The Year in Theater
The year for theater is already over. That is to say, but for a few brave productions of unexpected material (such as Ten Thousand Things performing classical Greek theater), the Twin Cities stages have already been turned over to holiday-themed plays, which are generally artistically irrelevant. The finances of this seasonal programming might be worth discussing, as Christmas plays frequently make up for sparse ticket sales
throughout the rest of the year, and some theater companies rely on these shows for a sizable chunk of their annual budget. Otherwise very little needs to be said. The Christmas Carol at the Guthrie? It's more ritual now than theater, a seasonal tradition along with carrying in the tree, stringing up the lights, culling the livestock, and setting huge wheels of holly on fire and rolling them down hills (or whatever it is people do in December).
What better time, then, to sit down and review this past year of theater, which, like every year, has been extraordinarily varied--excepting all those productions of Hamlet, which had some essential similarities, like the presence of the Prince of Denmark. Some of this variety comes from the sheer number of plays that opened in the year 2001. And that itself was a surprise; after all, the Twin Cities has only a handful of performing venues, so how to account for the fact that some weekends boasted a dozen or more plays opening?
Is there even an audience for all this theater? Sometimes not: Several marvelous productions played to near-empty houses. But every year finds Twin Citians bravely trying new theater experiences, as demonstrated by the fact that this year's Fringe Festival was the largest yet, with the relatively unknown Ministry of Cultural Warfare's oddball look at La Dolce Vita (titled Into the Acid Fountain) coming up as one of the top ticket sellers.
It is to these brave new audiences that this year's retrospective of Twin Cities theater is dedicated. There is more good theater than can be summed up on a short list, and so what follows is an idiosyncratic inventory of some of my favorites. Fortunately, the number of truly wretched productions is always consistently low--I have kept my list to five, mostly plays produced by theater companies who should know better. Additionally, I have taken a moment to note a handful of theatrical trends from the past year and, as usual, have invited members of the local theater community to cast their eyes back on the year 2001 and reminisce with me.
I spent about 500 hours in theaters this year, by my count, and of all that time I would only attempt to demand back a dozen hours, if I could. And there are an equal number of hours I would have spent at plays that I greatly regret missing. Going to a show is seldom a bad way to pass an evening.
Theater is chock full of staggering coincidences, such as the fact that the Jungle Theater and the Walker Art Center were both responsible for staging two-woman plays about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas this past year. But coincidence, as any spooky new-ager will tell you, can be awfully important. In terms of history, this theory of meaningful coincidences is called "Steam Engine Time": That is to say, when the world is ready for the steam engine, several people will invent the dingus simultaneously. But this is the world of theater, so let's call it Alice B. Toklas Time, the time when odd coincidences onstage begin to look like trends, and trends must have some meaning, mustn't they?
1. Theater: The Manly Art
It has been a year since I praised the Twin Cities theater scene for its audacious tendency toward gender-blind casting, and my praises seem to have had an effect. Based on the nontraditional casting to be found on Twin Cities stages this past year, we have at last entered a new period in Minnesota theater. Unfortunately, it happens to be the Elizabethan Period, when women were not allowed onstage, their roles played by men instead. Among the guilty: Nunsense A-Men at the Hey City Stage; the Minnesota Music Theater's production of Pageant; Theatre in the Round's production of Travels With My Aunt; and Theatre Latté Da's production of The Rink.
I would welcome this as the dawning of a Golden Age of drag, but for the fact that in many cases women could have played the roles quite well. In the meanwhile, the number of women in men's drag has been negligible, except for the Frank Theater's gender-blind casting of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which featured a bravura performance by Bernadette Sullivan as the title character. While I do not believe there is any malicious plot afoot to push women off Twin Cities stages, this sort of casting has the exact opposite effect of truly gender-blind casting--it encourages simpering, nastily parodied performances by men as women, reinforcing rather than questioning clichés about gender. It's at times like these that we should be grateful for the infrequent drag-king shows at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, which repeatedly prove the bumper-sticker adage that sometimes the best man for a role is a woman.
