Artistry is proving that some of the best theater in the Twin Cities can be found in the suburbs. Their work is always consistent and top notch, but their latest production of A New Brain is one of the best pieces of theater that I have seen this year.
This rarely performed musical has two traits of shows I love, it is performed without an intermission, allowing the full experience of the show to wash over you. And secondly it is a show that allows the ensemble to shine. Although the story is centered around Gordon each character has a time to tell their story and each actor a chance to show off their talents. To repeat a comment I over heard by a patron behind me, "this is a really good cast."
The story by William Finn is inspired by the author's own life events. When Gordon Schwinn a struggling song writer whose current gig finds him writing songs for a frog on a children's TV show ends up in the hospital with an unknown brain affliction everything in his life is thrown into question. But surrounded by supporting friends and family he faces the challenge ahead of him. The show does a good job of showing not only how a health emergency affects the one who is sick, but also how it affects those that love them.
Riley McNutt plays Gordon Schwinn, his journey is at the center of the show and he carries the audience through it with authentic vulnerability. C Ryan Shipley plays Roger, Gordon's boyfriend and is a shinning example of a loving and charming and supportive partner. Jen Burleigh-Bentz plays Mimi, Gordon's mother. Her emotional journey of outward optimism but inward fear is almost painful to watch. You just want to give her a glass of wine and tell her everything is going to be okay. Bradley Greenwald as Mr. Bungee is hilarious, proving that his musical theater talent is a gift to the Twin Cities theater community.
The simplistic set by Rick Polenek is comprised of several panels of lights (lighting design by Karin Olson) that roll around to stage to make up the different locations, a cafe, an apartment, a hospital room. The set lead the show to having a very polished look while allowing the story to be what was most prominent on stage.
A New Brain is playing at Artistry in Bloomington until November 9th. Click here for more information about the show and how to get tickets.
*Photo credit Devon Cox