The Devil’s Disciple / Through Apr. 12 / Theatre in the Round, 245 Cedar Ave., Mpls. / (612) 333-3010 / www.TheatreintheRound.org
The face off between puritanical Christianity and rugged individualism has been a sore spot in American culture since the nation was founded. So if you think the current evangelical onslaught against what ever the sin du jour is today (homosexuality, contraception, etc.), bear in mind there was a variation of it way back when.
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s one single play about the U.S., The Devil’s Disciple, lances this sore spot brilliantly and director David Coral’s staging of it by Theatre in the Round Players sparkles with mischievous wit and sharp intelligence. It was Shaw’s first commercial success in the 1890s and was a New York sensation back then. It’s setting is New England during the American Revolution and Shaw’s sympathies are clearly with the Yanks.
Lila M. Smith is deliciously monstrous as a grimly authoritarian Christian zealot who sees the worst in everyone. Robb Krueger is intriguingly subtle as what seems to be a beta male character in the minister Anthony Anderson. That said, Krueger shows us another side of this man of contradictions. He convincingly portrays a radical shift in Anderson’s character that may well surprise you. Steering this fun and smart production is the charismatic Joel Grothe as protagonist Richard Dudgeon, the cad who is a much more complex figure than his puritanical critics are able to comprehend. Grothe is utterly dynamic and dazzling. And his heretical scenes with Anderson’s wife, Judith played by Anissa Siobhan Brazil are juicy in their erotic tension.
When a Man Loves a Diva / Through Apr. 12 / Lab Theatre, 700 No. First St., Mpls. / (612) 333-7977 / www.thelabtheater.org
When Sanford Moore and Dane Stauffer combine music and comedy, odds are you’re in for a treat. And according to audiences and critics their latest combo is just that. A combo of tunes that nod heavily to genderbending and gay sensibilities. They’re joined by the talented Ben Bakken and Julius Collins. Stauffer says “we are having the time of our lives, singing this fabulous pop music. Sanford’s playing and arranging is, as always, gorgeous, soulful, sensitive, and rhythmic. Julius and Ben are singing their hearts out, and I’m sort of the ringleader of the whole thing. And I’ve been on a Dusty Springfield kick lately, so I’m enjoying different syles.” And among those styles is the majesty of that mythic mega-diva herself: Cher!
By the Bog of Cats / Through Apr. 5 / Guthrie Theater, 818 So. 2nd St., Mpls. / (612) 377-2224 / www.guthrietheater.org
By the Bog of Cats has stirred up opinions more than most plays by major theaters do, which means if you miss it, you’re missing out on thought-stimulating controversy. This Frank Theatre production at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio is a crackling experience that delves into the wounded psyche of a member of a marginalized group known as ‘Irish Travelers’ or ‘tinkers’. This group of nomadic people in Ireland and Britain are also called ‘pavees’ among themselves and those who respect them. But of course, there are all kinds of derogatory names for pavees or tinkers. Such is the lot of any marginalized people.
Director Wendy Knox, who I’ve described in the past as a quintessential feminist director is in her element here. By the Bog of Cats is inspired by the ancient Greek Medea myth of a queen who killed her own children. Knox is also a stage analyst, so to speak, of mythic and folkloric archetypes, as is evidenced in her superb past productions dealing with Scandinavian folklore and Italian fairy tales. In fact, Virginia Burke who electrifies as Hester Swane, Bog’s leading role, was also wonderful as another mythic archetype, Antigone, which Knox directed her in years ago for Northern Sign Theater.
But, if you’re into positive, reassuring images of women, Burke is not your gal. Her Hester is not warm and fuzzy. She is unmistakably monstrous, but then being marginalized and poor doesn’t make you into sugar and spice. Say all you want about personal choices and personal responsibility, society and whatever the social contract of a time place is, contextualizes one’s behavior and choices, outside of one’s control or influence. Class, gender, and other measures of marginalization also figure into it incalculaby and extensively; something that Carr conveys brilliantly. And something alot of people don’t like to give credence to.
The play’s permeating social world is revealed by a fabulous cast to be an inexorable patriarchal engine that rolls over human sensitivity and nuance. An engine driven by religion, economic power and property monopoly, and unquestioned male-led tradition. Though we may be very uncomfortable with Hester, we understand how she arrives at the destructive choices she makes.
Knox notes that in the Medea tale and in Carr’s play, “the women are fighting for recognition. In Bog, it is the child who does not want to be separated by the mother, and the mother, unable to leave the child behind , takes her with her.” With Medea’s story, the children are not developed as fully, but they are clearly the hapless victims of adult actions in a man’s world. Carr reminds us that we haven’t come that far in the past two and half millennia. As Annie Enneking’s delicious portrayal of the prophetic Catwoman reminds us. She too makes us uncomfortable with her vision that Fate rules us. Something that those who posit a culture of rugged individualism rebuke. Yet, by the end of the play, even the rugged individualists may find themselves purring along with her.
The Color Purple / Through Mar. 29 / Grey Gardens / Through May 17 / Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul / (612) 224-4222 / www.ordway.org
Both Ordway stages currently feature gay themes in the threads of two of this decade’s most acclaimed musicals.
A quarter-century ago, the classic Spielberg film The Color Purple was the first megahit movie to have an extended unmistakably lesbianic scene complete with touch and sensuality. Thankfully, the current national tour of the Tony-nominated stage musical doesn’t shy away from this scene.
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