Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Antigone

Karen Landry and Barbra Berlovitz
With the thundering sound of a drum, Theatre de la Jeune Lune opened its 27th season last week with a confident and engaging production of Antigone.

The company, never short on nerve, has plenty to be confident about at present. In June, The American Theater Wing (via a vote by the members of the American Theatre Critics Association) awarded Jeune Lune the regional Tony Award. And this is an Antigone that delves deep, both into the mythic nature of the story and the very human descent of a king who believes he can defy the gods.

While sporting modern touches - from the combat boots on the feet of the chorus to the white linen suit worn by Creon - this is still the ancient story that helped birth Western drama. Sisters Antigone and Ismene have seen their lives torn by turmoil. Their father was the infamous Oedipus, and his incest and fratricide has brought ruin to their family and disorder to the city of Thebes. As the play opens, their two brothers lie dead after a battle, having killed each other while on opposite sides.

Their uncle Creon is now ruler of the city and he has decreed that no one will bury Polyneices, who fought against him in the recent battle. Antigone, betrothed to Creon's son Haemon, decides at the play's outset to defy her new ruler, even though it will mean her death.

Antigone, however, is as much about the folly of Creon's hubris as it is about Antigone's action. It's easy to read commentary about current world leaders into Creon's stubbornness in the face of ruin, but that has more to do with how little human nature has changed in the last 2,500 years than any tweaking done by the Jeune Lune adaptors (led by director Robert Rosen and assistant director Ben Kernan).

Apart from a nine-performer chorus, the cast only has three performers - Jeune Lune company members Barbra Berlovitz (as Antigone and other roles), Vincent Gracieux (as Creon), and Karen Landry (as Ismene and other roles) - which, apart from keeping to the ancient traditions, also keeps our attention focused firmly on the tale unfolding before us.

The acting is stylized and focused more on the greater emotions and subjects than any subtlety of character. It works well with these characters, though there are enough nuances to give us a sense of the person that may live beyond the story. Landry - so good last year in Jane Martin's modern Greek tragedy, Flags - gives an excellent performance in roles, not just as torn Ismene, but in her salt soldier, angry bridegroom Haemon and blind seer Eurydice.

The chorus, so important in these shows, brings us into the minds of the community. Their performances are solid as they speak, dance and sing through the show. The music, composed by longtime Jeune Lune collaborator Michael Koerner, fits in well with the rest of the production, though the theater's acoustics made it difficult to understand some of the lyrics from my perch near the top of the arena.

Those minor caveats aside, Antigone is a tight (less than 90 minutes without intermission), striking and moving production. It's an excellent start of the 2005-2006 season for a company riding so high.

Antigone runs through November 13. For information, call 612-333-6200.

Photo: copyright Michal DANIEL, 2005

Pangea World Theater, Truth Serum Blues

Ismail Khalidi and Bassam Jarbawi take on a lot in Truth Serum Blues, which will have a short run this weekend at Pangea World Theater, but their focus is on a single character. Kareem is a young Arab-American trying to make his way to the "American Dream." 9/11 and the "War on Terror" change all that, as Kareem finds himself at Guantanamo Bay, stripped of his rights, tortured for information and lost in his own memories.

Khalidi, also the performer in this one-man show, wrote the piece as a way to explore the politics of the current world and his own place in the world. "I want people to think about Palestine and Gauntanamo," he said following a rehearsal last week. "And how we all have been complicit in what has happened.".

Khalidi, a recent graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, has been active as a performer, writer and poet in the Twin Cities area. The show grew out of his own experiences and his political beliefs.

Khalidi's performance on stage will be augmented with pre-shot video featuring the actor in a number of different roles. While the video is important for the show's concept, it is not essential for the message to come across, said director Dipankar Mkherjee.

The show, part of Pangea's Voices of Exile series, gives marginalized voices a chance to be heard, Mkherjee said. The idea of examining our cultural differences is central to Pangea's mission, he added.

Despite the politics, Truth Serum Blues is more than just a polemic. Kareem's journey is central to the action. As the show unfolds, it travels backwards and forwards through Kareem's life, following the political and personal vectors that brought him to his current state. Along the way, there are plenty of chances for comments on politics, society and race relations, but Kareem's plight is never far from view.

Khalidi knows there is a danger of "preaching to the converted, but it's a message - about all of our failures - that everyone should hear." If members of the audience - liberal or conservative - walk out thinking about Kareem's story and situation, "it will be a success."

Truth Serum Blues runs Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at Pangea World Theater. There will be post-performance discussions Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Call 612-203-1088 for more information.

Jungle Theater, Bone Dry, aka the Copy Editor Murders

Two things I knew before seeing Bone Dry, aka the Copy Editor Murders: copy editing is boring; watching people use computers is boring as well.

One thing I knew after seeing the show: watching actors copy edit and use computers is pretty boring too.

It's a shame, since there's great potential in the concept and in Paula Cizmar's script, which is getting its debut at the Jungle this month. The show follows Eddi, a freelance copy editor who slaves away for little pay and no credit on a number of book projects. The stress of the work, her collapsing financial situation and the death of her father are crushing Eddi, and she is beginning to dream of murdering her clients.

Good concept, but Cizmar isn't sure if she wants this to be some surreal take on a woman's descent into madness or a straightforward look at the everyday terrors of the 21st century. Instead, there is a muddled mishmash of both ideas, with the concepts never finding any kind of balance. It doesn't help that we don't get a sense of why her problems - tough, to be sure, but ones that could be tackled with counseling and financial planning - have so overwhelmed her.

The performances are solid, especially Carolyn Pool as Eddi and Wendy Lehr as mad next-door neighbor Crystal. Shad Cooper plays Eddi's partner Oscar with some nice touches, but there is little chemistry between the two performers, so there is little reason to care whether their relationship works or not.

The entire production, helmed by Bain Boehlke, is like this: competent in every aspect, but lacking in chemistry. The show's title may refer to Eddi's own mental and spiritual state, but it's an apt metaphor for the production.

Bone Dry runs through Oct. 15. Call 612-822-7063 for information.

Theatre in the Round, Picnic

Though on the surface a romantic comedy, William Inge's Picnic is tinged with regret. It's not much a surprise, really, considering Inge's lifelong troubles with drinking and depression. The playwright committed suicide in 1973, years after his last hit. Picnic dates back to Inge's glory years, premiering in 1953 and earning a bevy of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

Minneapolis' Theatre in the Round's handsome new production of Picnic doesn't lay on the gloss or schmaltz. These are small-town Midwesterners, and the company gives these people the respect that they deserve. Director Matt Sciple uses a subtle hand throughout, making the tragic love story at the center of the play all the more compelling.

Though the budding (and most likely doomed) love between the pretty small-town dreamer Madge Owens (Brandon Marilee Williams) and the hard-knock tested Hal Carter (a fantastic performance by Alex N. Moros) sits at the center of the show, it is the lives of the older women that carry the show. Each of them senses that time is running out and that they want something more, but they are often unsure what that "something" is. The performers, Jeanne Kussrow-Larson as Helen Potts, Sally Anny Wright as Rosemary Sydney and especially Linda Sue Anderson as Madge's mother Flo, help make the evening memorable.

On the surface, Picnic may seem like a nostalgic ride back to a seemingly simpler time, but Inge's play and the Theatre in the Round production show that there is much more lurking under the surface, and that people will always feel trapped, no matter how small or big their home town is.

Picnic closes Oct. 2. For information, call 612-333-3010.

- Ed Huyck

Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area

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