Nacirema explores race in America; Peer Gynt heads outdoors

The company of <i>Nacirema</i>.

The company of Nacirema.

Plays exploring America's complex relationship with race have increased in number on Twin Cities stages in recent years, and that's a welcome change to the area's lily-white reputation. 

Nimbus Theater has often explored the thornier side of culture and society, and that continues with Nacirema: Stories of Color. In it, a company of seven diverse performers explore their own heritage and how they fit in with the culture at large.

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The title is "American" spelled backward, and that kind of reversal shows up throughout the show. In the opening, the various performers trace their immigration to the United States (or the land before, in the case of Native American performer Ernest Briggs) via a travel agency that will send each of them to the mysterious land of "Minnesota."

The cast-created show (along with Nimbus's Josh Cragun and Liz Neerland) works best when it gets down to the personal. Sketches that try to tackle large issues with broad strokes often feel ham-handed, but scenes like Jesse Villarreal's experiences with racism within his World of Warcraft guild strike at the heart.

In fact, the intersection between pop culture (and modern culture, really) and race are the most interesting moments here, especially when the additional layers of other cultures are added into the mix.

The show, directed by Mitchell Frazier, starts slowly, but picks up momentum and energy as it moves through its exploration.

Nacirema runs through April 27 at Nimbus Theatre (1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis). For more information and tickets, call 612.548.1380 or visit online.

Plenty of theaters and companies are opening shows this weekend. One of the more interesting works requires a trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanahssen, where students from Augsburg and the University of Minnesota are presenting a site-specific production of Peer Gynt.

The show, co-directed by Augsburg's Darcey Engen and the University's Luverne Seifert, features a pared-down version that uses Robert Bly's translation (produced at the Guthrie Theater a few years back) of Ibsen's work. 

The location allows for the imagined landscapes of the play to really come to life, while offering new challenges for the young actors, Engen says.

And considering the winter we've just had, any chance to get outside is one to take. The forecast for the next few days includes warmer temperatures and some chance of rain (which is better than a chance of snow). For tickets and more information, visit online.