On the Townsend

Psychosis 4:48
Through Sept. 7
The Soap Factory
110 5th Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 227-1188

On the heels of its wonderful staging of the terrific trans play Standards of Care, bold and smart 20% Theatre Company plumbs the surreal Psychosis 4:48, Sarah Kane’s descent into psychological hell. But how is the troupe approaching this, the playwright’s last work, after which she committed suicide?

Director Natalie Novacek stresses how crucial it is for the actors not to fall “into the trap of playing everything at one level or one emotion. There is so much depth, sincerity, fear, anger, sadness—and, yes, humor—in her depiction of mental illness and depression. It is my goal to explore all those emotions to varying degrees and intensities. It can be difficult for the actors to be so close to something so powerful. We take a lot of breaks in rehearsals. We laugh a lot, talk a lot. We are very cognizant of what this show does to all of us mentally, physically, and emotionally. We try to look out for each other, keep each other healthy and safe.”

Sept. 11-13
Rainbow Granite Quarry
Waite Park, Near St. Cloud, MN
(612) 375-7600

Iconic choreographer Merce Cunningham brings his fabled dance troupe to Minnesota to revive a piece he created with the late experimental composer John Cage, inspired by the I Ching. Ocean features 14 dancers surrounded by audience surrounded by the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra—all of this at a quarry. It has played only in Amsterdam, Belfast, Berkeley, Brussels, London, Miami, Montpellier, New York City, Niigata (Japan), and Venice.

Walker Art Center’s Philip Bither, who is curating the event, says it “was originally imagined in an audacious way. It was the last piece Merce Cunningham and John Cage conceived together, and was done after Cage’s death. They were almost dreaming of what is it that we haven’t done yet that we could achieve on a monumental scale.”

The Juliet Letters
Sept. 11-21
Southern Theater
1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 340-1725

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the quintessential story of forbidden love. So, interracial hetero lovers and queer folks always have held it close to their hearts. But did you know a real-life Juliet inspired the Bard, and her tomb is in “fair Verona”? In 1991, rock star Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet were prompted by letters that had accumulated at the tomb site to create music and lyrics.

Director Gary Briggle shares, “When I first heard these songs, their surprising stories swept me away. I’ve sung them to myself for years, longing to share them—vividly imagining the lives they conjure and the hearts they might touch.”

Hence, The Juliet Letters’s first fully staged production, with set, costumes, and props designed by John Clark Donahue.

The Lion, The Witch and the War Hero, or Is McCain Able?
Through Nov. 8
Brave New Workshop
2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 332-6620

If you want a textbook example of “safe” comedy, this is it.

The toughest thing it has to satirize about John McCain is an ageist cheap shot that he already will be afoot at 3 AM for that now-proverbial emergency phone call because old men’s weak bladders make them get up in the wee hours to pee anyway. Nothing political is satirized seriously at all, like, say, his affiliation with the Keating Five of Savings and Loan scandal infamy, his flip-flops on torture, and his allegiances to fanatical evangelical demagogues—or the cumbersome way so many people genuflect before saying anything unfavorable or critical about him because of his war experiences.

That said, the worst portrayed of Barack Obama is how fans are more interested in his charismatic personality than his stand on issues. Indeed, Josh Eakright charms as he sings a Woody Guthrie-style tune about gargantuan feats Obama has done, like creating the Mississippi River. Silly and cute, but hardly edgy. Network TV couch potatoes will eat it up. But, the issues Obama has caved in on—like granting immunity to telecommunications that have wiretapped US citizens; and giving faith-based initiatives access to government funding, hence muddling separation of church and state—were not touched on opening night, when I attended, not to mention his overly gingerly attitude toward queer issues.

Director Caleb McEwen’s actors, as usual, are sharp and funny. Lauren Anderson’s spoof on Hillary Clinton is delicious. Mike Fotis’s turn as a bartender who changes the name of his St. Paul bar from Kennedy’s to Reagan’s to lure Republican National Convention patronage is terrific.

But McEwen, for all his finesse, is afraid of exploring the subject matter. That said, he told opening night’s audience this revue will change throughout its long run. Will he perhaps stop being so polite?

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