On the Townsend

Two Old Black Guys Just Sitting Around Talking
Through May 23
Penumbra Theatre
270 N. Kent St., St. Paul
(651) 224-3180

Playwright Gus Edwards and director Lou Bellamy understand how homophobia gets in the way of even straight men just sitting around talking on a park bench.

When Abe (James Craven) reflexively misinterprets a metaphor about marriage made by Henry (Abdul Salaam El Razzac), things almost turn violent. Abe actually thinks Henry is making a pass.

Henry reminds us that thoughtful straight men can be misread as queer just because they are intelligent—not to mention that thoughtful hetero men tend to do better in connecting with women than men like Abe. In one scene, when Henry is in the presence of two gay men having a spat in the park, he also reveals his courtesy and lack of homophobia.

Abe is no closet case. He simply clings to a tough-guy image that doesn’t serve his best interests, and that he never has had the sense to question.

Amazingly, Henry and Abe ultimately approach a sublime interpersonal connection—not gay, but definitely human—that is acted beautifully.

The Transdimensional Couriers Union
Through May 29
Cedar Riverside People’s Center
425 20th Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 375-0300

Sci-fi buffs will appreciate John Heimbuch’s new play, wherein time-travel technology is made commercially available. It complicates the lives of the characters over a period spanning a half-millennium of corporate corruption, greedy ambition, and romantic love. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this well-acted but heady production is how time-travel tech shapes and reshapes human identity.

Alan Sorenson and Jean Wolff offer touching portrayals of middle-aged love in turmoil over centuries. Michael Croswell’s ethereal soundscape and Andrea Heilman’s set nicely enhance the sci-fi effect.

My Fair Lady
Through May 30
Minnesota Opera Center
620 N. 1st St., Mpls.
(800) 838-3006

Lerner & Lowe’s musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, is a deeper cut on gender than it’s given credit for.

Bradley Greenwald, who rocked in 2006 with his transgender Jungle portrayal in I Am My Own Wife, crosses the binary line again as Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper. He also plays Freddy Eynsford-Hill, youthful suitor of volatile Cockney protagonist Eliza Doolittle (Kate Eifrig).

Greenwald says that under Peter Vitale’s music direction, the lyrics and melodies “come out of nowhere, work their quiet magic, then disappear back into the wonderful language of the Shaw play.”

Sounds lovely to me.

Shanghai Moon
Through May 30
4001 48th Ave. S., Mpls
(414) 248-6481

Brazen Director Mark Hooker knows that his take on Charles Busch’s Shanghai Moon may irk some in light of recent local casting controversies of Asian-themed plays.

In counterpoint, Hooker explains that his staging “addresses stereotypes of 1930s film depictions of Asians, while challenging the notion that it is only politically correct to cast an Asian in an Asian role. We send up the 1930s style of going ‘yellow face’ by casting female Caucasian Jen Bahe as Gong Fei. An Asian actress, Rebecca Cho, commands the role of Mai Li.”

Hooker plays Lady Allington, the role originated by Busch. Kara Greshwalk walks across gender lines as Sir Geoffrey

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Through May 30
Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 822-7063

For the record, master gay playwright Edward Albee has stated categorically that the two couples of two generations in his dark 1962 comedy are not meant to represent gay men in code. However, it is his outsider viewpoint that so brutally decomposes sentimental myths of hetero marriage. Supporting that insight, director Bain Boehlke has zeroed in on the runaway sexual attraction between middle-aged Martha (Michelle Barber) and 30ish Nick (Sean Michael Dooley).

Typically, Martha’s hubby, George, is played as an emasculated wimp, but Stephen Yoakam is a revelation as a man who may be manipulating Martha more than it appears. A current between the two is so tectonic, you sense that even though George knows Nick is out to “hump the hostess,” his own wife getting laid by a younger man is not necessarily the humiliation of cuckoldry we are conditioned to think it is. In fact, it even may be a kindness, a generosity, on George’s part. Couples who swing could take a lesson here.

Frankly, this revival is the best production of this play I have seen. Its four actors—including Jane Froiland as Nick’s mousy spouse, Honey—are better than those in the 1966 film, which nabbed 13 Oscar nods. All four Jungle actors best the four in the film. Richard Burton as George and George Segal as Nick were nominated for Oscars. Elizabeth Taylor as Martha won Best Actress. Sandy Dennis as Honey won Best Supporting Actress.

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