On the Townsend

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Through Mar. 6
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

Cap off Black History Month with Jevetta Steele, who brings ferocity, raunchy vocals, and tyrannical force to the role of Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, “The Mother of the Blues.” She is a woman who never gave an inch, because hard knocks as a black performer taught her that in the 1920s, you had to be tough and territorial about your star power. In August Wilson’s 1982 play, she is at odds not only with white record producers, but also with Levee (James T. Alfred), a hotheaded black trumpeter who has the hots for her sexy assistant, Dussie Mae (a steamy Lerea Carter). Ma’s lesbianism never is discussed overtly, but emanates from Steele’s marvelous performance. Lou Bellamy directs this Penumbra/Guthrie show with piercing intensity.

Through Feb. 27
Gremlin Theatre
2400 University Ave. W., St. Paul
(800) 838-3006

This one-person show, written and directed by Dan Guerrero, which premiered five years ago in LA, has been acclaimed by critics, and played to crowds in more than a dozen cities including Washington, DC. Through music and words, he reflects on growing up gay and Chicano. Gaytino! relates his relationship with his musician father, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, as well as his experience as a Broadway talent agent. It plays as part of Teatro del Pueblo’s 10th Annual Political Theatre Festival: Latinos in Transition. Hispanic Magazine called Dan Guerrero “one of the most powerful Latinos in Hollywood.”

Through Feb. 27
Howard Conn Fine Arts Center
1900 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.
(612) 623-9080

Rita Cannon is right-up-to-the-minute with her new bullying drama. One of the play’s story lines focuses on a high school student named Nick (Shawn Chromey-Daniels).

Cannon says, “Nick gets consistently bullied by a group of guys at school for being gay, despite the fact that he’s never said anything conclusive about his orientation one way or another. The guys who tease him have apparently decided he’s gay because he is shy, plays guitar, and doesn’t have a girlfriend. The teasing continues to get worse over a period of months, until Nick finally gets into a physical fight with one of his tormentors, and gets suspended from school. This forces him to tell his mother [Stephanie Miller] what’s been going on, and the two of them struggle with what to do about the situation.”

The Balcony
Through Mar. 6
nimbus Theatre
1517 Central Ave. NE, Mpls.
(612) 548-1380

Ironically, many assimilationist gays reject Jean Genet (1910-1986) because he presents a “negative” gay image. Nonetheless, he looms as an utterly world-class titan of literature. For GLBT folks in the mid-20th-Century, he was a beloved rebel who subverted unexamined sexual morality. Existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre dubbed him “Saint Genet.”

Josh Cragun directs the Genet classic The Balcony that equates society’s hierarchy with that of a brothel. In our day of Wall Street high rollers paying hundreds of thousands for hookers (see the searing new documentaries Client 9 and Oscar-nominated Inside Job), it seems a timely choice for revival.

Cragun observes, “Genet was a writer who wrote so provocatively, so firmly about his identity as a gay man that when The Balcony was written in the 1950s, his work had already been banned wholesale in the United States. Growing up as an orphan in one of France’s most conservative provinces, he found himself on the outside of society, eventually becoming a thief, prostitute, and wanderer, observing society from afar, and eventually becoming one of France’s greatest writers, harnessing a prophetic voice. Genet’s fascination with male hierarchies—the church, the military, the courts—and his unabashed willingness to discuss sexuality in open terms are woven throughout the show.”

Bill W. and Dr. Bob

Through Mar. 6
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 339-4944

Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey’s play is about how Dr. Bob Smith (Terry Hempleman) and Bill Wilson (Phil Callan) founded Alcoholics Anonymous. But it also portrays their wives, who made an equally-historic contribution.

Actress Carolyn Pool shares, “I play Lois Wilson, who, with Anne Smith [Beth Gilleland], essentially started Al-Anon, the support group for families of alcoholics. Lois became a true figurehead in the AA movement for her constant, if somewhat challenging, devotion to her husband, and his work to beat his own dependency and his work to help others. This play is not just the story of two men and their struggles, and the struggles of their families, but of the millions of people affected by addiction.”

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