On the Townsend

By John Townsend October 23, 2009

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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Little House on the Prairie / Through Oct. 25 / The Full Monty / Through Nov. 8 /
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul / (651) 224-4222 / www.ordway.org

A reflexive stereotype jumps to conclude that Little House on the Prairie must be tripe. Wrong! It’s a gloriously expansive musical whose Ordway Main Stage run has songs, scenes, and dance numbers not seen in its 2008 Guthrie premiere.

Director Francesca Zambello, who has shepherded the show since its start, says, “Laura was not conventional in any sense. She basically saves her family, and saves her sister’s life in a sense, by going to teach for her. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a gay icon. Her daughter, Rose, was the biggest closet lesbian we know. She lived in San Francisco, and was an extreme left-wing politico. Many people say she actually wrote the [Little House] books—her mother sort of outlined them, and she wrote them.”

Theatre Latte Da Director Peter Rothstein has directed gay master Terrence McNally more than any other playwright. The Full Monty, with David Yazbek’s music and lyrics, plays Ordway’s McKnight space, with Randy Schmeling (Welcome to Normal) as Malcolm, and New York transplant Joey Clark as Ethan, his working-class boyfriend.

Rothstein explains that he “slated it to open the season after reading about the growing percentage of unemployed men in comparison to women, particularly in Minnesota. The Full Monty is about unemployment, gender, and what fiscal devastation does to our relationships. The gay characters are neither victims nor revolutionaries, but are essential to the fabric of this community. McNally’s musical challenges traditional ideas around male/female sexual identity, and the gay characters are an integral part of that discussion.”


King of Shadows / Through Nov. 1 /Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls. / (612) 825-0459 / www.pillsburyhousetheatre.org

Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa ingeniously has melded the fantastical with concrete reality in this mind-bending inquiry into gay-teen homelessness, paranoia, and idealism. Catherine Johnson Justice endears as a relentlessly caring grad student who unjustly is ridiculed by all around her. Taj Ruler delights as her angry bisexual sister, Sarah. Qadir Khan beguiles with psychic understatement as Nihar, a sensual youth who innately challenges and threatens fixed interpretations of reality in our current culture of fear. Director Randy Reyes’s riveting cast and Mike Hallenbeck’s haunting sound design deftly swim the currents of paranoia, the paranormal, and the corporeal.

The Importance of Being Earnest / Northern Lights/Southern Cross / Both Plays Through Nov. 8 / Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls. / (612) 377-2224 / www.guthrietheater.org
Frankly, Joe Dowling hasn’t directed a crisper, smarter take on gay master playwright Oscar Wilde’s peerless comedy than his 1998 Guthrie staging. John Skelly, who played the troubled gay youth so splendidly in the film Into Temptation, is a marvelous perfection in the lead role of Algernon. It’s a consummate Wildean performance. The crackling cast inhabits a deeply textured consciousness of the social mores and the very zeitgeist of late-19th-Century England. Walt Spangler’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous set on the Big G’s Wurtele stage is a storybook vision of the House Beautiful ideal of the Victorian Age.

In Northern Lights/Southern Cross: Tales from the Other Side of the World at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio, fave homeboy playwright Kevin Kling goes on a transglobal walkabout with Interact, the region’s premier theater for persons with disabilities, and Australia’s adored Tutti ensemble. Kling shares his own stories, along with healing concepts that reflect Australian Aboriginal, Native American, and African-American cultures.

The People’s Republic of Cinema / Nov. 4-23 / Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., & Bell Museum, 10 Church St. SE, Univ. of Minn., Mpls. / (612) 375-7600 / www.walkerart.org

As intellectual and anti-intellectual firestorms have reignited about the nature of Marxism, Communism, and Socialism, Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota offer a rich overview of rare films that span 60 years of Chinese cinema since the country’s 1949 Communist Revolution. Selected from archives around the world, this series includes work related to the fabled Peking Opera (The Red Detachment of Women), along with the exemplary Red Lantern. Both films reflect the “model performances” of China’s Cultural Revolution. Problems of postsocialist consumerism are explored in Ermo. That haunting masterpiece Yellow Earth rides again. Don’t miss it. The series begins with 1949’s New Year’s Sacrifice, based on the story by the preeminent Lu Xun. It goes on to engage issues including kindergarten boarding schools; the Open Door policy; and seldom-seen subcultures like those depicted in Beijing Bastards and Underground Rock and Roll in China.

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