1 While she first caught our attention singing sexy, playful R&B in the Chalice, Lizzo spends her debut album “Lizzobangers” focused with laser precision solely on hip-hop — classic, boombox-blowing, chest-beating hip-hop, with extra greasy beats provided by Lazerbeak of Doomtree fame. The Houston-bred, Minneapolis-based rapper takes on a feminist roar in “Pants vs. Dress” and merits Missy Elliott comparisons in other tunes, but mostly she shows as much bravado and adrenaline as the manliest male MCs.
2 New York playwright Jon Marans’ powerful “A Strange and Separate People” tells the story of a gay doctor, new to Orthodox Judaism, struggling to balance the traditions with his sexuality. He comes between a husband and wife as complex relationships develop. The Minnesota Jewish Theatre production painfully portrays the crippling power of any conservative religion that values conformity to laws over human ambiguity. At the same time, it also becomes a testament to the power of faith and religious compassion. www.MNjewishtheatre.org
3 Minnesota’s Hautman brothers — Robert, Jim and Joe — are legendary for painting talents that have won an unprecedented 10 Federal Duck Stamp art contests. More than 100 of their original paintings — duck stamp entries, waterfowl portraits, songbirds, big game and even pets — are on view at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. Distinguishing the work of one brother from another is a trick probably only they can do, but at its best, their art is mesmerizing. www.minnetonkaarts.org
4 The dust jacket of “1913: The Year Before the Storm” sets the tone: a photograph of lovely women in long skirts and big hats, ice skating in Vienna with dignified men in suits and ties. It was the last year of European peace for a long, long time. Florian Illies, a German journalist, moves month by month through the year, giving us snippets of the lives of significant Europeans — Franz Kafka worrying about his handwriting, Rainer Maria Rilke fretting about the weather, Stalin fleeing Russia disguised as a woman, Bertolt Brecht writing a journal. All of them, and the world, moving in various degrees of innocence and ignorance, toward war.
5 In “Maple and Vine” at Frank Theater, a professional couple find their high-pressured jobs, hectic urban environment and overscheduled lifestyle less than fulfilling. Enter a smooth-talking spokesman for the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence, a gated community where it’s always 1955. Playwright Jordan Harrison mines a rich comic vein here, and director Wendy Knox and a spot-on ensemble make the most of their material, addressing racism and homophobia in the era of TV dinners. www.franktheatre.org