Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Michelle Hensley's Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, which does most of its productions in prisons and community centers, performs with the bare-bones simplicity of street theater: no theatrical lights, minimal props, creative but simple costumes. But as nearly every theater fan in town has been saying for years now, the company's art is far from low budget. Hensley's interpretations tend to highlight the class-consciousness of the text, but she's never preachy. And she consistently digs right to the emotional core of a play, whether it's Shakespeare, Brecht, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Kevin Kling. Hensley seems to devote most of her production resources to getting the best performers, and she's the kind of thoughtful, visionary director who attracts great actors. This, of course, makes her job a lot easier. Only the Guthrie and the Jungle can rival TTT in terms of thespian prowess. The company's recent production of Kevin Kling's At Your Service, featuring Luverne Seifert, Bradley Greenwald, and Jim Lichtscheidl, exemplified Hensley's gift for guiding the players to be broad but not hammy, loose yet always acutely engaged.
There are actors who disappear inside their characters and actors who always remain their charismatic, unmistakable selves. Theatre de la Jeune Lune's Steven Epp does both. His stage-filling but not scene-chewing style deserves its own adjective (Eppian). Yet his highly physical, idiosyncratic interpretations are always logical and wise character studies, whether he's creating a new role or re-inventing one of the classics (such as Tartuffe or Hamlet). Epp's antic wit was on display in Jeune Lune's recent revival of The Ballroom, but his finest performance of late came in The Seagull. Here, he gave the successful writer Trigórin a brooding intensity that expertly illuminated Chekhov's thoughts on the elusiveness of artistic inspiration and the corrupting influence of fame.
Is it possible that the local theater performance of 2004 will come from an actress who spoke only a handful of lines in a seven-minute play? Well, yes, of course, or we wouldn't have brought it up. Charity Jones has done outstanding work for the Jungle, Eye of the Storm, and other outfits. But she may have topped herself in Jane Martin/Jon Jory's "The Billet," a short play that was part of Mixed Blood Theatre's Bill of W(Rights). A brilliant cautionary tale about the Patriot Act, the play cast Jones as Winifred, an affluent woman whose home is suddenly invaded by a couple of monstrous, acid-tongued soldiers. This pair proves they mean business by unceremoniously killing Winifred's husband. Jones began the scene poised and refined. Then, in a virtuoso display of physical, facial, and vocal expression, she progressed through anxiety, terror, rage, and shock. By necessity, these were quick transitions, but they never felt abrupt or calculated. In a few gripping minutes, Jones let the audience experience all the terror and pity of classical tragedy.
We had a moment of sheer panic back on a Friday night in late January when we dialed in KSTP-AM (1500) shortly before 10:00 p.m. to catch the end of The Mischke Broadcast. There, to our horror, we discovered the ravings of some Neanderthal named Chris Krok. Our initial fear was that Mischke's battle with depression had permanently sidelined the renegade radio host. And then, panicking, we theorized that the station's brass had replaced him with yet another conservative evangelist to placate the right-wing radio faithful. But our fears were assuaged a few minutes later when the oddly calming voice of Mischke came over the airwaves announcing another two hours of singing drunks, skewed news stories, and peculiar interviews--the station had merely pushed back his daily shift. When a frequent caller named Luke belted out a truly angelic a capella version of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" during the opening segment of the show, Krok's bilious residue was instantly wiped away. And after a couple of months of adjustment we've concluded that Mischke is actually better suited to the 10:00 p.m. to midnight time slot anyway. His oddball parallel universe makes more sense with the moon high in the sky. Our only regret: no more kamikaze broadcasts from Midway Stadium.
In what can only be described as an act of God, an obscure documentary ode to Christian activist/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer drew 10,000 faithful over the course of two months last summer. This miracle booking not only helped U Film to resurrect itself commercially, but to find its religion--in nonfiction. Indeed, the Bell has nearly become the site of a year-round documentary film festival, having played host to some of the most genuine art cinema in years, including the Brooklyn-set family epic Love & Diane, the Brazilian reality nail-biter Bus 174, the Chinese Cultural Revolution doc Morning Sun, the French primary school heart-warmer To Be and to Have, and the aging-hippie portrait The Same River Twice. Though U Film's 35mm equipment has certainly seen better days, a spiffy new video projector has been installed just in time for us to witness the rebirths of both the Bell and the populist art film in sharp focus.
See if you can follow this: Bar owner and ex-Marine starts a punk rock label, puts his logo on a Zippo, sells a bunch, starts putting underground artists' work on Zippos, sells a bunch more. Next, he converts the garage in the back of one of his bars into a gallery and hires the publisher of a hip-hop and graffiti magazine to manage it. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Ox-Op, one of the Twin Cities' least likely fantastic art spaces. Since opening a year ago, the smallish gallery--founded by Tom Hazelmeyer, the godfather of the Grumpy's/Amphetamine Reptile/FlameRite Lighters empire; and run by Wes Winship of Life Sucks Die magazine--has exhibited a veritable who's who of the art and design underground. There have been big names, like the insanely prolific Gary Baseman, Shep "Andre's Got a Posse" Fairey, and former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. And there have been shows by underrated local design treasures like CSA and Aesthetic Apparatus. Ox-Op's "Rated XX" exhibit, a group exhibit of all-female work, expands the gallery's horizons a bit while continuing to hew to the apparent mission of displaying outwardly innocent but slightly sinister work. And in lieu of $8 Walker After Hours martinis of the month, at Ox-Op you can find on-tap Grain Belt a few steps away.