On the Townsend

By John Townsend April 24, 2008

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene, Uncategorized

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Have You Seen steve Steven?
Through May 4
Red Eye Theater
15 W. 14th St., Mpls.
(612) 870-0309
www.redeyetheater.org

In recent years, the innovative Red Eye Collaboration has been the place for new work by young women playwrights: Trista Baldwin, Anne Washburn, Sheila Callaghan—and now, Ann Marie Healy’s Have You Seen Steve Steven?. Its absurdist satirical edge suits Red Eye’s signature style.

Miriam Must, who plays Jane Dudley, the matriarch of a McMansion, calls the foreign exchange student her family is hosting its “status symbol of the moment,” and remarks that Jane’s comfort zone is “fairly narrow.”

Maggie Scanlan plays her nosy neighbor, who serves up some intriguing brownies.

Everywhere Signs Fall
Through May 11
Loading Dock Theatre
509 Sibley St., St. Paul
(651) 228-7008
www.gremlin-theatre.org

Playwright Alan Berks has a gutsy way of delving into human psychology.

Berks’s latest, Everywhere Signs Fall, looks into what he calls the “coping mechanisms” people use, in his words, “to avoid dealing with the complexity, the shocking unpredictability, and the emotional truth in their lives. Guy [John Middleton], for example, drinks and jokes. Jeremy [Paul Cramm] uses science and technology to put a safe and seemingly reasonable distance between the events that bother him and his thoughts about those events. Rather than mourn the loss of his parents, he decides that he can figure it all out—that it has to make sense; that he can make it make sense.”

Rabbit Hole
Through May 11
Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 822-7063
www.jungletheater.com

When grieving the death of a child, multiple involuntary upsets surface from the subconscious. Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pultizer Prize-winning drama, penetrates the irrational, blaming, and primordial minefield of the early grieving phase, when suburban couple Becca and Howie Corbett are faced with the accidental death by automobile of their 4-year-old son, Danny.

At the Jungle, Director Bain Boehlke’s superlative cast has mined the nuance, the subtlety, and the ironic wit to riveting effect in a stunning production. Amy McDonald’s Becca is magnificent in a role that easily could have been unsympathetic, but emerges as complex. Mark Nelson, in a revelatory performance, exposes sudden terrifying moments of despair out of what we assume to have been an even keel—especially when confronted by Jason (Jason Peterson), the teen driver who killed Danny. Peterson’s portrayal is wrenching. Paradoxically, actresses Maggie Chestovich as Becca’s sister and Nancy Marvy as her Mom are models of irreverent hilarity in perfect balance with empathy for the couple’s tragedy.

Another paradox: Rabbit Hole’s eight scenes, on the surface, are virtually “uneventful,” yet every moment grips you.

The Brave New Workshop at 50: Old Enough to Know Better
Through June 21
Brave New Workshop,
2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 332-6620
www.bravenewworkshop.com

The region’s premier comedy theater, Brave New Workshop, which is marking its 50th anniversary, stages a savvy revival of select vignettes from years and decades past. Its alumni include Al Franken, Faith Sullivan, and illustrious founder Dudley Riggs.

The Brave New Workshop at 50: Old Enough to Know Better unsettles with tunes like “How Much is that Darky in the Window?”—that brutally satirizes white privilege—as well as vicious scenes like one spoofing a baby-sitter falsely accused of groping a child. Indeed, it seems that even though these scenes are from the past, they’re still terribly pertinent.

Moreover, this new generation of BNW actors, crisply directed by Caleb McEwen, breathes mischief and vibrancy into what lesser talents wrongly could have dismissed as dated throwaway material. Relevant, edifying, and entertaining.


Blues in the Night

Through May 18
Ordway McKnight Theatre
345 Washington St., St. Paul
(651) 224-4222
www.ordway.org

Austene Van directs the revue Blues in the Night at Ordway’s cozy McKnight space with eye and ear to its feminist sensibility.

