COMMENTS of the WEEK | Everybody’s a critic: Lively theater in the Twin Cities

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Maybe there was so much partying about to happen that everyone was too busy getting ready: Green Line, Juneteenth, Northern Spark Night, full moon, Friday the 13th. Or maybe mass spring fever had hit, and people were keeping their comments to themselves. Whatever the reason, the flow of comments from Daily Planet readers was kind of weak last week.

So I looked for something to comment on myself. How about theater reviews, I thought. After all, reviewing is commenting, so maybe I can comment on some recent reviews. A meta-comment, you might say.

I clicked “theater” under “arts & lifestyle” on the Planet home page to see what plays the Planet had been reviewing. Right away I knew I had a story.

Working backward from June 14 (not yet even the middle of the month) I found that since June 1 we’d run reviews of six different plays. Reviews, not just calendar notices. Six plays in two weeks in a general-purpose online newspaper. We don’t specialize in A & E (that’s Arts & Entertainment), but the data-point was there. Six plays in two weeks.

What sorts of plays? Weird, fringey, avant-garde kind of stuff? Well, some, of course. But just to pick the two of the six that you can still catch this week, a Shakespeare (“Twelfth Night”) and a Restoration farce by George Farquhar (“The Beaux Strategem.“) Respectively, according to our reviewers, that meant “light, frothy romantic comedy” and “heaving bosoms” with choreographed swordplay. Theatre Pro Rata does the “Twelfth Night” (Shakespeare in the Park), and Theatre in the Round “The Beaux Stratagem.”

Nothing serious, confronting the injustices and anxieties of our times? Of course. You should have caught “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” taking the 1830s U.S. president and his assault on American Indians as the subject matter of a modern rock musical. This show, at New Century Theatre in Minneapolis, was not fun. Praising the acting and production, one Planet writer said nevertheless it “leaves you feeling bruised, battered.” In a long and strongly critical review, another  called it “an exercise in racial slurs against Native Americans … with a thin coating of white shaming.” That was Rhiana Yazzie, Navajo playwright and director of New Native Theatre. 

Of a wholly different genre in early June was “Drowning,” staged by Ghostbridge Theatre company at the Cedar Riverside People’s Center. Minneapolis. In this this straightforwardly “absurdist and surreal” one-act, said our reviewer, “you have to decide what may or may not have really happened.”

Well how about something really Twin Cities local, not only the author and actors and production, but in what you actually see on stage? That would have to be “The Lake Street Cabaret” at Patrick’s Cabaret, Minneapolis. Here was a one-night show inspired more than a 10 years later by Wing Young Huie’s Lake Street , U.S.A. photography project in the year 2000. 

Finally, on June 3 we ran not one but five reviews of “Sister Act” at the Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis. Why so many? And by whom? These were from a blog by high-school students learning to think critically about drama, in a program of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. So the Planet promotes not just plays but the skills playgoers need to think about plays.

To me that all adds up to clues before our eyes as to why the Twin Cities get cited sometimes as the theater’s best friend in America today. A meta-comment to remember. And don’t forget, reader comments are the lifeblood of community conversation in the Daily Planet. Join in. Agree or disagree. Praise or criticize. Be brief, be civil, be heard!