FREE SPEECH ZONE | Retrospective: Notes on six remarkable performances from the past year — including jazz, a DFL banquet, skydiving and a funeral

The most useful and popular of our theater, music and film critics arguably see and reflect on too much stuff too frequently.  A reviewer’s fatigue-fogged lens and carpal tunnel syndrome can both mug a great play or canonize a pile of digital kitsch on an IMAX screen.  As a suburban cul-de-sac dweller, I don’t see much and am not vulnerable to these trap doors.  Because some of the few live performances I have seen are very notable but have slipped through cracks, I here provide, for your consideration dear possums, my 2012 list of memorable performances including a one act play, a DFL banquet, a funeral service, music ensembles and a video. ZEITGEIST / NIRMALA RAJASEKAR, 2/11/12, St. PaulThe new music ensemble, Zeitgeist, regularly teams up with other inventing and accomplished musicians in their Lower Town, Saint Paul performing space, Studio Z.  On the recommendation of my colleague and Zeitgeist Board Member Craig Sinard, my wife Carol and I attended a Zeitgeist concert-seminar of sorts in February featuring composer Nirmala Rajasekar.  Rajasekar is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso and teacher of a 7-string, plucked, South Indian, classical instrument called a Saraswati veena. We arrived a bit late, which in Minnesota – home of the crowded back pews – means that the tardy get the front row seats.  Such was the case that evening.  We quietly maneuvered into forward positions about seven feet from Ms. Rajasekar who was positioned cross-legged on the floor with the large, lute-like instrument.  A menagerie of instruments and Zeitgeistians Heather Barringer and Patti MCudd (percussion), Pat O’Keefe (woodwinds) and Shannon Wettstein (piano) fanned out behind her.The ensemble’s sound was at once exotic, tropical, familiar and fun.  The veena family of instruments, we learned, is counterpart to the sitar of Northern India, but evolved from a South India Carnatic tradition with distinct rhythms and human voice-like harmonics and tones.  The veena played by Ms. Rajasekar has a large, carved wood resonator – a large bowl set on the floor against her right thigh, that tapers into a hollow, 4-foot long neck.  The neck supports a 24-fret, fingering board and a smaller gourd-shaped resonator that rests on top of the left thigh.  An ornate, down-curving tuning box culminating in a dragon’s head, and a rank of 4 main strings and a rank of 3 “drone” strings stretched over their respective bridges complete the instrument. The Saraswati veena, we learned, is named after the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science.  Hearing the waves of ethereal, pulsing, darting and swooping music above sustained harmonically rich chords produced by Ms. Rajasekar – and at one point her daughter Shruthi, e goddess must be very pleased.  A mere mortal like myself was mesmerized.  When jamming with improvising marimbas, drums, blocks, chimes, saxophone and piano the experience became illuminating, liberating and spiritual.  The experience was nourished by both east and west and was something new.  I rank my visit to the jewel box of Studio Z with the hour I spent absorbing, from only 15 paces, Leonard Bernstein rehearsing the New York Philharmonic one summer afternoon on the southwest flank of the Great Lawn in Central Park.Video: Nirmala Rejasekar ensemble on TPT’s Minnesota Original –          LORIA PARKER, 4/26/12, New YorkMy good friend Peter Brownscomb and I had cabbed it from the East Village to 69th Street and Lexington Avenue to find a recital hall perched inside Hunter College, There we would find Loria Parker, another long time friend, who we hadn’t seen in years.  