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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Metamorphoses, Puntila and His Hired Man Matti and Jersey Boys


Theatre Pro Rata Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses
Noë Tallen
Text-based company Theatre Pro Rata takes a stab at some of the oldest stories in the world with their smart, funny and moving version of Metamorphoses. The company uses Mary Zimmerman's recent adaptation (in turn based on David S. Slavitt's translation of Ovid's work), and does include Zimmerman's famed pool.

Produced in a small black box theater, Pro Rata's pool - and production - isn't as epic as Zimmerman's Broadway version, but what it lacks in scope it makes up for with intimacy. And, even with a small pool, there are still some striking effects. It really becomes another character in the show.

Around this, a cast of nine actors plays out a number of Ovid's famous tales of love, loss and transformation. Some of them are instantly familiar - King Midas and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice for example - but all of them are presented in a fresh and engaging style. Zimmerman's play is as much about the art of storytelling as the stories themselves, and the pieces are told in a dizzying array of styles, from story-theater to a therapist/patient conversation to a question-and-answer dialogue. The ensemble - which is strong throughout - carries out each of these different stories and styles with aplomb, as does the direction of Carin Bratlie.

Metamorphoses runs through April 6 at the Loading Dock Theater, St. Paul. For more information, call 612-874-9321 or visit www.theatreprorata.org.

Photo: Charlie Gorrill


Frank Theatre Puntila and His Hired Man Matti

Puntila and His Hired Man Matti
Grant Richey and Carson Lee
Frank Theatre tackles Brecht for the second time in a year, and, like 2007's Mother Courage, Puntila and his Hired Man Matti is a strong piece of theater by the company.

A wild and funny show with a throbbing Socialist heart, Puntila follows the titular characters over a tumultuous week. Puntila is a rich Finnish landowner with two personalities. When he's sober, he's a hard man, competent to a fault and mainly thinking of his property and wealth. While drunk, Puntila becomes a gregarious man, one far more of a "human being" than his sober self. He's also prone to fits of fancy, such as getting engaged to a quartet of women on one morning.

Which makes life increasingly difficult for his working class chauffeur, Matti, who must navigate the minefields left by the drunken Puntila and the barbs of the sober version. There's a farcical plot that runs through all of this - mainly about Puntila's daughter's engagement to a foppish attaché and her desire to escape - but the real focus stays on the interplay between the drunk and sober Puntila and the testy and increasingly angry Matti.

As Puntila, Grant Richey gives, appropriately enough, two performances. As the drunkard, he's broad and physical, while the sober version is much tighter and, if not reserved, then played with emotions masked. Carson Lee plays Matti with weariness far beyond his years. It's as if he knows the situation is impossible, but work is work - even if it's for a madman who constantly threatens to send the police and the court after him. Other strong performances dot the company, including Emily Zimmer as the twitchy and chain-smoking Eva and Patrick Bailey as the limp attaché Eino.

Presented in a cavernous public works building in south Minneapolis, the show is loaded with sharp angles, empty spaces and harsh lighting - even the beautiful forests of Finland that are painted on the space's walls come off as more of a joke than reality. That only underscores Brecht's themes - which really aren't too hard to parse out from the script - but also gives the proceedings an otherworldly quality that works extremely well.

Puntila and his Hired Man Matti runs through April 13 at the Bridge Building in the City of Minneapolis Public Works Yard, E. 26th St. and Hiawatha Avenue. For more information and tickets, call (612) 724 3760 or www.franktheatre.org.

Photo: Tony Nelson


Orpheum Theatre Jersey Boys

After a somewhat turgid first act, the Tony Award winning musical Jersey Boys becomes a real winner by show's end. Telling the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the musical lives and dies on the quality of the music. With a bevy of the group's best songs packed into the second act, it's hard not to get swept along with the energy and thrills.

There's that first act, however. The show tells the story in chronological order, so there is a bunch of business to deal with as the group slowly comes together (it took nearly a decade for the original Four Seasons to finally form). Along the way, we learn a lot about living in Jersey - apparently it's controlled by the Mob, who knew? - and making it in the music business. Once the group - which included Valli, thuggish leader Tommy DeVito, songwriter Bob Gaudio and "Ringo" Nick Massi - makes it to the studio, the show starts to fly.

The story - which is pretty typical showbiz - does a better job than most jukebox musicals of connecting the dots, and the characters remain wonderfully down to earth throughout the fame and heartbreak. While it does play a bit loose with reality (Bob Crewe is presented mainly as a supremely foppish producer, while he actually co-wrote the band's hits and is credited as the show's lyricist), Jersey Boys makes up for this in charm. The Seasons - led by angel-voiced Christopher Kale Jones - harmonize beautifully, and it's a joy to listen to the group's parade of hits, from "Walk Like a Man" to "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" to "Working My Way Back to You."

Jersey Boys runs through April 20 at the Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis. For more information and tickets, call 612-673-0404 or visit www.hennepintheatredistrict.org.


- Ed Huyck



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