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Crime and Punishment at the Soap Factory

12 Apr


There’s an old Borscht Belt joke that has two patrons at a restaurant complaining about the food. “The food here is so terrible,” the first exclaims. “Yes,” agrees the second, “and the portions are so small!”

Live Action Set’s Crime and Punishment feels very much in that vein, including the “terrible” part – as in, full of or causing terror. The narrative of Dostoyevsky disappears into installation of the set in the Soap Factory, you could be a scholar of Russian literature and come away with no idea of what happens in the book itself. But the tone – pre-Dickensian Russian poverty, the debauchery and depravity of desperation, is all-encompassing and inescapable. The design of the show is audaciously engrossing, a triumph of minutiae and disorienting surprise that has antecedents more in the work of Gregor Schneider and Ed Kienholz than traditional theater design. There are diaries to discover, phones that ring and pass on furtive, horror-filled messages, peepholes that open up new worlds, not necessarily more pleasant or enticing than the one at hand.

Into this built horror are thrown almost two dozen performers, characters seeking escape and and respite, domineering control, drink, and maybe even love. There are hookers and hawkers, landladys and repo men, cops and villains, ingenues and and the shadow of death. You can follow any of them singularly, or bounce between characters, but the strength of Crime and Punishment is in the moments of pure surprise – an achingly sweet and powerfully lithe dance between a Cossack and his lover, the moment of holding all tension before an axe is brought down, being pulled aside by a character and told of a dream where you were together.

Depending on how you move through the space you may experience any or none of this, and that is the second part of the joke. At an hour’s run time, a visit to the Soap Factory basement barely scratches the surface of what it is or what it could be. When the performers came through, banging on trash can lids and herding people together, my first hope was that here was the use of the space to bring people together for a shared moment to create something together that could then be diffused back into the playing space. But no, they were coming through to clear us out, which was as terrible and jolting as anything that had been a part of the show.

EX by Skewed Visions

26 Oct

If you’ve been through the collection of the Walker Art Center looking for the brightest and flashiest pieces, you would have walked right past Robert Gober’s sculpture, Untitled Door and Door Frame. An ordinary, white painted door frame opens up into a small, fluorescent-lit room, where the companion piece, the door itself, leans up against the back wall. You would walk past and miss it, but it’s worth stepping in to. The combination of the light, the white door on the white wall, the milky translucence of the paint, all lend themselves to a ghostly, slightly ethereal feeling, but the smallness of the room, the buzz of the closeness of your body with others make it a visceral moment.


This is a similar experience to EX, the new work by Charles Campbell produced by Skewed Visions at the California Building. EX is a quiet and meditative work, but one filled with palpable physicality, humanity and significance. The audience is seated in the center of the raw studio space, while the performers – Annie Enneking, Megan Mayer, Billy Mullaney and Campbell – move around the room. The props are simple, mundane – door, similar to Gober’s door, an office chair, a coffee table, a couch, picture frames, a strongbox – but become representative presences throughout the show. The sensation of breathing next to people, with the lights up, the performers’ breathes and footfalls, all of these things come together to heighten reality and our own awareness of our living body.

The impetus for EX came from grief. In the course of a year, Campbell lost his mother to Alzheimer’s and his sister to cancer. But with it’s dance sequences, non-linear or narrative structure and visual gags, EX isn’t maudlin or saccharine. Campbell and his collaborators have a history and trust together that lets them take a light touch with heaviness. There is something important, and lovely, that in a work about personal loss, the performers who helped create the show are trusted, long-standing collaborators, a nod to the families that we make for ourselves to see us through life.

The levity of certain moments, the variations on repeated patterns, silence, they all combine to occasional devastating effect. Mayer* carrying Mullaney, thin, with a shaved head in an oversized white T-shirt may be the most tragic thing you see on stage this year. The refrain of “Get. The fuck. Away!” is resonant as a reaction for self preservation, even from ourselves. The dance sequences of punctuated physicality leave questions about what is and out of frame, how tangled up are we in our everyday things, how do we share with others?

On the site for EX, Campbell has written a few notes about the work:

It’s not an epic story of human struggle.
It’s not a political parable for our times.
It’s not about you and your family.
It doesn’t speak from the heart.
It won’t make you feel better about yourself.
It won’t stay long.

The only one I know for sure is true is that it won’t stay long – EX closes November 1. So make some space for yourself to see the show. Take deep breaths, get into the room and hold it for an hour.