2. Your Project, Should You Choose to Accept It
What do the following plays have in common: Illusion Theater's The Laramie Project, Hidden Theatre's The Sparrow Project, Mama Mosaic's The Menstruation Project, the independently produced The Brontë Project, a Walker Art Center-commissioned multidisciplinary show titled Journey/Sanctuary (The Gospel Project) and a theater company named Balance Theatre Project? (If you don't have an answer yet, here's one last clue: The working title for 15 Head's Red/Instructions to Follow was The Fairy Tale Project.)
While I realize that including the word project in your show's title suggests that it is experimental and collaborative, to these ears it invokes an aesthetic of puttering--like a weekend craft project or a high school science project. As a result, I am never satisfied at these plays unless I see a Bunsen burner and some seed art.
3. Lesbian Liplock Syndrome
Two examples don't necessarily point to a trend. But how odd is it that, within a few months of each other, Eye of the Storm produced Stop Kiss and Outward Spiral produced David's Redhaired Death, both of which prominently feature lesbian couples whose first kiss is immediately interrupted by a horrific tragedy? Can't lesbians just get a little time to snog onstage anymore? Come on, people, let them canoodle a little before the tragedy strikes.
4. Your Cellular Phone May Not Give You Brain Cancer, But It May Lead to Your Death Nonetheless
There's one thing that drives me to distraction every year, and this year the subject is cellular phones. Yes, they should be turned off before a play starts. Yes, it's annoying when they aren't and a show is interrupted by the little bastards chirping away in somebody's pocket. But--and I can't stress this enough--it is equally distracting and annoying to have the audience then discuss the subject for the next ten minutes in hushed, angry tones.
5. I Hate Hamlet
Between the Theatre de la Jeune Lune's production (moody), the Simon Russell Beale touring production (rushed and disappointing), the Theater of Happiness production (with a teenage girl in the lead role), and the half dozen or so local college productions (plus two productions of Heiner Müller's Euroradical retelling, Hamletmachine), I am ready to rise from my seat the next time the Mad Dane starts babbling about Yorick and bury him in the earth right alongside that wretched skull. Alas, poor Hamlet. I knew him a little too well....
MARGOLIS BROWN COMPANY
Margolis Brown's lone production this year was intended to be an easily portable, one-man showcase for company cofounder Tony Brown, but it wound up being something grander and wilder. The show included such unexpected properties as a spinning motorized toy car, ethereal projections (including an image of Brown as an intrusive telemarketer appearing uninvited at a picnic, right in the hibachi), and enormous fans. This last was used to blow Brown out of his deck chair, defying his desire for a little respite with his newspaper. The whole of American Safari similarly made a mess of domestic quietude. Brown's malfunctioning world contained menacing oddities: a malfunctioning animatronic exhibit that forewarned of atomic warfare and a fashionably dressed store mannequin that shunned her suitor on a date. If this movement-theater creation ended up being bigger than expected, it is because its conception was so large: How do you make a small play out of the vast, unstable landscape that is the American suburbs?
2.ANGELS IN AMERICA PART 2: PERESTROIKA
PILLSBURY HOUSE THEATER
Part two of Tony Kushner's "gay fantasia on national themes" was a notable improvement over the Pillsbury House Theater's first try at the material a year previously with part one--and their first try was nothing to sneeze at. This production carried over the best elements from their first staging, including Steve Hendrickson's feral performance as Roy Cohn and Blayne Lemke's fragile, beatific turn as Prior Walter. It also recast a few of the roles, most notably adding Carolyn Pool and Djola Branner, who are both fine performers. So here we had a Pulitzer Prize-winning play with a first-class cast, and the results, inexplicably, played to nearly empty audiences. With this in mind, let me offer the following brief reminder: Once these plays close, they close forever, folks--you can't pick them up on video. Now go stand in the corner for 15 minutes and think hard about what you missed.
