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Posted April 30, 2014in Center Stage

Minnesota nice — and naughty

In show business, there’s an ancient quip about a dying actor. Colleagues gather at his bedside, grieving, and, with his last words, he tries to reassure them. “Dying is easy,” he groans. “Comedy is hard.”  The story’s never been verified (some say Groucho Marx made it up), but there’s no

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Posted April 23, 2014in Center Stage

‘Extremities’ raises questions of violence and victim blaming

Lately, downtown theater has broken through to a new level at the Social Club, but some of this year’s most exciting work took place out west. The Tallgrass Theater Company near Valley Junction has brought two radical challenges: “True West” was an edgy drama that alternated different actors in the

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Posted April 16, 2014in Center Stage

‘The Crucible’ of witchery, tragedy and storm

Last Saturday night, midway into the second act, “The Crucible” brought the thunder. Set at the Salem courthouse, 1692, the witchcraft trials went from bad to worse. Innocent townsfolk found themselves condemned to hang on the “spectral evidence” of hysterical teenage girls. These “Heathers” have their Alpha, the charismatic Abigail,

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Posted April 09, 2014in Center Stage

Hitchcock’s dark farce is funny but flat

Even before Alfred Hitchcock started to toy with it, “Dial M for Murder” was a dark farce. Frederick Knott, the playwright, whipped up some diabolical conniving, as Tony Wendice arranged a hit on his rich wife Margot. In the early ’50s, Broadway audiences couldn’t get enough. Then Hitchcock’s movie (Grace

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Posted April 02, 2014in Center Stage

‘Porgy and Bess,’ the legacy and the controversy

Did some heavenly theater professor set up Des Moines as a seminar on opera and musical theater lately? Over at the Playhouse we’ve got “Les Misèrables,” as close to opera as Broadway gets, and now comes a weeklong run of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” a folk opera, as George

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Posted March 26, 2014in Center Stage

Playhouse turned ‘Animal Farm’

“Four legs — woof! Two legs — ba-a-a!” Recognize the refrain? It’s from “Animal Farm,” by George Orwell, one of those books kids are supposed to read in middle school. On the page, this slogan reads differently: It’s “good” and “bad,” not “woof” and “baa.” But that’s the kind of

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Posted March 19, 2014in Center Stage

‘Les Miz’ magic finally lights up local theater

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: “Les Misérables” will pack a wallop the likes of which has never before hit Des Moines community theater. A big number like “One Day More,” the Act I closer, will put roughly 45 players onstage, calling Paris to the barricades. The cast,

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Posted March 12, 2014in Center Stage

Gravity-defying humanity

In mid-Manhattan, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is a behemoth. Along Ninth Avenue, you’ll see the name plastered across the largest dance space in the world. In Des Moines, though, you’ll see how, inside Ailey’s space, everyone seeks to express a simple humanity. That even goes for the leaps that

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Posted March 05, 2014in Center Stage

Whirling, wacky and out of Chicago

When improv comedy works, it suggests an eruption of ping-pong balls. The players start with something ordinary, and without so much as costumes or props, they wind up rocketing off in all directions. That’s when it works, of course, and the good news about “Whirled News Tonight,” the improv troupe

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Posted February 26, 2014in Center Stage

‘Venus in Fur’ finds its goddess

On a recent stop at Chicago’s Art Institute, I spent time with the Greco-Roman antiquities. Most bare a picture of some god — or is it an actor, playing a god? Theater, with its masks and props, turns up all over these ancient wares, and such pictures came to mind

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