January 2011 Arts Calendar

9 Hot Picks: 1/6

An empty snowsuit brought to life. An old Andy Warhol flick re-enacted on stage. A documentary about the wackiest town in Colorado, population seven. Such is the fare of the Walker Art Center’s Out There Festival of alternative theater, which, after 23 years, no longer feels so far out. Instead, the four shows, all by European performers, prove that sometimes the simplest ideas are the most startling. French actor Philippe Quesne invites us into the sparsely furnished apartment of his reclusive alter ego, who makes amusing use of his few possessions, as though sustaining himself on imagination alone. The performing troupe Gob Squad screens Warhol’s notoriously inscrutable Kitchen even as they act it out, attempting to fathom the artist’s observations about modern life by giving them three dimensions. In fact, the only thing “alternative” about Out There is how unaffectedly it draws you in. walkerart.org


Theatre in the Round stages Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, a comedy of nostalgia for the 1950s. theatreintheround.org


The Grammy-nominated pianist Yuja Wang performs in a Schubert Club concert at the Ordway Center. schubert.org


Osmo Vänskä leads the Minnesota Orchestra and acclaimed soloists in the Mid-Winter Mozart Festival. mnorch.org


JC Cutler stars in the classic adventure The Odyssey—a new version by Twin Cities playwright William Randall Beard—at the Park Square Theatre. parksquaretheatre.org


Burkina Electric is joined at the Southern Theater by Twin Cities dancers Kenna Sarge and Leah Nelson, combining the music of Burkina Faso with electronic dance culture. southerntheater.org


Babe the Sheep Pig brings the popular porker back to the stage of the Children’s Theatre Company. childrenstheatre.org


Roots/blues troubadour John Hammond plays the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. dakotacooks.com


“New-timey” string band Pert’ Near Sandstone plays a rare two-night set at the Cedar Cultural Center. thecedar.org


Letters to a Killer

To take their minds off the murder of their son, Laurel and Josephine do crossword puzzles. They redecorate. They take inordinate pleasure in the making of morning coffee. But secretly, Josephine has kept the wound unusually open: She has been writing to her son’s killer in prison. Julius by Design, the first commission to emerge from Penumbra Theatre’s new-play program, opens January 20 on the company’s St. Paul stage and features Marvette Knight, Bruce Young, and Santino Craven enacting the transformation of loss into hope, guilt into courage. The nature of forgiveness is literally writ large, as mother and murderer bridge their divide word by word until each can see the other as a human being. penumbratheatre.org


The faces behind this month’s arts and culture

Hidden Truths

Tackling the taboos of Hmong culture

Katie Ka Vang is not shy. Her new play, produced by Theater Mu and opening this month at Mixed Blood Theatre, is called WTF and touches on polygamy, opium addiction, and other facets of Hmong culture not often discussed—even inside the community. “The last thing I want to do is pimp out my culture, to point a finger and say, ‘Look at how messed up it is,’” says Vang. “But I did want to talk about the things no one will talk about.”

Vang, the youngest of seven children born to Hmong immigrants, is known in spoken-word circles for tweaking Asian American stereotypes in such poems as Hardcore Volleyball People. WTF is her first play. Yet for all its potential to shock, it’s a love story about two
second-generation Hmong Americans.

Randy Reyes, the Guthrie Theater actor and director of WTF, commends Vang for writing about the Hmong experience without being didactic. “She’s written a Hmong American play,” he says. “She hasn’t tried to write the Hmong American play.”

Vang’s characters interact with quiet, minimalist gestures, belying an inner turmoil symbolic of the Hmong community’s struggle to adapt. By personalizing the struggle, Reyes says, the play opens a window into Hmong life. “The Hmong can seem mysterious, and insular,” he says. “But if you get into the community, you see that it’s vibrant and alive.” • WTF opens January 21 at Mixed Blood Theatre. mixedblood.com

One Woman

Lorna Landvik returns to the stage

Lorna Landvik can remember when her one-woman show, Party in the Rec Room, didn’t have alcohol. And no, she doesn’t want to go back to those days. “For two years before the Bryant-Lake Bowl had a liquor license, the margaritas I made on stage just had Sprite,” laments the best-selling author of Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Oh My Stars, and other novels. “My husband thinks those shows might have been a little sharper.”

The perfectly coiffed Landvik, sipping coffee in a sweater vest, looks more like a lady who lunches than one who declares, “I’m liberal with the tequila.” But such is the unexpected nature of her show, an improvised series of skits that she has performed at the BLB every January weekend for years.

“The audience throws out a suggestion and I run backstage to my huge bag of props, hats, and wigs and frantically grab something,” Landvik says of the show. “I come out and hope whatever I grabbed will spark something—or I just bunt.”

It’s a return to her roots: Before Landvik cracked wise in print, she did so onstage, learning improv at Dudley Riggs’s Brave New Workshop. Her solo shows offset the isolated work of writing novels. And if it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Franzen doing this, well, that’s kind of the point. “I’m always thrilled,” Landvik says, “to get the book clubs out to Lake Street.” • Party in the Rec Room runs each weekend through January 30. bryantlakebowl.com

Next Act

Theater for the reality-TV generation

“Few people get to see this,” Steve Barbiero says, unlocking a room in the basement of the Music Box Theatre on Nicollet Avenue. “We call it the Jerusalem Room—Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker used to preach in here.”

For much of the past decade, the former vaudeville house was home to Triple Espresso. In the 1980s, it housed the Cricket Theatre. Sometime between then and vaudeville’s demise in the 1950s, the preachers presided. “Check it out!” Barbiero says, pointing to the murals of Jerusalem lining the basement room.

Last June, Barbiero and his production company, The Directors, took over the Music Box and have returned it to its variety-show roots, bringing in burlesque revues, indie-rock shows, and live theater. This month, the space reverts to its original name from 1920, the Loring Theater, though the marquee letters are currently lying in the Jerusalem Room—an L here, a G there—awaiting funds for restoration.

“It had dropped off everyone’s radar,” Barbiero says of the 440-seat gem. But Barbiero is cultivating a new audience: “Young women in their early 30s, living in the city, no kids—good-time people.” Barbiero imagines hosting variety nights that begin in the lobby with body painters and strolling musicians and end with a dance party onstage. “This is the reality-TV generation,” he says. “They want immediacy, to engage with the performance. We all want to feel a part of something.” • Mimosa Movies (sip mimosas while watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s and other classic films) runs January 16, 23, and 30. musicboxtheatre.org


What to curl up with this month

Hüsker Dü
A rollicking look back at the pop-punk pioneers who launched alternative rock from the Twin Cities. voyageurpress.com

Dirty Secret
Jessie Sholl’s memoir about confronting her Minneapolis mother’s compulsive hoarding. simonandschuster.com

Working Words
An anthology about the working class, with stories by Bob Dylan, Amiri Baraka, and others. coffeehousepress.org