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Posts about Theater

Patrick Scully's Walt Whitman show premieres

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: July 11, 2014 - 1:06 PM

Patrick Scully poses as poet Walt Whitman. Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler.


Sometimes the best way to learn about an artist is through the perspective of another artist. With  “Leaves of Grass – Uncut” Patrick Scully summons  the radical spirit of 19th-century poet Walt Whitman. Over the course of the show, which had its first performance Thursday night as part of the Fresh Ink Series at the Illusion Theater, we learn that the two men have much in common when it comes to defying rules and embracing life.

Scully assumes the role of Whitman, talking through his life story, railing against the puritan morals of his day, lauding the love of other men, extolling his contemporaries (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oscar Wilde) and reading excerpts from his works. Whitman, as portrayed by Scully, is a confident man who explains how he would code his language to escape the wrath of a rabidly homophobic society. Despite these efforts, Whitman’s works were banned and critics were quick to denounce him with their harshest words, which is hard to imagine today given the significant influence and great beauty of his writing.

But Whitman was undeterred by these obstacles, which explains why he is such a hero to Scully, a proud rabble-rouser himself. With “Leaves of Grass – Uncut” Scully creates an onstage world that Whitman would have appreciated. Seventeen men dance together in tender, sensual and playful moments. In the opening scene they strip down entirely to bathe, setting the tone for an evening about relationships between men and how society has sought to deny them.

The movement itself is based in contact improvisation, which emphasizes the intuitive give and take of dancing with another person. Scully’s company members take great care to support and inspire one another. Kevin Kortan makes an appearance as Whitman’s lover Peter Doyle and in one of the work’s more poignant moments they discuss the poet’s refusal to use the pronoun “he” (instead using “she”) in his writing to describe their passionate relationship. Scully shows us that Whitman wasn’t always so bold.

The Fresh Ink series provides opportunities for artists to try out new ideas. Scully still has some work to do with tightening up the production – there are a couple of false endings – but it is a heartfelt salute to Whitman. Without this daring poet’s soaring words and his willingness to take risks in a hostile era, we may never know what it means to “sing the body electric.” Scully is the perfect caretaker for Whitman’s legacy.

“Leaves of Grass – Uncut” continues through Sunday, July 13 (8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun). Illusion Theatre, Cowles Center, eighth floor, 528 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. $14-$19, 612-339-4944 or illusiontheater.org.

'Once' will be in the Twin Cities twice in a span of just over a year

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: June 30, 2014 - 5:45 PM

"Once," the celebrated musical based on John Carney's 2007 Academy Award-winning film, is coming back to the Twin Cities.

Director John Tiffany's Broadway tour, which played the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in the spring, will return to the State Theatre June 23-28, 2015.

The show won eight Tonys. It’s about a flower Czech flower girl and an Irish musician who collaborate even as their mutual attraction grows. The actors also play instruments in the production.

Tickets are on sale to subscribers, groups and donors to Hennepin Theatre Trust, which administers the Broadway houses in Minneapolis. Single tickets will be available at a later date. 1-800-859-7469 or online.

Dancing through a mansion

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: June 25, 2014 - 4:18 PM
The performers of "KOM HIT!" gather near the end of the piece for an ensemble scene in the Turnblad mansion's small top-floor theater. Photo provided by American Swedish Institute.
A young woman, barefoot and wearing all white, invokes the spirit of Sweden's literary hero August Strindberg, then opens the heavy wooden doors of the Turnblad mansion on Park Avenue in Minneapolis to begin "KOM HIT!" In the hour that follows, audience members (no more than 35 will be allowed at each performance) poke their heads into nearly all of the mansion's 33 rooms, where they witness snippets of modern dance, mime, music and a small amount of narration. Don't expect to learn much about Strindberg, as the dance-theater piece is "loosely inspired by," and not directly drawn from his life and obsessions.

While immersive, site-specific dance-theater has been popular in New York and elsewhere for several years, as evidenced by such long-running shows as "Sleep No More" by Punchdrunk Theater, it is more rarely seen in the Twin Cities.

In "KOM HIT!" Audience members, who are encouraged to wear stick-on moustaches a la Strindberg, may wander freely from room to room, up staircases and into hallways. You may be invited into a room for a solo performance by a singer playing electric guitar, or witness a thrashing dancer in a "mad scene" through the window of a what looks like a walk-in closet.

Here a woman gazes at her reflection in a mirror, there a teenaged girl plays electric bass with an angel-wing-wearing guy on the accordion. Feathers drop into the foyer from above. A sad creature writhes alone on a bare wood floor.