Three African American blues singers in three 20th Century time periods are costumed vividly by Tulle & Dye. They react totally in song, wonderfully sung, to the formidably sexy Julius C. Collins. Decked out like Al Capone’s bodyguard, he’s the revue’s domineering, ghostly, timeless male presence, haunting the psyches of these women who seem to vacillate between victim and freethinker.

Jamecia Bennett, snappy and sassy with a touch of the hippie in her demeanor, is a woman who seems to rebel against male prerogative. Regina Marie Williams emanates a vision of ’40s high glamour, reminiscent of Hedy Lamarr and Rita Hayworth. Debbie Duncan, poignant as a vaudeville circuit singer—exploited by the industry and by lovers—channels flapper-era pizzazz contrasting anguished inner depth.

We ask: At what point might dependence masquerade as love? And how can show biz and the economic system chew up and spit out artists and poor women when it has used them up?


Exit Strategy

Through May 4
Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 So. 4th St., Mpls.
(612) 338-6131
www.mixedblood.com

Exit Strategy is roguish fun, uproariously funny, and a groundbreaking comedy to boot. Playwrights Roy M. Close and Bill Semans address the limited options available to senior citizens, even when they’re passionate, sharp and full of insight. Indeed, ageism is a prevailing American vice, hence the valuation of elders is not a prevailing virtue. That said, this play, vibrantly directed by Howard Dallin for Cricket Productions at Mixed Blood, is by no means yet another idealizing take on senior wisdom. Nor is it some dreary admonishment against age discrimination. So if you seek sentimentality or absolution, and need to replicate the seniors in your life as cut-out kewpie dolls rather than real people, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

For starters, Exit Strategy’s two main characters never had the happily ever after heterosexual past we’re all conditioned to. Moreover, they’re confronted with a moral dilemma when asked by a mysterious stranger to assist in a crime.They’re both refreshingly flawed and down to earth, not to mention bright. Mae in the way of street smarts and James as an academic. But be warned: they still have feisty libidos and a need for romance and adventure! James’s cruising for men in straight bars (yikes!) and Mae’s attraction to the stranger, a man named Alex, are far cries from On Golden Pond. And the fact that Exit Strategy is set in the tatty lobby of a run down residential hotel constantly underscores, despite all the laughs, the fallen economic status of the characters, and by extension American seniors in general. James Bakkom’s set and Gail Bakkom’s costumes reflect this vividly.

Charles Nolte and Shirley Venard utterly soar as James and Mae in some of the juiciest stage chemistry we’ve seen on any stage recently. It’s marvelous to see two of our great veteran actors not only in top form, but taking on material that’s so gritty. It’s also extraordinary to hear so much dialogue about sex and desire spoken so frankly, wittily, and naturally by seasoned senior actors playing senior characters. After all, our collective American ethos has desexualized older folks and turned them into stereotypes. James has an existential moment when he thinks he may have sucked his last cock. Sure, it’s funny but it reflects a cold reality never spoken about. Mae’s instinctive animal reaction to Alex is sublimated but visceral. Also very funny, but bravely revealing. And Alex, as played by Semans, understates splendidly a strong alpha male energy typically attributed to younger men.

Beyond sex, Exit Strategy also raises vital questions about criminality in a society where and a time when so many different groups are becoming more sytematically marginalized. Consider that James would have been a boy in the 1920s, a Republican-ruled time when the gap between rich and poor was comparably stark. He’s come full circle not only personally but historically. Close and Semans have us ponder that when the system has become so stacked toward the filthy rich might it be logical, if not natural, for those who’ve been fallen through the cracks to do what they must, by any means necessary, just to get by? Indeed, this will actually be the most controversial aspect of the play for some. For all its great fun, Exit Strategy is pungently provocative and incisive, even ruthless, in its many observations. A breakthrough in the portrayal of the aged. One wonders what Henry Fonda whose cantankerous turn in the film On Golden Pond is legend, would say if he knew that Nolte, who played with him in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial on Broadway in the 1950s would think. And as for the late Charlton Heston, Nolte’s touring company roommate from an earlier time, we might wonder if he’s turning in his grave. How interesting that Nolte has surpassed both Titans in terms of artistic risk, courage, and emotional bravery.

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