The Jungle Theater has announced the shortest season since its founding in 1991. The 2021-22 season will include three mainstage productions compared to the usual five, sometimes six, and in 2018-19, seven.
But the Jungle is still alive. And during the first year-plus of the pandemic, it made a lot of changes, the fruits of which we’ll see going forward. Robin Gillette was named managing director in April 2020. Christina Baldwin became artistic director in April 2021, after serving for a year as interim artistic director following Sarah Rasmussen’s departure in May 2020.
The Jungle also announced a new leadership model that includes a diverse and dynamic cohort of four Twin Cities artists: filmmaker/director Sequoia Hauck, playwright/actor JuCoby Johnson, actor/dramaturg James Rodriguez and director/actor Angela Timberman. Specifics will come later, but for now they will add “a wide variety of community and mission-based programming including virtual and live table readings, new plays, a Holiday Musical Extravaganza and more.”
The theater produced a virtual Fall 2020 season that included “Jungle Serial,” a collection of short audio dramas with music, and its first-ever full-length virtual production, Kate Cortesi’s “Is Edward Snowden Single?” in which the brilliant Becca Hart and Isabella Star LeBlanc played 20-plus roles. It created a series of displays in its street-level lobby windows and coproduced the LynLake Street Art Festival earlier this month.
The three plays on the new mainstage season include two brought forward from 2019-20. One was in previews the week of March 9, 2020, when COVID rolled in.
On Friday, March 13, the Jungle was torn about whether to go ahead with that night’s performance of “Redwood,” when media would be there. Everything was ready to go. At 9:06 a.m., this email went out: “We’re opening ‘Redwood’ this weekend – a beautiful play by Brittany K. Allen that deserves to be experienced. The director, actors, designers and crew have invested untold hours of skill, talent and heart to make this play, and to honor that work, we want to share it with the public.” Then, at 2:53 p.m.: “Following orders by governor Tim Walz to cancel or postpone all community events while honoring our team’s hard work, we have made the decision to indefinitely postpone REDWOOD performances, with the intention of getting the play back up on stage as soon as conditions improve.”
It’s questionable whether conditions have improved – in some ways, they have gotten worse – but at least we know more about the virus we’re dealing with, and the Jungle, like growing numbers of arts organizations and venues, will require masks and proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of showtime. (Vaccination card holders are the latest fashion accessory.) Currently the theater is selling all performances at full capacity, but that could change. The Jungle is a cozy room with 150 seats.
Here’s the season:
Oct. 16-Nov. 14: “Every Brilliant Thing.” Written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, directed by Meredith McDonough, this hit off-Broadway solo show is new to the lineup. It acknowledges the struggles of life while celebrating its sweetness. The New York Times praised its “sentimentality without shame” and called it “captivating.” It’s sad but funny, and each performance will include collaboration with the audience. The Jungle describes it as “a play that celebrates life and underscores the importance of human connection.”
Feb. 5-March 13, 2022: “Redwood.” Written by Brittany K. Allen, directed by H. Adam Harris, this play tells the story of Meg and Drew, an interracial couple thrown into crisis by a relative’s venture into Ancestry.com. While working on the family tree, Meg’s recently retired uncle discovers that Drew’s family owned his (and Meg’s) relatives in antebellum Kentucky.
June 11-July 31, 2022: “Cambodian Rock Band.” Lauren Yee’s play, told to a soundtrack of contemporary Dengue Fever hits and Cambodian oldies played by a live band, will be coproduced with Theater Mu and directed by Mu’s Lily Tung Crystal. A Khmer Rouge survivor returns to Cambodia for the first time in 30 years as his daughter prepares to prosecute one of the country’s most infamous war criminals.
New this year: flexible subscriptions. Subscribe now, book your play dates later. Other benefits apply. FMI. Another big change: pay-as-you-are pricing. Fair market value for a ticket to the Jungle is $45. Pay that if you can, less if you can’t. If you can pay more, by all means, do. FMI.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
L Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 31), 6-8 p.m.: Magers & Quinn Fall Events Kickoff: Author Signing and Happy Hour. The Uptown bookstore will return to in-store events with a bunch of authors and a chance to meet, mingle, and have books signed. Authors will include Peter Geye, Kaia Preus, Margaret Hasse, Julie Severson, Tim Brady, Gretchen Anthony, John Brandon, Liz Heinecke, Kathleen West, Metra Farrari, Ben Percy and Alison McGhee. Free with registration, and space is limited. This event will be Happy Hour style, with no seating.
L Opens Thursday, Sept. 2, 2 p.m., outdoors in the former Migizi Communications/Gandhi Mahal space: New Native Theatre: “The Unplugging.” New Native Theatre’s first live performance since Sept. 2019 will feature an American Indian and BIPOC cast including Christina Woods, a member of the Bois Forte Ojibwe tribe; Alicia Garcia, a member of the Taos Pueblo tribe; Alicia Smith, Yup’ik from the Pitka’s Point Village in Alaska; Lyz Jaakola, a member of the Fond du Lac Nation; and newcomers Raymond Niu and Joshua Simpson. Playwright and director Yvette Nolan is Algonquin. “The Unplugging” is a post-apocalyptic play about two Native women who are exiled from their village because they are past childbearing age in a post-apocalyptic world. They are not meant to survive, but their ancestral knowledge keeps them alive. When a stranger from their village seeks their help, they must decide if they will share their wisdom. Migizi, a nonprofit for Native youth, was founded and is led today by Native female leadership. New Native Theatre’s Artistic Director Rhiana Yazzie calls it “incredibly meaningful” for the community to perform at the site of their former home, which was destroyed by fire during the unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder. Ends Saturday, Sept. 19. All performances at 2 p.m. At the intersection of 27th Ave. S. and East Lake St. in Minneapolis. Pay-what-you-can; $35 suggested. FMI and tickets.
L Thursday, Sept. 2, 6-9 p.m. in Mears Park: Lowertown Sounds: Tina Schlieske with the Sunken Lands. The popular (and free!) Lowertown Sounds summer concert series has grown by two new shows. This Thursday, Saint Small and The Sunken Lands will open for Midwestern rock mainstay Tina Schlieske, best known for fronting Tina and the B-Sides. Next Thursday, Sept. 9, Kashimana Ahua will open for Romantica. Summer is waning. Get out there.
L Opens Friday, Sept. 3, in MSP Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “On Broadway.” A new documentary from Oscar nominee Oren Jacoby tells the story of the last time Broadway came back from the brink and reinvented itself in the 1970s. Featuring interviews with an A-list of Broadway stars – Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Helen Mirren, Christine Baranski, James Cordon, Alec Baldwin, August Wilson, John Lithgow, Viola Davis – and others in the know, it’s “a celebration about this ability of Broadway to reinvent itself,” said the director, a bright light of hope for the Great White Way and, dare we infer, theater everywhere? FMI including trailer, times and tickets ($9.50 + $2 fee, $5 members, $6 students, box office only).