There’s nothing like returning from Japan–where everyone calmly and fluidly crams onto trains then quietly texts or reads manga on their phones (never talking; if they do talk on their cells in public, they cover their mouths so as not to disturb)–to attend the Ivey Awards on Monday, where the Twin Cities’ theatrical community celebrates itself with all the outrageousness, energy, and air-kisses you’d expect. It was like reverse culture shock. In fact, that may be the only way drag queens can still shock. Welcome back.
Not that actors typically need any help celebrating themselves, but what’s nice about this soiree is that theaters of every stripe are recognized, regardless of whether they’re trying to create the latest avant-garde production or, well, entertain baby boomers with Janis Joplin songs. It’s good to remember, in fact, that most people would prefer a musical revue to a searing stomp on totalitarianism, and that both have their place. I have few quibbles about the winners, too, which ran from productions at the Jeune Lune to the History Theatre to Mixed Blood to the Children’s Theatre Company. They even flew in our latest great export, Laura Osnes, who went from shows at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres to Broadway’s “Grease.”
It was a reminder of how smart our theaters can be, too. If you’re going to produce a blockbuster like Disney’s High School Musical, for instance, as the CTC did this summer, get Peter Rothstein–someone who doesn’t settle for pat musical touches–to direct it. We’re so damn smart. And lucky. I didn’t want to say that–I need to knock on wood now. Because my only worry is that the feel-good vibe of this event may eventually translate into overlooking the real progressive work that has always made our outsized theater scene valuable in favor of inclusiveness. Will we eventually have to decide whether the Iveys are simply a party or an occasion to recognize groundbreaking work? Or can they be both? For now, I’m pleased. We’re really damn smart.
Speaking of smart shows, the Fringe favorite “Take a Left at the Giant Cow: A Beginner’s Guide to North Dakota” continues through Oct. 6 at the Lowry Lab Theater in downtown St. Paul. And Ivey favorites Emigrant Theater (named the best indie theater of the year by City Pages, too) opens Jesus Hates Me on Sept. 28 at the Ritz Theater, a tale of a hapless high school football star living in a trailer on a Bible-themed mini-golf course who seeks fulfillment elsewhere–like at a gay ski resort–only to be thwarted by seemingly everyone, including Him.
Also this weekend, Intermedia Arts and Zorongo Flamenco company present original flamenco dance numbers that range from a pleasing exploration of imagination’s healing powers to stories of Hiroshima and the horrors of the WWII atomic bombing. I can’t say the latter sounds like a good idea on the surface, but then the dancer promises a leavening of her flamenco with martial arts and Japanese butoh dance moves, and admittedly the instances in which diverse forms meet are often the most interesting. That actually is one of the things you miss in famously homogenous Japan–the fact that hip record stores are called things like “Real Black Music” shows there is a yearning, I think, to understand outside forms, but they still remain just that.