Suzanne Warmanen (Sonia), Isabell Monk O’Connor (Cassandra) and Charles Janasz (Vanya) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” by Christopher Durang. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

In the second act of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the Christopher Durang comedy that opened last weekend at the Guthrie, Vanya launches into a mesmerizing lament for the past and rant about the present. I wish I’d timed it. I wish I’d broken the rules and recorded it. I want to go back and hear it again.

As most of the title suggests, V&S&M&S is a Chekhov-flavored piece in which modern characters give voice to, or merely make mention of, the Russian playwright’s themes and insights – sometimes in seemingly straight homage, and other times with nothing more than a clever turn of dialogue. On the night I was there, some members of the audience seemed hyper-alert for Chekhov references, fidgeting and whispering at every mention of cherry trees or waterfowl.

But the play is much more, and much funnier, than a literary scavenger hunt, especially with a rock-solid cast under the direction of Joel Sass. No one takes a false step. Two middle-aged, middle-class, middle-of-the-road siblings (Vanya and Sonia) enjoy a quiet life in the country house where they grew up, until their movie-star sister (Masha) blasts through the door. She owns the house and has decided to sell it. “I suppose I’m monstrous,” she admits, “but loveable-monstrous, I hope.”

Three other characters come and go: Masha’s much younger boyfriend, Spike, who performs most of his scenes in his underwear and whose pectoral muscles move to a choreography all their own; the also much younger Nina, an aspiring actress who is drawn to Masha like a moth to a Broadway marquee, and the ageless Casandra, a cleaning lady given to spasms of prophecy.

Every member of the cast turns in a fine performance, but the one who echoed in my head on the drive home was Charles Janasz as Vanya. His cantata on the theme, “I’m worried about the future; I miss the past,” stampedes from Howdy Doody to Senor Wences, from Davy Crockett to Old Yeller, from Ozzie and Harriett to Pussy Galore: “Nowadays,” he grouses, “3-year-olds get the joke.” The monologue goes on and on, leaving the audience as breathless as the actor who performs it.

If you like, you can study up on Chekhov before you see the play, to make sure none of the references go over your head. Much better, though, to simply enjoy this show for the charming, demented comedy it is. It runs through Aug. 31.

Twin Cities theater critics are calling Mu Performing Arts‘ production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “A Little Night Music” effervescent, lovely, dazzling and “absolutely satisfying.”

Mu Performing Arts presents “A Little Night Music”
(Photo by Michal Daniel)

Dominic P. Papatola writes for the Pioneer Press:

“A Little Night Music” is not your traditional, happy-go-lucky musical. Its ample humor is dipped in remorse and regret. Its characters are not what you might call positive role models. Its music is beautiful and complex. But it is an unusual, lovely and heartfelt show, given an unusual, lovely and heartfelt staging by Mu Performing Arts.

Lisa Brock of the Star Tribune writes:

Director Shiomi maintains a leisurely, lighter-than-air pace throughout, allowing full rein to the sparkling complexity of Sondheim’s wit and wordplay, while Jason Hansen’s music direction lends lovely lyricism and texture to the proceedings.

An adept chorus, lush costume design by Lynn Farrington and six-member onstage orchestra are the dazzling finishing touches that make this production of “A Little Night Music” a thoroughly delightful confection of a show.

Randy Reyes and Sheena Janson in A Little Night Music
(Photo by Michal Daniel)

Ed Huyck writes for City Pages:

Though the story is set in Sweden, the cast is almost entirely composed of Asian-American performers, who inhabit fully realized and complex characters — and sing a rich, absolutely satisfying score to boot.

John Olive writes for HowWasTheShow.com:

The Mu production of A Little Night Music is directed by former artistic director Rick Shiomi. Shiomi presents the brilliant music perfectly, giving us a simple, yet effervescent and energized reading of the material. Shiomi has also cast performers who possess the musical chops – and then some – to sing Sondheim’s deceptively simple music.

“A Little Night Music” runs through August 10 at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. Have you seen the show? What’s your review?

Circus Juventas Founder and Executive Director Dan Butler would love to be talking about his youth circus school’s 20th anniversary, and the opening of its latest show “Neverland” this weekend.

Instead, he’s spent much of the past week talking to reporters and parents about land use, building expansion and parking.

Butler blames an article in Saturday’s Star Tribune which he says wrongly portrayed his company’s relationship with the city of St. Paul.

Circus Juventas performs “Showdown” Photo by Bill Raab

“The tone of the article, based on the headline, was completely inaccurate,” said Butler. “The online version said ‘Fighting with St. Paul, Circus Juventas hunts for new home.‘ That means two things; we have a bad relationship with St. Paul and secondly, that we’re leaving –  and that can’t be farther from the truth.”

Butler says, at a time when many people only read headlines, he’s afraid the finer points of the story were lost. Namely, that his company has been growing steadily, and in order to serve its students and audiences, it needs to expand. And that after more than a year of exploratory talks with the city, expanding significantly in its current location continued to raise concerns over parking and congestion.

“We have a great relationship with both St. Paul and Parks and Recreation,” said Butler. “We’ve had one for twenty years. We just both agreed that it may not work. Our needs may exceed what the land can hold.”

Butler says Circus Juventas is now moving on to the next option, which includes a smaller renovation of the main building, and then possibly in five to 10 years establishing a second site in the Twin Cities for classes and performances. The second location would offer a shorter commute to many families, and thereby reduce pressure on its current home.

“We’re at the [Highland Park] site for 17 more years if we don’t get a renewal from the city, but we hope we do,” said Butler. “I designed that building from scratch, it’s a custom built structure and we would never give that space up.

“We’re not leaving St. Paul,” he added, “it’s our home.”