On the Townsend

By John Townsend March 12, 2010

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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My Antonia / Through Mar. 20 / Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. / (612) 339-4944 / www.illusiontheater.org

Much has been written on the encoded queerness of the novels of Willa Cather (1873-1947). A lesbian shaped by the rough-and-tough Midwestern prairie, she actually never wanted her books to be adapted into plays. But since her work has fallen into the public domain, playwrights have found rich material about the American immigrant experience that just can’t be denied. Allison Moore’s lovely adaptation of My Antonia is staged vibrantly by Illusion, with a wonderful lead performance by Katie Guentzel.

Violet / Through Mar. 21 / Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls. / (612) 377-2224 / www.guthrietheater.org

In Violet, thanks to Denise Prosek’s luminous music direction, Jeanine Tesori’s Obie-winning score lives on a par with her better-known Caroline, or Change. Spunky Britta Ollmann crackles in the title role of Violet, a woman stigmatized by a facial scar. Director Peter Rothstein fleshes out the musical’s interracial love triangle with piercing portrayals by Azudi Onyejekwe and Randy Schmeling as two Vietnam Era soldiers. Alan Sorenson beguiles as a dubious televangelist. Nitpick: The superb Dieter Bierbrauer as Violet’s father needs more music to explain and fill out the untimely death of his wife, Violet’s mother.

According to Coyote / Through Mar. 21 / Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls. / (612) 874-0400 / www.childrenstheatre.org

In the 1990s, George Keller astounded with her Sand Creek Massacre speech in Theatre on the Park’s Black Elk Speaks. In the 2000s, she impressed in a role reflecting tensions between African-Americans and Native-Americans in Penumbra’s Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers. She launches this new decade with yet another marvelous Native-American gem, John Kauffman’s solo storytelling play about the mystical powers of coyotes. A trickster who has tumbled to earth from the sky to make mischief, “Coyote” also does great good, such as bringing fire to the cold and oppressed. Keller’s stellar performance gorgeously is enhanced by Paul Whitaker’s lighting, Don Yanik’s set, and Sheila Daniels’s directing.

August Osage County / Mar. 16-21 / Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul / (651) 224-4222 / www.ordway.org

When Dad goes missing, Oklahoma’s Weston clan gathers, and learns of drugs and other dark secrets. Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) plays the lead, and Lavender fave Barbara Kingsley is on national tour as her understudy.

Kingsley says Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer-winning comedy asks, “Who are any of us in our psyches? In our ability to grapple with truth? In our sexual selves? Spend some time with the Westons, because there’s something about ‘family’ that strikes a chord in us all.”


Painting Churches / Through Mar. 21 / Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul / (651) 291-7005 / www.parksquaretheatre.org

Tina Howe’s 1983 drama was a refreshing counterpoint to the On Golden Pond craze of the Reagan Era. Because she wasn’t interested in sentimentalizing senior-citizen bad behavior, she crafted real characters in real life. Jon Cranney directs this now-classic inquiry into the generation gap between women.

Katherine Ferrand, who plays Fanny, the matriarch, observes, “She was born into privilege to be a socialite and wife; take care of her home; and support her husband, Gardner [Richard Ooms], who, in this case, happens to be a Pulitzer Prize-winner. So, she had a lot of social obligations. But creativity was not an option. Also, she did not have the opportunity that her daughter, Mags [Angela Timberman], certainly grasped and took advantage of. She doesn’t approve of how Mags dresses, her style of life, and that she’s not getting married and doing what she, Fanny, did as a young girl.”

Women with Vision 17th International Film Festival / Through Mar. 27 / Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. / (612) 375-7600 / www.walkerart.org

As usual, the Walker’s the place for Women’s History Month. In one of the best years yet, the crown jewel is Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision (March 21), a biopic on 12th-Century Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen, starring Barbara Sukowa. Other films to relish are El General (March 27), Mexican history through director Natalia Almada’s eyes, along with Russian and African reflections, respectively, in Ida’s Story and Pride of Lions (both March 20). Deborah Stratman’s O’er the Land (March 18) and Melody Gilbert’s Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story (March 27) deal with American sociopolitics.

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