*A previous version of this post identified Campbell as the one carrying Mullaney. I spent a lot of time in show thinking about how each performer was channeling both Campbell and his family at various points, so, mission accomplished, I guess.

Next at the Cake Shop: Kickin’ Ass and Takin’ Names

15 Sep

We’re taking a little hiatus from our hiatus to bring you something completely different. On Sunday, September 21st, the Cake Shop presents Kickin’ Ass and Takin’ Names, a wild one-man show from Seth Lepore. It’s pretty impossible to tell what might happen in this partially rehearsed, part improvised, hilariously stream-of-consciousness show, so Aisle Say Twin Cities will have to say it for us: “Sometimes the scene itself is funny; sometimes it is the randomness and sheer absurdity. And very frequently, it’s just because Lepore has a great stage presence, and has such an intensely physical style that it’s impossible to stop staring at him.”

There you have it. Come stare at Seth Lepore in our living room. Get your tickets here.


Leav Kickstarter

4 Mar

We’ve written in the past about some Kickstarter campaigns that we’ve liked, supported or given a boost. Usually they’ve been for a musician, a show or something like that, but this time around it’s for a mix of all those things, in a really exciting package. It’s Leav, a new platform for smartphones that ties together music, video and art to the city around us, all in the palm of your hand.

If you live in a city long enough, you’ll invariably build associations to the place and art, whether it’s involuntarily humming the Hold Steady up in the Quarry, a poster that reminds you of a certain show on a certain night with a certain person, or a streetcorner that holds the memory of epic drama. Leav is a location and time-specific app that lets artists share their view of the city and attach new work to it. A dance company can create a video that you can only see at a certain time of day in a certain place, a musician can give you a sonic landscape that matches the cityscape around you. It’s an exciting vision of what technology and art can do together and it’s being built by artists – Andy Voegtline, Erik Martz, Joey Kantor & Bobby Maher – for artists.

Leav launched with a lineup of impressive artists to work provide work for the app – Holly Hansen of Zoo Animal, Chris Koza of Rogue Valley, choreographer and City Pages 2004 Artist of the Year Stuart Pimsler and nationally acclaimed visual artist Kate Casanova – and a new round of artists has just been announced, including man-about-town Andy Sturdevant, dancer Emily Johnson, musician Grant Cutler, and the Roe Family Singers. That’s a whole festival right there, one that we would be proud to use to introduce people to the Twin Cities, and it can all be ours in the palm of our hands.

With a March 8 deadline approaching, the Leav team are about $7,500 short of a $22,000 goal, so 66% there. That may seem like a daunting hill to climb, but Kickstarter’s own numbers show that of projects that reach 60% funding, 98% of those are completely funded. So go on and support Leav, because this is a whole new world for local art.


Tristan and Yseult

20 Feb

When I was an undergrad in art school, one of the requisite courses was a Sculpture 101 course, which quickly turned into a conceptual free-for-all. For the final, one of my classmates took his camera, rigged up a stencil that covered the external flash, and started taking people’s pictures. The stencil he had cut, which was covered by a white cloth, was the word LOVE, so that when the camera went off the word floated ephemerally under our eyelids in that blinking red-to-green disorientation of flashbulbs. It was simple, unexpected, and euphoric.


Kneehigh’s production of Tristan & Yseult, playing now at the Guthrie Theater has a similar feel – little gags and scenes pieced together with a bright flash, resulting in dizzying enchantment. Anyone who remembers their glorious Brief Encounter from four years ago know that Kneehigh excel at creating swooning, cinematic moments on stage that are as indelible as they are fleeting – even in a story about love, betrayal, jealousy, heartbreak and redemption, there is no time for dwelling or stewing, everything moves and is full of life.

Tristan & Yseult tells a version of the old French & Cornish myth – Tristan (Andrew Durand) is a French knight arrived in Cornwall from Brittany, just in time to save the Cornish king, Mark (Stuart Goodwin), from the Irish invader Morholt (Craig Johnson). King Mark sends Tristan to Ireland to bring back Morholt’s sister Yseult (Etta Murfitt) as his trophy, but Tristan and Yseult fall in love. Mark marries Yseult, and they, too, love each other, but not with the same fire that Tristan and Yseult hold. Tristan and Yseult are discovered and, as there always are in love and betrayal, there are consequences.