15 HEAD: A THEATRE LAB
While the productions at 15 Head: A Theatre Lab tend toward both sumptuousness and incomprehensibility, the company's production of Chéri benefited from an alteration to their usual process. Adding to the actor-based improvisations that form the core of any 15 Head project, the troupe also produced an earlier version of the play at Sonoma State University. This additional workshopping gave real polish to this adaptation of Colette's 1920 novel. Director Julia Fischer, in her last outing with the company she helped form, sketched this story of the mercurial relationship between a Parisian popinjay and an older courtesan in bold, clear lines. At its best, the play was startling in its intimacy, such as in a scene where the two lovers, played by actors Jim Bovino and Jaidee Forman, grappled with each other on a tilting platform, their every intimate gasp caught and amplified by body microphones. At its worst, the play was...well, sumptuous
4.DOWN THE ROAD AND TONE CLUSTERS
This production of two one-acts was the last local play to include actors Stan Peal and Laura Depta, who subsequently moved out of state. Peal and Depta were fixtures of the small theater companies that make the Cedar Riverside People's Center and the Acadia Cabaret their home, and as befits a swan song, they turned in some of their finest performances in this production. Peal and Depta played married couples in each of these two one-acts (as they do offstage), with both one-acts detailing the horrific aftereffects of murder. In the first, Lee Blessing's Down the Road, the two performers slowly fell to pieces while interviewing a sadistic mass murderer for a forthcoming book. In the second, Joyce Carol Oates's Tone Clusters, the two played an older couple on a talk show, quietly trying to defend their son against charges of having committed a terrible sex crime. Uniformly, their performances were wistful and unforced, and often terribly sad.
EYE OF THE STORM
There are not many actors who can steal the stage from the cast of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune, but Brian Baumgartner is one of them. In Gulliver, he played an gargantuan baby, wailing and drooling as terrified Lilliputians fed him with cranes and fired at him with tiny tanks, desperate to placate or destroy him. In their production of The Green Bird, Baumgartner depicted an oversize dowager, dressed in massive kabuki robes, hollering at the top of his lungs. Baumgartner--round-faced, big-framed, and imposing--has many fine qualities as an actor, but the foremost among them is his sheer volume. Bill Corbett's Heckler gave Baumgartner the chance to use that volume in an ideal setting: The title character is a fellow who has made heckling his life's mission. Corbett's Dostoyevskian script is a sharp piece of writing that carefully details the squalor of his character's life and mission (a ratlike dog, a job as a busboy, a pompous and indulgent ego). But it was Baumgartner's performance that carried this one-man show. The actor managed to be both pathetic and inspirational, lecturing the audience on the lost, and essential, power of the human voice.
6.THE DEATH OF BESSIE SMITH
THEATER LATTÉ DA
Locally produced musical theater is still just finding a footing in the Twin Cities, but this Theater Latté Da production demonstrated how it can be done right--primarily under the guiding hand of director Peter Rothstein. This partnership took an old script by Edward Albee, set on the night of blues singer Bessie Smith's awful death. Albee's original rendition takes place in the hospital that refused to admit the singer, and it centered on a bitter, withering nurse (Carla Noack). Smith herself never appears, instead remaining offstage, dying of injuries from an auto accident. The Latté Da production allowed Smith to be a character in the story of her own expiration, splitting the stage between the desperate events at the hospital and a smoky bar, where Smith (played by Shirley Witherspoon) sang before the crash. Smith's music is earthy and hedonistic, a sharp counterpoint to the whittling killjoy that is the nurse, and the presence of her songs in the play brought a renewed urgency and poignancy to Albee's one-act. Rarely is such an established work so imaginatively reconceived.
