On the Townsend

By John Townsend January 29, 2010

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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Die Mommie Die / Through Feb. 7 / Brazen Theatre, 4001 38th St. S., Mpls. / (414) 248-6481 / www.brazentheatre.org

Back in the 1990s, the camp comedies of Charles Busch bewitched Minneapolis big-time. Ballet of the Dolls staged a great Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, and Unicorn Theatre featured dandy runs of Psycho Beach Party. But in the past decade, Busch plays weren’t so prominent. Thankfully, the Brazen troupe is diving back into Busch with Die Mommie Die, starring bedazzling Margo Caprice. This satire on divas, reminiscent of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Lana Turner, is a happy return to the dark side of womanhood, and a great chance to steal Caprice’s beauty secrets.

Light Up the Sky / Through Feb. 7 / Mounds Theatre, 1029 Hudson Rd., St. Paul / (651) 645-3503 / www.startinggate.org

Playwright Moss Hart was tormented by his homosexuality, yet wrote delightful heterocentric comedies. One of his frothiest, Light Up the Sky (1948), is a love letter to theater itself. It spoofs the backstage life of a show whose preopening period has elicited lots of curiosity and concern. Starting Gate Productions, which handles classic American comedy especially well, is reviving the play.

Cristopher Tibbetts, who directs Starting Gate’s revival, says that whatever queer content might be in the play is “heavily coded—but show-biz aficionados will love the various outsized personalities.”

Rock ’N’ Roll / Through Feb. 7 / Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul / (651) 291-7005 / www.parksquaretheatre.org

Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard lauds the revolutionary spirit that pulsed through Prague in 1968. The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd were as potent as tanks and weaponry. It’s easy to forget that rock and roll meant cultural defiance in the 1950s and 1960s, and that its erotic pelvic power threatened established order, both East and West. Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution against Soviet aggression used rock and sexuality as a call for democratic capitalism, and American youth in the 1960s used them as a statement against militaristic capitalism. Stoppard gives us a much-needed reminder of that history. He even reveals poetic influence by lesbianic Sappho.

Young Frankenstein / Feb. 9-14 / Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. / (800) 982-2787 / www.hennepintheatretrust.org

Mel Brooks didn’t want Tony-laden costume designer William Ivey Long to watch the film The Producers when forming his concept for the stage musical version. But when Young Frankenstein went into stage production, Brooks did want Ivey to watch the film for inspiration.

Long notes that it was a “Universal picture, and, therefore, they had all the rights to the patented monster. So, I had to redesign the monster, because we did not have the rights to the Universal image. The monster looks different, because we had to change it. You still get the essence of it completely, and he is buried in a prisoner outfit trailing clods of earth. But the way we’ve stitched him up is [laughs] different. And he’s a little greener.”

Mother Courage / Feb. 11-13 / Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Whitney Fine Arts Bldg., 1424 Yale Pl., Mpls. / (612) 659-6000 / www.minneapolis.edu

Obie-winning director Maxine Klein has cast Lavender columnist Julie Dafydd in what is perhaps modern drama’s greatest role.

According to Klein, Bertolt Brecht’s play “is about the absolute immorality of war. In the midst of this immorality, wreaked by those at the top, the poor have to struggle and survive in a disaster not of their own making. Women suffer the most. Into this comes Mother Courage, AKA Canteen Anna, who sells from a cart, which she moves across countless countries to support her family. She does what is necessary to support them, and you cannot measure what she does against any conventional morality. Julie Dafydd captures this incredible acumen, virtuosity, passion, fierceness, and intelligence.”

Hedda Gabler / Feb. 11-14 / Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls. / (612) 340-1725 / www.southerntheater.org

Anyone attuned to gender and sexual progress can thank Henrik Ibsen. Considered the father of modern drama, he savagely attacked traditional gender roles. When the Southern Theater space opened a century ago, it served Scandinavian immigrants for whom Ibsen was an icon. No wonder Minneapolis is historically progressive and feminist. Ibsen’s luminous Hedda Gabler, with Annie Enneking, now honors the centenary and the playwright.

Director Genevieve Bennett reminds us, “In 1888, Ibsen was honored by the Norwegian Women’s Rights League for writing plays that championed their movement. Ibsen replied that he was not writing for women’s rights, but rather for human rights, and that his task as a playwright was to hold a mirror up to humanity. Despite his response, it is undeniable that the place of women in society is central to Hedda Gabler.”

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