Friday, January 29, 2016

Out There: A Joyful Germinal

At this time of year, it's never a bad thing to find a reason to smile. 

And Germinal, the final installment of the 2016 Out There series at the Walker, gives you plenty of reasons to.

Germinal essentially describes the lifecycle and process of creation/enlightenment as it applies to life and art, abstracting it down to its most basic elements and then performing them in an abstruse manner. We follow four people as they discover communication, create an environment, dialogue about metaphysical questions, and then come to the understanding of their own ending. It's a great visual metaphor for life in general and would be an amazing way to teach elementary kids about the creative and story writing process.

Stage effects are key to this show, in particular lighting. The abstract light sequence at the opening of Germinal is shockingly beautiful and an awesome reminder of how one small element, such as a perfect scrim or excellent lighting design, can totally affect an entire scene. I actually wouldn't mind a brief performance of just the lighting sequence - it was mesmerizing and haunting at the same time. Ditto for key prop usage, which included a projector, pick axe, pulleys and innovative floor tile that managed to transform a blank stage into a rich environment with very few elements.

The tone for Germinal remained lighthearted and the audience audibly laughed through several portions of the show, a refreshing change from some of the über-heavy material the Walker can promote. It was a great way to stay out of the inclement weather and a positive way to wrap up Out There 2016, sad as I am to see it go. Germinal was packed, so make sure to order tickets ASAP if you want to see it before the weekend is out.

For more information about the Out There series or the (excellent) current series of exhibits at the Walker, click on this link.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Must See: Guerrilla Girls Take Over the Twin Cities

I don't know if I've ever been this excited for a museum exhibit. 

I was definitely pumped about Frida Kahlo at the Walker several years back, but this blows all others out of the water.

Impossible to ignore, the Guerrilla Girls have been kicking the patriarchy's ass for more than 30 years, and they're bringing their particular version of cultural kung-fu to the Twin Cities for six weeks beginning NOW. The Guerrilla Girls have long been heroes of mine for their totally unashamed, completely badass call for equal representation (gender and racial) everywhere, but especially in the art world.

Why does it matter you ask? Because representation is everything.

What message does it send when the only people paid, or at least paid well for their work, are men? What message does it send when the subjects of the vast majority of paintings are naked women? What message does it send when you don't see minorities at all?

When we don't see ourselves as agents of power, or worth attention, or if we understand that our value is based entirely on our physical attributes, we are unable to reach our true potential. And that's a shame, because there are so many ways the world could improve if we simply took the time to ask the majority of the population to help solve our problems.

Such a stark lack of representation in film, books, museums, and even in the office place does not reflect the real world, and that does all of us a disservice. We owe it to ourselves to represent the vibrant, difficult, complex diversity that really exists in every aspect of our lives - our economy and work, our imaginations, our books/tv shows/movies, our awards shows, and our art.

The Guerrilla Girl takeover of the Twin Cities is an amazing, sweeping effort that will touch most (if not all) of our major galleries and museums, provide countless free talks and events, create safe spaces to celebrate minority and female artists, and for more than one month raise awareness of these issues in an extremely visible way. I've never seen anything like it, and it's awe-inspiring.

EVERYONE needs to take advantage of this opportunity. There are more free events than I can put here already, and more are coming - they can all be found in an easy to read, centralized space on the takeover website. The Guerilla Girls have done an amazing job on their website for the takeover - make sure you check it out by clicking on this link.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Out There: Rabih Mroue

Who is he? Who is 'I'?

How come this is not me, although I am playing myself now? We agreed that I have to learn how to differentiate between what is fiction and what is not, between what is real and what is not. These are my words, yet this is not my voice. This is my real story, yet these are not my thoughts. These thoughts are mine, yet this is not my real story. 

The annual Out There series takes a serious turn this week with the performance of Riding on a Cloud, the newest installment from Rabih Mroue that really doesn't involve Rabih at all.

Instead, the show focuses on Rabih's younger brother Yasser, who was shot through the head by a sniper at age 17 in Lebanon. Yassir made a miraculous recovery and performs this show himself, managing somehow to tell the story of his life without revealing too much.

