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Dowling on Guthrie’s Hampton Celebration: ‘a reminder of how we have grown and matured’

ALSO: 5 reasons to see ‘The Brothers Size’; ‘The Story of Film’ at the Walker; Museum Day Live! is coming up; and more.

The Guthrie's Christopher Hampton Celebration soft opens Saturday.

The Guthrie’s Christopher Hampton Celebration has its soft open Saturday with a preview performance of “Tales from Hollywood,” Hampton’s play about German writers and artists in exile during World War II. When Hampton mania ends in November (just before “A Christmas Carol” begins), if you want to be able to say “I was there at the very first second,” this is for you. Opening night is Sept. 21. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size” continues through Sept. 29, after which it’s all Hampton all the time in all three theaters. “Appomattox” will open Sept. 29, “Embers” Oct. 9. Along the way are movies, lectures, workshops, a master class, and more.

Artistic Director Joe Dowling is currently in rehearsals for “Embers,” but he made time to respond by email to a few brief questions about the Hampton Celebration.

MinnPost: Why Christopher Hampton?

Joe Dowling: Christopher is one of the most distinguished playwrights and screenwriters working today. He is a writer of great substance whose work always deals with important issues and concerns. He is also a great stylist whose plays are filled with great language, characters and strong dramatic action. While he is well known for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” some of his other work is less well known in this country. This celebration is an opportunity for our audiences to deepen their knowledge of his versatility and to see a world premiere of a new work by a leading playwright.

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MP: Why now?

JD: As we begin the 50th anniversary season, this celebration is a reminder of how we have grown and matured since the summer of 1963. While the Guthrie Theater will always be a home for the classical repertoire, we now combine those long-lasting plays with more contemporary and provocative work. This celebration follows the Kushner celebration as a way of demonstrating our ongoing commitment to new work and living writers.

MP: Is there any particular part of the festival you’re especially looking forward to, or that strikes you as essential?

JD: I am so looking forward to the opening of “Appomattox,” Christopher Hampton’s examination of two seminal periods in American history, the end of the Civil War and the battle for civil rights. This will be a fascinating look at some of the personalities and events that have shaped the modern nation.

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For the Guthrie’s 50th season, be one of the first 50 people at the box office when it opens on Saturday, Sept. 22, and you can buy a five-play subscription package for $50. The building opens at 8 a.m.; sales begin at 10. Patrons may purchase up to two subscription packages. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. you can “test drive” specific seats in the two big theaters and nab the ones you want, some for 50 percent off regular ticket prices. Other special deals are available. FMI.

Photo by Michal Daniel
‘The Brothers Size,’ a Pillsbury House/Mount Curve co-production, is showing at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio.

Five reasons to see “The Brothers Size,” a co-production of Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company, directed by Marion McClinton:  1. The cast. James A. Williams, Namir Smallwood and Gavin Lawrence are all strong, powerful actors, and each seems made for his role: Williams as Ogun Henri Size, the serious, hard-working older brother; Namir Smallwood as Oshoosi Size, the aimless, just-out-of-prison younger brother; Gavin Lawrence as Elegba, Oshoosi’s best friend from prison, unable to move on with his life. Elegba is the one I couldn’t take my eyes off of. His relationship with Oshoosi is brilliantly captured in a scene where the two men silently grapple – Oshooshi trying to break away, Elegba not letting go. He sings, he smiles, he loves his friend, and he’s trouble with a capital T.  2. The set. Andrea Heilman’s ramps and slabs are bedroom and dining room, auto repair shop and country road.  3. The language. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney writes conversation both common and epic, coarse and poetic. It’s worth catching every word – even the stage directions McCraney has his characters speak out loud: “Ogun Size enters.” “Calling for his brother.” “Kissing his teeth.” At first, you think – this is weird and affected. But then it becomes part of the rhythm of the play, a matter-of-fact narration. (“The Brothers Size” is the second play in a trilogy, and McCraney uses this device only here.)  4. The music. When you enter the theater, you’re greeted by Ahanti Young playing drums at the back of the stage. When the play begins, he remains, coloring individual moments with riffs and tings and small percussive sounds, stitching the scenes together.  5. The thrill of hearing an important new voice in theater. McCraney is just 31; he was in his mid-20s and a student at the Yale School of Drama when he wrote “The Brothers Size.” (Last year, his “In the Red and Brown Water” was a hit at the Pillsbury House Theatre.) He has much to say and makes us care deeply about his characters, their relationships and their lives. It’s impossible to be unmoved by or indifferent to this play.  In the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio through Sept. 29. FMI and tickets.

Mayor R.T. Rybak has proclaimed Saturday, Sept. 29, Museum Day Live! in Minneapolis. Actually, it’s Museum Day Live! all across America; hosted by Smithsonian magazine, this is a popular annual event. But it’s nice to have a mayoral proclamation anyway. Go to the website, find a participating museum (there are 20 in Minnesota, 15 in Wisconsin), and get a free ticket for two.

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This week’s Iconowatch newsletter includes an observation on how “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the wildly popular erotic novel by British author E.L. James, has spawned a sub-economy: “At last count, there were more than 3,000 Shades-themed items for sale at Etsy, and condom maker Trojan has high hopes for its new line of adult toys … There’s even a Shades-themed cooking class in Southern California, complete with Bondage Wrapped Shrimp.” Yesterday we got a press release for “Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album,” with music personally selected by James and referenced in her book, now a trilogy. (The “Flower Duet” from Lakmé is kind of hot, but “Spem in Alium”?) Riding the wave, Brave New Workshop just announced the title of its 2012 holiday show: “Fifty Shades of White: A Minnesota XXXmas.” James will sign books at the Galleria Barnes & Noble on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 7 – 9:30 p.m. The event is not on the store’s website, but we confirmed by phone.

