On the Townsend

Song of Extinction
Through Mar. 20
Guthrie Dowling Studio
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

Theatre Latte Da director Peter Rothstein shares that EM Lewis’s drama with music, Song of Extinction, “explores how we as human beings define, defy, and embrace the concept of extinction intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Max [Dan Piering], a 15-year-old cellist, can only begin to address the vast topic in a language without words: music. It culminates in his composition, The Song of Extinction.” This unusual choice for Theater Latte Da is acted with delicate sensitivity, but Lewis’s use of the bigoted term “retard” works against her otherwise worthy intentions.

Dido, Queen of Carthage
Through Mar. 20
Gremlin Theatre
2400 University Ave. W., St. Paul
(612) 874-9321

Over the centuries, many scholars have theorized that had playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (1564-1593) lived longer, he would have equaled his contemporary, William Shakespeare. As a homosexual, an active spy, and a professed atheist in Elizabethan England, Marlowe was a marked man. His death by stabbing is shrouded in controversy.

Marlowe’s first play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, revived by Theatre Pro Rata at Gremlin Theatre, muses on history and myth. It also reflects his devil-may-care approach to life.

As director Carin Bratlie puts it, “Marlowe was thumbing his nose at the usual pictures of love, and having great fun doing it.”

Dramaturg Christine “Kit” Gordon says Marlowe “opens the play with a scene among the gods: Jupiter dallying with his love, Ganymede, a human from Troy with whom he fell in love, and made immortal as a cupbearer to the gods. This initial pairing is only the first of a series of ‘inappropriate’ matches in the play: assertive women pursuing men, an old nurse suddenly a bit too fond of her young charge. Only one relationship in the play is traditionally heterosexual, with a dominant male pursuing a woman.”

Shirley Valentine
Through Mar. 20
Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 822-7063

It’s hard to believe, but as recently as the 1980s, a critical mass of women had yet basically to question gender roles. Cheryl Willis’s wonderful turn in Willy Russell’s 1986 solo play shows how far we’ve come since then. A Liverpool housewife hits middle age, and painfully realizes how defined both she and her blue-collar husband have been by their respective social functions. She sees that she has been reduced to an overworked housekeeper, and her husband to an overworked provider. As dull as her plight may seem, this human comedy actually shines like a gem. Shirley wrestles with self-pity and self-absorption en route to regaining her lost true self. Once again, Jungle Director Bain Boehlke guides a performance that surpasses the Oscar-nominated film portrayal, with Willis besting Pauline Collins.

Through Mar. 20
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(612) 375-7600

Gay choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) and gay composer John Cage (1912-1992) were life partners and artistic collaborators for roughly a half-century. In 2007, Tacita Dean filmed Cunningham sitting serenely while listening to Cage’s iconic 4’33”, a unique composition that requires its musicians not to play instruments—the idea being that there really is no such thing as silence. We hear ambient street noises in the background. This tranquil, Zen-like film, titled Stillness, plays in a spacious Walker gallery.

The Winter’s Tale
Through Mar. 27
Guthrie Wurtele Thrust Stage
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224

Shakespeare revolutionized the role of women. In this peculiar 1611 comedy, he sympathizes with Hermione (a gracious Michelle O’Neill), a queen wrongly accused of infidelity by her obsessed husband, King Leontes (a riveting Michael Hayden). The bard then has Paulina (a breathtaking Helen Carey) defy Leontes with a force that puts the palace’s sycophantic males to shame. Things accelerate when Leontes interrogates Hermione, dressed like an Auschwitz victim, for her alleged adultery.

Director Jonathan Munby’s magnetic staging is enhanced with fetching and funny men wearing little clothing, as well as randy rustic women hot to trot in the second half. It fleshes out the play’s Apollo-versus-Dionysius dichotomy, and emanates Shakespeare’s bisexual sensibility

Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women
Through Apr. 3
Hennepin Stages
824 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(800) 982-2787

Personal history becomes the stuff of sweet comedy. Twin Cities actresses Heidi Bakke and Nicole Fenstad successfully have taken over the two roles of this Denver-originated delight. First written and performed by Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, the two Coloradoans turned their girlhood diaries into sketch comedy that spoofs adolescent fears of sex, the history of women, and media images of feminine beauty. More than 95 percent of the audience is women, so some men may feel a bit out of place, especially in the scene where creative uses of feminine hygiene products hilariously are demonstrated.

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