Jeff Strate: Meeting the Macbeths in St. Louis Park

Sunday evening I threaded through the buzzy, sidewalk tables of McCoy’s Restaurant in St. Louis Park’s nifty “new town in town,” Excelsior & Grand. I was on my way to re-discover Shakespeare’s Macbeth in nearby Wolfe Park’s open-air amphitheater. Set on a slope that levels into a great lawn with a lagoon and a stand of towering cottonwoods, the venue has been home to the Public Theater of Minnesota for four years.I was there because a few days earlier I desperately needed an afternoon break from my Eden Prairie environs where I live, work and fight writer’s block. Without a solid escape plan, I ended up in Wolfe Park ambling through its amphitheater. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Sally Rousse and Noah Bremer pay tribute to August Strindberg with “Kom Hit!” at the American Swedish Institute

Johan August Strindberg is known mostly as a prolific author of plays, novels, poetry and essays; he also painted, married around four times and was mentally unstable. His most produced play is likely Miss Julie (1888), a naturalistic and class-criticizing piece. He dabbled in philosophy and the occult and wrote novels considered to be Sweden’s first modern literature. He was also fond of photographing himself (see ASI’s exhibit ” The Image of Strindberg”). The American Swedish Institute is presenting an array of events to acquaint us with the work of this enigmatic figure. You are given a mustache to wear upon arriving to see Sally Rousse and Noah Bremer’s Kom Hit! (which translates to Come Here!). Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Ghost The Musical” flashes more than shines at the Orpheum Theatre

What is the key to a successful movie-to-musical transformation? Ghost (1990) was a sleeper blockbuster and is now considered a classic. The story is a bitter-sweet, cliché-ridden good vs. evil, embellished by the spirit world and ultimately crowned by the satisfying power of love. The movie starred Patrick Swayze at the height of his career, Demi Moore donning a cute pixie haircut and tearing up on demand, and Whoopie Goldberg, who won best-supporting-actress Oscar for the role. Ghost The Musical is anything but quiet or intimate, but remains true to the story. Wall Street banker Sam, murdered in a botched mugging, is stuck on earth as a ghost to help his artist girlfriend Molly who is in danger. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Gadfly Theatre Productions’ Final Frontier Festival explores LGBT topics through sci-fi lens

Gadfly Theatre Productions is a local theater company whose mission is to “build a playground for the obscure, the oppressed and  unapologetically original.” Since 2010, they have been producing plays from a queer/feminist perspective in order to fulfill this goal. They’ve staged classic plays, original work, and from June 13rd to June 21st, they are staging their first themed festival, Final Frontier Festival, which presents six one-act plays across two evenings at Nimbus Theatre in Minneapolis. The tone and topics of the plays are quite varied and diverse. Who Killed Captian Kirk? by Paco Madden concerns the events at Star Trek convention that precedes and follows the murder of a well-known celebrity. The Wolves Above by Alyssa Zaczek offers a post-apocalyptic scenario between a fembot named Venus and her creators. Love Bot by Matthew A. Everett is somewhat similar; in this show one gay and one lesbian astronaut are faced with the uncomfortable task of becoming a second Adam and Eve. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Ghostbridge Theatre’s surreal “Drowning” floats

The Twin Cities is full of little theater companies run by people committed to their concept and the chance to produce their work. Despite general interest and my diligence following theater here, I am still amazed at the new companies I continue to discover. This week I found a sweetly experimental “dedicated to the performance-of-original-work” theater company Ghostbridge Theatre performing Jeff Nichols Drowning at the Cedar Riverside People’s Center Theater. The show was originally developed at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and later performed at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival before coming here. Nichols and Ghostbridge Theatre offer up about  a show a year, restaging and reworking pieces that he had in his back pocket. Based on the images from their website, each new reworking looks and feels different, as the actors and designers alter and develop the concepts in each production. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | My Friday night on Lake Street

I share a small tippy table with a bowl of vegetarian chili and a candle.  Other patrons, except for a nearby woman, sit in duos, trios and quartets behind us on risers with eating counters. I flee from Eden Prairie to the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater for the comfort of knowing that there’s a good chance that I’ll be in the company of sly and off-center storytellers, humorists and revues. The cabaret is linked to a small, bowling alley and saloon/café on Lake Street in Minneapolis. The woman next to me moves off to a table with an unobstructed view of the stage. Another woman, trim and purposeful, futzes around with a camcorder perched on an arthritic tripod.With no idle social chatter required, all I needed to do was let the performer, Jon Spayde, re-introduce me to some of his invented characters – the Polish Professor of Negativity, Zen Master Zero and a womanizer named Manuel.  They explained why after Harvard, Spayde fell through the grad school cracks at Stanford while backstroking through a boozy haze.  As Jon and his imaginary pals tell it, he was on a quest to earn kudos as an intellectual guerrilla from the likes of, say, his academic advisor and Grove Press.  Spayde’s ordeal was the murky, flitting-about journey of many a student scratching out a doctoral dissertation; of a sensative, liberal arts tourist from the east stuck in the exhausts of money-driven, California-blond, beautiful and bright colleagues. Even with a well intended but labored bit of audience participation, my hour with Jon and his characters and the chili was splendid.  But my personal muse was humming the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Knowing When to Leave.”  She and I like show tunes and this one from Promises Promises provides sound advice for both the love struck and cabaret rats of this world.  I parted the Bryant Lake Bowl coasting on the high of a sharp entertainment for think time at a cigar lounge across the street. Continue Reading

