On the Townsend
No Child / Through Mar. 22 / Pillsbury House, 3501 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls. / (612) 825-0459 / www.pillsburyhousetheatre.org
Here’s a great choice for Women’s History Month, though it’s more about quite recent history that one hopes we’ve left behind. Actress Nilaja Sun wrote her acclaimed one-woman show, No Child, about her teaching experience in the Bronx as a comment on George W. Bush’s perhaps most notorious unfunded policy mandate, No Child Left Behind. At Pillsbury House, actress Sonja Parks has garnered many rave reviews herself in the area premiere of Sun’s multicharacter solo play, directed by Noel Raymond.
Students “falling through the cracks” seems to be something that’s very much on many people’s minds—not just nationally, but globally—as we approach this decade’s end. France’s The Class was expected by many to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar after it took the Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s ultimate prize. Since Barack Obama’s inauguration, an outcry also has intensified for the education of girls in certain Muslim countries.
Raymond reminds us, “One person can catalyze the process. One person and the power of theater can help kids find their voices, and begin to see themselves in a new light.”
Iqbal / Through Mar. 28 / Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls. / (612) 874-0400 / www.childrenstheatre.org
Now that Slumdog Millionaire has won eight Oscars, and a progressive woman, Hillary Clinton, has been sworn in as Secretary of State, it’s time for a real push to address the grim issue of worldwide child labor trafficking and abuse. Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) is doing its part with its commissioned piece by playwright Jerome Hairston, concerning the true story of Iqbal Masih (Jack Wyatt Jue), who was sold into slavery at age 4 to toil in a rug factory.
CTC Artistic Director Peter Brosius shares, “What this small little 12-year-old boy from Pakistan was able to do in his lifetime—to work to free over 3,000 children from bonded labor and nightmarish lives—is a story that all people, and particularly young people, need to know. It is a story of hope and possibility, of challenge and danger, of the strength that resides in each person.”
The play, adapted from the book by Francesco D’Adamo, relates Iqbal’s mission from the viewpoint of his friendship with a girl named Fatima (Isabella Dawis)—a necessary girl’s perspective for Women’s History Month, and a great reason for Clinton to come to Minneapolis to see an urgent play that speaks to her own mission.
The Secret Garden / Through Mar. 29 / Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls./ (612) 339-4944 / www.aboutmmt.org
Marsha Norman is arguably the greatest living American female playwright. Her book for the musical The Secret Garden, from the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett novel with a girl protagonist, is one of Norman’s most uncharacteristic yet popular works. It’s also a change of pace for Minneapolis Musical Theatre (MMT), which has been walking on the wild side lately with shows like Bright Lights, Big City; Jerry Springer: The Opera; and Summer of ’42.
Steven J. Meerdink is usually in MMT’s director’s chair, but this time around, he’s acting. You may remember his stellar performance in La Cage Aux Folles, for which he was named along with his coactor, Kevin Hansen, a few years ago as Lavender’s Best.
Meerdink remarks, “I definitely like the idea of being able to work on one character, the scenes, and music.”
Marlin L. Rothe, who has given many strong stage performances locally, is The Secret Garden’s director.
By the Bog of Cats / Through Apr. 5 / Guthrie Dowling Studio, 818 2nd St. S., Mpls. / (612) 377-2224 / www.guthrietheater.org
The ancient Medea story seems to be part of our species’ collective DNA. So, it’s a perfect choice for Women’s History Month. The lauded Frank Theatre, known for its strong feminist productions, is tackling the brutal tale for its second time. But its latest staging actually reimagines the story from an Irish perspective, titled By the Bog of Cats, by Marina Carr.
Director Wendy Knox explains, “This retelling retains many of the threads that, centuries later, still rivet your attention: a woman of another culture—this time, she’s an Irish Traveller, a ‘tinker,’ an oppressed minority in Ireland—who sacrifices her roots for her lover. The romance fizzles, the woman fights to hang on to what she believes is rightfully hers, and she takes action that in her mind saves the child from what she believes to be a worse fate.”
Knox likes Carr’s dark Irish humor.
Virginia Burke, who was named ’s 2002 Best Actress, portrays Hester, the play’s Medea character equivalent.
Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children / Through Mar. 21 / The Warren, 4400 Osseo Rd., Mpls. / (612) 386-5763 / www.hardcovertheater.org
Nathaniel Churchill has adapted and directed By The Light of the Screaming Moon, one of the Dave Loupare/Dan Sweetman stories dramatized, for this acclaimed Hardcover and Workhouse Theater co-production. It looks at issues of mass conformity and being ostracized. Churchill. being a gay man will, surely have an understanding of such ills , though he’s adapted and written a straight relationship. He feels his gay sensibility may come through though because, in his words, “one might say that my female character is very strong and assertive and my male is a little on the meek side. To that I would say I just find strong women more interesting to write about, which I guess could be considered super gay on my part. And in writing this particular male character I just want to create someone that the audience is going to warm up to as fast as my protagonist.”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof / Through Apr. 5 / Bedlam Theatre, 1501 so. 6th St., Mpls. / (612) 341-1038 / www.bedlamtheatre.org
Tennessee Williams’s 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winner was one of the rare Broadway shows of its day to handle homosexuality with openness and real examination.The experimentally motivated Lamb Lays With Lions theater troupe is producing it as their first full production that employs a technique they’ve developed wherein disruption occurs over a prolonged duration. This disruption is said to get the audience engaged to a visceral degree beyond what we typically think of as ‘interactive theater’.