7.THE DESCRIPTION OF THE WORLD
THEATRE DE LA JEUNE LUNE
Jeune Lune occasionally produces plays that are based, seemingly almost entirely, on their ability to invent things onstage with just a few sheets of fabric: a bowl of water, a large stick, a dozen cast members in funny costumes. Last year it was Chez Pierre, and this season it was Description, based on the writings of Marco Polo. Fortunately, Robert Rosen seems to be something of an avid amateur magician: He made knives, forks, and even customers disappear in Chez Pierre; and, as co-writer, director, and Polo in this production, he made the entirety of the Orient appear out of thin air. Admittedly, it was an imaginary Orient, as the play took pains to point out that Polo was probably an inveterate liar. But this theater company seems to appreciate such a wayward imagination. Description of the World eloquently made an unusual case: That there is nothing wrong with a few lies among friends, so long as the lies are beautiful.
8.THE MOST HAPPY FELLA
TEN THOUSAND THINGS
There is an appealing randomness to Ten Thousand Things productions. Director Michelle Hensley seems to choose plays on a whim, which is why her past season went from obscure Shakespeare (Cymbelline) to Beckett (Waiting for Godot) to this mild-mannered Broadway musical about a Napa Valley vineyard owner. Hensley has an extraordinary skill at casting her plays: This one featured Stephen D'Ambrose and Aimee K. Bryant as star-crossed lovers, one an elderly and somewhat dopey Italian immigrant, the other a naive San Francisco waitress. D'Ambrose is one of the Cities' finest actors, with a thin, unexpectedly sweet singing voice, while Bryant is one of the Cities' finest musical-theater performers, with a great booming voice and a surprisingly shy onstage demeanor. The two opposite each other was like a duet between a toy piano and a Stradivarius violin--which turned out to be a terrific match.
Director Andrew Kim seems to be pursuing a muse that nobody has every heard of before: It's not Calliope, nor Terpsichore, nor Thalia, but some previously unheard-of sister that inspires puppetry, European corporal mime, and a diverse variety of Asian stagecraft. Theater Mu's production of Passage, directed by Kim from a script by Edward Bok Lee, told the story of a pregnant girl who returns to the city of her childhood, only to find it filled with people who have lost their memories. Within this fairy-tale structure (which the company billed as an "absurdly dark, quasi-Asian ritual"), Kim wove all his obsessions, and the resulting play contained the most unusual and compelling images seen in Twin Cities theater this year. The stage writhed with grotesque creatures--padded and distorted versions of humans. And the actors beneath all the padding similarly brought a gnarled sensibility to their roles. They screamed at one another, created little games onstage for their amusement, and died with great elegance, tearing through longs strips of white cloth with their bodies.
One day, in the middle of a performance, it seems likely that storyteller Heidi Arneson will simply disappear with a pop, leaving behind a shower of glitter. Her stories, which often take place in a deranged funhouse version of childhood, are voiced with such surety that the world of Heidi Arneson must be real somewhere. Eventually, through the sheer power of her singsongy storytelling, she will tear a hole into that universe and disappear, to spend the remainder of her life in a Raggedy Ann dress in a pink room, telephoning her adventures back to us from a sticker-bedecked princess phone. For her sake, let us hope that this happens when Arneson is telling one of her more joyous stories, and not something like the Fringe Festival hit Small Barbie!: a drunken, impossibly sad midnight call from a rejected Barbie Doll to her wayward Ken.
BEST FORGOTTEN (I.E., THE DREGS)
OUTWARD SPIRAL THEATRE COMPANY
Alas, Outward Spiral seems to be in something of a downward spiral. Perhaps they will pull out of it with their forthcoming production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which certainly features a solid script. Otherwise, in their half-decade of existence, this company seems to have quickly plowed through the best available gay-themed scripts and is now working with the dregs. Dog Opera was an overlong and unfunny comedy about love in the time of plague. But the show was at its worst when it took stabs at being socially relevant, detailing the empty last days of a male prostitute or visiting the succession of deaths that AIDS has inflicted on the gay community. A dash of bitter experience does not make a weak comedy stronger, and people do not get sick and die in order to make a bad script meaningful.