With abstract and seemingly unrelated videos, audio tape narrating clips of profound text or memories, live performance of songs and readings, and a few other items mixed in, Yasser poignantly ushers the audience through his fear, his consciousness of mortality, his never-ending recovery and his happy life now. It's an inspiring and amazingly unpretentious show, with great focus on what really matters in life - beauty, art, inspiration, hope, bravery, compassion, effort.

One of the most interesting aspects of Riding on a Cloud isn't Yasser's story itself, but the questions he asks about representation as he re-learns how to understand the world after his injury. What is a character, really? If you tell a truth, a story of your life, is it really true anymore once you tell it? Why can't fiction be just as real as "reality"? Who defines what is real and what is not? Are memories that important after all?

The show runs in at a refreshing 70 minutes, and is a reminder that what we see on the news really doesn't tell much of a well rounded story. For every suicide bomber in a shopping mall, there are dozens more innocent children who are swept into the furnace of war. Their stories are the ones worth telling and remembering, and we are lucky that Yasser chose to share his. Riding on a Cloud will follow you home and linger in your mind. It's worth taking with you.

For more information about Out There or Riding on a Cloud, please click on this link.

Lena Dunham on Building an Internet Empire

If you want to learn to build an empire...

There are some great tips on here! The internet seems to be THE place to have complete creative control over your life, business, etc. these days, but it's not always easy to know how to carve a space out for yourself, especially as a female. There are some great insights in here - check it out!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Brasserie Zentral: An Homage, and A Warning

Sometimes being the best isn't enough. 

Which is really a shame, particularly in the case of Brasserie Zentral, one of the most unique restaurants in Minneapolis. Or at least it was.

Brasserie closed last weekend thanks to poor turnout and an extraordinarily competitive dining market (both for customers and employees), despite having a grade A kitchen and management, and having won just about every local foodie award imaginable.

Restaurants close all the time, but Brasserie is the sign that we have long passed the critical mass level of restaurant satiation in the Twin Cities market. La Belle Vie's closing was the canary in the coal mine; in the few short months since LBV's lights went dark, an astonishing (and growing) list of incredible restaurants are closing around town, many of them long-time stalwarts. Vincent's, Masa, Brasserie, and more have all shuttered.

What this amounts to is a plea from me to you: please use your discretionary funds to support amazing, unique restaurants when you do choose to eat out. I get it, eating out can be expensive. We all have to be careful with our budgets. But that makes what you spend your hard earned dollars on even more important. Don't waste your paycheck, that one filled with blood/sweat/tears, on a shitty meal. You deserve more than that.

Don't go to Applebee's. Don't rely solely on burgers and bad french fries to get by. Making truly unique, delicious, beautiful food is an art, and we are so incredibly blessed in the Twin Cities to have an incredible food scene. Having a last meal at Brasserie's amazing kitchen view counter was an emotional experience. The intense, dramatic ballet of a truly wonderful restaurant kitchen is drama at its finest, and I'm deeply saddened that opportunity no longer exists.

I'd hate to see more of our unique, incredible restaurants turn off their ovens because they simply can't find customers. There is more than enough restaurant love to go around. It behooves you to share the wealth and frequent more than one or two places every time you eat out; please do so. And if you need help finding one, let me know. Our embarrassment of restaurant riches should not go undiscovered.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Out There: Daniel Fish

After all this time, David Foster Wallace can still make you feel stupid. 

I don't think he means to do it, but he does.

This is plainly evident in the essays featured in Daniel Fish's A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace, of which the lengthy name mirrors the equally lengthy essays. The entire show is composed on the concept that the only thing that makes a play more performance worthy than an essay is the name; the content in either can be just as riveting depending on the subject matter. So, four performers recite Wallace essays in various groupings to varying degrees of effectiveness.

The show is moderately successful, and I think that has to do entirely with burnout. Wallace's writing is extraordinarily lyrical, and is expertly delivered by the performers. Unfortunately, it just gets to be a little too long (or frankly, a little too deep) for concentration purposes, which makes you feel impatient and unintellectual, but you can't help it (see what I mean about the stupid? I bet David Foster Wallace wouldn't get bored with his own essays. And so it begins...).

The set is a striking arrangement of tennis balls, which cast an eerie glow depending on the lighting. It's a simple but fluid way to handle setting for such an abstract work, and it does the trick admirably. There are no costumes or props to speak of, save the single pair of headphones each performer wears as they recite their passages. The headphones are never really explained, but they're fun, so I guess it works.