Sibyl Kempson’s “Potatoes of August” at the Red Eye Theater makes you think

Some theater experiences require that you leave your expectations at the door. Walk in, sit down and when the lights go down, (or not) you need to just settle in and as director of Potatoes of August Steve Busa says, just let it “flow over you.”Potatoes of August is just one of many forays of the playwright Sibyl Kempson in the Twin Cities in recent years. She was here for a residency sponsored by the Walker and the Playwrights Center last year spring. Two weeks of intense writing and readings culminated in the preview production of Fondly, Collette Richland in May 2013. Elevator Repair Service (ERS), known for their six-hour Gatz performed at the Walker in 2006, created the preview performance of that play at the Walker. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Timid Video Parody: gallery & garret

Timid Video Theater has shaped an improvised walkabout of two superb art galleries with humorist Jon Spayde and Minnetonka’s Pam Scherling into a kind of skewed but whimsical parody of TPT’a arts magazine, mn original. The bit is included in a line-up of segments featured on the current edition of Democratic Visions; a political and cultural issues program handcrafted on location and at BCAT, the cable-TV access studio at the Bloomington Civic Plaza, by lefty volunteers. The sketch was mostly lensed in the Inez Greenberg and Atrium Galleries that are adjacent to the studio.  The three spaces are part of a theater and arts center that also includes black box and proscenium stage theaters, rehearsal halls, a gift shop and municipal meeting rooms and offices.  The art galleries host top drawer exhibits of paintings, assemblages, sculptures and photography infused with wit and variety.  Visual Arts Director Rachel Daly Flentje and her staff have proven that Art (with a capital “A”) can thrive even when tethered to the officious culture of city hall.The two current exhibits are examples.  Through April 4, The Greenberg features “Art in the Home” – residential living spaces assembled by 4 teams of interior decorators.  Through April 27th, The Atrium features the kinetic abstract paintings of John Wells whose kinetic paintings are created using a process that harness a genetic condition that causes Mr. Wells’ hands to shake uncontrollably.   Here’s a link for more information.The Timid Video parody is by no means art but, using Jon and Pam’s improvisations and archival sketch-video of hard-boiled artist Brick Mason nested in a small Lake Street apartment, is a light-hearted take on public television’s reverent packaging of the arts and of the dilettantes who frequent the galleries and adore Antique Roadshow. The current edition of Democratic Visions also includes Minneapolis Author Mary Stanic, the Junk Yard Democrats with an assortment of fans and barflies and an update on the SW Light Rail project.  Democratic Visions is carried by community access channels in Minneapolis and six famous suburbs.Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m. Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.You can also click to the Democratic Visions Channel on YouTube. Continue Reading

REVIEW | Morgan Thorson’s “YOU” officially opens the Bedlam Lowertown space

As Sheila Regan reported at the beginning of this month, Bedlam has had access to the space in Lowertown Saint Paul directly across from the Union Depot for almost two years. The slow renovation process she describes is ostensibly almost finished (to wit, the paint and floor were off-gassing this evening, as part of the festive atmosphere). With Morgan Thorsonn’s dance production YOU, the space is officially open for business and there will be more soft openings as they add a bar and full kitchen to complement the performance space.Bedlam’s offerings always embody the independent spirit of their mission. The theater space is extremely flexible with all variations of seating available to fill the wide-open space – seating plan on demand. For this show, the seating was layered with the front row of low slatted, just-off-the floor seating supplied the beach-chair feeling. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Gremlin Theatre gets cozy with “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur”

After having lost their lease at their previous theater space, last week, Gremlin Theater’s A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur (directed by Jef Hall-Flavin) lost its venue at the 11th hour because of a St. Paul zoning snafu. The stage manager, Sarah Bauer, explained how the artistic director, Peter Christian Hansen, spent hours with city officials looking for a loophole that would allow the show to go on in the house owned by St. Clements Episcopal Church in Saint Paul. Unbeknownst to the company and the church, the Blue House at 897 Portland Avenue was apparently not zoned for public events. Continue Reading