The current production of “Cabaret” at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts doesn’t sugarcoat the show’s underlying message one bit.
At the end of the first act, as a reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” turns the song into an anthem for the coming German “purity” of the 1930s, giant Nazi-era banners are flown in to cover most of the stage, while the majority of characters turn and give them a salute before goose-stepping off the stage.
As clear as that image is, it pales in comparison to the last production of “Cabaret” I saw, in 1997 at a small-but-packed theater in Prague. In that Czech-language production, the fate of poor Jewish shopkeeper Herr Schultz was laid out even more to the point — he was carted out, corpse-like, as if to be incinerated at a concentration camp.
That trip to Prague and the Czech Republic — made as part of a young theater critics’ seminar — has been on my mind this week, and not just because of “Cabaret.” There are a number of intriguing productions with Prague-ties and European touches opening right now in the Twin Cities. (See schedule information below.)
Puppets take on Kafka
One of the shows I saw that week in 1997 (in a Communist-era gymnasium in nearby Plzen) was a Russian production of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” Though I didn’t understand a word of it, I was mesmerized by the lead actor’s purely physical transformation into the doomed Gregor Samsa.
Fast forward to this century: The Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre brings a fresh look at one of Kafka’s other famous works. “The Ballad of Josef K” is a musical puppet show adapted from “The Trial.” The show, which played in Milwaukee in March, comes to the Illusion Theater for two weeks starting this week. (Check out the puppets in video below.)
Apart from its intriguing take on one of Kafka’s most realized works, the production features music by Twin Cities-based Thunder in the Valley. All of this combined could make for terrific theater: Kafka’s nightmarish world screams for the grotesque, which puppets can easily bring to life — not to mention a bit of illumination on the current political world.
Moving north a bit, the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater hosts “French Twist,” the latest work by choreographer Joe Cavalla and the Flying Foot Forum. The percussive dance revue mixes a ton of styles — from vaudeville to tap to opera to pure clowning — into something not commonly seen on local stages. A number of the shows on my trip to the Czech Republic included innovative looks at dance and movement. Perhaps the most memorable — not necessarily good, but memorable — was a German group called the Hanging Men, who, well, did pretty much that. The church they performed in was pretty at least.
Meanwhile, the Four Humors Theater presents a new cutting of “Romeo and Juliet” that “takes time to celebrate the joys of newfound love.” (See the video below.) Under the direction of Jason Ballweber, a cast of 25 will bring Shakespeare’s tale to life. Four Humors is a young company, but one that has already generated a bit of buzz with its unusual interpretations and power-packed creative team and cast, which includes veterans of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Children’s Theatre Company and plenty of other small companies. (OK, the only Shakespeare that week in ’97 was a version of “Hamlet” with a Lithuanian pop star in the lead role; thinking any more on that may cause another breakdown. Go to the happy place … go to the happy place…)
So does this mean the Twin Cities area is like Prague? Well, not quite, but there is more than a healthy theater community here; a community that is often trying new, challenging works and developing exciting new talent. And you don’t have to take a flight on a Soviet-built jet to get here.
What: Four Humors Theater’s “Romeo and Juliet”
When: May 8-18
Where: Bedlam Theater, 1501 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis
Tickets: $10 and $15
What: The Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre “The Ballad of Josef K.”
When: May 8-18
Where: Illusion Theater, Sixth and Hennepin, Minneapolis
What: Flying Foot Forum’s French Twist
When: May 8-18
Where: Joe Dowling Studio Theater, Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
When: Through May 18
Where: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, downtown St. Paul