Bulrusher and Spamalot
Also see Elizabeth's review of The Ugly One
Set in an isolated northern California community during the 1950s, Bulrusher (a 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama) follows the titular character, a young woman who was found abandoned as a baby and raised by a local schoolteacher. Bulrusher is African-American - only one of two left in the community - and has the power to see into people's future by "reading" water they have touched. She's haunted by her life, and it doesn't take much to see that several other characters are also deeply affected by her story. The world is tossed into turmoil by the appearance of Vera - the niece of the other African-American in town, Logger - who has secrets of her own.
In the end, the secrets are that difficult to suss out. But the mystery isn't what lies at the center of Davis' play. Instead, it is a tale of the power of love to overwhelm obstacles, even if those obstacles include matters that are still taboo. These taboo topics are represented in the unique language used by many of the characters, who slip into "ling" as a way to protect themselves from the hurtful truths that swirl around. Yet as the audience becomes more familiar with their words, their secrets melt away, leaving themselves to face the truth.
Christiana Clark leads the cast in the title role, providing a character unused to personal contact, but one with a deep well of feeling beneath, that slowly comes out with her relationships with Vera (a terrific Sonja Parks) and Boy (the equally good John Catron). The older generation is represented by the warm Logger (James A. Williams), the oft-angry Madame (Jodi A. Kellogg) and Schoolch (Mark Rosenwinkel), the near-silent teacher who raised Bulrusher. Each of these performers brings out their character's unique qualities and inner lives, while director McClinton allows the performers plenty of space to breath, but never allows the proceedings to drag.
Bulrusher runs through June 14 at the Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis. For more information, call 612-825-0459 or visit www.puc-mn.org.
Photo: © Michal Daniel, 2008
How well can a touring musical survive opening night without its marquee name in place? In the case of Spamalot, quite well, actually. Even with lead Gary Beach on the shelf, the show went ahead with talented understudy Christopher Gurr in the main role of King Arthur. But really, Spamalot is about bawdy songs, show-biz send-ups and comedy routines much of the audience burned into their brains decades ago. The touring company, in town for a one-week run, did it all with considerable panache.
The musical roughly follows the original Monty Python film, which didn't really follow the Arthurian legends that closely. Lots of familiar routines from the film are here, but the best moments are fresh: a Phantom of the Opera send-up starring Galahad and the Lady of the Lake called "The Song That Goes Like This"; one knight's coming out song, "His Name is Lancelot"; and the Lady's bitter second-act number, "The Diva's Lament."
Considering I am one of those audience members who burned the original into my mind back in the 1980s, I found the recreations of the original routines to be a bit flat. Oh, the actors tried to inject their own personalities into the bits, but I kept hearing John Cleese (who is present as the voice of God), Eric Idle (who wrote the musical's book and lyrics) and the rest throughout. The best pure Python moment was a recreation of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," which is from Life of Brian, but finds unique life in this show.
Spamalot runs through June 1 at the Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis. For tickets, call 612-673-0404 or visit www.hennepintheatredistrict.org.