Jeremey Catterton and Cameron Brainard are Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”s co-directors. Catterton points out that the film version had its queer content cut out because of the Hays code of censorship that held sway from 1930 to 1968. It kept a brutally tight lid on sexual and political content. Moreover, Cat’s revival also means that two of the greatest American plays about family disintegration are now playing locally. The other being Penumbra Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun at the Guthrie by bisexual playwright Lorraine Hansberry.
Conference of the Birds / Through Mar. 29 / Avalon/Heart of the Beast Theater, 1500 E. Lake St., Mpls. / (612) 203-1088 / www.pangeaworldtheater.org
Pangea World Theater takes flight again with off-the-beaten path epic drama they do so well. Drama that doesn’t fit into the Western Formalism most of us are unconsciously drawn to -and reassured by- but which illuminates archetypes of legend and myth that most American audiences are unacquainted with. Farid ud-Din Attar’s 12 Century poem, Conference of the Birds, has been adapted by Meena Natarajan and directed by Dipankar Mukherjee.
Natarajan is a playwright with a difference, not only because she derives her script from a Persian source, and ancient Persia is far from mainstream as an American cultural reference, but she creates with highly physical acting in mind. Natarajan calls the play a “nonrealistic and symbolic journey the audience becomes a part of. The set is minimalist and time and space are not linear. The flights that the birds take during the performance have been developed by the diverse ensemble with movements and muscle memories that the actors bring to the play, as well as chooreographed sequences from martial arts.” This Conference also benefits from live Persian music. An instrumentalist plays the setar and tombour and a singer plays percussion.
Hedda Gabler / Through Mar. 29 / Gremlin Theatre, 2400 University Ave., St. Paul / (651) 228-7008 / www.gremlin-theatre.org
Three years ago Craig Johnson adapted and directed his luminous version of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen for Theatre in the Round Players. He has now done the same with his luminous new version of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler for Gremlin Theatre at their intimate new St. Paul space. Mo Perry who brought wonderful depth and intensity to the housekeeper character, a supporting role, in the former, moves up the social ladder in the new production’s title role. The miserably married Hedda is a quintessential example of a woman of fierce intelligence trapped in marriage with a frigid nerd. Here played to perfect pitch by Ryan Parker Knox. (And yes indeed, men can most definitely be frigid.) Tamatha Miller’s set and Carolann Winther’s costumes make Hedda’s trap appropriately pretty on the surface. (I loved the furnace with its vibrant traditional Scandinavian design.) Their designs rightly belie the malcontent seething just under the surface. And as with much of Ibsen, he asks which is more dreadful: society or the individual? Though Ibsen weights his argument more against society,that doesn’t stop him from revealing wanton individual cruelty, whether it’s Hedda’s neurotic behavior or our collective agreement to individually carry out society’s unreasonable and life-zapping protocols. We may also ask to what degree Hedda’s unexamined obsessions have driven her to extremity. Had she been more subversive within her social constraints, might the play have ended differently? Or is that even a reasonable expectation, given the absence of any social movement for women’s equality in Hedda’s immediate sphere?
Johnson’s delicious cast captures the searing wit that punctuates the surprisingly bizarre choices the anti-heroine makes throughout. We even get a sense in Johnson’s approach of how Ibsen anticipates the Theatre of the Absurd that would come into shape half a century after Hedda’s 1891 opening. (I don’t want to spoil the stunning ending and the fascinating reaction it got the evening I attended.) Hedda Gabler is also worth mulling over as the g & l communities ponder marriage rights. Of course, those rights should be guaranteed but when marriage is based on social hierarchy, we must all bear in mind, that misery may well be following right behind. This is something that same sex marriage would be wise in not emulating.
R.U.R. / Through Mar. 22 / People’s Center Theatre / 425 20th Ave. So., Mpls. (800) 836-3006 / www.cbtheatre.org
Christopher Kidder is a natural for directing expressionistic theater, especially when he’s dealing with Eastern European drama. He has translated and now directed one of the looming classics from that part of the world, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) for Commedia Beauregard. Czech playwright Karel Capek’s 1921 groundbreaker was decades ahead of the curve in considering the turbulent relationship between technology and special interests. Capek’s works presage the sci-fi craze that has now become and accepted part of literary life and R.U.R. resonates now especially in light of the current stem cell research controversy.
Kidder observes that technology is seen by Capek through many lenses, in his words: “the businessman who is set to profit from new technology, the worker who will be replaced by it, the religiously motivated who see technology as infringing on God’s right as the sole creator, the scientists who want to accomplish great things for their own sense of discovery and their own personal glory.”
He points out that the robots in R.U.R. are not like robots we think of today but “are essentially genetically engineered creatures, more like clones than androids. Because they are easily mistaken for humans, it allows us to explore class issues, race issues, and issues regarding science of our own day. Is it wrong to create life? Is it wrong to treat another sentient being as below ourselves, even if it was artificially created? What happens if artificial intelligence attempts that are going on right now are successful? Can men in powerful positions still affect women in such a way as to hold them down while at the same time placing them on a pedestal?”