Arts Spotlight: 439

"The Birds". J.C. Cutler (Nat) and Angela Timberman (Diane). Photo by Aaron Fenster.

The Birds
Through Apr. 8
Guthrie Theater, 818 So. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224
www.guthrietheater.org

For theater buffs: no, this is not the Aristophanes comedy from ancient Athens. Nor is it a stage version of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film thriller. However, though playwright Conor McPherson does use Hitch’s original fictional source by Daphne du Maurier. he takes it in a totally different direction with characters unlike those immortalized by Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, and Jessica Tandy. Yet the psychological results portrayed are similar in some ways. The context is totally different.

All action is played in a rural house which has been weathering perpetual onslaughts of birds hurtling onto it and into it from the outdoors. Apparently, the entire vicinity and well beyond has been undergoing these bird attacks to such an extent that most of the world’s human population has been wiped out. This house could be the last refuge on earth for human life. If the characters walk outside, the sense is that they will likely die.(Unlike the film, it’s not set in the town of Bodega Bay. The program simply states ‘A house in the countryside’.)

Actually, the Hitchcock film that McPherson’s play more resembles is Lifeboat, where survivors in what appears to be a doomed final circumstance are compelled to face how their moral and ethical identity collapses in the face of dire adversity. Survival v. Death. Their behavior also brings to mind William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies, a chilling work about adolescent boys reduced to basic brutality. Other existential greats come to mind like Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Becket in whose spheres life is devoid of meaning in a godless, therefore, hopeless, universe.

There’s a wounded raw quality to Henry Wishcamper’s direction that well suits the play’s existential core. Summer Hagen’s visceral manifestation of ‘wild child’ Julia juxtaposes Angela Timberman’s heightened take on Diane, a woman who tenaciously clings to rational thought, reason, and empathy, despite the disintegration of both material needs and civil interpersonal communication.

J.C. Cutler’s Nat and Stephen Yoakam’s Tierney are profound exemplars of men who have raised themselves not too far above the blunt realm of the senses (not to be confused with sensuality). They aspire merely toward survival and basic bodily functional pleasures, and one suspects even before the bird cataclysm, that was how they lived their lives.

Only Diane operates at a higher frequency than the others and Timberman’s magnificent portrayal never falls into sanctimoniousness. Her moment of sexual passion is one that makes psychological sense and does not lessen our respect for her. This actress reveals how those who have chosen to evolve themselves are outnumbered and outweighed by those who don’t. Hence, there is no reasonable hope for the human race to survive with the intention of ‘getting it right’ the next time around. Maybe this is why the birds are destroying human life and habitat?

 

"Blind Date". Photo courtesy of the Ordway.

Blind Date
Through Apr. 1
Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
(651) 224-4222
www.ordway.org

Interactive theater is alive and kicking at the Ordway’s smaller McKnight space. Canadian Rebecca Northan has created and performs what you could call the live stage version of reality tv. Except the reality Northan conjures is more intense as you the audience member are directly complicit with the energy that will flow.

At the beginning of the show Northan selects a man from the audience –who is not a plant– and they directly go on stage where they have a blind date while you, the audience member, gets to be a voyeur. Obviously there’s a new, different man for each performance so there’s no pre-scripted show. The comedic element is further upped by the fact that Northan wears a clown nose throughout.

However, you can expect a sort of outline. There’s a cafe scene. Scenes are also played in a ‘time out’ zone stage left. There’s a casual living room setting and yes- the bedroom!

As sensationalistic as it sounds, Blind Date is remarkably intimate thanks to Northan’s subtly masterful command of her role and the situation. She is wonderfully sensitive toward her male guinea pigs and she has a genius for making them comfortable enough to reveal emotional truths about themselves without feeling humiliated. You may feel at points that you are watching something that’s so private you shouldn’t be seeing it. But then, that’s the point.

"Coco's Diary". Andrea Wollenberg as Adult Coco and Kacie Riddle as Young Coco. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.

Coco’s Diary
Through Mar. 25
History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
(651) 292-4323
www.HistoryTheatre.com

Diary entries by a 13 year old St. Paul girl in 1927 form the structure for this charming peek into the life of Clotilde ‘Coco’ Irvine. Kacie Riddle is disarming as young Coco and Andrea Wallenberg is striking in various roles. Jake Endres not only ably plays piano for such dreamy old tunes like What’ll I Do and My Blue Heaven, but he’s also capable in various roles including a few that humorously cross the gender divide. Bob Beverage and Ron Peluso have adapted the script but they should cut half an hour off the two and a half hour length to better ensure future runs and a greater interest in what’s basically a vibrant little play. Rick Polenek’s set and Kelsey Glasener’s costumes capture the period splendidly. Thanks to Peg Meier the diary has been lifted from obscurity.

 

Million Dollar Quartet
Mar. 27 – Apr. 1
State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av., Mpls.
(800) 982-2787
www.HennepinTheatreTrust.org

There may be something bewitching about this show. When reconnecting with a past experience one wonders if it could be like a kind of seance – channeling the spirits of dead legends to revivify their spirits. Especially when its reported that the performers are as spot on as these. This is the set up: on Dec. 4, 1956 record producer Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant) assembled four future legends for a jam session at Sunset Records in Memphis. Johnny Cash (Derek Keeling), Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye),  Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter), and Carl Perkins (Lee Ferris). Kaye shares that “the most unique part of Million Dollar Quartet is that all of us are playing live. With all of us playing live it creates so much spontaneity and a different show every night.”

 

Residency. Photo by Jaime Carrera.

Renovate
Mar. 16-18
Ritz Theater, 345-13th Av. NE, Mpls.
(612) 436-1129
www.ritzdolls.com

Jaime Carrera’s performance art consistently breaks boundaries with its bold inquiries into sexuality. For his latest he says “I named this piece for the most current annoying buzzword being bandied about the art scene. Earlier it was curate, now it’s residency, it seems. I rarely make reaction pieces but with this new work, I wanted to react to several things happening in my life. Everything from recently coming out of a month’s long severe bout of depression, to commenting on the gentle art of ass kissing. More than ever, I wanted to make a dance that expresses the ultimate satisfaction of being who you are at any cost. Accepting yourself for who you are, whether it’s being queer or uncompromising in your own set of values.”

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