On the Townsend

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…
Through Dec. 13
Pillsbury House
3501 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 824-2595

Queer audiences still shudder at the late Republican Senator Jesse Helms’s assault on queer art 15 years ago. However, the crude leading questions asked by the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations in the 1950s McCarthy Era was no place for the naturally abstract thought of an artist, either. Any trace of ambiguity could be exploited to imply that one was a Communist sympathizer. One of that witch-hunt’s victims was gay African-American poet Langston Hughes. In Carlyle Brown’s new play, Hughes (Gavin Lawrence) awakens to write a poem.

Director Noel Raymond says, “He works through his feelings about his life, his art, and the impending trial. It is a portrait of an artist in crisis, and it allows the audience to be a witness to his private meditations on the nature of his art.”

Fool For Love
Through Dec. 21
Gremlin Theatre
2400 University Ave. W., St. Paul
(651) 228-7008

Brian Balcom, renowned for his sensual stagings of Trista Baldwin’s plays, now tackles the sensual yet gritty forbidden love of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love in Gremlin’s new performance space. The searingly sexy couple who stoked Torch’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a few years ago—Stacia Rice and Peter Christian Hansen—are sure to be just as incendiary here.

Balcom explains, “What draws the two characters together is the same thing that keeps them apart. It’s about the pressure of family and legacy, love and fantasy, and the desire to satisfy both.”

Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol
Through Dec. 21
Park Square Theatre
20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul
(651) 291-7005

Greed and human suffering have been grossly evident during the past decade. But why haven’t all those perennial productions of A Christmas Carol shifted the paradigm? That’s why we need playwright Tom Mula’s solo play, which recasts compassionate Dickens concerns anew. This time, Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner, is invested not financially, but in the old fart’s inner transformation. Comic actor genius Jim Lichtscheidl stars.

Director Richard Cook notes, “The stakes—dramatically and spiritually—are higher than ever.”

Take all ultraconservative friends and relatives.

John Trones’s Christmas in the City
Dec. 8, 7:30 PM
Pantages Theatre
710 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.

The 1940s Radio Hour
Through Dec. 28
Hennepin Stages
824 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 673-0404

John Trones—having returned from London, where 3-Way, the gay comedy he cowrote, now plays—is back home directing what are becoming new local holiday performance traditions, and beguiling shows, too! This year, Jen Burleigh-Bentz plays in both.

Trones enthuses, “Of course, her voice is wonderful, but aside from that, she has this welcoming charismatic presence that makes you want to watch her, and makes you want to listen to her, whatever she has to say or sing. I know it’s partially from her experience on Broadway. And she’s just this really magical person.”

The Making of Americans
Dec. 12-13, 8 PM
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 375-7600

Lesbian icon Gertrude Stein’s “cubist” novel gets chamber operatic treatment by acclaimed experimental director Jay Scheib, composer Anthony Gatto, Zeitgeist, and JACK string quartet. Stein (1874-1946) was extraordinary in her circular, free-flowing use of language. She; her loving life partner, Alice B. Toklas; and their Paris salon comrades mused long and hard on the nature of American identity. If they were alive today, Stein and Toklas surely would be at the forefront of the same-sex marriage movement. In their own time, they were defiant enemies of Yankee Puritanism. Known as expatriates, the pair nurtured and hassled such major talents as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, and Picasso.

All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914
Dec. 18-21
Pantages Theatre
710 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 673-0404

If you caught the magnificent Joyeux Noel, which should have won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2006, you know about the 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I, when soldiers of the opposing Triple Entente and Central Powers broke ranks and celebrated. All that softening of male pride, ego, nationalism, and fear was staggeringly brave. Theatre Latte Da and the Cantus singers commemorate that spontaneous laying down of arms. Created by musical theater director Peter Rothstein, this piece is ideal for getting into true Christmas spirit.

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