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McPherson's 'The Night Alive' opens in Chicago

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 2, 2014 - 3:42 PM

Helen Sadler and Francis Guinan in "The Night Alive" at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Set design is by Todd Rosenthal. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf Theatre, the Chicago playhouse that has a knack for birthing hit plays, some of which have gone on to Broadway runs and Tony wins, just opened "The Night Alive," by Irish playwright Conor McPherson.

I saw the production in previews in September, and can't wait for the play to arrive in the Twin Cities. The Jungle Theater, which has produced such other McPherson plays as "The Seafarer" (2009) and "Shining City (2007), would be great home for this darkly amusing meditation on violence, mortality, charity, friendship, illusion and dreams deferred.

As directed at Steppenwolf by Henry Fishcamper (who is a resident artistic associate at Chicago's Goodman Theatre), "The Night Alive" takes place in the extremely messy, bare bones rented room of Tommy (Francis Guinan, marvelous), whose landlord Uncle Marice is played by veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh.

One night, Tommy, one of the most lovable losers ever to have graced a stage, brings home Aimee (Helen Sadler), a young woman who has taken a beating. Their growing relationship plays out alongside Tommy's dim sidekick Doc (Tim Hopper), Maurice, and a malevolent Kenneth (Dan Waller).

While the action and plot are wonderfully grounded in quotidian detail -- dented cups of tea, piles of dirty laundry, a travel poster of Finland -- the script leaves open the possibility of multiple metaphoric interpretations. This became abundantly clear in the post-play discussion with Steppenwolf's Martha Lavey and Fishcamper, which raised more questions about the play than were conveniently answered.

Chicago critics praised the play as "raw and beautiful" (Tribune) and said Guinan is "just about perfect as Tommy." (Reader).

"The Night Alive" continues at Steppenwolf through Nov. 16.

Francis Guinan, M. Emmet Walsh and Tim Hopper in Steppenwolf's "The Night Alive," by Conor McPherson. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Garrison Keillor: Out of surgery and on to orange Jell-O

Posted by: Tim Campbell Updated: September 26, 2014 - 3:44 PM
Photo by Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press

Garrison Keillor reports he is "feeling good" after surgery Thursday at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

"The IV went in and night fell and a couple hours later I woke in Recovery, no fuss, with a very pleasant nurse who gave me some ice to chew on and we chatted like old pals and at noon I got wheeled up to my room for a lovely lunch of vegetable broth, coffee, cranberry juice, and orange Jell-O," he posted on Facebook.

The Minnesota writer and "Prairie Home Companion" host has not disclosed the precise nature of the procedure, but earlier this month when he announced he was canceling Saturday's "PHC," he wrote: "If you've noticed my upstairs bathroom light go on at 10 p.m., 10:10, 10:25, 10:40, etc., you know all you need to know."

No word on when he'll leave the hospital. In his Facebook post he joked, "The Scot in me says, 'you will pay for this someday' and maybe so but meanwhile I am having a very good day, made all the better by a funny phone call from my daughter. Who reminded me that long ago in this hospital coming out of a tonsillectomy she stuck her tongue out at me. Despite anesthesia she remembered that I was the Judas who took her into the OR."

Keillor, 72, is scheduled to return to the Fitzgerald Theater stage Oct. 4 for a "Prairie Home" show featuring bluegrassers the Gibson Brothers and local singer/songwriter Ellis.

But don't be surprised if he makes an appearance this weekend at the History Theater in St. Paul, where his playwriting debut, "Radio Man," opens Saturday night.

(In the photo at right, Keillor clowned with actor Pearce Bunting, who plays his alter ego in "Radio Man," during a rehearsal earlier this month. The play has a preview staging Friday night.)

P.S. After this was posted, a friend shared a letter to the Anoka County Union that Keillor wrote two weeks ago after an outing to his old high school. It's quite sweet:

To the Editor:

Last Friday, I drove up to Anoka for the Anoka-Coon Rapids football game and sat in the bleachers about 10 feet below the pressbox where, as a 14-year-old kid, I sat and wrote up the games for the Anoka Herald.

Goodrich Field looks so much the same as it did back then and off to my right was a student cheering section, about 300 strong, distinguished by wearing odds and ends of white, white shirts, headbands, caps, one boy in a white off-the-shoulder toga, tossing white streamers, setting off white smoke bombs – a solid block of high spirited goofiness and tumult and swaying and dancing in the stands – in their whiteness, the opposite of goth, more like moths fluttering at a porch light, and so utterly different from the self-conscious solemnity of the Fifties teenager. I know alcohol and this was not alcohol: this was joy and humor and hormones. The band got to play the Fight Song a couple times and I joined the throng in the end zone and the game ended, Anoka up 14-6, and the kids in white bolted for the field and a huge mash-up of bodies at midfield, arms in the air, chanting the Fight Song, and then headed for the exits, a river of youth with a happy alumnus of 72 in their midst. If these folks represent what it’s like to be young now, I am all in favor of it.

A joyful September night in my old town and the downtown cafes crowded and my old stately junior high standing big and proud on Second Avenue, where my dad graduated in 1931. Go, Tornadoes.

Garrison Keillor, St. Paul

Minnesota Marine Art Museum expands building and collection

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: September 16, 2014 - 6:11 PM

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona has added a 5,000 sq. ft. gallery and loans of eight new paintings to its already impressive collection of water-themed art. The new Richard and Jane Manoogian Gallery will officially open to the public Sunday, Sept. 28.

