On the Townsend

By John Townsend April 10, 2009

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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Quilters / Through Apr. 25 / Wellstone Center, 179 E. Robie St., St. Paul / (612) 721-1186 / www.theatreunbound.com

A liberal stereotype holds that the musical Quilters is “safe entertainment.” Yes, you certainly can take your conservative relatives to see it, and they probably will love it. But its creators, Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, pull no punches in this moving but unsentimental prism into the struggles of frontier women—a remarkable paradox that acknowledges both feminism and standard tradition.

Director Ellen Fenster says, “Quilters is not really about quilts. The play is indeed a patchwork of beautiful music, characters, and stories, but at the heart of the play is the amazing and rarely told story of the pioneer women. Theirs was an adventure hard to top: discovery, danger, disaster, faith, family, and serious courage. Women worked side by side with their men and families to build homes, conquer nature, raise families, and stay alive. Quilts for these women were not only for keeping warm on blustery nights on the prairie—quilting was their craft, their community, their family albums, and a meditative art for their anxious minds and lives.”

My Never Being Loneliness / Apr. 16-19 / Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Mpls. / (612) 874-6338 / www.openeyetheatre.org

Birch is back! That’s Melissa Birch, who was among 1990s performance art royalty for her magnetically evocative femme fatale character named Yesterday. In her past work, queerness permeates the content, and so it is with her latest, a one-act, Undying Regrets for the Future, half of a queer-inclusive bill titled My Never Being Loneliness. She thinks of her piece as a sort of RSVP for the future.

According to Birch, it’s “a response of promises I have made for things I have ruled out for future days. My character is the apprehensive hero whose triumph is transcendence, with the gift of talent, on a path of maturity, unfortunate responsibility, beneath a projection of depravity.”

The evening’s other half is also queer-oriented: Chicken Baby, by Molly Van Avery. Also on board: actors Maren Ward and Arwen Wilder. They look at personal life as a commodity and the idea of the self as character.

God’s Ear / Apr. 17-May 3 / Red Eye Theatre, 15 W. 14th St., Mpls. / (612) 870-0309 / www.redeyetheatre.org

Edgy Red Eye Theatre penetrates Jenny Schwartz’s new play about a young straight couple’s journey back to hope after losing a child. Stephen Pearce plays a dual character of GI Joe (yes, the toy) and a transsexual flight attendant, both uniformed professionals trained to deal with disaster.

Pearce shares, “They are opposite extremes of traditional gender roles, but these characters reach far beyond stereotypes. They both blend love with humor and tender nurturing to advance the healing process. It was important to me to avoid cheap lampoons of the transgendered or women in general in the Flight Attendant. She’s strong and genuine. GI Joe is as caring as he is macho. Is he anatomically correct? Only the Tooth Fairy knows.”

And the Tooth Fairy is played by Red Eye’s great veteran actress, Miriam Must. God’s Ear director Steve Busa was named this column’s Best Director for Have You Seen Steve Steven? last year.

Kushner Celebration Kick-off
/ Apr. 18 / Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls. / (612) 377-2224 / www.guthrietheater.org
A day of events—including a screening of Tony Kushner’s Emmy-nominated Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols—launches Guthrie Theater’s Kushner Celebration. Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus will perform I Want More Life, inspired by the Kushner play upon which the magnificent miniseries is based. You can expect civic dignitaries to be present, as well as the playwright himself. Rehearsals are in full swing or gearing up for Kushner’s Tony-nominated musical, Caroline, or Change, as well as a new commission, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. Michael Greif, who directed Rent on Broadway, is staging the latter. Some of Kushner’s shorter works also will be produced. All three Guthrie stages will be “Kushnerized.”

Kushner  Plays at the U of M: A Bright Room Called Day, Illusion, and Slavs / Through Apr. 26 / University Theatre, 330 21st Ave.So., West Bank, U of M, Minneapolis / (612) 624-2345 / www.theatre.umn.edu and www.CelebrateKushner.com

The Kushner Celebration hosted by the Guthrie is also getting input from the U of M with some of his lesser known, yet still powerful works. A Bright Room Called Day, time travels with polemical comparison and contrast between the Nazi Era and the Reagan Era. It explores human nature in such times of social upheaval by examining gender roles, abuse of power, religion, sexuality, and human rights. Director Lisa Channer tells us “some exceptional young actors and designers are making a play that feel more like a professional production than one might expect from a university theater department.” This, of course, is no surprise, as the U of M Theater program is consistently strong in its product.

Suzy Messerole, former co-Artistic Director of Outward Spiral, the region’s premier glbt theater troupe, is directing Slavs. Set during the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Perestroika, Messerole shares “it’s about love and leaping, taking small, tiny steps, even if there’s  nothing to guide the way and no assurance that change will happen. Among many larger-than-life characters, including a Big Babushka gender swap, is a very sweet relationship between two women, a relationship that tries to stay together while the political situation is falling apart.”

