Arts Spotlight: 497

By John Townsend June 12, 2014

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

The Beaux' Stratagem. Photo by Ron Ravensborg

The Beaux’ Stratagem. Photo by Ron Ravensborg

The Beaux’ Stratagem
Through June 22
Theatre in the Round Players, 245 Cedar Ave., Mpls.
(612) 333-3010
www.theatreintheround.org

Playwright George Farquhar is a major figure of 18th century English comedy. Classic American playwright, Thornton Wilder, began adapting The Beaux’ Stratagem, Farquhar’s most famous play, in 1939 but it wasn’t  finished until almost six decades later by Ken Ludwig. At TRP Daniel Ellis has directed that version.

Ellis points out that “written in 1707, it was one of the first plays dealing with the legal concept of divorce, well before the Church of England even recognized the idea. That didn’t happen until 1857. Farquhar was in an unhappy marriage at the time, and he certainly makes a case for the importance of happiness within marriage with hilarious results. At its core The Beaux’ Stratagem is a romantic comedy that examines the freedom to choose who we love and the importance that the journey to understanding our own true selves has in each of our lives.”

Two rakish men, and two women they have affection for, are the characters in this comedy of manners which Ellis notes often deals with social constructs created by hierarchic class divisions. In the middle of the previous century the Puritans gained political control of England and shut down all theaters. They saw theater as a den of vice. When the monarchy was ultimately restored, women were allowed to appear on stage for the first time. The return of the monarchy and the downfall of Puritanism is known as the Restoration Era. So The Beaux’s Stratagem lives in the afterglow of that gigantic social shift.

The Final Frontier Festival: A One Act Sci-Fi Geek Fest
Through June 22
Nimbus Theatre, 1517 Central NE, Mpls.
www.brownpapertickets.com

Gadfly Theatre has been solidifying their reputation as serious and artful theater dealing with feminist and genderqueer themes and issues. Now they’ve really gone out there with sci-fi from various queer and feminist perspectives. Here are some comments from some of the playwrights.

Matthew Everett describes: “A gay and a lesbian astronaut are charged with repopulating the world. And it’s called Love Bot and there’s also a robot involved. I normally describe it to people as ‘two gay astronauts and a robot have to repopulate the galaxy,’ which always gets a laugh, a good sign for a comedy.  The robot is half-male and half-female, both halves designed to be just each astronauts’ “type” after a computer cataloged all their likes and dislikes in and out of bed and all their former lovers, good and bad.”

“Underneath the comedy, I wanted to toy with the notion of gay people not only becoming parents but becoming the mother and father of the new human race after the original human race finds itself wiped out. Gay people these days actively choose to become parents, and technology and evolving social norms seem to keep making that easier and easier. I’m a godfather myself, and children both fascinate and terrify me. Being responsible for another human life, for even just bringing that life into existence, is an enormous and humbling responsibility.”

“Also, there’s the question of if someone (the robot) was designed to be perfect for you, would you just warm up to them right away?  Would they win you over with no trouble?  Would you trust something that ideal to be real?  Can a manufactured relationship become a real relationship? And if that person isn’t really a human being, if there were no more human beings, how would you feel about being the last of your kind, about the fact of actual human touch no longer being an option?  The female astronaut is definitely feeling the weight of being the only childbearing human in the universe. All of this is handled with a very light touch, and if you’re just looking for a sex comedy with sci fi overtones, that’s very much there, too.”

Alyssa Zaczek, who has written The Wolves Above relates that “I had one too many former boyfriends tell me that when they looked at me they saw the future mother of their children. Not a woman, not a playwright, not a strong and individual human: an incubator. So I wrote the play to give back the choice to myself and women like me. We hold the power over our own bodies, and in turn, our own paths in life.”

The Gargle McFury Sage Part II by Alex Reed involves a protagonist who inherently defies boundaries. Reed says, “He/she exists outside not only time, space, and probability, but outside every category we might use to classify a person, especially (those of) sex and gender. Gargle is able to share a little of this freedom from categorization and labeling with one of us mere mortals, a sci-fi fan who feels constrained from expressing her fandom because of her gender.”

