Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
While not set in the Twin Cities, Louise Erdrich's The Painted Drum resonates with an understanding of the Upper Midwest as it once was (and is now), with a history of which few non-Native Americans have even the faintest grasp—unless they've read any of Erdrich's 10 preceding novels. Drawing extensively from her mixed Ojibwe/European heritage, the Kenwood resident and Birchbark Books owner chronicles the creation and miraculous life of the titular instrument from three points of view, relaying the narrative from one voice to the next. First is Faye Travers, a quiet, middle-aged ex-Bohemian who runs an estate-appraisal business in New Hampshire with her half-Indian mother. After finding the drum in a hoard of valuable artifacts accumulated by an unscrupulous trader, she steals it, certain that it must be returned to its rightful owner. Her mother agrees, and, together, they bring the drum to a North Dakota reservation where hospital worker Bernard Shaawano takes over both instrument and story, relating the harrowing tale of the drum's creation in an easygoing manner that contrasts wonderfully with Travers's formal tone. Erdrich slips into omniscient mode for the novel's third and most gripping section, wherein a near-tragedy sends the drum back into active employment. Erdrich's grasp of Objibwe traditions is impeccable, but it's her genius for portraying ordinary people at their best—and worst—that makes The Painted Drum one of her most compelling books yet.
Her work can run the gamut from manic to imperious and from opaque to exposed—often in the same scene—and her name on a playbill in 2005 usually guaranteed the prospect of a fresh and unique performance. Early in the year, she played Dionyza in the weird Pericles at the Guthrie Lab, at times striking with regal beauty, at other times with absurdity. She didn't manage to single-handedly salvage His Girl Friday at the Guthrie later in the year, but her Mollie Molloy was a standout in a meandering show. In David Mann's Godfather-meets-Shakespeare Fringe epic Corleone, she brought her tragicomedy chops to the character of WASPy Kay. Finally she starred in the title role of Antigone for Ten Thousand Things, and, stripped of her comedic powers, came through with a moving and deep take on Antigone's tragic pig-headedness. We think she should land a role on SNL—while still doing serious stuff on the side, of course.
No one stalked the indie stage with more éclat in 2005 than Bob Malos, who utilized his imposing frame and sonorous voice to provide characters who were tortured by their own greatness and dogged by the Reaper's impending embrace. In May he starred as Capt. Larsen in Hardcover Theater's adaptation of Jack London's The Sea Wolf, and captured a scary sense of nihilistic menace and intellectual savagery that shivered numerous timbers in the audience. Come July he stalked the stage in Girl Friday Productions' excellent An Empty Plate at the Café du Grand Boeuf, mixing humor and despair in his portrayal of a wealthy, death-obsessed cynic. Then a month later, he appeared in the Fringe as doomed James Garfield in The President, Once Removed. In all three performances, Malos radiated a sense of bittersweet awareness combined with a thoughtful recognition of his characters' power and the different ways it could be applied. At times humanitarian and at others downright Nietzschean (not that there's an inherent dichotomy), Malos delivers dark clouds interspersed with dingy sunlight.
Does anyone even know when T.D. Mischke is on the air anymore? The geniuses running KSTP-AM (1500) have twice shifted his time slot in the last three years, first to late nights and now to drive time. The 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. shift is an odd fit for Mischke's strange, hilarious, truth-bending monologues. After all, during the evening commute, most people are looking for accurate information about weather, traffic, and the day's news headlines. Plus, the drunken callers who've always been a staple of Mischke's show aren't nearly as entertaining in the daylight hours: They're just kind of sad. But Mischke's such a peculiar genius that we're willing to adjust. His rambling tirades against modern technology, encounters with regular callers such as Undertaker Fred, and bastardized news reports are superbly entertaining at any time of day. Plus now we get the added bonus of listening to Mischke antagonize traffic reporter Kenny Olsen on a daily basis.
Mixed Blood's production of Richard Greenberg's baseball drama Take Me Out saw Darren Lemming (Lindsay Smiling), a rich, arrogant, and handsome young baseball pro, declare his homosexuality to the world. Amid the controversy, his team sank in the standings; then backwoods pitcher Shane Mungitt (Zach Curtis) turned the tide—or would have, were it not for a John Rocker moment on live TV that revealed his extensive knowledge of disparaging epithets and his casual willingness to use them. Smiling played the pro athlete as icily uninterested in the affairs of mortals and indifferent to their perception of him—until a semi-friendship with his accountant Mason (Edward Williams Jr.) compels him to break out a convincingly limited degree of warmth. Under Stan Wojewodski's direction, Take Me Out depicted sports and modern life with depth and cynicism, teasing out the humdrum truths and diffused sense of hollowness throughout the world it portrayed.
Oak Street: 1995-2006. R.I.P.