Accomplished avant-garde director Bonnie Schock is directing Illusion, adapted from Pierre Corneille’s 17th Century classic. It delves into the nature of sorcery. Major characters are a magician, a father, and his son. Kushner is definitely a man clued into notions of metaphysics, mysticism, and spirituality. And as the other two plays consider how politics affect relationships, we may also get ideas on how magic might do the same.

And check out Kushner in Context, the pre-show panel discussion on Saturday, Apr. 18 @ 6pm before A Bright Room Called Day.

Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival / Various Venues / Through Apr. 26 / The Festival’s Queer Selections / Through Apr. 22 / St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 SE Main St., Mpls. / (612) 331-4723 / www.mspfilmfest.org

Our excellent International Film Fest is much better this year with a greater inclusion of queer content films. St. Anthony Main is the site for all of them.

The Man Who Loved Yngve looks at the punk scene and male to male love among Norwegian teens. If you came of age in the ’80s, this is your flick. And if you ever loved someone of the same sex and felt uncertain about how to go about handling it, this is your flick too. It plays Apr.18 @ 8:45 pm and Apr. 22 @ 9:55 pm.

26 year old Mexican documentarian Yulene Olaizola goes feature film with Shakespeare and Victor Hugo Intimacies. These authors’s names actually represent streets in Mexico City’s ritzy Anzures neighborhood. The setting involves a boarding house, serial killing, and a dangerous mutual attraction. It plays Apr. 21 @ 7pm and Apr.24 @ 10 pm.

Spain’s gay writer paragon Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) is commemorated in Lorca, The Sea Stops Moving. His death alleged to have been at the hands of the tyrannical fascist dictator General Francisco Franco is considered her, hence is certainly a must-see for all who follow queer history. Lorca’s works were banned in Spain unitl 1953 and were not allowed to be discussed until after Franco’s death in 1975. Directed by Emilio Barrachina. It plays Apr. 26 @ 5pm.

Wrestling, director Grimar Hakonarson explores forbidden same sex love between two wrestlers. This short film penetrates the inner sanctum of Iceland’s very popular and macho sport. Hakonarson is best know for his Cannes selection, Slavek the Shit. Wrestling plays
Apr. 18 @ 1:15pm.

Bohan Slama’s eagerly awaited Country Teacher from the Czech Republic treads thin ice in its depiction of a gay teacher and a female friend. Conflict arises when he becomes aware of his feelings for her teenaged son. Dicey. Dicey….. It plays Apr.19 @ 5:15 pm and Apr. 22 @ 7:20pm.

Note: Eight Minnesota filmmakers are part of the general festival.

Also: Bear in mind, at film fests, times can change so check the website!

2.5 Minute Ride / Apr. 19-May 10 / Hillcrest Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy, St. Paul / (651) 647-4315 / www.mnjewishtheatre.org

Lisa Kron, a founding member of The Five Lesbian Brothers, is beloved for her quirky yet moving observations of her personal relationship to her family members. Last year, Christina Baldwin, of Grey Gardens fame, wowed us with Kron’s Well at Park Square. This year, Guthrie goddess Sally Wingert takes us on Kron’s solo 2.5 Minute Ride, a story of a family coming to grips with how its members perished in the Holocaust.

Director Beth Cleary calls Kron’s solo piece “affectionate and painfully honest about family relationships, Jewishness, sexuality, the collisions of memory and desire, and the mundane details which structure our workaday lives. There is tenderness in her searing observational powers—she sees and speaks in order to remind us of our complex, joyful aliveness.”

Flashback: Wingert gave a Tony-caliber performance a year ago in a play by another Jewish feminist, the late Wendy Wasserstein’s Third, at the Guthrie.

I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda / Apr. 24-May 17 / Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul / (651) 291-7005 / www.parksquaretheatre.org
Sonja Parks, fresh from her triumphant solo performance in No Child at Pillsbury House, is a sure bet again as Juliette in the area premiere of Sonja Linden’s play about the effects of the Rwandan genocide. This long-titled piece won the Time Out London Critic Choice Award. Patrick Bailey plays Simon, a struggling poet whose help she asks for in getting a book she has written published.

In Bailey’s words, Simon is a “creatively blocked writer in his mid-40s. He’s a bit lost—I hate the term midlife crisis—certainly somewhat clueless and self-obsessed. He can’t finish his book, and was being supported by his wife until taking a job at a refugee center in London. It’s his job to help his clients tell their stories, and his first one is Juliette. It’s a simple, beautifully written story of how two people can be catalysts for each other—sometimes unintentionally—and, in Simon’s case, how the assumptions we make about someone can blind us to who they are.”

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