On the Townsend

By John Townsend July 1, 2009

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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Phédre / July 8-9 / Guthrie Theater/ 818 s. 2nd St., Mpls./ (612) 377-2224 / www.guthrietheater.org

Queer literary folks know gay Greek dramatist Euripides’s Hippolytus as the definitive incest tragedy, but in 1677, French playwright Jean Racine retold the tale in Phèdre.

Screening in high definition at the Guthrie, the film of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s current production, directed by Miss Saigon’s Nicholas Hytner, stars iconic Helen Mirren as Queen Phèdre, who yearns for her stepson, Hippolytus, played by dashing Dominic Cooper (The Duchess). Though Mirren is best-known recently for her conservative Oscar-winning turn in The Queen, she jolted the indie film scene in 1989 with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Like Phèdre, it is extremely controversial.
Guthrie External Relations Director Trish Santini calls Phèdre “a truly unique way to evolve our WorldStages program. I am delighted that we can bring world-class theater to Guthrie audiences in innovative ways, while building upon [Artistic Director] Joe Dowling’s mission to connect the Guthrie to the local, national, and global theater communities.”

The Big G’s last hi-def screening was Mike Nichols’s film of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which looked fabulous!

My Antonia / July 9-12 / A Great Miracle Happened Here / Illusion theater / 528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. / (612) 339-4944 / www.illusiontheater.org

A stage adaptation of iconic lesbian novelist Willa Cather’s My Antonia kicks off Illusion Theater’s 22nd annual Fresh Ink Series for new work.
Playwright Allison Moore feels the novel is so “enduring because Cather allows the relationship between Jim and Antonia to be incredibly complex. Their relationship defies easy definition. It’s a romantic relationship at some points, but they are also competitors. That level of complexity is so profound and so human, and Cather captures it gorgeously.”

The novel was published in 1918, so, as is the case with writers of the homo-censored past, we can’t help but wonder if Jim channels some of Cather’s own unrequited feelings.

Jenna Zark’s new drama, A Great Miracle Happened Here, involves Midwestern parents and their 18-year-old son’s desire to join the Israeli army. She wrote the lovely Hanukkah play Festival of Lights. Her new work is another example of Illusion’s excellent efforts toward melding political issues with human relationships.


Flower Drum Song
/ July 12 / Ordway Mcknight Theatre / 345 Washington St., St. Paul / (651) 224-4222 / www.ordway.org

When Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song broke ground in 1958, no Broadway show ever had incorporated so many Asian characters. But time marches on, and those ’50s representations seem dated. However, in 2002, innovative playwright David Henry Hwang reimagined the script contemporaneously with Mei-Li as not a mail-order bride, but rather a Chinese refugee. Sara Ochs plays that role in Theatre Mu’s Ordway revival.

Director Rick Shiomi says that Hwang reshaped the story to reflect “characters that we identify with as Asian Americans—that we keep those wonderful old Broadway songs that are quite beautiful in their own right. So, what he did was create a new story, a new set of characters that could somehow sing those songs, but their story was much more in tune with the Asian-American experience as we know it today.”

Part of that experience is about not only generational differences and tensions within immigrant families, but also disparate perspectives between immigrant groups that have been here longer than others and those more recently arrived.

Atheists Talk / Sunday, 9-10 am / am 950 Air America Minnesota / www.mnatheists.org

Many radio programs broadcast locally are queer-inclusive. But aside from KFAI’s Fresh Fruit, which is total queer content, no program is as fully queer-supportive as Atheists Talk. Large time chunks have been devoted to Wayne Besen, the Fagbug, and Project 515. Plus, an organic queer sensitivity weaves throughout other segments, because of the atheist and democratic value that separates religion and state.

Host Mike Haubrich thinks “religious institutions that suppress the rights of GLBT folks are using their beliefs as justification for an underlying homophobia. By using the Bible as an absolute moral guide in legislating issues related to marriage and other societal benefits that should be recognized as being granted by such a basic document as the Declaration of Independence, they are demonstrating precisely the effects of church-state entanglement that James Madison was warning against. The state should not be used as a sledgehammer to enforce a particular religious code, and an individual’s sexuality should not be subject to the whims of religious interpretation.”

Contributor August Berkshire observes, “Americans are proud of our ideals of liberty and equality. Why then are some people shocked when these ideals are applied to people of color, women, and sexual minorities? Are some citizens ‘more equal’ than others?”

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