Colleen Kruse's prose is economical and colloquial--tough like Dashiell Hammett. Her delivery has the smoky world-weariness of detective-movie voiceover. But Kruse's hardboiled carapace only partially covers a sensitive interior. Her self-directed, autobiographical play Thirty Days in Frogtown also brings to mind a more emotionally open writer, Anne Lamott, whose sad and funny memoir Operating Instructions covers similar thematic ground. Like Lamott, Kruse deals with being a broke and confused single mom during her baby's premiere year, telling her story with a cool mix of drollery and melancholy.
The literary comparisons seem appropriate because Thirty Days is more like a reading than a "show." Kruse sits on a stool, frequently referring to her text. Her physical stasis isn't such a problem--this is unmistakably a dramatic reading, with smart pauses and acted dialogue, and besides, I wasn't expecting interpretative dance. But Kruse is a natural actor and storyteller; a more theatrical presentation--and more glimpses of Kruse's looser stand-up style--would further vivify the work.
Thanks to sharp details and folksy metaphors, though, the show is already pretty vivid. The title refers to a month Kruse spent in apartment limbo during the late '80s. Faced with an eviction notice (just for not paying the rent--fascists!), barely adult Kruse and her six-month old daughter need some temporary digs. They end up crashing in a dicey area of St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood with a sweet-but-spooky friend whose home-décor style is of the I'm building a garbage house school. Determined to spend minimum time at the apartment, Kruse works long hours at a coffee shop while the baby's in daycare. A romance with a regular espresso buyer--a shy, charming Israeli businessman--starts light but ends up raising heavy questions about class and sex, especially in the way Kruse and her much older beau subtly wrestle for control of the relationship.
Complementing Kruse's yarn are several original songs by singer-pianist Karen Paurus, who has also fronted bands such as Holiday Ranch. Depending on your age, Paurus's jazz chords and blue notes might remind you of Laura Nyro or Norah Jones. The songs could make more concessions to melodic and lyrical hooks, but they're gorgeously sung with full-throated soul. Close your eyes and you might even think you're back at the Blues Saloon in Frogtown.
Conceived by Matt Guidry and originally staged at the 2001 Fringe Festival, the Burning House Group's Say What You Mean is a collage of the real-life speeches--or rather, calumnies, gibberish, and lies--of politicians from the Federalist era to the Bushes. While Jeff Toffler serves as moderator and backing band, Guidry and costar Allen Baker spout this jumbled rhetoric with gusto, providing commentary by juxtaposing the words with well-executed movement choices: They present the candidates as lovers, as puppets, as wrestlers. But it's not enough. Although a few extended quotes try to show the darker purpose (and occasional wit and wisdom) behind the sound and fury, the show is ultimately too successful at evoking a filibuster in the Tower of Babel. One leaves as frustrated and nonplussed as corpulent president William Taft after a steaming plate of mock duck and kale.
The clueless rich kids and good-for-nothing swillpots in Shakespeare's dark comedy Twelfth Night seem to deserve their happy ending as much as G.W. deserves the presidency. In Pigs Eye Theatre's uneven but likable production, the villain of the subplot, the court steward Malvolio (Craig Johnson), improbably becomes the play's most sympathetic character. Sure, Malvolio's a pompous prig and a wet blanket, but he doesn't deserve the cruel prank that lands him in the loony bin (box, in fact). Johnson is perfect in the role, whether he's playing fastidious or ridiculous or heartbroken. When, at the play's end, he vows revenge on his tormenters, I was rooting for him. Perhaps director Matt Sciple didn't mean for Malvolio to become a clownish anti-hero, though he does underline the flaws of the play's proper heroes. But, hey, some have greatness thrust upon 'em.