Loria had the title role in a one-act musical sponsored by the Ziegfeld Society, a non-profit group working to put fading Broadway traditions back on the boards. “America’s Funny Girl  – Fanny Brice,” crafted by Society President Mark York was premiering in the austere setting of the Lang Recital Hall that none-the-less was filling up with what appeared to be long-retired showgirls, cane-in-hand gents, Yiddish theater patrons, and friends of the cast.  The chatter of elderly, opinionated New Yorkers produced a wondrous, concerto of gab one cannot get in Minnesota – where I’ve spent the last two decades — not even on Seinfeld reruns.Back-story:  In the 1980’s Loria Parker and I had intersected in Manhattan’s cabaret circuit. At the time I was producing show bizzy, Phantom Agent segments for WNEW-TV’s PM Magazine.  I became friends with her father, the sly and vinegary effervescent, comedy writer, Coleman Jacoby (Bilko, Hope, Gleason) and her stepmother, Gaby Monet, an Oscar winning, documentary producer (HBO and Concepts Unlimited).I hadn’t heard Loria perform since a gig at Jan Wallman’s Cabaret about 1988.  That show featured one of her father’s songs and, on opening night, her presentation of a Hebrew National Salami to TV legend, Steve Allen – a recurring bit from his 1950’s run on The Tonight Show.  Steve and Coleman, both Friars Club elders, loved the tribute.  Loria’s strong, rounded alto, expressive personality, timing, and easy command of her dad’s bouncy lyrics and Sondheim’s tongue-twisting angst were remarkable.   This level of talent in 1978 had won Loria (as Catherine Jacoby) a singing role as Fanny Brice in the made-for-TV movie, “Ziegfeld:  The Man and His Women.”   It is my understanding that Loria and Barbra Streisand are the only actresses to portray Brice in major films.  Mark York heard of the film, located Loria, cast her in the title role and recruited her husband Gerry Janssen (a retired vocal coach) to operate the spotlight.  By long distance phone before the show, Loria confessed to me that she hadn’t been on stage in years; explaining that she had been building an image consulting firm, reviewing plays for the web publication and caring for family members.  The Canary, in other words, had the jitters.  But the personable flare that had won her bouquets in cabaret and regional theater were in full bloom at Hunter.  For sure, the audience came pre-loaded with affection; they were, after all, informed society members.  Fanny had been the Ziegfeld Follies’ biggest star.  Some, I figured, had heard Brice on the NBC Radio series “The Baby Snooks Show.”  Snooks – an impish, four-year old brat, who bested all grownups, had become Brice’s signature character in spite of decades of star turns on vaudeville and Broadway stages. Projecting the charismatic and comic flash of the seasoned trooper that Fanny Brice must have been in 1950, near the end of her still active life and the time frame of the play, Loria Parker delivered the full package.  She was ably supported by Jeffrey Scott Stevens and Jeff Dickamore in multiple roles including a butler, a stage manager, Eddie Cantor, Irving Berlin and Nick Arnstein – foils that served as brackets for Parker’s singing and York’s piano accompaniment for such Brice standards as “My Man,” “Second Hand Rose,” and “More Than You Know.”Although York builds his play on a fictional encounter between Brice and a college newspaper reporter – one with a gnat’s grasp of show biz history, he respects the factual record of the beloved comedienne’s life and garnishes the libretto with her actual words. For example, the reporter asks Fanny what it’s like to be an overnight success with the Baby Snooks character.  Parker, as Fanny, quips,”Listen kid, I’ve done everything in the theater except marry the property man.  I’ve been a soubrette in burlesque,  I’ve acted for Belasco and I’ve laid them out in the aisles at the Palace.  I’ve doubled as an alligator and I’ve worked for Ziegfeld and the Schubert,  and I’ve been joined in the holy bonds to Billy Rose. 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FREE SPEECH ZONE | Governor Dayton Environment Public Forums A Fraud

