Theater Spotlight: 422

By John Townsend July 28, 2011

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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H.M.S. Pinafore — Why does Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1878 operetta H.M.S. Pinafore still have legs? My theory is that it hits two central nerves: (1) it savages political favoritism in the military, and (2) it challenges the way marriage was and, frequently, still is defined. The Guthrie’s current revival reverberates now because its observations can actually apply to contemporary American events.

In April ‘08 the New York Times’s David Barstow exposed how the Pentagon secretly paid retired high-ranking military men to disinform the US public about Bush’s war policy. For over five years we’d seen networks (not just Fox) trot out lying old curmudgeons squawking official lies. Hence, Peter Thomson’s deliciously disgustingly decadent performance as Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, strikes contemporary parallels. Based on a real life figure from Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s administration, here’s the top navy secretary who knows nothing of ships! (Remember Bush’s incompetent ‘heck of a job’ Brownie, FEMA Chief during Katrina?)

Pinafore’s class-challenging advocacy for love between a mere working-class sailor and the loftier Captain’s daughter may not be the same-sex marriage battle, but it has teeth as 1878’s audience knew intrinsically that marriage had perennially been not about romantic love, but about arrangement.

Aleks Knezevich and Heather Lindell shine as the lovers, with a breathtaking Streisand-caliber showstopper sung by Lindell – “The Hours Creep on Apace.” Robert Berdahl is uptight perfection as her Captain dad, with a vibrant Christina Baldwin as his lower-class latent love interest. Director Joe Dowling’s sensual cast matched with David Bolger’s dazzling choreography is utterly joyous. • Through Aug. 28 • Guthrie Theater, 818 So. 2nd St., Mpls. • (612) 377-2224 • www.guthrietheater.org
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: The Melodrama of Sweeney Todd — The tale of the barber who provides human corpses for his landlady’s meat pies is a popular Sondheim musical. But C. G. Bond’s melodrama version also crackles with macabre dynamism, along with the innards roasting in the cellar oven!

Charismatic Billy Mullaney relishes the obsessiveness of a common man’s vengeance quest for misdeeds done him by corrupt oligarchs. But ironically, Todd ends up victimizing less fortunate men.

Director Peter Moore’s U of M cast embodies Victorian social hierarchy. Set designer Lance Brockman, Jonathan Offut’s scenic team, and Mark Larson’s lighting evoke cryptic moods reminiscent of ‘30s British films. • Through Aug. 27 • Minnesota Centennial Showboat, Harriet Island, St. Paul • (651) 227-1100 • www.showboat.umn.edu
Cedar Rapids Famous — When Andy and Barney move to Cedar Rapids from San Francisco in 2007 they expect to be met with parochial attitudes. Instead, they’re embraced as founders of the town’s first gay community. They even become celebrity judges of a Pork Queen Contest and local media regulars.

Playwright Joe Jennison of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, says it’s about “meaningful gay love in a community that isn’t exactly on the k.d. lang tour.” Alex Schulte and Zakary Morton play the couple that gets married during that 22.5-hour window when marriage equality existed in Iowa. • Aug. 6-14 • Augsburg Mainstage, 2211 Riverside Ave., Mpls. • (866) 811-4111 • www.fringefestival.org

Bluehouse – Australia’s Dynamic Lesbian Duo Plays the Loring Theater — To catch the dreamy wave of the acoustical sounds of Bluehouse you don’t have to go to a beautiful beach in their native Australia, but simply kick back at the Loring Theater. An indie band sensation “down under,” the folk-pop duo of Jacqueline ‘Jacqui’ Walter and Bernadette Carroll began collaborating after meeting at a Melbourne pub in 1995. They’ve toured throughout Australia and the US and have played New Zealand’s World of Music, Arts, and Dance Festival (WOMAD) and Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival.

Walter says, “our journey has been amazing and, of course, when you go into this industry you never know what the future holds. We have been so lucky to work with the caliber of artists that we have and to have built such a loyal fan base both in Australia and the USA.”

Like the Topp Twins duo from New Zealand, Australia’s sister nation down under, Bluehouse has an utterly mystical appeal across the sexual orientation divide that’s led to recording in Nashville and a fan base within both the country music crowd and the GLBT community. Their video to “Walking Down the Line” from their One More Kiss album has them grooving in cowboy boots with motorbike bubbas down in Johnson City, Texas, home of the aggressively pro-civil rights President Lyndon Johnson.

Carroll, very much a civil rights proponent, points out that “Australia has a proud history of lesbian and gay activism. We recently played at one of the Australian GLBT community’s most iconic events called ‘Womyn Down Under.’ It was a four hour, all-female concert at the Sydney Opera House.” • Bluehouse • Doors 7pm, Music 8pm • Wed., Aug. 3 • Loring Theater, 1407 Nicollet Ave. So., Mpls. • (612) 353-6781 • www.loringtheater.com

The Cherry Orchard — Minneapolis director Luverne Seifert and his wife, actress Darcey Engen, have roots in southern Minnesota. He says, “We’ve witnessed the gradual loss of once-vibrant towns. Long-established families lost their businesses, creating a gradual decline.” While playwright Anton Chekhov relates the loss a family estate a century ago, farm foreclosures have plagued contemporary Minnesota. Therefore, that parallel is served by staging the classic in a New Ulm house built in 1887 by Minnesota’s 14th Governor, John Lind.

Engen, who plays protagonist Lyubov, says her character “is surprised and confused about the social and political change happening around her.” • July 27-31 • Historic Lind House, 622 Center St., New Ulm, MN • (800) 838-3006 • www.brownpapertickets.com

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