Arts Spotlight: 496

Crimes of the Heart. Photo by Joan Marcus
Crimes of the Heart. Photo by Joan Marcus
Crimes of the Heart. Photo by Joan Marcus

Crimes of the Heart. Photo by Joan Marcus

Crimes of the Heart

Through June 15
Guthrie Theater, 818 So. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

The Guthrie has staged its funniest production in years with the 1980 contemporary classic Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. When you see director Marcela Lorca’s sparkling staging you will understand why the comedy won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony. The production captures early 1970s small town Missisippi with a striking balance of bold strokes and subtle ones. The story involves three sisters (echoes of Chekhov?), two of whom are in their 20s and one, protagonist Lenny (Maggie Chestovich), who has just turned 30 at the start of the play. It’s unique because of its penetrating, not to mention hilarious, insights about struggles particular to young women reeling from the choices they made at early agesthe profound wages of youth. Lenny has stayed at home to look after the ailing grandfather who raised the sisters after their mother’s unusual suicide. Her sacrifice has made her settle for being single because of mistaken ideas she holds about herself. Meg (Georgia Cohen) has returned from California and a failed singing career that she had vainly hoped would catapult her to stardom. And Babe (Ashley Rose Montondo) has shot her abusive husband. Babe’s actual crime is what sets the play in motion but the crimes that one commits upon one’s self by denying one’s self-worth are Henley’s central concerns.

This trio of actresses ingeniously gets to the play’s deep emotional core while delivering laughs born of the foibles Henley reveals in them. Call it a human comedy. Lenny’s attraction to the seemingly unattainable Doc (a likable and comfortable-in-his-skin Sam Bardwell), brings out a competitive streak when the far more glamorous Meg seems to make moves on him. In addition, Meg is volatile and has an arrogant streak. On one hand, her disregard for Lenny’s one birthday present, a box of chocolates she helps herself to, shows a brazen sense of entitlement, but when push comes to shove we know the two care deeply about and love each other. And they both rally round Babe who goes to desperately comic lengths to keep everyone from finding out about the real circumstances around why she shot her husband.

David Darrow turns in a touchingly gangly performance as a green lawyer who takes on Babe’s problematic case in the face of resistance by Meg. Sarah Agnew is terrific and nimble as judgmental cousin Chick, a woman steeped in very specific criterion about how people are expected to act. Though over a century has passed in the house since the Civil War, it’s as if the hierarchies that were set in place long ago have a peculiar kind of grip on everyone. Clint Ramos’s costumes, from polyester to traditional working class, subtly and splendidly capture how the early ’70s look crept into the fixed character of conservative Mississippi. James Youmans’s striking set has the front of the turn of the 19th century house so that we see the front cut away as we look inside on the characters. Mark McCullough’s lighting nicely suits the comedy and the changing hours of the day.

In 1980 the political correctness of American liberalism had not yet set in. Though Henley does not come off in the least as a conservative, she doesn’t have us judge against one of the sisters having sex with a minor of another race, nor does she resist the humor in a woman’s suicide and the murder of an animal. Those who judge those as insensitive fail to see the way humor can be used to come to grips with painful issues and truths. These are layers of what is a rich multi-layered comedy that is clearly surviving the test of time. The Guthrie has a summer comedy sensation on its hands with this fabulous take on Crimes of the Heart.


Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
June 6 – 29
New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Ave., City Center, Mpls.
(612) 455-501

When one thinks of Minneapolis Musical Theatre one thinks of classic American musicals or contemporary musicals that feel like they run in the classic tradition. Rock musicals don’t seem to fit the image. But it’s always good to try new things and rock musicals are still musicals and have been actually shoring up their reputations as works to be reckoned with. Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers’s take on the most controversial pre-Civil War President is one of those. Director Steve Meerdink points out that “the score of the show is rock. Most songs are meant to comment on the action within the show rather than further the plot. I think the idea of mixing the historical elements of defining the Democratic party and Jackson’s rise to the presidency with a score that feels very hip and modern makes the show more accessible to today’s audience.  The mixture of the past with present presentation styles makes this satirical political rock musical more relevant to the political scene today.  I love the way the authors have mixed present and past within the script and style of presentation. I find the whole show to be quite entertaining!”

Philip Matthews, who plays Jackson at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s New Century Theatre, says that the man “is a very complicated character and one of the biggest challenges for me so far is making sure the audience gets to see that. There’s a trap when you’re working with political satire to play such extremes in characters that their true humanity gets lost. Andrew Jackson came to power in a time that was filled with so much racism, bigotry, and chauvinism that even a Fox News Anchor would think it’s offensive. And Jackson has the reputation of being a very angry product of that time. But you don’t want to just show that anger or the audiences will tune out. No one wants to pay to see an asshole rant for two hours. The real challenge is making sure the audience gets to see the part of Jackson that loved his wife, his family, and his country and who was affected by his past. You have to have a healthy balance of satire and honesty to make a character that an audience can connect with and Steven and I have been working toward finding that balance.”


Fruitful and Multiplying: The Overpopulation Exhibit

Through May 30
Bloomington Theater and Art Center, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington
June 6 – July 31
Cargill Hall, Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
(612) 543-8000

Visual artist John Schuerman has curated an arresting and unsettling exhibit that cautions on the entitled sense that humans, overpopulation, corporations, scientific technology, and government inaction have destructively wielded against our planet. Whether we are enjoying ourselves or going about our expected responsibilities and duties, we overlook the consequences of what we are doing in the process. As monied interests and right-wing agendas claim there’s not a problem, too many people are being conned by it. Too many people and too little focus on the waste we create are making for a toxified future that may be closer than we think.

