Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
So far, the only success downtown's Shubert Theater has enjoyed is as a public engineering project--a nifty $4.7 million exercise in lifting and hauling. In the meantime, a pair of unreconstructed cineastes, previously prosperous in the field of ice-cream sales, have been turning a $155,000 theater into the most unlikely of art houses. When Tom Letness and Dave Holmgren bought this 1926 theater a few years back, its stock-in-trade was the film business's third-run leftovers. Drawing funds from the hot eats and cool treats next door--a Dairy Queen franchise that the pair owns--the Heights has shed its nasty turquoise aluminum siding for its original brick façade. On the inside Letness and Holmgren have installed a 70mm projector, an improved sound system, and a host of antiquated projection devices the duo encountered in their previous sideline as collectors and dealers of movie hardware. With these handy gadgets, the Heights has screened such rare wonders as a 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia, a silent and previously lost Frank Capra comedy, and a regular series of Hindi-language blockbusters that has packed the 400-seat theater. On top of the newly painted main room and rehabilitated lobby, the Heights now features a handsome retracting curtain, and decorative drapes rescued from a 1920s theater in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Perhaps the most glamorous project, a Wurlitzer theater organ, has been coming together in pieces--a pipe or two at a time--from sundry auctions and widows' basements. Its possible installation this fall could provide the perfect fanfare for a singular old/new theater.
This past year, Steve Hendrickson may have been the hardest-working actor in town. Most recently, he appeared as the self-loathing Roy Cohn in Pillsbury House Theatre's production of Angels in America. Before that he was clowning through Shakespeare in local prisons and homeless shelters with Michelle Hensley's Ten Thousand Things company, and hamming it up in Wendy Knox's admirably lowbrow staging of Lysistrata at the Guthrie Lab. But it was Hendrickson's performance in Frank Theatre's The Threepenny Opera that solidified our esteem for this actor's talents. As Macheath, the leering antihero and crime boss of Brecht's blackly comic masterpiece, Hendrickson exuded just the right balance of venom, violence, and oily charm: Dean Martin crossed with Jimmy Hoffa. We won't soon forget the play's satiric and spectacular finale, when Hendrickson was hoisted to the top of a scaffold like some dark Christ and given the chance to spit out his profane denouncement of this wretched world.
Though Sally Wingert is perhaps the most visible actress in the Twin Cities, you'll never see her acting. When she takes center stage, as in the Guthrie's 1999 production of Lillian Garrett-Groag's The Magic Fire or the more recent Lake Hollywood at the Guthrie Lab, Wingert is so attuned to the physical and vocal idiosyncrasies of her character that the mechanics of her performance are invisible. Wingert's forte in her main-stage Guthrie appearances is the affecting portrayal of the slightly naive and long-suffering woman. As demonstrated by her recent seriocomic turns at the Guthrie Lab and in Mixed Blood's Winter, though, she can stretch in any direction a script demands. And even when Wingert is shuffled into the supporting cast--as is wont to happen occasionally in a Guthrie company that includes talents such as Barbara Byrne--her grace and intelligence are readily apparent.
If drink is the curse of the working class, talk radio is the curse of the driving class. And in the Twin Cities, where cars still rule, what a curse that is. With each passing year, the blather on the AM side of the dial becomes more insufferable. From sunup to sundown, T.D. Mischke's colleagues at the all-talk KSTP noisily bear the point out. In the morning, there is the gassy failed mayoral candidate Barbara Carlson, cruel advice guru Dr. Laura, and the bloviating Rush Limbaugh. In the afternoon, we're buffeted by the faux-populist ex-journalist Joe Soucheray and, in the coveted drive-time slot, three long hours of the humorless, tax-obsessed Jason Lewis. And then, quite surprisingly, KSTP very nearly redeems this foul assault on the public's sensibilities. Dubbed "The Radio Road Hazard," Tommy Mischke's broadcast from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. weeknights might just as well be called "the jewel in the dung heap." In fact, the show works because it defies the typical talk-radio boilerplate--i.e., host tells fool listeners the way things ought to be. Mischke has no taste for the big-issue show; instead he offers intriguingly madcap musings and light banter-filled exchanges with his faithful callers--a group that runs the gamut from merely kooky to downright nuts. That seems to suit Mischke fine, as he seldom seems to take himself very seriously--at least while broadcasting. In September Mischke mysteriously disappeared from the airwaves for the second time in a year. Upon his return a few months later, he disclosed the cause: a condition known as masked depression, a mood disorder that is experienced as physical sickness. Perhaps it's an occupational hazard. Mischke obsessively pores over six newspapers a day with a keen eye for the little, hard-to-pigeonhole stories he works into the routine. Given his taste for the esoteric, it's probably fitting he would be sidelined by an obscure affliction. And given our taste for Mischke, it's a big a relief to find him back in the booth. Maybe some day the good folks at Minnesota Public Radio will finally learn what we've known all along: the funniest radio humorist in town isn't Garrison Keillor.
The latest rumor of U Film's demise (there are usually two or three in a given year) came courtesy of Split Screen host John Pierson, who broke the "news" to the Web site indieWIRE a few months ago that "the University has finally closed Al [Milgrom] down after 35 years." While fielding calls from a variety of overeager gloaters and alarmed cineastes, the director of the least commercially minded film venue in the Twin Cities rang Pierson in New York to set him straight: U Film lives. While he was at it, Milgrom might also have corrected the indie guru on his implication that the society's job is to handle "spillover" from the Uptown and Lagoon. Rather, U Film's raison d'être has long been to take on the more challenging world-cinema titles that the artsyplex wouldn't dare to book. In the past year, these have included essential films such as the French shocker I Stand Alone and the timely portrait of Chechnya, The Making of a New Empire, as well as expansive series of Czech, Hungarian, Jewish, and queer films--not to mention the massive Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. In recent months, we've also seen some encouraging new signs of organization amid the notorious campus chaos; perhaps they can start putting their various obituaries into a database.
While Franklin Art Works--located in the restored New Franklin Theater--is a work in progress, since its November opening director Tim Peterson has made this space a major player on the local art scene. How has he done this in such a short time? It helps that this renovated movie palace has a light and spacious interior, and handsome architectural touches. But it's the mission of Franklin Art Works that has distinguished the gallery. To date, Peterson has concentrated on edgy and unusual work by local solo artists, a notion that most other galleries in town seem to have forgotten. The gallery's first show featured selections by Minnesota sculptor Robert Fischer. Its second, David Rathman's bitingly funny Fact and Figures, offered 29 watercolor-and-ink compositions that drew inspiration from high school educational posters. It's hard to imagine what other gallery in town would have presented this work in such volume. Peterson, a veteran curator with credentials from Walker Art Center and the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles, is wired to a national trend: the alternative art space, whose mission is to present the best available local art that no one else seems willing, or perhaps fiscally able, to present. The future should bring plenty of reasons to keep poking our heads round the Phillips-neighborhood venue to see how this experiment progresses.