The troupe numbers more than 14 performers, but co-creators Sally Rousse and Noah Bremer are showcased in certain "episodes," including a group scene in the American Swedish Institute's top floor that involves posing for photographs and passing through a large picture frame. Well-known Ballet of the Dolls dancer Stephanie Fellner gets a lot to do, and does it well. In the end, however, the piece is more about mood and movement, perhaps the ephemeral nature of souls and old houses, than it is a coherent narrative.

See "KOM HIT!" at 6 and 7:30 p.m. on June 26 and July 1, 3, 8 and 10. $20, 612-871-43907, or go here.

Dancers in a room that also has a visual art exhibit on view. Photo by Claude Peck.

The performances are timed to the opening of a terrific small photo show in the new wing at ASI. Turns out old August S. was both a fashion hound and a fan of selfies (well before the term came into vogue, and almost at the dawn of photography itself). The photos of Strindberg come from Fotografiska, Sweden's preeminent photo museum.

"KOM HIT!" dancer on the rooftop of the new wing of the American Swedish Institute.
Dancer on the mansion's second floor.
Below, trailer for "KOM HIT"

Edina one of 10 schools chosen for theater festival

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: June 17, 2014 - 1:03 PM


Edina High School's production of "Fiddler on the Roof." / Photo by Mike Braun


More than 100 theater kids from Edina High School are heading to the Educational Theater Association’s “Thespian Festival” in Lincoln, Neb. The school is one of ten nationally chosen to perform at the annual conference at the Lied Center of the Performing Arts.

Anthony Matthes, Edina’s director of theater, said the school was one of about 70 that requested a look from the Association. Edina staged “Fiddler on the Roof” last fall and judges came to evaluate whether it should make the festival. Notice came in January that the school had passed the audition, so to speak. Three years ago, Edina brought “Anything Goes” to the same event.

“We designed ‘Fiddler’ with the thought that we would take it on the road so we stored the set over the winter,” Matthes said.

Edina will send 54 actors, 25 crew members and about 25 musicians to the festival, at a cost of $770 per student.

“We’re about the only school that brings its own pit band,” Matthes said. The school has been fundraising since last fall and plans two performances June 19-20 to get the show in shape and raise some final cash.

You can get ticket information at Edinatheater.org

Hansberry documentary in the works

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: June 13, 2014 - 2:04 PM

It has been a big year for the late playwright Lorraine Hansberry, whose large visage looks out from an outside wall at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Director Kenny Leon’s Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Hansberry’s most famous drama, won three Tonys on Sunday, including one for best revival of a play. That sold-out production stars Denzel Washington.

That drama, like Hansberry’s life, has been influential culture-wide, from songs such as Nina Simone’s “To Be Young Gifted and Black” to plays by Bruce Norris (the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park”) and Kwame Kwei-Armah (“Beneatha’s Place”).

“Raisin” itself has been a presence on both the big and small screens, starting with Daniel Petrie’s 1961 film.

And yet for all of Hansberry’s fame — she also penned “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” and “Les Blancs,” in addition to be a civil rights activist — there has not been a substantive documentary focused on the life and contributions of this Chicago native who died in 1965.

But that will soon change.

For the past decade, producers Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry have crisscrossed the country on fundraising appeals and for interviews for their Lorraine Hansberry documentary project. They have interviewed Harry Belafonte, a friend of Hansberry’s, as well as Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee. Both Dee, who died this week, and Poitier starred in Petrie’s 1961 film.

MacLowry and Strain, who are taking minimal pay for their work, have raised a significant amount of the budget necessary to complete the documentary.

But they have taken to Kickstarter to get them closer to the end. There is additional fundraising that they are doing as well.

“This is the first feature documentary about Hansberry, dealing with her life in its entirety and looking at her connection to a wider spectrum of activism, from her work with Paul Robeson to civil rights,” said MacLowry.

He added that researching her life has been a revelatory process, not just about Hansberry or the time in which she lived, but about us, today.

“Her father was involved in a case to desegregate a Chicago neighborhood, which was the subject of ‘Raisin,’” he said. “She struggled with issues dealing with her sexual identity. By the end of her life, she had divorced her husband and was committed to her partner.”

Co-producer Strain said that she was most impressed by Hansberry’s global vision.

“Sure, her major focus was African-Americans, but she had an international perspective,” said Strain. “She really cared about human beings and wanted to end oppression for everyone. She saw herself tied to everyone.”

The producers hope to complete the documentary May 2015, when Hansberry would have turned 85. 


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