THEATER REVIEW | Blue Water Theatre Company's "This Is Our Youth" very youthful

This Is Our Youth - the troubled trio of Warren (Kevin Dye), Jessica (Kasey Carpenter), and Dennis (Adam Hebeisen); photo courtesy of Blue Water Theatre Company

I’m not sure I should be reviewing Blue Water Theatre Company’s production of Kenneth Lonergan’s play This Is Our Youth. On the one hand, it is part of Southern Theater’s ARTshare offerings, and Blue Water is one of the resident companies this year. On the other hand, this could only charitably be called a full production, and I don’t think it helps anybody if I start grading on a curve. If reviewing Defying Gravity felt like kicking a puppy, I’m not sure where to take that metaphor if I start evaluating This Is Our Youth.

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THEATER REVIEW | Gadfly Theatre Productions' "Vile Affections": God only knows

Sister Bart (Emily Weiss), Sister Caterina (Sarah Parker) and Sister Fiora (Dana Lee Thompson) - the three holy sisters who are Sister Benedetta's undoing in Gadfly Theatre Productions' Vile Affections; photo courtesy of Gadfly Theatre Productions

I’m fully behind Gadfly Theatre Productions’ mission of creating queer and feminist theater and art. (Heck, I even took part in their original shorts festival last summer.) But Vanda’s Vile Affections isn’t doing them any favors. The script has so many unreliable narrators for this supposedly true but sparsely documented story of nuns under investigation in 17th century Italy that I not only lost the thread of the story, at a certain point I wasn’t even sure what the story was anymore. The case of Sister Benedetta Carlini (Amanda Kay Thomm Bahr) is notable for being one of the earliest documented cases of a lesbian affair. But Benedetta’s sexual relations with Sister Bartolomea Crivelli (Bart, for short) (Emily Weiss) don’t take place until well into the second act. And it’s not as if there’s a slow burn leading up to the event throughout the first act. In that sense, Vile Affections would appear to be about something else. What that is (you’ll pardon the expression) God only knows. 

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MUSIC REVIEW | Dreaming with the Cactus Blossoms at the Electric Fetus

You know how you keep local music supported for generations? Have venues that are open for intergenerational audiences. Tuesday night my favorite 10 year old and I hopped over to the Electric Fetus to see the Cactus Blossoms. She was thrilled because as she pointed out – she never gets to see them!

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MUSIC REVIEW | World beats with Corey Harris, Paul Metzger and Erik Koskinen on Real Phonic at James J Hill

My favorite regular gig went worldly this month as Real Phonic at the James J Hill Reference Library hosted a group of eclectic artists. Headlining was Corey Harris who seems to have toes in places around the globe. He was born in Denver, busked in New Orleans, lived in West Africa and soaked up sounds wherever he went.

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THEATER REVIEW | Savage Umbrella's "These are The Men" all about the woman

Jocasta (Laura Leffler-McCabe) and her brother Creon (Michael Ooms) are being stalked by Jocasta's past, present and future all at once in the trippy Oedipus riff These Are The Men from Savage Umbrella; photo by Carl Atiya Swanson

It’s tough being Jocasta (Laura Leffler-McCabe).  Sure, you’re the queen of Thebes, but when your husband Laius (Daniel Ian Joeck) goes to the Oracle at Delphi (Hannah K. Holman) and gets a prophecy, it can seriously muck up your family planning.  The Oracle tells Laius that his as yet unborn son will grow up to kill his father (Laius) and marry his mother (Jocasta). What is Laius supposed to do?  When a boy is born, you take him from his mother’s arms, hand him off to a shepherd (Foster Johns) and order the man to leave the baby on some far off hillside to die.

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THEATER REVIEW | Theatre Pro Rata sends mixed messages with "The Woodsman"

Publicity image for Theatre Pro Rata's production of The Woodsman; photo by Charles Gorrill

It isn’t often that a piece of theater makes me want to crawl out of my own skin and yell at the characters on stage.  And I mean that as a compliment.  Theatre Pro Rata’s production of Steven Fechter’s play The Woodsman is that kind of theater.  Normally, even when I’m totally engrossed in a play, I’m still scribbling my notes to come back to later, noting telling bits of dialogue and key elements of the design.  Not giving anything away, there’s a key scene late in the action of The Woodsman where a former child molester named Walter (Adam Whisner), who has previously struck up a conversation with a pre-teen girl named Robin (Lillie Horton) in the park, crosses paths with her again.  In my notes, I started writing the word I couldn’t say out loud, “Leave.  Leave.  Leave.  Leave.”  And I was directing that word just as much (or more) at Walter as I was to Robin.  That’s the strange alchemy of The Woodsman.  With a stellar cast under the sure directing hand of Erik Hoover, this Pro Rata production actually had me concerned for the well-being of a person who I understandably have very mixed feelings about.  Just as much as a feared for Robin, I feared for Walter. Because The Woodsman had allowed me to see Walter as human.  Not an uncomplicated human.  Not a perfect human.  But a human nonetheless.

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What’s ticking in Twin Cities Opera

An illustration of the world premiere of Trial by Jury in 1875.

The last few weeks have been filled with great news for American opera lovers. On the national front, San Diego Opera announced its new General Manager on Wednesday, marking an important milestone in the turnaround of a storied company with a surprising near-closure last spring. David Bennett, currently the executive director of NYC’s Gotham Chamber Opera, will move across the country to take the reins. Notably, Bennett will draw a base salary of $200,000, 40% of his predecessor who led the drive to shut down the financially healthy San Diego Opera. This salary, according to the latest Form 990-C filings available, is roughly the same as earned by the President of Minnesota Opera; Minnesota Opera and San Diego Opera are predicted to have comparable budgets, if not sunshine, for 2015.

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MUSIC PHOTOS | Clint Black at the Ames Center

Photos by Patrick Dunn

As New Country music continues to grow in popularity, many of the more traditional sounding artists are enjoying a renewed interest in their established catalogs of music as well. A perfect example is Clint Black who had a good amount of success in the '90s with a George Strait style sound and major influences from legendary artists such as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Some younger fans joined a mostly seasoned crowd of appreciators at the Ames Center in Burnsville on March 11th for a 90-minute set that covered a variety of material.

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THEATER REVIEW | "The Manchurian Candidate" infiltrates, conquers at Minnesota Opera

Eleanor Iselin (soprano Brenda Harris) and Senator Johnny Iselin (Daniel Sumegi) plot the downfall of the free world over breakfast. Photo by Michal Daniel.

There is much that is not well in the opera world at large, but The Manchurian Candidate is not part of the problem. This new opera by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell is thrilling, fast-paced, varied, and moving, with a story that excites and music that pulls the audience into a shifting world of paranoia, subterfuge, and love. In an industry where “saving” opera has too often meant protracted labor disputes and aesthetically confusing attempts to shock audiences, Minnesota Opera’s production of The Manchurian Candidate offers a third way forward. It presents a story that resonates with contemporary themes and concerns, populated with interesting and nuanced characters, told through fast-moving music in a presentation enhanced (rather than distracted) by technology. The formula works tremendously well.

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