This performance is the second of the annual Out There series at the Walker Art Center, which is always worth a visit. Each show goes for a limited run - this will last for just this weekend. Check out more information by clicking on this link.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Out There: RoosevElvis

It's pretty rare that I see something so completely original that is equally completely awesome. 

Photo courtesy of the Telegraph.
I am delighted, however, to say that that is the case with RoosevElvis, the kickoff show in the Walker Art Museum's annual Out There series. 

RoosevElvis is two stories in one. The first half is a totally engaging dialogue between Elvis and his hero Theodore Roosevelt. The second follows Ann, a bummed out lesbian, who channels Elvis to propel her from her natural state of complete ennui. After a failed attempt at a romantic getaway with an online fling, Ann is compelled to take her dream trip to Memphis to begin living her real life, and is only able to take the trip with Elvis and Teddy along the way to stimulate her.

There are several characters in this show, all of whom are expertly played by two actresses, Libby King and Kristen Sieh. King and Sieh are masterful chameleons, providing gorgeous, vibrant portrayals of their characters (not easy when playing such charismatic figures while cross dressing). They are the main reason to see the show, particularly for their astonishingly chipper Teddy Roosevelt, and it's worth the cost of admission alone for their excellent performances.

The set is larger than expected and fairly nimble, giving the viewer an adequate visual metaphor for the action levels in the plot. Costumes are relatively mundane, with the exception of Teddy Roosevelt's full Western getup, which is marvelous.

The Walker's Out There series is a perennial favorite of mine, always giving me something fresh to think about and displaying a completely new way of putting on a show. I love attending and I encourage all theater lovers to attend at least once; it's always good to see what new glass ceilings the avant garde art world is breaking for us. RoosevElvis is an excellent start. RoosevElvis only runs this weekend; find more information and tickets by clicking on this link. 

A Minxy, Mustachio-ed Murder

Murder is a joyous mashup of Clue meets Gilbert and Sullivan

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Murder is everywhere these days. Between Serial Season 1, the Robert Galbraith novels and Making of a Murderer, it seems completely inescapable. 

So it's a good thing that Broadway channeled their inner Capote and produced A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, the 2014 Best Musical at the Tony's and currently showing at the State Theatre. 
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Murder follows the story of Monty Navarro, the son of a disinherited member of the esteemed (and extremely wealthy) D'Ysquith family. After Monty's mother dies, he determines to regain his place in the D'Ysquith family, elevating his place in society and wreaking revenge on the people who had been so cruel to his mother. The only trouble is that in order to access any of the D'Ysquith's funds, he must kill all eight prior heirs first. 

The rest of the show follows Monty's (successful) efforts to do just that, and his tangled love affairs along the way. Monty's unrequited love is for Sibella, who marries a rich man before Monty gains his fortune, but his wife is Phoebe, who elevates his stature among the D'Ysquiths. 
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust. 
If you like dry humor, dark humor, or snobby British anything, this is the show for you. Murder makes the absolute most of every stereotype you can think of, and it's hilarious if you're in on the joke. This goes right down to the sets and costumes, which feature singing statues and paintings, elaborate dinner parties and ships, corseted matrons, and as many side-whiskers as you could possibly wish for. 

Musical highlights are comedic songs, including the love triangle featured in "I've Decided to Marry You," über-colonial "Lady Hyacinth Abroad," and Boer-focused (remember the Boer War?) "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun."
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Heavy hitting cast member of the year is obviously John Rapson, who plays each member of the D'Ysquith family murdered in Monty's pursuit of lineage. Many of his characters are average, but a few, such as Lady Hyacinth and especially Lord Adalbert, are deliciously disturbed and keep Murder's heavy plot swimming in a lighthearted atmosphere. 

As Monty, Kevin Massey falls a little flat. He's just fine, but not a standout. Kirsten Beth Williams is much more entertaining as Monty's love interest Sibella, with a Kate Beaton-esque delivery to her performance. Adrienne Eller has a perfectly prim delivery for Monty's wife Phoebe, and is reminiscent of Megan Mullally.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is perfect for anyone who has a little too much steampunk in their lives, avidly reads Kate Beaton's comics, or has a general fondness for the British Empire's days of yore. There are many U.K. witticisms to be found here, and it's sure to be a hit. Check out ticket and show information by clicking on this link