Arts Spotlight: 436
My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding
Feb. 18 – Mar. 11
Hillcrest Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy, St. Paul
(651) 647- 4315
You know we’ve come a long way baby when acclaimed, sympathetic, gay-themed stage work is generated by straight folks and creates a buzz. It was a Toronto straight married couple actually, that conceived one of that city’s big Fringe Festival musical hits of 2009, which has also played New York. David Hein and Irene Carl Sankoff tell the true story of David’s mother’s coming out and being in love.
True to form, Minnesota Jewish Theatre continues to manifest artistic courage and exploration of challenging themes under Barbara Brooks’s Artistic Directorship, while entertaining at a standard comparable to other topnotch Twin Cities professional houses.
Brooks, central to the play selection, observes “the story looks at Claire (Laura B. Adams) who is on a journey to a stronger identity. For her it included identity as a Jew as well as a lesbian. A concern in the Jewish community today, as well as in other cultural/ethnic/religious communities, is lack of identity and engagement with the community, so developing a stronger identity is not only most relevant to Jewish culture today, but it’s universal to a large extent. It also looks a the timely issues of the changing American family – two parents of the same sex and same sex marriage.” In Canada same-sex marriage is legal.
Also speaking to identity, director Michael Kissin points out “that a conventional upbringing and marriage with children in Lincoln, Nebraska, and approval from a strong-willed mother simply are not satisfying. So the struggle is to leave that behind, that security. Claire foresakes everything known: hometown, husband, son, mother – abandons her security in favor of the elusive quest for a new identity, which, of course, in the play, she achieves. And we bear witness to the struggle and the transformation.”
Adams, who had us rolling in the aisles in 2010 as the lead in the often lesbi-erotic Michele! The Bachumanntary Musical, says “we first meet her in the play as she is leaving and saying goodbye to her teenage son, David (Matt Rein), who will stay in Nebraska with her ex-husband. Clarie has always been attracted to women but never acted on it. She finds herself away from her mother, who is an orthodox Jew. And in an openly gay community in Ottawa she allows herself to finally feel the feelings she has always had. She meets Jane (Tinia Moulder) and falls in love with her.”
For those who wonder about the effect this has on the son, Kissin observes ” we know from the beginning that all will be well, because David, the son (played by David Hein in the New York production), now roughly 30 years old, walks in with his guitar, and begins narrating and singing the story, recollected in tranquility, ie. he is a happy, well-adjusted, witty, charming, amusing, handsome, hetero adult.”
Rein says “David is incredibly open to his mother’s coming out. He wakes up in bed one night and realizes ‘Oh! My mom’s a lesbian.’ Before she comes out to him, he has the realization on his own, so the actual moment of coming out focuses more on the mother’s desire to know how David feels about it rather than how David feels about it.”
As for Wiccan love interest Jane, Kissin says “she represents what Claire seeks: beauty, self-knowledge, love, physical attraction and true partnership.” Music Director Kevin Dutcher says of the music and lyrics “it’s evident that the words came first. This is a story and the guy who wrote it, lived it.” The ex-husband, Garth (David Coral) sings:
Was it me – did I turn her off men?
Was it her – was she always pretending
That we -we were better off friends?
Now I’m sure- we were better off ending
And she – I’m sure that she’s dealing
And I – I don’t know how I’m feeling now.
An Ideal Husband
Through Feb. 25
Red Eye Theater, 15 W. 14th St., Mpls.
The trial of Oscar Wilde looms in gay history on a par with Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives and Stonewall. For those of you who think your great grandparents or great great grandparents may not have known about gayness, consider that Wilde’s trial for ‘gross indecency’ reverberated around the world in the late 1890s and given that his plays have been consistently popular ever since his impoverished death in Paris in 1900 at age 46, odds are those folks from that time we so often sentimentalize about, may have actually been more aware of gay folk and oppression than we might think.
Director Amy Rummenie thinks the 1895 comedy “contains shades of Wilde’s life divided between his characters: Lord Goring (David Beukema), the ‘flawless dandy’ fond of being misunderstood; Sir Robert (Adam Whisner), a man of honor facing the repercussions of a crime done in his youth; and even his wife Gertrude (Sarah Ochs), inflexibly holding her husband to standards he has already failed to achieve. The blackmail plot that surrounds Sir Robert has unfortunate similarities to the one that eventually consumed Wilde’s career and life. Just over a month after opening night, a few enterprising blackmailers surfaced with some incriminating letters of Wilde.”
That said, Rummenie calls Lord Goring “the moral center of the play. Unflappably calm, unerringly insightful, dapper, and witty, he is an echo of the public face of Wilde – the kind of man who seems to glide through trouble and emerge on the other side with a sassy epigram and not a hair out of place.” Beukema wonders that some might “think that Goring is a substitute for Wilde himself – the always witty, seemingly lighthearted life of the party who has much more lying beneath the surface.”