My Antonia. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

My Antonia. Photo by Lauren B. Photography

My Antonia
Through June 28
Illusion Theater at Lowry Lab, 350 St. Peter St., St. Paul
(612) 339-4944
www.illusiontheater.org

Minneapolis-based Illusion Theater has revived their IVEY-winning production of Allison Moore’s fine adaptation of the classic novel by lesbian icon Willa Cather (1873-1947). This time, Andrea San Miguel plays the leading role. Cather wrote of life on the Great Plains and the way the land and its rigors shaped human character. Though the book and the play don’t deal with lesbian issues, it’s still a reflection of a lesbian sensibility. Illusion Theater is also a steady producer of plays that reflect progressive ideas. Just as Cather was a progressive thinker in her day, so Illusion Theater maintains that tradition. They’re known for their outstanding productions dealing with gender, sexuality, and race, while casting the cream of the local acting crop. For Pride Month this is certainly a play that will make you feel proud of where we’ve come from and how we have contributed to American culture.

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
now screening
Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave., Mpls.
(612) 823-3020
www.landmarktheatres.com

When Gore Vidal (1925-2012) was called a queer by conservative celebrity intellectual William F. Buckley in 1968, Paul Newman took him to task afterward. Newman and wife Joanne Woodward were there for their dear friend. The whole event is a pivotal moment in GLBT liberation and in the Sexual Revolution. The Newmans may be one of the first straight power couples to ever come out as allies. Moreover, Vidal, poised as ever, said on national TV that Buckley had the right to say whatever he wanted because this is, after all, America.

That’s the kind of man Vidal was. No victim he. But if you dished it out to him, you’d better have been able to take it. Even if you were a President, like his step-brother in law, JFK. This glorious documentary titled by one of Vidal’s renowned catch-phrases, is not only the portrait of a captivating and heroic figure, it is a mind-blowing counter-reflection of the US in the 20th century—a counter-reflection because Vidal gave us brilliantly observed counter-narratives about our nation. He wasn’t a one-note Johnny who only talked about identity politics. His was a rich and broad overview. Some of his thoughts on US history and politics will shock some. And for those who resort to calling those who run counter “conspiracy theorists,” if you actively watch and listen, he will likely shatter your argument. Pearl Harbor, Bay of Pigs, Harry Truman, and, as much as he loathed Ronald Reagan, he gives him credit for making a genuine effort to help the former USSR take its place on the global scene, unlike, in his view, all of the succeeding presidents.

Much of Nicholas Wrathall’s film delves into Vidal’s queer aspects. His early gem, The City and the Pillar, the first American novel to openly portray homosexuality, got him blacklisted by the New York Times for years, yet started his rise to become America’s fiercest, not to mention handsomest, nonacademic intellectual. Wrathall covers just how wildly controversial his satirical novel Myra Breckenridge was, largely because of what would now be called its ‘genderqueer’ elements. Vidal’s domestic partnership with Howard Auster is discussed. And of course, there is reflection on his youthful friend, Jimmie Trimble, whose death in World War II dramatically shifted his view of love and war.

If there is only one film, or even only one single event, you attend for Pride Month, this is the one I most passionately recommend. Vidal was a Titan. And did you know that his buddy Tennessee Williams out-shot both Vidal and JFK during recreational target shooting match? And did you know that Dr. Alfred Kinsey, father of the Sexual Revolution, truly admired the man? Well, if you know about Vidal, that will come as no surprise. But whether you know about him or not, you must not miss this marvelous documentary. It is revealing, uplifting, and it clarifies much about what we’ve been fed about 20th century America.

Our Country's Good. Photo by Robert Workman

Our Country’s Good. Photo by Robert Workman

Our Country’s Good
Through June 25
Guthrie Theater, 812 So. 2nd St., Mpls.
(612) 377-2224
www.guthrietheater.org

The Guthrie’s WorldStage series has the UK’s Out of Joint and Octagon Theatre Bolton performing their celebrated revival of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s contemporary classic about a prison stage production in the early years of the colonization of Australia. It’s directed by the iconic Max Stafford-Clark (Top Girls). Within the play, the prisoner characters enact a Restoration Comedy. Our Country’s Good reveals the dynamics of punishment and hierarchy in a truly unique way. It’s a play rich with insight about how human behavior is shaped and modified by social and militaristic boundaries.