I recently attended an event sponsored by Governor Dayton. It was on environmental issues, had Ellen Anderson there and they were “seeking our thoughts” on how to move forward. The forum I attended was in Bloomington but the forums are going on all over the state. In each event they got almost twice as many people as expected. In Bloomington they prepared for 180 but 300 showed up. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | Senator Ken Kelash concedes endorsement

State Senator Ken Kelash delivered a gracious concession speech after losing his quest to seek the endorsement from new DFL Senate District 48 to Melissa H. Wiklund on March 31, 2012.  New District 50 includes portions of Bloomington and Richfield and only a sliver of Minneapolis. This video is a special Democratic Visions YouTube Channel Presentation. Democratic Visions is produced by volunteers for the entire Twin Cities metro region through DFL Senate District 48, Eden Prairie and Southern Minnetonka.Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. The opinions expressed in the Free Speech Zone and Neighborhood Notes, as well as the opinions of bloggers, are their own and not necessarily the opinion of the TC Daily Planet. Continue Reading

Jim Klobuchar On Amy & American Politics

Author, columnist, adventurer and father of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Jim Klobuchar offers his personal, sometimes moving takes on campaigning with his daughter and the state of American politics.  Jim and host Tim O’Brien recently met on the Democratic Visions set at South West Community TV for the September edition the public issues series produced by DFL Senate District 42.   Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. Continue Reading

The Junk Yard Democrats rebound with L.K. Hanson cartoons in the DFL Botanical Garden

L.K. Hanson’s satirical cartoons, Mozart and contemplation refresh burned-out Minnesota Democrats in the beautiful DFL Botanical Garden in the Minneapolis suburbs.  This Timid Video Theater production for DFL Senate District 42’s public issues CableTV series, Democratic Visions, restores whimsy to the harsh sparks that characterize American Politics.  L.K.Hanson is the Star Tribune’s celebrated social and political cartoonist.  Hanson, a shy man with a liberal arts degree, does not appear in the video, but his marvelous sketches and cryptic appreciation of irony certainly do.  Hanson’s cartoons are joined by Doug Lind (former joke writer for Jackie Vernon), “Two Putt” Tommy Johnson (former paratroop trainer) and Norb Gernes (former Catholic Priest).The four reference Mark Twain, Michele Bachmann, Vladimir Nabokov, Gertrude Stein, and J.P. Morgan. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | SW suburban legislators

Tim O’Brien and Minnesota Progressive Project bloggers Tommy Johnson and Joe Bodell take measure of Representative Steve Simon’s compelling testimony against anti-gay legislation on the current edition of Democratic Visions.  The trio of well known, southwest suburban Democrats also put Republican local legislators through the grinder for their bad behavior during the current session.Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | Dwaine Lindberg Tribute

I’ve expanded my video tribute to the late DFL elder, Dwaine Lindberg with recently taped perspectives by his friend, retired Congressman & Mpls Mayor, Don Fraser.  Colleagues Tim O’Brien, Joni Bennet, Del Smith and others speak fondly of this quiet, innovative and can-do, Edina Democrat who was a bike trail advocate and articulately argued for healthy and open communities. The re-fashioned memoriam will be broadcast on DFL SD 42’s public issues program this May.  These are the cable channels and times:             Comcast Channel 15 –  Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie Sun.                                               at 9 p.m. and Wed. Continue Reading

Primary Focus 2010: Senate District 67 Candidates #1

The new August 10 date for most of Minnesota’s primary election may actually reduce turnout, coming as it does dead in the middle of a Minnesota summer – never a good time for politicking around here and holding voters’ attention. TTT’S ANDY DRISCOLL looks in on Senate District 67, heavy with contenders because of Senator Mee Moua’s rather sudden retirement on the last day of Session 2010. Nine DFLers are vying for the nomination August 10, a date which is itself discouraging for voters given Minnesota’s penchant for enjoying their short summers, free of politics, except for the incessant commercials keeping attention on the governor’s primary for the moment. TruthToTell and our parent production company, CivicMedia/MN, are committed generally to keeping your focus and ours on local issues and candidates. This year, as in other years, we intend to produce several pre-primary shows on elections that, while not invisible, remain less visible, even to their constituents because media outlets rarely, if ever, cover such races as Senate/House District primaries; the rare open judicial seat that, absent a governor’s appointment to fill the vacancy, finds a number of would-be successors to retiring Ramsey County District Court judge Monahan, or Sheriff and County Attorney races. Continue Reading

The session ends: Pawlenty wins again-or did he?

Governor Tim Pawlenty went before the microphones Monday morning after all-night negotiations with exhausted legislative leaders struggling to meet the required adjournment at Midnight, May 17, and he spent most of his news conference crowing about his victories and the claiming that he (the almighty “we”) had forever altered the culture of this, “the most liberal state in the union,” one that had spent decades of too much government, too much spending and too much taxing. The questions remain: why can’t a veto-proof DFL Senate majority and a top-heavy DFL House majority, 201 legislators cannot prevail in enacting a balanced budget resolution in a time of huge deficits – where fair taxation accompanies severe cuts to programs for the neediest Minnesotans. Why do many advocates believe that it could have been far worse when the governor vetoed dozens of critical bills to assist real people? Despite being told by the Supreme Court that his unallotting last year was beyond the pale of his authority as governor, Tim Pawlenty generally prevailed in enacting the very cuts he tried to make illegally last year. Why? Continue Reading