On the Townsend

Through July 11
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

Seldom has a contemporary play drawn from an old one been revivified so ingeniously. Henrik Ibsen’s shattering 1879 drama portrays a shallow Norwegian housewife fixated on material objects and an idyllic public front—oblivious to the connection among gender, power, and economics. Playwright Rebecca Gilman resets the story in Chicago during the George W. Bush years.

Protagonist Nora, played by a dynamic Sarah Agnew, accrues exorbitant debts, unknown to her controlling husband, Terry, portrayed by a sizzling Peter Christian Hansen. Splendid Norah Long has the role of Kristin, the character Nora’s world-weary friend from youth, recently screwed over in Atlanta as a corporate minion for Arthur Andersen after it was implicated in Enron’s downfall.

Beguiling Bhavesh Patel as Raj captures greed, vanity, and the unexamined self. Matt Guidry seethes with unrequited love as family friend Pete. He and Terry are affected by the prescription-drug craze of the decade Dollhouse is emblematic of.

Gilman, who wisely sees both genders as complicit in mutual subjugation, warns that neocon economics is entrenching a caste system personified in terrific “servant” role turns by George A. Keller and Nora Montanez.

Director Wendy C. Goldberg’s Broadway-caliber staging astounds.

July 8-11
Southern Theater
1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 340-1725

John Kelly is artist in residence at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, which actually houses a military regiment. He’s choreographing the masterful Justin Leaf in Cohesion—which addresses Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—for the Southern’s SOLO.

Leaf says, “I play a gay soldier who’s just gotten his discharge letter.”

Two other Lavender community faves, Kats D. Fukasawa and Bessie-winner Karen Sherman, also present SOLO work.

Fresh Ink 2010
July 8-25
Hennepin Center for the Arts
528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 339-4944

This series for the development of new stage work reprises Beauty is a Rare Thing (July 8-11). Curiously, in the press info, you won’t find anything at all about the explosive queer content in Marion McClinton’s groundbreaking play, which blew me away a few years ago at a previously staged Illusion reading. But it wasn’t in the press info for that one, either.

Last year’s Fringe smash Two Sugars, Room for Cream (July 15-18), written and performed by Carolyn Pool and Shannan Wexler, also evolves in the Ink mix. They render various characters from different cultures, subcultures, and economic statuses.

Pool calls it “scenes from life—stuff we think is funny.”

Madde Gibba’s irreverent solo Confessions from the Convent, a 21st-Century take on Catholicism, ends the series (July 22-25).

July 9-25
Playwrights’ Center
2301 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls.
(800) 838-3006

When Adrienne “Ady” Fidelin appeared in the September 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, she was the first black woman whose photo was printed in a major fashion magazine. Hailing from Guadalupe in the Eastern Caribbean, she became the muse of iconic French photographer Man Ray. Their work together reflected an exotic equatorial sense and African motifs. The haunting last report of Fidelin is that she was seen dancing at a “Negro” club in Paris after Man Ray fled France because of the Nazis. Pangea World Theater remembers Fidelin with Rhianna Yazzie’s new play.

Traveling Light
July 9-28
Layman’s Cemetery
2945 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 874-9321

As unsavory as it sounds, back when homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom, graveyards often served as quickie sex spots. Joe Orton, the gay satirical playwright of London’s Swinging ’60s, was known for cemetery cruising, and that’s the appropriately sordid context of Lindsay Harris Friel’s play. She imagines an encounter between Orton and Beatles manager Brian Epstein regarding a script the former actually wrote for a film he hoped would star the group.

Traveling Light’s intentionally slated closing night, July 28, marks the 43rd anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which stated that UK criminal law could not use a guilty party’s sexual orientation to increase or compound the severity of a crime’s punishment.

David Beukema plays button-down closet-case Epstein. Wade A. Vaughan portrays rebelliously homoerotic Orton. They actually will perform for Theatre Pro Rata at Layman’s Cemetery in Minneapolis.

In one Orton play, a male hustler does pushups in a graveyard to tone up for his next trick. Indeed, hustling, sexual blackmail, and professional criminality, along with defiance of social and religious authority, permeate Orton’s work.

These themes reflect a risk-addicted playwright, Orton, who lived life on the edge at the margins. In 1967, at 34, he was bludgeoned to death by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, who promptly overdosed with Nembutal.

At Orton’s funeral, Harold Pinter—who went on to win the Nobel Prize—eulogized Orton as “a bloody marvelous writer.”

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