Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
I Am Anne Frank/I Remember and
The answer, thankfully, in I Am Anne Frank is that you make it with care and honesty and a deep understanding of not just the specificity of Anne's experience, but its universal message. After all, new Anne Franks are born every day bright and talented human beings who whose light will be snuffed out far too early because, in some insignificant way, they are different.
The Nautilus staging of this work in progress is understandably spartan. The action takes place on a small platform representing the rooms Anne and seven others spent nearly two years confined to as they hid from the Nazis in Holland in World War II. Apart from a table and desk, the only set pieces are a frame representing a window to the outside world, and the back wall of the platform, which is crowded with reproductions of Anne's diary.
The text of the show and the lyrics are drawn from the world's most famous diary. We watch Anne struggle with the usual troubles of growing up changes in her body, arguments with her parents, her growing attraction to boys while, at the same time, being in constant fear of being discovered and sent to the camps.
The show rides on the capable shoulders of Vanessa Gamble, who portrays Anne. An experienced and seasoned performer, Gamble is no teenager, but her performance is so strong that the audience never doubts that these are her words and thoughts. She shares the stage though, tellingly, they reside on different parts of the platform with Joel Liestman, who adds vocal punch and additional characterization as Peter Van Pels. The two not only sing well together, but they combine to bring the entire story to life. Credit also goes to the show's creators, Michael Cohen (music) and Enid Flutterman (libretto), and director Ben Krywosz, who treat the material with proper respect, while still finding their own voice within the familiar material.
The program opens with I Remember, which takes eight of the pieces from the show and presents them as an art-song cycle. They feature different, more complex arrangements (for flute, cello and harp instead of just piano) and artwork for each piece created by an area visual artist. The selections provide some nice musical counterpoint to the more straightforward presentation in I Am Anne Frank, even if they are, at times, a little obtuse.
I Am Anne Frank/I Remember runs through May 28 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. For more information and tickets, call 651-298-9913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
When it premiered in 1968, Matt Crowley's The Boys in the Band caused a firestorm of attention. For the first time, the lives of everyday gay men were presented on stage. In the nearly 40 years since, some things have changed for the better, others haven't changed at all, and The Boys in the Band still speaks to the reality of a segment of the gay population.
But while still relevant, there is a deeper issue here, one that comes clear in Starting Gate Productions' reading of the play for all its bluster and provocation, the play just isn't all that good. For all the time the characters spend on stage exposing their desires, fears and innermost secrets, they never truly come alive, leaving the audience at sea for long stretches of tedium while waiting for the pearls of the script to surface.
The play is set in Michael's spacious New York City apartment. Michael is an anxious, depressed Georgetown grad with little direction in his life (a couple generations later he'd have been called a slacker). He gets small amounts of comfort from his weekend boyfriend, Donald, and the party he is preparing for the evening for Harold.
Harold, another free-spirited layabout (hey, it is the '60s), and Michael have a set of mutual friends, who rather neatly embrace the basic gay types (queen, straight-acting, interior decorator, and the like), but do have some personality beyond the basics. Adding to the chaos is a call from Alan, Michael's college roommate, who's in town and wants to talk with his old friend. While the script, to its credit, never comes out and says it, it is clear that sexuality is key to Alan's troubles.
Michael stirs this cauldron of self-loathing and fear with the confidence of a fine French chef but the skill of a newbie fry cook, forcing the lot of them to examine who they are.
So far, so good, but Crowley's revelations don't pay off after the build-up, especially after the humor of the first act fades away and is replaced by constant hatred. K. Jason Bryan's directing does little to break out of the play's own traps, so there is little relief when the show enters a dry patch. The ensemble's acting is solid, with each performer taking whatever time they have to bring some nuance to their characters and to stretch them beyond the archetype they represent.
The subject matter of The Boys in the Band is still current, but the play itself hasn't made it through time all that well. If I want to see characters destroy each other in a boozy night, I might take the play's own suggestion, and search out Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Boys in the Band runs through June 10 at the Mounds Theatre, 1029 Hudson Road, St. Paul. For tickets and more information, call 651-645-3503 or visit www.startinggate.org.
Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area