Twin cities arts buzz: Meet the creatives and their productions

Inside: Jungle Theater, Trylon microcinema, Chris Baker, and Solo 1x2

Somewhere north of three million people live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state arts board says that two thirds of them have attended an arts event in the last year. With that many people, it's a safe bet that whatever your artistic passion, however esoteric your creative interests, you can find at least a few kindred souls to support you.

This year's Fall Arts Preview is a testament to the incredible diversity of Twin Cities arts. Do you have a thing for Japanese anime and manga (like the illustration on our cover)? Mark you calendar for the weekend of September 25. Are you a devotee of the classic South Indian dance form Bharatanatyam? You'll find an auditorium full of like-minded fans at the Walker on October 1. Do you love classic films? There's a new "microcinema" in town just to serve that niche.

On the following pages, we profile four people who are distinguishing themselves in the Twin Cities arts community, and we offer scores of events guaranteed to warm your soul as the weather gets cold—whatever your artistic cravings may be.

The Law and the Jungle

By Quinton Skinner

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Alayne Hopkins and Sam Bardwell in Mary's Wedding, photo by Nick Vlcek

THE JUNGLE THEATER'S preposterously aged, ramshackle, wheezing jumbo van has earned itself an in-house nickname probably best not repeated here. But suffice it to say that when Joel Sass and I, two men in our forties dressed in dark clothing and carrying a sinister cargo of two shovels, hit the road recently, we could have been mistaken for a couple of guys who were bound to end up in a TruTV documentary on perversity and mayhem.

But we're not so bad, really. Actually, not at all. Sass had just finished showing me his backyard garden, and we were headed off to a weird patch of terrain behind the Acme Company on Hiawatha on a mission to dig up various weeds and sod that would become part of the set of Mary's Wedding, one of the final shows of the Jungle's 2009 season.

Innocent enough, one would suppose. Until the police showed up.

The next day Sass and I were happily disentangled from the grasp of law enforcement, and we had a chance to chat about the course the Jungle will be taking through the end of 2009. All this year, the theater's founder, Bain Boehlke, with whom Sass shares artistic director chores, has been on a one-year sabbatical. Sass says Boehlke's decision to take a year off "was not last-minute," but admits that Mary's Wedding was chosen for production in a brief gap between Boehlke's temporary abdication and the pressing need to come up with a season brochure.

"I went back to my stack of fun things, and this was quite near the top," Sass says of Stephen Massicote's script. "It strikes a really substantial emotional chord because of its sweetness, its optimism despite the fact that there's a war at the heart of the show. It's old-fashioned in the best sense, not being antique but harkening back to these extremely romantic, generously heartfelt romances of an earlier time."

Sass had shown me a shoebox-size model of his design for the show, then ushered me to the set in a middle stage of its creation. Mary's Wedding concerns a young woman on the night before her nuptials, dreaming dreams of a young man she met in her recent past who is now entrenched (pun intended) in combat in World War I. Sass's elegant set combines the feel of a rural barn with a bedroom, the suggestion of a battlefield, and a contained chamber upstage in which the unconscious will presumably hold sway.

"It's almost Thornton Wilder-esque, in locale and the charm and innocence of the characters," Sass adds. "Despite the fact that there's a sorrow at the heart of the show—here's a young woman dreaming the night before she's going to be married, and not about the boy waiting at the altar the next day—the writer guides Mary toward a place where her future is one of light and happiness, rather than being shattered by an old sorrow. That's a beautiful theater experience for me."

While Sass was toiling for many years in the local theater scene as a designer and director, Boehlke was resolutely building the Jungle brand. When Sass was brought on board a couple years ago, it seemed like a natural fit: Both men, despite being a generation apart, are theater lifers, both vividly visual in their approach, and both dedicated to what Sass calls "tapping into the reservoir of the ineffable."

Both guys also share a knack for talking in complete paragraphs, elaborately punctuated, and each has his own brand of impish humor. When Boehlke comes up in conversation, Sass summons up a dead-on impersonation of his artistic partner's sonorous, droll, stoner Zen-master cadence. And he readily admits that, when taking on Mary's Wedding, he had to ask himself, "It's a dream play. What the fuck does that mean?"

Conor McPherson's The Seafarer will fill the Jungle stage in November and December. Sass calls it "funny and a little scary, a good anti-holiday show." The Jungle staged McPherson's dark, chilling Shining City two seasons ago.

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