On the Townsend

The Ballad of Josef K.
Through May 18
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 339-4944

Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre plays the Illusion with a bizarre take on Franz Kafka’s The Trial dubbed The Ballad of Josef K. This provocative reimagining of an already edgy work portrays a secret court with a resident pedophile who engages teen prostitutes. Indeed, everyone connected with the court is said to be a rapist, pornographer, pederast, or sadomasochist.

Director Rob Goodman asks, “Why does power almost always pervert sexuality? Why is power such an aphrodisiac? Why aren’t we satisfied with simply using physical, emotional, or psychological torture? Why does fear make torture necessary? And why do we always have to titillate ourselves with sexuality in the process?”

Gem of the Ocean
French Twist
Through May 18
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

T. Mychael Rambo fans may be stunned by his devilishly cruel turn as Caesar, a black sheriff who has internalized his self-loathing, in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, now in a bedazzling incarnation by Penumbra Theatre at the Guthrie. You even might mistake Rambo for US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Director Lou Bellamy vivifies Wilson’s harsh view of post-Reconstruction Pittsburgh in luminous contrast to a beautiful ritual segment.

Also at the Guthrie: Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum’s French Twist. This whimsical time-bending tour of Paris traverses from the royal court to the decadent nightclub scene. Vaudeville, tap, hambone, clowning, opera, and percussion converge for an evening of exotic characters and gender-bending.

The American Pilot
Through May 24
Minneapolis Theater Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 375-0300

The GOP’s torture and rendition policy was probably not what David Greig had in mind when he wrote The American Pilot, but it surely resonates now. This play speculates on an American plane that crash-lands in a war-torn country. Will the wounded pilot be ransomed, executed, or helped?

Director Amy Rummenie calls it “a story about the large-scale conflicts of the world being resolved on a personal level. It’s an unusual political story, because it’s surprisingly kind and tender, and deliberately ambiguous in time and place. It takes an unconventional and poetic look at the impact of American culture through the lens of how others interpret it.”

The Triangle Factory Fire Project
Through May 25
Hillcrest Center Theater
1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul
(651) 647-4315

In 1911, a New York sweatshop fire that killed 146 people, mostly women, shocked the world. Minnesota Jewish Theatre presents Christopher Piehler’s The Triangle Factory Fire Project.

Director Carolyn Levy notes that the women there “had attempted—unsuccessfully—to unionize to gain better working conditions. The garment industry was characterized by 84-hour workweeks, and close working quarters in buildings that were firetraps with inadequate escapes. Owners were very opposed to the unions, and retaliated against the women who ‘agitated’ for unionization. Women were also fighting for suffrage at this time. They had no voice in their working conditions; they had no vote; and, of course, they did not sit on juries.”

TV Men
Through May 25
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
(651) 229-3122

Three queer icons are hailed in nimbus theatre’s TV Men, inspired by Anne Carson’s poetry, and directed by Josh Cragun. Vita Sackville-West’s crossdressing comes into play, as well as her relationships with Violet Treyfusis and Virginia Woolf, plus her open marriage to Harold Nicolson. Racism suffered by Langston Hughes is examined, along with excerpts from his Congressional testimony during the McCarthy era. Topping it off: Oscar Wilde drops in, as well!

The Bridesmaid
May 23-31
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
810 W. Lake St., Mpls.
(612) 825-8949

Seattle-based writer-performer Keira McDonald’s solo show The Bridesmaid runs at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater. This comic look at weddings includes a gay ceremony related by a character named Hope, a self-described “fag hag.”

McDonald remarks that Hope becomes ”very bitter when her best friend from high school decides to settle down with a man, and have a baby [surrogate-fashion] with another woman after all her friends have left her, and she is still single. She cannot help airing some dirty laundry at the nuptials.”

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