Thursday, May 14, 2020

Theater Crush Thursday: Jungle Theater

Today’s #TheaterCrushThursday comes with mixed emotions.
We’re talking The Jungle Theater, one of the buzziest venues around these days. Founded in 1991, the Jungle won dozens of Ivy Awards over the years and is well known for its taut, creative stagings, but perhaps the most notable aspect of its character is its flexibility and willingness to evolve. That first season hosted plays by the likes of Timothy Mason, David Mamet, Tennessee Williams, John O'Keefe and Samuel Beckett. In the decades since these boards have produced everything from William Shakespeare to Alfred Hitchcock to Louisa May Alcott, Kira Obolensky, Lauren Gunderson and modern, contemporary musicals. The diversity of programming at the Jungle is a wonderful testament to the creative power of theater and a reminder that you don’t need an enormous stage to produce some pretty amazing, imaginative worlds.
I first encountered the Jungle under its vaunted founder, Bain Boelke’s vision. I remember being struck by the intimate size, where every seat is truly a great one leaving clear sight lines to the stage, and the ornate lobby. It was a totally different feel from any theater I’d experienced before and the place where I learned to appreciate plays as much as musicals (what can I say, my dad was a band director – there was no way I was coming out unbiased!).
Since Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen took over five years ago the Jungle has led a marked shift in the kind of work produced on stages here in Minnesota. Quietly, one production at a time, more women and people of color have been cropping up in every facet of the Jungle’s operations – from acting to scriptwriting to production design and direction. It is now known as a place where you can go to see something completely fresh and new, whether a play like Small Mouth Sounds that was mostly silent, all-female productions like the heartbreaking teenage drama The Wolves or Rasmussen’s stunning pink and black debut production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, or new musicals like Ride the Cyclone that literally leave your jaw on the floor.
So what could be bittersweet about the fresh new voices blazing through the Jungle (and now many, many other #tctheater venues) under Rasmussen’s excellent leadership? It was recently announced that she will be leaving the Twin Cities to take the position of Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, one of the largest and most respected regional theaters in the country. While we are very sad to see her go, it’s an amazing opportunity that she richly deserves and we know she will excel at. And with the announcement that Christina Baldwin, who has been mentored by Rasmussen for the last two years, will be stepping in as interim Artistic Director we are confident in the Jungle’s future.
The cruelest part is that what is now Rasmussen’s last season at the helm was cut short by the pandemic, and we won’t be able to see what the end of her particular vision for the Jungle entailed. That said, we are grateful for the wonderful #tctheater memories she left us, the magnificent local artists she introduced us to who are sure to become superstars in their own right, and the sound footing the Jungle is on to remain a theater to watch in the years ahead. Please join us in raising a glass of best wishes to Sarah Rasmussen as she departs Minnesota this month. And while you’re at it, make a donation to the Jungle in her honor (link below) – let’s ensure their next season can kick off with a bang. - Compendium - Minneapolis