Arts Spotlight: 429

By John Townsend November 3, 2011

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

Silent Night
Nov. 12-20
Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
(612) 333-6669
www.mnopera.org 

The World War I Christmas Truce of 1914 between German soldiers and soldiers from France and Scotland has become more widely known over the past decade; the decade in which we’ve been at war in Afghanistan, not to mention years of occupation in Iraq. The Truce was the subject of the powerhouse 2005 film, Joyeux Noel and is the source of Theater Latte Da’s new annual holiday performance tradition.

However, the 1914 Truce’s newest incanranation is operatic. Minnesota Opera and its Artistic Director Dale Johnson have seen to it that Kevin Puts has composed the music and that Mark Campbell has written the libretto. Puts being straight and Campbell being gay sweetens the spirit of this account where two polarities come together to make music. That said, Puts and Campbell are friends and magically co-creative.

Campbell showed his gift for expressing thoughts sung through deeply human characters in his splendid gay-themed Songs From an Unmade Bed. Now, having Christian Carion’s screenplay as a springboard, the buzz is that he’s in top form. Campbell shares, “People still go to the opera for the tunes and for those moments when lots of people are singing or where a lone soprano is on stage and she hits that big note. Kevin has written absolutely brilliant and beautiful music. It’s the best collaboration I’ve ever had. I just love this man’s work. I can’t wait to work on another opera with him.”

Campbell, a self-described “roaring pacifist” also benefiits from subject matter he feels strongly about: “My whole premise was that war is no longer possible when you see your enemy as human. When you know that that man has a wife that he loves, or a daughter, you can’t put a bullet in his head. War creates this world where you have to dehumanize yourself in order to do it.”

Campbell tells movie fans moved by the Dale brothers section that “the role of Jonathan (John Robert Lindsey), the brother who survives, is a bit more increased. We see them as two boys going off to war and going ‘This is an adventure! This is for honor! For country!’ And, in the next scene, William (Michael Nyby), his brother, gets killed and Jonathan spends most of the rest of the opera trying to figure out how he’s going to get payback for his brother’s death.”

Though Silent Night is not a gay piece, it’s a searing study of masculinity. Campbell observes, “Men are trained to be aggressive toward each other and to kill each other and to not make love. And this opera makes us wonder what if we dropped doing that? It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to sleep together, or that there’s anything in this opera that’s homosexual in any way. But it does kind of say: men don’t have to act this way. ”

 

Our Class
Through Nov. 20
Hillcrest Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy, St. Paul
(651) 647-4325
www.mnjewishtheatre.org

When the Nazis and Soviets invaded 1930s Poland, Jewish and Catholic natives were pitted against each other. When an entire Polish village’s Jewish population is wiped out in Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s controversial drama, Jewish Rachelka (Candace Barrett Birk) is hidden away in an attic by her Catholic boyfriend. Ultimately, in order to survive she must become Catholic, marry, and hence, discard her identity. Birk says Our Class portrays “what happens when fear overtakes sense, when it overtakes compassion, and when it overtakes love.”

Director Miriam Monasch says the play “is both very specific and, unfortunately, very universal. It resonates for me on both levels. My father’s family can be traced for many generations to a small town in central Poland. His stories of growing up in eastern Germany–now Poland again–could be right out of this play. In the time between the two World Wars there was unbelievable political and economic turmoil and the response was to turn on the ‘other.’ Scapegoating Jews was nothing new in Europe. Today we seem the same response to turbulent times in our country in the right wing’s attempts to blame immigrants for our economic problems or the LGBT commuinity for our ‘moral decline.’ Our Class shows the very real danger we face when extremeist rhetoric can turn friends and neighbors against each other. And how quickly hate-filled words can become monstrous actions.”

 

Il Campielo
Through Nov.20
Plymouth Congregational Church 1900 Nicollet Av., Mpls
& Open Book, 1011 Washington Av., Mpls
(800) 838-3006
www.tenthousandthings.org

Ten Thousand Things Theatre has developed an extraordinary and admired reputation for bringing powerful stage productions to prisons. Artistic Director Michelle Hensley’s actors do not “act down” to their audience, which some would argue is perhaps the most discriminated against American society. Whether it’s Shakespeare, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Doubt, or the current 18th-century Italian classic, Il Campielo by Carlo Goldoni, this troupe delivers with intelligence and raw power. Moreover, those who are not incarcerated can also see a public performance.

Hensley shares that in a rehearsal break for a previous production “I was complaining about how few good comic roles there are for women and Steve Epp said, ‘Do you know Il Campielo? It has six women, mothers and daughters, living on a square.’ I said, ‘That’s great, we’ll do it!’ The first translation I read didn’t seem that funny to me, though, and it even seemed misogynistic. Steve offered to make a new adaptation for us. I’m so glad he did!”

 

The Kitchen
Sun. Nov.6 at 1pm
Guthrie Theater, 818 So. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224
www.guthrietheater.org

Arnold Wesker is a master of Britain’s so-called “kitchen sink” social drama genre. His 1959 classic, The Kitchen, was actually inspired by his own first-hand experience and, out of that, he demonstrates how the workplace can undermine personal identity. The National Theatre of Great Britain’s hit revival will be vividly and boldly broadcast by the NTLive series.

 

Matador
Through Nov. 5
Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(612) 206-3600
www.thecowlescenter.org

Arena Dances and choreographer Matthew Janczewski’s muse on how bullfighting, which began as a sacred ritual offering, descends into crude bloodsport. To what degree are both the matador and the bull operating out of overt fear in inverse to suppression of fear? In a day when audiences have become numb to various forms of violent spectacle, Arena penetrates the surface.

 

Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet, RainForest & Pond Way
Through Nov. 6
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(612) 375-7600
www.walkerart.org

Experience these revivals of late choreographer Merce Cunningham’s collaborations with visual art titans. Antic Meet (1958) features Robert Rauschenberg’s set pieces. Andy Warhol’s floating Mylar pillows are part of RainForest (1968). Roy Lichenstein made the backdrop for Pond Way (1968). Cunningham Dance Company concludes its two-year Farewell Legacy tour in December. His decades-long life partner was composer John Cage.

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