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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical and
Sex Diary of an Infidel

Also see Elizabeth's review of The Rainmaker

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical

As one of the inevitable parts of life, aging is a natural topic for a show. After all, we all have to face the "joys" of invasive medical procedures, dealing with an empty nest and finding that the person you've shared the last few decades with isn't quite the same anymore. Well, the middle-class theatergoers that make up much of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' audience certainly can bond with these issues.

Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical presents a very funny and very entertaining look at the golden years. With a talented six-person cast leading the way for the clever script and songs of Bob and Jim Walton, and Michael Brindisi's rock-solid directing, the evening breezes by in this premiere production.

Mid-Life! The Crisi Musical
Jay Albright, Shelley Bamberger, Michelle Barber,
James Detmar, Tod Petersen, Angela Timberman

The Walton brothers spend a lot of time on the physical and mental breakdowns of aging: from menopause (a lengthy, but fun act two opener "Classical Menopause"), to hair loss (a Jerry-Herman like showstopper in act one), to the jolly trips to the doctor for both women and men. On the mental side of things, we have the men trying to retain their athletic youth in "Weekend Warriors," women who have found happiness after divorce in "He Got What He Deserves," and the absolutely universal "What Did I Come In here For?"

The best moments come when the Waltons and the cast dig a little deeper to expose some of the real fears, and joys, of growing older - be it a woman re-examining her husband and still finding plenty to love, or several characters struggling to take care of their aging parents.

The cast is rock solid, featuring funny performances and quality singing from all six performers - Shelley Bamberger, Tod Petersen, Michelle Barber, James Detmar and the real-life husband and wife team of Jay Albright and Angela Timberman.

The show has been juggled extensively since opening and it moves with good pace throughout, except for a dry patch in the second act where they seem to be marking time with lesser material (including a sketch about the husband taking out the trash that really has nothing to do with getting older). Still, the balance of the evening is very much a hoot - one that makes the increasing gray in my hair not so scary.

Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical runs through June 25 at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. For tickets and more information, call 952-934-1525 or visit www.chanhassentheatres.com.


Penumbra Theatre, Sex Diary of an Infidel

Sex Diary of an Infidel
Casey Greig and Laura Esping
Midway through the second act of Sex Diary of an Infidel, rugged photo-journalist Martin lists off the people he hopes the expose on the sex trade he is working on with his writing partner Jean will shake out of their complacency. He mentions the major cities from around Australia, ended with Perth. "Especially Perth," he repeats.

It probably got a laugh when the showed played in its native Australia. At the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, it was just one of many puzzling moments in a turgid production that fails to educate or entertain; it even manages to belittle the very real victims of the Southeast Asian sex industry.

What goes wrong? Well, we can start with the six characters. Each are cut out of central casting's book of cliches: there is Laura, the nave wanna-be actress; Max, the pimp who doesn't see what he does as exploitation; Tony, a wasted youth who was the subject of an earlier expose; and Toni, a transsexual Filipino prostitute who splits his earnings between his revolutionary brother and his Mickey Mouse piggy-bank, which he hopes will eventually have enough money for a trip to Hong Kong for his operation.

At the center of this web is Jean, whose life is built on layer after layer of lies. Playwright Michael Gurr lays it on very thick - by the end, I was surprised that we didn't learn that Jean liked to kidnap, kill and eat babies. We're supposed to hate Jean because she is deceitful, but I ended up feeling nothing at all, apart from relief that her final ride into the sunset meant I wouldn't have to deal with her character anymore.

All of the characters are riddled with cliches - did I mention that the prostitute has a heart of gold? - and it isn't helped by a talented cast who seem to have worked out their accents and then stopped developing their characters. Director Ching Valdes-Aran leaves them adrift in a dull and static staging that makes the two-hour show crawl at a snail's pace.

What really gets my ire up is that there are important issues here, not just of the sex trade, but of journalistic ethics, honesty in relationships and sexual identity. But they are all presented as simple hot-button issues, offering no depth, understanding or illumination.

Sex Diary of an Infidel runs through March 5 at Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul. For tickets and more information, call 651-224-3180 or visit www.penumbratheatre.org.


Photo: Ann Marsden


- Ed Huyck



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