Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Short, lean, ruddy-cheeked, and mop-topped, young actor Casey Greig is one of the most recognizable faces in the local theater scene. In fact, Greig is impossible to ignore, whether he's effortlessly stealing scenes in the Jungle Theater's production of Torch Song Trilogy or fleshing out larger leading roles, such as his turn opposite Sally Wingert in Cowbird at Eye of the Storm. His best performance this year, however, was one of his most subdued: the nebbishy, overearnest mortician in Craig Wright's Molly's Delicious. Greig played the role with awkwardly formal mannerisms and a thin, bristling moustache. And in the process, he made convincing the most unlikely of plot points: that a youthful crush might be enough to radically transform a life, and to such an extent that the most impossible decisions might seem entirely reasonable. It was a role that was at once comic and poignant, and Greig, still early in his career, proved himself abundantly capable of both.
The Frank Theatre has made excellent use of actress Phyllis Wright's seemingly perpetual scowl these past few seasons. First there was Perfect Pie, in which Wright acted out the role of a defeated Canadian farm wife with slouched shoulders, a droll monotone, and lively eyes. More recently, Wright starred in Carson Kreitzer's SELF-DEFENSE, or death of some salesmen, in which Wright bundled her small frame into a ball of furious energy, popping up occasionally on her tiptoes to hurtle some obscenity or stick up for her tendency to murder men by the side of the road. Both performances were terrific and would have been enough to attract notice here. But Wright offered more. In Jeffrey Hatcher's revamped Good 'n' Plenty at the Illusion, she played every single female teacher at a small urban high school, including a discipline-minded civics instructor and a perpetually flirty foreign-language teacher. Each of these performances was a neatly crafted comic caricature, so carefully and humorously detailed that Wright seemed to bring her own spotlight onto the stage with her. She wasn't the only performer onstage worth watching, but while she was onstage, she was the only one we watched.
Every weeknight at 8:00 p.m., a coup occurs on KSTP radio. Martial music announces the arrival of the Mischke Broadcast, relegating Jason Lewis's right-wing circle-jerk to ruins. In its place a parallel universe rises, where all news is open to interpretation, Willie Dixon is more important than George W. Bush, and beer is beloved. KSTP program director Joe O'Brien describes Mischke as "Garrison Keillor on crack," but even he acknowledges that the analogy doesn't quite suffice. If Keillor is Wonder Bread, Mischke is pumpernickel soaked in bourbon. The cosmos Mischke inhabits is peculiarly his own, whether he's positing that we should recognize a Chinese eunuch rather than Christopher Columbus as the first to land in the New World, or indulging in one of his frequent laments about modern society's reliance on technology. The musical interludes alone make the show worth a listen. One night he's working his way through the Stax/Volt catalog; the next it's John Prine imploring folks to blow up their TVs. We might have put the detonator to our radio long ago if it weren't for Mischke.
In the wake of Al Milgrom's recent show-stopping announcement--that U Film has finally accepted Oak Street Cinema's long-standing proposal to merge the two organizations, beginning in July--let's take one more opportunity to thank him for four decades of devotion to one of the most distinctive and iconoclastic art-house programs in the U.S. Indeed, few exhibitors anywhere in the world are willing to disregard the bottom line so blatantly in favor of screening international esoterica 52 weeks a year. So even during those weeks when the esoteric seems nearly inconsequential (was anyone really burning to take in the entire load of softcore "Erotic Tales"--including Milgrom?), the cineaste is generally willing to indulge it in trade for the society's continued independence from commercial imperatives. And on a good week, that independence is priceless. Nearly enough to make the year all by themselves were U Film's runs of the apocalyptic Dogme denouement The King Is Alive (whose booking in mid-September was uncannily well-timed to our own end of days); the indelibly surreal Werckmeister Harmonies from Hungarian director Béla Tarr; and French New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda's endearingly scrappy doc The Gleaners and I. The last of these--a resourceful portrait of people who take sustenance from society's discards--was particularly well suited to playing at an organization that has long been a proud gleaner of sorts itself.
It takes a keen eye and a steady nerve to run an art gallery. The eye is necessary to bag artists in their native habitat--the wild estuaries and studio complexes where they feed and breed and make their art. Sometimes, no one has noticed these beautiful creatures before. One false look and the artist will spook, stampeding away--slides and artist statement in hand--to calmer pastures and nonprofit art centers. After all, the Twin Cities have many options these days for artists to show their plumage and seek their mates over glasses of cheap wine. The steady nerve comes in handy after the sighting is made, and the artist is bagged, tagged, and turned loose in the confines of the gallery. Because then there is the public to deal with, and the press to court, and the money to bring home--all in the service of staying around and living another day to go after ever more big game. All that said, the two Johns (Rasmussen and Ballinger) who have run this small nonprofit gallery since early 2001 were the biggest trophy winners in the Twin Cities last year. Their game, er, artists, were among the choicest of specimens: postmodern, post-ironic cartoon landscapist Tao Urban, video-performance artist and sometime scribbler Kerry Tribe, mohawked performance artist and photographer Yasser Aggour. And Midway's shows--such as "On Location," "Drawn from L.A. (home is where the heart is)," and "Multiplicity"--were staid and minimalist and funky all at once (like a good menagerie should be). The hunting and tracking skills of the two Johns are superior to the norm. Two of Midway's artists (Omer Fast and Javier Cambre, both from New York) were chosen for the Whitney Biennial this year, at least in part because of recommendations made to Whitney curator Lawrence Rinder when he came to town tracking game for his big zoo. Marlin Perkins, eat your heart out.
A nod here must go to Springboard for the Arts, the laudable St. Paul-based group that assists artists with career planning, money management, taxes, rights licensing, and job-seeking. (It even provides low-interest loans for entrepreneurial arts projects and small grants to help artists meet emergency expenses.) This year, though, we recognize mnartists.org, the New York Yankees of the local art-service world. What else can you say of a site that boasts the organizational muscle of both the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation, perhaps the best one-two punch since Gehrig-Ruth? Founded to respond to the survival struggles of individual artists, mnartists.org functions as an online database for creative types from all disciplines. Here one finds listings for hundreds of performance artists, painters, craftspeople, media artists, writers, designers, and the like, all under one virtual roof. As a result, mnartists.org has quickly become an invaluable resource. It provides each member with her own Web page for self-promotion. It presents news, listings, calls for artists, and stories by local arts writers about the local scene. And it doesn't stop there. Further plans call for mnartists.org to become a marketplace and community hub, giving the public a new way to explore and buy art and to learn about their local team of artists. Whoever said this wasn't a big-league city?