The Playwrights’ Center has announced its 2012-13 season of free staged readings. Last year’s audiences were SRO for these events, where top local and national actors perform, playwrights are present, and audiences have a chance to weigh in on brand-new plays. The PlayLabs Festival runs Oct. 15-21 and offers two readings each of three new plays: “Three Voyages of the Lobotomobile” by George Brant, “No Time” by Carlyle Brown, and “Can’t Complain” by Christine Evans. The Ruth Easton New Play Series offers one-night-only readings on the first Monday of each month between December and April. The plays are “War Is F**cking Awesome” by Qui Nguyen, “The Way West” by Mona Mansour, “The Karpovsky Variations” by Adam Kraar, “PROFILES” by Joe Waechter, and “The Dowager” by Andy Bragen. All are free and open to the public.

Courtesy of Handmade Tile Association
Tile mosaic by Sheryl Tuorila

If all you know of tile is the cold, hard squares on bathroom walls, stop by the American Swedish Institute this Saturday (Sept. 15). Handmade tile is an industry in Minnesota, where artists craft exquisite work sought by collectors, contractors and home decorators. See for yourself at the 11th annual Minnesota Tile Festival featuring more than 40 tile and mosaic artists, hands-on tile-making events, a fashion show of clothes by Twin Cities designers inspired by and incorporating art tiles, and a chance to help turn an Audi into a Handmade Tile Art Car. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free. Minneapolis is home to the Handmade Tile Association, one of the nation’s premiere tile artist collectives. Add HTA to your mental list of great artists’ organizations that live here: the American Craft Council, the Loft, the Minnesota Center for Books Arts, Northern Clay Center, the Textile Center, the Playwrights’ Center and more. 

More East Coast love for the Minnesota arts scene. The Walker got high-fives in the NY Times Fall Arts Preview for upcoming dance events and gallery shows, including a salute to Deborah Hay, new works by Miguel Gutierrez and BodyCartography, a collaboration between costume designer Rei Kawakubo and Merce Cunningham, and an exhibition of works by Mexican conceptual artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. And they call us the Minneapple.

Film buff? Prove it. See “The Story of Film,” which has its area premiere this weekend at the Walker. Directed by Mark Cousins (author of the book by the same name), it traces the development of film worldwide as an art form and a popular pastime. Five screenings, 15 chapters, 15 hours – about the same length as Wagner’s Ring cycle. Be very glad the Walker Cinema has been newly renovated and the Garden Café will remain open. Here’s the trailerFMI. Free.

Bassist Chris Bates
Photo by John Whiting
Bassist Chris Bates

Tonight (Friday, Sept. 14) and tomorrow at the Artists’ Quarter: bassist and composer Chris Bates unveils “New Hope,” his first CD as a leader. His quintet, Red 5, is three horns, bass, and his brother JT on drums – no piano or guitar. It’s a different sound, a very good sound, especially when saxophonists Chris Thomson and Brandon Wozniak and trumpeter Zach Lozier weave their instruments together. “New Hope” is brand-new, with nine original compositions that range from the hard-swinging opening track to a tender love song. 9 p.m., $10. Here’s my interview with Chris.

Saturday and Sunday at Studio Z in Lowertown: “Namaste! Slainte!” A concert of original music shaped by the Indian and Irish traditions, performed by two Indians and two Westerners: Nirmala Rajaseker on the veena (Indian plucked string instrument) and Carnatic vocals, Tanjavur K. Muguraboopathi on the mridangam (South Indian drum), Michelle Kinney on cello, Graham O’Brien on drums. Kinney is co-leader of the cello/drum quartet Jelloslave; O’Brien is on the local hip-hop scene. Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 16 at 2:30 p.m. $15 at the door. Email for reservations.

On Sunday afternoon, the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will give a free public concert of music by Beethoven, Wagner, Heitzig and Williams. From the press release: “The orchestra musicians are hosting this concert to say ‘thank you’ to the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area for their support of music and the arts in the region.” Also to remind us how terrific our orchestra is and how sad we’ll be if they don’t have a new contract by Sept. 30. 4 p.m., Lake Harriet Bandshell

Sunday at the O’Shaughnessy, Katha Dance Theatre presents Concert of the Legends. If you have even the most casual interest in Indian dance and music, you don’t want to miss this. It brings together two of the world’s top artists: Pandit Birju Maharaj, the king of North Indian Kathak dance, and Ustad Zakir Hussain, Grammy-winning tabla master, national treasure of India, and friend to Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Some of us have seen Hussain perform with Hart, Edgar Meyer, and Charles Lloyd, after which we’ve retrieved our jaws from the floor. Also on the program, a performance of “Ghazal” by Katha artistic director/founder Rita Mustapha. FMI and tickets.

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The Minnesota Book Awards is looking for judges. If you love to read and talk about books, if you want to make a mark on our literary community, take a look at the applications and see if you’re a fit. Positions are open for preliminary and final round judges. Applications close Oct. 15.

Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, the statewide arts advocacy organization, is seeking board members. Terms begin in November and last two years. FMI and nomination form.