The overweening egos of monomaniacs trigger two shows opening Friday in Minneapolis. At Frank Theatre, actor John Catron picks through the memories of a social misfit in “Misterman.” Over at Mixed Blood, the dangerous pathology of tyranny looms over “In the Time of the Butterflies.”
Playwright Enda Walsh spins innocence and obsessive-compulsive disorder into a disturbing character in “Misterman.” Frank’s artistic director, Wendy Knox, said that each time she and colleagues listened as the play was read, it revealed new layers: mental health, bullying, fundamentalist religion and outsiders. Catron portrays Magill, a seemingly amiable gent who habitually records his conversations with people. He plays them back, trying to reassemble events and make sense of his life.
“One of the things this character is trying to do — and it’s something we all try to do, perhaps he’s more intentional — is to make his most painful memories disappear or at least make them less painful,” Catron said.
Audiences might have seen Catron recently in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Guthrie. He’s also acted there in “Hay Fever” and “The Winter’s Tale.” He has done several years in “All Is Calm” and acted in Illusion’s “My Antonia.” This is his third time working with Knox at Frank. He played the main role in an adaptation of “Metamorphosis” and a central part in “By the Bog of Cats.”
“This play has a lot to say about a person on the fringe and what they can be pushed to do by an amalgamation of circumstances,” Catron said.
All the tapes to which Catron’s character listens use voice-overs recorded by a pack of Twin Cities actors: Patrick Bailey, Bain Boehlke, Virginia Burke, Chris Carlson, Sara Richardson and Joe Dowling among them. In an e-mail, Knox said that sound designer Michael Croswell “has perhaps even a bigger job than Catron” with nine working reel-to-reel tape players on the set.
Walsh’s work has ranged from this small and darkly enigmatic play to the Tony-winning book for “Once.” In his acceptance speech, Walsh poked fun at how his gritty reputation was at odds with writing for a musical.
“It’s the equivalent of stage producers getting the rights to do ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and then getting Charles Manson to do it,” Walsh said.
During the run of the show, Frank will do free readings of three Walsh shows at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. “The Walworth Farce” (April 10), “Penelope” (April 17), “The New Electric Ballroom” (April 24).
(8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Thu.; 2 p.m. Sun. Ends April 28; Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Mpls.; $22-$25, 612-724-3760 or franktheatre.org)
“In the Time of the Butterflies (En el Tiempo de las Mariposas)” marks the 15th year that Mixed Blood has put on a bilingual production. Playwright Caridad Svich adapted the work from a historical novel by Julia Alvarez, centering on the work of four sisters famous for their protest against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
Three of the Mirabal sisters were killed by the Trujillo regime in 1960, but the fourth survives, and Svich treats her story as a memory play. Visited by a journalist, the sister investigates her recollections about life under Trujillo. Principal among the themes is how these upper-class sisters became revolutionaries — something outside the experience of women in that culture.
José Zayas, resident director at Repertorio Español in New York, commissioned the work and directed the Spanish version. At the same time she wrote the Spanish script, Svich produced the bilingual version, which is being staged at Mixed Blood.
“My first big project with Caridad was ‘The House of the Spirits,’ ” Zayas said, referencing the adaptation of Isabel Allende’s novel. That, too was produced by Mixed Blood. “We settled on this novel because I loved the story and had read it many years ago.”
Zayas said that Trujillo’s ghost still hangs over the Dominican Republic, with the memory of an estimated 50,000 people who were killed during the regime.
“There is a YouTube video of Trujillo’s daughter, who had written a book about him, and people were shouting at her in a bookstore to get out,” Zayas said. “It’s still a pretty raw wound.”
Set against this specter, the Mirabal sisters are considered national heroes and the surviving sister, Dedé, today is a folk legend who is spoken of with awe.
(7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Ends April 27; Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.; free, $20 to guarantee admission, 612-338-6131 or mixedblood.com)