On the Townsend

Johnny Bocca’s Sex Farce for Swingin’ Lovers
Through June 1
Playwrights’ Center
2301 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls.

Shanan Wexler and Joshua English Scrimshaw vibrantly have reimagined bawdy segments from Boccaccio’s 14th-Century classic The Decameron, reset in an Italian neighborhood bar in New Jersey circa 1959. Johnny Boccaa’s Sex Farce for Swingin’ Lovers is a triumph of brassy style and erotic wit. Bartender, server, and sundry barflies segue into sexy vignettes like actors breaking into song in a musical. An all-American girl wanders into a bohemian enclave, where she’s tricked into an orgasm. Male possessiveness brutally is spoofed in a scene involving a priest and a confessional. Directed by Wexler, the crackling cast embraces the rawness of the material. Eric Webster’s sound design and Julia Gordon’s lighting magically enhance the nostalgic feel.These Shining Lives
Through June 1
History Theatre
30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
(651) 292-4323

Melanie Marnich’s astonishing factual drama These Shining Lives has been staged briskly—yet probingly—by director-designer Ron Peluso at History Theatre. A riveting cast re-creates the horror of a group of Illinois women systematically toxified with radium while working for the Radium Dial Watch Company in the 1920s and ’30s. Pamela Kildahl’s lighting, Peluso’s almost solid blue set, and Martin Gwinups’s sound design conjure a hauntingly luminous ambience. Brian Goranson, wrenching as a husband distraught by his wife’s fate, delivers one of modern drama’s most powerful speeches. Totally breathtaking!

The Ugly One
Through June 1
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

What happens when a man finds that everyone around him thinks he’s ugly, and his ugliness is holding him back in life? Though The Ugly One, by Marius von Mayenburg, isn’t about the gay club or gym scene, it’s high time for a play about men, rather than women, at the mercy of the beauty myth. It works both ways. The Guthrie’s Dowling Studio features Kris L. Nelson as Lette.Director Ben McGovern says that Lette “transforms himself simply to overcome the obstacle of being ugly. But once he finds that he is beautiful, and valued specifically and solely for his beauty, he begins to lose his own identity. He is no longer valued for his abilities or his uniqueness. Ultimately, he finds refuge in a kind of ridiculous narcissism, which makes him feel that his image is his self. It’s an interesting parable in a time when the idea of beauty has more to do with treatments and medical alterations than with individuality. It seems that it becomes increasingly important to be considered beautiful, even as it becomes more and more impossible to achieve the societal ideal of beauty without some kind of augmentation.”

May 27-June 1
Orpheum Theatre
910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 673-0404

Movie buffs with a queer eye tend to admire Mike Nichols’s direction of The Birdcage, with its zany gay coupling, and Silkwood, with its anguished view of unrequited lesbian love. His Emmy-winning take on the gay epic of AIDS hysteria, Angels in America, is perhaps the Gone with the Wind of TV miniseries. However, Nichols won one of his numerous Tony Awards for directing Spamalot on Broadway, now returning in its wild national tour. Aside from gushing with camp humor, it also contains delightful gay content that shouldn’t be revealed before you see it. Note: Nichols won an Oscar for 1967’s sexual groundbreakerThe Graduate.

Through June 8
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.
(612) 338-6131

Speed dating, police raids, and Asian-American identity are addressed in Theater Mu’s Q&A at Mixed Blood. Three people known only by the numbers 1/2, 187, and 9066 are grilled over their race and sexual identity.Self-described biracial, bisexual playwright Juliana Hu Pegues, relates that 1/2 (Laurine Price) “is dealing with questions of sexuality. As a biracial woman, she has grown up having strong opinions that everyone has the right to love whomever they want, regardless of racial barriers. But she is less comfortable when that sentiment is applied to freedom to love someone of the same sex or gender, especially when she is confronted by her own attraction to women.”

Rite of Spring
Through June 8
Ritz Theater
345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
(612) 436-1129

A century ago, Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring rocked the world. In celebration, Zorongo Flamenco, avant-garde theater troupe Live Action Set, and Ballet of the Dolls are blending energies.Dolls choreographer Myron Johnson shares, “I am focusing on: How do we decide whom to sacrifice? Usually, it’s someone who wouldn’t be missed, has no ties to any particular group or tribe. Someone who wouldn’t be missed. Someone expendable! It is about expendable people.”Live Action Set, collaborating on a Third Act that’s not part of traditional Rite of Spring productions, explores the phrase: “Then what?” Susana di Palma is Zorongo’s choreographer.

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