On the Townsend

Sleep Deprivation Chamber
Through Oct. 10
Penumbra Theatre
270 N. Kent St., St. Paul
(651) 224-3180

Urvashi Vaid writes of “virtual equality” as the illusion of equality for queer folks. Playwrights Adam and Adrienne Kennedy show the racial equivalent in this forceful true-life drama. Lucas Bellamy gives a bravely vulnerable performance as Teddy, a racially-profiled teen of color brutalized by police. Indira Addington as Suzanne, his mother, captures the incredulity of a woman who wrongly thought her middle-class status would shield her family from racism. In an enthralling court scene, a searing Stephen Cartmell as Teddy’s lawyer deliciously exposes an abusive cop ominously portrayed by Carl Atiya Swanson.

The Glass Menagerie
Through Oct. 17
Jungle Theater
2900 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 822-7063

Director Bain Boehlke’s exquisite revival of gay playwright Tennessee Williams’s early masterwork uncannily and electrically charges the way economic collapse rigidifies gender roles. As poverty seeps into the already-unstable Wingfield family, matriarch Amanda (Wendy Lehr) retreats into romantic illusions about “gentleman callers” of her youth, while unreasonably pressuring her shy disabled daughter, Laura (Alayne Hopkins), to snare a husband. Amanda’s son, Tom (Joshua James Campbell), is expected to be an unthinking provider whose dreams are deemed folly in his mother’s emasculating eyes. Superb Michael Booth sports a callous edge as Jim, Tom’s coworker. Though he rushes his narration at start and end, Campbell’s is the best Tom I’ve seen since Jeffrey Alan Chandler’s Guthrie turn 31 years ago—and I’ve seen many such Toms.

The Great Game: Afghanistan
Through Oct. 17
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

London’s Tricycle Theatre tours its acclaimed epic marathon of Afghanistan’s turbulent history since 1842 for the Guthrie’s WorldStage series. It’s performed in sections consisting of short plays. Part I reflects British rivalry with Russia, from which the term “Great Game” derives. Part II addresses connections between Communism and the Taliban. Part III portrays American involvement in the current quagmire. For those who still keep claiming wrongly that the Guthrie plays it safe, here’s more evidence to the contrary.

Through Oct. 17
Pillsbury House Theatre
3502 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 825-0459

Actress Shirley Venard’s tragicomic genius sublimely radiates as an elderly woman whose nephew raids her home to rip her off. With very little dialogue, she registers an epic range of emotions totally germane to Morris Panych’s delightfully quirky script. Steve Hendrickson as nephew Kemp is hilariously manic. One wonders if he’s so uptight because he can’t face his queer side. Stephen DiMenna directs with rich wit and depth.

Dudley: Rigged for Laughter
Through Oct. 23
History Theatre
30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
(651) 292-4323

When Dudley Riggs founded Brave New Workshop (BNW) Comedy Theatre in 1958 (pre-Guthrie), roughly six local theaters existed. The troupe was controversial for its aggressive political satire, which paved the way for gay and political theater that came to thrive in the Twin Cities.

Dane Stauffer, gay cowriter of the new play about Riggs’s life, reminds us that he was “fiercely devoted to mocking the outrageous, railing at injustice, going against the grain, and mining it all for laughter. The police almost shut him down, because they thought his cappuccino maker—the first one west of the Mississippi—was a still!”

Rock of Ages
Oct. 19-24
Orpheum Theatre
910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(800) 982-2787

Tony-nominated for Best Musical, this 1980s rock smash has beaten the odds.

Producer Janet Billig Rich relates, “This period of music isn’t given the respect that other times get, maybe because it’s hard to take a guy in spandex with huge hair seriously. But from the very beginning, when the audience sees it, they go crazy. Book writer Chris D’Arienzo turns these songs on their head. We’ve always stayed really authentic to the rock, [but] we’ve never gotten cheesy. Our players have always played it real, so I think that’s why it connects.”

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