2.MARTINIS, GIRLS & GUNS
This Buffalo Gals production should have been good, kitschy fun, consisting of staged versions of the theme songs from James Bond movies. Instead, it presented uninspired, Solid Gold-style dance routines and poorly scripted interstitial dialogue. Unhappily, the real revelation of this production was that the theme songs to James Bond films are rather bad. Perhaps worst of all, they were foisted on one of our region's finest singers, Prudence Johnson.
HEY CITY THEATER
Note to the Hey City Theater: Bring back Tony n' Tina's Wedding. It was lowest-common-denominator theater, yes, but it afforded the cast endless opportunities for improvisation, and as the Twin Cities has more than its share of sharp improvisers, the result was a hoot. Nunsense, by contrast, sticks ploddingly to its script, which consists of little more than a half-dozen jokes about nuns in peril and a few uninspired musical numbers. Casting the production with all men could have been inspired, had such a cast revealed the essentially campy undertones of the play. They do not, however, making this bit of stunt casting into nothing more than a gimmick. And if gimmicks are all you've got to draw audiences to the door, you might want to reconsider your choice of material.
4.THE SPARROW PROJECT
Chalk it up to director Joel Sass that this play was watchable for at least half of its short running time. The story, which told of a twin-brother-and-sister hustler team who pick up a rootin' tootin' cowgirl in Manhattan, was full of clunky dialogue (e.g., "My blood is your mirror"). But it looked great, with a marvelously seedy set that included battered mattresses, broken toilets, and a massive hole in the floor barely covered by a hideous rug. Sass dressed the twins in hep urban bondage outfits and the cowgirl in a club costume that would have fit a pistol shooter with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. But the show's surfeit of style did not make up for its absence of substance--like Dog Opera, it chose to use prostitution and drug use as some sort of creepy poetic metaphor. But a metaphor for what? Do prostitutes really need to serve as some sort of vague literary trope in theater? Isn't their service job hard enough as it is?
Thanks to cabaret-style venues, such as the Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Fringe Festival, it is possible for anyone and his buddy to scavenge several hundred dollars and mount their own play. This has a nice democratic ring to it, but in practice it means that sadly misbegotten projects reach the public with some regularity. I point to Theatre Limina's String Theory as an example. Telling an uninspired story of a half-dozen unappealing roommates, the play attempted a sort of stylistic creativity by running scenes out of sequence, and sometimes running them backward. Sure, it worked in Memento--but in this case, the audience would have been happier to leave the theater with a spell of selective amnesia.
Twin Cities Theater Artists Review Their Work
In the middle of August we were performing our 7:00 p.m. show of Improv in the Park for 350 people at the Lake Harriet Rose Garden. Right in the middle of the show, automatic sprinklers popped up from the ground and started spraying. The scene was like the Titanic going down. People screaming, grabbing lawn chairs and blankets, and running everywhere. Seems a power outage downtown had thrown off the computers that control the park sprinkler system. In over a decade of park shows, this was a first. Many audience members showed up the next week with umbrellas and sheets of plastic, probably thinking that we had turned our show into a Gallagher-style performance.
LEIGH COMBS, HOST OF THE BLUE TABLE
I do a show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl about five times a year--any month that there are five Wednesdays, I do it on the fifth one. The Blue Table is a kind of variety show (a spin-off of a weekly queer radio show I do called Fresh Fruit) where I interview artists after they perform. The audience often gets a chance to ask questions. I also open up the windows onto Lake Street for the show, which can bring about some great entertainment, both planned and unplanned. Anyway, on the bill for one night was Rebecca Holmberg of Confessions of a Lesbian Dominatrix. She was a hit! She had also brought along her friend, Madam C, who is from Switzerland. Madam C does a fire trick, and thank God I had enough dominatrix in me to tell her that NO, she could not spew fire in the theater, but that it would be even cooler to do it outside. Thank God Madam C agreed. There she was, a short, muscular, tan dominatrix standing on Lake Street in front of the theater in a leather-studded G-string, spewing fire. I was sitting onstage and I could feel the heat of the fire. Traffic stopped on Lake Street (luckily no accidents) and this made it into Lavender's queer gossip column.