Sarina Brewer uses animal skins, maché, urethane foam, and wire with Turducken, an evocation of a bird mutation with three heads: one of a chicken, one of a turkey, and one of a duck. Keith Possehl’s Oil Spill uses pigmented inkjet paint to show the top of a hand where unruly oil partially drenches a green nature setting. I was reminded of just how little upset there was by the American public over the BP oil spill. Suzanne Skon’s excellent mixed-media-made Uprooted seems pretty at first until you realize it comments on the uprooting of flowers and, by extension, other parts of nature, possibly in sacrifice to human technology and its expansion. Schuerman’s own hard-hitting Too Many Little Piggies shrewdly uses a map of the world and the classic fairy tale to convey how economic nation powers target unprivileged children into irrevocable devastation.


Twelfth Night
June 6 – 22
Various Locations in the Twin Cities Metro Area / Primarily Outdoors
All Performances Free and Open to the Public
(612) 234-7135

In the land of Illyria, deception, cross-gender illusion, and mistaken identities make for comedy. So you’ve probably guessed the playwright already: William Shakespeare. The play: Twelfth Night. The company: Theatre Pro Rata, a group that has distinguished itself on the producing of plays of the English Renaissance of monarchs Elizabeth and James. Artistic Director Carin Bratlie notes that “one of the really progressive things about Twelfth Night is that gender is almost completely negated. It’s just about love. We’ve swapped some of the genders as well but aren’t disguising them in any way. Gender just isn’t important in the fanciful world of Illyria, love is what’s important.”

Acclaimed actor David Beukema plays the coveted role of the self-deluded Malvolio who turns up his nose at everything around him. Beukema shares that “there is an incredible paradox to him. He’s this total misanthrope who thinks he’s surrounded by idiots. But he’s also a vicious social-climber who has never learned that ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.’ The people he condescends to band together and decide to give him his comeuppance, so it’s something of a wish fulfillment for the audience, who can imagine any blowhard in their lives getting his or her due.” Beukema echoes Bratlie when he says that the characters in the play “break all sorts of rules to follow their hearts.”


Shrek the Musical
Through June 15
Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. So., Mpls.
(612) 874-0400

The must-see Shrek the Musical, for all its brightness and fun, has some profound ideas running through it about the way our self-image is imprinted on us as individuals by family and the world: 1. That the judgements we assume others hold against us may well be illusory and that we, ourselves, are the ones who then ostracize our own selves and not those we may wrongly think are against us. 2. How unchecked ambition can manipulate negative self-image to its own ends. 3. And yes, it’s also a metaphor for racism, though it actually goes beyond that. It makes every single attentive watcher consider how he or she judges by the way a person looks. And we all do. And our judgments are not only about race but about carriage, facial beauty, body shape, dress, etc., etc., etc. This makes Shrek universal in a way similar to the musical, Wicked.

At Children’s Theatre, director Peter Rothstein has staged a sumptuous production that surpasses the Broadway tour that came through a while back. And that production was terrific. But Rothstein’s actors have a way of mining the anguish beneath the surface of their well-paced and -timed madcap acting style. Moreover, the design elements are far richer. Reed Sigmund plays Shrek, the green ogre ostracized by his parents simply because that’s just the way it is in their limited view of life. That said, the musical’s numerous fairy tale characters are trapped in their identities and Pulitzer-winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s book and lyrics are about cracking out of and potentially transcending those identities.

Obviously, Shrek makes a typically faulty formative decision. Having been thrust into the world too early on, he assumes he must be mean and aggressive in order to get by and have his own little patch of swamp. His sights go no higher. Unworthiness has been codified into him by parents and the world and further reinforced by his own limited consciousness. However, Fate intervenes when the pettily tyrannical Lord Farquaad (Adam Qualls) tasks Shrek to rescue Princess Fiona (Autumn Ness) from a castle surrounded by hot lava in order to make her his Queen so he can illegally capture the throne to the kingdom. If he succeeds Farquaad will not evict him from his swamp, or so he says. Playing Sancho Panza to Shrek’s reluctant Don Quixote is Donkey (Ansa Akyea). The two actors have created a crackling and lovable comic duo that charms kids and grownups alike. Qualls is deliciously nasty as the spoiled rotten Farquaad who thinks he is entitled to anything or one he wants. Qualls has mastered the added challenge of playing the character as a man of small stature who must scoot around on the floor. The effect is hilarious.

For those unfamiliar with Ness, she’s one of those comic actresses who you will likely enjoy a lot even if you’ve never seen her before. But for those familiar with her work, she may actually seem ever more (here I go with that overused word, but it’s pertinent here) amazing! She rivals Brave New Workshop’s Lauren Anderson as the region’s top comedy actress so that gives you an idea of just how exceptional she is. Like Anderson, Ness is a grand master of slapstick. She and Sigmund, having been in many productions together also and have their own special wildcat duo energy. It’s joyful to see them in a show together.

Michael Matthew Ferrell’s choreography crosses dance styles with dazzling flair. Music Director Denise Prosek and conductor Victor Zupanc capture the irreverent spirit of Lindsay-Abaire’s lyrics and Jeanine Tesori’s music.

Rich O. Hamson’s costumes are marvelously faithful to fairy tale archetypes, though with a special comic twist. Kate Sutton-Johnson’s set beautifully evokes the sensual green landscape the characters inhabit as Paul Whitaker’s lighting brings vibrantly dramatic variation to this colorful action-packed musical comedy.

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