The consequences here, though, are more complex than simply love and hate and Kneehigh captures a range of requited and unrequited passions, duties and pains. The show opens at “The Club of the Unloved,” a downbeat nightclub populated by the “Lovespotters” – most of the cast dressed in dark windbreakers, knit balaklavas and dark rimmed glasses – a group of hilariously morose hipsters who serve as a sympathetic chorus for the story. There is the big triangle of Mark, Tristan and Yseult and their fiery, powerful feelings, but also a kindness and a desire to not hurt each other, even in the face of the inevitable. Mark’s attack dog Frocin, played with frothing energy by Giles King, walks a fine line between contemptible jealousy and pitiable despair. Perhaps one of the biggest moments of pathos is the moment of transformation of Brangian, Yseult’s maidservant. Played originally to huge laughs by Craig Johnson in drag, the after-effects of a command from Yseult and Johnson’s sensitivity are heartbreaking, and give space to the hurt that those in power can often, unthinkingly, cause to others without.

Johnson’s moment is one of the few moments of stillness in the show, otherwise there the space is filled with wild dancing, singing, and courtesy of the ropes attached to a mast in the center of the stage, acrobatic aerial moments. It could be a mess, but Emma Rice’s sure direction keeps everything crisp. There is just enough going on in terms of a set – the mast, a round stage that serves as the main playing area, giving an observer’s periphery on the actual proscenium, an elevated space for the band and a record player in a corner to give the imagination space to play. The costuming, from Tristan’s tightly cropped green suit to the yellow dress and pillbox hat on Whitehands (Carly Bawden), the nightclub singer and ostensible narrator, to the sweater vests of the band, give a swinging 60s vibe to the show, a useful point of romantic nostalgia for an audience, and for the show.

Kneehigh uses dialogue effectively, sometimes sparingly, in favor of montage-like action sequences that sweep you away and capture that breathlessness of love. One of the central questions about love at the end of Tristan & Yseult is about the possibility of return – will a lover come back? If Kneehigh keep making theater like this, please let the answer be yes. –c.a.s.

Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult from WeAreKneehigh on Vimeo.

Seeing Our Town in a Shutdown

30 Sep


Simon Stimson

Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know. That’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.

Mrs. Gibbs

Simon Stimson, that ain’t the whole truth and you know it.

It might not be the whole truth, but but it sure can feel like it right now. The bitterest lines of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, written 75 years ago, set 100 years ago, put in the mouth of the drunk who hung himself, resonate at a time when the federal government is going to shut down because healthcare is too high a price for ideology and an orchestra spends $14 million on a season with no concerts and all musicians locked out. Nightpath Theatre is doing us all a service by putting on this show right now, and you still have a chance to see it on October 1st. Wilder’s script, earnest and plain-spoken, sometimes to the point of ridicule and easily played for saccharine, comes off well under Maggie Scanlan’s sharp direction and with the capable energy of the ensemble.


Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?

Stage Manager

No. The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.

“Nice town, y’know what I mean?” Michael Ooms as the Stage Manager asks at the top of the show, and Our Town is that idyllic America of days gone past that is so often lamented in politician’s speeches. It is also a town where an immigrant woman who lives on the other side of the tracks can get a doctor to deliver her twins at 1:30 in the morning without having to worry about the cost bankrupting her. It’s a nice town because the people make it that way. It’s a town where change comes and the dead watch on as the people stay and deal with it. Grover’s Corner is a town that knows the faults of it’s members – arrogance and addiction – and do not judge each other too harshly for those faults. It is, on a larger scale today, difficult to think of a politician speaking the words of George Gibbs, our male protagonist, after Emily Webb, our female protagonist, chides him for his arrogance; “I’m celebrating because I’ve got a friend who tells me all the things that ought to be told me.”

Simon Stimson

Now look here, everybody. Music come into the world to give pleasure. Softer! Softer! Get it out of your heads that music’s only good when it’s loud.

But the script of Our Town is eternally hopeful. The townspeople sing in choirs, split beans together, play baseball. I would like to think that they would go watch the locked out Orchestra musicians play at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, support yarn-bombers, and go down to Block E to see what the artists have done to fill the void left by commercial overreach. That’s the power of the play, is that it is the people coming together to be a part of it, together. I am happy to see so many of my friends, my colleagues and my community at work here, and they do an excellent job. So go see Our Town, because it may not solve the world’s problems, but it is a salve and a reminder that the world is what we make it, and we can make it a nice town, and one that lasts. The Stage Manager knows that it’s the people who matter in a place.