JILL BERNARD, CAST MEMBER,THE IMPOSSIBLES
The Scrimshaw Brothers' Look Ma, No Pants variety show is the flagship of a tongue-in-cheek movement we call "Theater of Audacity," which essentially means we don't rehearse a lot. Many of the sketches we do are very messy, so we rehearse them even less. If you know you're going to be soaked in beer, relaxer gel, or Parmesan cheese, why endure it more than once? While sound, this theory means that unpredictable things can happen. Josh Scrimshaw was doing a one-person silent sketch about a poor office drone on deadline who had some trouble with the office supplies. He had his tie caught in the typewriter, on purpose; he started hacking it off with a pair of scissors, still on purpose; and then he slashed his finger open, really, really not on purpose. Josh was bleeding profusely, and you could hear a ripple effect in the audience as they realized that this was not fake blood. I don't think he realized just how badly he was bleeding. The little trouper just taped it up and kept doing the sketch, albeit an abbreviated version. While not getting the big laughs anymore, it was a truly engaging spectacle, like a Discovery Channel special. I hope our new venue, the Loring Playhouse, is okay with blood on the stage, because none of us can promise it won't happen again.
JOEL SASS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, MARY WORTH THEATRE COMPANY
Our fall production of Clive Barker's The History of the Devil sold out most of its four-week run and never failed to bring in a wildly eclectic mix of audience members. Local actor Charlie Hubbell, who played the part of Satan, developed something of a female cult following. Near the end, however, we had a few fans whose enthusiasm was nothing less than disturbing. One woman who didn't have a reservation ranted angrily at our box-office manager and tried to rush the theater doors, claiming she'd been riding a bus since 4:30 a.m. in order to see Satan. With no extra seat available, the aspiring handmaiden wept in the lobby for nearly an hour under the watchful and sympathetic eye of our head usher. Meanwhile, another would-be Devil groupie (who would identify herself only as "The Goddess Kali") was filling our voicemail box with requests that we remount the production for her private pleasure. I'm looking forward to seeing whether this determined harem will follow Charlie to the Old Log Theater, where he'll be trading in his horns and tail to play the part of Jesus next year.
ZACH CURTIS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE DIRECTORS THEATER AND FIFTY FOOT PENGUIN THEATER
The eight coolest things I saw this year, that made me laugh, cry, cheer, and reminded me why we all try to do this for a living (in no particular order):
Thanks for a great year.
For WASP/Unveiling at BLB, we decided to have cartoonish sets (read: an inflatable, nuclear-green living room) for "WASP" and a mildly funky set (read: furniture we already owned) for "Unveiling." It was decided to use the couch belonging to our set builder, Mike, since he lives upstairs from BLB. Little did we realize two major flaws in an otherwise perfect plan: One, that Mike would want to use his couch when it wasn't onstage, and, two, that couches owned by cat-owning smokers are--and we assign no blame here--filled with dust, dander, and other allergens.
These two flaws necessitated two members of the cast and crew (none of whom are of the muscled sort) hauling a couch capable of seating three grown-ups comfortably, through one door, down a steep flight of stairs, through another door, onto Lake Street, through one last door that locks from the inside, and onto the stage, as a third cast member scurried underfoot, held doors, and answered the bemused questions of passersby. This was during our ten-minute intermission.
During performances, the couch looked great, and our theater-folk comrades complimented the apparent speed of moving such a big object and the shabby stylishness of the object's fabric. However, at the end of "Unveiling," when it was time for Leigha to throw a temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums--which included, natch, beating up on the couch--a "poof" of the aforementioned dust and dander would dislodge itself and become acutely visible under the unforgiving stage lights. We could never tell if the audience was laughing at the poof or not.
