Two smaller shows explore the mysterious beauty of the season: Bradley Greenwald celebrates the solstice and Cantus sings of Christmas peace.
It’s Dec. 20, and there are only eight hours, 46 minutes and 11 seconds of daylight today.
It gets worse on Saturday, the winter solstice. We lose another 2 seconds.
But hang in there, dear friends as second by second, we will climb out of the dark. (The mind-numbing cold is another story — one measured in months, not minutes and hours.)
Bradley Greenwald has embraced the cold and dark with a new show that he’s performing this weekend at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis. In “The Longest Night,” Greenwald sings songs, reads poems and generally ruminates on the ancient importance of the solstice in human history. Christmas and New Year’s were hardly the first holidays to occupy this key moment of the Earth’s cycle. The Roman Saturnalia and the Norse Yule are but two examples.
“I’m hoping the show calls into focus the original question of why there are these holidays,” Greenwald said.
There is not a lot of musical literature specifically aimed at the solstice — no carols, oratorios or pop standards. So Greenwald has cobbled together selections that address the mood of the season. Purcell, Bach, Carole King, Don McLean, Schubert, Rodgers and Hart all fit into the program, which Greenwald will sing with pianist Sonja Thompson. He will intercut readings from Margaret Atwood, Joseph Campbell, Ezra Pound and Ogden Nash, among others.
“I don’t mind winter,” Greenwald said. “I fare better in the cold than I do in the heat.”
I guess it takes all types.
Greenwald had a standing invitation from Michael Sommers and Susan Haas at Open Eye to do a show in their quaint theater. This is the first time since 1998 that he wasn’t engaged for a show during December so he conjured up something that was “an alternative, but still embraces the holidays.”
7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun., 4 p.m. Sat.-Sun., Open Eye, 506 E. 24th St., Mpls., $15-$20, 612-874-6338 or openeyetheatre.org
All Is Calm
If you want something on a larger scale — but still fairly intimate and contemplative — Theater Latté Da and Cantus are back again at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. “All Is Calm” — like “The Longest Night” — is a collection of song and text. It centers on the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers from both sides clambered out of the trenches and celebrated Christmas Day with each other.
Director Peter Rothstein launched this show in 2007 after he did extensive research in Europe and sifted through diaries and letters from soldiers and through official documents. He used excerpts to tell the story of young men eager to march off to war and then disillusioned by the muck and horror of combat.
The Hennepin Theatre Trust invited Latté Da and Cantus to the Pantages, and the show has been an annual favorite since 2008. The vocalists sing 26 carols and patriotic songs while three actors recite the texts.
The performance has a timeless air of mystery and wonder. The stories get inside what it was like to be a homesick young man, stuck in impossible conditions and watching as mates all around are dying. That they sought relief on Christmas is a perfect metaphor for the holiday. Perhaps most poignant and heartbreaking, the show reminds us of war’s ability to crush this lovely little moment of peace. Once the news got back to headquarters that comity was breaking out on the front lines, the generals put out the order to start shooting again.
Rothstein recalled a sergeant who saw the show first in 2011 and then again recently at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Reacting to a question in the post-show discussion about the “antiwar ideology” of the show, the sergeant introduced himself to Rothstein after the show.
“He said he has five generations of military in his family,” Rothstein recalled. “The answer to that question, whether it’s antiwar, is in your piece, when they sing, ‘We’re here because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here’ to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ He said that was the most poignant moment for him because it reflected his experience.”