Stage Manager

Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal…everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

N.I.G.G.E.R. at Intermedia Arts

9 Mar

Pick_5124-XLShá Cage in N.I.G.G.E.R., Photo by Sean Smuda

Perhaps the most provocative thing about Shá Cage’s performance, N.I.G.G.E.R., now playing at Intermedia Arts, is that it is not really provocative. It is evocative. It is necessary. It doesn’t tell us anything new, and that is what is most astounding about its power. It is a teaching reminder. It tells us stories that many wish were relegated to history, but carry on. It is past, in that way that William Faulkner put it, isn’t even past.

Cage is masterful in her storytelling, gathering snippets of interviews around the word in question (which she pointed out in talking afterwards, she was not using as the title of the piece as license to say freely, as emphasized by the periods and strikethrough) and through a mix of embodying different characters, her own poetry as well as Gil Scott-Heron, and video interviews, creates a kaleidoscopic picture of the word’s complexity. Supported by the excellent dancer Alissa Paris and by musician Chastity Brown providing the blues (Chrys Carroll on Saturday on Sunday) the performance purposefully poses contradictory viewpoints and leaves more questions and conflict than answers, epitomized in a phrase coming out of the mouth of an 85-year-old character, “The soup tastes different in everyone’s mouths.”

The soup may taste different, but it is piping hot. The recent arrests of MC Hammer and the frisking of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker belie the structural racism that exists in “post-racial” America. As one attendee asked in discussion afterward, how are we are a post-racial society when President Obama got on TV after the Sandy Hook massacre, only to have “People dropping the ‘N-Bomb’ on him because they want to watch football?” As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in the op-ed in the New York Times:

“I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark.”

Cage creates nervous laughter in the dark with tumultuous boxing match against a poetic, riffing list of free-associative names, an jarring collection of shadow puppet projections of stereotypical images recalling Kara Walker’s paper cutouts and full-blown rending trauma with stories of love and death in the plantations. If all this leaves an audience unsettled, nervous, discursive, angry and questioning, N.I.G.G.E.R. has succeeded. The more teaching, the less forgetting of history we do, the more we can move forward, lurching confusedly, poetically into the future. We need it, and we need brave storytellers like Cage, and brave audiences.

N.I.G.G.E.R. – Written and Performed by Shá Cage from Intermedia Arts on Vimeo.


1 Feb

Kathryn Fumie (Emma Woodhouse), Hannah K. Holman (Harriet Smith) and Tanner Curl (George Knightley). Plus, champagne out of the bottle.

Kathryn Fumie (Emma Woodhouse), Hannah K. Holman (Harriet Smith) and Tanner Curl (George Knightley). Plus, champagne out of the bottle.

So c.a.s. is part of the local theater company Savage Umbrella, and when Savage Umbrella mounts full productions, he tends to make thematic mixes for the show, for the same reasons that you made mixtapes for sweethearts in middle school – you want the show to be impressed and love you back. For the most recent production, Emma Woodhouse Is Not a Bitch, a contemporary adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, here’s a mix full of love and money, of fuckups and putting it back together, and some fun too. The show opens Friday, February 1 and runs through February 23. Tickets, details and more here, and on with the music!

She – Laura Mvula
A gorgeous new tune from a UK artist who is just now picking up some stateside recognition.

Danse Carribe – Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird can really do no wrong in our eyes.

Backscratcher – Free Energy
Current fan vid title not withstanding, Free Energy put out this little ditty on a Canadian comp put together by the fine folks of Hollerado (more from them later).

Shine – MaLLy & The Sundance Kid
Don’t fight MaLLy for control of the Hole in the Wall Gang, he’s gonna win.

Bloody Poetry – Grieves
Carrying on with the keys and beats, but now the party’s over, a dark vision that Grieves executes so well.

Measure the Globe – Astronautalis
We don’t really need a reason to put this on a mixtape about searching for love and going wrong, do we?

She’s Gone – Mankwe
After seeing her back up and collaborate with a lot of great artists, Mankwe Ndosi struts her own stuff, and it is worth swinging to. Here’s “Smile'” a different taste.

Find Yourself a Lover – The Ericksons
DISCLAIMER ALERT: c.a.s. has been working promo around The Ericksons’ new record, The Wild, but it was the rough mix of this tune that totally sold him. Here’s “Gone Blind,” their lead single.

The Ericksons-Gone Blind (Official Video) from Eliza Cate on Vimeo.

