On the Townsend

By John Townsend July 17, 2009

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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Momentum / Through July 25 / The Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls. / (612) 340-1725 / www.southerntheater.org

This year, the annual Momentum Series choreographers sharply address factors that thwart human interconnection.
Sachiko Nishiuchi’s The Apple Tree (July 16-18) muses on how socioeconomics play into that.

Nishiuchi says, “Emotions and logical thinking coexist in a body as two separate entities, and sometimes, they produce two contrasting wishes or decisions. In my work, a young man [Edwin Suarez] has to make a decision whether he should pursue his love and desire for a girl [Nishiuchi], or should leave her, because it seemed obvious that they would not be compatible due to their socioeconomic differences. The irony in this work is that by making a logical choice, he lets go of his own sacred nature of authenticity.”

In I Can’t Stand Close Enough to You (July 23-25), Megan Mayer sees the fine line between the risk of intimacy and the comfort of companionship.
Mayer seeks “to investigate tension between group dynamics and ‘groupthink’ and the isolation of an individual—and those clumsy and self-conscious spaces we encounter in intimate interpersonal relationships. I see a lot of beauty in the awkwardness of intimacy.”

The Skin of Our Teeth
/ Through July 25 /
Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Mpls. / (612) 729-1071 / www.girlfridayproductions.org

Master gay playwright Thornton Wilder (1887-1975) wrote The Skin of Our Teeth, The Great American Comedy, in 1942, five years after he finished Our Town, The Great American Drama. Though the former is a hilarious crowd-pleaser that your conservative grandma will love, it exudes wild experimentation. A nuclear family affected by dinosaurs, hussies, and human rage navigates the Ice Age, Atlantic City, and Apocalypse.

Director Ben McGovern reflects, “The way Wilder goes about telling the story is revolutionary. He doesn’t paint flat canvases for actors to carry out a simple narrative, but actually uses the occasion of an audience gathering to hear stories being told as a launching pad for exploring the actual moment in which his plays are being performed.”

In the mid-1990s, McGovern staged Chopping Block’s visionary take on another American comedy groundbreaker, Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine. Hence, McGovern’s new production eagerly is anticipated.

Toni Morrison’s Jazz
/ July 23-26 / Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. / (612) 339-4944 / www.illusiontheater.org

With two GOP Senators drowning in adultery issues, Marion McClinton’s adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz seems ruefully relevant. The ever-hip Sanford Moore’s music is set to a tale of a man who murders his much younger lover, and the psychic wreckage left behind. Greta Oglesby, magnificent in the Guthrie’s recent Caroline, or Change, is featured. Other greats in this production are Christiana Clark, Shawn Hamilton, Gavin Lawrence, and Regina Williams. McClinton wrote the stunning lesbian-themed Beauty is a Rare Thing. Toni Morrison’s Jazz is the final presentation of Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series for new plays.

Hello, Dolly! / Through Aug. 1 / Arts Center on 7, 18285 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka / (952) 401-5898 / www.minnetonkatheatre.com

The most moving moment of this year’s Tony Awards was the Lifetime Achievement Award to Jerry Herman. Queer culture rightly gave him paragon status a quarter century ago for creating the musical La Cage Aux Folles, which proclaimed “I Am What I Am”—like it or not! But as early as 1964, he loomed with his gloriously optimistic Hello, Dolly!, based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker (1938/revised 1955).

Comic actress extraordinaire Greta Grosch is Dolly. John Trones plays Cornelius Hackl, an exploited employee of Horace Vandergelder (Rob Knutson), a tyrannical Yonkers hay and feed merchant.

Trones remarks, “Cornelius realizes life is passing him by, gets a burst of adrenaline-chutzpah—grows a pair, however you want to put it—and drags his sidekick, the charmingly naive Barnaby [Brian Pekol], to New York, where they meet the girls of their dreams, and the adventure begins. Cornelius is tired of living in the shadow of Horace, and having no life of his own. He’s ready to grab life by the horns, and enjoy the ride, not knowing where it will take him.

As You Like It
/ Through Aug. 16 / Boom Island Park, 724 Sibley St. NE, Mpls. / www.thestrangecapers.wordpress.com

Randy Reyes zestfully made his crossgender mark in the Guthrie’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now, he’s genderbending William Shakespeare again, this time as director of The Strange Capers production of As You Like It. The lead character, Rosalind (Emily Shain), dons male apparel to elude the Bard’s youthful male ideal, Orlando (Max Polski). But Reyes transcends even that by having women play various other male characters, including Ally Carey as Jacques, the cynic who spins the fabled Seven Ages of Man speech.

As for Orlando’s attraction to Rosalind, Reyes asks, “In the moment, is he attracted because it’s a man, or because he thinks it’s a woman? You can’t define love in the moment you’re living. It’s afterwards that you define and identify yourself as I am this, and I am that: gay, straight, bisexual.”

Shain adds that the play’s forest setting dissipates socially imposed categories for gender and desire. How fitting it’s played outside at Boom Island.

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