Ballad of the Pale Fisherman
Through Feb. 25
Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
If you missed this dreamy little gem of a show at the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Fest you’ve lucked out because it’s being reprised and expanded! Directed by Isabel Nelson, this folktale about a fisherman (Diogo Lopes) who falls in love with and marries a seal woman aka a ‘selkie’ (Anna Reichert), exudes splendidly lyrical stage movement and transformational performances.
Allison Witham who is part of the show’s inventively magical ensemble, plays several different characters including a bartender, an elderly woman named Maud, a very friendly seal, the ocean, one half of a boat, a young mother, and a squeaky bed. She says “part of the challenge of devising and performing the piece is that we choose to perform without set or props, except an accordion which Derek Miller plays. This forces us to create and inhabit the world of the seaside fishing town with only our bodies.”
Black Label Movement’s Visceral at the Cowles
Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, 528 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
For the past five years choreographer Carl Flink has shaped his Black Label Movement troupe into a highly physical company that gets raves. Their first run at the prestigious Cowles Center will surely expand their base. Flink is a demanding creative genius who can actually have dancers give you the sense of what it was like to drown in the Edmund Fitzgerald and his work on movement for plays, like Mary’s Wedding at the Jungle, can lyrically render physical human emotions themselves. One of Visceral’s segments is based on Jonathan Swift’s radical satire, A Modest Proposal.
Flink says, “we are fascinated with exploring the risks the human body can take in dance and movement – to celebrate the body as much for its power and athleticism as its potential for grace. Some think dancers should glow, but I think BLM movers should sweat.”
Soul Tight Committee
Fri., Feb. 17
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres Club Stage, 501 West 78th Street, Chanhassen
You can have the Beatles. I’m just a bit younger so my era was the Soul Era of the late ’60s and ’70s and I have never ever thought it got its due. It’s one of the most important movements in American cultural history and made the general population fall in love with African American music to an extent it never had before and perhaps since. The tunes of the time require superb vocals and clear connection with emotion, and you can bet this 10 piece ensemble will spirit us back to that dreamy space in time.
Soul Tight Committee, a nominee of many Minnesota Music Awards, will perform such classics as Ain’t No Woman (The Four Tops), Boogie Wonderland (Earth, Wind, and Fire), At Last (Etta James), I Wish (Stevie Wonder), and I’ll Be Around (The Spinners), as well as tunes made popular by Patti LaBelle, The Emotions, Michael Jackson, and K.C. & The Sunshine Band.
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
Bill T. Jones looms as one of the planet’s great choreographers. His current Walker commission includes his globally renowned dancers with their physical magnificence and divine sense of experimentation. It also salutes two experimental gay artists who were life partners for about half a century: composer John Cage (1912-92) and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009).
Walker Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither reflects “since the earliest part of his career in the 1970s, Bill T. Jones has always been openly, proudly gay in a way few in the highest levels of American performing arts world had been before him. He was and continues to be a model of how to be a forceful, proud and very public gay man -one who has exercised the right to love whoever he wanted and celebrate those relationships openly for the world to see. He has spoken regularly and bravely about his HIV-positive status, his loving relationship with Arnie Zane -both his personal and artistic partner until Zane’s death from AIDS in 1988- and about the need to fight homophobia and racism that persists in our culture. He has for more than three decades fought these battles both on and off stage. That is why, in part, it was so thrilling to see him last year be given on national television a Kennedy Center Award by President Obama, the highest cultural recognition in the land. It felt like, for a moment, we were in fact, making progress as a people – progress due in no small part to the efforts of artists and activists like Bill T. Jones.”
Harold and The Purple Crayon
Through Feb. 26
Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 Third Av., S., Mpls.
For decades there’s been a steady debate -as there should be- about the use, overuse, and misuse of technology and special effects in live theater. It’s a legitimate concern because tech can overpower performances of plays where the human form and the power of language itself and human movement can and in some cases, ought to, take us back to the most elemental aspects of performance.
However, the Seattle Children’s Theatre, now hosted by the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, gives us a superb example of a work that balances technological brilliance with performance brilliance. Crockett Johnson’s 1955 children’s fiction classic has been adapted for stage with a dream-like stream of consciousness concept where pajama-clad Harold (an endearing Don Daryll Rivera) draws lines with his purple crayon wherever his impulses take him. And while he does, he automatically creates new worlds and being: spaceships, fish, and dragons reminiscent of a minimalist Chinese New Year.
The messages within this could be legion but clearly it spirits forth how our thoughts create our reality. A great message, don’t you think? (Rivera has also written the text adaptation.) Director Rita Giomi sees the stage as her canvas and on it she takes us beneath the sea and into outer space. She balances the craft of her actors, who also include the nimble and charming Khanh Doan and Caety Sagoian, with captivating visuals by animator Stefan Gruben and lighting designer L.B. Morse. Auston James’s music and Rob Burgess’s lyrics enhance the show’s gentle power.