As We Sink A Foot Deeper Into The Earth – Wiping Out Thousands
Wiping Out Thousands make our little digital warrens into blistering cathedrals and white-knuckled architecture.

The Best Revenge – Fischerspooner
If you’re putting on a play about class misunderstandings, using a song from a high-concept art-pop band with a phrase that Mitt Romney misquoted seems like a good choice.

Dissolve Me – Alt-J (∆)
For all the sweethearts that sleep apart…

Good Day At The Races – Hollerado
For all the struggle around finding yourself and disappointment, you can still ride an ostrich and it’ll be OK.

You Are Forgiven – Anaïs Mitchell
Mitchell is such strange blossom, rooted in the furrows of American heartbreak and hope.

True Love – Mark Mallman
Because it’s the best.

NORTHERN OUTPOST Presents: Mark Mallman LIVE – “True Love” from Northern Outpost on Vimeo.

Old Friends (Bookends Theme) – Valerie Milot & Antoine Bareil
Because so much of the work of Savage Umbrella is about adapting the familiar, and finding new beauties and meanings. Here’s their take on “Scarborough Fair,” which is, of course, a much more traditional tune. Just ignore the soul patch.

MN Musicians Vote NO

25 Oct

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – we believe in bringing people together and building them up, whether it’s through music, art, theater and fashion or through politics. It doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree – that’s most of the fun of criticism and the arts – but it does mean that the channels of communication and exchange have to be open. We have to be able to say “yes” to each other as artists and humans, and this fall, that means voting NO on these two hurtful and divisive amendments.

The Marriage Inequality amendment would enshrine discrimination into Minnesota’s constitution and hurt the thousands of GLBTQ families by making them permanent second class citizens. Just like the best remedy for crappy music is to have more music, the best way to protect marriage is to expand it to all those who participate in the institution.

The Voter Restriction amendment is an unfunded mandate that would force expensive changes on Minnesota’s voters and unfairly targets the elderly, the poor, veterans and college students. It’s like telling the most interesting people in your life that they aren’t worth the effort, while at the same time voting for a tax hike, because that’s how this monstrosity would have to be funded. Both of these constitutional amendments would put us in a poorer, more divided place, and Minnesota can do better.

We’re sure you’ve heard these messages before, but we’re in the last weeks of the campaigning, and so now is the time to get involved. Please join us on Friday the 26th and Saturday the 27th at the Triple Rock Social Club – you can get your tickets here – for two kickass lineups that should leave you fired up to make a change. Ticket proceeds will benefit the two organizations taking the lead against these amendments, Minnesotans United for All Families on Marriage Inequality and Take Action MN on Voter Restriction. Your dollars help them air TV and radio ads, run campaign offices and get out the vote, but more than your dollars, your volunteer hours can make a huge impact – just click through to the website to find out more information about phone banking and door knocking. Just like having a conversation about your new favorite band is the best way to build up that band, a conversation you have about why you are voting NO is the best way to get that word out and build the vote NO movement. Check the Facebook event for some of the chatter and the music community members participating.

Thanks to the great folks at Modern Radio Record Label for helping get this all together, to Burlesque of North America for the sick poster and to the Triple Rock for being such awesome hosts. We’ll see you all this weekend, and out at the polls on November 6. And if you need a little more convincing, here are a couple great videos related to the issues of each amendment – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on equality, and Sarah Silverman skewering voter restriction. So vote NO, if only for your Nana.

Speaking of the Guthrie…

23 Jun

Photo by George Byron Griffiths
If you’re not wrapped up in the middle of Pride partying, heading over to The Dirty Queer Show: Dirty Queertopia checking out some Minnesota Stars FC soccer action, there’s a party well worth crashing at the Guthrie tonight. After their annual many-dollars-a-plate fundraising dinner, Big Blue opens up to a costume ball/dance party, which is a great mix and was a riot last year.

Doing what they know works, the G are bringing back the always raucous Mayda, who tore the roof off the joint last year, and the DJ who always knows best, Jake Rudh, will be on the decks for the dance floor. And hey, since the dancers from Shapiro & Smith’s Anytown are around and Roman Holiday has a bunch of fun dance numbers, you might get to party with them. (Which would be the most fun you’d have around Roman Holiday. Trust us. The show works best if you squint you eyes and imagine that the lead is RT Rybak, which he looks kind of like and will keep you amused through awkward Ken Burns-ed photo montage projections.) But we digress. Party at the Guthrie tonight. Dress up. Get down. Make the space your own.