly what we need right now.

BWW Review: Theatre In the Round's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE is a Well-Directed, -Acted, and -Designed Production of a Classic American Tragedy
January 17, 2017

If you're a fan of American theater classics, get yourself to Theatre in the Round in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. Their excellent production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge features strong performances from the whole cast (particularly the leads), a really cool set with vintage props, and great staging in their intimate in-the-round setting. This completely engrossing and tragic story of flawed and very real characters navigating hard times and tricky family relations in 1950s working class Brooklyn will get under your skin. It's one of those experiences that makes you feel like you've been on a journey with these characters, one that's hard to shake when you leave the theater. It's probably the second best play I've seen at TRP. Don't let this one fly under your radar.

BWW Review: Theatre Coup d'Etat's THE CRUCIBLE is a Well Executed Site-Specific, Intimate, Sobering Production of a Classic That's Never Felt More Relevant and Necessary
December 12, 2016

I first saw Arthur Miller's 1953 play THE CRUCIBLE last spring at the Guthrie, and was wowed at how this story about the infamous Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century, during which twenty people were put to death for the crime of witchcraft, speaks to the issues of the day. Things have changed a lot in the last year and a half, making the play's themes of religious fanaticism, mob mentality, and persecution of people who are different even more scarily relevant. How terrifying to live in a world where one person's false accusation can incite mass hysteria and result in the persecution of innocent people, a world that sadly isn't too far from the current reality. I'm not saying that our president elect is Abigail Williams, but I, and this excellent and intimate production by Theatre Coup d'Etat, am suggesting that we need to take a breath and look at the facts before we rush to condemn someone based on a spiteful rant. THE CRUCIBLE dramatizes one of the greatest failings of the American, or rather pre-American, judicial system, and 60 years after it was written still remains a cautionary tale.

BWW Review: 7th House Theater's New Original Musical THE PASSAGE, OR WHAT COMES OF SEARCHING IN THE DARK is Funny, Poignant, and Modern
November 22, 2016

Musical theater is my favorite art form, and new original musicals are my favorite things in the world. I love seeing how music and theater can combine to tell a story in interesting forward-thinking ways. After re-imagining a couple of classic musicals (and one play), newish theater company 7th House Theater has turned to producing new original musicals. THE PASSAGE, OR WHAT COMES OF SEARCHING IN THE DARK, is the third such creation to be presented in the Guthrie Theater Studio. I've loved all of their work, but this one feels more personal and more modern and forward-thinking than what they've done before. THE PASSAGE feels like it's continuing along the trajectory of modern musicals like NEXT TO NORMAL and FUN HOME - an intimate family story told with a small cast and modern inventive staging. And the result is truly something special.

BWW Review: Park Square Theatre's Powerful A RAISIN IN THE SUN Closes this Weekend but Continues for Students through December
November 17, 2016

Langston Hughes' poem DREAM DEFFERRED is the source of the title of short-lived but influential playwright Lorraine Hansberry's classic play A RAISIN IN THE SUN. She died at the age of 34 just six years after the play opened on Broadway in 1959, but her work still resonates today. The story of a black family's struggle in 1950s Chicago to accomplish their dreams in a world that didn't want to let them can be palpably felt in the context of today's world. It's a great choice, then, for Park Square Theatre's 2016-2017 season and for their student matinee program, which serves over 30,000 students every year. And it's an incredibly moving production that brings out all the richness of Hansberry's writing. The fantastic local cast and the intimacy of the Andy Boss thrust stage making you feel as if you're in the Younger living room with them, experiencing this devastating, life-changing, and hope-inspiring event.

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