Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Ballet and modern dance are two entirely different worlds in form and function, so the idea of staking out one's career between the realms could well be an invitation to madness. But Robin Stiehm isn't living on the verge of an artistic split-personality disorder. In fact, the choreographer embraces her dual (and dueling) dance forms, having spent 20 years in the ranks of Loyce Houlton's Minnesota Dance Theatre, and the New Dance Ensemble and Lab. What that means on the stage is that she employs her rigorous ballet training to create progressive movement as lyrical as it is physically demanding. What really surprises people about Stiehm, however, is that the woman's quiet demeanor seems to mask an intriguingly dark imagination that manifests itself in absorbing dances filled with treachery, deceit, and disturbing visions. Shades of Edward Gorey's Victorian parlor games colored last year's "Circus Subterfugium," while the mean-spirited "Give/Get/Take" followed the prototypical love triangle to extremes. Stiehm wisely balances her taste for the lurid with a lighter touch, giving shape to group efforts that pour across the stage like sunshine from a window whose heavy velvet curtains have been thrown open.
Our affection for the campy Bryant-Lake Bowl musical comedy The Temp was due in no small part to the zealous performance of the rubber-faced Michael Ritchie. As Richard, the greasy, bespectacled, sniveling office reject, Ritchie brought apoplectic gonzo gusto to the task of bumbling his way out of a job. As his character turned into a cape-wearing, sneering, Michael Crawford-wannabe psychotic who calls himself the Phantom of the Storage Room, Ritchie slithered, cackled, pranced, and hissed with exuberant tongue-in-cheek melodrama. His snarf-inducing timing was ideal for a script written by and for a generation raised on the ironically nonironic humor of The Muppet Show.
For years Janasz has been one of the Guthrie's most underappreciated players, probably because he disappears so far into his characters that we forget there's a man underneath. This quiet depth was evident in his performances as the sputteringly proper Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, the dotty cuckold in A Month in the Country, and the loquacious dilettante in Molly Sweeney. His steady presence is one of the reasons we go back to the Guthrie--and his absence is one of the reasons we frown on Dowling's quest to attract ever more imported actors.
Lesheim's liquid performances as the leggy landlady in Loring Playhouse's Killers and the boozing, fading movie star in Red Eye's MAMBO 55 were crucial to the credibility of both of these heavily stylized stage noirs. She melts into her roles and the productions melt with her as she creates fresh and wholly theatrical worlds. Lesheim's gift is the ability to lend humanity to deliberate stereotypes while still heightening the absurdity of these worlds (and getting us to laugh at the languid desolation of her characters). No small feat, this. Lesheim's captivating presence, combined with her ability to negotiate both substance and style, raises the bar for every actor (and audience member) in town.
Kellogg's steepest competition for this category is herself: 1998 saw Kellogg grab audiences with her performances as the dowdy Irish mother and accidental revolutionary in Radio Free Theater's Freedom of the City and as a leather- and fishnet-clad S&M psychic in Outward Spiral's Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. Nurse Ratched, though, is the part of a lifetime, and Kellogg used the role in Fifty Foot Penguin Theater's production to turn out the performance of the year. Her Ratched's frozen smiles, haughty glances, and impeccable posture conveyed the perfect blend of compassion tinged with malevolence. And Kellogg's complete unraveling as she lost control of the inmates revealed the flawed psyche behind the medically sanctioned sadism. Her Ratched exemplified a need for authoritarian dominance that withered the story's inmates...and the audience.
Why did Tommy Mischke spend virtually half of last winter off the air on sick leave? Was it detox, as he initially claimed on the night he returned? Or was it a sex change? Or maybe Gulf War Syndrome? The real deal is that it has something to do with stomach problems, but you're not bound to get a straight answer out of Mischke. Plowing through the nightly news on his self-styled The Mischke Broadcast (weeknights 8:00-10:00 p.m., KSTP 1500 AM), T.D. boasts a built-in B.S. detector that's almost as sharp as his ability to dish the stuff out. Mischke is a special breed of Minnesotan: a proud resident of "good ol' St. Paul," a Venturian populist, and a Luddite with the same sense of humor as your nutty uncle who may or may not be kidding when he drops strange science around the Thanksgiving table. In a business that shuns dead air, Mischke is the master of using impossibly long silences for comic effect. Then there are his self-produced ads for sponsors--bizarre stream-of-consciousness diatribes that have little to do with the products. Mischke is just as capable of showing a conscience, as evidenced in his tireless protests of the plans to demolish St. Paul's landmark Coney Island building, or his reprimand of Tom Barnard listeners who would have Asian immigrants "assimilate or get out." In the bland and fascistic spectrum of talk radio, Mischke is a true standout.