Then, of course, it was time to take the couch off the stage, through one door onto Lake Street (to the somewhat confused looks of the fine people who had just paid to see that couch), then the other door, up the stairs, through the last door, and back into Mike's apartment.
We did that eight times. Our next show is going to be called A Card Table, A Music Stand, and Two Folding Chairs.
MITCHELL BUCKY FAY, ACTOR, WRITER, DIRECTOR
My group, The Cromulent Shakespeare Company, was all set to do a play called Theatre 101, about a small college that has blown its budget and has to do the entire theater major in one night. Well, at first we were set to open at the new Phoenix Playhouse in January. January came and went--no space, no new theater. So then it was going to be March. March came and went--no space. There had been a possibility of doing it at the Acadia in September, but the new guy there is as hard to track down as bin Laden.
At last, the Phoenix is going to open again! We'll do the show in October, as long as we can get the stage built, lights hung, walls painted, etc. We open, we do a couple of weekends...and then the inspectors shut us down.
We end up doing one last show at my school's cafeteria, hanging sheets over the vending machines and duct-taping small lights from the drop ceiling. Our green room was an Argosy University hallway, and you could hear some of the animals in the kennels below us. It was primitive and as fly-by-night as it comes...and it was great! Maybe sometimes a crisis just brings out the best in everyone.
STACIA KRAMER, ACTOR
Last Spring I did a show with Ann Michels called David's Redhaired Death. The two of us spent most of the show sitting, laying down, and rolling on a raked bed, delivering mostly tremendously dramatic lines. One night during the first act the two of us spent a lot of the time looking at each other with suspicion because there was a terrible odor. We realized, finally, that one of the theater's resident cats had peed all over our bed and it was completely soaked to the supporting boards. And though the stage manager tried to Febreze that stench from our set (washing was not an option as the bed was permanently "made"), we spent our five remaining shows cooking in cat pee under the hot lights.
CRAIG WRIGHT, PLAYWRIGHT
Ten Thousand Things' production of The Most Happy Fella was notable for its deep sincerity, great performances, and overall cockeyed optimism. Aimee Bryant and Stephen D'Ambrose were amazingly touching as a mismatched couple trying to make the best of a difficult situation and, as always, Michelle Hensley's minimalist production values were far more evocative and affecting than many of the million-dollar worlds that routinely get assembled in the touring houses of our fair cities. And if periodically preferring Ms. Hensley's low-tech vision to the lavishness of Broadway betrays a sliver of liberal elitism, count me in; there's more than one way to be a populist. Whether a given Ten Thousand Things production is an aesthetic success (as Happy Fella was) or not, I always leave Ms. Hensley's shows feeling like a real human being on a real planet with real moral choices and real opportunities to grow and give. And when you get a little song to hum on the way out the door, what could be better than that?
JOHN TROYER, MEMBER, PRAXIS GROUP
In August I attended the funeral for Kevin Vance. Kevin was a local actor and, more important, a genuinely sincere individual. No matter how many years would pass between our encounters, Kevin would always say hello with a personal warmth that I rarely encounter. We both attended the University of Minnesota during the mid-1990s and worked on a series of plays together while pursuing our undergraduate degrees. An unexpected and tragic death like Kevin's is never easy to articulate in words, but I often remember something Kevin said to me while we labored on a lukewarm production of The Crucible at the U of M. We were both sitting backstage on a bench and Kevin leaned over and said, "You know, it could be worse." "Like how?" I asked. "I don't know, but I'm sure it could be somehow." Always the optimist, even when Arthur Miller plays could conceivably not be worse, Kevin let few things drag him down to the level of cynicism. Kevin Vance will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by many people in the Twin Cities. Mitakuye Owasin, Kevin.