Illusion Theater's Fresh Ink offering "A Quartet of Mothers" is a must-see

You know a play is written well when you keep recalling snippets of dialogue well into the next day. And you know that a piece is performed well when the actors’ facial expressions and vocal inflections so inform your understanding of the content as to become inseparable in your mind from their soliloquies.

All day today, I’ve been chuckling and choking back tears as I’m revisited by the most poignant and the most delightful moments of Illusion Theater’s A Quartet of Mothers.  read more »

Guthrie's "The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde" tells a sickening but fascinating tale

Happy Fathers’ Day! Any father attending The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde at the Guthrie may feel that he has done a wonderful job in comparison to Oscar Wilde. (Who knew the famously gay Irishman had kids? All we talked about in English Lit was his work: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan….)

A gifted and renowned poet, author and playwright, Oscar Wilde (Matthew Greer) married a lady, as 19th Century gentlemen were expected to do, and then took pouty playboy Lord Alfred Douglas (Brandon Weinbrenner) as his lover. His dalliances with other gay and bisexual men, as well as drinking and indiscriminate spending, earned Wilde an unholy reputation as well as a prison sentence.

Bad Dad Gift Guide: From Darth Vader to Pete Doherty, a lighthearted list of the 10 worst fathers ever and the presents they deserve, by Steve Almond for  read more »

Bush Foundation Awards help to sustain, enliven Twin Cities arts community

Janel Jacobson, Dragon Fly ~ Lotus Pod

People who make art don’t get salaries. Very few people, relatively speaking, buy much art. Yet as a community, we want painters to keep on painting, writers to keep on writing, dancers to keep on dancing, film makers to keep on making films, and sculptors to keep on forming objects out of clay and wood and metal.

Thankfully, for 32 years, the Bush Foundation has been selecting up to 15 artists annually from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota to receive a chunk of money that enables them to continue their work instead of spending all day saying, “You want fries with that?”  read more »

"Suburban World" is about compelling stories, not cul-de-sacs

Of the 417 students in my graduating class at Austin High School, Brad Zellar wasn’t one I knew very well. He was a caste above me socially, the student council president. I don’t know if we said a word to each other in four years. Gregarious and handsome, he appears six times in our senior yearbook, not counting the front and back covers. In one photo, he is crowning the homecoming queen. I had no idea he was smart.

Then one day I heard Brad’s voice on Minnesota Public Radio, and I called in to say hi. He was the owner of a bookstore at the time, and he was recommending gift books for the holidays. I don’t recall their titles, but I do remember thinking, “He likes the dark stuff.”

Brad Zellar with high school teachers
Kermeth Northwick and Richard Nicolai

After that, I started noticing Brad’s byline here and there, in City Pages, or the Twin Cities Reader, perhaps, and The Rake. He wrote book reviews, articles about baseball, and social commentaries, all with a bit of an edge.

So when I got the notice from the Minnesota History Center about Suburban World: The Norling Photos, an exhibit based on my high school classmate’s new book, I called up friends from Austin, along with my parents and said, “Zellar is writing about suburbia? Weird. Let’s show up for this.” I’m glad we did.  read more »

From the heart of a woman flows her song

Thomasina Petrus as Billie Holiday

Anyone who’s read my blog from the beginning knows that the voice of Thomasina Petrus leaves me breathless, and that I admire her talent and her work ethic as both an actor and a producer. (This view is not at all influenced by the drunken pleasure I derive from her butter-laden home-made cashew brittle.) But of the myriad characters and concerts I’ve seen Thomasina perform, none has touched me more than her title role in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, an end-of-life vignette of jazz singer Billie Holiday, at Park Square Theatre.

I had anticipated a special performance, not because of the profusion of public relations material sent my way, but because I heard Thomasina “try out” this character last year in a show at The Capri Theater. She introduced a Billie Holiday song by saying it was her goal to someday “channel” the troubled and transcendent jazz legend on stage. I recall hearing a distinctly different voice from Thomasina that evening, but it still felt like emulation. In Lady Day, the actor/singer becomes Billie Holiday as she might have appeared at a Philadelphia nightclub four months before her death.  read more »

The show must go on...but when does being a "pro" become a no-no?