The new paintings include images by English landscape master John Constable (1776-1837), German Expressionist Max Beckmann (1884-1950), American Modernist Stuart Davis (1892-1964), and the romantic American naturalist Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) whose "View from Fern-Tree Walk," (1887), above, is a star addition. The pictures are on loan from the museum's founders Robert "Bob" Kierlin and his wife Mary Burrichter.

Detroit-native Richard Manoogian, a prominent collector of American art, is heir to a faucet-manufacturing fortune derived from Masco Corporation which was founded by his father. With support from a foundation established by the Manoogians, the Winona museum added a gallery that will primarily house paintings from its collection and long-term loans of Hudson River School, French and American Impressionist, and European and American modernist paintings.

(10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tues.-Sun., $7 adults. Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Dr., Winona. 1-507-474-6626 or 1-866-940-6626 toll free; or www.mmaam.org)


 

Good vibrations in Toronto for Bill Pohlad's Beach Boy biopic

Posted by: Tim Campbell Updated: September 9, 2014 - 12:21 PM

Bill Pohlad, right, directing Paul Dano in "Love & Mercy," in a scene showing Brian Wilson producing the Beach Boys' landmark "Pet Sounds" album." (photo by François Duhamel)

Minneapolis filmmaker Bill Pohlad and pop visionary Brian Wilson got a standing ovation Monday night at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Love & Mercy,” the Wilson biopic that put Pohlad back in the director’s chair for the first time in decades.

Early reviews suggest a smash.

The highly influential trade magazine Variety called it a "finely crafted split portrait" -- Paul Dano plays Wilson in his hitmaking prime, while John Cusack represents his older, embattled self -- that is "miles removed from the cookie-cutter approach taken by so many other rock bios."John Cusack with Elizabeth Banks in "Love & Mercy."

"An unusual, moving portrait stuffed with the thrill of music-making," summed up the Hollywood Reporter, adding that Cusack (pictured at right with Elizabeth Banks) "gives one of the best performances of his career."

The Los Angeles Times report echoed a common thread in the reviews -- that while music biopics are typically tedious, "Love & Mercy" is a "refreshing surprise" that breaks the mold and invigorates the form. No doubt part of the credit belongs to screenwriter Oren Moverman, who also scripted "I'm Not There," the kaleidoscopic Bob Dylan portrait that featured six actors portraying different facets of the enigmatic singer/songwriter.

Pohlad told the L.A. writer that he dusted off an old screenplay about Wilson and enlisted Moverman for a rewrite. “If it was just telling young Brian’s story about the music, I don’t know that I would have done it,” he said. “But there were a lot of different levels besides that. On another level it’s about creative genius vs. madness. And it’s also a story of how [his future wife] pulled Brian Wilson out of a deep hole.”

After the disappointing reception of his feature debut, 1990's "Old Explorers," Pohlad kept close wraps on "Love & Mercy," showing it to virtually no one until its premiere Sunday, as he told the New York Times in a piece last weekend.

He also -- cannily, it appears now -- held off on striking a distribution deal for the film. Do we smell a bidding war?

As a side note, I want to mention that our own critic, Colin Covert, had planned to attend Monday's premiere. Regrettably, he suffered a bicycle accident last month but is now recovering at home and eagerly monitoring the news out of Toronto. I can't wait to read Colin's own take on this film.

There's no trailer for the film, so it seems fitting to give Wilson the last word:

 

James Sewell working on ballet with filmmaker Frederick Wiseman

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: September 3, 2014 - 3:14 PM
James Sewell of Sewell Ballet / Star Tribune photo by Tom Wallace

In what may seem like an odd pairing, James Sewell of the Minneapolis-based Sewell Ballet is working with veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman on a new ballet based on an old Wiseman movie.

Wiseman's 1967 "Titicut Follies" documented the residents and inmates at Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Bridgewater, Mass.

This early Wiseman documentary ignited controversy when state authorities sought to prevent its release, saying it violated inmates' privacy. The legal case rolled through various jurisdictions, but the film was withheld from distribution for years. Wiseman went on to wide fame for his fly-on-the-wall documentaries on a variety of subjects, including high-school life, meat, public housing, boxing and, in two movies, the world of dance.

Fast forward to 2014, when a new Center for Ballet and the Arts is set to open at New York University. Wiseman is among the center's first group of fellows. He announced this week that as part of that fellowship he is planning a ballet based on the film, to be created by choreographer Sewell.

Sewell said Wednesday that he and Wiseman have been talking by phone about the project this summer, and that Wiseman is due in Minneapolis later in September for meetings and in-studio improvisation. Wiseman is a "visionary," Sewell said, "and it extends beyond his medium. We've synthesized how our worlds can connect."

Sewell said the ballet, which may retain the movie's title, is likely to require 10 male dancers, as well as other characters to potray the state hospital's doctors and nurses. Likely to premiere in Minneapolis about two years from now, the ballet will include music and possibly video from the original film, Sewell said.

"When I first saw the film -- so intense, so strange -- I thought, 'how could you make a ballet of this?' But the elements are all there -- humorous, poetic, horrifying, sad," Sewell said.

The movie's title comes from an annual variety show that Bridgewater officials and inmates staged at the hospital. "These violent criminals and mentally ill inmates would put on a show, singing Gershwin with pom-poms in their hands," Sewell said.

While funding and other details remain to be worked out, Sewell said he "could not be happier" about this collaboration, which "dropped in my lap." He hopes to find a way, in dance, to portray "the inner landscape" of the often abused, catatonic or disruptive Bridgewater population.

Wiseman, 84, just won the Golden Lion Career Award at the Venice Film Festival.

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