“Fences” at Penumbra plus a photo alternative

This Thursday, Penumbra Theatre opens its second season with “Fences,” continuing its multi-year spin through the cycle of August Wilson’s plays. Never seen one of the plays in August Wilson’s famous 10-play cycle, a journey through 20th century African American life that’s considered one of the country’s greatest literary achievements? Worried you missed the beginning? Here’s what you need to know: 651-224-3180. That’s the Penumbra box office number (or visit Penumbratheatre.org). Call it and don’t look back. Because this isn’t The Wire or, God forbid, Star Wars–you can jump in anytime, and in fact Penumbra has been jumping around in the cycle, as well. What’s important is that if you don’t go, you’ll be missing out on one of the richest, most accessible yet multi-layered play series in the English language. And Fences is as good a place to start as any, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a ballplayer who came up–and went down–in the Negro Leagues before baseball was integrated, never having the chance at fame he deserved. Now his son has a chance to play big-time football, and the demons of his resentment rise once more to the surface. Part history lesson, mostly incredible drama, it’s all compellingly written, a master in his prime. Most importantly, perhaps, it’s been brilliantly directed by Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy, coaxing edgy performances out of what might arguably be called traditional drama: in Bellamy’s hands, this isn’t nostalgic, it’s tip-of-your-seat storytelling.

Now, when the Minnesota Center of Photography was thrown its third strike–some grant money that wasn’t renewed–and closed a couple weeks ago, it seemed the photo community was out of luck. The days of gathering in a communal darkroom and comparing fresh prints has been all but eliminated by the digital age, and yet the regulars at the MCP can attest to the ongoing desire to show and kibbutz and improve their craft. In fact, photography as an artistic medium is only gathering steam throughout galleries and museums. So what to do? Orin Rutchick, photographer and proprietor of the Mpls Photo Co-op in Minneapolis has a proposal: join his growing community.

Beginning September 1, the name will change to the Mpls Photo Center. Rutchick has slashed membership costs and opened it up to more members. He’s got two lighted galleries, ditigal lab, darkroom, lighting, and a digital theater. He’s also setting up a children’s learning area and an adult learning lab, taking on a bit of the education aspects lost when MCP folded. Certainly, the breadth of curatorial and education opportunities at MCP will be missed–some of the most striking photography exhibitions to come through town in recent years were held there, and some very popular classes. But it stands to reason that photographers will find some way to flock together again, as they once did at MCP’s predecessor, pARTS–perhaps now at the Mpls Photo Center.

Perhaps Howard Christopherson over at Icebox Gallery in the Northrup King Building will be finding more photo-starved patrons coming through his galleries. He’s brought through an eclectic mix of photography over the years, including his own, perhaps the most popular show being the Bob Dylan portraits of a couple years ago. Currently, he’s showing work from his recent journey through Italy.

In the next week, the arts scene begins to reheat after a long summer, with an intriguing show at the Minnesotaw Center for Book Arts called Face the Nation, on how national identity has shaped, of all things, typeface design over the decades (ie, how did a typeface spur Ireland’s independence from Britain?)  Pillsbury House Theatre’s Chicago Avenue Project featuring the work of young Minneapolis playwrights opens August 25 with free performances.

Next week, I’ll summarize all the arts stuff going on around the convention, or try to. Though you can get a taste here of the Walker’s yard sign contest.

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