Arts Spotlight: 478


Gender Reel Festival
Through Sept. 21
Minnehaha Free Space, 3747 Minnehaha Av., Mpls.

A broad variety of international, national, and regional films, as well as performance art pieces, now run at the Gender Reel Festival. Its commitment to gender non-conformity is also very much in evidence. Joe Ippolito, Founder and Chair of the Gender Reel Fest points out that “Minneapolis was the second city added to the festival bill after Philadelphia, the city where it started. I decided to bring Gender Reel to Minneapolis a year ago after moving here. Oakland and Portland were added a few months later.” Various views of transgender experience are being celebrated as well as stimulating panel discussions. When you go you will also be part of a national experience as the festival is also being held in the other cities on the same weekend. This all points to an increasing national interest in ,,and grass roots power of, transgender people and their supporters.


The Imaginary Invalid. Photo by Ron Ravensborg

The Imaginary Invalid. Photo by Ron Ravensborg

The Imaginary Invalid
Through Sept. 29
Theatre in the Round Players, 245 Cedar Av., Mpls
(612) 333-3010

Moliere is the most widely produced classic French playwright on earth. In the 1600s he took on the monarchy, the Catholic Church, and in the case of The Imaginary Invalid, the accepted medical practices of his time. Director Rick Shiomi says, “I feel like the nature of the play as personified in the Argan character (Edwin Strout) is Moliere’s critique of medicine as humans either trying to do the impossible or cleverly and maliciously exploiting the human need for cures to ailments. The main medical activity in the play is around enemas and we have a lot of fun playing that up. At the time, with practices such as smoke enemas and bleedings, one could see how Moliere came to his opinions.”

Though in some ways we’ve come a long way over the past three and a half centuries, Moliere’s satire has resonance today. Pharmaceutical corporations profit enormously by dubious medical applications and medicines, often advertised on television; something essentially unheard-of thirty years ago. So often one medication is undermined by another medication. Then, ironically, that undermining requires yet another medication, etc. etc. etc. Children are turned into prescription drug addicts by parents and doctors. Hence, in many cases, children’s cognitive and physical development have been thwarted in the name of profit. Since the 1990s the increasingly savvy general public has come to see prescription drug addiction as just as much of a social ill as illegal drugs. A harsh commentary on what we’ve become and a pattern that Moliere seems to have detected centuries ago.


Love and Marriage: What a Difference a Year Makes. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

Love and Marriage: What a Difference a Year Makes. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

Love and Marriage: What a Difference a Year Makes
Through Oct. 20
Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(612) 339-4944

Art is often a precursor and a catalyst to social change. Illusion Theater has known this for decades and the revival of its multimedia/live actor production about same-sex marriage that played before the anti-marriage amendment was defeated in Minnesota last year surely points to how art can be part of a critical-mass collective-unconsciousness evolving toward real equality. Actor Randy Schmeling shares “As with last year’s production, it’s an ensemble piece that comments on the ups and downs of all kinds of loving relationships with the ensemble fitting into various roles as needed. Last year our statement was ‘everyone has a right to love’. This year, since Minnesota has given everyone the right to love and marriage, we’re re-interviewing all of the video couples from last year to discuss what a difference a year can make. And what a difference! Almost all of the same sex couples we interviewed last year are now engaged!”

2013’s revival also has new songs and co-creators Michael Robins and Roberta Carlson have been exploring the next generation’s view on love and marriage with high school students. Schmeling, who gave a terrific performance in Artisphere’s trans-production Welcome To Normal a few years ago, adds “iI’s a whole new show for a whole new year.”


Mrs. Smith LIVE! Photo by Dan Norman

Mrs. Smith LIVE! Photo by Dan Norman

Mrs. Smith Live!
Through Oct. 13
Camp Bar, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul
(800) 838-3006

The first time David Hanbury performed Mrs. Smith was at a talent competition in Provincetown in 2001. He shares “There was a $500 prize and I was a broke young actor so I thought I would give it a try. There were a variety of acts at this show but it was mostly drag performers doing high octane lip sync numbers. Since I was not a drag performer I knew I couldn’t beat those queens at that game because it’s just not what I do. So, while I walked to the show I asked myself how I could set myself apart from the other acts and decided that in contrast to being fabulous or fierce or doing a high energy number, I could play a depressed woman in crisis. The name Mrs. Smith popped into my head because it’s such an average name, it’s the opposite of ‘fabulous’. I found myself in a Dynasty-esque sequined gown, a Liz Taylor-circa-1984 wig, put some blue eye shadow on and smeared mascara to make it look like I’d been crying. In the wings at the very last minute a friend helped me come up with the idea of missing cat named Carlyle.” Since then Hanbury has developed the role, along with input from Andrew Rasmussen, and the show has become a sensation.


Perilous Night
Through Oct. 6
Nimbus Theatre, 1517 Central Av. N., Mpls.
(612) 548-1380

Director Liz Neerland says Lee Blessing’s new play “is about power and how those who find themselves powerless to react to their situation. Despite the fact that the play is set in a mental hospital, it is not a play about mental illness. The realities created by Elizabeth (Shirley Venard) and Harriet (Dana Lee Thompson), the two patients, are ways for them to cope with trauma in their lives and the resulting loss of power. We discover that both women have endured things that caused them to ‘go crazy’, and the illusions that keep them institutionalized are the very things that allow them to retain control over their lives.”

“In contrast, Samuel (Ross Destiche) and especially Carver (Kevin Carnahan), the two orderlies, are men who find themselves without control over the things they want. Both despise working around all these ‘crazy people’, but for various reasons this job is the only option available to them. Therefore, they react to this powerlessness by exerting excessive control over those who are weaker than them – their patients.”


Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. Photo by Joan Marcus

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. Photo by Joan Marcus

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz
Through Oct 27
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(800) 859-7469

The musical that captured the zeitgeist of the new millenium is now 10 years old and frankly, as long as its tours are still up to snuff (and apparently they are), Wicked remains as great as, if not greater, than any stage musical or straight play of the past decade. And that includes Doubt, August: Osage County, and The Goat. Of course, it was robbed at the Tony Awards by the inferior Avenue Q and it can finally be said, it’s light years superior to the regressive and pubescent The Book of Mormon. And the boxoffice just keeps booming.

Wicked routes for green-skinned, ostracized Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who generations of Oz fans have been conditioned to see as a villain. Galinda, the Good Witch, is sexy, elegant, white, blonde, and unctiously ingratiating when it comes to getting ahead academically and socio-political.The show, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, sees the Land of Oz, and especially its capitol, the Emerald City, as a paranoid totalitarian state, a concept not fully shaped in either L. Frank Baum’s Oz book series or in the iconic 1939 film. That paranoia of a surveillance state, of course, resonated when the show opened when the Bush/Cheney Patriot Act horrified Americans who weren’t brain dead and continues to resound in the Obama/Biden era when the President and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, have coolly stood by while more whistleblowers have been given the shaft than in the previous GOP era.

In a way, Elphaba is reminiscent of Manning or Snowden, two victims of Barack and Hillary’s political animalism, as she defies the system as she sings one of the greatest showstoppers in all musical theater, Defying Gravity. Remember, the music is by Stephen Schwarz who gave us Godspell decades ago. Bear in mind, that that show was considered a sacrilegious hippie fest by conservative Christians of its day. Schwarz also gave us the marvelous Pippin a few years later. To re-surge decades later with Wicked is in itself a triumph of an older artist proving the notion that as you get older you actually get better, and maybe even more courageous.

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