Richard Neale plays Major Ross. He observes that “sexuality is portrayed as a survival technique, as perverted enjoyment, and as a weapon as well as the traditional romantic engagement. Interestingly there isn’t blatant homophobia in the play, just an acceptance that Ralph may be a ‘madge-cull’ or a ‘molly’ or a ‘prissy cove’ or a ‘girl’. It’s important to remember that London in the 1700s catered for nearly any sexual desire going. Molly Houses—where cross-dressing men were paid by male clients to cavort with them—although, illegal, were sought out. The word ‘whore’ didn’t necessarily mean a woman who was paid for sex.”

Neale on the social background of the prisoners: “The prisoners are from a general social background, but their particular upbringings and experiences give them contrasting views and outlooks on the world. Liz Morden’s thoughts on what being “English” means differ from Wieshammer’s. This is reflected in the officers too. Governor Arthur Phillip wants to reform the convicts, whereas Tench is adamant that criminals are born that way. This in turn changes every relationship with each and every officer and convict. There was as much wrangling and contention between the Marines and Naval officers safeguarding the colony as there was between the convicts. Both marines and convicts were hanged for stealing food and marines often took on convict wives, only to leave them in Australia when they returned home after their service. This happens to the real life Mary Brenham. This is why the doubling of the characters in the play is so wonderful.”

On the characters and British imperialism: “We hear so many different sides of Britain’s value system at the time. Timberlake writes a wonderfully textured argument and debate that every character voices in some way throughout. Major Ross voices that soldiers are being sent to Australia for punishment as much as the prisoners. The Aboriginal shows us the devastating effect of imperialism on the indigenous population. Collins talks about the experiment of the penal colony and Weishammer brings the convicts’ feelings eloquently home in his proposed prologue for the play (within a play). It’s a wonder Sydney  was ever able to exist and the play hosts every pro and anti argument for that, the need of theatre in ‘civilization’ and indeed, what ‘civilization”‘ actually is.”

2013 Queer Prom. Photo by Rebecca Jean Lawrence Photography

2013 Queer Prom. Photo by Rebecca Jean Lawrence Photography

Queer Prom
Sunday evening, June 22
Hell’s Kitchen, 80 So. 9th St., Mpls.
(612) 227-1188
www.tctwentypercent.org

It’s becoming a tradition. It has a genderqueer-friendly view to say the least. And it’s another cool offering by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities. Beloved DJ Shannon Blowtorch says, “I’ll be facilitating a dance floor for folks to have a nice time and dance. Setting a positive vibe for the people to get down. I know that for me personally, in my high school days, there was never the option for me to bring a same-sex date to prom. For many of us in the GLBTQ community that was never an option. Today it may be an option, but still may come with consequences. This party every single year has been nothing but amazing and a kick-ass time!”

Ship of Fools
Through June 28
Interact Theater, 212 Third Ave. N., Mpls.
(800) 838 -3006
www.interactcenter.com

Kyle Cadotte and Matt Trucano are renowned for their physically oriented performance process at Chicago’s lauded Bricklayers Theater. They have co-directed a collaboration about authoritarians and underdogs inspired by Sebastian Brandt’s 15th century allegory through mask and playful language. The company they are directing are the actors of Interact, the region’s foremost theater for persons with disabilities.

Trucano says that GLBT actors have created “masked characters or alter egos that allow them to express themselves in ways that they are perhaps not able to fully show in their normal lives. Gender is questioned as men play women, and women play men. Labels are thrown away in favor of finding a common humanity of radical inclusion. Actor Sam V. whose signature number, “I Belong in a Dress” sung in basso profundo, really captures his persona.”

Swaggerdance
Through June 15
Red Eye Theater,
15 West 14th St., Mpls.
(612) 870-0309
www.redeyetheater.org

When a celebrated veteran dancer is excited about a choreographer, then it’s most likely something worth finding out about. The brilliant Jim Lieberthal has had a great experience with choreographer Chris Yon who has staged him and others in Swaggerdance, a part of Red Eye’s Isolated Acts series.

Lieberthal shares that he “really appreciate(s) how Chris listens to the movement, observes interrelationships within complex patterning, and how he treats us as creative, supportive, and contributing professionals. He is fascinating in the way he makes quick changes to continually release new energies via movement, audio, or improvisational avenues to make a world of his own. And it’s funny!”

Lieberthal describes what he does in the piece: “I dance in and around others, with Gabe Anderson in duets that are then manipulated improvisationally by Taryn and Arwin. Those moments are never the same.  We all wear jewel-like colors. My color is plum. Or if a jewel, maybe amethyst.”

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