Sometimes so much is happening on our Twin Cities stages that it seems the best format for a theater section would be one that apes Larry King's recently retired column in USA Today, a stream of babble, separated by ellipses: In my opinion, Harry Hamlin is the next Harrison Ford...Whatever happened to the hootenanny? Isn't it time to bring it back?...I was with the Dead Kennedys when they started their act, and suggested they call themselves Kennedy Head Explosion....
One night at Balls Cabaret, for example, will leave an intrepid theater critic's poor brain so swimming with little notes and comments about forthcoming shows that the piteous fellow might just break down and cry for the sheer overabundance of it. Balls Cabaret, every Saturday at midnight at the Southern Theater, remains a sort of unannounced preview night for local performers. A recent show, for example, featured both actor/storyteller Ken Bradley, who has an upcoming one-man show at Intermedia Arts' annual Absolute Originals mini-festival; and juggler/club-kid Jay Gilligan, who will be flinging items with merry abandon at the Bryant-Lake Bowl over the next few months.
Let us begin with a comment or two about Gilligan, who just returned from a festival of experimental juggling in Helsinki. He returned with his hair dyed an astonishing assortment of patterns, looking vaguely like some large jungle cat that had been assaulted by a colorblind street tough wielding a random assortment of spray cans. He explained to the crowd at Balls that he had explored some juggling roots while in Finland, and who knows, at his forthcoming show titled Building Weight, he might be juggling rocks or clods of dirt. (The show starts February 21 at Bryant-Lake Bowl.)
He then sat on the floor of the Southern Theater and tossed a number of small beanbags into the air, whereupon they landed on the ground with a little thud. He continued to toss and thud the beanbags, making an interesting series of patterns with them, but I must say, in my very best stentorian Larry King voice, that if Gilligan is to continue flipping things in this manner it is time he dumped his occasional self-description as a "postmodern juggler." His work is growing so premodern as to be perfectly primitive, and I expect soon he shall be flinging cavewomen around by their hair, as I hear did the earliest troglodyte tregetours.
Ken Bradley, in the meanwhile, was the soul of the Seventies, at least in his story, which will be featured in his show The Giguntic American Saga. Longtime theatergoers will remember the dour-visaged Bradley, who used to make frequent appearances locally, perhaps most notoriously as that murderous child in Theater 911's production of Bad Seed a decade ago. Apparently, Bradley himself was something of a bad seed, as his onstage reminiscence relates how he nearly set his mother's house on fire back when he was a latchkey kid. Now, I have complained before about the morbid preoccupation most solo performers seem to have with their own biographies, and I will continue to discourage it: Rummaging around in somebody's journal is only interesting when they have accidentally left it at the foot of their bed, and not when they are onstage reading it aloud for God and everybody to hear. But I will say this: If it must be autobiography, let it involve houses nearly burning down.
Alas, all this babbling about Balls has left me scant space to talk about The Nightingale at Heart of the Beast, which at last has proven that there is room in this world for a safe little corner where puppeteers can perform topless puppetry. Well, that's not exactly right. Dancer/actor/singer Lisa Carlson plays the nightingale of Hans Christian Andersen's story sans blouse, painted blue, and with a series of Yma Sumac-like trills and high-pitched squonks, but she doesn't actually manipulate any puppets. Indeed, strictly speaking, this somber and often beautiful Martha Boesing-directed show is less a puppet story than a masked fairy tale for adults. In this spirit, it includes spooky scenes like one in which a white-faced, twittering chamberlain (Jeune Lune veteran Alejandro Aguilera Duarte) tiptoes through a darkened forest, represented by a series of lit panels showing paper cutouts of tree-sheltered couples engaged in, well, coupling.
There is a photograph in the lobby that shows the puppetry troupe first moving into their Lake Street location--a former adult movie theater--while waving banners that read "Goodbye Porn, Hello Puppets!" This has always led me to wonder why we couldn't have both. Thanks to The Nightingale, at last we can.