During my weekly radio show days, there were times when I felt woozy with a cold, but I would slog it out for two hours anyway because the listening audience was doing their part, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Callers said my voice sounded sultry, which is fine. But had I crossed the line into froggy, I would have hired a sub or pieced together a “best of” show.

Vocal chord martyrdom is silly. I once heard a laryngitic colleague croaking out her on-air interviews, and vowed that I would never make listeners suffer like that. I understood her position—when you’re a pro, it’s “on with the show.” But when the malady becomes the performance, a real pro will step aside for the sake of the audience.

Twice in the past few months, I’ve witnessed the machismo of seasoned and talented actors who should have been lying in bed but chose the spotlight instead. They were not doing their fans any favors.  read more »

How long will you live? And how well? Local author Dan Buettner can tell you.

Explorer and National Geographic
writer Dan Buettner

Whenever Karla Ekdahl sends me an invitation, and the date on my calendar is free, I accept before opening the email or the envelope—especially when the venue is the Pohlad Lounge at Minneapolis Central Library. A couple of months ago it was a sneak preview of the PBS documentary The Lobotomist, based on Jack El-Hai’s book of the same title. Tonight it was a lecture by Dan Buettner for the launch of his book The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

Magical how, when I finally strolled to the book table after indulging in a fabulous buffet of noshies from the world’s healthiest places, there was one book left. The display copy. I bought it, had Dan sign it, and can’t wait to read it.

First of all, Dan-who’s-bicycled-around-the-world, Dan-with-the-fantastic-tan, Dan-who-dates-supermodel-Cheryl-Tiegs, Dan-the-guy-in-jeans is a hottie. I don’t care what he lectures on, just so he stands there in front of me—er, us.  read more »

Chef Nate Lane serves up lovin' spoonfuls at People Serving People

Above: Kevyn Burger, Jim Minor, Nate Lane

For those of us who step out of heated cars, hustle into cozy homes, and sit down to hot meals every evening, it’s hard to imagine the life of a mom with three kids under age five who shows up exhausted and homeless at People Serving People, hoping for a night of rest and sustenance for her family. That costs money—which many of us would give, if it were top of mind, but PSP is one of those places in the drive-by zone. That’s why the downtown Minneapolis nonprofit is hosting Chefs for Change, a series of dinners and cooking demonstrations that bring potential donors to PSP’s residential high-rise at 614 South Third Street.  read more »

Jersey Boys: 40 years of friendship in (give or take) 29 songs

Four guys start singing together on a street corner, take turns landing in jail, make it big on the radio with a trio of hits, drink too much, spend too much money, ruin their marriages and finally break up the band. No way are they still friends, right?

As Tommy DeVito (Erik Bates) would say, “If that’s what you think, you’re not from Jersey.”

In Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Tommy and Frankie (Christopher Kale Jones) establish a bond of brotherhood that makes both their inevitable split-up and their reconciliation believable.

Indeed, the triumph of friendship over just about everything else elevates Jersey Boys from an energetic pop musical to a satisfying drama with a great sound- track. The show is so well edited that I can’t think of a single scene, song or line that I’d take out, which makes Jersey Boys the tightest musical I’ve seen since Rent.  read more »

What to see: The Piano Lesson, Third, and 9 Parts of Desire

Yes, we’re supposed to get more snow, but please don’t let the weekend pass without getting out to a show! The best use of two hours between now and March 30, in my book, is either August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at Penumbra Theatre, or Wendy Wasserstein’s Third at the Guthrie. If you can, see them both.

The Piano Lesson is so compelling, I saw it twice. It’s the story of a brother and sister who fight over a piano that has intricate carvings depicting their family’s journey through slavery. At issue is whether to sell the piano to fund the family’s welfare today, or keep it out of respect for the price that was paid in human life to smuggle it out of a slave owner’s house. Typical of August Wilson plays, there are no set changes, and the spiritual side of life meets the practical in surprising ways. Under the direction of Lou Bellamy, the cast and the chilling light/sound presence of a ghost will draw you into the family’s living room and keep you entertained there until the final, whispered, “Thank you.”  read more »

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